Richard Z. Santos, ’13
Editor’s Note: Richard Z. Santos is the executive director of the Austin Bat Cave, a nonprofit organization that supports students ages 6–18 with their writing skills and helping teachers inspire their students to write. His second novel is Every Family is a Conspiracy Theory.
Richard Z. Santos’ first novel Trust Me (Arte Público Press, 2019) made its debut at the end of March just as the nation shut down over the coronavirus pandemic. Santos calls Trust Me a literary thriller that is concerned with the impact of power on everyone. It is also “a political book with no politicians,” he added.
Santos earned his M.F.A. in 2013 at Texas State University. He knows the importance of change and opportunity — much like the novel’s lead character. Before he enrolled in the Creative Writing graduate program, Santos worked in Washington, D.C.
“My experience in D.C. was great. Politics is really exciting. It definitely informed the book – obviously,” he said.
The novel centers around Charles O’Connell, a man who had worked in politics since college but now finds himself riding an epic losing streak. His most recent candidate ends up in jail and Charles is out of a job. No one in Washington will hire him, his marriage is on the rocks, and his credit cards are maxed out. He takes a public relations job in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a company building a new airport. Surrounded by deception on all fronts, he falls into a whirlwind of fraud, betrayal, and double crosses.
“That character Charles is to some extent my fear of what could have happened to me if I had stayed in D.C.,” Santos said.
But he didn’t stay – he moved to Austin with his wife, Paige Sartin, and got a job teaching high school English while attending Texas State. One of his Graduate College teachers was award-winning writer Tim O’Brien, who wrote a blurb for the book cover. Santos said he was in one the last semester-long classes under O’Brien. “He’s an amazing writer, and he gives honest and intense feedback,” Santos said.
The road to this first novel was not an easy one. Santos said the manuscript was rejected by 50 literary agents. Eventually, Santos saw an open submission announcement by Houston-based Arte Público Press and a month later that publisher said yes. By then, he had started the next book. That second novel is set in Austin and is about adult siblings who are searching for their missing mother just as a giant conspiracy grips the nation. “It is more of a mystery,” he said.
When he isn’t busy writing at home, he enjoys time with his family. Santos, who spent seven years as an educator, said he will take the coming academic year off. And while he does revisions on book No. 2 this fall, he already has ideas for a third book.