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Randy Back

  • Randy Back, Electronic Systems TechnologyRandyBack_web

    Randy Back's powerful and personal essay, "Lessons Learned," was a highlight of Illuminations Vol. 15. A student in the Electronic Systems Technology program, Randy wrote and rewrote the tragic story of his parents' deaths and how he struggled to cope in the aftermath. Randy talks with us about his story, his perfectionist tendencies, and the writers he loves to read.

    Illuminations:  Your essay, "Lessons Learned," told a devastating story. Why was it important for you to commit this story to paper? Was it difficult to write?

    Randy:  Yes it was difficult to write. I have never been good at talking with people or talking about myself.  It was much easier to put words on paper and share a part of my story that way. I have so many experiences in my short life that some of them just might be able to help someone else by sharing them. This is just my story; many people have it much worse than I did. The point of my story was that even though I made bad choices after being dealt a bad hand, I was able to overcome and succeed.  The important thing is that I learned from my shortcomings, and hopefully, someone reading my story might learn as well.

    I:  Do you find yourself turning to writing often to express your feelings or to share a meaningful story?

    R:  I do have an easier time putting words to paper than I do expressing my feelings through speaking.  I haven't really shared my story with many people. I don't think I've ever told my whole story actually. Maybe if I was writing a longer story I would.    

    I:  You have five kids. What are you doing to encourage them to be good readers and writers?

    R:  They are the same as I was. They would rather play outside or play video games. I do read to my younger children. Hopefully, that love of books will stick with them. The older kids see me reading books and have started reading a few themselves. I tell them it's like watching a movie, only you get more involved in the details and characters. You're not just staring at a screen; you are immersed in the adventure, mystery or whatever you're reading. I don't let them get away with half-hearted reports for school. I read their stories or reports and ask a ton of questions about the characters and situations. They do a good job at going back and adding to their writing without my coming out and telling them directly what to do (most of the time, that doesn't work with kids, anyway). If they think it's their idea, they will work much harder at completing it.    

    I:  In your Vol. 15 bio, you said you enjoy reading suspenseful novels and that Dean Koontz, James Patterson, and Steve Berry are your favorite writers. What do you enjoy most about their style? Have you ever tried writing a suspense story yourself?

    R:  I have not tried to write a suspense story.  Until taking an SCC English class, I had written very little. In high school, I put my heart into my writing and got little encouragement from instructors.  I got frustrated, and my motivation fizzled out.  What I like about all three of these writers is the way they keep me engaged in the story. Dean Koontz always puts in some type of supernatural or futuristic science in his stories without making them a Sci-fi type story. You never know what is going to happen. If you think you do, then you find out you're wrong. Once you start his books, you don't want to stop. I picked up a book called "By the Light of the Moon," and I was hooked. I would recommend everybody to give it a shot. James Patterson and Steve Berry are the same when it comes to not wanting to put the books down. James Patterson's books are usually full of suspense. Steve Berry takes you around the world in a series of books that follow Cotton Malone, a retired special operative of the Justice Department. He gets pulled into all sorts of adventures. I would recommend "The Alexandria Link" to anyone interested in checking out his work.    

    I:  In your bio, you also mention that you enjoy fixing and building things with your hands. It sounds like you inherited your dad's talent in this area. Do you find that writing comes just as easily for you, or has the process been difficult for you?

    R:  I am much better at working with things than expressing thoughts and feelings. It was a process for me to get this story done. I rewrote it many times. I would get done and read through it and not like how it read, so I would redo it again.  I am a perfectionist to a fault, sometimes.    

    If you are going to do something, then do it right is how I feel about any task I tackle. I have a hard time trying to depend on other people for anything, so I have made a point to be able to repair my vehicles, at the very least.    

    I:  What was the reception of your friends and family when they saw your story in Illuminations? What did its publication mean to YOU?

    R:  It felt pretty amazing getting published.  It is a personal story, so I hesitated in submitting it.  Having strangers read it wasn't the same as having family read it.  Like I said earlier, I am not good at talking with people or about myself. My in-laws don't really know me very well, even though we spend a lot of time together. My wife let them read my story, and I got a good response. I was surprised when my mother-in-law sat down and read the whole story when she saw the book sitting out. She then took it to my sister-in-law. I got a message from her saying that it was very good, and it made her cry. It was touching to hear that.    

    I:  You're in the Electronic Systems Technology program. Do you see writing fitting into your future life at all?

    R:  It is something that might come later on after I get to go to work again. I spend most of my time in school and doing homework right now. I don't read or write much of anything that isn't required.  I am looking forward to getting out and reading for pleasure again.    

    I:  And finally -- the silly question of the day:  Have you ever tipped a cow?

    Nope. Even though I'm from Nebraska, I've never gone out and tried to tip a cow. Stepping in cow patties while trespassing on a farmer's field at night doesn't sound like that much fun. 

    From "Lessons Learned,"
    by Randy Back:

    Although we were not as close as my mother and I, my father was still my hero. When he would make the time to spend with me, I cherished it. My favorite times were when we would go fishing; he would drive us in his little green Datsun down endless dirt roads in the county. I would pretend we were flying in a starship as we sliced through the rolling dust clouds the enemy ships left in their wake. Once we arrived at the river, my dad would bait my hook and sit patiently as I waited for a fish that rarely came. Once I grew bored, he would pull his BB gun out of the trunk. Mom had said, "No way in hell!" when I had asked for a BB gun for my birthday.

    However, the first time Dad handed that gun to me, he claimed, "What she doesn't know won't hurt her!" That was my favorite part of the trip. He would toss his beer cans into the river, so I could practice my aim as they rolled and bounced in the smelly water.

    My father was a hardworking man. He always had a can of Old Milwaukee and a cigarette in hand, which had aged his young skin prematurely. In his 50s (I was just a teen), he looked as if he were a small-framed 60-year-old man. However, he still had a full head of salt and pepper hair that saved his handsome looks. He spent his days removing dents and rust on cars and trucks for a Toyota dealership, transforming them into new vehicles again. Then he would come home and spend his nights fixing the endless stream of toys that the daycare kids and I would break or repairing the old Chevy station wagon for the hundredth time. My father was a smart man; he could mend, repair, glue, refurbish, or fix whatever needed it. I thought he could repair all things until my mother became ill, for he was not able to mend her….