Interview with Brendan Sullivan and Rick Kaempfer on their new book, The Living Wills


What prompted you to write the book as a collaborative novel?

Rick: Actually, this book was Brendan’s idea. He called me up one day and asked me to lunch. He had read my previous novel and thought that we had similar writing styles. His idea was to write this novel together as a tangible example of collaborative creativity. It’s always better to show people what is possible, rather than just tell them.

Brendan: Yes…and… .I thought the collaborative creation of a novel would be a tangible way to apply the ideation processes I use every day with my corporate clients. We used improv, brainstorming, mind mapping and other ideation techniques to generate characters, plot lines, and the flow of the novel.


What sparks your creativity?

Rick: Just about any and every thing. I’m always looking for creative sparks, and when you do that, you notice that they are all around you. Your wife, your kids, a trip to the store, a drive; you name it.

Brendan: Any opportunity to shake things up is a spark for me. I try to find new ways to do something. If someone tells me ‘that’s not how we do things around here,’ then I want to know why. Like Rick, I also find creative sparks in everyday things, not necessarily the extraordinary. Once you get going, and you’re having fun, it’s hard to stop.


What recently sparked your curiosity and how did you satisfy it?

Rick: The other night I had a dream about how to convert a children’s book I wrote into a young adult’s novel. I got out bed and wrote it all down. If I hadn’t done that, it would have either drifted away into the ether, or kept me awake forever. Now that it’s on paper I can get back to it whenever it’s convenient…instead of during the middle of the night.

Brendan: Lately, I’ve been curious about how the teenage brain works. I’ve been reading a lot about it, and I’ve been observing two of those brains as they operate under my roof. I haven’t come to any satisfying conclusions yet.


What’s one big thing you want people to take away from your book?

Rick: For me, it’s that everything is connected. We’re all connected to each other and every decision we make has an impact on everyone around us. When you think about things that way, it gives your life some purpose and meaning.

Brendan: There’s also the idea of the quiet hero. Our main protagonist did one very gallant thing long ago. It affected everything, yet he doesn’t talk about it, which is both noble and sad. I think there are a lot of quiet heroes out there that don’t get the recognition they deserve.


Share one of your trade secrets for keeping the energy and enthusiasm flowing when working through the creative writing process.

Rick: The trick is to just keep reminding yourself to look for inspiration around you. We all have a tendency to sleepwalk through life. It’s a totally natural and normal thing to do. My wife reads my weekly columns about our family (“Father Knows Nothing” at NWI Parent) and often says “I actually saw that happen and didn’t think it was profound or funny until you mentioned it.” But it was right there all along.

Brendan: Walk away. When I spend too much time focusing closely on a project and I hit a wall, I step away. I find that my subconscious continues to work on the challenge while I’m sleeping, exercising, playing with my kids. And when I go back to the project, the answer is often clear.


What fuels your creativity?

Rick: Super Unleaded. It’s a little more expensive, but so worth it.

Brendan: Guinness. It’s a little more expensive, but so worth.


Join us here at Catalyst Ranch, Tuesday, January 24th at 6pm when we welcome Brendan and Rick for the next installment of our Match Books series.  For the Match Books event, creativity coach Brendan Sullivan wants to show you, not tell you! He has used the same techniques he brings to clients like Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, GE and Harley-Davidson (improv, mind mapping, other ideation processes) to create a just-published novel with a co-author, Rick Kaempfer. Much of the work was done during sessions at the Catalyst Ranch.

Cost is $15 or two children’s books to be donated to Open Books, check out Catalyst Ranch’s Happenings Page for all the info!