Alumnus brings novel concept to campus

By Gus Bode

Robert Rickman has spent three decades in the broadcast industry as an anchorman, reporter, editor and producer. Despite his success in journalism, Rickman said one position he always wanted to hold was a novelist. Now, after eight years of working on the project, he can hold that title.

“In 1999, I went to Europe and I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life,” Rickman said. “I figured I was a pretty good writer — I’ll write a novel. Only problem was I (didn’t) know what I wanted to write about until I came back to campus.”

Rickman, a 1974 SIU alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in radio-television, released his debut novel, “Saluki Marooned,” Oct. 9.


In the novel, the protagonist Peter Federson is a down-on-his-luck 58-year-old whose life has been on a decline since he flunked out of college and was sent to fight in the Vietnam War. However, things take an interesting twist when he is transported back to SIUC in 1971 and is embodied in his 20-year-old self.

The novel states it is a work of pure fiction and the characters’ resemblance to actual people, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Rickman, however, acknowledged that the novel is loosely based on his own experiences at SIUC.

Nathan G. Beck, a 2009 SIU alumnus with a master’s degree in creative writing, said Rickman first approached him in 2008 when he was an employee at the Writing Center on campus.

“I hadn’t read a novel about SIU before, and I certainly hadn’t read anything quite like this,” Beck said. “I had five great years at SIU, and I saw this project as a way to give back to the community.”

Beck took on the title as the writing consult for the novel. He said Rickman sent him rough drafts of chapters weekly and he provided Rickman feedback.

“I’m a broadcast writer, but that doesn’t mean I knew how to write a novel,” Rickman said. “You have character development, plot development; I didn’t understand any of that stuff. (Beck) was really there to guide me through that.”

Beck said because of the quality of the manuscript, he had a relatively easy job. He said his vested interest in the concept added to his enthusiasm and respect for the novel.


Kyle Fisher, a senior from DuQuoin studying radio-television, is the program director at WIDB, which is the radio station that plays a key part in the story and referred to heavily in the novel. He said the presence of the station in the novel was refreshing.

Fisher said students in the story blasted the station in the dining hall, the Student Center and dorm rooms. Because the station was limited to an analog format at the time, Fisher said this was the case for the station’s presence, both in the novel and in actuality.

Fisher said the mix of fiction and history was unique and different from typical novels he has read.

“It was interesting to get the perspective of someone who was on campus when things were different socially, but a lot of things going on can be related to today,” Fisher said. “The buildings and settings he uses are the same now as they were back then.”

Beck said the aspect he most appreciated was Rickman’s dedication to the story and how relatable he found the novel.

“At the time the book takes place, I hadn’t even been born yet, but I still really related to the material,” Beck said. “It was interesting for me to see what life was like in that time period, even if it is fiction. It’s a nice time capsule of what life was like at SIU and in Carbondale.”