FORT MITCHELL — When attorney Rick Robinson shared with a friend his dream to write a novel, he was given classic advice: Write what you know.
What Robinson knows about is politics, including experience advising various campaigns over the last 25 years and working for six years in U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning's Washington office.
"You know more about politics than anyone in Northern Kentucky," said Tom Saelinger, the friend, banker and client of Robinson's. "You tell these great stories about the campaigns and being on the road."
Robinson took the advice.
In 2008, after just 30 days of writing, he had 150 pages of a political thriller.
His first two fiction books about a small-town Kentucky councilman who becomes a congressman — The Maximum Contribution and Sniper Bid — have won national attention.
His third novel is due May 27, and he has three more in the works.
"Rick is living out his passion. He has a gift for plotting. Each book is getting tighter and more entertaining," said friend Dennis Hatzell, manager of the Cincinnati Enquirer's NKY.com.
Hatzell is writing a book with Robinson tentatively titled Suicide Squeeze. It's about a terrorism plot in Chicago as the Chicago Cubs play in the World Series.
"With the Cubs in the Series, you know it has to be fiction," Robinson said.
Robinson practices law as a partner at Graydon Head and Ritchey in Fort Mitchell, but tries to spend at least an hour every night writing on a computer using his hunt-and-peck method.
Asked if his books are biographical, Robinson said, "Well, I never woke up in bed with a redheaded stripper."
But, he said, the main character in his political thrillers, Richard Thompson, is a compilation of Bunning, himself and every political candidate he has worked for over the years.
Robinson, 51, got into politics in 1977 when he volunteered to work in the state House campaign of Republican Barry Caldwell from Northern Kentucky.
"When Rick first called me, I thought he was a plant for the Democratic Party, since he was from Ludlow, a strong Democratic area in Northern Kentucky," said Caldwell, now president of STAAR Surgical Co. in Pasadena, Calif.
"I'm so glad he has taken his political experiences and has written books that are fun to read," Caldwell said.
Robinson, who had always wanted to be a lawyer, was a political science student at Eastern Kentucky University when he made that pivotal phone call to Caldwell.
"My dad was a frustrated lawyer at heart," Robinson said.
Robert Robinson, a World War II veteran, and his wife, Imogene, moved to Florida from Bromley in Northern Kentucky in the early 1950s because of a severe bout of rheumatoid arthritis. Rick was born there, but the family returned to Bromley when Rick was in the second grade.
After graduating from EKU, Robinson went to Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University.
After law school, he started practicing law with Riggs Riggs and Walker in Erlanger. He ran the campaign of his partner Lawson Walker when he was elected to the state House.
Ice cream every night
While working as an aide for Rep. Caldwell, Robinson met Bunning, then a state senator.
"I would go over legislation with him. He ate ice cream every evening at 9. I worked a lot with Jim," Robinson said.
When Bunning unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1983 against Democratic winner Martha Layne Collins, Robinson helped Bunning's campaign.
When Bunning ran for Congress in 1985 for an open seat created by the retirement of Gene Snyder, Robinson again was there.
"On election night, the last thing on my mind was that Jim Bunning was going to offer me a job," Robinson said.
But Bunning did, and Robinson and his wife, Linda, moved to Washington. Robinson became Bunning's legislative director and press secretary.
But when the Robinsons started planning a family, they decided to move back to Northern Kentucky. In 1998, he unsuccessfully ran for Bunning's congressional seat while Bunning went on to the U.S. Senate.
"I've been associated with Jim's entire political career," Robinson said. "He's a friend."
Robinson's wife encouraged him to find a publisher when he started that first book.
"I bought Writers Guide to Literature and came up with 30 possible publishers. Three wanted it," he said. "No one was to be shocked more than me that someone might be interested in publishing my book."
As his third book, Manifest Destiny, is about to come out, Robinson is starting a coming-of-age novel about growing up in the Kenton County communities of Bromley and Ludlow.
"I don't know if I have come of age yet," he said.