I’ve published a number of non-fiction books and a few dozen essays, and these have been very rewarding projects. Because stories are what enchant readers, my non-fiction has been crafted with narrative arcs intended to place the information into the context of real lives, world history, and personal experiences. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when I took on the task of writing fiction.
Here’s the basic concept of Dose Unto Others (my working title). When an ecology professor is murdered, Riley—an exterminator, whose business extends to two-legged pests—is drawn into the case by the wealthy and fiery widow. Tracking vermin, from filth flies to drug dealers, across the bucolic lawns of the University of California-Berkeley campus and through the gritty alleys of San Francisco, Riley applies his darkly poetic brand of poisoned justice. Set in the 1970s, Dose Unto Others features a hard-bitten, soft-hearted detective-turned-exterminator who uses his knowledge of insectan and human nature to find a killer.
I’ve found that the noir anti-hero is a wonderful way of exploring philosophical questions without academic pedantry. Riley wrestles with three grand traditions: American pragmatism (‘Truth’ is the compliment we pay to ideas that work), Greek stoicism (we cannot control events in the world, but we can decide how we will respond) and European existentialism (no excuses—in the end, we are responsible for our actions). The story explores the limits of these philosophical perspectives in terms of justice—how should one deal with evil? Riley understands that the bottom-line is that we must kill so that we may live. The moral challenge is whether we kill well.
And now the BIG news—I’ve signed a three-book contract with Pen-L publishing (http://www.pen-l.com/), reasonably big, small press with an impressive set of authors. What really impressed me was the attentiveness, professionalism, and collegiality of the couple who runs the operation: Duke and Kimberly Pennell. I suppose that I imagined signing a book deal with one of the giant publishers in New York for a whopping advance, but bigger is not always better. The Pennells are deeply committed to working closely with authors, not merely the bottom-line. Of course, they care about profits, but it’s clear that relationships also count for a great deal in their business ledger.