MY PEACE CORPS EXPERIENCE in southern Chile was life-changing — it greatly influenced many of the decisions I made in later life. I also thought those two years, from 1968 to 1970, were unique and I knew that some day I would try to write about them. Meanwhile, returning to the States, I became a back-to-the-lander and built a cabin in the backwoods of New Hampshire where I basically cloned my life in Chile, living off-grid and over a mile from the nearest town-maintained road for over fifty years.
When I mostly retired from the specialty wood company I started and built up over the years, I finally had the time to write. One For The Road took me five years and many rough manuscripts before it was finally published through Peace Corps Writers. Ostensibly a combination coming-of-age and love story, the book has been more aptly described by a fellow RPCV as “memoirs masquerading as a novel.” It is about those two years I spent in the foothills of the Andes.
With One for the Road I discovered that I loved to write and, consequently, I soon published a sequel titled When the Whistling Stopped. This novel also takes place in southern Chile and can be described as environmental drama. It is based on true events . . . the largest population of black-necked swans in South America had been wiped out by a new pulp mill’s intentional dumping of toxins upriver from the swans’ refuge. It is a page-turner. I returned to Chile twice to do research for both books.
Having worked hard physically for so many years living in the woods, plus the demands of the lumber business, and the winters where it can get to be thirty below, my wife and I began spending winters in northern Florida. There is an adage that the farther north you go in Florida, the farther south you are. It is true. Our area is part of the Bible belt and the land of sweet tea. For over eighteen years now we have been coming to Dixie County that the locals describe as the county of “logs, hogs, and dogs.” The number one employer is the prison system. Number two is forestry. Our little town on the coast is a backwater fishing village and is often referred to as the “Redneck Riviera.” I was attracted to the area because it was a diamond in the rough, just like the campo of southern Chile.
My wife and I eventually became full-time residents of our town. I got to know more and more of the locals, and learned more and more of our little town’s history and way of life. I believed it was the stuff for a good novel. I wrote Crescent Beach, which is about a fictional town, similar to ours. There’s a lot of action — drug smuggling, an undercover state trooper trying to bust the smugglers, a forbidden love affair, a local stock car race that is like a high speed demolition derby, a ferocious surprise storm that slams and almost destroys the town — but what makes the book is its characters who seem so real. The reader never feels that they were just invented to further the plot. The book was so well received that I decided to write a sequel, Raw Dawgin’.
Many of the same characters in Crescent Beach return in Raw Dawgin’. Other new ones are introduced. Like Crescent Beach, there is plenty of action — a bloody street fight between the commercial and sports fishermen, a little girl is tragically injured, a body is found and a Colombian cartel seeks vengeance, a modern day Tortoise and Hare race captivates the town, the sexy bar owner’s ex has gotten out of prison and comes looking for her, the state trooper returns and his desire for his best friend’s wife is rekindled. But again, like in Crescent Beach, it is the cast of unforgettable characters and their interaction that makes this book so enjoyable.