Bellingham author Clyde Curley's debut detective novel, "Raggedy Man," is a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards da Vinci Eye category, which honors books for excellence in cover art, and was awarded an honorable mention in the Great Northwest Book Festival's general fiction category.
Subtitled "A Detective Toussaint Mystery," the book is about the death of a young drifter, found under one of the many bridges in Portland, Ore., and is the first in a planned series.
Curley reads from his book at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28, at Village Books. Details: clydecurley.com.
Question: What's your background?
Answer: I was born in San Diego in 1944. My father was a career Navy officer, so I pretty much grew up all over the map, places as diverse as Rhode Island, Maryland, Spain and Morocco. I graduated from high school in Hawaii. Partly as a result of my upbringing, I've always been attracted to diversity, so I chose California and San Francisco State for my college years.
Q: What is your career history?
A: I got my first high school teaching job in Astoria, Oregon, in 1970, then went on to other positions in Oregon, teaching English and drama in Albany and Milwaukie, a suburb of Portland.
Q: How did you come to Bellingham?
A: Upon retirement in 2001, my wife (also a teacher) and I settled on Bellingham as the place to come to roost. It suits our needs perfectly; a moderately sized Pacific Northwest city with a university, lots of culture, a beautiful physical setting, friendly people, and good coffee and beer. What could be better?
Q: How did "Raggedy Man" come about?
A: I began toying with ideas for a detective novel during my last year in teaching. Among other plans for retirement, I knew I wanted to try my hand at a big creative project, in addition to the articles I was publishing in music magazines, notably Strings, a periodical for the violin world.
"Raggedy Man" is a big book - 180,000 words, 523 pages - and I was teaching myself how to write a novel as I was actually writing it.
Q: How long did it take you to write it?
A: Because I was also recording CDs and performing as a musician, in addition to editing the second volume of a popular tune book, "The Portland Collection," the novel took about 10 years to finish.
One reason for its length and for the time I put into it is that from the first I thought of the murder mystery aspect of "Raggedy Man" as a "cover" for a grander design. By that I mean I also had literary pretensions, using the conventions of the standard murder mystery to explore themes and create characters with wide applications to some important problems in society today. There are also spiritual and philosophical aspects I wanted to explore using the story as a vehicle.
Q: Why is it set in Portland?
A: I love Portland. It's the best large city in the country. I lived there for 15 years and I know the town well. I'm told by Portland readers that a big pleasure for them in reading "Raggedy Man" is the vivid sense of place conveyed in the story. I enjoy getting to revisit the nooks and crannies of the city and populate it with my characters and their adventures and misadventures.
Q: What about a sequel?
A: I'm already 70,000 words into the second Detective Toussaint novel. That's about halfway through, I think. I began this draft last summer and the writing is going much faster than on "Raggedy Man."
I like to think I know what I'm doing now, that I've learned a thing or two. I'm having so much fun doing this that I just don't want to stop! And there are two more Toussaint novels roughed out in my mind that I eagerly look forward to.
Q: Where is the book available for purchase?
A: Readers can order it from any bookstore, but it's on the shelves now at Village Books, and I encourage people to shop there. However it can also be ordered as an e-book online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Also, I am selling it through my website, clydecurley.com.
Q: What else do you enjoy?
A: I've been playing traditional fiddle music all my adult life. It's near and dear to my heart, and it keeps me active playing for contra dances throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The rich folk cultures in places like Appalachia, Ireland, Quebec and Sweden from before the advent of modern electronic media produced music that is appealingly odd and beautiful, and I've dedicated a good part of my life to learning about it, writing about it, and playing it.
But these days, Detective Matthew Toussaint comes first!