Mystery Mondays has become such fun for me. It’s a place to discover mystery writers that I wouldn’t otherwise know about. This week, I have the pleasure to host Bill Engleson, author of Like a Child to Home and Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul.
So over to Bill.
Setting, Plot, Problem, Solution by Bill Engleson
My novel, Like a Child to Home, is a telling, in a slightly noirish style, or so I tell myself, of the final working weeks of Child Welfare Social Worker, Wally Rose. As I was a recently retired Child Welfare Social Worker when I began the book in 2004, there is little mystery to my research style.
In Early 2004, I was contracted by my previous employer, the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development, to write a report detailing a framework for an MCFD Ethics Committee. That report, Through a Kaleidoscope, was completed in May 2004.
Like a Child to Home, or, as I called it then, Next of Kin, began with that report, with that intensive exploration of ethical practice. I am probably sounding too pompous here. What I wanted to do, in a fictional form, was describe, as best as I could, what my experience of working with at-risk kids and families was like. At the time, I had a long-shelved, since dusted-off detective manuscript, Bloodhound Days, whose main character was Wally Rose. I transposed Wally’s name into this new novel.
Borrowed character name notwithstanding, It wasn’t such a leap to view child welfare as having many of the key elements of mystery fiction.
People in crisis are the characters, humans in need. I hope I am not lessening the very real issues people face as opposed to the somewhat imaginary situations characters in novels find themselves.
Family, or loss of or estrangement from family, is frequently the setting.
The plot…how the lives of children and families are unfolding.
The problem…abuse, neglect, death, financial need.
And the solution…usually temporary…always open to interpretation.
So, with this rather generic similarity, I wrote my novel. Initially, the best I could do was write two character studies, two chapters. It was probably at this point that I actually decided to write a full-blown novel. Which I did.
Back Story of Like a Child to Home
November on the Canadian West Coast; it’s often wet, miserable and dark. Lives get messy; streets are unsafe.
Wally Rose is a brooding, sporadically up-beat, old-time social worker. Carla Prentice is an overwhelmed, single mother of two teenagers, one who has lost his way, another who may be losing hers. The Prentice family, paralyzed by fear and silence, can barely keep a lid on their out-of-control lives.
Wally is juggling a convoluted caseload of youth, each coping with more than their fair share of adolescent struggles, the taxing muddle of leftover family distress, and a baffling child welfare system they are submerged in. An old file comes back to bedevil Wally. A habitual line-crosser, he may have pushed his luck one too many times.
Wally has been “nurturing” kids and fellow workers for decades. He has little patience for red tape and is a thorn in the side of his employer. He is also running out of gas. He hopes he can fill his tank one more time, not only to save himself, and those he cares for, from a capricious system, but also to draw his career to a close on his own terms.
I write daily. Something. Anything. Lately, Monday mornings have required the writing of a haiku. Admittedly, the output is numerically minimalist but the satisfaction is almost acceptable.
In the past couple of years, my regular weekly writerly routine has involved the creation of a number of pieces of flash fiction for a variety of sites. Some of these inspiring sites have closed, proving a burden to the hosts, most of whom are not only authors themselves, but working stiffs.
Aside from a prequel to Like a Child to Home, and the resuscitated P.I. novel (with my protagonist re-christened), and the occasional poem, my principal writerly activity at the moment is shepherding a second book, a humorous creation of literary non-fiction, Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul, released in early October by my publisher, Silver Bow Publishing, along the path of success.
Additionally, a short story, Hell is a Holiday was included in the recent Centum Press anthology, One Hundred Voices.
A recent writing highlight has been the announcement in November’s online CQ magazine that I have won their 2nd Short Story Challenge. The story will be printed in the February edition. Here is a link in case people are unfamiliar with CQ. https://issuu.com/ramblingawaymagzine/docs/cqnov16v2
I am also part of my community. At the moment I am in my final year as Chair of the Hornby & Denman Community Health Care Society. It is a fine service oriented organization.
Few, I’m afraid.
This year, Like a Child to Home received an Honourable Mention at the inaugural Whistler Independent Book Awards.
These days, I enjoy Michael Connelly, Philip Kerr and Lawrence Durrell to name but three.
AND A LITTLE MORE ABOUT BILL
On the day I was born, or thereabouts, my parents pulled into a dock at Powell River and made their way to the hospital.
I am pretty sure it went that way. They never actually spelled out the details and I never asked.
I can’t imagine we lingered more than a couple of days in that seaside town after I was delivered.
The next year and a half was spent on their fish boat. I am told I developed sea legs. I assume that is true. I never fell into the chuck. They never mentioned it anyways.
We finally came to shore in Nanaimo. A Pulp Mill had to be built. My father signed on.
I came of age in Nanaimo. In my later teens, I left, had a truncated Canadian military encounter in Kingston, a tail-between-my-legs return to High School to repeat Grade 12 (after signing a behavioural contract,) and a second, more permanent exit into my own wonky version of maturity and liberation.
I attended SFU as a charter student, dropped out whilst remaining within, immersed myself in student politics, had a six month flirtation with Frontier College and spent more than a decade living in the CRCA, a New Westminster Co-op/Commune which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in August, 2017.
For a career, I spent twenty-four years with MCFD, initially as a family support worker and, post-Solidarity, 1983, as a child protection social worker.
In 2002, I accepted early retirement but after a couple of months of mind-numbing sloth, went to work, for 1 ½ years, with the Lower Mainland Purpose Society headquartered in New Westminster. Previously I had served on the Board of Directors for many years.
All along the plan, our post-work life plan, was for my partner and me to live in the country, preferably on an Island.
Devil’s Island or Denman Island. It didn’t matter.
Well, it mattered some.
Life on Denman has been full, mostly with writing, volunteering, table tennis and, of late, Pickleball.
To keep as active as is befitting a retired social worker who writes, I maintain a blog, www.engleson.ca, and occasionally post both musings on writing and observations on the state of Child Welfare.
There is an intensity to rural life yet, all the while, a comfortable detachment exists, can exist. The community struggles, yet comes together.
I like to think that my writing hasn’t hindered its intermittent coalescence.