After decades of teaching English, retirement finally offered local author Maury Barr the chance to turn his mind fully back to his own writing.
This year, with even more time on his hands than usual, Barr released the first two installments of his Al Gerard detective series, “A Glimpse of Gold” and “Staredown.”
“Staredown,” Barr’s most recent release, follows private detective Gerard’s investigations after a suspicious man knocks on his door with a request layered in secrecy.
With lingering reservations about his client’s trustworthiness, Gerard agrees to help deliver a ransom payment in exchange for the man’s daughter.
But will he find the girl before it’s too late?
The bones of Barr’s Al Gerard series had started to solidify during his teaching years at Spokane Falls Community College.
But with the majority of his writing time taken up with lecture notes, the bulk of his stories wouldn’t take shape for some time.
It took retirement, a snowed-in winter and a log cabin full of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to ease the pen back into his hand.
“I’d been oversaturated for so long,” Barr said.
“It’s really a writer’s hell sometimes … reading all these papers.”
Reading student essays can be inspiring and, occasionally, even invigorating, he explained, but editing will eventually take its toll on anyone.
“I think what kept me afloat was trying to see the possibilities,” Barr said. “Trying to come up with suggestions for students that aren’t just rewriting what they’ve written because you don’t want to take that away from them.
“You have to help them see the possibilities in their own writing.”
Once his time was his own again, his mind turned steadfastly back to his first love: storytelling.
After the disappearance and presumed death of his father, a wildlife refuge manager, Barr’s mother, still pregnant with him, moved back to her small hometown in the middle of Georgia to live with her parents.
Barr’s grandfather, an education professor, was a major figure in his childhood. His knack for storytelling and the mischievous tales of his childhood continue to inspire Barr today.
“He could tell a good story, usually with some kind of moral,” Barr said. “But I always liked the naughty ones.”
As he grew older, adjusting to several cross-country moves and his mother’s remarriage, Barr started telling himself stories to fall asleep and stave off boredom.
Then, in his teens, his mother encouraged him to start writing poetry.
“I think I used it as a kind of therapy for adolescence,” Barr said. “She told me that in poetry, you can write anything you want.
“You can write your deepest, darkest secrets, then later you can decide whether you want to share them or not.
“That aspect of utter freedom attracted me totally. It was like magic to me.”
To aspiring authors, Barr offered the following advice: To a certain extent, writers learn to write by reading. So whenever possible, avoid reading bad writing.
“A Glimpse of Gold” and “Staredown” are available at Auntie’s Bookstore.
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