Wilsonville resident Warren Easley launched a second career as a published novelist

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Warren Easley of Wilsonville is author of the Cal Claxton mystery series.Warren Easley was on a flight from Virginia to Oregon in 2002 when he realized he had forgotten the mystery novel he’d been reading.

So, with hours of flight time still ahead of him, the Wilsonville resident decided to write his own.

“I happened to have a spiral notebook in my briefcase, so I thought, ‘oh, what the hell,’” Easley recalled.

“I was always interested in writing,” he said. “But I never really had the time. I’d write the odd poem every once in a while and stick it back into the desk, but never even a short story.”

When the plane landed at PDX, Easley, inspired by author James Lee Burke, had 25 hand-written pages for his first novel. He finished the book — “Dundee Blues” — in 2003 and sent it to a small publisher.

“There’s just one problem: It was terrible, you know, it was just awful,” he said. “I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t good enough.”

But it wasn’t a total loss, said Easley, 73, a retired chemist and executive who put in nearly three decades with DuPont.

“What I wound up with was the protagonist and the setting,” he said.

The setting is the Pacific Northwest, especially Oregon, and the protagonist is Cal Claxton: a “burned-out L.A. prosecutor, who moved to Oregon after his wife’s suicide. He’s kind of a broken man.”

And that first stab at a novel ultimately put Easley on the path to a three-book deal with Arizona-based publisher Poison Pen Press. His first published novel, “Matters of Doubt,” debuted last year. The second book in the Cal Claxton series, “Dead Float,” will be available next month.

It took a decade of writing, rewriting and rejection for Easley to get from that first novel plotted in a spiral notebook at 30,000 feet to being a published author. He never even heard back from the publisher he queried with “Dundee Blues” in 2003.

“The book was pretty dreadful,” Easley concedes. “I knew I needed help with my craft.”

He enrolled in a writing workshop at the Attic Institute in Portland, and then he joined a couple of critique groups. He wrote a second novel — which would later become “Dead Float” and shopped it around. It was rejected. But, within the rejection letter, there was encouragement.

“It said, basically, ‘we like what you’re doing — you need to work on your plot a little bit, and you’re not quite there,’” Easley said.

He wrote another novel. Again, this one was rejected. Then, he wrote “Matters of Doubt.”

“I knew that was pretty good,” Easley said. “I figured by then: If I’m going to get published, it was pretty much there.”

This time, though, he didn’t even get a rejection note.

“I mean, this is the best book I’ve written, and they don’t even respond,” he said.

Confident in his book, Easley followed up with the publisher. He got an immediate response to his email: We lost the manuscript. Re-send it.

Two months later, he had a three-book deal.

“It was amazing,” he said.

Easley is working on his fifth novel, which — editor willing — will become his third work published by Poison Pen Press. The novel will be set mainly in Portland, but Wilsonville will make some appearances, too.

Finally a published novelist, Easley, who is married and has three adult children and three grandkids, has settled into a writing routine. He works in the morning, when he’s fresh, putting in two to four hours a day. And he does extensive research into the local settings he uses in his books, spending hours wandering Portland and exploring the Dundee area. If he gets stuck while writing, Easley takes a long walk with his dog, Theo.

“That works every time,” he said. “When I come back from a 5-mile walk, I usually have six or eight really good ideas.”

In one way, Easley’s life has begun to mirror that of his protagonist, Cal Claxton.

In “Matters of Doubt,” Claxton works pro bono to defend a pierced, tattooed street kid accused of a crime. Through his research for that book, Easley discovered New Avenues for Youth, an organization in Portland that provides food, shelter and education to homeless teens and young adults.

Easley began volunteering at New Avenues.

“I went in there saying, ‘what do you need?’” Easley said. “It turned out they needed math. So I’m kind of their math specialist now, which has really been cool. I didn’t intend it, it just kind of worked out that way.”

As for “Dundee Blues,” that first novel Easley wrote more than a decade ago: “(It) has the kernel of a good plot, and I’m planning to go back and rewrite it someday.”

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