Home for me is Astoria, Oregon, with its soaring hills and ample views of the Columbia River below. Astoria is an arts town now, a magnet for tourists in armadas of RVs and cruise ships, but for most of its existence it was filled with lumberjacks and fishermen and cannery workers and their kin.
I arrived a few years ago, a pandemic nipping at my heels. Or rather, the rear bumper of my aging Corolla. I had just retired from print journalism, having miraculously survived more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. Toward the end, though, the walls were closing in. There had been layoffs, followed by more layoffs, each round more painful than the one before.
Looking back, I shake my head. The notion that I might retire at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems naïve now. But that’s what I thought. I had notched 10 rewarding years there and figured that a paper that had published since the Civil War had proven staying power. But one terrible day in 2009, out of the blue, they gathered us in the heart of the newsroom to announce that the suits at Hearst were closing the paper. I’ll never forget the sight of jaws dropping in unison, mine included.
Many of my colleagues couldn’t leave their beloved Seattle. They found jobs in PR or academia or began freelancing. I wasn’t ready to leave newspapers, though. I became a nomad, working in Florida for a time– until the layoffs began. In New York, I enjoyed seven precious years as an editor before that paper slashed its payroll and sold off its press.
I retired a bit early, then headed West to be closer to friends and family. Also, a second career was calling. I had always wanted to write novels but never seemed to find the time, given the demands of deadlines and a family. I arrived in Astoria with rough starts of two books, about 75 pages each. Could I actually finish them– tell the tales swirling about in my brain?
I had my doubts, but when I began to write, an amazing thing happened: Words began flowing through my fingertips almost like magic. In just a few months, I completed the manuscript of my first suspense novel. I was thrilled.
Flashing forward, I’m happy to say that the magic hasn’t waned. I’ve just released Militia Men, my third suspense novel set in the Pacific Northwest. It’s the tale of a young man who joins a dangerous militia to protect his best friend only to became ensnared in a plot to kidnap a U.S. senator. The plot, given current events, seems plausible. Even likely.
At this point you’re probably wondering, what does any of this have to do with beer?
Glad you asked. When the local paper did a feature story on my first book, it just so happened that the editors were looking for someone to write a craft beer column. They asked if I was interested, given my newspaper background. After mulling it over for about 60 seconds, I accepted.
I’ve always been passionate about hand-crafted beer– ever since I tasted my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as a college student in Northern California. It was both a revelation and revolutionary, given how chained to thin, pale industrial lagers we had all become. Suddenly, though, our grandfather’s beer no longer had to be our beer. Full-bodied, well-hopped beers were within reach!
I’ve been penning the column as an ode to the art of brewing for a couple of years. The blog began recently, neatly filling the gaps between columns with newsy posts and lively features. It’s on its way to being a hit with both locals and visitors to Oregon’s scenic North Coast.
At the same time, I’m about to hold a launch party for Militia Men and embark on a major promotional campaign. It’s that split personality thing. Beer and books. Books and beer.
It’s confusing at times. But I wouldn’t change a thing.
William Dean’s three suspense novels all have scenes that star craft beer. One of these days, he believes the names of the breweries will be the answer to a trivia question. He lives in Astoria, Oregon, where he enjoys hearing the sea lions bark.