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Closing book on journalism opens new chapter in life

When I mention the books I've been writing to folks, their reaction is predictable.

They clap both hands over their ears and run off screaming. Overcome with anticipation, the poor people just cannot contain their excitement over the forthcoming books.

Very sad, the lack of decorum these days.

Yet it is odd behavior, given the fact my book-writing efforts are hardly news to anyone in the Western Hemisphere. After all, I always bring it up to everyone I meet, friends and strangers alike.

True, it is difficult to describe a book in depth when you are huffing and puffing, trying to keep up with a moving target.

However, I have decided to shut up and write. Finish the books, that is. I will be leaving the Mail Tribune at the end of the month to pursue book writing.

My last day here at the MT will be Thanksgiving Day. I volunteered to work the holiday to ease my conscience since I feel a bit like a rat jumping from a ship full of friends. Not that the remaining staff is a pack of vermin, mind you.

But I feel the need to finish two books I've started before my light blinks out. My health is fine. Still, I'm growing long of tooth.

And you just never know when the Grim Reaper will beckon with that bony finger.

I also want to complete them before I lose track of whatever the heck it was I was writing about ... hmmmmm, perhaps it'll come to me later.

Several years ago I took a six-month sabbatical to work on a book I've been fighting with for years. It is nearly done despite the countless rewrites, but has already been eclipsed by a second book I've since started.

I've been contemplating this move for the past year. When I sought feedback from two book-writing friends, they offered nothing but encouragement.

Retired journalist Greg Nokes sent an email with solid advice. The only way to write your books is to write your books, he stressed. It takes time and persistence, he added. And it requires leaving the newsroom environment behind, he stressed.

His advice was not unlike that of Dennis Powers, a lawyer turned university professor turned author.

The bottom line? Sit down, roll up your sleeves and write until the books are finished. No detours, no sidetracks.

Veteran authors both, they know of what they speak.

Greg, who retired after having traveled the world as an Associated Press correspondent covering the State Department, has written two excellent history books since leaving the newsroom. He began as a reporter at the MT in the early 1960s, by the way.

His "Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon" tells the fascinating story of Chinese miners killed for gold, while "Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory" focuses on Oregon's little-known tale of slavery.

Dennis, the author of more than a dozen books, is equally impressive in my book. Among my favorites are "Raging Seas: The Powerful Account of the Worst Tsunami in U.S. History" and "Treasure Ship: The Legend and Legacy of the SS Brother Jonathan."

All compelling tales of nonfiction. They should be required reading for anyone seriously interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest. What's more, they are just plain fascinating.

Truth be told, I'm a bit of a dinosaur not impressed with the current direction of journalism. But I'm a happy thunder lizard who lives to devour books. While I prefer paper, a digital book will serve. As long as it is a good yarn well told, I'll stick with it.

Yet I leave the world of newspapers, my professional home for some 40 years, with a heavy heart.

Journalists may largely be nerds but they are interesting people. I'll particularly miss the professionals I've worked with at the MT since arriving early in 1992. Good people all.

And I'll miss all you readers out there who have become friends over the years. You are as important to a paper as its staff. One cannot exist without the other.

I've written for more than a dozen papers from Anchorage to the California Bay Area over the years. I've traveled as a journalist from the Arctic to Vietnam, meeting countless fascinating folks along the way.

Waldo Bodfish in the Arctic village of Wainwright has to be my favorite, although a Buddhist monk in Danang also had an intriguing view of life. And southwest Oregon has always drawn unique people with incredible tales.

When I sink my teeth into an interesting story, I have a tendency to write long, as demonstrated by the Hungry Hill battle story in today's paper. Since books provide more space than today's shrinking newspapers, this is a no-brainer decision for me.

Still, I go into this knowing it is likely I will join the innumerable ranks of recovering journalists who write books only to find no readers interested.

But there will be no regrets. Besides, I will do a bit of freelance writing on occasion, including for the MT.

I'm looking forward to the new challenges ahead. In fact, I was just telling my wife about my plans for each book, taking her through every planned dramatic twist and turn, every plot and subplot.

She was obviously excited about the subject, judging from the fact she was running away with her hands over her ears, screaming.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.