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Suspense writer emerges from Triangle Lake

Photo: The shores of Triangle Lake provide Chris Mikesell with an outdoor office and a source of inspiration for at least one of the characters Mikesell is crafting.
The shores of Triangle Lake provide Chris Mikesell with an outdoor office and a source of inspiration for at least one of the characters Mikesell is crafting.

TRIANGLE LAKE — If a writer wanted to find inspiration for a character who lives in a small, lakeside town, then Triangle Lake might be a good place to look. For local writer Chris Mikesell, the lake is part of his daily life, which may help explain his success at finding a voice for the fictional Wilbur Hucks of Kanner Lake, Idaho.

Kanner Lake is the creation of Brandilyn Collins, an award-winning and best-selling novelist who just published “Violet Dawn,” the first of a three-part series of suspense thrillers. In conjunction with her book release, she created a Kanner Lake town blog, populated it with characters from the series and invited writers to audition for the chance to become the voice of one of those characters.

Mikesell, 37, chose the 77-year-old Hucks as the character for his audition piece. He is a backcountry old-timer and a heart surgery survivor who’s a bit cranky and was involved in most of the town’s history. Mikesell captured the character well enough to become one of four writers who take turns creating the next installment of life at the lake from the old timer’s point of view.

“Wilbur Hucks sounded like a fun character,” said Mikesell. “I chose him because he could say almost anything. Also, his surgical scar reminded me of my dad, who’s less crotchety than Wilbur but still has his moments.”

Mikesell met Collins in April at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference near Santa Cruz, Calif., where he had arrived with a manuscript for “Revival,” his unfinished novel. Collins agreed to critique his manuscript and enjoyed his writing style enough to invite him to audition for the Kanner Lake blog, an Internet site that promotes online commentary.

Mikesell is putting the final polish on his 85,000-word novel and hopes to submit it to a publisher early next year. The story uses theology as a basis for entertainment, because his primary goal is to entertain and amuse readers, rather than preach to them.

“A jaded writer, a roadshow preacher and a demon with a loophole to exploit converge on a remote Oregon town one November afternoon,” he said in outlining the plot of his novel. “Within 72 hours the place is in flames, and the writer must overcome his lack of faith if anyone is going to survive the weekend. “

He describes it as a horror story with elements of mystery and humor, a description that also fits other pieces of his published work.

“I just try to tell the stories that come to me as truthfully as I can,” he explained. “I hope that people will enjoy what they read, but I also hope they will think about what they’ve just read, and that it will stimulate deeper thinking.”

“A flash fiction piece of mine, ‘Jack of All Non Sequiturs,’ was published at ‘Flashes of Speculation’ on Aug. 10,” Mikesell said.

The short story is set in a diner where a waitress suffers a violent death at the hands of her Jack Nicholson-obsessed boyfriend. It’s an edgy and unsettling tale, one that seems unlikely to emerge from the mind of this quiet and gentle man.

Dragons, Knights, & Angels, an online publication that describes itself as “the magazine of Christian fantasy and science fiction” recently named Mikesell’s story, “The Fortunate Purgatory of Arthur MacArthur,” as the winner of their 2006 fiction contest.

From the opening sentence (“I don’t know how I died, but I’m certain it happened at some point.”) Mikesell takes the reader on a strange journey through a personal purgatory that takes place in a boiler room and involves the archangel Gabriel, Albert Einstein, an unseen dragon and references to King Arthur of Camelot.

“For me, the most gratifying thing that has happened with my writing has been the unsolicited review of that story by Tangent, a short fiction review Web site,” he said.

“Mikesell’s writing is strong, having a distinctive voice and a facile eye for viewing the (under)world,” reads the Tangent review. It describes his story as “both a lighthearted and a sad tale, and Mikesell is able to successfully switch between both without losing a step.”

A modest, unassuming fellow, Mikesell has been married to his wife, Dina, for 18 years. Along with their son Philip, 6, they live at the Triangle Lake Camp and Conference Center, where Dina is executive director. The Mikesells moved from Salem in the summer of 1999 to begin managing the retreat and summer camp that is owned by the Episcopal church.

“Philip is my one-man PR department.” said Mikesell. “He tells complete strangers that his dad writes books and stories. Before this he told people I needed to eat more vegetables, so this is better.”

“Dina reads everything I write, whether it’s her cup of tea or not — usually not. Some of my writer friends say their spouses don’t understand their need or desire to write, so I consider myself blessed,” he added.

As someone who’s had relatively quick success in a highly competitive field, Mikesell has a few word of advice for would-be writers.

“A support network is crucial. Beyond family or a local writing group, there are online writing communities and blogrolls. There’s a “who-you-know” element to the industry, but it’s surprisingly easy to make contact and develop relationships.”

“Blogging and writing Amazon reviews helped me find my voice and develop confidence in my writing ability. Being one among hundreds of thousands affords some anonymity, but you can still point to what you’ve done and the occasional bit of feedback helps immensely.”

Copyright 2006 Serif Publishing Group.
Archived with permission.