The clanking of silverware amid the scattered small talk of the California Retired Teachers Association mixed in the air with the smell of gravy and warm turkey at the Farmhouse in Banning before the group’s meeting Monday April 8.
Cherry Valley author and retired teacher Gary George was the guest speaker and came to share a bit about his own past and to speak about writings and the inspiration behind them.
George moved from Pennsylvania to Southern California with his family when he was 12 years-old.
Hard circumstances caused the family to move west to start a life far different from the one he had been living.
He recalled the first time he ever set sight on the vast Mohave Desert, and more specifically the town of Needles, a city that was originally a place they were supposed to pass through but ultimately where they would end up.
“I thought, my god, who lives here,” George said when he first saw Needles. “But we ended up in Needles in July,” George said, and his first impression seemed quite bleak.
He went on to jokingly say that he thought he died and had moved to Hell, but explained that by Thanksgiving of that same year he had fallen in love with the unfamiliar new land.
George graduated from the University of Redlands and completed his masters at California State University, San Bernardino.
Before moving to Hawaii with his wife Ginny to teach writing, he spent three years teaching in Banning from 1972 to 1975.
The two eventually moved backed to Cherry Valley to assist with family dealing with health issues.
The path to publishing was laid out by George with a few key events that he felt were influential.
First was a short story about a hastily put together poem for an English teacher that only served to teach him one thing: he was no poet.
His next was a recounting of the story of his first attempt at a novel, which he wrote for an honors class.
No copies survived George’s own critique though — he felt it was so bad that he actually burned it.
What eventually tipped the scales was an interaction with a student of his while he was teaching in Hawaii.
“Aye Mr. Gary, what you write ‘bout eh?” his student asked him.
“A novel no one will see,” George replied.
“Well what for not?” he said.
It was that simple question that helped inspire him.
He said it was in that moment that he realized the kid had a point, and that all he had been writing in his life was for no one.
He said he felt there was no point in him being hesitant any longer, and with the help of his wife he was able to put together his first book, “The House Of Three Murders.”
George said in the beginning he had no idea how to get his work published on a large scale, but suggestion of an e-book would ultimately be the platform to his later success.
Admitting it may have been a bit naïve at the time: he entered “The House Of Three Murders” in an e-book competition.
His was among 50 thousand other entries, and ended up finishing in the top 10.
He said the recognition was nice, but the main perk came in the form of a positive review from Publishers Weekly, “A southwestern tale of betrayal and death, a gripping crime drama, insightful views of relationships and friendships, rich characters and an intriguing plot” — a review he credits as significant catalyst to his success.
“I wanted to write about the desert because most people think of the Mohave as something you need to endure on your way to Las Vegas,” George said.
His six books draws from his own experiences growing up in the desert, and he relies on his Smoke Tree Mystery novel series to try and expand the way people view the Mohave Desert by connecting the relationships he has had in his life to those of the fictional characters he creates.
With his seventh book coming out by the end and of this year and over four million copies of his others already sold, George plans to continue writing and expanding his series.
“Writing is my safe harbor, it keeps me sane,” George said.
Staff Writer Trevor Caddel may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .