Monday, February 22, 2010

Massacre Bay Bill--Aloha to a Friend and a Reader for All Seasons

Massacre Bay Bill was a fine neighbor and friend of Bill’s and mine on Orcas, one of the American San Juan Islands. Just south of Vancouver B.C., home to the Winter Olympics now splashing the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest all over TV—that’s where the San Juans happen to be, and as it happens there are so many Bills in my life that M.B. Bill’s devoted companion Anne and I couldn’t keep all the Bills straight. We took to naming our various Bills for pieces of geography. “Massacre Bay Bill,” our neighbor, was one of the “Bill” trio. The others are my husband, “Cayou Valley Bill,” and his first born son, “Negril Bill” in Jamaica.

“Massacre Bay Bill,” who passed away Friday, was a very accomplished person, who at one point arrived in California fresh out of college with a couple of buddies. Forty years ago? Fifty? M. B.Bill was a contemporary guy. He kept up with the times, and so it never occurred to me to ask. At any rate M.B. Bill and his pals were so broke when they arrived in Los Angeles that they managed to scrape together enough spare change to buy a can of soup, so they flipped a coin to decide who would eat it. I never did find out who won the toss, and now, sadly, I never will. By the time I met M. B.Bill, he’d founded a thriving business and passed it along to his sons. He enjoyed many successful real estate ventures and had successfully conquered some demons of his own along the way. What I appreciated most about M. B. Bill was that he was never far from his next read. If M.B. Bill wasn’t watching a ball game or out fishing, he could be found in his study engrossed in another book.

I’m one of those writers who thrive on input from readers and M. B. Bill was a reader of eclectic tastes, whose opinion I valued. After I finished a draft of my third novel, One Big Itch, I passed it along to him. When he didn’t volunteer anything about it, I figured I was in trouble. I finally asked him what he thought. Then came that little grin, the small laugh, and the bald statement of the facts: “I got lost in it,” he said. “There were all these suspects and I couldn’t figure out whodunnit.” That was another thing I valued about Massacre Bay Bill. He never minced words.

Well, if you’ve outsmarted a reader as sophisticated as Massacre Bay Bill, you’ve lost most of your audience, or so I concluded. I changed the story, naming the suspect early on, leaving the proof of the case as the mystery to be resolved. Now that I’m whacking away at that thicket of images that somehow has to be shaped into novel number four, I’m at a loss. Where’s Massacre Bay Bill? What would he say? Aloha, to you Bill, I’m forever grateful for your help and I pray that on those rainy days in paradise you’ll find yourself yet another great read.

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