Writing novels for the fun of it
VAIL ” Some writers spend their whole lives agonizing over their work, each word reflecting a great truth or lie. Some of them get published, some of them don’t, but most take the craft very seriously.
For Cas Dunlap, writing is a fun diversion to keep him busy in his retirement, and he pens novels with the same kind of attitude one might bring to a garden or a woodworking project. A part-time Beaver Creek resident who spends part of the year in Florida, Dunlap is a former Dallas judge and prosecutor who brings his experience on the bench to bear in his crime fiction.
Part of his inspiration also comes from places he knows. His first novel is set in Pensacola, Fla., where he owns a home. His second, “It’s News to Us,” is set in Vail.
“It’s something like Dave Barry with a mix of Elmore Leonard,” Dunlap says. “It’s crime fiction with a humorous touch.”
Dunlap self-publishes his novels, and he considers it a reasonable success if he sells a few thousand copies.
“If you have any ambitions to write, even if one person buys it, you’re the real deal,” Dunlap says with a smile.
After years of writing for the legal profession, Dunlap says creating works of fiction was a welcome relief.
“It’s fun to make it up as I go along,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun; it still is.”
Dunlap says writing comes fairly easy to him, but the business side of things is another matter.
“The publishing, the marketing, it’s more work than I thought,” he says. “It’s like a real job.”
His first foray into novel writing and publishing came about a decade ago, when he wrote “Southern Lights.” Set in Pensacola, the book become a minor best-seller in the area, spurring Dunlap to write another.
Nothing happened, sales-wise, he says. That experience encouraged him to become more actively involved in the marketing of his books. When he goes to bookstores to do a signing, he says he doesn’t just sit there but tries to engage people as they walk by.
“You have to push your own book,” he says. “The best results I get are in the bigger stores that have a lot of foot traffic. I’ll ask people as they go by if they like crime fiction, get them to slow down and take a look.”
And then there are some lucky strokes that help things along. For “Southern Lights,” he was at a book signing, languishing behind a table when a TV news crew there for another event decided to interview him as well.
“I was incoherent in the interview,” Dunlap says, laughing. “But it sold the most of any of my books.”
While Dunlap’s fiction may be thematically similar to popular humor-crime fiction writers like Barry or Carl Hiaassen, it’s unlikely he’ll rise to their ranks anytime soon. “It’s News to Us,” for example, is loaded with cliches and the kinds of gaffes they warn against in Creative Writing 101. No one “says” anything in the novel; they “exclaim” or “reply” or, in one instance, “cliche.”
Snobbish quibbles, maybe. What’s clear in Dunlap’s fiction is that he has a fun time writing it, and when it comes to the more technical details of cops and courts, his knowledge in those areas rings more truly. Some of the insights about life in the Vail Valley are also spot-on.
What helps keep him on track, he says, is his wife, Anne.
“She’s my editor, and she’s also a lawyer, so she fights pretty hard,” he says. “It can be hard to take criticism from my wife, but I usually just go with it because she’s probably right.”
Dunlap, who’s written seven novels and two short story collections, says he’s at work on a new tale centered on a beach resort, as well as another book he says goes in different direction from what he’s done previously. Without having to worry about a publisher or needing income from the books to survive, Dunlap is a writer who appears completely content with what he’s doing.
“Success? Some would say John Grisham is a success because he sells a lot of books, while others say he’s not for that very reason,” Dunlap says. “Other writers can sit in a room alone, never show their book to anyone. I think I’m in the middle.”
It’s definitely not about the money, he says.
“I like to write, I like when people see it, but if dollars were the thing, then I’d be a miserable failure,” he says.
Cas Dunlap’s books are available locally at the Bookworm in Edwards and online at http://www.casdunlapbooks.com.
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