The First Time I Read . . . Welcome Neil Plakcy

Welcome, Neil Plakcy, to Birds and Books. Neil's post brings back memories. I, like Neil, was assigned A Separate Peace to read when I was in high school many, many years ago. Reading Neil's reflections on this classic novel suggests that it's time I read the book again.

The first time I read A Separate Peace by John Knowles, I was fifteen
years old and a tenth-grader. We were assigned the book by our English teacher, Mr. Haider, and I approached it like all other homework—grudgingly. Not that I didn’t love reading—I did, and I scooped up all kinds of books from our local library, from kids’ books to classic mysteries. But when a book was assigned? Forget it.

The high-school protagonists, were about my age, though the time, during World War II, was pretty far removed from my own. There were a lot of complex themes in the book, focusing on friendship, love, war and betrayal, and that loaded down the experience for me.

Then Mr. Haider organized a class trip to see the movie version, which had just come out, and I started to fall in love. I had a crush on the two actors, and I memorized wartime ditties from the movie and sang them to myself. I can still remember them, forty-five years later.

But it was Mr. Haider’s assignment that sealed my fate. The book was told from Gene’s point of view, about his relationship with his best friend, Finny, and the betrayal that followed. Mr. Haider asked us to rewrite the book from Finny’s point of view.

We were appalled and protested. How could we write a whole book?

Then he clarified. It didn’t have to be long, just demonstrate that Finny had a different take on what happened than Gene did. So I sat down and put myself in Finny’s position and began to pour my heart out on the page. I no longer have that essay, but I still remember it began something like “I loved you, and you killed me. You bastard!”

That began my career as a writer, that opportunity to put myself in someone else’s shoes and tell a story. I hope that one day I’ll inspire a reader the way John Knowles did with me.

 Neil Plakcy’s golden retriever mysteries have been inspired by his own goldens, Samwise, Brody and Griffin. A native of Bucks County, PA, where IN DOG WE TRUST, THE KINGDOM OF DOG, DOG HELPS THOSE, DOG BLESS YOU and DOG HAVE MERCY are set, Neil is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Florida International University, where he received his MFA in creative writing. He has written and edited many other books; details can be found at his website, Neil, his partner, Brody and Griffin live in South Florida, where Neil is writing and the dogs are undoubtedly getting into mischief.

In the sixth golden retriever mystery, Dog Have Mercy, Christmas approaches and reformed hacker Steve Levitan tries to help a fellow ex-con now working at the vet’s office in Stewart’s Crossing. His curiosity, and the crime-solving instincts of his golden retriever, Rochester, kick in when liquid potassium ampoules are stolen from the vet and Steve’s new friend is a suspect.

Is this theft connected to a drug-running operation in North Philly? Or to a recent spate of deaths at the local nursing home? And can Steve continue to resist his computer-hacking impulses or will his desire to help others continue to lead him into trouble?