Paul McHugh’s new mystery/ thriller/ outdoor adventure/ travelogue/ dialog/ diatribe/ ecological morality play/ whatever, is titled “Deadlines.” It kicks off fast with a whinny and a gallop. A big white horse tramples to death a little old lady, and the hunt for justice begins.
A greenhorn journalist newly arrived in San Francisco gets involved with the story. He suspects foul play, but can’t yet prove it.
An older reporter with a drinking problem and a tragically dead girl friend gets on the case. The greenhorn reporter gets beat up, bad, and only the drunken lout can help. First he has to rally up, drop the sauce, dust off his reporting skills, save his job, fight his editor, and figure out the Who What When Where and Why of the whole thing.
The bad guys are horrible, the good guys heroic. On the embattled California coast justice may triumph, but it’s never a sure thing.
“Deadlines” is a cheerful romp through quite serious territory. The title is meant to invoke the heady atmosphere of a major daily newspaper, with its feuds and infighting, dedicated writers and corporate maneuvers.
I’ve long followed Paul McHugh’s career because once, much time ago, he lived in Mendocino. Paul seemed just another happy, hapless hippie, with a special appreciation for this gorgeous place.
He turned up later as a successful beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He covered outdoor sports and environmental issues, and worked on a number of investigative series.
McHugh is only too well aware that newspapers are having a hard time of it. Readers who don’t already appreciate what they stand to lose if newspapers shut down will be reminded in “Deadlines.”
In answer to some questions I posed about how he came to write this book at this particular moment, Paul wrote:
“When I took the buy-out from the SF Chronicle in the summer of 2007, I also took it as a chance to change my life. As Yogi Berra says, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it!’
“... I had spent 30 years assiduously applying the rubric and values of non-fiction in my prose. I felt I achieved a fair amount that way, but it made the far more imaginative dimension and creativity of fiction seem like the Promised Land. I'd written some short fiction and one novel before: "The Search For Goodbye-To-Rains." That was a young man's first-person narrative, basically an intellectual and spiritual memoir of a cross-country motorcycle trip. The primary way fiction entered that picture was through exaggeration of my personal story.
“In truth, I did not pursue fiction further at that time of my life (30 years ago) because I did not feel that I understood other people, or life itself, well enough to create believable characters who were not me, or fictional situations that were not my own. However, after 30 years of research and writing, 22 of them in a big city newsroom, I had begun to feel that these deficits were cured, and that I could now apply creativity to my working capital of understanding.
“So, I took a deep breath, and plunged in! My first goal -- as it should be for any fiction writer, I think -- was to focus on creating a rattling good yarn. The story itself must be strong enough to carry any other purposes a writer may have. A secondary goal was to portray a newsroom in full uproar as it charges toward putting out an important, investigative article. I wanted to clearly present and celebrate journalism, with all its warts and flaws, certainly, but also with that tattered, inkstained nobility of purpose which also -- in its best moments -- it can display.
“... I wanted people - especially any young people who happen to read my book -- to understand that it is a valuable trade, and one worth pursuing, despite all or any difficulties. And a craft crucial to preservation of democracy.”
“Deadlines” is newly published in paperback by the esteemed Fort Bragg house Lost Coast Press. Later this year you yourself can meet and greet Paul McHugh when he returns to Mendocino for a book signing and celebration.
“Deadlines, A Novel of Murder, Conspiracy, and the Media” by Paul McHugh. Lost Coast Press paperback $16.95. ISBN 9781935448044.
Other source material on various pages here... and background on the book.
Lost Coast Press is an imprint of Cypress House. Cindy Frank and staff have helped any number of worthy authors find their way into print.More information.