CORVALLIS - For nearly a quarter of a century, Oregon State University professor Ron Lovell taught journalism students to make their point in the lead, avoid leading the reader down side paths and, most important, to never insert themselves into the story.
Then in 1995, he retired and changed all the rules.
Now Lovell, an emeritus professor of journalism and English, enjoys tossing in a few red herrings and bold plot twists as he plies a new trade - murder mystery novelist. His first published book of fiction, "Murder at Yaquina Head," is due at bookstores this April from Sunstone Press. He already has a contract signed for a second book, and two others have been completed.
"It's the first time in my life I've written in a first-person style," Lovell said with a laugh, "and I must say, I enjoy it. In journalism, it's considered a sign of weakness. In fiction, it gives you license to delve into the protagonist's thought processes."
Lovell's protagonist is Thomas Martindale, a journalism professor at an unnamed university in Oregon's Willamette Valley that looks suspiciously like OSU. In fact, some of his books refer to Strand Ag Hall, steam tunnels running underneath sidewalks, a bike path going out to a covered bridge, and other locations that are characteristics of Oregon State.
Martindale even has a running battle with an ex-University of Oregon marketing director, who blames his ruined career on Martindale's meddling.
The fictional Martindale - named after Lovell's great-great-grandfather - has a house at the Oregon beach, and his crime solving takes him from campus to the coast with some regularity. It's no coincidence that Lovell lives in Gleneden Beach and, like Martindale, had worked as a magazine reporter and also taught journalism.
"Well, yes, to a certain extent Thomas Martindale is modeled after me," Lovell said, "though I certainly don't go around solving crimes. He is always trying to help people and I tried to do that with students. Thankfully, none of them turned out to be murderers."
In "Murder at Yaquina Head," Martindale leaves campus for his coastal retreat to begin summer vacation. He receives an invitation to a brunch the following day by Simone Godard, a retired French professor, who is hosting a number of people at her home. As Martindale leaves the brunch, she hands him a manuscript about the French Resistance during World War II, and tells him she thinks someone may kill her for what is written in its pages.
That is the last time Martindale sees her alive. Her body is found washed up on the beach a few miles away, and Martindale vows to find her killer - but first must avoid winding up under suspicion himself.
"Murder at Yaquina Head" has been optioned for a cable television movie, and is picking up some nice reviews. Wrote BookList: "(Lovell) crafts a convincing story peppered with absorbing details about World War II. Much of the fun here is reading Simone's gripping memoir over Tom's shoulder."
The forays into World War II and other topics give Lovell a chance to use some of his own experiences and research in his writing. The first novel he wrote, "Dead Whales Tell No Tales," is set against an international whaling conference at a marine science center in Newport. His second book, "Lights, Camera…Murder," looks at the high stakes game of student recruiting.
"Murder at Yaquina Head" actually was the third mystery novel Lovell wrote, but it took him a long time to find a publisher.
"It's a competitive business and, after five years, nothing had happened," Lovell said. "I went the agent route, then tried to sell them myself, before I finally got hooked up with Sunstone Press in Santa Fe, N.M., which is a small but good press. I sent them the first couple of chapters and they asked for the whole manuscript, and offered me a contract. "Things took time, but they're finally starting to click," he added.
Lovell also has signed a contract with Sunstone to publish "Dead Whales Tell No Tales," and he has just completed work on a fourth mystery that sends Martindale off to the Arctic on a scientific expedition. He's already got plans for a fifth Martindale mystery.
A former bureau chief for Business Week magazine in Denver, Colo., and senior writer for Medical World News in New York, Lovell joined the OSU faculty in 1971. He taught in the Department of Journalism - and then later the Department of English, after the journalism program was closed - until his retirement in 1995. During his career, he wrote a dozen journalism and photography textbooks, and published numerous freelance magazine articles. A new text about photography and captions, "Pictures &Words," is due out in July.
During the next month, Lovell is scheduled to appear at several book signings and readings in Oregon. They include:
- Saturday, April 27 - A reading and book signing at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse Interpretive Center in Newport, 1 to 4 p.m.
- Saturday, May 4 - A book signing at Bob's Beach Books in Lincoln City, noon to 3 p.m.
- Wednesday, May 8 - A reading and book signing at OSU's Memorial Union Room 206, sponsored by the OSU Book Store, noon to 3 p.m.
- Thursday, May 9 - A book signing at the Myrtle Point Library, 4 to 7 p.m.