For local author Gary Wayne Walker, there’s a lot of truth to his fiction.
His first book, “Vengeance is Mine” was originally written as a 28,000-word nonfiction account of real life events.
Walker grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where his father was a very prosperous, well-known Hollywood attorney.
“He was polio-crippled from the age of 4, which is very important,” Walker explained. “His polio came back and he had to go back on crutches after walking with a cane as an adult. He started suffering heart attacks. His mind snapped and he stole money from two trust funds. We lost our house as a result of it. My mother wanted a divorce and he tried to kill her on two different occasions — shot her.”
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The first time Walker’s father tried to kill his mother, it made local news; the second time, it was national news.
“When you’re a sensitive 12-year-old boy and your dysfunctional family is on page one of the LA Times, it’s not a good thing,” he said.
Prompted by family members to tell the story decades later — after Walker’s father died in prison — Walker recounted the details “from somebody who had a front row seat,” he said.
After it was called “unpublishable” but an editor who suggested Walker “make stuff up” to lengthen the story, his novel was published in 2013. Names were changed and characters were developed based on questions that had never been answered in real life: had Walker’s father been involved with the mob? Why was Walker’s half-sister never spoken of?
“Vengeance is Mine” received great reviews from across the country, so Walker decided to continue the story — this time a completely fictional account — of Arnold Taylor, the character who represents Walker himself.
“Authors write about what they know,” Walker said. “And when I moved to Fresno I decided to go into the life insurance business... I know how a life insurance agency is run. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a famous book about a life insurance agent since James Cain in the 1940s wrote a bestseller called “‘Double Indemnity,” which was made into a movie.”
“Vengeance Unbound” is set in 1975, when Arnold Taylor, a 33-year-old life insurance agent, finds himself once again in the headlines.
Every 45 days, one of his clients is shot to death in what appear to be gangster-style professional hit jobs.
“The whole point of the second book is that when Arnold Taylor was 13 years old he found himself in the middle of bad stuff he had absolutely no control over,” Walker said. “He tried to put that behind him, but now, 20 years later, he’s in the middle of something that is putting him back on the front page — the last place in the world he wants to be.”
The mystery novel also centers around fictional character Mike Slovak, who had lived with Taylor’s father for five years when Arnold Taylor was a young boy — “he’s based on a Mike who lived with us for about three years in real life,” Walker said.
An undercover woman cop is determined to hunt down and kill Slovak, who has been on the most wanted list for 27 years. The woman is based on a real person who had a crush on Walker in the fifth grade, Walker said with a laugh.
“Slovak is still out there, but he’s not really a bad guy — the only people he kills are criminals in rival gangs,” Walker explained.
The story takes twists and turns, which required Walker to find a balance between not giving too much away, but also not misleading the reader, he said.
“I don’t want to throw off false clues, but I am presenting it as I see it,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to know if anybody figures it out before it became obvious.”
“Vengeance Unbound” can be read independently — a reader doesn’t have to read “Vengeance is Mine” first for the second book to make sense, Walker said.
Walker honed his storytelling skills in a class taught locally by writer Janice Stevens, and “Vengeance Unbound” was published by Clovis-based HBE Publishing. It will be available for purchase Dec. 1 at A Book Barn in Clovis and on Amazon. .
“My hope is the second book outsells the first,” Walker said.
“Vengeance Unbound” release party
When: 5 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 30
Where: Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery, 1781 E. Shaw Ave. at Cedar Avenue, Fresno.
Details: Purchase the book at the event and get 20 percent off of your dinner at the restaurant that evening.