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Author of Lew Travis mysteries.
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Published Works
The Lew Travis Mysteries

The series includes three mysteries (so far):

  • Come Hell or High Water
  • Hell Hath No Fury
  • Hell to Pay

All three feature Lew Travis, a 72-year-old part-time investigative reporter for the local paper who lives in “Sienna,” a small town in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada foothills. A familiar cast of characters from the local newspaper, constabulary, and citizenry populate the series, which also offers insights into the history of the region and the Native American and gold mining past.

The first book, ”Come Hell or High Water,” involves Lew in the suspicious death of a prominent local attorney with whom he’s had an unpleasant history, and the somewhat reluctant sleuth soon finds himself in trouble with a brutal biker and a femme fatale. It also provides the backstory on how Lew came to be a widower, and introduces many of the recurring characters in the series. This includes a fellow reporter who is descended from the Indians who once lived here, and offers a glimpse of their life before the gold rush.

Visit Come Hell or High Water on Amazon.com

In the second, “Hell Hath No Fury,” Lew is faced with unraveling the death of a teenage girl, the daughter of a family friend who lives down the street from his little bungalow. This one takes him into the complex world of high school, a milieu he hasn’t occupied for over half a century, to re-learn the emotions that affect teenagers caught between youth and adulthood, and the relationships they have with their parents and each other. It also forces him to sort through a myriad of red herrings to identify the killer, aided by his computer guru who is one of the students.

Visit Hell Hath No Fury on Amazon.com

In the third, “Hell to Pay,” Lew befriends a ten-year-old boy who lives with his beautiful single mother and little sister in an immense old mansion in his neighborhood, shrouded in dark rumors and built from the profits of a once-abundant gold mine. History and conflict have followed the gold mine descendants into the present, creating a myriad of conflicting clues, motives and plot twists that Lew must untangle, revealing long-hidden secrets and enmeshing him in a modern version of the wild past. This one explores the gold rush backdrop of the region, and the affect it had on both the gold-seekers and the environment.

Visit Hell to Pay on Amazon.com

In his Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein proposed that time was not a fixed entity, but depended on the perspective of the viewer. Experiments that followed confirmed this unlikely claim, proving that time was indeed a variable.

What are the implications of this finding? Some of the unsettling possibilities are explored in these ten stories, from a strange building where it’s hard to gauge the time, to a young man who seems to be in more than one place, an old professor who has spent decades seeking a way to re-live his lost past, and a busy housewife who prays for more time, only to experience some unexpected consequences.

These stories, written with both amusement toward and compassion for their sundry cast of characters, explore the implications of looking at life from different perspectives. Perspectives that might be characterized as...somewhere in the twilight zone.

Visit Time Passages on Amazon.com

Gabe, a forty-four year old homeless man down on his luck, is living illegally in a tent in the Tahoe National Forest, with only the occasional company of another such hobo and a friendly squirrel. His funds are dwindling, winter is fast approaching, and his future appears bleak.

Into this scene steps a new element: an unlikely interloper discovers his lair, who is appalled by his presence yet concerned for his survival. An improbable relationship is triggered, full of tension and uncertainty; where this will lead is a mystery.

Visit There But For Fortune on Amazon.com
Biography

Charles Dayton was born in a little village in Western New York in 1943, where his father was a science and math teacher and his mother a librarian. He grew up exposed to all sorts of reading matter and early on developed a love of books in general and good stories in particular. In college he majored in English literature, and went on to earn a Master's Degree, which led to a position as an English teacher in a community college in Central New York. After three years of this, he decided he needed to expand his horizons, quit that job, and after six months of knocking around Europe, moved to Northern California in his late twenties.

Here he caught on with a nationally prominent research firm that focused on educational and social issues, and still unsure what he wanted to be when he grew up, began studying career choices, in particular how to help young people find their way to rewarding careers. After picking up a second Master's Degree, this one in psychology, he played a central role in developing an approach that combined academic and career-related instruction in high school, one that the California legislature took notice of and adopted in the early 1980s, and that grew over the next two decades into a network of over 500 sites and 50,000 students.

He also found love during this period, and with a young wife and two small children decided to gamble on a move to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, into an old Victorian house in an old gold-mining town, which eventually became the setting for his Lew Travis mysteries. To his own surprise, he survived with relative ease in this setting, working as a private consultant for 14 years, until joining the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley in 1998 to lead what became a thriving organization dedicated to furthering the approach to education he had helped to engineer.

While he found little time to write during this period, especially until his children were grown and the combined career and family demands eased, he harbored an urge to do so, and when the kids headed off to college he began yielding to this urge. The result is his series of Lew Travis mysteries, his science fiction stories, and his literary fiction. He continues to live with his wife Laurie in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California, in the same old Victorian house for thirty-two years now, and divides his time among writing, travel, visiting his two grown children (and one grandchild) in San Francisco, and hanging out with assorted friends.

Q&A
What inspired you to write Come Hell or High Water and your subsequent books in the Lew Travis series?

Mostly whim, I thought it would be fun to take a shot at writing a book of fiction. I’ve spent the last 40 years in academia, including the last 17 at Berkeley, for which I’m grateful, and which has been quite rewarding. But this was pure fun. I also wanted to capture some of the history, landscape, and lifestyle of the Sierra Nevada foothills. And I’ve always loved mysteries—I think they’re embedded in most good fiction—and a certain genre of science fiction (like The Twilight Zone).

Do you have a specific writing style?

I try to keep it lean, to omit unneeded passages and words, so the story has some pace. At the same time it’s a bit reflective, in the case of the mysteries life seen through the eyes of the 72 year-old sleuth, Lew Travis, who is something of a curmudgeon and has views that might be called crusty.

How do you come up with your titles?

Mostly my wife. She’s also good on names. They are deceptively hard.

Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?

There are underlying thoughts about life and what’s important I suppose, in the nature of the characters and their relationships, and some of Lew’s thoughts. But my purpose isn’t to write deep treatises on life, I think we all have our own life lessons. It’s to entertain.

Are the Lew Travis mysteries based on personal experience or on someone you know?

It’s been said by people wiser than me that everything a writer writes is about their own life, what else do we have to draw on for our characters and plots. So perhaps at some level that’s true. But I don’t set out to write about people or events I’ve known. These are imaginary people and imaginary events.

Who is your favorite author?

That’s a tough question to answer, there are so many that are good. I’ve been reading for a long time, my mother was a librarian, I majored in English in college and have a Master’s Degree in English literature. I’ve been in a men’s book group for the last 17 years; we’ve read a wide range over the years, old and new, fiction and nonfiction, tragic and comic, long and short, you name it. I like lots of genres including serious fiction, mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction, and some kinds of poetry. I don’t have one favorite author.

Nevertheless, there are a few writers who I admire immensely, and who I keep coming back to: e.g., John Steinbeck, Wallace Stegner, William Kennedy, Wendell Berry, Dave Barry (okay, different genre, but he’s really funny). Recently I’ve read a lot of books by women, who I think are too often overlooked, and who are often terrific with characters and feelings. My list of the best current writers around would include Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, and Elizabeth Strout.

You have three mysteries and a book of science fiction stories under your belt. What’s next?

My daughter and I translated her highly statistical and academic dissertation into a book for the general public: First In My Family. It’s about young people who are the first (generation) in their family to go to college, and what family interactions distinguish them from their counterparts. Some really interesting stuff, in my view at least, all based on hard numbers. We hope to have it out by the end of 2016.

I am also in the final stages of finishing a novel, There But For Fortune, described above. And I am working on a book of linked short stories about a family's experiences over a quarter century.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

It’s been around a long time, but has lain dormant most of my adult life, what with career and family and the usual adult responsibilities. About 15 years ago a nephew who has a bent to write (thanks, John!) prodded me to stop fantasizing about it and start doing it. For most of the next decade this entailed trying to squeeze it into weekends and evenings, but now with my semi-retired status I have more time to work on it.

What was the hardest part of writing your books?

Probably exposing them to anyone else, even to friends. Writing is a very personal experience, you’re alone with your thoughts and characters and images. You have no idea if they’ll appeal to anyone else. Ginning up the courage to see how they fly with others requires a serious leap of faith. Fortunately I have kind friends who have been most helpful, even when I sense they see lots of room for improvement.

Did you learn anything from writing your books, and if so, what was it?

The experience of not only allowing your imagination to roam but encouraging it to head off into unchartered territory is interesting and different from almost any other human activity, I think. I love the comment by John Steinbeck when asked how he comes up with his ideas, which was (to paraphrase) that he sets a character off down the road and watches where he goes. That’s pretty much what it’s like.

Another comparison I like is with dreaming, in which your mind not only creates something akin to a movie but let’s you watch it as you’re creating it. If you can do it in your sleep…. In a similar vein, watching your mind go where it will is a bit like walking into a dark theater and waiting for your eyes to adjust. At first you can’t see a thing, but gradually it all comes into focus.

On a different level, learning all the little rules of good writing is immensely challenging, you’re constantly driven by the desire to get better, and you constantly hold yourself up against writers who amaze you with their skill, and make you wonder why you even try. Writing is ultimately a quite humbling experience.