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Don't underestimate the matron in the apron

Heart of a Runaway Girl is a great story that takes you right to its mountain town setting in the 1980s. It also makes you beg for a sequel.


Heart of a Runaway Girl

By Trevor Wiltzen

$14.04 (paperback)

299 pages


It's a small mountain town in the 1980s and it has probably seen better days. Crime has moved in – and in a big way, too – but the diner is still there, as reliable and reassuring as a slice of apple pie on a cold night. When a young woman is killed and her boyfriend becomes the suspect, it's up to Mabel, the single mom who runs the diner, to go up against a drug lord and his gang, the local police and the very racism that threatens to spoil everything that was once good in her cosy little community.

That's the premise behind Heart of a Runaway Girl, a great new yarn produced by St. Albert's former director of heritage sites, Trevor Wiltzen. Not a writer by trade but rather by earnest and prolonged effort, Wiltzen put his scientific experience to use as research for this artistic endeavour: his first, but certainly not his last.

“I've always wanted to be a writer since I was young, but life and work and everything gets in the way, and you don't necessarily have the time to do it,” he began.

While doing a geology contract about a decade ago in Blue River, a town on the B.C. side of the Rockies opposite to Jasper, he took a helicopter ride that sparked his initial interest in writing an adventure story.

Writing fiction, he explained, is its own ride.

“I actually spent eight years trying to write an adventure novel, which failed,” he admitted with a hearty laugh. “I struggled quite hard and I just couldn't get it done: the way I was doing it, I didn't quite understand the characters, and it wasn't working. But out of that failed novel was this really cool waitress that I had thought of as a side character for this novel. She was this waitress/owner of a diner and motel in the fictional town of Blue River. Out of that, because her voice for some reason just rang so clear to me, I thought, ‘Well, why not write about her?’ I started that novel with her.”

She is Mabel Davison, perhaps the perfect character to be the protagonist of a small town crime story set in Washington state. Who better than the person whoreceives townsfolk and travellers alike, entrusted with feeding everyone and keeping them safe and mobile as well, to be the one who has the common sense and the gumption to speak up and act when something doesn’t seem right? She’s the person every town should have – a matron at the hearth, always ready with a fresh cup of coffee – the one everyone wishes was around. Who would dare to bite the hand that feeds you?

Well, there’s Larson, the local kingpin who doesn’t care much for Mabel’s interference. One night, a young couple passes through her diner and Mabel smells trouble. The young woman ends up dead later that night and everyone seems quick to pass judgment on the young man, who is swiftly arrested. The law needs time and resources to solve the murder but Larson’s gang rushes the police station, ready to lynch. Mabel won’t have any of that nonsense and stands in the way of the mob, saving the day but also opening up a whole new can of worms that only means further trouble for her, her two kids and the entire community.

“This character so intrigued me, and I thought she just had such an interesting story. The words just flowed out,” the writer said.

Runaway has a great sense of place and a main character with a heart of gold right at its core. It’s a page-turner for sure with a gripping story that makes you wonder what’s going to happen next and how bad things are going to get for the hash-slinger armed only with her wits and a greasy spatula. The reader practically begs for the further adventures of Mabel. There’s good news there, too: Wiltzen already has sequels lined up for fans to stay tuned for.

That’s some pretty good work for the self-published author. He designed the book cover. He’s doing all the publicity he can through social media and elsewhere. The learning curve is quite steep, he admitted, and the work doesn’t stop when you write ‘The End’ either.

“I think a lot of authors don't realize is the easy part is the writing, or it seems hard enough as it is. After that, it's a whole new world.”

He wouldn’t have it any other way though.

“I'm not sure if I want to be traditionally published. I think being an indie author and publisher, actually, now that I'm doing it, even though it's a huge amount of work, I do love it for the freedom.”

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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