New York Times bestselling author William Bayer knew about the potential for fires when he and his wife moved into their hillside home in Sonoma 20 years ago. But he decided to give up a waterfront vacation property in Martha’s Vineyard for the inland town anyway, eventually moving to the Valley full time from San Francisco.
The October fires forced Bayer and his wife, chef Paula Wolfert, to evacuate for two weeks, but they had more luck than many of their neighbors. Despite the CalFire map showing the area surrounding their house engulfed in flames, when they returned home, it was still standing.
“I remember the first morning,” said Bayer. “It was around 4 a.m., and we had evacuated our house. We were sitting in the parking lot of Sonoma Market waiting for it to open. And some guy drove in, and he said ‘Glen Ellen is in flames.’”
“Right after the fire, I got really motivated to get writing,” said Bayer. “I had been having trouble with a project, but the fires kind of kickstarted me back into writing.”
“I appreciate Sonoma all the more now,” said Bayer. “I really love it here.”
Bayer is the author of more than 20 novels, including the best-sellers “Switch” and “Pattern Crimes.” His current project, a neo-noir mystery called “The Murals,” is about a photographer who finds floor-to-ceiling murals in an abandoned house he is photographing.
“The book is about who painted these murals and the story behind them,” said Bayer. It does not yet have a release date.
“I think Sonoma is a good place for writers,” he said, although he said he has no plans to ever set a book here.
Every morning Bayer walks the bike path that stretches from Sebastiani Winery to Highway 12. It’s part of his routine, and that of many others. After the fires, he exchanged “war stories” with his fellow walkers.
Before he settles in to his home office to write for the afternoon, he eats lunch with Wolfert.
For Bayer, ideas can come from anywhere, and they may take the form of the starting point, or even the ending point, of a novel.
“It’s a major decision to stick with one idea and follow it through,” he said. “That’s a couple years work, so if I make a mistake, it is a lot of time and energy wasted.”
Bayer’s backstory is as fascinating as his novels.
After graduating from Harvard College in 1960, he served in the foreign service under the Kennedy administration, working in the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency in Vietnam. During his spare time, he worked on his first novel, “In Search of a Hero,” which was published in 1966.
“It had nothing to do with ‘Nam or war,” said Bayer. “I thought of the project as an escape from all that.”
After six years, he was offered a position as a press officer in Vienna, but decided to switch gears. He transitioned into documentary filmmaking, and television, writing and directing the award-winning feature film “Mississippi Summer” in 1971.
“But I didn’t enjoy doing that very much,” said Bayer. “You’re not your own boss.”
He began writing full time in Morocco, while Wolfert worked on a Moroccan cookbook. Now, he has more than 40 years of writing and over a dozen books – primarily neo-noir crime fiction – under his belt. CBS even produced and broadcast seven made-for-TV movies based on Bayer’s character, NYC Detective Frank Janek, and his books “The Switch” and “Wallflower.” And his novel “Peregrine” won the Mystery Writer of America Edgar Award in 1982 and he earned the Lambda Literary Award for “The Magician’s Tale” in 1998.
Bill Bayer’s literary Oeuvre
‘Visions of Isabelle,’ 1976
‘Pattern Crimes,’ 1980
‘Punish Me with Kisses,’ 1980
‘Blind Side,’ 1989
‘Mirror Maze,’ 1994
‘The Magician’s Tale,’ 1997
‘Trick of Light,’ 1998
‘The Dream of the Broken Horses,’ 2002
‘Hiding in the Weave,’2013
‘City of Knives,’ 2013