FROM LIGHTING TO WRITING: JACK MITCHELL FINDS SECOND CAREER AS AUTHOR OF 'FAMILY SAGA' NOVELS
Some might not think the natural transition from an award-winning career in the lighting design industry would involve becoming a novelist. But for Jack Mitchell of Rohnert Park, that's exactly how life has played out.
Using the pen name J. Griffith Mitchell, he began writing when he was 70 and, at 85, has just completed his sixth reality based novel. "The Heritage Tree, Volume 1" covers the nation's development from 1761 to 1917 using women's journals to tell the story.
Mitchell and his wife, Dorie, have published all six as eBooks, starting in 2010.
The two endeavors, fine lighting design and "family saga" novels, may not seem to share a connection, but Dorie explains it this way. "His writing is a varied as his (lighting) designs."
In addition to his newest novel, Mitchell has written:
* "The House of Indiscretions," about a woman determined to keep her home, whatever the cost;
* "The Royal Bluebloods," a four-generation dysfunctional family empire that eventually destroys itself;
* "Jeremiah Bascomb - A Heart Divided," a runaway at 15, a business mogul by 40;
* "Death In Edenville," a heinous crime and its unforeseen ripple effect; and,
* "How Well Did You Know Stanley?" the adventures of an introverted businessman seeking romance in strange places.
"I didn't write all these books in two months," he said said. "They are a collection of books I have done over the years.
"We played the (hardbound) publishing game for years, and it was very difficult. When we had the opportunity to go online, we took it. We released the books almost simultaneously.
"From what I gather, it's the wave of the future."
Added Dorie, "It was a way to get them out there finally." She serves as her husband's editor, agent and publicist.
Most of Mitchell's novels explore the darker side of human nature: infidelity, unspeakable crimes, greed, betrayal, blackmail, prostitution, suicide, incest and family deceit.
The Turn of the Century is Mitchell's favorite time period, used as the setting in three of his novels.
"I think it's colorful," he said. "I like the transition from the 1800s to 1900s, so many changes. Not like today, when every minute it's changing."
Mitchell learned that lesson firsthand while writing "Death In Edenville." Deviating from his traditional style, he wrote that novel the year before the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.
He named the principal character in his novel Eric, while one of the two real-life Columbine shooters was named Eric Harris.
"It scared the hell out of me," Mitchell said. "It kind of shook me up a little bit," but after changing his character's name, he published it anyway.
Added Dorie, "He hated writing that book, but he felt it needed to be written because of the (school) violence that was building up."
Inspiration for other books is a more nebulous thing, Mitchell said. "I do not do an outline. It doesn't work for me. I have the beginning, middle and end of story in mind so that I work towards the middle and towards the end."
Things progress organically from there, with character development following the plot line.
"I find it far easier to become the characters as I am writing," he said. "You act them out in your mind. Sometimes a minor character will evolve into a major character."
A native San Franciscan, Mitchell grew up in the Bay Area and attended Balboa High School in San Francisco. He left San Francisco in 1968 and lived in Marin, Windsor and Santa Rosa before settling in Rohnert Park to be near his oldest daughter.
"We liked Rohnert Park long before we moved here," he said. "We found this place and liked it."
As director of design for San Francisco lighting design company Boyd, Mitchell specialized in contemporary, traditional and Arts and Crafts style lighting designs.
"I certainly didn't stick to any one particular style or design," he said. "I had some art training and started out in commercial art. I got paid $15 a week."
Eventually a sketch of a church fixture design earned him a job with Boyd. "I loved it," Mitchell said.
Mitchell is currently working on his seventh book, a biographical novel based on the life of Polish stage and film actress Pola Negri. You can learn more about him at jgriffithmitchellnovels.blogspot.com. His e-books are available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and kobobooks.com, as well as iBooks and Google Editions.