Time to Retire

 

By Doug Hergert

(Writing in The Rossmoor News)

Mystery in Paradise

Jon Foyt’s insightful new novel “Time to Retire” takes place in a large California retirement community called Sunset Gardens, which residents tout as “our paradise on earth.” But paradise may be broken: Are the directors secretly involved in a variety of lucrative but fraudulent conspiracies? Are foreclosures and evictions benefitting the powers that be? And is the restive ghost of a recently deceased resident really watching over all this mischief?

As two determined journalists investigate the story - and as Foyt explores the salient themes of age and retirement - we are treated to a riveting and entertaining narrative that reads like a mystery novel.

Foyt agreed to an interview by email:

DH: Does your novel sometimes feel like satire, as you poke fun at the things that might go wrong in a retirement community?

JF: If “Time to Retire” elicits a variety of reader reactions, then the mission of the book-begun two and a half years ago - is fulfilled. Satire, I believe, suggests an intention on the part of the author to poke fun at people or institutions. In that sense, it was not my intention to poke fun at its residents or at Sunset Gardens - the novel’s retirement community - but to examine more closely the pat vision of “The Golden Years.” A chapter or two may include elements of satire, I suppose, but I regard the novel more as a mystery-romance than as a satire, wherein aging and retirement are sub-plots.

DH: What exactly are you telling us about age and retirement?

JF: Some residents lovingly view Sunset Gardens as “a paradise on earth” where they enjoy peace and happiness in a place of great beauty. As with heaven, or Paradise, an entry gate offers the illusion that evil and worldly problems can be kept outside or at bay. But, of course, we all know that we cannot prevent the advance of aging and its attendant difficulties. What “Time to Retire” suggests, through its many characters, is that there can be no standardized version of retirement that fits all.

DH: Your two journalists, Willy Herbst and Sally Saginaw, sometimes seem like the only truly sane characters in your novel, as they investigate irregular events at Sunset Gardens. How do they relate to the story’s main themes?

JF: Willy’s quest, both personal and professional, is for a fuller understanding of retirement and retirement lifestyles. He is, after all, middle-aged and not far from eligibility for a retirement community himself.

His younger assistant, intern Sally, having lost both parents to Alzheimer’s, is interested in the aging process and in advancing her journalistic career. As they pursue their specific assignment and interview Sunset Gardens residents, Willy and Sally do appear quite sane in comparison to some, not all, of their interview subjects. During the interviews, Willy and Sally learn that while many retirees are content with their lives, many others are not, just as in real life. People continue to encounter, surmount or succumb to life’s obstacles and challenges.

DH: There is a ghost in your story, which brings to mind literary references from Shakespeare to Dickens to the marvelous Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, who loved writing about ghosts. How does the ghost function in your novel?

JF: The ghost of Heinrich Gossard, with his unexplained passing, haunts many characters - in the same way that someone’s death may linger with those who survive. As we age, our library of memories grows, shelf by shelf, with, on occasion, some memories popping out to haunt us. Heinrich’s ghost pervades the novel, especially troubling the six members of the Sunset Gardens Board of Directors, whose often self-serving actions seem to draw the ghost’s attention.

DH: You are a veteran novelist. What advice would you give to new novelists?

JF: I believe in research - especially to set the time and place where the novel gets underway. It is important for the reader to feel a sense of place, including history. The more the novelist can reveal through the characters, the more authentic the writing becomes, and the more meaningful the characters become as the reader meets them. In writing, the novelist must feel the story down deep in the gut.

DH: “Time to Retire” went through some serious revisions over time. Do you like this part of the process? Is it possible to write a good novel in a single draft?

JF: I’ve lost track of the number of revisions and rewrites that my editor and I made to the original manuscript. We left a lot of words on the “cutting room floor,” as they say in Hollywood. One can write a book in a single draft - yes - but to make it “good,” you have to edit and rewrite extensively, almost unendingly. That’s what makes writing so difficult. I love the creation and hate the constant refining. It taxes one mentally. In spades! At some point, however, the work must be “Done” for the book to be born.

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