Al Landwehr, former Cal Poly creative writing professor, writes a new mystery novel | Arts | San Luis Obispo

Michael Drayton, a 45-year-old retired English teacher, is no detective. He’s just a guy who loves and restores Italian sports cars, so when he hears of an abandoned Alfa Romeo in the nearby woods, he goes looking for it. When he finally locates him, he gets much more than an old car – he discovers a missing persons case, a possible new love, the rekindling of a longtime friendship and a threatening late night phone call telling him to go back. stopped.

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  • Image courtesy of Stephen F. Austin State University Press
  • PAGE TURNER What’s left to learn features sexy Italian sports cars, sultry women, colorful characters and a neo-noir setting in which long-buried secrets come to the surface.

So begins What’s left to learna thoroughly engaging and propelling page-turner with an incredible sense of place and time in every scene – small details and asides creating a rich world with a sunny neo-noir vibe where the winds of Santa Ana blow through the too – brief eight days of history.

Written by 86-year-old retired Cal Poly creative writing professor Al Landwehr, the novel pulls off the trick of crafting a believable all-male protagonist who, by chance, stumbles upon a long-unsolved mystery revolving around an eccentric and talented entertainer – a local lothario whose freewheeling way of life was the bane of the more conservative members of the community, a man who, nearly 20 years earlier, had simply disappeared.

Landwehr, an oft-published short story writer, began teaching at Cal Poly in 1970 and started a campus-wide creative writing contest in the spring of 1971 that continues to this day. He received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997 and, after 43 years at the university, he retired in 2013. He estimates that he has taught at least 10,000 students during his career. (Full disclosure, I was one of them. I also played tennis with Al and hung out at his auto shop where he restored old Italian sports cars, like a Fiat X1/9 which its protagonist Michael Drayton drives.)

“As you know, writers are always told to write about things they know,” Landwehr said. “And yes, he’s a bit like me. I was an English teacher but didn’t leave early and I’ve never been accused of sexual harassment. Michael Drayton is a name borrowed from a Renaissance poet, and his most famous sonnet, ‘Since There’s No Help…’ was probably related to some of the characteristics of my protagonist. I played it quickly and freely with the literary allusions.

“Michael Drayton and I both played tennis although he quit earlier than me, and cars, yes Michael Drayton and I restored Italian cars, namely an Alfa Romeo Spider and a Fiat X1/ 9 with a removable roof, and I know a road like the one Ellie and Michael drove that fateful night.

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MAN OF LETTERS Al Landwehr, a former Cal Poly English professor, has a propelling new novel, What's Left to Learn, with an ordinary protagonist whose insatiable curiosity draws him into a thorny mystery.  - PHOTO COURTESY OF ALLISON FREESE

  • Photo courtesy of Allison Freese
  • LITERARY MAN Former Cal Poly English teacher Al Landwehr has a propelling new novel, What’s left to learnwith an ordinary protagonist whose insatiable curiosity draws him into a thorny mystery.

“I was as surprised as you were at the plot twists,” he continued. “I lost some sleep worrying if something was wrong.”

Here’s what surprises me. Landwehr did not plan its mystery. He let the tale guide itself. How Landwehr came to write it is a long story, but the short version is that he had an accident while playing tennis that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and a long recovery. This allowed him to revisit some of his old writings.

“I went through all my unfinished stories plus four or five unfinished novels,” he recalls. “I create as I write, so many things are never finished. I have more unfinished stories than finished stories. I write because I like to tell stories. Wealth and fame would be nice, but the writing itself comes first. I want to know what happens next, as does the reader.

“In my review of what I had written for 50 years, I found the first two or three chapters of what was to become What’s left to learnand I liked it, I wrote the next chapter, and so on,” he continued. “I had no idea of ​​the end of the novel, even if it would have end. Characters were talking and acting, and I was writing it, slowly weeding out the bad guys; I think it must have been in chapter 14 or 15 before I knew who did it – if it had been done.”

Many mystery novels telegraph what’s to come, but not this one, probably because Landwehr himself didn’t know where he was going. I had no idea until the end, and best of all, it was a joy to read – immersive, fascinating, and vividly told.

“I got a lot of praise – on the characterization, the sense of place, and a number of people say it would be a good movie; it’s very visual. I agree; it’s a good reading,” admitted Landwehr.

He left San Luis Obispo with his wife, Lynne, a researcher at the San Luis Obispo County History Center, in 2016 to be closer to his family.

“We had lived in SLO for 43 years, but the world was changing, and we have two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren in Portland,” Landwehr explained.

What’s crazy is that his novel almost didn’t get published.

“When I finished the novel, I shopped for an agent, but it was a thankless task. I never had the patience for that part. I put the novel in a drawer. [Former Cal Poly English professor and poet] Kevin Clark had read it, liked it, and asked if he could try to get it published. I said yes, and two months later Texas [Stephen F. Austin University] The press said they wanted to publish it.

“Kevin then suggested the title, much better than mine. Many thanks to Kevin and my wife, Lynne, who has been a great reader as well as a great reviewer and a wonderful wife of almost 58 years.”

Well, buckle up and hit the gas. Only an Italian sports car can keep up with the twists and turns of Landwehr’s new novel, available on Amazon and other online booksellers. Δ

Contact senior writer Glen Starkey at [email protected]