Rob Loughran in his Windsor office. (Jeff Kan Lee / Press Democrat)
By DIANA GILBERT / Windsor Correspondent
Rob Loughran is one of the most prolific authors you’ve probably never heard of, churning out smutty joke books, screenplays and detective mysteries from an unassuming Windsor subdivision.
Over the past two decades he has focused on staying in print and, more recently, online, and in April he will debut his second mystery series, the Sonoma County Pinot Noir mysteries, this one casting Wine Country locales in starring roles.
“The novel I’m working on now, ‘Beautiful Lies,’ is the first of the new series and takes place in Healdsburg,” he said. “Sonoma County geography will tie these novels together.
“Just the other night I drove along Chalk Hill Road for a 4:30 a.m. murder scene I’m writing. I drove until I found the precise location where the murderer stopped along the road. I realized that the trees there are oak, not eucalyptus as I had imagined.”
A minor detail, perhaps, but Loughran thinks it’s more.
“A mile is not just 10 tenths on the odometer. It’s a smell or a particular vista, it’s an old tractor rusting in a field. A lot of that minutia is what gives a book life and reality. Setting is as much of a character in a novel as a murderer or detective.”
Loughran was born in San Francisco and has lived in Sonoma County since his family moved to Petaluma when he was 13. He and his wife Penny moved to Windsor in 2002 and haven’t regretted the decision.
“Last week I went hiking at Foothill Park. It was January, and I needed SPF 40. I called my siblings who live in New York and Idaho to gloat.”
Over the past 10 years, Loughran has published 23 books, the first of which was a a novel called “High Steaks” (Salvo Press) that won the 2002 New Mystery Award. His second was a 700-page joke book called “A Man Walks Into a Bar …” Others include “How to Write a Novel and Still Have Time for Sex,” “Tantric Zoo: A Bud Warhol Mystery” and “Chakra Stories.”
“I also have a thriving career as a failed screenwriter,” he said. “I haven’t had a screenplay purchased or produced, but every novel I’ve written has a corresponding screenplay.”
As e-readers encroach on the profitability of traditional publishing houses, Loughran has met the challenge head-on by forging a presence online. He blogs, maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts and belongs to Red Room, a social media site for the literary world.
By mastering the widely diverging formats of online publishing, he is staying ahead of the learning curve to keep his books as accessible as possible. Most of his works are available as e-books, and the latest, a children’s novel, is online only.
“This is the format of the future,” he said.
In order to support his writing career, Loughran also works as a waiter at Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant in Forestville.
“We get people there from all over the world,” he said. “Everyone raves about the food, the weather and the scenery. I have determined that I will never be jaded and continue to appreciate it.”
Interactions with Farmhouse coworkers and customers have provided inspiration for characters and names in his novels.
“I am an inveterate dialogue thief,” Loughran confessed. “You overhear things at tables and can get an entire character or an entire attitude from the way someone says, ’Thank you.’
“I also use the names of people I work with in my stories. In my recent children’s novel, ‘The Smartest Kid in Petaluma,’ I used the Farmhouse bus boy’s name for a kid in detention, and names of other coworkers on the PA announcements at school.”
Loughran’s writing process is concentrated and diligent.
“My warm-up every day is to write a joke. Usually they’re not funny, but it gets you thinking about brevity and a beginning, middle and an end,” he said.
“One of my current favorites goes like this: Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other, ‘Does this taste funny to you?’”
After the joke, Loughran writes at least 600 words on a current book or short story. At that rate he can complete two books a year.
“Every time I start a book I’m scared, first of all that the idea I have isn’t worth a book. Second that I won’t be able to write it. So one thing that I do consciously is write about what intrigues me. That’s why I write detective fiction, science fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.”
Writing begins with a feeling, he said, and the story, character and place all contribute to it. His challenge is to put it into words.
“My job is to choose the precise words that evoke the same feeling in a different person.”
In addition to writing, Loughran is an avid reader. Some of his favorites include Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” Ross Thomas’ “Missionary Stew,” Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert” and “William Trevor: The Collected Stories.”
“I’m first and foremost a reader,” said Loughran. “There’s something really magical about the possibility of making someone feel the way I feel when I read Jane Austen. It’s sort of like an inside joke if you get what an author’s about and understand her subtlety.
“To be on the delivering end of that, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
You can find Loughran’s books and ebook editions online at robloughranbooks.com. His first novel, “High Steaks,” is available in Windsor at Pages Books on the Green, 920 McClelland Drive.