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Royal Oak

Author finds creative spark in writing about U.P.

October 7, 2013

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Peter Wurdock holds a copy of his short-story collection “Bending Water and Stories Nearby” inside his Royal Oak home Oct. 2. The 14 stories in his book take place in various locations within Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Wurdock shows an illustration created by the late artist Aurelia Young, a painter from Pleasant Ridge. His short-story collection contains several similar illustrations by Michigan artists.

ROYAL OAK — Pete Wurdock was at a low point in his life Dec. 31 of last year when he dusted off a short story he titled “His Father’s Chair.”

“Something just clicked,” he said of that day.

For more than three years, the former marketing professional had stopped writing.

He had been divorced, moved three times and lost his job all in that time frame.

“I was just praying for inspiration to come back because I just didn’t have it,” he said.

When his pair of rescued greyhounds woke him up to be let out that morning, he rediscovered the story he had written more than four years earlier.

The story is about a man closing up his family’s cabin for the winter and reconciling the turbulent relationship he had with his recently deceased, alcoholic father.

Much like the 13 other stories that made it into his short-story collection, “Bending Water and Stories Nearby,” the protagonist attaches memories to the various items within the structure — the family’s boat, the stuffed fish his grandpa had caught and mounted on the wall.

Each of Wurdock’s stories confronts death in one way or another, using the Upper Peninsula as his backdrop.

“A lot of times when you are doing something, you don’t realize it’s the last time you are doing it,” he said. “That whole life-is-a-flicker attitude; really, it’s always been a big part of me.”

In “Buckshot,” two brothers — one severely wounded in a hunting accident — discuss both painful and humorous memories as they await the arrival of an ambulance.

In “Things So Hard to Part With,” the adult narrator recalls summers spent along Muskallonge Lake when he was a child.

“I hear the echoed slap of the wooden screen door, the crackle of the fire, the melodic call of the loon, the twigs snapping underfoot as we walked along the path …” he writes. “I can also hear the years, ticking like a Timex. Today it hasn’t changed, but life has come to a close for some of those we’ve loved so dearly.”

Wurdock spent large portions of his childhood in his family’s cabin along Muskallonge Lake. The walls of the 48-year-old’s Royal Oak home are covered in photographs of the inland lake that abuts Lake Superior. Although he doesn’t see it himself, Wurdock said he has been told the interior of his home resembles a cabin.

Despite it being fiction, parallels can be drawn between Wurdock and his stories in “Bending Waters.”

“He did include a lot of himself — sometimes obliquely, sometimes plainly,” said Stewart Francke, a fellow writer and friend of 25 years to Wurdock. “That’s what artists do.”

When Wurdock graduated from high school, he wanted to be one of three things: a musician, a journalist or a baseball player.

He settled on the first and became, for a time, a record promoter in Nashville. Then, he moved back to Royal Oak, drawn by the idea of starting his own Detroit rock band. Meanwhile, he was working in marketing for a West Bloomfield-based nonprofit senior housing company. That job forced him back into writing.

While there, he wrote three books. One was nonfiction about a fire that hit one of his company’s high-rise complexes.

“The story really is about how the community came together after the fire and the fortunes that everyone shared through a rough time,” he said.

He lost his job in 2010 — beginning the era he calls his “Hank Williams trilogy,” referring to the country musician with a knack for writing somber songs. The divorce and moves came in the subsequent years and led to his writing slump.

“I just didn’t think I’d be writing anymore,” Wurdock said. “I just didn’t have anything left in me.”

It wasn’t until picking up the old draft on the last day of 2012 that something within him clicked.

He sent a copy of it to Francke, who was immediately captivated by his work and encouraged him to do more.

Francke, in a phone interview, called Wurdock’s writing “honest.”

“He had been there, knew these people, seen the nature — just honest,” Francke said.

His words of encouragement were enough of an impetus.

“It was that little bit of confidence that I got that put me on a tear,” he said.

For the next four months, Wurdock woke with his dogs, Needa and Jack, at 4:30 a.m., played some Gordon Lightfoot for inspiration, wrote until taking a midday break and returned to writing and didn’t stop until 8 p.m.

Throughout, Francke remained Wurdock’s “ideal reader.”

“He knows me well enough to keep me in check,” Wurdock said. “If something really sucked, he’d tell me, ‘You can’t say that.’”

When he finished the book in the spring, he tried to find a literary agent to represent his collection, but agents often told him the same things in rejection letters: No one is reading short-story collections, especially ones taking place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Wurdock then had another motivation — proving them wrong.

He set out to self-publish “Bending Water” and turned to Kickstarter to raise funds to pay for the editing and design of the book.

“Essentially, there were enough presales through that to fund the printing of the book,” he said.

The 223-page book became available for sale in August, and it’s available locally at Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley and online at Wurdock’s website, for $13.99.

Wurdock said he is in the process of making it available for the Kindle.

He’s also been traveling in the Upper Peninsula searching for stores willing to carry his book, but as a person who spent much of his career marketing others, he has found out marketing yourself can be difficult.

“I’m working as hard as I can to grow my audience,” he said.

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