Where Did “Expiation” Story Begin?

Here is a recent interview I gave about Expiation. It covers some of the background information about me and my book. The photo is of Fort Point in San Francisco, the site of a key scene in “Expiation.”

Q: For those that don’t know, one of the definitions of the word expiation is the compensation for a wrong; to make amends or reparation for (wrongdoing or guilt); atone for; satisfaction. Did you come up with this title before or after Dan and Katie’s story was written?
Greg:Titles for books are an interesting process. I didn’t come up with the “Sunbreaks” title until I was halfway through the book. I was writing a chapter where the sun came through the window on a gloomy day. Then it hit me—Erika was the “sunbreak” in the main character Tom’s life. With “Expiation” I wanted to write a book about a person seeking redemption. Can you go back in your past and fix things that went terribly wrong? Several people have written books titled “redemption” or “atonement.” I discovered the word “expiation” which I think perfectly describes Dan and Katie’s situation.

Q: Are any of the experiences and/or situations in the book based on someone you know or events from your own life?
Greg: One of my trains of thought which contributed to the story in “Expiation” was my relationship with my wife. My wife and I were high school sweethearts. I played sports in high school and she was very cute and popular. Then she left the Bay Area, where we both grew up, to go out of state to college. Our relationship held together despite the separation and we have been married for 40 years. If it had not worked out and we somehow had unexpectedly reunited later in our life and were both single, would we try to rekindle our old romance? Absolutely. I also experienced some of the events during the 60s and 70s in Berkeley and San Francisco. If I wasn’t directly involved in some of the events described, I lived through it and it was part of that atmosphere at the time.

Q: Did you actually visit the places mentioned in Expiation to do your research?
Greg: Yes, many of them. Recently I was driving through Ballard (a Seattle neighborhood where Dan and Katie lived) with some out of town visitors. As I drove through Ballard, I showed them the restaurant where Dan and Katie met, the park where they walked on Christmas Day and Ballard High School. My visitors were amazed and said “wow, this is real.” It is.

Q: Which location was your favorite and why?
Greg:I have had a lifetime love of San Francisco. Also, Seattle is one of my favorite places on earth. In both cases, I love the rainy, cool, foggy atmosphere of both cities. I chose one of my favorite places in San Francisco for a climatic scene in “Expiation” between Dan and Katie. It is Fort Point at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is so beautiful and has an astounding view of the Bay and downtown San Francisco. It is a very romantic place.

Q: There are quite a few historical events depicted in this book. Was it these events or the reuniting of long lost loves that initially prompted you to write this book?
Greg: I focused on the reuniting but I had it occur in such an interesting time frame with the love story happening against the background of these amazing events. There are many flashbacks in “Expiation” but I chose to have the “present day” be the end of 1999 just before Y2K. It was such a time of uncertainty and it is an interesting setting for the uncertainty of trying to reclaim lost love.

Q:If you had to write Expiation all over again, is there anything in the story that you would change?
Greg:I can understand why movie stars do not like to watch their movies. I have trouble reading “Expiation” and not spotting flaws. However, I love the story and characters. It gave me a chance to live back in the world of San Francisco and Berkeley in the 60s and 70s and also to revisit the difficulty of pursuing your youthful dreams. One of my favorite characters in “Expiation” is Dan’s first wife, Wendy, the feisty, politically active Berkeley flower child. I am very proud of “Expiation” generally.

Q: Finally, do you have any advice for future writers?
Greg: I think you have to not be afraid. I am still giving myself that advice. It breaks my heart if someone doesn’t like my books or characters. However, I love them and it is who I am. Not everyone is going to like everything you do. My books seem to appeal more to women. I am okay with that but I have talked to several men who enjoyed them. I hope people enjoy the books but we need to remember this is art. Writing is an artistic endeavor. I am revealing much about my soul and personality. You have to be you. I would love to be a cool mystery writer or crime story author like Michael Connelly. However, that is not who I am and it is not my experience in life. There are awful things said about some of the most successful authors, songwriters and screenwriters. You have to let the inner writer inside of you escape and go with your feelings.

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About gregmessel

I've written six novels and am working on a seventh. My first three novels were "Expiation," "Sunbreaks" and "The Illusion of Certainty." I'm now working on a series of mysteries set in San Francisco in the 1950s. In 2008, I retired from corporate life and so I can spend more time writing. I spent over ten years in the newspaper business. I now live on Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, just north of downtown Seattle.
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