Skibbins, David 1947–
Skibbins, David 1947–
PERSONAL: Born 1947; married; wife's name Marla; children: one daughter.
CAREER: Writer, psychotherapist, and life coach. Insight Oriented Coaching, counselor and life coach. Sea Ranch Library, volunteer librarian. Worked as a draft counselor during the Vietnam War.
AWARDS, HONORS: Malice Domestic Award for Best First Traditional Mystery, Minotaur/St. Martin's Press, 2004, for Eight of Swords.
Working Clean and Sober: A Guide for All Recovering People (nonfiction), Hazelden (Center City, MN), 2000.
Eight of Swords (first novel in "Warren Ritter" mystery series), Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of nonfiction book Dreams and Recovery.
WORK IN PROGRESS: High Priestess, the second "Warren Ritter" mystery novel; Hanged Man, the third "Warren Ritter" mystery novel; The Star, a Christmas murder mystery.
SIDELIGHTS: Writer and novelist David Skibbins is also a psychotherapist and life coach. His work with Insight Oriented Coaching offers a variety of psychological, spiritual, and vocational tools for men and women who want to combine their past, present, and future to better know themselves and to attune themselves to their life's goals.
Skibbins's early writing experiences were laced with disappointment. An early novel about psychotherapy attracted an agent, but the book never sold. He wrote and sold two nonfiction books, Working Clean and Sober: A Guide for All Recovering People, a self-help guide for recovering substance abusers, and Dreams and Recovery, but only the former was published. "Then my agent fired me," Skibbins admitted in an interview on his home page. Far from giving up, Skibbins considered the state of publishing at the time and concluded that "genre sells." However, he found that "science fiction was flat, horror was dying, and I couldn't bring myself to write romance. So mystery was it."
As he explored the mystery genre, Skibbins discovered that he "loved a lot of the women heroes. They were emotionally complex, caring, and caught between two worlds. I wanted to know them better. The men protagonists I just wanted to slap." To counteract this, "I wanted to create someone off the grid," he explained on his home page. "I wanted to find out how Left, weird, counterculture, and eccentric could I get?"
The result was Warren Ritter, the protagonist of Skibbins's debut novel, Eight of Swords. Skibbins notes that Ritter mirrors him in some ways; his character "started out a lot like me, but took all the detours that I never dared to take." During the Vietnam War, Skibbins was a draft counselor and a conscientious objector who "stopped short of bomb-throwing." Ritter, on the other hand, is a former student radical who has faked his own death, taken on an assumed named, and gone into hiding. Ritter's life as a fugitive underscores much of the dramatic tension in Eight of Swords.
Ritter works as a tarot-card reader on the streets of Berkeley, California. In this tolerant, multicultural, eccentric atmosphere he can ply his trade and blend into the cityscape without worrying that his background will catch up to him or that his own character traits will give him away. When Heather Wellington, a teenage girl, sits down for a reading, her cards foretell ominous danger. Later that same day, Heather is kidnapped, and her mother, Louise Wellington, is shot dead in what looks like an attempt to frame Ritter. The novel then follows Ritter as he tries to locate Heather even while attempting to maintain his own façade of secrecy. The book was winner of the 2004 Minotaur/St. Martin's Press Malice Domestic Contest for Best First Traditional Mystery, making Skibbins the first male writer to ever win the award.
"How do you become the first man to win the Malice Domestic contest for Best Traditional Mystery? By creating the most untraditional traditional detective ever," remarked a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Skibbins doesn't miss a beat with crisp dialogue, a unique view of the counter-culture in Berkeley and realistic characters," commented reviewer Oline H. Cogdill in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. An online reviewer for Curled up with a Good Book observed that "Skibbins is a delightfully entertaining mystery writer sure to garner many a new fan with this clever book and franchise concept." A Publishers Weekly reviewer pointed out Skibbins's "fine prose," while Rex E. Klett, writing in Library Journal, remarked favorably on the novel's "scintillating surrounds,… complex protagonist, and unusual supporting characters."
Skibbins told CA: "Mystery writers must tell a powerful story. In the genre, old masters like Hammett and Christie, Sayers and Macdonald all had a powerful influence on my work. From them I learned that character is central, and plot is a strong number two. Flowery writing is far down the list. Outside the genre Dickens, Conrad, Hemingway, Salinger, and Stephen King are all gods to me.
"My initial outline is a timeline, really. It is about five pages long. Then I write the book. I don't make that outline too long, because halfway through I may discover that someone else did the foul deed. I let the writing of the book surprise me.
"I am in love with my latest book, The Star, coming out in December of 2006. It is a dear Christmas tale of the deepest meaning of fatherhood, how villages are formed to raise a child, a different kind of evil, and, of course, a murder. It is my most personal book yet.
"I write mysteries 'for the left of us.' I got tired of reading about ex-cop alcoholic private eyes who would probably vote Republican if they could just find their Prozac. I wanted an avid leftist, who is willing to take on corporations, the FBI, or anyone else who is getting in the way of justice. I have fans in both political parties who love Warren Ritter's feistiness. I want to affirm that the ideals of the Sixties didn't get lost in the quest for a bigger SUV or a fatter retirement account. They are still alive and well for many of us, of all ages."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2005, Sue O'Brien, review of Eight of Swords, p. 1147.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2005, review of Eight of Swords, p. 154.
Library Journal, March 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of Eight of Swords, p. 71.
Publishers Weekly, March 14, 2005, review of Eight of Swords, p. 48.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 8, 2005, Oline H Cogdill, "Tarot Reader Uncovers Danger," review of Eight of Swords.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 25, 2005), Andi Shechter, review of Eight of Swords.
Curled up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/ (September 25, 2005), review of Eight of Swords.
David Skibbins Home Page, http://www.davidskibbins.com (September 25, 2005).
New Mystery Reader, http://www.newmysteryreader.com/ (September 25, 2005), Karen Treanor, review of Eight of Swords.