Encinitas surfer pens pioneer history novel
Doug Fiske had long been fascinated with the sweep of time — such as how his own grandparents were born in the days of the horse and buggy and lived to see men walk on the moon.
That juxtaposition became one of the central themes of the Encinitas resident’s historical novel, “Early’s Idaho,” the tale of a family of Kentuckians who journey to Idaho, where they become homesteaders and set up a farm next to the Snake River.
“When I was a boy in Smithland, Kentucky, the quickest way to get from one place to another was to ride a swift horse. Then, by the time I became an old man in Hawkins, Idaho, a pilot named Yaeger (sic) had flown a rocket plane faster than the speed of sound. Things change — sometimes for the better. Before I pass on, I figure it’s worthwhile to leave a record of my family’s time,” begins the book, which Fiske self-published in 2015.
The book is written in the form of a diary penned by five generations of Hawkins family men, spanning the period from 1775 to 1905. An epilogue is set in 1954.
Fiske worked on the book for nine years, laboring at night and during weekends, while holding down a day job as a course-writer for the Gemological Institute of America, which is based in Carlsbad. (Among his credits at the GIA was the authorship of a course on pearls).
Another main theme of the book is to show how a man’s life work can be stripped away by events that are beyond his control — “How much happenstance very much determines your course,” said Fiske. In the case of the Hawkins family, their farm was flooded by a lake that formed when the Minidoka Dam was built.
Fiske said his own path was determined by the first wave he caught as a surfer, at San Onofre State Beach in 1963.
“If the surf had been flat that day my life would have taken an entirely different course,” he said. “I got completely hooked and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Fiske, 72, has been catching waves for 53 years. These days, he said, he body surfs, but the ocean still exerts a powerful pull on his life.
Surfing, he said, is “the most exhilarating and beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
His passion for the sport affected both his personal and professional life, calling him to places such as Hawaii to catch waves, and resulting in his landing a gig as editor of Surfing magazine.
He began working on his novel in 1996, and completed it in 2005. His research included reading dozens of history books and traveling to the places where the book is set.
His goal was to make the book read like a real-life history, and to do so he wove together the lives of his fictional family with stories of real people from the places and times of his narrative.
When the book was finished, he sent manuscripts to a number of publishers and literary agents, but he was told that publishers would be reluctant to take a financial risk on an unknown author. He also sent copies to various historical societies, including a group in Cassia County, Idaho.
That led to an inadvertent validation of his book’s sense of authenticity. A historical society board member who read the novel wrote to him, asking if he could provide photos of some of the main characters.
“I thought this was fantastic, I achieved my goal,” he said.
In January of 2015, he rented a condo in Molokai, Hawaii, for several months and during that time he resolved to move forward with three projects, Fiske said: self-publishing his novel, uploading clips to YouTube from an East Coast surf film he made, and creating an online memoir that puts his personal story in context with the historical events of his lifetime.
Fiske said the publication of the book is the first of his three projects to be completed.
“Early’s Idaho” can be purchased on Amazon.com.