POCATELLO — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Call me Ishmael.
Local fiction novelist Kirby Jonas has made his contribution to the list of memorable opening lines in literature with his new book “Russet” — and he’s done it with an Idaho flair.
“How did a boy overcome the fact that his parents had knowingly — if lovingly — named him after a potato?”
Jonas, who retired from the Pocatello Fire Department in August of 2017 and now works security at the federal courthouse, has been busy with his writing lately. He’s released a pair of new books in time for the holidays.
“Russet,” set in Shelley during the 1950s, is the story of a high school football star with a big ego who “crashes back into reality.” “Lockdown for Lockwood” is the third book in Jonas’ “Savage Law” series, starring Salmon Sheriff Coal Savage.
He also recently finished books four and five in the “Savage Law” series, though he has yet to publish them.
Jonas is scheduled to host a book signing at Idaho Unlimited, 215 E. Cedar St., from 1 to 3 p.m. on Dec. 8.
Throughout his career, Jonas has written 26 books — 21 of which are available in print, and five are sold only as Amazon ebooks. Most of his books have been self-published westerns.
“When I get going on a book, I’ll write six hours a day,” Jonas said. “I can put out four or five chapters a day if I really get into it.”
He’s been writing for most of his life, starting with comic books as a 6-year-old. He wrote his first novel, “Legend of the Tumbleweed,” in sixth grade. He updated it as an adult, and it made a regional list of best-sellers.
He’s also co-authored a pair of books with his brother, Jamie, and believes he’s likely the only emergency responder in the area to accept an invitation to be keynote speaker for a local convention of English teachers.
Jonas said a friend gave him the concept for the “Savage Law” series, and he published the first book in 2013. The plot features a former U.S. soldier who joined the FBI in Washington, D.C. The hero loses his federal job and moves to Idaho to become sheriff in rural Salmon, where he immediately faces a string of murders. In “Lockdown for Lockwood,” Sheriff Savage seeks to exonerate a friend who was falsely accused of murder.
Jonas recruited a few friends from his gym to serve as models for the “Lockdown for Lockwood” book cover.
Jonas believes his attention to research has a been a key to the success of his novels. He admits he didn’t know a first down from a touchdown when he started research for the football-themed novel, and he relied heavily on the internet to learn about 1950s-era high school football. He also interviewed a man from McCammon who played high school football during that time period to learn the nuances of a game that relied far more on running than passing in those days.
Jonas loosely based the main character, who goes by “Russ” Blevins, on his uncle, who was a former Shelley High School football player who made a career playing in the Canadian Football League. The main character’s father is based on Jonas’ grandfather, who was a Bingham County Sheriff.
Jonas also met his mother, who graduated from Shelley High School when the story takes place, for lunch at a 1950s-style diner in Pocatello and interviewed her about local life during that time. Based on her contributions, Jonas enhanced his narrative with historic details, such as the jar of pickled pigs’ feet on the back counter at Mallory’s Department Store and a scene involving children releasing several starlings inside the Virginia Theater. (That actually happened.)
His son, Clay, has followed in his footsteps as a fiction author, and expressed an interest in his father’s craft at an early age.
“He’d sit in the car and tell us these long drawn-out stories for literally two hours at a time when he was just a little guy,” Jonas said.
Jonas recalled the time his son asked to job-shadow him. Jonas assumed the boy wanted to accompany him during a shift at the fire department. Instead, Clay told his father he wanted to watch him write.
Clay recently released “Radiance,” the second installment of a five-book science fiction series.