Writing local

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^ Posted May. 25

Woodstock author combines comedy with doomsday predictions

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Author Jon Robertson has little in common with his alter ego Luray Flitch -- the star of his first published fiction "Permelia Lyttle's Guide to the End of the World." Luray, an agoraphobic pill-junkie, lives in an attic with his border collie Jason and spends his days chomping on stale cheese curls and self-medicating with beer from a mini-fridge. He might have been doomed to continue in this fearful existence, if not for the 100-year-old manuscript he finds, predicting the end of the world.

Robertson, conversely, is a health food junkie, married to vegetarian cookbook author Robin Robertson. When she received return of rights on her book "Vegan Fire and Spice" in 2006, he published it through his start-up, Vegan Heritage Press.

"I've been working in publishing for 25 years, so I know a lot about it," said Jon Robertson, who also has written articles for various newspapers and magazines. "I didn't want to publish fiction under Vegan Heritage Press," he said, so he started Belvedere Books for his own pursuits.

"With the advent of ebooks and printing on demand ... I decided to experiment and see if it would take off," he said. Permelia Lyttle's guide hit area bookstores only this month, but already Robertson is working on the sequel, which he hopes to publish in October.

"I got the idea in 2006," he said. He was inspired by the 2012 end of the world hypothesis and the left behind movement, "and at the same time I was aware of the constant barrage of drugs" advertised on commercials.

"I thought what could be better than the combination," he said. "And then making the combination extreme."

So he wrote about a man already closed off from society because of his fears, who discovers a manuscript of predictions made by a 19th century psychic.

Using what he calls Virginia humor, Robertson delved into his knowledge of regional colloquialisms collected from living in Virginia Beach before moving to Woodstock in 2007. He centers the plot on a fallen from grace author who won a Pulitzer Prize in Literature for a book called "The Maze," which people praise for being confusing.

"It was home territory, really," Robertson said. "The pressures of having an agent and a deadline. I try to stick with territory I know."

Since he already had been researching Victorian-era England and New York, he used his findings in the book.

"I think I nailed it, and I really enjoyed the historical research," he said. "Also I think it was fun to have her [Permelia Lyttle] in the women's lunatic asylum."

As Luray reads Permelia's journal entries about the recipients of her predictions -- everyone from J.P. Morgan to aides of President McKinley -- he realizes his role in not only keeping the manuscript safe from those who would exploit it for their own financial gain but also in using it to warn everyone he can of the imminent end of the world.

Robin Robertson, has read every version of her husband's book, "And you know what, I laugh every time I read it. I think it's hysterical," she said. "I love Jon's sense of humor."

Writing about Luray, who views the world almost as if he were an outsider, was a freeing experience, Jon Robertson said.

It allowed him to offer his own view of what's wrong with today's society, "or how we've all come to accept what's wrong as the norm," he said. If his readers are like Luray, they will learn to be in the world while also not being of the world.

Living in the maze, Robertson said, "You'll never see it objectively. But if you stay out of the maze, you'll only be an odd ball."

"Permelia Lyttle's Guide to the End of the World," by Jon Robertson, is available in print at the Woodstock Cafe and Shoppes, The Market and at The Farmhouse in Woodstock, or online through Amazon.com and at JonRobertson.com.


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