By Darren Lum
Sitting at author Kevin E. Buckley’s kitchen table at his Minden residence located on a country road where chipmunks and squirrels dominate traffic, is a little like getting into the mind of the protagonist in an intriguing novel; Buckley has lived a life filled with hard work and creativity, with a passion for literature and music, and a love for the outdoors.
He came to live in the rugged beauty of the Highlands close to three decades ago, starting his journey across the ocean, having grown up in the suburbs of Liverpool where he “played in the vacant bomb sites left over from the Second World War” and then living and working in London, England.
His newest novel, The Secret Sign of the Lizard People, released on Aug. 23, is the third published work by Buckley. The detective novel is set in Hollywood with a nod to fiction by the likes of popular author Jasper Fforde. The passion project took him 18 months to complete and has already had its share of fans.
Steven Smith of Books and Beyond Reviews said, “This book is an incredible romp of Hollywood proportions. It’s ludicrous and laugh out loud funny. At its core The Secret Sign of the Lizard People is a buddy cop style story with plenty of to and fro between the two leading men – Jerry ‘Leafy’ Green and Bill ‘Beefy’ Goodness.”
Buckley said the story’s main characters, Goodness and Green, are representative of the kind of division that is happening in American politics.
“Leafy and Beefy are two sides to the American coin. Leafy is a slightly left of centre Democrat. Beefy is slightly right of centre Republican, Trump supporter, MAGA hat wearer. Leafy is not. … I use that as a basis for quite a bit of damning dialogue if you like, but I put forward both sides of the picture,” he said.
He admits there are aspects of himself in the lead characters, particularly Leafy with his inability to dance, which he describes as being “choreographically challenged” or how he is a “socialist at heart.”
“If there’s going to be an antagonist, or slight anti-hero, that would be him. I identify more with that label,” he said.
As far as other characters in the book, people in the Highlands may recognize aspects of someone they know, he said. Readers will be rewarded if they pay attention, because there weren’t any real names used.
The goal of his book was to bring attention to the issue of climate change, but do it with humour so it engages, he said.
“Just before the title page is a quote from James Joyce and it’s a very simple one. It’s ‘in risu veritas’. In Latin, as you probably know, is ‘in laughter, truth’. I tried to get a message across which encapsulates it in a humorous way, and the message is – although COVID and what have you is a very serious thing, this whole episode we’ve had and all the disasters that seem to be going on – the most important issue we face as humankind is climate change. That’s the absolute most important message that I’m trying to get across.”
The issue with climate change is that it is happening slowly and unlike a natural disaster such as a meteor striking the earth it just doesn’t garner attention, he said.
He said he’s done a lot of reading and research on climate change. The situation is dire, he said. He believed a book that made its readers laugh would provide the necessary engagement to effect change for a brighter future. He hopes his book will also be able to attract a younger generation, who are crucial to resolving climate change for not just his family, but for everyone.
“It’s the whole of humanity. In my opinion I honestly believe that if I go on Facebook – and I try to avoid it, but occasionally I do go on social media, … we shouldn’t be talking about the next Xbox … so much as [climate change, which] we should be screaming it from the rooftops right now,” he said.
He cited a few examples of how climate change has already shown to be a threat: one, is an ice sheet that broke off of Greenland’s ice shelf that is twice the size of Manhattan; and two, massive glaciers in Antarctica. If they completely melt, it could raise the sea level by four feet.
There is a hope, he said, this book can activate people’s conscience without being depressing.
It “might be a catalyst for thought and consideration of what’s really going on right now,” he said. “The bottom line is to have a good laugh without being too grim about the whole situation.”
The Secret Sign of the Lizard People is written in the noir style, which typically revolves around a main character in detective fiction – think Roman Polanski’s classic Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson, or the 1990s iteration of Fargo by the Cohen brothers.
Buckley means no disrespect to Canada, but just finds American cities exciting as a backdrop for his novel.
“I think the United States for all their flaws and warts [and] problems is possibly one of the most interesting countries on the planet,” he said.
He visited several of the cities where his book takes place.
Buckley’s other inspiration for this novel is author Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who he called his favourite.
Although the Highlands wasn’t the setting for his novel, it serves a greater purpose for Buckley: it drives him in his effort to raise the alarm bell for climate change.
“Here we are in a relatively pristine area and I personally feel extremely fortunate to be able to live here. That’s why I stayed here despite some of the obvious disadvantages. We don’t have all the facilities [you’d find in the city] … but my day is made if I see a deer, if I see a bear. Preferably not face to face,” he said.
It’s the same for his wife, who appreciates nature like he does.
This love of the natural world is what brought him to Haliburton County in 1989. It was actually his brother, who owned the former Northwood Inn in Haliburton, who enticed him to come here. His first book was written while living in Halls Lake.
The Secret Sign of the Lizard People is the first of a planned trilogy called Tinsel Town Tall Tales Trilogy with the second in progress now, which has a working title of The Lost Song of the Zombie Shapeshifters. Buckley admits the idea behind the trilogy was an impulse, but thinking about it he believes there is enough substance for three books.
Much of his effort with the completed book is to market and promote it, which he’s doing on social media. He is working to ensure the book is available to purchase online through retailers such as Amazon. Much of the usual promotion opportunities such as book festival/fair events have been cancelled due to COVID-19. He hopes to have a public book launch in the near future.
Writing fulfills him in a way nothing else can, he said, and even if he never sells another book he’ll keep doing it.
“I’m one of these guys who has tons of ideas, but never enough time to put them to practice,” he said.
Self-promotion, he said, is challenging for him. He doesn’t mind as long as he gets to write because it’s the process he loves.
“I feel I can express myself and not just myself. Express the ideas that are prevalent right now,” he said.
For more information about the author and his book see his website thesecretsignofthelizardpeople.com.