Author Warren C. Easley began his journey as a full-fledged novel writer when he picked up a pen and notebook out of boredom on a plane. The twenty-three pages that came out of that flight sparked the fire that would result in the award-winning Cal Claxton Mysteries.  

The eight-novel series has received many awards and much recognition. The latest addition to the series, No Witness, received the 2022 Spotted Owl Award for the best mystery novel by a Pacific Northwest author, and Blood for Wine was shortlisted for a Nero Award in 2018. Warren has also been awarded the Kay Snow Award for fiction and named the Northwest’s Up and Coming Author in 2017. 

Drawing on his own love for Oregon and the outdoors, Warren made the state “basically one of the characters” in the Cal Claxton series and gave his protagonist a similar love of fly fishing and the Deschutes River. 

During our interview, Warren discusses, among other things, his journey from research scientist and international business executive to award-winning author, his personal writing goals, and his favorite spots in Oregon.  


AW: Could you tell us about your latest novel? 

WCE: That would be book eight in the series, No Witness. My protagonist lives in the wine country south of Portland in the small town of Dundee. He moved there in the aftermath of his wife’s suicide. He was a hot-shot prosecutor down in Los Angeles when his wife died, and he blamed himself for not catching the signs of her depression. He quits his job in L.A. and moves up to Oregon to reinvent himself. He finds an old farmhouse in the Red Hills wine country above Dundee and opens a one-man law practice. The germinating idea in No Witness was the ICE raids in 2018 aimed at deporting undocumented migrant workers throughout the country.   

A young Latino man comes to Cal looking for a job as a law clerk during that time. He’s a Dreamer, meaning he was brought to this country at very early age without documentation, so he’s an American in every sense except the legal one. He wants to be a lawyer and Cal likes him immediately. Soon after he’s hired, a member of the young man’s family is murdered. The migrant community is very reluctant to cooperate with the police because of what is going on nationally with the relentless ICE raids. Yet, a member of their community has been savagely murdered. Cal has a reputation of helping the little guy, so the family comes to him for help. That’s the setup. The story goes forward from there with Cal working with the young man and other reoccurring characters from the series to solve this murder.  

AW: In No Witness, as with your other novels, you address some of the issues faced by marginalized communities. What is your goal or hope in including these stories in your novels?

WCE: First and foremost, I write mysteries. On the other hand, I don’t want to just write escapist novels. I want to write something that matters, something that reflects our basic humanity in this world. So, I don’t shy away from social issues. I figure writing about social issues is good from a mystery standpoint because there’s always lots of human conflict embedded in social issues, and that’s kind of what every mystery is about. In this case, it happened to be migrant workers in the U.S., and I tried to present the problem as objectively as I could. But, that said, it’s a mystery. I don’t preach, and I’m not trying to convert the reader to any point of view.  

AW: More generally, what do you want the reader to come away with after reading your series? 

WCE: If I think back to the comments that I get from my books, the good comments, I think they like my protagonist because he’s a person who stands up for the little guy. I think that people admire that. It can be uplifting when you have a protagonist who is taking the position of someone who is marginalized, someone who otherwise wouldn’t get a fair shot. I think readers feel my books are authentic, that they reflect things that happen in the real world. But my books aren’t bloody or full of gore. I usually kill people offstage and I stay away from serial killers. I guess you could say they’re hardboiled in terms of their authenticity but not their tone. There’s an audience for that kind of writing, I think.  

AW: Yeah, it is definitely a nice perspective to read about. 

WCE: Right. You know, Cal took an early retirement from the city of Los Angeles, so he’s got this retirement income which isn’t great and he’s got a one-man law practice, so money is always an issue. He takes on a lot of cases where people can’t pay very much, and he always finds a way to do it. He has a bookkeeper who lives nearby—a retired accountant who minds his business. Her name is Gertie Johnson, and she’s always berating him. “You can’t afford to do this, Cal!” I have a lot of fun with that. He’s always struggling with money.   

AW: What pushed you to first start writing? 

WCE: I got a PhD in chemistry from Berkley in the late sixties. I spent thirty-three years doing research and development, and after two retirements I finally had time to write. I always had an interest in writing, so I just started fooling around. I wrote a few short stories, won a couple of awards, including a national award, and had a couple of stories published. So, I thought, “Gee, maybe I can do this.” As a result of that, I wrote four full-length novels. Each one got a little better. The fourth one got me a three-book contract. But it took nine years.  

AW: Going through publishers is definitely a long process.  

WCE: I don’t want to discourage anyone, but it was long for me. Maybe I’m a slow learner! The beginning was a bit serendipitous, too. I was returning from the East Coast on personal business, and was reading a James Lee Burke novel. But I’d left it at the hotel. I didn’t have a book to read, but I had a spiral notebook. So, I started writing. When I landed, I had twenty-three pages of a mystery written. It just came out spontaneously, and I finished it six months later. It wasn’t very good, but I was hooked. And by the way, it was Burke’s novel—a Dave Robicheaux titled Heaven’s Prisoners—that inspired me to try my hand that day. I was really struck by his character-driven plot, strong sense of place, and authentic dialogue. I wondered if I could do something like that.   

AW: How did your background influence your writing? 

WCE: In business writing and in technical writing, it is all about conciseness. It’s about clarity. Can’t have any BS. I think that carries a little bit into my prose. I try to make my prose very readable and very clear. I tend to have complex plots. I’ll admit that. But I try to write with as much clarity as possible. When I finish a chapter, I read it back out loud. If it doesn’t flow, if I stumble somewhere while reading it, I stop and fix it. So, I think I learned that from business writing where you have to get to the point and you have to write with clarity. Having said that, writing prose in fiction is a completely different thing that you have to work hard at to perfect. 

AW: It is hard to get that balance of having all those descriptions, making things feel like a real place, while also being concise and getting to the point. 

WCE: One of the things I like to do because I love Oregon so much (Oregon is basically one of the characters in my books) is to allow myself space to describe what Cal’s feeling about wherever he is, whether on the coast or fly fishing or in the wine country. I try to capture how beautiful the Northwest is. But yeah, you can overdo it if you’re not careful.  

AW: When writing a series, how do you balance your character’s arc and development across so many books? 

WCE: When I started out writing the series, I didn’t really worry about Cal’s arc too much. But the arc, for me, happened kind of naturally. In each book, I came to realize that Cal was changing a little bit, and probably my writing perspective was changing along with it. My editor, Barbara Peters, made me more conscious of the arc. I think it was in book eight she said, “You know, Cal’s had several love interests in the books but always something happens. Maybe you should think about part of his arc being that he finds someone. You know, look for a way to give him a more lasting relationship.” So, in book eight he meets Zoe Bennett and that begins the process. So, part of the arc comes naturally and part of it is premeditated.  

AW: What is your favorite aspect of writing?  

WCE: I just enjoy coming down to my writing cave with a cup of coffee, and when I start writing it’s like a time machine; I look around and it’s four hours later. So yeah, I like the physical process itself. Sometimes it can be frustrating when you’re blocked and you can’t figure out what to do, but it never feels like a job. My drafts are pretty tight. When I start writing the next day, I always go back and read what I’ve done from the previous chapter. (My chapters tend to be five or six pages long. I shoot for something in that range.) So, I’ll go back and read the previous five or so pages. I really can’t go forward unless I’m satisfied with what I already have. Even if there’s something further back in the book that’s bothering me, I’ve got to get it resolved. Once I’ve done that, I move forward. That’s the way I approach it. Once I have the first draft, I love going back over it with my editor. That part is very satisfying. I’ve got the skeleton of the book and it’s pretty solid, and then I can go back, polish the edges, and make it exactly the way I want it. It’s very satisfying. When you finish that, I don’t think there’s a better feeling anywhere. 

AW: Oregon is a prominent part of the Cal Claxton series and your own life. What are some of your favorite spots in Oregon? 

WCE: First and foremost, my wife and I love the coast. We go to Yachats most of the time. It’s a small town on the south coast and it’s just a beautiful place, but any place on the coast is great. I’m a fly fisherman, so I love the Deschutes River in central Oregon and the Wild and Scenic Grande Ronde River in eastern Oregon. I go there every year to fish. The Grande Ronde is only accessible by boat, and it’s one of the most beautiful places on this earth.  

AW: What are you currently reading? 

WCE: I always have a stack of books that could probably threaten my life if they fell on my bed. Right now, I just finished two Harlan Coben books and I’m reading a Tim Hallinan book, Rock of Ages. I’m also reading The Changer by David Hedges, a well-known Oregon poet. I also just started Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby. I recommend it. As you can see, I tend to read more than one book at a time!  

AW: What advice do you have for younger writers? 

WCE: I’ve been involved with a lot of writers over the years now, and what I’ve noticed with some is that they seem to chip at the same block for a long time. What I would say to a young writer is, finish what you’re doing. Finish it. Finish your book and then go on to the next one. Don’t just hang it up on that one. You have more stories in your head than just one. By finishing your book you get that sense of completion, and you get a sense of the entire process of writing something from the first draft to the final edits. Then, okay, it’s not that good? Put it in a desk drawer and start on the next project.