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Retired teacher finds muse as writer

Dick Janelle never fancied himself a writer until he entered a writing contest in 2004 – he couldn’t resist the chance to win a trip to Ireland.

“Six months after I had submitted, a FedEx truck pulls into my driveway with a package and a letter attached saying, ‘Congratulations! You are our first prize winner,’” said Janelle, a 70-year-old Bedford resident.

That prize was the genesis that would lead him to write a book, “Salmon Falls 1956,” a historical novel and coming of age story set in New Hampshire.

Janelle was a science teacher at McKelvie Middle School for 38 years. Annual field trips to Mount Cardigan gave him the chance to see sides of the students that weren’t evident in the classroom.

“You get to see kids in the woods day and night, and you find out who the real person is, it comes out,” said Janelle. “The kid who is mister big man on campus, suddenly you find out he’s afraid of the dark. And the kids that all the others think is a real loser ends up being the one that gets the campfire going in the pouring rain and get’s everyone’s admiration.”

In part, those experiences led him to “Salmon Falls 1956,” the novel he started three years ago during a trip to the Caribbean, where found himself with a legal pad and pen, drafting the first chapters. He had his outline, knew his characters, his plot, “and everything just started flowing.

“You just sort of let your imagination go and write again for a few more hours,” said Janelle. “Eventually I had a story well put together and I liked the flow of it.”

The story is set in a quaint village on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, in the spring of 1956; the year Janelle graduated from eighth grade.

Dicky is an eighth-grader about to begin a summer full of teenage antics, romance, mishaps, humor and tension, as he pursues a three-day solo backpacking trip on the mountain.

Dicky’s grandfather is ripe with Native American wisdom, while Patsy, Dicky’s boyhood crush, lends a girl’s coming of age story to the novel.

“My characters I think are unforgettable,” Janelle said with a chuckle. “I’ve got some real characters in there.”

He said there’s a lot in it for nature writing fans, too, like Janelle’s 91-year-old neighbor, who after reading the book said his writing outdid even that of Henry David Thoreau.

The book is also big on historical accuracy, Janelle said. When the main character’s father is listening to the Red Sox game, you know that game actually happened on that day and with those scores. When the DJ at a graduation dance was playing the top ten songs of the week, Janelle did his homework to ensure those were the top 10 songs of the time.

“I was alive back then so some of it is my own reminiscing,” he said.

It took Janelle over a year to finish his novel. Another year would pass – filled with rejections from literary agents – before he saw an article in the New Hampshire Union Leader about RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth. They were looking to publish local writers writing local stories, and Janelle again tried his luck.

Three days after handing in his manuscript he got a callback. “‘Wow, this is exactly what I’m looking for,’” Janelle was told. “I tell you, the hair just stood up… I said great.”

In December he got his first batch of 40 copies, and they went like hotcakes, so he ordered more.

Now the book is available at Amazon and, though it was RiverRun Bookstore who got the book going in the first place, and it’s available there as well.

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