By Glenda Winders
SDUN Book Reviewer
Scott Stevenson’s book started out as a tribute to his wife, Susan. The couple had gone through a rough patch during which they’d lost their money in the stock market, faced Susan’s breast cancer diagnosis, helped Scott’s sister through a nightmare divorce and seen the 2003 Cedar Fire encroach on the home they had just finished building in the Cuyamaca Mountains.
“We were sitting on the back deck watching the sunset, and I told her, ‘I’m going to write you a love letter and base it on the experiences we’ve had over the last few years,’” he said in an interview.
An architect and builder by profession, Stevenson, 58, had no idea how to launch his writing project. Later – when he still hadn’t begun – he hoped his wife had forgotten he’d ever mentioned the idea, but she hadn’t.
“Eventually I started writing, and then I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I wrote like I talk and like I design a house. I’d close my eyes and picture the scene in my head and then write it down as if I were telling it to Susan.”
He hadn’t kept a journal but he was able to dig back through receipts, medical bills and legal documents to get the dates and information he needed. As he wrote, the work became easier and the quality of his writing evolved. He produced well-drawn characters, conveyed authentic emotions and created colorful passages, such as his description of the morning he and his wife discovered a white owl on their property: “The cab of the truck is drafty, the heater works sporadically, the days are bone cold and a sprinkling of snow covers the ground. The sun has yet to make its appearance, and the early morning fog still clings to our side of the mountain.”
The final result was 1,500 pages of a manuscript he edited down to 450 and titled “Looks Easy Enough: A Joyful Memoir of Overcoming Disease, Divorce and Disaster.” The finished product brings together all the suspense of a Dan Brown thriller and the philosophical search of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.”
“Different people relate to different sections of the story,” Stevenson said. “Some say it’s an adventure story, others say it’s a do-it-yourself book and others a funny book. One person called it a grown-up love story.”
The memoir is all of those things. Short chapters focusing on each of the crises the couple faced make the book a fast read. It opens in flashbacks to 1999, a year after Scott and Susan married, with chapters about the Cedar Fire’s sinister approach interspersed at key points to warn readers that even more loss might be waiting in the couple’s future.
Scenes detailing how they built their home on weekends with the help of Scott’s family provide welcome relief from the calamities befalling them on other pages. And despite the grim experiences the author recounts, many of the episodes are laugh-out-loud funny. In one he is distracted by the hair plugs of a doctor who is treating his wife. In another he drives home from the building site without pants because he accidentally drenched them in tar and had to leave them behind. As he drives down Interstate 8, he avoids 18-wheelers whose drivers could look into his truck and discover his predicament.
“Humor played a big part in getting through these tough times,” Stevenson said. “Not that we went around cracking jokes, but we were able to step back and be receptive to the possibility of something funny happening.”
Some of the real-life characters in the book aren’t so funny – from his sister’s abusive ex-husband to the doctors who were too busy to answer Susan’s questions and the attorneys who enabled his sister’s divorce to drag on to the point where she had no money and her house had been foreclosed upon. Their names are changed and their personalities disguised in the story.
Stevenson’s personal philosophy underlies everything he writes. Raised in South Dakota as the grandson of a Methodist minister, today he doesn’t identify with any organized religion. But he believes humans are put on Earth for a purpose, and he’s spending his life trying to figure out what his might be.
His curiosity began in high school when he saw a short film about a man who spends his whole life unsuccessfully trying to find his way out of a purple cube. Eventually, as an old man, the character opens a door and then falls over dead.
“I thought then, ‘What if I spend my whole life trying to grasp the wrong door and then on my deathbed realize what life was really about and what I should have been doing instead of wasting it,’” he said. “I also don’t care for pain, and life is much less painful if you can see it as one big learning experience, if you can say, ‘Hey, I chose for this to happen so I could learn from it.’”
Stevenson believes in reincarnation – part of what he calls “the game of life.”
“You’re born, you learn as much as you can in one life, you die, you come back,” he said. “If you can help other people and have fun along the way, great. That’s what got me through all this.”
When the book was finished, he sent it to 120 agents and publishers.
“It’s amazing how many ways there are to say ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” he said.
Armed with “How to Self-publish for Dummies,” he set out to publish the book himself. With the same ingenuity that enabled him to build his own home, often even designing some of the tools he needed for special projects, he established his own publishing imprint. He named it Deadora Press after the cedars that had perished in the fire.
Now he and Susan are busily marketing the book, which is available at many San Diego bookstores, including The Grove, The Book Tree and Controversial Bookstore in Uptown. “Looks Easy Enough” is also available online from amazon.com and at lookseasyenough.com.
“It would be really nice if someone could read this book and realize that if this turkey and his wife could make it through all this, there’s no reason why they can’t also make it through being unemployed or having a bad diagnosis or a forest fire or an earthquake,” he said. “You just do what it takes to make it through.”