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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Harrow pastor pens mystery novel that is getting some recognition

by Greg Layson

Pastor Darrow Woods has spent 35-years preaching from the Good Book. Now, he’s busy writing and publishing some of his own.

Woods is Minister at Harrow United Church. He’s also the fledgling author of a book, one well respected among his Canadian literary peers.

His first novel, “The Book of Answers: A Rev. Thomas Book Mystery,” was a finalist for a Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence. It was among five unpublished works up for Best Unpublished Manuscript, also known as The Unhanged Arthur Award.

“That felt really serious,” Woods said. “I get to say forever that I was a finalist.”

He has visited several homes as a Pastor, and he’s keenly observed the genres of books people read.

“There’s certainly not books about sermons, and certainly not books of theology,” he said. “There’s writing a book, and there’s writing a book somebody wants to read.”

There’s what the author wants, too. “I’ve always wanted to write fiction,” he said.

The plot has the trappings of modern-day media fare. It’s all teased in one sentence of a summary on the book’s Amazon page: A dead body falls out of a wall while the video crew for a reality TV show hunts for the ghost of Saint Mungo’s Church.

The book is set in Oakville, Ontario, where Woods was working at the time. The mystery unfolds in Walton Memorial United Church, a real church, but not one where Woods has served.

A friend gave him a guided tour of the chapel, pointing out “all the nooks and crannies” that would prove useful in the story.

“The more authentic, the more interesting it is to me,” Woods said of engaging in a story.

The main character, Rev. Tom Book, begins the tale as a grieving widower, looking for purpose and answers.

“He wakes up to life again,” Woods said. “His daughter reminds him, there is life beyond grief.”

“And the underlying message would be that there is always a hope that things can get better.”

In June, Woods self-published the book on Amazon, under his own imprint, Reluctant Sleuth Press.

That allowed Woods to bypass an agent, elude delays as the manuscript sits among hundreds of others at established publishing houses, and, of course, avoid any rejection letters.

“The easy part is making a book. The hard part is, now that you have one, how do you interest people in it?” Woods said, adding traditional publishing houses do not offer a whole lot of marketing.

“They weren’t going to work for me.”

To his knowledge, he said they want potential authors to bring followers first, books second. They prefer a readymade audience.

In the six-weeks since publication, the book has sold 100 copies, with self-promotion through social media being Woods’s primary form of marketing. But sales matter little.

“I never got into this to make money. I got into it because it’s fun to do,” he said.

He’s donated half the proceeds to date to the congregation he currently serves in Harrow. Half of what he makes in August will be given to the congregation at Walton Memorial.

Woods began writing in 2018, while his wife was away on sabbatical, and his children were away working summer jobs. He enrolled in a course on the art of writing a novel, taught by award-winning Canadian mystery writer, Melodie Campbell.

In 32-years teaching thousands of students, Campbell said, “maybe a dozen who stood out” and “had a good chance of making it as professional writers.”

“Darrow was one of those rare writers who exceeded all my expectations in the class, and absorbed lessons with almost uncanny insight,” Campbell said in an email to the Essex Free Press. “In his recently released novel, the protagonist is someone I quickly came to care about and would like as a friend. The story is fresh and fun.

“But I would expect no less. Darrow is just as likeable as his protagonist.”


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