Seasoned life coach, therapist and advice columnist Tracey Barnes Priestley has spent years listening to the problems of clients and readers, then helping them move forward with compassionate, practical advice.
So it's no surprise that when she decided to write a novel, the result would be a book about issues that touch many marriages and lives, and one in which the characters learn to face their problems head-on.
"Duck Pond Epiphany" relates the story of Lee, an Ashland gallery owner who has just dropped off her last child at college and is separated from her husband of many years, Brian.
An engineering professor at the local university, Brian is finding out that life as a carefree bachelor isn't as exciting as he envisioned, while Lee must learn to become independent and take on new challenges as she lives alone in her newly empty farmhouse.
"For me, one of the personal advantages of being a therapist is how much my clients have taught me," said Barnes Priestley, who lives in Northern California in between the coastal towns of Eureka and Arcata. "I've learned from their issues and what they did and didn't do. I see the struggle. I know how difficult it is to do what is challenging and uncomfortable."
As working parents who raised four children, Lee and Brian have a marriage that is basically over, killed off by festering resentments, the burden of responsibilities and the couple's inability to appreciate each other.
Told mainly from Lee's perspective, the novel describes how she prioritized her children, but also needed her gallery as "a way to get outside of my family life, to try, in some small way, to have a life of my own, something that was challenging, creative."
Although the gallery becomes successful, Lee can't help but resent Brian's concern about the financial risk of running a gallery and his constant foot-dragging when it comes to joint decisions, such as taking out a loan to buy the building that houses the business.
"At times, I'd find myself annoyed that he was so tight, or I'd wonder why he seemed irritated by my creativity and energy," Lee thinks. "Mostly, we maneuvered around each other in a distant kind of dance."
Following Brian's move out of their house, Lee decides to take on a new adventure.
She makes a solo trip to New York at the urging of her best friend, Barb, who in the book is the brash, spirited artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
There Lee meets a tall, handsome stranger and must begin to make serious decisions that will affect the rest of her life.
I won't give away the ending of the book, other than to say that Lee makes a choice that reflects how she has grown during the course of the story.
Barnes Priestley said people are usually hot or cold in their reaction to the way the novel ends — and their reactions are almost always reflections of their personal lives.
As an advice columnist dealing with real-life scenarios, Barnes Priestley said she has enjoyed her foray into fiction.
"I had such fun with the process. I really want to encourage other people to take risks," she said.
To find out more about "Duck Pond Epiphany," or to read Barnes Priestley's advice column for people in the second half of their lives, visit www.thesecondhalfonline.com.
Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.