Local author Eugene Munger likes to go back in time. One example is the tale he began to spin out last year loosely based on his career as West Coast public affairs manager for the Shell Oil Company.
The result of his efforts is his just-released novel, “The Smell of Money,” which follows the foibles of a young newspaper reporter turned public relations manager for a fictional oil refinery in Bellflower, east of the Southern California city of Long Beach.
To launch the book, Munger is hosting two book signings. The first is at Continental Country Club, 2380 N. Oakmont Drive, on Friday at 1:30 p.m. The second is Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Flagstaff Mall in the Artists’ Coalition Gallery space.
The of the novel unfolds as the hero, Lance Wilson, brashly accepts a high-powered position he is largely unqualified to perform, jumps in feet first and immediately is at odds with Jess Peterson, the tough-skinned and unprincipled manager at the refinery.
Wilson initially fumbles through several operational incidents that cause nearby communities and local media to take aim at the refinery and demand its closure.
Gradually, Wilson learns the ropes, stays centered and assuages community worries about environmental dangers by putting in place proactive programs. Unfortunately, these efforts place him even further in conflict with manager “Pete” Peterson.
Munger said he does identify with the characters and the challenges they face in his new work. “Definitely I relate; in my West Coast experience, my three refinery clients and I dealt with those challenges. However, fiction took over to create a more exciting novel. I did not want the reader to think those challenges were carbon copies of my Shell experiences.”
His years at Shell included walking the tricky path between community outreach and meeting the demand of a refinery and its manufacturing facilities. The idea for the plot emerged over time as friends continued to ask him about the complex problems faced by a public relations officer working in the controversial oil industry.
Looking back, Munger recalled his refinery years with fondness.
“I must say my experience with the three refineries were enjoyable,” he said. “In the early stages, some of the refinery managers advised, ‘You deal with the neighbors, my job is to run the refinery.’ Those attitudes changed as I developed a public relations and community outreach plan that resulted in good public relations and community approval. They became my best clients.”
Munger, 81, let his creative juice flow during the writing of this book.
“Its thrills resulted in the development of those fictional experiences and how they were managed,” he observed. “With storytelling you should let yourself go. Don’t’ be restricted — let it fly.”
However, creative writing, which he first started in 2006, was daunting. He began by sketching out chapters of a memoir that would trace his life from age 6 to 23 as he grew up in Southeast Missouri during the 40s and 50s. The memoir, “Momma, Don’t’ Ya Want Me to Learn Nothin’?” was published in 2009. Four other books have followed, all fiction.
His creative writing efforts have been greatly encouraged by his wife, Molly Munger, who has also helped edit all his books. Usually writing at home in the early morning, with a cup of coffee at his side, Munger said his writing has changed since his first memoir.
“Thanks to Molly and other objective critics, my writing has become much more readable, with the use of active voice and character development,” he added.
The Mungers have both been fully engaged as community activists, including Molly’s new role as president of the Board of Directors of Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra and Gene’s work with Saint Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.
“Flagstaff has been very good to me,” Munger noted. “To be able to give back to be able to be part of this community has been very special.”