Larry Slonaker wrote about what he knew, being a journalist and living in Montana. Photo courtesy of Larry Slonaker.

There’s an old chestnut of advice when it comes to writing novels, “Write what you know,” which is usually attributed to Mark Twain. Like Twain, or more correctly Samuel Clemens, Larry Slonaker, a 30-year resident of San Benito County, toiled as a reporter for 20 years at the San Jose Mercury News, before deciding to pen his first novel, “Nothing Got Broke.”

The book was published through Cirque Press and is currently their top selling novel.

Slonaker, who has worked with BenitoLink as an editorial advisor, took Twain’s advice to heart when he not only made his protagonist a retired reporter, but placed him in Montana. Slonaker lived there before relocating to California to work for the Mercury as an editor then reporter. After his 20-year stint at the newspaper, he worked as a writer at Stanford University from 2013 to 2020.

Author and retired Mercury News reporter, Larry Slonaker. Photo by Leslie David
Author and retired Mercury News reporter, Larry Slonaker is a BenitoLink editorial and journalism ethics advisor.  Photo by Leslie David

While at Stanford he said he commuted from Gilroy by train. He said he had been “fiddling with the book, off and on for years,” and took advantage of the daily, round trip train ride to write the bulk of the novel.

“The basis of the idea for the story came from reading reviews about protagonists who were seeking redemption,” he said. “I thought, what if you had a character who wasn’t really interested in being redeemed. I drew on my background, so the protagonist is a former journalist out of San Jose, California, who goes to Montana.”

Slonaker said his book is a murder mystery about a young female reporter working for the same newspaper after the protagonist left and stumbles on some information suggesting he may have been involved in a murder. She tracks him down and it turns into a “cat-and-mouse game between the two of them.”

He said his time as a reporter gave him the discipline to do serious research and write the novel. He developed a subplot about the life of Nez Perce Chief Joseph in his years-long struggle with the U.S. Army to retain his land that ended at the Battle of the Big Hole in August 1877.

“What I wanted to get into was the abuses the Native Americans suffered at the hands of the military and the U.S. government,” he said. “The protagonist wants to make sure this story is told by the reporter who showed up at his door.”

Slonaker finished the book a year and a half ago, he said. It was published by Cirque Press, a regional publication that focuses on writers from or stories about the Northwest. Cirque Press edited and designed the book and made it available to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers.

“It was a delight working with Larry,” said Sandra Kleven, publisher/editor at Cirque Press. Slonaker captures real-life, small-town characters. “The story takes the reader to remote Montana, to diners where waitresses in support hose know everything and crafty mechanics bring genius to gas-powered engines.” 

She said sales of the book have surpassed all other books this year from the press. 

“Cirque Press is a literary publisher where authors most often peddle their book at in-person readings,” she said. “Slonaker’s bookstore readings are still ahead, but sales via Amazon have been brisk.” 

Slonaker told BenitoLink he will be attending a few book signings and readings in the coming months. The first reading will be at an independent bookstore in Montana.

“I feel comfortable doing that because I know a lot of people there. It’s a small, informal kind of thing,” he said, adding he is just in the beginning stage of promoting it and he is already thinking about his next book, a political satire.


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John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...