Joe Ponepinto

Joe Ponepinto

Twenty-five years ago, Joe Ponepinto was starting a political consulting career in Long Beach.

Ponepinto had just finished a nine-year stint as executive editor of the then-fledgling Grunion Gazette. He started providing campaign material for the politicians he had covered as a journalist, and soon transitioned to being involved in campaigns.

So it shouldn't be a big surprise that the protagonist in Ponepinto's debut novel, "Mr. Neutron," is a campaign manager. Gray Davenport struggles with a mayoral candidate with little chance of paying him, much less winning the election. But what he discovers about one of the other candidates turns the town of Grand River on its ear.

"The book was kind of a process," Ponepinto said from his home in Gig Harbor, Wash. "When I first wrote it, it was a straight story. But when I got into it, things started to morph."

In between his time in Long Beach and the stay at Gig Harbor, Ponepinto was the founding publisher and fiction editor of the Tahoma Literary Review, a successful journal, which recently was sold. He also edited material and taught.

Ponepinto's wife, Dona, is an executive with the United Way, and "she let's me write," Ponepinto laughed. They live on the bay near Puget Sound with their dog, Henry.

His time in Long Beach, particularly working for the Gazette, helped shape the person he is today, Ponepinto said.

"I came from a family and a place that didn't get involved in stuff," he said. "The Gazette was my entry into life. John Blowitz (the Gazette owner with his wife, Fran) was very good at getting me out into the community. If it wasn't for working for the Grunion Gazette, I wouldn't be as involved as I am today."

Despite his political coverage at the Gazette, and his work on campaigns including Beverly O'Neill's first successful run for mayor, Ponepinto said his book's characters are completely fictional.

"There's no resemblance to anyone I know or knew," Ponepinto said. "It does, though, reflect the craziness of local politics, and all the politics we see today."

"Mr. Neutron" was released Wednesday, March 7, as a paperback and as an e-book. It is being sold on Amazon and other on-line suppliers through publisher 7.13 Books.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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