Q and A with Prof. Eric Fretz as his first novel debuts

Groundswell, the first novel by Eric Fretz, professor and chair of the Peace and Justice Department, was recently published by Belanger Press. Groundswell is a murder mystery that takes inspiration from a New Zealand surfing community.

Based in the small coastal towns of Ohope Beach and Whakatane, the story follows protagonist Julian Braxton, and his wife, Parvati, who soon find that paradise has a dark side. After a string of suspicious deaths, according to the publisher, Julian “finds himself embroiled in a vicious, complicated world involving international drug cartels and Maori land rights disputes. And he gradually realizes that there is a target on his own back.”

Fretz, who draws on his own experiences living in New Zealand from 2017 to 2018, discussed his book, career and path to novel writing. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell us about your book.

A: It is a murder mystery. I would call it literary fiction murder mystery. It happened because I got really involved in the surfing community where we lived [in New Zealand], and I just kind of fell in love with it. And I wanted to write about it somehow. So, I started trying to write nonfiction about it, but it just really fell flat. It didn't feel right to me … then, one day I wrote a scene, which is fiction, and I just kept exploring it and, you know, using partly my experiences, being a part of that community and surfing there, but then also making a lot of stuff up. And then it just evolved. At the end of the day, I was really trying to find a way to understand and express how profound living in that community was.

Q: Had you surfed before, or was this something you got into when you lived in New Zealand?

A: I always wanted to learn how to surf. And so, we ended up in Ohope Beach, which — I didn't know this — but it's got one of the best surf breaks in the country. It's just absolutely stunningly gorgeous. And we got there in July, it was winter. There's one surf school there. I was emailing the person who owns the surf school, and said, ‘I'm going be here on this day.’ And I went, ‘Can I get the lesson the next day?’ And they said, ‘wait, it’s freezing.’ But I really wanted to start right away. And so, I texted [the owner]. She's said, ‘OK, well meet Troy. He's your instructor. Meet him down at West End at the surf break.’ It was bitter cold. But Troy and I paddled out, and I got up right away, and it just came fairly naturally to me. And then Troy and I became the best of friends. In fact, one of the main characters is based on him. So, that's how it all came about. But I had never surfed before that day.

Q: Can you tell us about your academic background?

A: My Ph.D. is in English and American Studies. And I went to Michigan State for my Ph.D. and then I got a job in an English department right after I got my Ph.D. And that was in a small school in Iowa, Loras College. I moved back to Michigan State. And I got a job just as a visiting assistant professor there. And then I met Sujata, [his wife] and then we decided to leave Michigan. Then, I got a job at Naropa University [in Boulder, Colo.] Then, I taught at DU [University of Denver] for a little bit, and then I ended up at Regis but kind of shifted from English to Peace and Justice Studies along the way. 

Q: When you were working on your Ph.D. in English, did you imagine writing a novel?

A: I was writing articles. That's all I did, and that’s all I ever thought I would do. I never imagined writing fiction. I mean, I had written a couple nonfiction pieces. I enjoyed writing scholarly stuff. I still enjoy writing scholarly stuff. I just needed to find a way to process New Zealand. And I couldn't do the scholarly writing. I couldn't do it through creative nonfiction. So, a murder mystery is what was left, which is kind of funny.


The novel will be available on Amazon on Nov. 14. Additionally, a book launch party will be hosted from 4-6 p.m. Dec. 2 at Forest Room Five, 2532 15th St. in Denver. Learn more about Groundswell.