Zach Perry begins his book, "One Among the Duggle Tree," with a dramatic scene of a 6-year-old boy awakening to find his bedroom engulfed by fire.
Perry took this occurrence from his own life, although he was 16, a student at Amador Valley High, when his Pleasanton home burned down due to a faulty appliance that exploded.
"I muscled my way through the heat and smoke -- I can hear and smell the fire," Perry said. "Teachers were always saying to use real life experiences, then you know first-hand how it feels. The house fire actually became inspiration for my character."
"One Among the Duggle Tree" fast forwards to the year 2058, when the boy is an adult, manmade fires cloud a dark landscape, and cities are a wasteland of outdated mechanical junk.
The book combines sci-fi and mystery -- with a touch of romance.
"There's a strong connection between this detective and this bartender lady who befriends him, and they become an item," Perry explained.
When Perry graduated from University of Oregon in 2013 with a degree in cinema studies, he headed right to Los Angeles.
"I was trying to get my writing career off the ground but that was one of the hardest departments to get into," he said.
He took whatever jobs in the field came up, sometimes as an extra with a few lines, and as a production assistant for the show, "Life in Pieces." When a music video called for rappers to get on board a bus that starts to move, he was one of the mechanics.
"I was trying to become a jack of all trades," Perry said.
He was helping with rewrites for a movie and reported for work as usual in Burbank on March 15, 2020.
"They told us the production was shutting down, everything needed to be quickly packed up," he recalled.
When it became clear the hiatus would last awhile, Perry headed back to Pleasanton to finish writing the book he had begun while taking a summer class at Las Positas College on writing a novel in one month.
Novel writing always fascinated him, he said, even as he attended Walnut Grove Elementary and Harvest Park Middle.
"I always marveled at the fact that these guys and ladies had put a complete package together," he said. "I thought, if I can do something like that in my lifetime, that would be great."
While sheltering in place, he worked through draft after draft of the book, then hired a copy editor from New York City, Shaina Clingempeel, who had edited other sci-fi novels and came highly recommended.
Perry hired a graphic designer to create the cover image, which was inspired by a tree that was once in the cul-de-sac of Perry's Pleasanton street.
"There is a little island that has grass, and once it had a huge fluffy tree," he remembered. "Unfortunately it died about 20 years ago, but that was our childhood tree."
After sending query letters to publishers, Perry decided to self-publish through Amazon, and "One Among the Duggle Tree" came out last month. Copies in hand, he visited Towne Center Books, where he gave owner Judy Wheeler a brief synopsis, and she agreed to give it a try.
"If the 10 copies are sold in 30 days, I can bring 50 more to her," Perry said.
Although Perry plans to continue "Duggle Tree" in a series, he is currently working on a time travel story.
"It's a change of pace," he said. "I've been doing research on the physics of it."
Perry, a member of the Amador varsity cross-country team that went to the East Bay Athletic League championships in 2007, can be seen running around Pleasanton, including downtown. Years ago he put his love of running into some of his first writing.
"In third grade I entered a short story into the Berkeley youth writers competition called, 'Day at the Races,'" he said. "I got an honorable mention."