Tale of loss, true to life

Book: Columbia man draws inspiration from experience.

Howard Live

September 06, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Twelve years after Rufus Juskus' wife died of Hodgkin's disease, he decided to put his feelings about grieving on paper, not knowing where the journey would take him.

What emerged was Blueprint, Juskus' first published novel that gives a fictional account of coping with the death of his wife. Set in Columbia, the book was published this summer and ultimately helped Juskus come to terms with his grief.

"I didn't set out for it to be a therapeutic exercise," said Juskus, 51, of Columbia. "But it ended up being kind of a need to express what grieving was all about."

The book is set six months after the death of Ruthie - whom Juskus calls the book's "only true character" - the wife of the main character, Eddie Diamond. The character struggles with loneliness and a suicide attempt while he tries to move on with his life and faces the possibility of a new romantic relationship.

Juskus drew primarily from his life experiences to create the book. Like Juskus, the main character is a letter carrier in Columbia. He said all the characters are fictional but are composites of people he knows and contain "a lot of emotional truth."

"They're unrecognizable to anybody, so there's no libel in the works," said Juskus, a letter carrier for the past 15 years.

The book is centered on the theme of a blueprint, that a person's destiny is already planned. In the last pages, Juskus writes, "Yes, Ruthie was alive at one time, and yes, she is dead now, and yes, we accept it as all part of some blueprint we can't see, some plan we don't know about, some reckoning we can't comprehend."

Juskus started writing the novel in 1997 - years after his wife's death in 1985 - and took a Writer's Digest mail course to help him organize the structure of his book through outlines. Members of his writing group, the House Blend Writers Group, helped him through the process by reading drafts of his novel.

Sandy Fleming, a member of the writers group, said the book is "very evocative" of the main character's sensitive state as he faces an emotional crossroad.

"I thought it pretty accurately portrayed with a lot of compassion - the whole grieving process and getting on with one's life, wrestling with one's demons," said Fleming, of Spencerville.

Juskus estimated about 500 copies have been sold since AmErica House published the book in June. The company, based in Frederick, specializes in fiction and nonfiction books about or for people overcoming major obstacles in their lives.

Kelly Hartman, a spokeswoman for the company, said AmErica House gives preference to first-time authors and, like many new authors, elements of Juskus' life show in his writing.

"He's a character; he's had a really colorful life," she said.

Juskus' resume carries a long list of odd jobs. In the 1980s, he played guitar in Baltimore's strip clubs and later moved to suburban clubs. In between guitar gigs, he also worked on a shiitake mushroom farm where he drilled holes in logs to insert live spores.

It wasn't until the early 1990s that Juskus started taking writing courses at Catonsville Community College and the Johns Hopkins University in an attempt to learn how to make the transition from writing in a journal to writing a novel.

Juskus is working on his second novel, with a similar theme to that of Blueprint, about a man who breaks up with his wife and develops a relationship with a woman who has cancer. He's already finished the first draft of his latest work, set in an unnamed suburban Maryland town.

Juskus, who has remarried, said he anticipates anyone can relate to Blueprint's theme, which ends "kind of upward, and kind of down, somewhere in the middle."

"We all experience people around us who die, and it's like what happens after that happens ... with the feeling of loss, feeling of emptiness," he said. "It has a healing-from-grief motif."

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