Longtime software developer, musician releases first novel ‘Breaking the Spell’

Author Rocky Smolin is also a musician.
Author Rocky Smolin is also a musician.

A man enters a shabby apartment building in Chicago, sits down at a table, and agrees to a preposterous plan – the woman sitting before him, a self-described witch, will cast a spell to free him from the unwanted attentions of a persistent ex-girlfriend.

“I am going to cast a spell for you to get this woman out of your life forever,” the witch says. “But, I have to warn you about consequences. There are always consequences—to witchcraft. Are you prepared to accept all of them—even those that you may not be able to foresee?”

The scene sets the stage for a new novel, called “Breaking the Spell,” written by Rocky Smolin, a long-time Del Mar and Carlsbad resident who spent his career writing computer programs and technical books.

Smolin, 73, said he decided to try writing a novel during the COVID-19 lockdown after a conversation with a friend, during which Smolin had described how as a young man, he had experienced a similar situation with a witch, a spell and an annoyingly clingy ex.

In his case, said Smolin, the former paramour “disappeared from my life so completely it was as if she never existed.”

“Breaking the Spell” by Rocky Smolin is available on Amazon.
“Breaking the Spell” by Rocky Smolin is available on Amazon.
(Book cover designed by Rose Miller)

While he never knew for sure what happened to his former girlfriend, or if the witch’s spell had anything to do with her disappearance, Smolin said the incident brought up an interesting philosophical question regarding the intersection of the spiritual and rational worlds.

Like Smolin, the novel’s main character, Roger Coles, came of age in the world of 60s counterculture, open to all sorts of ideas, including the supernatural. But he was also firmly grounded in the realm of the rational, earning his living as a software developer.

“It’s not an autobiographical novel. But it has autobiographical elements,” Smolin said. “I drew from my own experience to create characters and some of the events.”

Smolin, like his protagonist, is willing to consider the existence of phenomena that can’t be explained through scientific formulas or lines of computer code. “I like to think I keep my mind open to all possibilities,” he said.

In addition to its themes of witchcraft and the supernatural, the book is also an exploration of the main character’s search for meaning in his life, as career and family recede. His quest takes him to New Orleans, launching an odyssey that includes stops in Burma, Normandy, and Cape Cod before he ends up back in his hometown of Chicago.

Smolin said he wrote the first chapter quickly, then got stuck and decided to take his character to New Orleans, a place he’s personally visited numerous times, to see what might happen. The trick worked, sparking a plot line that carried Roger Coles around the world, and helped him sort out his priorities in life.

Smolin said he approached the task of writing the book like a job, establishing a routine of sitting down at the keyboard every morning. Some days the sentences and paragraphs poured out, while on others the words slowed to a trickle. But he made steady progress.

He enjoyed the work. “It was an adventure,” he said. “I call myself the accidental author.”

He’s also appreciated the feedback he’s received on the novel, whether from his wife of 44 years, Marsha Sutton, a veteran journalist and columnist for this newspaper, or others who credited the book with changing their thinking on important life issues. “It’s rewarding,” he said.

Smolin self-published the book, which is available on Amazon. He said his next challenge is to market the novel and let people know about it. His target audience, he said, is anyone in his or her adulthood, perhaps nearing retirement, trying to figure out what comes next.

“What do I do, who am I, how do I find my way?” he said.

When he’s not hard at work on a writing project, Smolin can be found playing standup bass with a country music trio or a classical string orchestra, or riding 60 to 100 miles each week on his bicycle along the North County coastline.