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Lavington writer uses free time during pandemic to complete first novel

M.F. McDowell’s book, Open City, Closed Set, is a Hollywood thriller set during WWII
Lavington’s M.F. McDowell with a copy of his new book, Open City, Closed Set. (Contributed)

M.F. (Matt) McDowell is a modern-day renaissance man. When not introducing films for Okanagan Screen Arts at the Vernon Towne Theatre, the Californian-born artist, who now calls Lavington, B.C. home, instructs guitar, yoga, and film classes, acts in local musical theatre productions, and produces videos for local businesses and organizations.

Most of those endeavours came to a grinding halt when COVID-19 forced everyone into socially distanced isolation. But instead of wallowing, McDowell used the newfound spare time to finish his first novel, Open City, Closed Set.

Originally written while McDowell was completing his thesis in creative writing at UBC Okanagan, the novel is now available as a paperback, digital download and audiobook.

“I’d printed up a few copies for friends and family, and they pressured me for years to publish it. When the pandemic hit, I had some extra time, like all of us, and decided to ready the manuscript for publication. All of the proofing, cover design, layout, recording, and producing the audiobook version was a lot of work, but it’s great to have it out there for people to enjoy,” McDowell said.

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A comic thriller set in Hollywood during the Second World War, Open City, Closed Set follows Roberto Balio, an Italian spy sent to the California coast to investigate his predecessor’s disappearance.

A charming, handsome man with an innate ability to be trusted, Roberto becomes mesmerized by the bright lights of Hollywood, the allure of its beautiful women, and the promise of fame and fortune. When his Nazi superior enlists him in a diabolical plan that will “cripple the American soul,” Roberto must choose between his duty, the strong-willed woman he loves, and his own dreams of stardom.

Brimming with humour and an oddball cast of characters, Open City, Closed Set shines a spotlight on Hollywood’s golden age and a lonely man seduced by the American Dream.

McDowell received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and a BFA in Film and Television from UCLA. He wrote and co-directed the underground cult feature film, Sheila and the Brainstem, and spends his time between B.C. and Los Angeles.

Open City, Closed Set is available now on Amazon, Kindle and Audible.

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Brendan Shykora
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