Retired teacher William McClain, of Lynnwood, has published his first novel, “The Risk in Crossing Borders.” (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Retired teacher William McClain, of Lynnwood, has published his first novel, “The Risk in Crossing Borders.” (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Lynnwood man’s book about ‘Crossing Borders’ to the unexpected

William McClain’s novel — set in Seattle, Syria, Beirut and France — explores what happens when we open our eyes to “the other.”

By Patricia Guthrie

Special to The Herald

The term “crossing borders” brings to mind families, desperate for a better life, risking it all to get into the U.S.

But there are many other borders to cross in life — those of family, gender, culture, race, religion, routine and romance. All are revealed with poignancy and perception in the self-published novel “The Risk in Crossing Borders” by Lynnwood resident William McClain.

The lives of an international cast of characters intersect in McClain’s first book, which is set in Seattle, Syria, Beirut and France. The novel centers on Yana Pickering, a 54-year-old divorced woman whose job, friends and two grown children keep her entrenched in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.

Or so she believes.

Through her children’s contacts, Yana is inspired to break out of her comfortable routine. A knock on her door one morning after a thunderous storm begins the first of Yana’s many unexpected midlife encounters — with Emma, who was named Eddie when she was Yana’s daughter’s boyfriend.

Through Emma, Yana learns what transgender individuals experience — violence, prejudice, hate crimes, cruelty, rejection. She is so moved that she takes it upon herself to avenge the wrongs experienced by Emma.

Next, dinner conversation with her son and daughter and their partners introduces Yana to the Middle East and its history of endless conflicts, refugee camps and families torn apart by warring factions.

Yana learns that acquaintances of her son-in-law are returning to Syria to help search for the missing children of their best friend, who was a surgeon at a major Aleppo hospital, now lying in ruins like the rest of the country. The missing teenage daughter and son are assumed to have fled into the countryside after bombs destroyed their home and killed their mother.

After Yana asks to join the group going to Beirut to search for the children at refugee camps, it’s the first step to a great leap in her life that she never imagined.

McClain, 64, is a former high school teacher and corporate retirement planner. The subject of his book took root when he started tutoring at the Snohomish County nonprofit organizations Refugees NW and YouthCare.

“I’ve always been interested in the stories and life experiences of those from different backgrounds, and have often been inspired by their resilience,” McClain said. “I chose Syria because it’s a tragedy of epic proportions that’s happening in real time, yet it feels remote to many of us in the U.S. My goal was to humanize their experiences.”

Taking risks is a theme throughout the novel.

“I hope the message that comes from the book is to be brave and take chances, no matter where you are in life’s path,” McClain said. “It doesn’t have to involve moving across the globe. It’s more about trying things that are new, and finding what’s important to you and that gives back to your local and global communities.”

McClain also stressed that leaving one’s comfort zone can lead to remarkable moments — maybe even changes of mind and heart.

“Over the years, I’ve become more aware of the concept of ‘the other,’ which I consider to be people whose lives, culture, appearance, and/or beliefs are very different from (our own),” he said. “Throughout history, we have reacted negatively, and often violently to ‘the other.’ I think some of that may be hardwired into humans.

“It takes education and perseverance to move ourselves and our society toward a more accepting and diverse viewpoint.”

McClain’s favorite quote by author Anthony Doerr could also be a reference to his own novel: “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

“The Risk in Crossing Borders”

By William McClain

Green Planet Books. 278 pages. $14.99.

About the author

Now retired, William McClain, 64, taught high school math and physics for 10 years and worked as a consultant on company retirement plans for 30 years. Before COVID-19 hit, the Lynnwood resident volunteered as a tutor for refugees and homeless youth. Go to www.williammcclainwriter.com to learn more.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the fall/winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

Talk to us

More in Life

See 81 original paintings by Jack Dorsey in the "No. 81" exhibit through May at Sunnyshore Studio on Camano Island.
Camano Island studio celebrates a patriarch of the arts

“No. 81” features 81 of Jack Dorsey’s paintings on his 81st birthday. You can see 28 of them at Sunnyshore Studio.

The vocal supergroup Säje will perform at the DeMiero Jazz Festival, which is March 4-6 this year.
DeMiero Jazz Festival packed with headlining performers

Edmonds’ 45th annual event will feature 17 virtual performances, plus jazz workshops for local students.

Owners Kim and Larry Harris at Bayernmoor Cellars on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Stanwood, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
World-class wine, from grapes grown right here

Bayernmoor Cellars makes award-winning pinot noir from grapes grown at its vineyard northeast of Stanwood.

(Getty Images)
You voted: The best cocktails in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

About a dozen metal dinosaurs sit in the front yard of a home owned by Burt Mason and Mary Saltwick on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Freeland, Washington. The couple are used to finding strangers in their yard and taking photos. Every year on their trip to Tucson, Burt and Mary bring home another figure  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Dinos on Whidbey? This Freeland yard is a Jurassic Park

These creatures from long ago won’t chomp or chase you, and you’re welcome to visit.

Drink This: 5 Snohomish breweries to host Smash and Dash

Each brewery takes the same base IPA recipe and then dry hops the beer with a different hop. Try them all.

Golden shakshuka

Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Golden Shakshuka is just the thing for a weekend brunch

This easy Middle Eastern egg dish is made with yellow bell peppers and yellow cherry tomatoes.

Don Sarver, left, and Kyle James, right, snowshoe on the Skyline Lake Trail on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 in Leavenworth, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Avoiding avalanches: How to know and where to go

Follow these tips for researching on-the-ground conditions from comfort of your home or local library.

(Getty Images)
You voted: The best Chinese food in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

Most Read