Local author creates a ‘Sunrise Surprise’

Dolly’s Bookstore will welcome Don Weller

Author Event with Don Weller

Cutting horse trainer, Western art painter and author Don Weller, who lives in Oakley, will sign his new book, “Sunrise Surprise,” on Saturday, Sept. 2, at Dolly’s Bookstore.
Photo by Kayle Matsumura

Don Weller would like the world to take a gander at his newest creation “Sunrise Surprise.”

Although Weller is known for his award-winning Western-theme watercolor art, “Sunrise Surprise” is the follow up to “Snap Chance,” his first modern-day western murder-mystery novel that was published almost two years ago.

“The new book includes some familiar characters and some new ones,” said Weller, who is also a cutting horse expert. “And it takes place in Hawaii and involves art, music, tattooing and cutting horses, of course. The books can stand on their own, so you can read one without reading the other.”

Weller will introduce “Sunrise Surprise” during a free author event at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, at Dolly’s Dolly’s Bookstore, 510 Main St. The event will also include excerpts of the book read by Alison McFarlane at 4:30 p.m.

By the time he went into the woods, I didn’t want to kill him off.” Don Weller, painter and author of “Sunrise Surprise”

Weller was spurred into writing “Sunrise Surprise” after the success of “Snap Chance.”

“I really had no idea that I wanted to write a second book, but the fabulous response to the first book was an explosion,” he said. “There were people who actually liked it, so that was encouraging.”

The author also needed something to do in between his paintings.

“I’m not painting as much as I used to, and one reason is because my eyes make it harder to do,” he said. “The writing, on the other hand, is something I can do by myself. I can make the type really big so I can see it.”

Still, Weller confessed his writing method isn’t very professional, but he learned how to write stories by listening to author Walter Mosley’s “This Year You Write Your Novel” and Anne Lamont’s “Bird by Bird” audio books.

“When I listen to what they say, they tell me to set aside three, four or five hours, and those are the times I’m supposed to write,” he said. “Walter also says you need to write every day, even Saturdays and Sundays. And he said you need to just sit there no matter what happens. But I’m not like that at all.”

Although Weller did write every day, he didn’t set aside special hours to do so. 

“I’d write five minutes in between the times when my wife Cha Cha would have me do something,” he said. “Sometimes I’d write in explosions of many hours, and other times I would get up in the middle of the night to write.”

Weller began writing “Sunrise Surprise” soon after he published “Snap Chance.” 

“I started with the first chapter where one of our characters from the first book meets another character from the first book that he didn’t expect to meet,” Weller said. “Once I did that the characters came alive for me again. And I just built it from there.”

At first, Weller made a conscious decision of which characters from the first book were going to appear in the new one. 

“Snap Chance” was a story about Jake Oar, a rancher and cutting horse trainer from Utah who learns he is the target of a professional killer. “Sunrise Surprise” finds Oar stumbling into an assassination attempt gone wrong, while enjoying his honeymoon in Hawaii.

“I think when I was writing the first book, I was dealing with a lot of drama that I had inside me,” Weller said. “I think I was frustrated with all the stuff that was going on in the world, and that’s why I think it has a lot of swearing and some really bad people.”

“Sunrise Surprise” is a new novel by Oakley resident Don Weller, an award-winning Western art painter and cutting horse trainer. The book is a follow-up to Weller’s 2022 murder-mystery, “Snap Chance.”
Scott Iwasaki/Park Record

The feel of the new book is a little more serene, according to the author.

“Now, I’m settled down, so there isn’t much swearing,” he said with a laugh.

Still, there are some bad people, who find themselves on redeeming story arcs, Weller said.

“All the characters in the new book have become friends of mine, which is to say I liked them by the time I started writing about them,” he said. “I even like the little murderer guy and the big murderer guy. And I like the evil woman.”

Weller came to terms with his fondness of these characters as he was writing about one of the murderers who had run away to hide in the woods.

“By the time he went into the woods, I didn’t want to kill him off,” he said with a laugh. “While some writers have an idea of where to take their characters, the opposite happened with me. My characters told me what they wanted to do.”

Setting “Sunrise Surprise” in Hawaii was a sentimental move for Weller, who lived there in the early 1970s.

“I’m old, and when you’re old, you lose your short-term memory, and while I can’t remember what I did yesterday, I have a pretty good memory of what Hawaii was like when I was there,” he said. “And the police force that I wrote about was how they were back then, but not how they are now.”

The book and Weller’s relationship with Hawaii has taken a deeper turn since the recent wildfires that have killed at least 115 people and left more than 388 others missing in the town of Lāhainā.

“We were just back there in May with our daughters and their families, just before the fires broke out,” Weller said. “We were mostly in the parts where the local residents live, Sunset Beach and places like that. And that part is what I pretty much remember.”

“Sunrise Surprise” was finished and sent to the printer before the Wellers went to Hawaii, so the visit didn’t influence or impact any type of editing changes.

“Once the book was done, the editing started,” Weller said. “I usually edit as I go along. I’d write part of it and write some more. Then I would sit and reread this and try to not use the same words.”

Weller also recruited his friend Dee Dee Richardson to do some more editing.

“The editing is the process that can go forever, and Walter Mosely says you’re done when you can’t put another change and you’re ready to move on,” Weller said. “And he also says you have to go over it and over it until you can’t stand it.” 

Weller looks forward to seeing friends he hasn’t seen in a while at Saturday’s book signing.

“That part is fun, but there is the first part when you are carrying all of these heavy books and getting all sweaty,” he said with a smile. “Then you sit there for a while, wondering if any one will show up.”

Weller enjoys working with Dolly’s on these author events, which started with his art books.

“They have always been good to work with,” he said. “And I feel very comfortable doing these signings there.”

Copies of “Sunrise Surprise” will be available at Dolly’s the day of the event, and the book is currently available on, but Weller isn’t finished writing books.

“I have two more books that are fighting to get out,” he said. “One is a novella and the other is a collection of 12 or 13 short stories. They stand alone, but some are inspired by incidents that have happened in the other books.”

They are told from different perspectives of Weller’s characters. 

“So if you read the other book and you read the short story, you will probably recognize the bar where the story takes place,” he said.

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