John Scherber grew up and prospered in Minnesota as a cabinet maker running his own company. But for decades he nurtured his creative side, hoping that someday his life would be writing books and painting. His search for an artistic life led him to Mexico where his creativity was set free in San Miguel de Allende.
“I’m so happy to have my writing career,’ Scherber said, “after 37 years of being locked out of it. I will write till I pitch forward into the keyboard. That’s my plan. I love it. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”
And how. Scherber, at age 77, has written 42 books since 2005, five books just last year as COVID-19 forced him to remain in his home on the outskirts of San Miguel.
He grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from DeLaSalle High School before majoring in English at the University of Minnesota, where he found himself in class with Gary Keillor, who became the famous Garrison Keillor. He also tried the writing program at San Francisco State University before returning to the U of M for his bachelor’s degree.
“During that time, I really wanted to write fiction and I wrote two novels, which I was aware were not very good,” he said. “So, I quit writing, a foolish thing to do, and became a cabinet maker. I started a company that did paneled rooms and designed and built custom furniture. Every three or four years I would go back to the idea of writing, but in the end didn’t think it would work.”
He did, though, begin to paint, which helped him release some of that creativity he knew he had.
“In 2005, I was on a painting trip to Taos, New Mexico and this idea came to me while driving,” he said. “It was a scene where a woman comes to pose for a painter in his studio and they have different ideas of what was going to happen. I kept repeating the dialogue over and over as I drove and wrote the scene as soon as I got to the hotel in Taos. I wrote the first draft of what would become the first of the 28 mysteries I have written.”
In his mysteries, the painter is now a detective who starts an agency in San Miguel de Allende with his Mexican girlfriend, who is a historian, and his buddy, a retired detective from Peoria, Illinois. The series is called “Murder in Mexico”, or the Paul Zacher detective series.
“My wife Kristine and I had been to Mexico about eight times and about four of those trips were to San Miguel. We liked Mérida, but it was too hot for us, so we settled in San Miguel de Allende in 2007 in a home just on the fringe of Centro. I had already written several of the detective novels by the time we moved to Mexico.”
Scherber and his wife moved to the outskirts of San Miguel several years ago to escape the increased traffic that tourism brought to the city and to have space for Kristine’s horse.
“We live on the edge of Atotonilco, where Father Hidalgo brought his troops to the church to start the movement that led to the 1810 Mexican War of Independence,” he said.
The Scherbers like the quiet of country life on acres of land in a gated community that is a mixture of Mexican professionals and expats, including, Scherber said, several Hollywood actors.
“Our home is a Santa Fe-style home on a bluff about 100 ft. above the Rio Laja Valley. The front of the home faces east and has a lot of glass, which is perfect since I am an early riser and love to watch the sunrise.”
Their main house is 2,800 sq. ft., but a 1,400 sq. ft. casita brings the total size of useable space to 4,200 sq. ft. His writing and painting studios are located in the casita.
“The house was built about 15 years ago and we paid US$390,000 for the property when we bought it nearly four years ago. Our property taxes are just US$700 a year. We’re about a 20-minute drive from Centro, but away from the traffic and noise a city brings.”
Where Scherber lives the elevation is about 6,400 ft., which produces a climate perfect for the pair who came from cold country.
“We’re just coming out of winter now, but today we’re going to have a high of 84 F with a low around 44 F. April and May are our hottest months, and typically November and December the coldest. Then we get a rainy season that starts in June and ends the latter part of September. I like the weather coming from Minnesota where I experienced a -40 F temperature with a -75 F wind chill.”
Besides the climate, Scherber liked the historical colonial feel of San Miguel. He wanted to make a change and not live in the culture and ambiance he grew up in.
“I wanted to finish somewhere else,” he said, “and San Miguel fits that. I had traveled to Europe a fair amount and considered someplace there, but the cost of living is too high.”
But for Scherber, living in San Miguel de Allende is more than the climate and the cost of living.
“I like the importance of culture here. I like the painters and the active writing community and that there are a lot of people doing interesting things. I love that you can participate in as much or as little as you like.”
Scherber also has written several books about the expat experience in Mexico and San Miguel de Allende and is currently working on a new one based on the many who come to San Miguel and find they do not retire. They try new things they had not done in their working lives in the States, but had thought about doing.
“These are the people who just went for it and tried something different. In this book they tell their own stories. I have found that expats have few similar characteristics. They tend to be pretty individual. If there is one common characteristic, it would be courageous. They’re willing to take a chance.