At play: Donald Burquest
Linguistics professor turns to writing to cope with family tragedy

Donald Burquest Sept. 11 was a sorrowful day for linguistics Associate Professor Donald Burquest seven years before terrorists made it a national day of mourning. It is the day his only son, Jeff, died in an auto accident at age 24.

It was the day he began a parent’s painful search for solace, a search that started in the most unlikely of places for the Florida native and longtime Texas resident—the rocky coastline and dense forests of Maine—and was resolved, in part, with the writing of a novel set there.

 “The beauty of the place inspired me to see that even in the midst of grief life goes on,” he said, “that there is still so much to experience.”

He made the trip in mid-October, about a month after his son’s death, at the suggestion of his two brothers who thought that a change of scenery, especially the magnificent autumn vistas of Maine, would help him deal with his loss.

“We just drove around for four or five days. We didn’t visit historical sites particularly. We just looked at the scenery—the beautiful coastline, the giant boulders and dense forests.”

The sea view also had an impact. “I just kept thinking about the eternal sea and how it goes on as far as the eye can see. It reminded me of the spiritual truth that life goes on.”

Dr. Burquest has often turned to writing as a way of handling life experiences, but the book inspired by Maine would be his first fiction effort. “There is just something therapeutic about writing down your thoughts,” he said.

A Certain Distance to Cross is the story of widower and former professor Tom Claassen, who moves to an island off the coast of Maine where he and his late wife had vacationed. 

“I wanted to establish a character who had a similar experience and deals with it,” Burquest said. “I thought it might give me insights on my own thoughts and emotions.”

On a trip to the fictional coastal town of Seaview, Claassen meets Ellen Hansen, the proprietor of a photo gallery. They form a friendship that develops into something deeper and causes him to struggle with the guilt of being attracted to another woman so soon after his wife’s death.

“The title, A Certain Distance to Cross, is a metaphor,” Burquest explained. “The island is to the mainland as grief is to wholeness. There is a distance to be navigated in both cases.”

He has written a second book about the relationship of Claassen and Hansen titled Love in Seaview. “I didn’t plan to write the sequel, but I wanted to see how their relationship turned out.”

Love in Seaview considers the challenges of a second marriage within an age-different relationship as the couple struggles with changing careers, tight economic times and the need to create a new life together while keeping romance alive.

Both books are written under a pen name, Adrian Quest (a combination of his middle name, Arden, and shortening his surname, Burquest). The Romantic Times Book Club reviews the first book as “a deeply moving and extremely touching story” and Love in Seaview as “a sweet continuation of two endearing characters.”

Reviews of both books are on the Web sites of Amazon ( and Romantic Times ( The books are available at the UTA Bookstore, where Burquest will host a signing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 3.

He is currently working on a collection of short stories that he intends to compile into a book.

— Donna Darovich

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