Some folks look forward to slowing down as retirement approaches, but that doesn’t appear to be Arroyo Grande resident Alan Pietsch’s modus operandi.

Asked to pose for a quick post-interview photo to, among other things, promote the budding author’s first book launch, the former dance instructor adopts a theatrical flourish.

Now in retirement from 35 years of teaching, the largest span of which was spent as one of the founding staff members of the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy, he’s plowing ahead with a list of projects. The first, a documentary film narrating the life of the school itself, wrapped last year with a premier in November 2018 at Atascadero’s Galaxy Theater.

Started with a grant from the school’s close-knit Parent and Teacher Association, a Go Fund Me online drive and the balance from Pietsch’s own pocketbook, the film focused on what makes the school—the only one of it’s kind in the Atascadero Unified School District System— special to the community. The public school started before the current flood of charter options and continues to serve students between 4th and 8th grades with morning classes in all the usual curriculum and afternoon courses in the arts.

As he explained to parents when starting the project, the goal was to provide continuity of history for new administrators and teachers, to give them an idea of what was envisioned at the start nearly 20 years ago. As well to preserve the history of the school—how it started, the origin of the idea, the early years; to celebrate its success over the years and the reasons for its success; and to promote the school as a model for other districts around the state and country.

Unfortunately, just as the film debuted, the school’s name also became attached, in Google searches at least, to more scandalous allegations against a former music teacher. As a criminal case wends its way through the courts, the school district hasn’t encouraged more publicity about the Fine Arts Academy.

“The film serves its original purpose as a chronicle of history and ideas for what we set out to achieve,” Pietsch said, “But it’s not the right time to release it publically right now. I keep the film password protected with a link for people that have a reason to see it, but for the moment it’s shelved for distribution at another time.”

The freedom that came with a project being taken off the table for awhile was serendipitous for Pietsch, however, as he found the opportunity to redraft and put the finishing touches on a novel that had been on his desk since 2005.

“I was put in touch with the publisher out of the blue as I discussed [with family] my plans for the book,” he said, adding that the publishing agent he eventually ended up with plowed through the novel while snowed in, under a Midwest blizzard.

Now available online through the website,, or on Amazon’s web store, “Ophelia’s Uncommonly Odd Odyssey is the story of a young girl who is addicted to books.”

The subject matter would be perfect for anyone seeking to escape a cold winter day in the pages of a fantasy world, seeing as how that’s what the protagonist, Ophelia, does best. As one must at least try to write what they know before literary embellishment, the central character is based on a former student of Pietsch’s, one whose parents he repeatedly asked to search their child’s bags for extra reading material before school.

“A very, very bright student who never got good grades because they were always buried in a story about somewhere else,” he explained.

Although the student’s family gave permission before he used the personality of their child for his novel, Pietsch protects the identity of his muse, even though it was the child’s father who suggested the dramatic outcomes of the story.

Without giving anything away, Ophelia finds herself trapped in the universes she reads about and must undertake the classic hero’s journey to escape, although Pietsch wouldn’t describe her as a hero as such and the solution involves more self-discovery and letting go of the things she might think are important.

“She’s a heroine in the sense that she learns an important lesson along the way,” he said.

Two of the locales involved in the story are the Munchkin Village from the Wizard of Oz and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland.

There were some restrictions of copyright and fair-use for which adventures his character could be allowed to mingle with, Pietsch notes.

As of the June 6 launch of his novel, Pietsch is arranging book signings at the last two bookstores in San Luis Obispo County that he knows host such events, Barnes and Noble in the City of San Luis Obispo, and Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay.

He’s already at work on a sequel.

“Once I get fired up and start on the story it just flows,” he said. “The first book took a long time because I was at work and only picked it up through the summer, so it did need rewrites as I went.”

After Ophelia’s adventures conclude for the moment Pietsch is turning more inward for a memoir.

The Ohio native didn’t grow up in the arts where he found meaning as an adult, but he was athletic and took his talents to more metropolitan environments, calling Seattle home before migrating to the temperate climates of California with his wife.

The in-between years are the subject of the memoir focusing on experiences he had behind the Iron Curtain with the Polish Solidarity movement. For those rusty on the Cold War events just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Solidarity started in 1980 at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, the first union not controlled directly by the Communists.

“My choreography career took me all over the world to Scotland, Japan and China in the ’80s as well,” he explained.

Also available on the website, Pietsch is selling a curriculum packet for teachers on the more commonly taught literary classics.

“The books are my new full-time job,” he said.