Author: authorwilliamcook

About authorwilliamcook

I grew up on the east coast, where I attended two Catholic seminaries before getting my Master's Degree in Social Work at the State University of New York at Albany. I moved to Oregon in 1989, continuing my career as a mental health therapist. I am now retired and I divide my time between babysitting for my 15 grandchildren and writing.

Movie Review: First Man

This movie caught me by surprise. I went in expecting to feel again some of the exhilaration and joy I felt when I witnessed live television feed from the moon on that July day decades ago–a human being actually walking on the surface of another world. I knew nothing of Neil Armstrong’s personal life, and if this movie is accurate, its portrait of the man is unflattering. Broken by the death of his daughter, hollowed out by the deaths of fellow pilots and astronauts, Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) is the mere shell of a man, unable to grieve, emotionally unavailable to his wife and children. In fact, he would have left for the moon without saying goodbye to his children had his wife (played by Claire Foy) not intervened. Of course, the difficulty for audiences is that when a main character plays an automaton, we are left without an emotional connection to him. We are bereft, as his family was.

Is it a good film? Yes. The acting is excellent, the space sequences are utterly convincing. But for me, the experience of seeing it was sad. Perhaps it burst an old illusion of mine–that the trip to the moon was a grand adventure. According to the film, it was closer to his wife Janet’s critique: “You’re just boys playing with balsa wood toys.”

I came away haunted by the final scene–Armstrong and his wife unable to touch each other through the glass of the quarantine room, a sobering image of their marriage. Sadly, Neil Armstrong’s walk on the empty, airless moon was a metaphor of his life on earth.

Thoughts About Writing a Novel

I’m one month away from publishing my next novel and it got me thinking about how I got here. Although I had written a novel and two-thirds of another back in the 80’s, their drafts sit gathering dust in a closet. I began writing in earnest when I retired at the end of 2011. And here I am, with two novels, two books of short stories, and soon a third novel.

I’m beginning to think that writing, like raising children, takes a village. Where would I be now without the help of people in the Northwest Independent Writers Association–Roslyn McFarland, Jennifer Willis, Jamie McCracken, Lee French, Pam Cowan, Jonathan Eaton, April Aasheim, Larry Powers, among others? Or friends at Goodreads, including Ginger Bensman, David Rose, Michael Gardner, and others? My monthly critique group, the Salem branch of Willamette Writers, and the weekly library group, Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow are also a part of the community that supports me.

The gestation period of my new novel is just about nine months to the day. I’m giving birth again, this time on Halloween! Who woulda thought? And it began in the early days of last February with a simple incident: I went hunting for agates with my daughter’s family on the Oregon coast. That’s all I knew–I had no outline for a story, no idea where it was going to go, no plot. I just wrote about a man trying to find agates, all the while keeping a wary eye out for sneaker waves. Then I found out he was a widower and a college professor. Shortly after that, I discovered he knew the college professor who had committed murder in my short story “Eye of Newt.” Oh my goodness! I hadn’t seen that coming! But that’s how it grew. And I realized that the murderer had to get his comeuppance after escaping the clutches of Officer Whitehorse in the short story. After all, I couldn’t help but remember Alfred Hitchcock assuring his audience that crime doesn’t pay just after the troubled housewife who had murdered her husband with a frozen leg of lamb roasts it and serves it to the policemen investigating the case!

So there we are. I’m pleased with the way the novel came out, and I’m very happy with the cover. I hope it keeps you up reading way past your bedtime!

Here’s the link to pre-order it: Woman in the Waves.

New Book Cover

Dear Friends,

My apologies for neglecting to stay in touch. I have quite literally been devoting all my spare time (with the exception of my movie time!) to my new novel, which I hope to publish by the end of the year. Though I am still in the rewrite/revise/edit phase, I went ahead and hired Roslyn McFarland (farlandspub@gmail.com) to create a cover for me. I give her my highest recommendation. She is a joy to work with, amazingly affordable, and very good at what she does. Here’s a first look:

 

Movie Reviews: Chappaquiddick and A Quiet Place

We all know the story of Chappaquiddick, but to see it told on the screen in such a low-key fashion, examining the facts as we are aware of them, certainly dims whatever light survives of the Kennedy mythos. Jason Clarke portrays Ted Kennedy as a seriously flawed man, ready to abuse political power and privilege to maintain his position in the Senate. That he did survive and go on to be described as “The Lion of the Senate” rather boggles the imagination. We so want to believe Camelot and everything connected to it. I grew up on the East Coast in Connecticut–I was one of those who wanted to believe he was a good man, despite the damning facts. Although the movie is good, something did not quite gel for me–I felt several paces removed from the drama. Because of that, I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars.

And then there’s A Quiet Place, far and away the best monster movie I have seen in a long, long time. I usually shy away from horror movies because so often they are either violence porn or blood and guts orgies. This film is neither. It earns its suspense and terror honestly. There is no back story–the movie begins with “Day 89.” All we know is that the monsters are among us. They are fast and vicious and locate us by sound. So we cannot speak, cannot play music, cannot bump around the kitchen. If we play Monopoly, we have to use felt playing pieces so we don’t tap around the board. For one family in an isolated farmhouse, it’s an excruciating ordeal. I was reminded of the first time I saw Alien in 1979, when my friend asked me if I realized I had run out into the parking lot when the credits began to roll. When this film ended, my grandson and I both exhaled and began chuckling, unaware we had been holding our breath through the final scenes. This is a truly terrifying film and I give it my highest recommendation.

From the Emmaus Road–Easter 2018

Every Easter season I take time to think about why I’m a Christian. I ask myself if I’d be a Christian had my parents not raised me in the church. And I think I would. The Christian myth speaks to my heart and my mind. Now before you object to my use of the word myth, let me explain. I use that term not in the sense of something untrue or something we tell only children about, like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I mean it as explanatory story—in fact, the story behind all stories. For me, it is the story that makes the most sense of the world as I experience it. It is true in the deepest way a story can be true.

I put in my time as an atheist—about twenty years, as I recall. When I left the Catholic seminary after eight years, I chucked it all—felt I had been duped by a patriarchal religion. I immersed myself in Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus. Later I studied Eastern thought, especially Zen Buddhism, which doesn’t require a god. I hummed along OK until my divorce. That broke me. I didn’t go back to “Christianity” (or Christianism, as Gore Vidal called it) with my tail between my legs. I met a woman who introduced me to the Lord, slowly and gently. That relationship made all the difference.

I know that some say God is a crutch—a belief people cling to because they need assurance of an afterlife. “How can you face death without belief?” they say. The answer is heroically. My best friend Frank remained an atheist till the end. He said he could never find enough convincing evidence to believe otherwise. His oncologist found his bravery so inspiring that he came to his memorial service to share it with others. I understand that Carl Sagan died the same way. So no, life without God is not hopeless or impossible. It can be lived courageously.

So what is so captivating about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Some say that stories of the death and resurrection of a great hero predate the Christian story by thousands of years. They claim that the Jesus story borrows from them. I see it the other way around. Those other stories prefigure the Jesus story, where they meet their final revelation, because the hero’s journey (or heroine’s journey, as the case may be) is hard-wired into us. Joseph Campbell was on to something. Why do stories like the original Star Wars, Gladiator, the first Matrix resonate so much with us? I think they’re in our DNA.

During Holy Week, I’m reminded what compelling drama the last days of Jesus’ life are. Betrayed by a dear disciple with a kiss, no less; abandoned by all the rest of his friends (only the women were brave enough to hang on to the end); tried by a kangaroo court; sentenced to a death so horrific that a new word had to be invented to describe that kind of pain (excruciating—from the cross).

And then the resurrection. No bombastic special effects as we might see in a movie. Quiet, thoughtful. Again it’s the women who find out first. One hugs him. The men are still hiding out. (“I never knew the guy,” as Peter had said.) What is Jesus’ first act as a risen savior? He asks his friends for a bite to eat. Later, he appears on the beach and cooks breakfast for them. And what does he ask us to do? Not an arm-long list of do’s and dont’s as a religion might. He tells us to love one another as he loves us. And remember him in the bread and the wine.

The simplest, most prosaic elements of life are imbued with cosmic significance. And the result? As C.S. Lewis said, “We are surprised by joy.”

Happy Easter to all my family and friends.