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.
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“Maybe it’s just that vibe any decent bookstore or library has. A kind of magic. Perhaps it’s the clocks that make time more visceral, like something you can feel on your skin or get tangled in your hair.” That description of entering the Books ‘N’ Time Bookstore in the thriving little community of Silverton, Oregon, made me sit up and take notice. What kind of book is this? With its subtitle, I had expected some kind of horror story, perhaps even ghosts? But Midnight in Silverton is so much more than that. Yes, there are “ghosts” of a kind, and there is a serial killer on the loose, but this is a literary work with in-depth character development, brilliant turns of phrase, profound meditations on loss and regret and the poor choices all of us make. The introspection is unnerving at times, exploring a mind pushed to the breaking point. Is it PTSD? Schizophrenia?
Like a Mayberry gone off the rails, the “quaint” Silverton slowly reveals its underbelly—biker gangs, drug-trafficking, domestic abuse—as the narrator returns to his parents’ home to try to recover after losing his job, his finances, and a string of broken relationships. But as Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, “You can’t go home again.” The demons and nightmares persist. Our narrator’s flaws are as firmly attached to him as his shadow. In fact, the novel may be read as an exploration of what Carl Jung called the shadow—the unknown dark side of the human personality nestled in the unconscious. That shadow is a low bass note, increasing in volume and menace as the story unfolds.
Despite the darkness, there is humor here as well, the kind of humor that is only possible in the context of enduring family bonds, and the love and support of life-long friendships. Midnight in Silverton is a kind of love letter to a small town, an homage to a real Oregon community that may make you want to pay a visit. It’s a novel not to be hurried but to be savored, as you might a fine meal enhanced by a perfect Pinot Noir.
Sending well-wishes to all my friends on this fine fall day. I’m trying an experiment with Goodreads—giving away 100 copies of my latest book in a lottery sort of way. Enter the giveaway today!
And here’s a new update: Nye Beach Book House in Newport is now carrying my titles, and later today they will be on the shelf at Books N Time in Silverton. For Salem residents, they can be found at Reader’s Guide in West Salem. Ulrike Bremer, Chuck Tauer, and Kim Mainord, respectively, run these small community book stores and deserve your patronage. Please check them out!
This week I watched a 48 Hours episode on CBS about the 2003 fire at the Station, a nightclub in Warwick, Rhode Island. One hundred people were killed, and another two hundred were injured. When I had first heard about the tragedy eighteen years ago, I remember telling myself, “If I were still living in Rhode Island, I’d be dead now.” Let me explain.
I moved to the little community of Riverside, Rhode Island, just south of Providence, in June of 1974, fresh out of graduate school at the State University of New York at Albany. My former wife and I rented a duplex on the narrow peninsula called Bullocks Point, and a few years later we purchased a house right on the banks of Narragansett Bay, where we remained until 1989, when we moved to Oregon.
The house was old but comfortable, and we remodeled it piece by piece over the years. A side porch was converted into a bedroom for two foster adolescents. The back porch became a kind of office/playroom with a wood-burning stove. A new deck in back became the best place to look out over the bay, breakfast coffee in hand, and watch sailboats in the summer and water fowl in winter.
Directly across the bay was the little town of Cranston, and south of that was Warwick. It was pleasant to watch the city lights on the water after sunset, and especially fun to watch the traditional party bonfires on the beaches up and down the bay on the night before the fourth of July.
I confess, my tastes in music back then were quite juvenile. In fact, I was a bit of a metal head when the “hair bands” were so popular. I loved MTV and stayed up late on the weekends to watch Headbangers Ball. I saw AC/DC, Judas Priest, Whitesnake, and Great White in concert. (Another confession, I often “hired” a nineteen-year-old who lived down the street to accompany me to concerts. That way, if I got a ribbing that I was the oldest guy at the show, I could claim that I was just here treating my teenage neighbor in thanks for some good deed he had done for me.)
Bottom line, if I had been in Riverside in 2003, I would have gone to see Great White at the Station. It would have been a walk down memory lane, a tip-of-the-hat to a bygone decade, a little sip at the fountain of youth. I would have been right in the thick of it, hemmed in on every side, unable to escape when the terror erupted.
The phrase terminal velocity popped into my mind as I was thinking about all of this. That’s the fastest speed an object can attain if it’s falling to earth, because air resistance prevents it from accelerating further. A skydiver free falling from a great height reaches terminal velocity, about 120 miles per hour, in about twelve seconds.
But aren’t we all “falling to earth?” Perhaps terminal velocity can be applied to the arc of our lives. I wonder if the individuals caught in that holocaust in Warwick had lived long enough to reach their own personal terminal velocity. It feels like I was granted a reprieve, a stay of execution, by moving out west when I did. I was given the time—the grace—to reach my own terminal velocity. Have I used it wisely? As I remember the conclusion of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the older Ryan’s words haunt me.
Nope, we’re not in Kansas anymore, or Wichita for that matter. We’re in New Halchita, not much more than a carbuncle on the back of the western plains. The dusty little town would have gone completely unnoticed for another century had it not been for the visitation of the “giant cast-iron cockroach the Martian (if that’s what it was) rode in on.”
Author Jonathan Eaton’s novels are not “your grandfather’s westerns,” as his later books, A Good Man for an Outlaw and Outlaws and Worse, so definitively prove. The Prairie Martian is no exception. Told with Eaton’s droll, pitch-black humor, it’s the story of a Martian who calls herself “Nancy,” come to earth for God-knows-what reason. But this is post-apocalyptic earth in the 25th century, still recovering from the great war (the GIW, but no one can remember what the letters stand for). It is earth like the mid-1800’s, before electronic technology, because orbiting high overhead are the last bitter words of advanced civilization: “lagamachies”—satellites programmed to obliterate any trace of higher technology.
Presiding over this Grand Guignol is Sheriff Frank Westfall, former “tick-juicer” (Oh, Mr. Eaton, what nightmares you must suffer!). For those of us old enough to remember, think James Arness, only taller.
Author Eaton draws us in with his lean, understated prose. The story is engaging, even thrilling at times, the world-building convincing, and the characters memorable. I give it a very enthusiastic thumbs-up.
A note to my friends: I’ll be interviewing Jonathan Eaton in my November newsletter, and he is every bit as entertaining as his novels! If you haven’t subscribed yet, please use this link. And by all means share the link with your friends so we can grow our group. No spam, no clutter!
Connie worked for many years as a radio reporter and news anchor, with a couple of brief forays into TV news along the way. Her experience as a journalist shows up in some of her novels. She also dabbled in acting in college and community theater. She uses those experiences in some of her books as well.
Her novels are fast-paced stories featuring young women facing serious challenges set against the backdrop of some thorny issues. She writes time travel, magical realism, historical fiction and climate fiction – all with a dollop of romance.
Bill: Connie, how and why did you become a writer, and can you tell us about your creative process?
Connie: When I was in 5th grade, I read The Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I decided I should be a writer too. I started with my biography. After filling a page and a half, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Ha! I transitioned into writing angsty, teenaged poetry, then switched to short stories at 15, tried writing children’s books, YA novels, and eventually settled on writing adult novels. My creative process involves channeling my concerns about a variety of issues, including social injustice, personal failures and climate change. To shine a light on a topic, I use it as a backdrop for my story. Racial injustice is featured in several of my books—A Daffodil for Angie (Young Adult) The Time Capsule,and The Going Back Portal. Then I work on building a main character to inhabit that world. I get to know her first, then outline a story arc for her. That changes sometimes as she interacts with other characters. But I always know how the story will end before I begin writing. My first draft always stinks. It’s messy, inconsistent and redundant. I go through many, many re-writes. The revision process always generates better ideas for scenes, and in my forthcoming novel, created a different ending. That’s the first time that’s happened.
Bill: Time travel figures in several of your novels, but not in a science fiction kind of way. Talk about that.
Connie: I’ve always liked time travel stories. Ideas pop into my mind. The Time Telephone grew out of this exact thought: what if you could call someone in the past on a time telephone? The novel also grew out of a situation within my extended family where a parent abandoned their child. So I combined the two—writing about a teenage girl grieving her mother’s death, lamenting the fact that even when her mother was alive, they never had a real mother-daughter relationship. There’s that element of fantasy, but it also deals with the very real-world issue of child abandonment. In The Going Back Portal, a young woman’s grandmother appears to be descending into Alzheimer’s disease, talking about a Cherokee Indian woman living in the woods behind her country cottage. But it turns out there’s actually a time gate that leads the protagonist to 1840 where a Cherokee woman is struggling to survive the brute who’s taken control of her land and her life. The novel delves into the wrongs perpetrated against Native Americans. That’s what appeals to me – not the sci-fi type of time travel story.
Bill: Would you describe several other of your books?
Connie: My concern about climate change prompted me to write a trilogy set a hundred years in the future against a backdrop of runaway global warming. I wanted the story to be romantic and exciting. So I mixed all of that together to produce The Shade Ring Trilogy—The Shade Ring, Albedo Effect, and Aerosol Sky. My novel, VisionSight, is about a young woman who can see the future, including the unexpected challenges that “gift” brings. The novel I’m publishing this fall is another time travel story. This one is set in the 1850s and features a suffragette living with an abolitionist family in the Philadelphia area.
Bill: You just finished producing your own audiobook version of The Time Capsule. What was that like for you?
Connie: In a word: EXHAUSTING! I worked in radio news for many years. With all my experience in front of the mic and my experience editing, I foolishly thought “How hard can it be?” I was humbled by how hard it can be. Delivering the news is nothing like narrating a novel. There are character voices to do. Even if you don’t want to get too carried away, you still have to differentiate between characters. Of course, the sheer length of the novel is a big factor. The audiobook version of The Time Capsule is 9 hours and 21 minutes! Agh! Then there’s mouth noise to deal with. Multiple takes of every paragraph to hopefully get a usable take, often editing a sentence from one take into another paragraph take. The editing was a fulltime job. And don’t forget the technical issues, including hiss and extraneous noises (airplanes flying overhead,
barking dogs, etc.) I had to get up at 4:00 a.m., go down to the basement to my makeshift recording booth so I could record for a couple of hours before all the noise started. Will I ever do another audiobook? I’m still pondering that question.
Bill: What advice would you give to other indie authors?
Connie: There are lots of blog posts and newsletters out there with specific advice on publishing, plotting, character development, pacing, etc. I don’t want to get into all of that. I think a good piece of advice is to read a lot. Read the kinds of books you want to write. Notice what the good authors do—how they transition, how they handle dialog, how they develop character. Think about those things when you notice them and imagine how you might adapt those techniques in your own writing. It can also be educational to read poorly written books, although not as enjoyable. In that case, you might notice things you, yourself, never want to do—like using a character’s name
over and over and over and over when he/she, him/her would be better.
Thanks for having me, Bill. BTW—here’s my website.
A note to my readers: My interview with Connie first appeared in my October Newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed yet, here’s the link. I promise it’s spam-free, and I will not clutter your inbox!
I am truly excited, and the image above is a picture of my head exploding! Diane Donovan of Donovan’s Literary Services and the Midwest Book Review has just sent me her review of Before Our House Fell into the Ocean, and it’s so amazing I have to post the whole thing here. Here’s what she had to say:
Before Our House Fell Into the Ocean: Stories of Love and Death is a literary collection of short works that each center on a bizarre character’s dilemma. It is highly recommended for literature readers seeking outside-the-box representations and scenarios.
Take “Bad Seed,” for example. Here, a depressed husband faces a fed-up wife who is tired of his attitude and ongoing regrets over “the biggest failure of his life,” and who walks away from the seminary and the priesthood to become a psychotherapist and husband.
What she doesn’t know is that the demons of the past and the decision that causes him to hear voices and suffer are alive and well in the present. A visit to the source of this haunting reveals its roots. It also provides the narrator with a different choice.
William J. Cook writes these descriptive lives with an attention to description and detail that draws readers into each life: “The dragon cannot be slain, only kept at bay. A deep weariness washes over my body and soul, like a receding tide sweeping debris from the beach.”
Belief, vows, faith, and Church enter many of these works, which also offer astute psychological inspections from diverse perspectives. One example lies in “Coffee,” in which a zombie longs not for flesh, but coffee made by the “sorceress of coffee” barista Suzie, who has a special gift. The sense of humor over Joey’s dilemmas as a zombie comes to life: “Nobody wants to date a zombie. And nobody wants to stay married to one, either. Righteous types call us the New Lepers.”
The ironies of experiences which move into the territories of acquittal, social dilemma, and psychological transformation contribute to writings which are compellingly unique.
Before Our House Fell Into the Ocean is a collection designed for the literary thinker.
Its inspections and haunting stories of souls on fire in different ways will find a home in any literary collection, and in the hearts and minds of readers who enjoy twists of plot that leave them thinking.
The countdown is underway! On September 30 the Kindle version will be released, and I feel that my generous supporters need something back. I’ve just reduced the regular $3.99 price to $0.99, and Amazon assures me that anyone who pre-ordered at the regular price will be billed at the new sale price instead. (Whew! That spares me the task of having to track down early buyers and give each of them $3.00 back!) If you haven’t already purchased it, please take advantage of the sale here. If you’re a “hard copy” fan who craves the feel and smell of paper, here’s the link to the paperback. BTW—any of you who live locally, I would be more than happy to make a “house call” and come to your home to sign your copy!
On other fronts, my audiobook narrator Joel Zak has submitted the “retail sample” of D&D to ACX for evaluation. If it passes muster, he will proceed full-bore with recording the Driftwood Mystery. Here’s another BTW—for fans of that book, there is an epilogue in the new book of short stories. I couldn’t help myself!
And may I say a few words about being an indie author and trying to market your books? I don’t mean to be a whiner, but it’s freakin’ hard! Truth is, when you publish on Amazon, unless you’re already famous, you’re a needle in a humongous haystack. I’m posting on Instagram and Facebook, taking out ads on Amazon and BookBub, but have yet to create any “buzz.” If you’re a fan of my writing, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the new book. And if you’d care to share that with your friends, I would be truly grateful.
I am happy to announce that the paperback edition of my new book of short stories has been released today and is available for sale on Amazon. Here’s a link. The digital version is still on target for publication on September 30 and you can pre-order it here
Meanwhile, work proceeds on the audiobook production of Dungeness and Dragons, with a tentative release date around December-January. Fingers crossed!
I will begin work on my October Newsletter soon. It will feature an interview with Connie Lacy, an independent author in Georgia who can really spin a tale. You don’t want to miss it. If you haven’t yet signed up for my monthly newsletter, please do so here.
“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick—a couple thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” –Neil Gaiman.
Many people have said things to me such as, “I don’t like reading short stories. I need the depth and the character development that happens in a novel.” Although I can certainly appreciate that, my response is usually something like, “Although I really enjoy a filet mignon Oscar or seared Ahi tuna entrée, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the canapés! Munching a bit of caviar on a dollop of crème fraiche, with a bit of hard-boiled egg and green onion, is a marvelous way to sip champagne!”
So it’s more a matter of “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Each form of writing brings its own special pleasures. Who can argue against falling headlong into another world in a novel that simply transports us countries or planets or galaxies away? How can we not revel in getting to know a character so thoroughly that he or she becomes a living, breathing person who haunts our sleeping and waking moments?
But what about that fine painting or photograph hanging on your wall—the one that captures the light or the emotion or the mind-set of that special day you’ll never forget? A good short story is like that. It gives us a tantalizing glimpse into that other world, seizing a moment in time to which we may return again and again. The mysterious stranger with whom we locked eyes at a party, the extraordinary sunrise that redeemed a sleepless night, the brief but sweet kiss that lingers on the lips—such is the short story.
As a writer, the short story is a way to “cleanse my palate” between forays into novel-writing. It’s my attempt at legerdemain—not a cheap parlor trick but true sleight-of-hand. Can I convince you of the reality of these protagonists and their struggles in ten pages? Can I startle you with an ending you didn’t see coming? Can I provoke a laugh or a tear in the time it takes you to brew your morning coffee?
I found writing my new collection of short stories to be immensely rewarding. I hope reading them will be equally pleasurable for you.
You can pre-order the Kindle version here. It will be released on September 30. The paperback edition will also be published soon.
Joe Kilgore of The US Review of Books has just reviewed my soon-to-be-published collection, Before Our House Fell into the Ocean: Stories of Love and Death. The review is so positive and I’m so blown away by it that I just had to post the whole thing here!
Before Our House Fell into the Ocean: Stories of Love and Death by William J. Cook
book review by Joe Kilgore “You never recover from grief, you make an uneasy truce with it. You find a shelf to put it on so it doesn’t bleed into every thought or conversation.”
This collection, as the subtitle states, is constructed around love and death. Hemingway reminds us that “all stories, if continued far enough, eventually end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.” Author Cook is a “true-story teller,” even though his tales are fiction, and death is not necessarily the end of his stories but the fulcrum on which they often turn. Cook’s stories also remind us that while death can certainly wound love, it can never truly erase it.
The differences in the collection’s stories are many. A house does fall into the sea, but the memories inside it are not lost. A boy with a tragically disfigured face is empowered by a girl who sees more than his scars. A romance blooms in a carnival midway, where the tawdry glitter hides unimaginable pain. A man suffering a horribly debilitating disease discovers he’s not as alone as he thinks he is. A priest grapples with questions not only of loss, grief, and death but perhaps with the hardest questions of all, those about life.
Cook is a writer who is able to convey pathos without wallowing in sentimentality. He wields his pen like a scalpel, intricately cutting to the heart of remorse without opening veins of self-pity. There is a sturdy sense of acceptance in the way his characters look sorrow in the eye and deal with it. Humor is never completely absent, even in tales where one doesn’t necessarily expect it. There are a dozen stories within the covers of this book, all imminently readable. What stands out the most, however, is the author’s commitment to understanding and compassion. They are the foundational pillars on which this literate and life-affirming collection stands.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
OK, gang. With an endorsement like that, I think you should pre-order a copy! Just click on the image above and it will be delivered to your Kindle bright and early on the morning of September 30.