CHATHAM – The town is certainly blessed with more than its share of literary luminaries, from New York Times best-selling authors to award-winning children's book illustrators.
Three local authors will give readers some insight into the creative process in a series of talks this month as part of the Eldredge Public Library's Learning Series. Children's book writer/illustrator and New Yorker cover artist Bob Staake will speak next Tuesday, May 15; John Whelan, author of “I am of Cape Cod,” will give a presentation about the book on Tuesday, May 22; and novelist Bernard Cornwell will discuss Shakespeare and the origins of modern theater on Tuesday, May 29. The programs all begin at 7 p.m. at the Main Street library.
Each of the “Three Distinguished Chatham Authors,” as the series is titled, works in a genre or format, and each has a very different way of going about their craft.
Staake has written and/or illustrated more than 60 books. His latest is “The Book of Gold,” about a young boy's quest for knowledge. He'll be giving what he terms a “lively” PowerPoint presentation on the process of putting together a children's book that focuses not just on his successes but also the “horrific flops, because I think those are probably more interesting,” he said.
Coming up with both prose and pictures for a children's book can be long and detailed process, Staake said, involving dozens of versions of a manuscript and countless sketches and drawings. During the process, the story and visuals can “flip 360 degrees” from the original concept.
“People tend to think it's like a magic trick,” he said. “They just don't realize how much goes into it.”
Projects he's currently working on demonstrate the breadth of Staake's work. He's writing and illustrating a book for very young readers under a Dr. Seuss imprint, “which is really great,” he said. “I just grew up on 'Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs and Ham.' So it's great to be doing something along those lines.”
He's also crafting a book for “middle readers,” kids in second to third grade, his first effort at writing for that level.
“I can actually sit down and do some longer prose,” he said. “It's going to force me to write in a certain way” that he doesn't get to do with books for younger readers. Although, he adds, the limitation of some of those books, often written in rhyme, have their benefits as well, “because it forces you to go down paths you wouldn't if writing in prose.”
Whelan's “I am of Cape Cod” features profiles of 140 Cape Codders with photographs by Kim Roderiques. He interviewed some 200 people to capture the spirit of each of the Cape's communities, which he discovered are surprisingly different.
“We think Wellfleet is right next to Eastham, so maybe they're similar,” he said. “But it turns out there is a distinct flavor to each and every town.”
Whelan, a retired stockbroker who writes a monthly column for The Chronicle, learned a lot about the Cape in the process, even though he's lived here most of his life. While he knows the Lower Cape well, he had to make contacts in other areas that he wasn't as familiar with. He also enjoyed visiting places he hadn't been before.
“It really gave me an excuse to poke in a lot of places. My knowledge of Cape Cod has increased dramatically,” he said.
Each subject was given wide latitude to write a paragraph about their relationship to their community and the Cape (full disclosure: this writer is one of those subjects). They were also allowed to choose where Roderiques would take their photograph. “That took us to some great places,” Whelan said.
The coffee table book was well-received when it came out last July, and Whelan and Roderiques as planning more promotions this season. Meanwhile, Whelan, who has published two children's books, is working on a book about his Jack Russell terrier with photos by Roderiques.
“Fools and Mortals” is Cornwell's latest best-seller and will be the subject of his talk. The book tells the fictionalized story of the first performance of Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” while also broadly describing the creation of the professional theater in late 16th century London.
“It was a brand-new industry and profession,” he said. The book grew out of Cornwell's love of Shakespeare and his stage appearances with the Monomoy Theatre in recent years. This summer he'll appear in “As You Like It” as well as a few other plays on the Monomoy stage.
“I'm looking forward to the summer,” he said. “It should be fun.”
“Fools and Mortals” was a bit of a departure for the British writer, who's published more than 50 novels, many of them historical war and adventure fiction. There are 24 novels in the Sharpe series, about a British soldier during the Napoleonic wars, and he's written about the Hundred Years' War, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War, as well as a non-fiction account of the Battle of Waterloo.
His latest series, the Saxon Stories, tells the story of how separate kingdoms came together as England in the ninth century. The 10 books have been turned into a successful television, “The Last Kingdom,” which has Netflix has renewed for a third season, Cornwell said. Cornwell revealed that he spent a day on the set in Hungary recently and will appear in an episode in the third season, expected to debut in the fall.
“It was huge fun, enormous fun,” he said, describing how he spent 90 minutes getting made up as a ninth century warrior. “I was murdered by Uhtred himself,” he added, referring to the story's hero. “Such gratitude.” An 11th novel in the series is due in October.
To sign up for the Learning Series program, pick up a registration form at the library or download one at www.eldredgelibrary.org. There is a $15 suggested donation to register.
Three Distinguished Chatham Authors
Bob Staake, May 15
John Whelan, May 22
Bernard Cornwell, May 29
7 p.m., Eldredge Public Library
Register at the library or at www.eldredgelibrary.org