Richard Shain Cohen served in the Army during World War II, then had a long career in academics as an English professor and vice president of academic affairs at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, retiring in 1990.
Since then, he settled in Cape Elizabeth, with a second career as a writer, self-publishing four novels, two books of nonfiction and, with his brother, a book of poetry.
His most recent book is “Our Seas of Fear and Love,” about four people and their intertwined loves and marriages from before World War II through the mid-1980s. He describes it is a romance and family saga.
The book is available at his website, richardshaincohen.com and from other online booksellers. It is published by CCB Publishing in Canada.
Q: You have published several books: Is this a second career, a retirement hobby or bit of both?
A: I started somewhere around 2000 with a novel, “Monday: End of the Week,” that was about two families. A couple of years later I published a novel, “Be Still My Soul,” about World War II on the homefront. I wanted to show what it was like for people living during that period. Some of the people in those families are spies, and I know a little bit about that.
A couple or three years later I published “Petal on a Black Bough,” and that is fiction based on Celtic mythology, in which I brought back to life Queen Maeve, who was quite a warrior. I’ve been to Ireland a couple of times and I really love the country.
After that I had to write about “The Forgotten Longfellow.” That came about because a friend at the university had a log that Alexander Longfellow kept when he and a crew sailed through Casco Bay, and I got to thinking nobody knows about this guy, and he was quite something. I did several years of research, going down to the Longfellow House in Cambridge, where they kept a lot of papers. He went up into Aroostook County for the Aroostook War.
Then I wrote “Healing After Dark,” which was about my dad, who started a clinic in Boston in 1927 for the indigent and low-wage earners, and his was the first clinic of that kind and then the idea went all over the country.
He was later honored by Eisenhower and Kennedy for his work, and was invited to the White House by Lyndon Johnson.
Then I thought “Enough of the nonfiction,” and went to work on “Our Seas of Fear and Love.”
Q: It covers from World War II to the 1980s, jumping from Gregory as an old and dying man back to his youth, and forward again. Was it hard to organize something like that?
A: In some ways it was. Usually when I write a book I will write notes and try to keep them in order. In this book I actually wrote an outline. I knew what I wanted to say right at the beginning, when Gregory goes to that wrecked schooner, which is something I did and had a big effect on me, and how I wanted it to end. I knew how many children they were going to have, but I had to create an outline and then follow that.
Q: All of the characters in this book are flawed to one extent or another. Is that because all people are flawed or because flaws make people more interesting?
A: I feel that all people are flawed. I know that I am, but some people are more flawed than others.
At the same time, I have a belief in people and I believe if you give people an opportunity to do something that is worthwhile, they often will do it. And then there are people like Deirdre (one of the characters) that have this flaw that they cannot overcome, and I have met people like Etienne (another character), who think they are the gift to the world and deserve everything, and they just annoy me.
Q: You describe this as a romance-family saga. What do you mean by that?
A: I was just thinking that it is about a family, and what it goes through over many years and generations, and when you do that it becomes a family saga.
Q: Your biography says you were a medic during World War II, but also a founding member of the Maine Chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. So, were you a medic or a spy?
A: I was actually a medic, but I met some people who were spies and worked for the OSS and CIA, and when a man from Kennebunk started the Maine chapter he asked me to join them. I served late in World War II, and I served stateside because my three brothers had already gone overseas.
Q: Your books have been self-published. Do you think that is the way most books will be going now?
A: I have done that because I get impatient.
My wife says I’m too impatient, and when she read the manuscript and really liked it, she was wondering why I didn’t send this book out to an agent or a publisher. But I had worked with CCB Publishing before and been happy.
I think that self-publishing is more the way it is going now, but I do wonder what would have happened if I’d followed my wife’s advice and sent it out.
Q: Are you working on anything else now?
A: Yes. I wrote the first 20 pages, and have decided that I’ve got to have another outline. I have some notes, but it’s going to be another family saga, starting back in the previous century (the 1800s) and ending around 2000. It’s going to be another family saga.
I love history and putting it into the story of a family.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]