UML Professor Publishes Compilation of Stories
LOWELL — Author Geoffrey Douglas describes himself as a “pretty devoted newspaper reader,” and, over the years, that dedication has paid off for him.
Douglas’s career, in fact, has encompassed a stint as owner and publisher of a small weekly newspaper in Atlantic City and as a freelance feature writer “for any outlet that would pay me for my work.”
He’s also the author of several nonfiction books, including “Class,” a memoir of his family.
His most recent book is a compilation of stories that were first published in Yankee Magazine over a period of 20 years.
Some of the Yankee features were based on newspaper stories “that grabbed my interest. That’s how I’ve come up with probably a third to half of my story ideas--and the ideas for two of my four earlier books.”
Not all stories come from newspaper headlines. Some come from personal experience and “the rest are suggested by a Yankee editor...these are then often amended somewhat after a back-and-forth between us.”
“The Grifter, the Poet, and the Runaway Train: Stories from a Yankee Writer’s Notebook” was published May 1. Amazon is already advising that it is running out of copies but “more are on the way.”
Douglas was an adjunct professor in creative writing at UMass Lowell and is still a contributor to the university’s alumni magazine.
He shared office space with poet Paul Marion who encouraged Douglas -- over a period of years -- to bring his Yankee stories together under a single cover.
Marion, who is the poet in the book’s title, suggested calling the anthology “Yankee Grit.”
Although that was not the final title, the stories each reveal the toughness of New Englanders, especially the courage of firefighters, immigrants, and workers not afraid of getting their hands dirty.
Douglas sees a “commonality” in the stories. They deal with issues “we read about every day until we move on.” The stories also concern people living “mostly ordinary lives until some event or choice upends their lives.”
One of the stories vividly narrates the 1999 Worcester fire that claimed the lives of six firefighters. “Inferno” pulls readers into pivotal moments of that late December day, capturing the thoughts and actions of people in shock and grief
At one of these decisive moments, Douglas writes, “Then there was the other thing. It happened later, five minutes, ten minutes, there’s no agreement on when. Some say it was a “flashover,” a simultaneous igniting of every combustible thing at once, a single, explosive moment at which the radiant heat in a space or room has pushed all its elements -- walls, floor, doors -- to the edge of their tolerance, and they all erupt as one.”
Then, there’s the fire chief trying to fathom that he has already lost four firefighters. “I gotta call it,” (Chief) Mike McNamee said then. And he did. Standing in the doorway, his short, compact, 51-year-old body blocking access to the stairwell, he said simply, to all who approached, “No more.”
In “Lowell MA: Poet Paul Marion,” which was published in 2009, Douglas develops a profile not just of Marion but of the city that is the subject of his poetry. Marion’s love for the city of his birth comes through in talks with Douglas.
Douglas’ own prose verges on poetic when he describes the life of Paul Marion’s father. ”(He) talked about his father’s job in the textile mill -- the filth, the long hours, the years and years of daily drain.”
Marion becomes a raconteur of Lowell history and the intertwined lives of his family members as the narration unfolds. In the end, this profile is an intimate history of 20th century Lowell and a poet whose work is vital to the city’s literary history.
In another story -- there are 17 in the book -- he tells of a clash of cultures in Lewiston, ME when Somali refugees settle there.
In the most recent piece in the collection, Douglas reveals the anguish of his family when his stepson disappears, leaving a cryptic message that he has gone for a walk. As days and weeks pass, the family joins in the search for him in the woods near where he lived. The fear that was present from the beginning is confirmed when his body is found in the spring.
Now that he has fulfilled his friend’s request to publish this anthology, Douglas says that he is going back to the novel he started when he worked in Atlantic City. It is about the days in the late ’70s and early ’80s as casinos made their first incursions along the Boardwalk and later when the mob moved in.
Douglas published his weekly newspaper then. It was a great opportunity to do investigative work, he remembers. His efforts once brought him into contact with a fledgling casino owner named Donald Trump. And at one social event, he danced with Ivana Trump. Whether he will work the Trump family into his novel, remains to be seen.