MARCO ISLAND — Two new books by Marco Island authors couldn’t be more different, yet they share some similarities, as well.
Tom Williams, with two novels to his credit, has written a non-fiction book, a historical look at the early days of the U.S. space program. Veteran newsman Don Farmer has drawn on his long career at the highest levels of television journalism as background for a murder mystery, his first “stab” at writing a book. Farmer’s work is “fiction total fiction,” he said, calling to mind another author, William Shakespeare, who wrote “methinks the lady doth protest too much.” So part of the fun should be reading between the lines and trying to identify the media moguls and blow-dried news types inhabiting the pages.
Williams’ book is set in the 1950s and ’60s and has already appeared, while Farmer’s work, written with his wife (and fellow broadcast journalist) Chris Curle, takes place in the “near future” and is still in galleys.
What both books have in common is Marco Island. The leading figure in “Surrounded by Thunder,” Williams’ story of the Apollo program that put men on the moon, is Darrell Loan, literally a rocket scientist, and a part-time Marco resident. Back in the time covered, the southern tip of the island now occupied by the pricey condos of Cape Marco was a government missile tracking station, which monitored the launches at Cape Canaveral, although it was primarily concerned with potential launches from Castro’s Cuba.
“Deadly News,” Farmer’s tale of intrigue and mayhem in the dare we say “cutthroat” business of television news, is largely set in Atlanta, where he spent decades as correspondent and anchorman for CNN and ABC-TV, against the background of the Olympics. But the action moves to this little island off the southwest coast of Florida, and many scenes are set in familiar local spots, including the airport, and a succession of watering holes both current and no longer with us, including Chuckles, the Little Bar, the Hilton and the Snook Inn.
Another commonality between the two books is that all the authors write for the Marco Eagle and other Scripps publications, sharing their insights into the local scene. Williams said that writing, of articles and newspaper columns, has informed his craft when he began turning out book-length pieces, but the original impetus came from lack of athletic ability.
“I started writing because I was the kid who couldn’t do any sports,” he said, sitting down to talk about writing and publishing with Don and Chris at their waterfront Marco home. “I’m the one who would strike out, or fall down.” Writing was an escape, and something at which he could excel. “The more you write, the easier it gets,” he said.
Williams has a day job, which shows when he removes his sunglasses to reveal the untanned area around his eyes. He has spent 34 years working out of the Marriott, 28 of them as a licensed captain, running sailboat charters, currently on an 8-meter Tiki catamaran. His passengers, he said, only find out about his second life as a writer if it comes up naturally. “I don’t go there unless it’s appropriate.”
He became fascinated by the life of the NASA scientist when Loan’s daughter approached him to write he dad’s story. While everything in “Surrounded by Thunder” is 100 percent accurate “it was reviewed by top NASA flight historians, and boy were they sticklers” it reads like a novel, rather than a textbook, he said.
Farmer has written countless news stories during his years in the news business, but for “Deadly News,” he was starting over “as a complete rookie,” he said. From the Berlin Wall to the Wailing Wall to the Great Wall of China, from Jimmy Carter to George Bush, he covered the leading events of the day, lending an insider’s authenticity to the story’s depiction of broadcast journalism. Farmer did the actual writing of the book, while Curle, who gets her name in smaller type on the cover, did “a lot of research, editing and character development. I’m the backup singer,” she laughed. “We’d sit around and hash it out.”
Drawing on their contacts in the media, Don and Chris have garnered blurbs from noteworthy names including Katie Couric and Greta van Susteren. Couric called “Deadly News” an “explosive, exciting thriller” and Nancy Grace, television host and former prosecutor, described it as a “roller coaster ride through intrigue, murder, and the underside of the ‘news business.’ ”
Williams, Farmer and Curle will discuss their work, and their experiences in the world of publishing, at an “In the Round” presentation at Iberia Bank, set for the evening of June 26, which as of this writing is approaching a sellout. Williams has even promised an appearance by Darrell Loan, the “Rocketman” at the heart of his story. None of Farmer’s fictional characters is scheduled to attend.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Marco authors ‘In the Round’ featuring local authors Don Famer and Tom Williams.
When: A welcome reception will begin at 6 p.m. with the formal presentation beginning at 7; Wednesday, June 26.
Where: Iberia Bank, 605 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island.
Info: The event is open to the public, however, seating is limited. Call (239) 393-2400 to make a reservation.