By Richard R. Shaw
Special to The Weekly
There’s something dark and a trifle ominous about the cover of John R. Cobb’s latest book, “Tales of the Cemetery Trees.” A spreading oak has dropped its leaves on a country graveyard where weathered tombstones sit slightly askew. What stories and secrets are waiting to be told?
A back-cover blurb further entices readers to spend $14.95 and learn what “indie” Maine author Cobb has up his sleeve this time around.
“Even in the most picturesque places, all manner of wickedness can be found,” it reads.
The “tales of mystery, crime, fantasy, and the supernatural” include a man’s trek to Sears Island that stirs bittersweet remembrances of a past love; a woman’s encounter with a maritime whirlpool; one boy’s hunt for the king of serpents in the Mississippi bayous; and a New Jersey hit man’s hunt for blood in Down East Maine.
“My imagination is always working,” Cobb said. “The lights are often out. Things can get really dark.”
Cobb’s macabre bent may startle first-time readers like those who met the shy 48-year-old at last year’s Bangor Book Festival or at September’s Eastport Salmon Festival. He gathers material by observing people at such events and in his job as a Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. IT infrastructure analyst, which takes him throughout Maine.
“I like to be different,” he said. “Though I’m a big fan of authors like Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and a slew of others, I couldn’t even begin to write like them. The best I can do is write in my own voice and about things not normally written about.”
“Tales of the Cemetery Trees” evolved out of 2012’s “Judith,” Cobb’s episodic novel of love, loss, poverty, and death in Washington County. His wife, Heidi, urged him to put out a book of short stories featuring some of the same themes. The result is a 19-chapter sampling of human nature at its worst, and best, with splashes of humor tossed in for good measure. Cobb again hired the editorial services of Maine Authors Publishing, based in Rockland, to produce his sophomore effort.
“Fifteen of the stories are based in Maine, two in Texas, one in Mississippi, one in the cosmos,” Cobb explained. “These stories are more condensed than in ‘Judith.’ Mechanically, short fiction is much easier than writing an 80,000-plus word novel. It’s a great medium to challenge an author’s imagination and demonstrate his writing ability.”
Cobb won’t pick a favorite story, but singled out “The Littlest Things” as “a pretty good whodunit” and “Jimmy’s Terrible Torment,” which chronicles how a badly timed bout with irritable bowel syndrome turns a 17-year-old boy into a monster.
“A lot of the settings are actual places,” Cobb said. “A couple of characters in my stories are modeled after real people.”
Cobb was born in Texas. He later moved to Mississippi and at age 8 settled in Maine, where his mother’s family grew up. Except for three years in the Army, he has never left the Pine Tree State or ever wanted to leave. He lives in Holden with his wife and 11-year-old son, Johnny.
“Tales of the Cemetery Trees” is available wherever books are sold. It has been uploaded to Amazon.com as a Kindle eBook. Cobb will sign his books at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, and will have a reading at the Portland Public Library from noon-1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21. For future events, readers should check his Facebook page.