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Bookshop co-owner a published author

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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James Van Eaton loves books — he likes to read them, he likes to sell them and he likes to write them. The Auburn resident got his first job in a bookstore — at Ames in Grass Valley — right out of high school. “That was a dream job,” he said recently. “I remember getting into my car and whooping when I got that job.” A decade later, he co-owns Winston Smith Books in Downtown Auburn, has self-published one novel and recently completed drafts of two more. “I’ve always been into stories and reading,” he said. “I made my mom keep reading “James and the Giant Peach” to me.” That’s when he was 6 years old. But even before that, at age 3, he was telling stories into tape recorders — tales about dragons, princesses and knights. Now 29, his fondness for epic fantasy adventure hasn’t waned. And his first novel, “Down the Darkening Road,” reflects that interest. The 416-page read, which takes place in a mythical setting, is about a group of strangers hired to go on a pilgrimage to revive a dead god. “The story unfolds over two-and-a-half months,” he explained. “There are all sorts of events. … The back-story came into my head fully formed. The rest of it is the characters telling their own story as I wrote.” Van Eaton created short stories as a teen, but realized when he began outlining his novel that he was more interested in the longer process. “I found out I was into developing the characters more,” he said. It took him nearly three years to complete the book, including six months of editing. It was published in April and so far has sold 279 copies — through sales at the store, at his Web site and on amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. “The reaction has been phenomenal,” he said. “I spoke to a book club. I’ve had families buy it and then recommend it to others. I’ve had 15-year-olds read it, as well as 70-year-olds. Everyone seems to get something out of it, which is gratifying and surprising.” He’s hoping to publish his second book, “Cartoon Eyes,” in the spring. “‘Cartoon’ was a spur of the moment thing,” he said. “I had an ending in mind, so I started writing to get to the ending.” The third book is an entirely different project. Called “The Bootlegger’s Children,” it is based on Lincoln resident Ray Johnson’s family story. Arline Williams, a Meadow Vista editor and writer, chose Van Eaton for the Johnson family story job after reviewing the work of several local writers. “He is extraordinarily gifted in expressing his thoughts and drawing visual images through the printed word,” Williams said Monday. “He does an amazing amount of research to make sure he’s accurate. He’s easy to work with and extremely gifted.” The concept for the story came from Johnson’s father’s life as a bootlegger, Williams explained. It takes place between Spokane, Wash., and Sacramento and Lincoln during the Great Depression. “He and his sister had begun writing the book and after his sister passed away, he felt compelled to finish it,” Williams explained. “Parts of it are exactly his life and then it has been fictionalized.” She just edited the Van Eaton’s last draft of the book and is shopping for a publisher. “It will be marketed as historical fiction for young adults,” she said. For Van Eaton, writer’s block hasn’t been an issue, yet. “I don’t write every day, but it’s close,” he said. “Sometimes I sit down and there’s nothing there. But most of the time, I outline pretty extensively. I kind of know where it is going.” And the inspiration just keeps coming. “I have at least four or five more ideas (for new books),” he said. The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia. com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.