Historical novel is Auburn born and raised

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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Downtown Auburn’s Winston Smith Books is known for its large selection of used and rare volumes, but it also carries a couple of novels written by co-owner James Van Eaton. His latest work, “Chasing Moonshine,” is historical fiction based loosely on the family of former Auburn resident Raymond L. Johnson. Van Eaton worked with Johnson and editor Arlene Williams nearly a year on the project. “(Johnson) had about 60 pages of notes he and his sister had compiled,” Van Eaton said. “The story was already there. It just needed to be novelized with dramatic tension, comedy, making some of the missing information come to the surface, filling in gaps and rounding it out.” We called ourselves the big three, Johnson said. “We would meet at Mountain Mike’s Pizza in Meadow Vista,” he said. “Williams said that in all her years of teaching English and creative writing, she’d never met anyone as gifted as James.” Johnson, who now lives in Lincoln, said the book recounts many of his sister Minda Johnson’s memories. “My father passed away during the Depression when I was 7 and left my mother with nine children,” he said. “Then we lost our home. My mother went to the bank, but there was nothing she could do. So we packed up everything in a Model T and moved to Auburn.” The book reflects Minda’s point of view and the main character is based on her. Unfortunately, she died before seeing the book completed, Raymond Johnson said. The story relates their father’s life as a bootlegger during the prohibition years. “The reason I wanted it published is since I never knew my father, I wanted to recapture what he had done,” Johnson said. Once the manuscript was completed, Johnson and Van Eaton opted to self-publish through Allegra Printing & Imaging in Auburn. But Johnson is still actively seeking a publisher for commercial distribution. So far the book has sold approximately 100 copies, he said. Ghostwriting the project (although he ended up being listed as a co-author) turned out to be a positive undertaking for Van Eaton. “It’s a whole different experience and a very pleasant experience,” he said. “There were some differences of opinion. It made me tackle something I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. It was very fulfilling. I really love this book.” The new novel is displayed prominently in the store along with Van Eaton’s first novel, “Down the Darkening Road,” a fantasy tale that has sold out its first printing of 370 copies and is now being reprinted with a different cover. His next project is “Cartoon Eyes,” which he hopes will be completed by summer. Gloria Young can be reached at ---------------------------- Local author What: “Chasing Moonshine” runs 102 pages and costs $13 plus shipping. Where: Winston Smith Books, 933 Lincoln Way, Downtown Auburn Telephone: (530) 823-5940 Web site: