Tell us about your latest writing project. The working title of my second book is “Mountains Gone.” The setting is Helen, Georgia, in 1910 when the town developed around a huge saw mill. The time period includes the erosion and devastation of the mountains caused by the absence of trees. It’s a work in progress and other obligations make it impossible for me to set a release date.
Why did you write “The Cement Duck”? The million dollar bank scam in 1971 in Northeast Georgia got only short articles in the newspaper where I worked. Information from the FBI was scant, none of the money was recovered, and no one was arrested. A few years later, the Wall Street Journal did a long two part series about the scam beginning on Page 1, but it still was unsolved and was to remain a mystery in the back of my mind. Fifteen years later, I was doing public relations for the North Georgia Technical College in Clarkesville, Georgia, when a man came to me and asked if I wanted to write a book. Of course I did. Every person who puts words on paper wants to write a book. He said he had a banker friend in Atlanta who wanted to talk to me. I called his friend, and we met at a restaurant in Oakwood, Georgia, halfway between our work locations. He had investigated the scam and kept in touch with the FBI through the years. He took three hours to tell me how the scam was accomplished, and I had to pull my chin off the table more than once as he explained. He said that someone had to tell the story, and I promised him more than once that I would write a book about it. I published it myself because I promised him I would tell the story, and I was afraid I would pass into the next world before I found an agent and publisher.
How did you research the 1971 bank robbery? When I learned the details, my elderly mother was living with us, and I was working full time. It was 15 years before I retired and had time to do research. By this time, thirty years had passed since it actually happened. I learned the head FBI agent was deceased, and all the bank’s board members were deceased except one. His advanced age prevented him from telling me anything except verifying that the giant scam happened.
Where does the title “The Cement Duck” come from? When I was working in Clarkesville, I was enchanted by the cement duck in someone’s yard that I passed every day. The homeowner dressed it in costumes that were changed on a regular basis. I thought it was a good example of life during the era I was writing about.
How is your writing day organized? I usually write early in the morning when I won’t have interruptions. I think of words or changes for the book all during the day and make notes of them.
What are you doing differently with your second book? My second book doesn’t have a mysterious event that actually took place. I’m telling about the mother of a woods child and one of the unnecessary heartbreaks caused by religion in that era. I’m also researching and including history of this time that I can find on the Internet and in my own extensive local library here at home. I will later do research at the library that serves Helen, Ga.
What was your favorite book as a child? Why? I can’t claim a favorite book because I loved so many. During summers of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, I walked about three miles to the library in our town, Clarkesville, Ga., and withdrew as many books as I could carry. Mother would get upset with me for reading all night, and I learned to read under a blanket with a flashlight. I’m sure that’s the reason for my bad vision today. My favorite author was Zane Grey. I loved Roy Rogers and thus loved the western settings of Grey’s books.
Do you come from a family of readers? My mother dropped out of school after her mother died when she was 10 years old, but she was an avid reader all of her life. She couldn’t wait for the Atlanta Constitution newspaper to be delivered each morning and then read its articles to me, although I was only four years old. Our country was in WWII, and I’ll never forget the details of some of the articles she read. She also read aloud the columns of Ralph McGill, who won the Pulitzer Prize with his courageous support of civil rights. He became my lifetime hero, and Mom’s sharing of the articles each day probably explains by deep love of newspapers.
How did you meet your husband? We love a romance. Randy’s parents brought him and his brother to Clarkesville to learn at trade at North Georgia Trade & Vocational School, now North Georgia Technical College. The school had a banquet for new students and brought homemaking students in from the local high school to serve the tables. The tables I served included the one where Randy was sitting. He was abreast of current hairstyles with his bleached blond crew cut and movie-star handsome. At least that’s the way I saw him. My father worked at the college; we lived close, and I made an effort to become acquainted with this young man from South Georgia.
What do you like most about Clarksville, GA, your hometown? We love to travel. Clarkesville became the first resort town in the Georgia mountains and has a wonderful history. Wealthy plantation owners from the coast came to Clarkesville in oxen-drawn wagons to escape tropical diseases and stayed through the summers. This practice stopped after the Civil War but some of their outstanding homes and the unique Grace Calvary Episcopal Church remain to testify to this history. Clarkesville is in Habersham County, home of one of Georgia’s major rivers, the Soque. The river, a tributary of the Chattahoochee, exists only in Habersham County, originating in the Blue Ridge uplands and meandering to the rolling plateaus of the Piedmont, a total of thirty miles. We are fortunate to have a weekend home near its origin.
What’s your favorite pet story? I have so many pet stories, but the current one involves our little Chihuahua named Prissy. About five years ago, I was working full time, and my husband, who had suffered a stroke, stayed at home by himself each day. I asked him if I could get a dog to keep him company and he adamantly declined my offer. Our oldest granddaughter purchased Prissy in Macon and brought her to her home in Gainesville, but her step-mother said she couldn’t have a dog in the house. Our granddaughter’s little dog came here to stay for a while, and Randy immediately fell in love with her. Now he is suffering from cancer, but always asks if Prissy is okay and wants to see her as soon as he wakes up.
What’s the best comment you’ve received from a fan? Many people have said they wished “The Cement Duck” could be made into a movie. A former state senator called famous friends to try to accomplish this. I appreciate this, but the compliment I remember most came from my brother-in-law, who is not known for complimentary remarks. He asked how many books had been sold, and I told him about four hundred. He said, “It’s a good book. It should have sold a million copies.” http://www.almabowen.com/