For anyone who remembers Astoria in 1969, a new novel by North Coast authors will resonate.
Calvin Cahail and Jim Hallaux describe “Wind Without Rain” as a “coming-of-age” story.
It is their first collaboration. Cahail has published two science fiction stories as well as a political thriller. This is Hallaux’s first book.
The two met in the basement of the First Christian Church in Astoria. Cahail was making sandwiches for an outreach program and Hallaux offered to help.
Their friendly banter led Hallaux, an Astoria native who had moved back to his hometown, to play tour guide. Exploring Tongue Point, Cahail suggested that the mysterious fenced-off portions could make a movie setting.
Instead, they became part of a book.
The main characters in “Wind Without Rain” are Merri Sue and Tom, Tongue Point Job Corps students with problem pasts. Merri Sue is escaping her father’s terrible behavior; Tom is a “high-functioning screw-up” who attended Astoria High School.
As their love develops, the reader also follows the lives of members of “The People’s Army,” young radicals from Eugene who plan to commit a heinous crime in Astoria to protest the Vietnam War.
Like the real-life Symbionese Liberation Army which emerged to wage political terror a couple of years later, these radicals believe their actions will lead future historians to label them “the founding fathers of the new America.” Their early approaches to crime are inept, but far from amusing. Their big statement is planting a bomb downtown.
The plots intersect because Tom knows one of the radicals.
Writing the novel
Cahail and Hallaux wrote the story together in North Coast coffee shops — all listed in the acknowledgements.
Knowing they had different skills and personalities, they limited sessions to two hours a day. “If we had tried to do it all day, every week, I don’t think it would have worked for us,” Hallaux said.
Was there conflict when they discussed plot development and characters’ reactions?
“A couple of dirty looks,” Hallaux laughed. “We are diametrically opposed in mechanics. He is particular with grammar and ‘by the book.’ I am not.”
Cahail was delighted with what Hallaux brought to the table.
“Every piece that I have written has been a stairway of growth as a writer,” Cahail said. “It is the best book that I have done because of him collaborating with me.”
Highlighting 1960s culture
The pair highlights Astoria of the late 1960s.
There are no cell phones or personal computers; one character makes a “collect” phone call. The Astoria-Megler Bridge has been open three years, two characters work briefly at a North Coast mink farm and World War II bunkers at the old naval station at Tongue Point are important.
Choosing the era was easy.
“It was an exciting time in our lives,” Hallaux explained. “We were just getting out of high school. It was a tumultuous time and there is a lot of interest there. We have tried to recreate it.”
Period popular culture is well-represented.
One character mentions the fifth James Bond movie, “You Only Live Twice.” There is also a reference to rock band Iron Butterfly’s one-hit wonder, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and a concert featuring Paul Revere and The Raiders, whose early years were in Portland.
The book’s title refers to a biblical verse where clouds and “wind without rain” signal an unfulfilled promise.
The tentative beginnings of the relationship between the students, and the details of the girl’s brief exposure to the lifestyles of the homeless in Portland, are well observed.
At a shelter, “Cowboy Joe,” a character with a secret, offers timeless advice about packing your own parachute.
“Merri Sue assumes the worst in men, and at first she just writes off this seemingly insignificant character,” Cahail said. “But this is to be her turning point as he is the catalyst for making it happen.”
Though the story is fictional, “Joe,” and a counselor at Tongue Point, are based on people the writers have encountered. They learned about a Job Corps student who faced tough consequences for a minor rule infraction — just like Merri Sue.
Local, international backgrounds
Hallaux grew up in Astoria where his grandparents, Hayes and Catherine Hallaux, operated an art supply, framing and paint store at two downtown locations into the 1980s.
As a youngster, he explored the tunnels where the novel’s climactic scenes take place. He graduated from Astoria High School in 1970 and had a career in men’s apparel sales on the West Coast, notably in San Diego. He moved back a couple of years ago.
Cahail had a 40-year career managing restaurants, living in Hawaii, Arizona, California and Texas as well as briefly in Melbourne, Australia. He retired in 2009 to Costa Rica then moved to Astoria about four years ago.
Since retiring, he has published two sci-fi novels, “Atlantis: Quest” and “Atlantis: War” plus a political thriller, “Veiled Power.”
His graphic design skills were incorporated on their book’s cover artwork and design, as well as elements of the typography. The book is set in slightly larger type than mainstream novels.
Both authors call their work “a beach read,” and hope the sense of place will lure North Coast readers, plus cruise ship passengers and others who visit.
They are promoting it at Astoria Sunday Market this summer.
Both are coy about saying whether another will follow, in part because marketing is consuming their time. But Cahail hinted, “We have no shortage of ideas!”