Eau Claire (MONSTERS IN THE HALLWAY) - Jim Kosmo, author of Monsters in the Hallway came on Daybreak to explain his new book.
Question: Jim, tell me a little about your background.
Jim: "I was born and raised in Eau Claire, and I have been fortunate to have many enriching experiences. I served in the Air Force, and then spent twenty years as a newspaper reporter and editor in Las Vegas and Minneapolis and as a public relations manager in Minneapolis and Chicago. I then joined the family riverboat business and was a Mississippi riverboat captain. In my spare time [chuckles] I was the president of the Rotary Club of St. Paul, served on the Minnesota National Guard Senior Advisory Task Force, and was the mayor of Bayport, Minnesota."
Question: What path did you follow to become an author?
Jim: "I retired in 2010 from my career as a Mississippi riverboat pilot and partner with Padelford Riverboats Co., of Saint Paul, Minnesota. I wanted to spend more time writing and working with new authors through my company, Author's Advocates, LLC. My first book, Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel -- a book about an inspirational soldier who lost his legs and two friends in Iraq - won eight national literary awards, and I then helped Lieutenant Colonel Mark Weber self-publish his book Tell My Sons, which was acquired and nationally distributed by Random House Publishing. I then turned my efforts toward a novel that is rooted in the reality of my childhood: Monsters in the Hallway."
Question: Tell me about Monsters in the Hallway.
Jim: "Monsters in the Hallway is a novel based on a true story. Essentially, it is a memoir of some of the shocking and disturbing experiences that defined my childhood as I grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I also recount some fond memories of growing up in a small town in the 1950's, but [laughing] since no one wants to read only about my life experiences, I threw in a fictionalized murder mystery. I'd say about 80 percent of the novel is true."
Question: What type of disturbing childhood experiences did you encounter?
Jim: "Sadly, my father was plagued with mental illness - schizophrenia. Mental illness can cause burdens on any family, and in my family's case the disease prompted him to try to kill us by setting our house on fire as we slept. As if that was not enough for a boy, a couple of years later I was raped by a Boy Scout leader. It took me more than 60 years to be able to talk about that assault."
Question: What can you tell me about your father?
Jim: "My father had 'imaginary friends.' He suffered from schizophrenia and had been receiving treatment for it for years prior. Keep in mind that this is the late 1940s and early 1950s, so the treatment options available today were not known. On November 23, 1951 - when I was ten years old -- just before my dad left to work at a nearby factory, he heard a voice tell him that my mom, my 3-year-old sister and I were possessed by evil spirits and the only way to save us was to kill us. He set the house on fire, and we barely escaped with our lives. After that incident, my dad spent the next 27 years in mental institutions throughout Wisconsin. Again, it was the 1950's so the stigma of mental illness was incredible. I was taunted and bullied throughout my childhood. There was no help from people - if your parent died, the community was there to help; but if your parent was in a mental institution, you were kind of a leper. My dad was that crazy guy."
Question: What about the sexual assault?
Jim: "It took me a while - 60 years -- to dig out of the dark hole where I buried it in the back of my memory. I didn't even tell my wife until after we had been married for ten years. When I was age 12, a 17-year old Assistant Boy Scout leader lured me to his house under the guise of trying on a Native American costume for an upcoming Indian dance performance by our Scout troop. It only happened once, but since the perpetrator was the high school class president, an Eagle Scout and the son of a prominent town doctor, I quit Boy Scouts and kept everything inside."
Question: Did they ultimately catch the person that raped you?
Jim: "Yes. After the book was written I learned through some incredible research by Retired Eau Claire Deputy Police Chief Eric Larsen that the person who assaulted me - his name was Lester Hansen - ultimately was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct with a minor in Alabama. In 1979, Hansen confessed to sexually assaulting nine juveniles in Wisconsin and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He died in prison. I carry a great deal of guilt for not coming forward after my assault, but I have been reassured by police and professionals that there was nothing that a 12-year old boy could have done."
Question: And you turned this into a book!?
Jim: "Well…yes. Writing has always been my release. My sister, the Rev. Sandee Kosmo of Eau Claire, was caught off guard by a scene in which the main character -- a boy named Jason Korsen -- was sexually assaulted by an older Boy Scout. After proofreading the book, which she immediately recognized as based on our family's life, Sandee asked me if the sexual assault was fiction. I stunned her by telling the truth. By releasing my most private demons against a backdrop of fiction, I was hesitant to go through with it. The memories came flooding back. It just seemed too hard, and I didn't think I could do it. Then I thought, 'How can we expect some youngster today to find the courage to come forward if people like me don't stand up?' That's the only way we stop these predators. But it is important to know: the book is not all doom and gloom! I deal with some weighty issues, but readers have enjoyed being transported back in time to a small town in the 1950's with many amusing anecdotes to lighten the book's mood. And let's not forget there is a fictional murder mystery, too [Laughing]! You can't expect people to keep reading if you just keep dumping heavy stuff on them. My objective was to write a novel that folks will enjoy reading and also will shed some light on mental health and how families deal with it."
Question: What do you want people to take away from your novel?
Jim: "I hope that readers can become more aware about the complex effects that mental illness has on the person involved and family members, as well. I was doing a book signing event last October, and a man came up to me and confided that he too had been assaulted by the exact same Boy Scout leader. Like me, he had taken many years to come to terms with sexual trauma. I have learned through tough times that mental illness and sexual assault can create monsters that they must overcome. It took me a lifetime to come to terms with this adversity. My wish is that through this fictionalized account, my experiences might reassure others that they can beat their monsters too."
Question: How is the book doing?
Jim: "I couldn't be more pleased with the progress. It has been well-reviewed and has received the Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Regional Fiction, and was a gold medal winner for the Reader Views Literary Awards. Also, I just learned that the book is a finalist for a Midwest Independent Publishing Association award. Mostly, I am proud that this novel has opened a lot of doors for people to discuss difficult dark issues in their past."
Question: Do you have any events coming up?
Jim: "Yes, I will be at the Chippewa Falls Public Library on Tuesday, May 1st at 6:00 p.m. It is a reading and discussion with the audience. It is free and open to the public."
Question: Where can people purchase Monsters in the Hallway?
Jim: "As the saying goes: 'anywhere fine books are sold!' Folks can get the book most easily at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Itasca Books."
More Information/Contact Jim: www.JimKosmo.com
Media Contact: Kevin Olson, email@example.com, 651-212-0573