Move over David Baldacci and John Grisham, there’s a new kid in town, and he just may give you a run for your money.
And not only does he come from our great state, but he started his writing career at Beacon Communications.
John Houle’s “The King-Makers of Providence” is must-read for anyone who likes the twists and turns of a suspenseful novel, layered over a fast-paced political story that can only be emanating from the State of Rhode Island.
It’s a story seemingly about a corrupt but charismatic Providence Mayor who flees the country when the feds start closing in on his world of unbridled power, kick-backs and political favors.
It is also a story about the underbelly of what really goes on in political campaigns that can only be told by someone who not only witnessed it first hand, but someone who actually had a hand in many of those campaigns along the way.
The 304-page tome is well worth reading I enjoyed every minute of it.
A little background on author John Houle, who now lives in Cranston with his wife Susan and children Jenna and Christopher.
John, the son of Elaine (who taught in the Warwick School system for over 40 years) and Carl, a network engineer who unfortunately passed (the book is dedicated to him), grew up in the Gaspee Plateau section of Warwick along with his brother Paul (who is now a neuro-surgeon).
John attended Pilgrim High School and later received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1994 from Boston College.
After launching his career in the newsroom of the Beacon, he worked in the public relations and communications business, starting his own firm in 2002 called JH Communications (which is now rebranded as Main St. Media).
Along the way be became prolific at writing blogs, a nice writing respite from the commercial copy, brochures and websites that were such an integral part of his core business.
He also wondered if he were capable of writing a novel, so he decided “what the heck” and gave it a go.
To see that he was a natural would be less than accurate. “I tried a couple novels before. I started right out of college, but I never finished it.”
This novel was 15 years in the making.
It’s genesis was the behind-the-scenes machinations of the 2002 Providence Mayoral campaign, which featured Providence State Senator David Igliozzi, former Mayor Joseph Paolino, Representative David Cicilline and Attorney Kevin McKenna, which was won by Representative Cicilline.
John was a consultant to the Igliozzi campaign and after the crushing loss (take it from me, all losses are crushing – regardless of what the print media story says) he said he was “burnt out” and decided to travel to Europe to “detox” (in the political sense).
He started in Paris and made his way to Prague (I’m not going to give any part of the story line away, but Prague plays strongly into the plot line) and started writing the book then.
He would stay there until he ran out of money.
When John returned to Rhode Island, he launched JH Communications and Henry (excuse me John) was well on his way. He decided that the first priority was to build his business.
But the “writers calling” would not let him go, so he decided to “dust off the old novel” that he finished in Prague and sent it to the literary agents. “I got rejected everywhere!”
So he kept improving it and changing it and one day he joined the Agency Management Group (an industry group related to his business) and met “a guy in the group that published a book at “Book Press Publishing.” He would take some good advice and submit his work.
He would go through a few rounds of editing, with the book initially entitled “End Game,” which in this version the plot took place in the mythical city of Silver Lake.
The publishers thought that it needed a closer Providence identity, so they changed the name to “The King-Makers of Providence.”
Asked about the obvious similarities in the book to people we all know, he said, “obviously there are things taken or inspired about what I read and lived about Mayor Cianci, but his character is just a composite of things I heard. Things I read. He is a tragic hero. Someone who had great ideas and great potential that went astray. He squandered it.”
“People will think Henry is me. There are some similarities but I didn’t go to Georgetown Law.” He laughed and said “but I did go to BC (Boston College) and I did confide in the Jesuit priests” like in the book.
“Also, I didn’t marry a tobacco heiress, but I did marry an incredible woman who is a teacher!”
He said “my intention was to show how it (political campaigns) really is. If it takes a weekend or a week to read it, I want people to be informed and entertained, but also take something away. My concern is that people might think it is negative but it’s not. It’s about the connections among people.”
I asked when he knew he had it in him to pen such a twisting, turning plot line.
He answered “I really wondered – am I a writer? Am I wasting my time? Should I be at the office doing my mailers and brochures rather than writing this? But I knew it was going to be ok when I actually had a printed copy in my hand. And then the outpouring of support from family and friends has been phenomenal!”
I had one last question for John before we parted.
“Is the moral of the story, be careful about meeting a beautiful woman sitting alone at a bar in Prague?”
He laughed and said, “That’s the first time I have ever heard that take!”
John Houle is launching “The King-Makers of Providence” at the Alpine Country Club on Wednesday, February 8th from 4 to 7 p.m.
Books will be available for purchase there (and I am sure John will sign them) or you can contact John at JohnHoule.net to order one.
It’s well worth it.
It’s exciting to see a former Beacon cub reporter walking alongside Baldacci and Grisham. And John is already half way through his next novel.
Michael Levesque, a former West Warwick Mayor is a regular columnist for these newspapers. If you have an idea for Mike for a future interview, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.