19 September 2011

Ronald J. Cooke, No Blockhead



A final follow-up to last week's post on The Mayor of Côte St. Paul. Promise.

Cover copy describes Ronald J. Cooke as "one of Canada's most popular writers of realistic fiction". Don't you believe it. The man never wrote anything that could be considered "realistic fiction". And, let's be honest, he was never popular. Like The House on Craig Street, his first novel, The Mayor of Côte St. Paul was a paperback original – and, like his first novel, it was printed only once in this country. Readers were left hanging nearly three decades before they saw The House on Dorchester Street, the third (and final) Ronald J. Cooke novel. Who published this much-anticipated work? A vanity press located in Cornwall, Ontario.

While I expect that Cooke sold at least a few short stories in his time, I've come across only one: "Beginner's Luck", which was appeared in the August 1950 edition of Atlantic Guardian:


The wordsmith wrote several pieces for this self-described "Magazine of Newfoundland", most having to do with those who'd achieved success far from its shores. Makes sense – owned by a Montreal company, Atlantic Guardian was run out of offices on Toronto's Bay Street. The July 1950 issue, which would have hit news stands at about the same time as The Mayor of Côte St. Paul, contains an all too clever little piece on Cooke by Associate Editor Brian Cahill.*

That lady with the gams and the megaphone is Canada's Sweetheart Barbara Ann Scott, by the way.

Never mind, here's Cahill:


An inside joke certain to send subscribers scratching their heads, it's based on the idea that Cooke was well on his way in book-writin'. And why not? The House on Craig Street was published in 1949, The Mayor of Côte St. Paul followed in 1950. However, eight years passed before the next Cooke book – a tale for children titled Algonquin Adventure (Ryerson, 1958). An even larger gap followed, only to be broken in 1979 by How to Write & Sell Travel Articles. A self-published guide, at 29 pages it's not quite right to describe it as a book... more a booklet. Others came in rapid succession, all emerging from Cooke's basement in suburban Montreal. My favourite is the suggestively titled 20 Ways to Make Big Money with Your Camera, but most deal with making big bucks through writing: Tips for the Beginner in Self-Publishing & Mail Order! (1980), How to Write & Sell Short Articles (1981), Tips on Writing and Selling Romance Novels (1985), How to Publish & Promote Your Own Writing (1986), Here's How to Write and Sell Features & Fillers to Newspapers and Syndicate Your Own Work, Too (1986), and Self-Publishing and Mail Order Made Easy (1988).

Dave Manley would approve.

* A subject of personal interest, Brian Cahill may or may not have been married to journalist Marion McCormick (even her children aren't sure) the second wife of John Glassco.

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