Donald Howland Sr. hasn’t lived in Cranston in decades, but his local roots remain strong. He has fond memories of his hometown, which shine through in his debut novel, “Conanicut Island Adventure.”
The book follows a young boy, Zackary, from Cranston, who overhears foreign saboteurs planning the destruction of the Fort Wetherill military base. The plot is set in 1941, and features many Rhode Island references, including Jamestown, the Briggs school administration building and the former vaudeville Fay’s Theater, where the protagonist first hears of the plot.
Many actual events from World War II are detailed, including Howland’s own experiences as the son of an air raid warden.
“It’s during the war, so in one scene they’re watching torpedo plans practice, which is something that happened to me as a child,” he recalled.
The plot has an unexpected twist, though, as the main character discovers he has magical powers.
“I wanted to write something that was nice and moral for kids, and have something that was fantasy because kids like fantasy,” Howland said.
He doesn’t want to give anything away, but Howland says that Zackary does his best to save the day.
“He is instrumental in catching the bad people,” he said.
Howland grew up in Cranston and went through the public school system, attending Horton Elementary School, Bain Middle School and later graduating from Cranston High School. He enlisted in the Navy at the age of 18 and would go on to serve on the Cranston Police force for four years. He then decided to go back to college, after which he served for more than 30 years as an ordained minister in the United States, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
As part of that ministry work, Howland and his wife moved around regularly, as often as every three years up until his retirement in 2000. He now lives in New Braunfels, in the San Antonio area of Texas. Writing a book for the first time at the age of 75 might seem unlikely, but Howland says it is exactly how he wants to spend his retirement.
“It’s just something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” he said.
He says his four children, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren were not surprised to see him working on the project.
“I know my children really like it,” he says.
The idea for “Conanicut Island Adventure” came easily to Howland, who lived through World War II as a boy in Cranston. Once he set his mind to writing the book, he had it finished within three to four months, writing six days a week.
“I try to write 1,000 words a day. I think it came pretty naturally,” he said. “I’ve been writing all my career; it just wasn’t books.”
Rhode Island seemed a natural setting, with Howland’s childhood memories still vivid in his mind.
“When you grow up there, you have all these memories from your childhood. I think if somebody in my family reads the book, which they have, they will notice a lot of things that were real,” he said.
Getting the details right required some research, but much of it Howland says he remembered.
“A lot of it I just knew because I lived through the time,” he said.
Howland is already looking to the future. His second book is nearly ready to come out, and he envisions the first two installations as part of a larger series. The next book should be available by March.
“I’m starting to get pretty friendly with him,” Howland said of his protagonist, Zackary.
“Conanicut Island Adventure” is available on Amazon.com for just $4.99. Howland decided to publish his work himself, rather than wait for a publisher to come forward, and he is pleased with that decision.
“I think possibly others will want to publish it but I’m not particularly looking into that,” he said. “I think people in Rhode Island will enjoy it.”
And of his budding writing career, Howland says, “I’m just enjoying life.”