Published in The Day June 19. 2020
By Lee Howard Day staff writer
A high school English teacher once accused Bonnie Giesler of plagiarizing a story, an event so traumatic that the 73-year-old Groton resident stopped writing creatively for nearly half a century.
For 57-year-old Alan Thibodeau of Pawcatuck, the late start in his writing career occurred as he jumped from job to job, finally landing as operations manager of the Fishers Island Waste Management District.
Now the two have one thing in common, as of the past few months: self-published authors. Giesler published through the online service Book Baby, while Thibodeau’s work is available through Amazon Authors.
“I’m numb,” Giesler said. “It was always the end goal, but when it happens, it’s unbelievable.”
Giesler said she promised her late husband William that she would publish her short stories, and she accomplished the goal June 15 with the printing of her first book, “The Blind Justice Society,” under her author name BB Giesler, for “Bill and Bonnie.” It was William, before his death in 2016, who signed up Giesler for Groton Parks and Recreation Department creative writing classes taught by Nick Checker of New London, himself a published author, screenwriter and playwright.
Thibodeau likewise has been working under the tutelage of Checker, a man he jokingly calls “The Ripper” for the red pen markings that flourish whenever he gets hold of a story that needs some work.
“He’s always right,” Thibodeau added.
Thibodeau over the past few months has published two novelettes of fewer than 30 pages, “Shadow of the Soul” in early December, and “Deluded Dawn” in May. The first he characterized as a psychological thriller and the second as a dark fantasy.
“I’ve always liked storytelling; I’ve always liked writing,” said Thibodeau, who aspires to write a novel someday. “I don’t have a certain genre I like to write in.”
Ideas, he said, come randomly. For instance, “Shadow of the Soul” started when he was leaning over the side of a Fishers Island Ferry and saw his shadow, then thought about the possibility of a demon inhabiting a shadow rather than a body.
“I didn’t have it right away; I didn’t know how I wanted to do the story,” Thibodeau said. “I put it on a shelf for about a year, then something clicked.”
Once he was ready to write, the story went through several permutations, starting as a five-page reading at the Garde Arts Center, where Checker regularly holds student get-togethers to show off new works.
“After the public reading, I told Nick I was not happy with the story,” Thibodeau said. “Nick finally said, ‘We may need to expand this one.'”
Thibodeau said Checker has been particularly helpful in getting him to engage all five senses in his writing. He also has encouraged him to stay more organized by using an outline to jot out ideas, creating a “floor plan” for the story.
“You want to have some conflict,” he said. “At the end, you want your main character to have some kind of major change, whether for good or bad.”
Giesler said her stories are interconnected mysteries tied together by the main character, a going-blind FBI agent named Sadie Barker, and a group of “old biddies” who meet up at Harriet’s Tavern to stick their noses into townspeople’s business. The tavern, she said, is based on a pub that once existed on Thames Street in Groton whose building has since been torn down.
“The stories are all created from my neighborhood,” she said. “It all starts with someone saying, ‘That’s odd. Let me check into that.'”
Many scenes reference well-known local landmarks such as the Block Island Ferry terminal in New London and Groton Congregational Church. She does quite a bit of research for her stories, she said, learning about the science of blood spatter and how to fire a gun.
Giesler spent many years as a technical writer for Electric Boat before returning to school for a master’s degree at age 50 and later spending a decade teaching computer science at Ella T. Grasso Technical High School. She loved her students, she said, and made sure never to say something that would hold them back from realizing their dreams, as her former teacher did to her.
“What that teacher did was so awful,” she said. “One word can really hurt someone.”
Now, however, she writes all the time.
“I feel like I should have done that a long time ago,” she said.