Facing Down Monsters
Eau Claire native explores his own experiences in fictionalized murder tale
Monsters in the Hallway, released Oct. 27, is based on events from author Jim Kosmo’s childhood in Eau Claire in the 1950s and ’60s. The predominant storylines of his book open windows into his life, growing up with a father who suffered from schizophrenia. Kosmo also shares a vulnerable part of himself by telling the story of his own experience with sexual assault through one of his characters, 12-year-old Jason Korsen.
Capt. Jim Kosmo (or just Jim) has a familiar chuckle with which he describes his service in the U.S. Air Force. During that time, he was an information specialist, which meant that he was the editor of the newspaper for Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. After 20 years in journalism he decided to join the riverboat industry with his father-in-law. He served as president and captain with Padelford Riverboats Co. in St. Paul for 30 years.
Kosmo has had many different adventures, but the one constant in his life has always been writing. He tells me that he was first drawn to writing because of his mother, Virginia, who was an author. She wrote for magazines and was a freelance stringer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Kosmo also owes his writing pursuits to his high school English teacher, Pearle Landfair. He fondly remembers her telling him that it was “always a pleasure to grade his papers.”
“She told me I was a great writer, but encouraged me to get a dictionary,” he said. “I guess I wasn’t a very good speller.” He took his teacher’s advice and bought a dictionary that he carried in his back pocket for years until it fell apart.
Like his pocket dictionary, Kosmo kept his darker childhood memories tucked away. Then he began sharing stories about his parents with his children. “It dawned on me that they had no idea who or what I was talking about,” he said. “So, I decided I’d write about my life for them.”
While much of the book is based on his life, Kosmo weaves together factual accounts with a suspenseful murder mystery. “No one was ever murdered,” says Kosmo. “But, I wanted to bring in outside ideas and stories, and also add more color and icing to the cake.”
Kosmo admitted that during the writing process he wasn’t sure he wanted to include the painful recollection of his assault. It brought back horrific nightmares, so he put the book away for months. When he revisited his memoir with the intent to add fictional elements, he thought: “Hey! I can do whatever I want to this guy! I can have him arrested and put into a mental institution!”
As his words poured out, it became even clearer that he had to share this piece of his life. It wasn’t just for his own sense of freedom: He also hopes it will free others who’ve encountered similar demons in their lives.
“I had to write this story because this kind of abuse is so widespread,” he said. “I want them to know that they can make it and do anything in life. The animal who attacked them – that doesn’t make them who they are. If anything, they should hold their head up high because they survived something like that.”
Though Kosmo didn’t have a storybook childhood, he is ever thankful for the people in his life who gave him support and strength. He thanks his mother the most. “I had a mother who found strength that I don’t even know that she knew she had,” he said. “She was our main anchor.”
It was because of her, and caring role models such as Carl Lehman of the former Lehman Drug Store and Gerald Stange of the former Stange’s Corner Market, that Kosmo lives the life he has today.
Kosmo’s father may not have had the chance to always be present throughout Kosmo’s life, but he holds no resentment toward the man. He laments that schizophrenia robbed his father of his life. “My father was a brilliant man, a remarkable guy,” he remembered. “You wonder what could have been if he’d had the medications or knowledge we have today.”
Progress has been made in understanding mental illness, but Kosmo says we still have a long way to go. According to health experts, one in five people will suffer some kind of mental illness in their lifetime. “You don’t see the blood and broken bones, so people don’t realize how serious of a problem is mental illness,” he said. “We’re not doing enough to understand or help remedy the problem.”
Kosmo will continue sharing his experience with mental illness in order to bring it into stronger focus, but that’s not all he has rolling around in his mind. He thinks if he were to write another book, he would tell stories about river boating.
As he recounts the paths he’s taken in life, he laughs and says: “I know going from journalist to riverboat captain is quite the stretch, but it worked for Mark Twain, so why not me?”
Learn more about Monsters in the Hallway at jimkosmo.com. The book is available online and at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire.