Local literature aficionados are in for a treat from a Gloucester County native, whose first-ever novel takes place right here in South Jersey. Woodbury Heights native Bill Schweigart is set to release his first novel the end of this month. He says his novel—a Coast Guard thriller called Slipping the Cable—has very strong ties to the region.
His main character, Kelly, is from Ocean City and is fresh out of the academy when he is assigned to his first ship. All seems well for the character, until he finds himself at odds with the captain and ultimately becomes entangled in a battle of wills with him.
Schweigart’s childhood home is directly off of Mantua Pike, not too far behind the Hollywood Diner. He lived with his parents there until he graduated from Gateway High School in 1991, then enlisting into the Coast Guard. After serving five years on active duty, Schweigart then spent some time as a corporate recruiter, before becoming affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security. He has recently moved to Arlington, VA.
“The Coast Guard has so many cool jobs,” says Schweigart. “It’s the perfect setting for an action story.”
Reflecting on his time on active duty, Schweigart says many of his personal experiences are reflected in his novel. He recalls working on a “cutter,” a small boat that could really make one’s stomach turn in rough weather. Schweigart says he is not too proud to admit the rough weather even got the best of him on some occasions.
“I guess the inspiration was born in those very low moments,” says Schweigart recalling the memories of seasickness.
But regardless of the occasional stomach turning, Schweigart says he loved every moment of serving in the Coast Guard, saying he “had a blast.” Yet, memories of seasickness was not the only times of inspiration. Schweigart also recalls many rescue missions.
One in particular, started as an investigation of a light on the horizon. After close inspection, the light was found to be coming from a makeshift torch, comprised of a T-shirt wrapped around a baseball bat. The torch was held by one of several people trapped on a sinking pleasure boat. He remembers helping to save the boat and its passengers. The passengers spoke in a language foreign to Schweigart, but remembers them repeating one word. Upon talking to a translator, his crew learned the passengers were calling them “angels,” a memory Schweigart says sticks with him to this day.
While Schweigart says the seeds for this novel were planted in his head during his time in active duty, he did not start writing until his duty was over. Schweigart began writing his novel in 1999 and finished it in 2003. In 2004, he began to send out queries, but stopped after he realized the book needed some polishing. After a “heavy edit” last year, Schweigart sent out more queries and was picked up by Martin Sisters Publishing Company.
“This is my first novel being published, so I’m pretty excited,” says Schweigart.
Schweigart says his novel has appeal outside of just the Coast Guard. He maintains his book is very character driven, and is for anyone who has had an impossible boss or just needed an escape.
Currently, Schweigart says there is no promise of a sequel, but has some ideas floating around for one. He is presently working on a supernatural novel based in Virginia, but with a character native to South Jersey. He maintains that no matter where he lives, South Jersey will always be a part of him and his work.