Published October 28. 2012 4:00AM
When he was 13 years old, Bob Steele wrote a long story for a school assignment; so long, in fact, that he felt as if he had completed a novel. But the assignment had taken so much work, he vowed he would never in his life actually attempt a novel.
So much for the vows of a 13-year-old boy. Some six decades later, Bob's first novel, "The Curse," has just been published. It is a story that intertwines a family saga dating from the 17th century with the very modern account of the fight to expand casino gambling in Connecticut. Steele will talk about the book on Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Essex Library and on Thursday, Nov. 15, at RJ Julia in Madison.
If the name Bob Steele has a familiar ring, it is because the name is indeed familiar. Bob served in the United States Congress from 1970 to 1974 as a representative of the 2nd District. In 1974 he ran unsuccessfully for governor against the late Ella T. Grasso.
His father, also Bob Steele, was a fixture on WTIC radio for more than 50 years, hosting the show described regularly as the most popular morning radio program of its time in Connecticut.
Steele is familiar with the development of casino gambling in Connecticut as a legislator and a one-time resident of Ledyard, where he lived next to the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation.
"I moved to Ledyard in 1977 and lived there for 21 years, all during the period of the events leading to the casinos," he says. "It is one of the most remarkable stories in Connecticut history and I had a front row seat."
Bob and his wife Betty moved to Essex in 1998.
Steele's book is not a dull screed of statistics but a flesh-and-blood tale that starts with the curse hurled by an Indian sachem during the massacre of Pequot Indians in 1637 at the New England colonist who killed him and how that curse plays out in a modern battle: the fight to build a new casino. The book has a wide cast of characters: old Yankee families, families with Indian roots, developers with get-rich-quick-dreams, two-bit mobsters and victims of gambling addiction.
"This is a story of political intrigue, history and identity in America today," Steele says.
Despite factual roots, however, Steele wants to emphasize that the book is not a history text.
"There have already been good non-fiction books written. I wanted to tell the story from a different angle, for a different audience. My goal was a novel that would be revealing and engaging," he notes. "Americans love stories, and I decided that this was a story that I had to tell."
As he tells his story, he shows his command of Connecticut tradition with references to Fort Saybrook, Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and a vivid description of the historic reliefs and exhibits on the first floor of the state house in Hartford. That description comes when one of the book's main characters goes to the building to watch a vote on the casino issue.
On a recent morning, Steele pauses in front of a historic marker detailing the story of the Pequot War, the event with which his book begins. He says he came down to the remains of the fort at Saybrook Point while he was writing to feel the atmosphere of that long ago conflict.
"Imagine what all this must have been like 300 years ago," he muses, looking out to the water.
Steele is vice-chairman of John Ryan Company of Minneapolis, an international retail-marketing firm, and working on his novel became a night and weekend project for several years. He was amazed at the help that librarians, among them the librarians in Essex, were able to provide as he did his research; one of the things he wanted to know was what the weather had been like on a specific day in the past.
"They could find out what the temperature had been on a day 18 years ago," he notes.
Now, with his first novel finished, Steele says he is eager to introduce it to the reading public, but has no immediate plans to spend nights and weekends on another book.
"I think my wife would kill me," he says.
Bob Steele will discuss his new book, "The Curse" at the Essex Library, 33 West Ave., Essex, on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. Free and open to the public. Call to register at (860) 767-1560; and at RJ Julia, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison, on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. Free but call to register at (203) 245-3959 or www.rjjulia.com; click on "store events."