“You sully this place bringing a man here to torment him.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that I do what I do for you, Leah?”
“At ease Sergeant!” She shucked her pretense of being an ordinary housewife. “What you’re doing is for you, not me. I don’t need it. I am dead, remember?”
The Cordoba Connection by C. Terry Cline
The Cordoba Connection, a story of religion, hate crimes, and the reasons behind them, is the last book written by the late C. Terry Cline. Soon after he finished the manuscript in 2011, he had a stroke and passed away. But Judith Richards, his wife and collaborator of 34 years, kept his work alive.
On Thursday, June 16, his spirit and words will be celebrated at the Page & Palette with the launch of his book on C. Terry Cline Day in Fairhope.
An intense writer, Cline wrote 10 novels and he finished a nonfiction story, The Return of Edgar Cayce, before he died. He also wrote a children’s musical, Switchwitch. Richards says Cline always wanted to be different. He started penning stories for magazines when he was 17 and often wrote about animals and nature. He started a public relations business and taught a chimpanzee to bowl as part of his work for a company that manufactured bowling pins. They went on all of the major television shows of that time.
Richards met Cline in 1968, when he took live animals into schools to teach the anatomy and psychology of animal groups and hired her to give the feline lecture. Her first husband grew up in the circus and trained dogs, and she worked with him and learned how to train animals. “While we were giving the lectures, Terry said he was going to retire at 35 and do nothing but write until he had a successful novel. He was 37. He wrote three novels in three years and the third one sold,” Richards said. “That was the beginning of his career as a novelist.”
Cline’s first novels were categorized as occult and did so well that publishers tried to lock him into that category, but he refused to be boxed in and switched and to suspense novels about criminals instead. His book Missing Persons, based on Ted Bundy, was one of the first novels about a serial killer. Bundy murdered at least 30 young women from seven states, escaped from a prison in Colorado, and was arrested in Pensacola before being sent to Tallahassee.
“The deputy sheriff in Tallahassee was a friend of ours and had to take Bundy every day from his cell,” says Richards. “Our friend had tears in his eyes when he said, ‘I know he has done the most terrible things, but I like him.’”
“Terry knew if he could capture that in a novel it would make a great story,” says Richards. “He said if he hadn’t found his way through writing, he could have been a criminal.”.
The Cordoba Connection takes the reader inside the mind of a former Navy SEAL who kidnaps Muslim imams from mosques in the United States, and murders them to stop the spread of Islam and the teaching of Sharia law. The deaths are gruesome, but Cline also creates empathy for the killer. Raised by an abusive father, the death of his wife in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, sends the sergeant over the edge. The story is built on intense, fast-moving dialog that also educates about Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
“Terry’s strength was plotting,” says Richards. “He wanted you to learn something and feel something you didn’t feel before. He didn’t excuse or defend the criminal, but he showed two sides of the personality. People aren’t all good or all bad.”
It might seem incongruous that such a delightful personality would be fascinated
with death, but his was not a dark kind of fascination. It was more of a head-cocked-to-
the-side, isn’t-that-interesting kind. Not cold, but curious; comfortable with the human
condition. “He’s been talking about death for forty years,” Judy often said. He turned his
face-to-face interviews with serial killer Ted Bundy into 1982’s Missing Persons, a
brilliant psychological thriller. He put his perceptive, innovative stamp on the suspense
genre with works like Quarry, Reaper, and The Attorney Conspiracy.
“Sailing into the Ever-Ever: Remembering Terry Cline” by Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella, read at Cline’s memorial service
The stories began when Cline was a child skipping school in Belle Glade, Florida. He loved learning, but was bored in class. “His mother sent him to school and he went in the front door and out the back,” says Richards, who wrote Summer Lightning about Cline’s childhood. He hopped on trains and played around labor camps during school. He swapped lunch for cigarettes, explored the Everglades with a backwoods naturalist and learned how to catch catfish with just his hands. And that was just in first grade.
Writing was the outlet for the boy who didn’t like school, and telling the stories of his imagination became his career. “Writing was 24-hours-a-day and he didn’t get away from it,” says Richards. “Some of the best thoughts came when he was in the shower or driving the car. We were always talking about plot, developing characters and editing. It was good to help him with what wasn’t working on his story, but it was hard to tell him when his work was bad that day because I had to go to bed with him.”
Cline encouraged Richards to write her own books, pushing her to be a better writer. “It wasn’t competitive because each of us wrote a different kind of book,” she says. “We already had a working relationship from working with the animals and understood patience and tolerance and how to work through things. Overall we got along extremely well but there were moments of shouting and ‘What the hell do you know?’”
“I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer and never would have taken anything out of the drawer if it hadn’t been for him,” she says. “It scares me to death to think of writing another novel without him.” Richards’ sold the movie rights to her last novel, Thelonius Rising.
Cline also gave himself to other writers. “Terry was generous sometimes to the detriment of what we were doing,” says Richards. “Writers showed up at our house and got us to read their work. He sucked me into it too. It was a wonderful thing to do. He may not have had the answer to ‘Why isn’t this working?’ or ‘Why isn’t this book selling?’ but he inspired them to keep going.”
“Terry made no bones about helping aspiring writers,” says Fairhope writer Roger Bull. “He motivated us to write what we know and write honestly from the heart and don’t be pretentious. He said to vomit words on the page, don’t worry about the mess, you can clean it up later. When you get an idea, put it on paper right away.”
The couple created their stories in the glassed-in porch on the front of their house in Fairhope. His desk and IBM Selectric typewriter was on one end and her desk and typewriter was at the other. Encyclopedias, yearbooks and boxes of books were scattered around the porch. “He had many books on birds and trees,” she says. “Terry always said you had to do a ton of research for an ounce of material, then you had to figure out what not to use.”
Cline wrote The Cordoba Connection in 2010 and 2011. He had a stroke in November 2011, and died on May 21, 2013. Richards tried to send the book out before his death but there were no takers. “We didn’t have an agent at that time and I tried to send out letters to literary agents, but his health became so bad, that I had to focus on him and the book sat there.” River’s Edge Media is releasing The Cordoba Connection and republishing his earlier books.
“Getting the book out now has given Terry back to me. But even better, it is extending his life and career,” she says. “Publishing his books is giving him back to the people who loved him, and it is a chance for new readers to discover him for the first time.”
The book launch for The Cordoba Connection is Thursday, June 16 at 6:00 p.m. at Page & Palette in Fairhope. Readers include JD Crowe, Skip Jones and Graham Timbes. There will also be music by Chris Clifton and Eric Erdman.