James K. Dill
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Racing Shadows is Jim’s debut novel, a book that took many miles and many years to complete. A competitive runner since high school, Jim ran track and cross country for East Carolina University in the ’70s while earning his degree. After college, Jim moved up to the marathon while earning an MA and MBA from Wake Forest University. Jim competed in the 1984 Olympic Marathon Trials. After graduate school, Jim had a successful career in banking and currently works in nonprofit management. Taking up writing after his competitive running days were over, Jim resides in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and family.
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By James K Dill
A fast-paced read surging with adrenaline, RACING SHADOWS offers an honest look at the losses and triumphs of a marathon runner through a fictional lens, told with heart and a genuine love for the sport.
Posted by Jessica T
August 30, 2019
It’s 1984, and the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials are underway in Buffalo, New York. Jeff Dillon is one of the Olympic hopefuls, a skilled, experienced runner putting everything on the line to make a name for himself in the sport. What Jeff doesn’t expect is to come in dead last, his dreams of Olympic glory dashed in mere minutes. On the sidelines after the race, defeated and stinging from the loss, Jeff meets Bill Atlee, an Olympian who won the marathon trials in 1928. He offers to coach Jeff so he can make the podium and come back on top after the disappointing setback. As the two strike up an unlikely—and what should be impossible—friendship, Bill helps Jeff overcome his personal and physical struggles. They soon learn their lives aren’t so different after all.
It’s definitely clear that James K Dill’s RACING SHADOWS was written with all the passion and enthusiasm of a real-life marathon runner. There’s a lot of personal experiences as well as research that went into creating the novel’s world, and it shows. Jeff’s journey is rendered with an accurate attention to detail, an inside look at the sport that comes alive on the page. And it’s not just the smallest aspects like the casual lingo seasoned runners share back and forth, or the famous runners throughout Olympic history, but also the speed and precision of the racing scenes. Those are the most exciting highs in the novel, saturated with adrenaline and pulse-pounding tension. The climactic race gives a satisfying payoff, too, with a touching moment to close the characters’ intertwining story arcs. There’s supernatural elements lightly woven throughout with a hint of intrigue, and while it’s a familiar ghost story, it lends an interesting perspective between the two men.
At times, RACING SHADOWS does move at a pace that’s a bit too brisk, skirting past some character development and rushing through plot points. That often creates dialogue that feels somewhat stilted, but the characters’ genuine feelings shine through, and there are a few especially poignant scenes. As Jeff struggles with conditioning himself and shaking off doubt and physical limitations, RACING SHADOWS devotes a thread in the plot to the mental obstacles that runners often face: how obsession can take things away, how depression can push them to the brink. Where the story really succeeds is grappling on subjects that are beyond the sport, which makes it relatable to those who might not be runners themselves. It offers a realistic look at depression and mental health that bonds both Jeff and his mentor Bill together across decades. It’s refreshing to see an athlete and his coach talk so openly about their issues with mental health and seek out treatment, as well as actively working through their problems without the stigma that often surrounds it.
A fast-paced read surging with adrenaline, RACING SHADOWS offers an honest look at the losses and triumphs of a marathon runner through a fictional lens, told with heart and a genuine love for the sport.
~Jessica Thomas for IndieReader
For immediate release:
Author's new book receives a warm literary welcome.
Readers' Favorite announces the review of the Fiction - Paranormal book "Racing Shadows" by James K Dill, currently available at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1627202420.
Readers' Favorite is one of the largest book review and award contest sites on the Internet. They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the "Best Websites for Authors" and "Honoring Excellence" awards from the Association of Independent Authors. They are also fully accredited by the BBB (A+ rating), which is a rarity among Book Review and Book Award Contest companies.
"Reviewed By Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Racing Shadows is a contemporary paranormal novel written by James K. Dill. Fourteen years of dedicated running and training had paid off. The U.S. Olympic Trials were the shining goal any serious runner aspired to be competing in, and Jeff still couldn’t quite believe he was there. Jeff started strong and then began to falter at just about the 10-mile remaining mark. Jeff’s body simply gave out. Not only had he not run a good race; but he came in last, trailed by the ambulance who traditionally followed the last runner to the finish line. A seasoned athlete, Jeff accepted the poor results, but the thought that it would be another four years before another chance at the Trials was heartbreaking, especially after the challenges and heartache of the last year.
James K. Dill’s Racing Shadows is a well-written and enthralling look at competitive running and the impact it has on runners’ lives. Dill’s own experiences as a runner impart to this novel an undeniable authenticity, and his pairing of the troubled young runner, Jeff Dillon, with the former Olympian, Bill Atlee, is outstanding. Following their relationship, which puts Jeff’s standing in his university in some jeopardy and has his therapist considering calling in her adviser, keeps this book moving almost as rapidly as Jeff’s training runs do. The paranormal aspect of the plot is handled beautifully, and each of the characters the reader meets is deftly sculpted and credible. I particularly loved the insights into what it takes to be a marathon runner and the training regimens necessary for long-distance running. I found this book to be an inspiration and a joy to read. Racing Shadows is most highly recommended."
You can learn more about James K Dill and "Racing Shadows" at https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/racing-shadows where you can read reviews and the author’s biography, as well as connect with the author directly or through their website and social media pages.
Readers' Favorite LLC
Louisville, KY 40202
'Racing Shadows' is a compelling story that delves into the heart, mind and soul of a dedicated distance runner aiming to reach his athletic potential while struggling to balance personal relationships, school and training. An added twist is his unlikely coach who takes us on a pathway never imagined. Whether you raced during the running boom or wonder what it was like to have been racing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you will not be able to put this book down once you start reading. 'Racing Shadows' took me on a journey different from that in any of the hundreds of books and articles I have read on the sport of running and is immensely satisfying.
- Gary Cohen is founder of garycohenrunning.com (GCR) and his over 125 monthly interviews include more than 70 Olympians, over two dozen Marathon Majors Champions, and twelve Olympic Gold Medalists. GCR was recognized with the 2017 Track and Field Writers of America 'Alan Jacobs Award'for excellence in online journalism. Gary is the author of 'All in a Day's Run.' He is one of less than 30 persons worldwide to ever race a sub-3:00 marathon in five decades with a best time of 2:22:34.
Racing Shadows races literally between life and death, around plot curves and down fast-paced straightaways that will take your breath away. Jim Dill knows the terrain of the elite distance runner. Artfully he captures the rhythms of that world, all the dedication and sacrifices needed to run like few others.
- David L. Robbins, author of War of the Rats and The Low Bird
James Dill, a 1984 Olympic marathon hopeful, writes from a place deep within every runner aiming to defy physical limitations to rank as a world-class elite, wondering from where the required superhuman strength will come and finding it
only when they look to something bigger than themselves. Readers after an intimate story of love and friendship that reveals the expansiveness of the human spirit will love Racing Shadows. At the finish line, they will be winded but ready for more.
~ Joni Albrecht, Editor, Little Star
Racing Shadows explores how inner fears and insecurities from past events can haunt runners in the present, and how striving for a new goal can help in letting go and finding peace. Jeff Dillon and his coach search the origins of their disquiet and discover their journey together is about more than running, and that neither would find the peace they seek without the other. James Dill's own Olympic Marathon Trials experience and running journey bring reality to his prose and authenticity to the relationship between runner and coach.
- Dennis Barker, author of The River Road
From an interview with
Apprentice House Press
Racing Shadows is your debut novel. Looking at your background, you’ve got a B.S. in Health and Physical Education, a Master’s in Sports Science, an M.B.A. in Finance and Marketing. You have had a successful career working in banking and nonprofits. You don’t have the typical author background. So where did this novel come from, and why now? Have you always been into writing while pursuing your other interests?
I guess it was a midlife crisis of sorts. I was nearing sixty and I wanted to find something expressive and artistic for my spare time. I thought about taking a drawing or painting class. There is a wide variety of opportunities in Richmond where I live. I live close to Virginia Commonwealth University which has a tremendous fine arts program. There is also the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a world class museum with great learning and art programs. I wasn’t sure I wanted to draw or paint or take up pottery. By accident, I stumbled on a writing class at VCU with their novelist in residence, David L. Robbins, NYT bestseller. The title of the class was “The art of the narrative” and I signed up.
I took the class on a whim, thinking it would be fun. It was terrifying, writing and then submitting work to the class, mostly folks like me with full time jobs, trying to squeeze in a passion for writing with regular life. I didn’t know what I was doing. But David and the class were encouraging, though I made lots of mistakes. Eventually one of my stories about a pirate worked. I was hooked.
The class asked David to coach us all to a first novel after the class was over. We met monthly, reviewing our work over dinner and beer. It was challenging and exciting. I had the idea to write about running in the back of my mind for many years; what it was like to train and race at the highest level. There are only a few, good running novels, John L. Parker’s classic, Once a Runner, the gold standard. I wanted to write a running novel that detailed the training for an elite marathon and captured the feel of the 1980’s at Wake and Baltimore.
How long did it take you to write your first book? What challenges did you face along the way? Was it difficult to write a novel while working full time in your nonprofit job?
The book took a little over a year. My writing circle and David were very gracious, reading my chapters and sending me back month after month. One of my circle compared me to Sisyphus, pushing the rock back up the hill, time after time. Finally, one of my partners said she liked the training run sequences. That gave me hope and then there was one night where everyone said well done, the chapter worked. I rewrote the opening and was off. Two of us finished in that year. Pam Webber's book came out in August, 2019, Moon Water. It was great being a part of her writing, too. Our other two partners have great stories that will come out over time.
It is really difficult writing, working full time, and having a life. I’m married with two children and soon to be two grandchildren. I write in the evening and on weekends. A novel becomes a child, having a life of its own. It’s funny; you pour yourself into the work and worry about it all the time. We’re proud of these paper children, warts and all. The writing has been tremendously rewarding and I’ve met some really outstanding people and friends. I’m very happy I chose to write.
This is a novel about serious, dedicated running. You have a background in competitive running and track and field yourself. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Like my character Jeff and many others of that era (the 1980’s), I was inspired by Frank Shorter’s Olympic marathon gold in Munich Germany in 1972. I ran competitively in junior high and high school and then at East Carolina University. It wasn’t until I moved up to the marathon while in graduate school at Wake Forest University that I got sponsored and began to compete at the national level. The fields were really deep in the '80s. Recently, I found a Boston Marathon newspaper clipping from that time. I ran two hours and twenty-two minutes and finished around one hundred-sixty-something. That time would have been top twenty in some of the recent Boston’s, but it tells you how deep the fields were. There were over two hundred qualifiers for the Olympic Trials in 1984.
In Racing Shadows, your protagonist’s name, Jeff Dillon, is similar to yours. He runs in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 1984, the same year you did. Jeff Dillon’s coach, Bill Atlee, appears to be based off of runner William (Bill) Agee, who won the 1928 Olympic Marathon Trials just like your character Bill. How much of this book is inspired by or taken from both your own life and the life of Bill Agee?
So this is a work of fiction. I modeled Jeff after my own experience and the Olympic Trials and Baltimore Marathon that frame the story, and there is a certain amount of autobiography in the structure and racing. I chose Jeff’s name randomly when I started, mainly to keep my characters straight. Originally, the story started much earlier in my career, but then I found the story worked much better in a condensed time frame of one year. The races actually happened and the times are pretty accurate. I didn’t finish last at the O.T. but did have a similar bad day like Jeff though far less drama! I finished 100th that day in 2:32… I also finished third at the Baltimore (then Maryland) Marathon like Jeff the following December. But that is where the reality ends and the fiction starts, such as finishing last, just in front of the ambulance or meeting the old man who becomes his coach. The highs and lows that both characters face are fiction, elevated to enhance the story line. Many of the other characters were modeled after people I knew at the time and some I still know, accented with observations of that time.
I was having problems getting the story on paper. It was boring; a guy training and failing to compete in the marathon, it’s been written a few times. My muse appeared when the Richmond paper featured an article in the sports page prior to the Rio Olympic Games about Richmond Olympians. That’s where I met Bill (Agee). It said that he was born in Richmond in 1905 and moved to Baltimore with his family. He delivered the Baltimore Sun. He made the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, a prolific runner and winner. There was no picture of him, but later I found out he committed suicide. I knew right then I had a new character in my novel, but wasn’t sure how to work him into the story.
What about Bill Agee served as a point of inspiration for you? Was finding him the catalyst to writing your debut novel?
Bill turned out to be the perfect antagonist. With his colorful life and tragic ending. I went to Baltimore and the Pratt Library to do research. There was a wealth of information in the old Baltimore Sun Newspapers from the 1930’s. There was also the wonderful picture of him winning the Baltimore Marathon back in 1930. He added so much color and life that no other character could.
Bill helped round out Jeff’s obsession. My fictional Bill was actually more obsessive as it turned out, so it allowed me to make Jeff more sympathetic to the reader. Bill also brought the story back to Baltimore, a fantastic setting and almost a character. He also brought a historical element that helped round out the story line.
[Spoiler alert - what follows is a major plot point - skip ahead to the next section.] You feature a character that’s a ghost. Do you believe in ghosts?
I believe like Jeff’s girlfriend, Libby that there is more to life than we know. I think there are spirits, but I’ve never seen a ghost. We got into the discussion about ghosts being real in my writing group. I tried to use him as a real character, an older gentleman but it didn’t seem right with what actually happened
I have a friend who has seen a ghost in his house. He lives in an old home in southwest Virginia. He’s seen her many times around the house late at night or early in the morning. The scene where Jeff try’s to resuscitate a girl who choked and stopped breathing actually happened. It was terrible watching her die and not being able to revive her. I had a hard time getting over her, but I didn’t see a ghost that day, just a terrible tragedy and a young life lost.
To make Bill work and to add tension, he became a ghost. It allowed me to blend the stories about him and give Jeff one more hurdle to overcome. That was one of the good teaching techniques we discussed. Take your happy character and make him unhappy, mess thing up, make it messy and then make them figure it out. Ghosts are good for that kind of thing. Kate Morton did a really excellent job with Winters Ghost. You question was the ghost real or in the protagonists head. I wanted that for Jeff, for him to question if he needed Bill more than Bill needed him or if he existed at all?
Back to writing. What was the hardest part about writing a novel?
The hardest part of writing a novel is fear of rejection. It never goes away, even when it’s finished. Will they
(someone or anyone) like it? Ultimately, only I have to like it. The first couple chapters and the criticism of my writing circle and David were difficult at first. David is a published author and college lecturer. It’s terrifying to turn in those pages and read everyone’s comments. I’m still learning to write and David says I still don’t know how to use a comma. I wasn’t a very good student in elementary school and junior high so I play catch-up.
But I enjoy the work. It’s a lot like running. You have to discipline yourself and set aside time to write. For me that was evenings and weekend mornings. You write those pages and refine them daily, just like training, putting in the miles. It can be scary to race too, finding out how fit you are against the competition and suffering during a race.Putting a novel out there in public is terrifying.People are going to be critical, I know that. Its part of the deal, but there is a huge satisfaction at having written the book and having a publisher.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I really enjoyed the daily writing and the creative process overall. This book was in the back of my mind for a long time. To be able to see it on paper and now with a publisher is very rewarding. Jeff is asked in the book what he likes best about running and he answers that it’s the day-to-day training. I think writing is a lot like that. It can be very rewarding but it can be frustrating and painful, too.
I really didn’t know if I’d find a publisher.This book is a mixed genre; part sports fiction, modern fiction, and historical; it really ended up soutern-gothic. I’m hopeful it will find a place in the running community which is quite large, both the competitive runners in school and the greater running community that run the weekend 10k’s and marathons.
Do you still run or follow the sport?
I’m a running nerd; I love the sport and follow it very closely. I don’t run any longer. My last race was as a 50 year old but my knees were getting chronically sore, so I stay fit and enjoy walking and golf.
What type of books do you like to read and what have you read recently that was really good? Who are some of your favorite authors?
I really liked Donna Tart’s, The Goldfinch. The book was written so well and I liked the story of the two boys and the settings in New York and Las Vegas. It’s got an incredible opening chapter. I also liked A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s such a deep and moving story, tracing the lives of four friends through adulthood.
One of my favorite authors is Chris Cleave. He has several really readable books, including one called Gold, the story of two female cyclists competing in the London Olympics. It helped me greatly as I wrote my story to see how he wrote the action (cycling and racing) scenes.
Are you writing anything new? What’s next?
While we were still working as a writing circle, I began a new story. I have a rough draft. It’s completely different and I’ve put it aside until the publishing of Racing Shadows. I want to experience this fully and enjoy the process. I’ll pick up the other WIP again. Right now, it’s called Little World. It’s about family relationships and how messed up they can be and growing-up. It may end up Young Adult fiction, but I really like YA and have read some really good books in that genre. It’s been fun.
Bill Agee winning the 1930 Baltimore Marathon, courtesy The Baltimore Sun