Name: Bill Schweigart
Birth Year: 1973 (age 44)
Hometown: Woodbury Heights, N.J.
College: Coast Guard Academy ’95
Years Lived in Arlington: 14
Favorite movie: “Jaws”
Favorite Comic Book Author: Brian Michael Bendis
Favorite Authors: Stephen King and Robert McCammon
Favorite Places in Arlington: W&OD Trail and Mt. Vernon Trail
Role model: His father
Arlington-based author Bill Schweigart ventures outside his comfort zone. Despite suffering from seasickness, Schweigart attended the Coast Guard Academy and served as a Coast Guard officer for five years. One of his classmates at the Academy and fellow Arlingtonian, Mike Naff, said, “Bill was a bit out of his element in the Coast Guard. The military overall isn’t for somebody with a creative mind.”
Exercising discipline in challenging circumstances prepared Schweigart for his career as an author. Schweigart said, “Even if you feel seasick in the Coast Guard, you still have to go on watch. Likewise, even when the words do not come easily, you — the author — have to write. You must write every day to leave the tap open. If not, the pipes will burst in the winter.”
His neighbor and frequent editor, Jill Lammert, said, “Bill is willing to invest the hard work and time to make his writing great.”
Schweigart has weathered rough waters on his journey to publication. He recounted his days as a novice writer when he took creative writing courses at Old Dominion University. He said, “My professor and classmates tore apart my first story.” The professor required him to listen in silence as the class critiqued his piece for an hour and a half.
“I would rather do push-ups than go through that again,” Schweigart said. Nonetheless, he added, “Those were my most valuable 90 minutes as a writer. At that time, I had a writer’s instinct but knew none of the rules.”
He eventually learned the ropes and published “Slipping the Cable” in 2012. The book captures elements of Schweigart’s experience aboard the cutter “Bear” as a Coast Guard officer. Shortly after writing the semi-autobiographical book, Schweigart journeyed once again into unfamiliar territory: the land of thrillers or, as he calls them, “creature features.”
Naff said, “If I had to guess several genres for him to write, a thriller would be the last one. Given that he has a gentle, sensitive side, I would have picked romances over thrillers for him.”
Schweigart likewise noted that developing characters’ interpersonal relationships comes more naturally to him than graphic scenes. “Conjuring up with the scary parts is hard,” he said. He seeks inspiration for the thrills when frequenting his daily haunts.
Arlington’s history and trails inspired the first book in Schweigart’s “The Fatal Folklore Trilogy” called “The Beast of Barcroft.” Sitting in Misha’s Coffeehouse in Alexandria, Schweigart came across an article about the 100-year history of the Four Mile Run Trail. While reading the article, he learned of a mysterious animal that killed dozens of cats and dogs in the neighborhood in the 1970s. Residents referred to the animal as “the beast of Barcroft.”
Schweigart said, “Arlingtonians supposedly heard screeching at night.” The first book in the trilogy features the beast and Schweigart’s neighbor who, as he said, “threw off the entire Arlington ecosystem.”
Lammert lives in the house described in the book. “It was fun and interesting to learn the history of our house through the book,” she said. “We had heard from another neighbor that the former owner of our house rehabilitated raccoons and that, at one point, there were 65 raccoons on the premises. While reading it and learning what Bill experienced, I said to myself, ‘Holy moly, I can’t believe we live here.’”
Similarly, Naff said, “I really liked ‘The Beast of Barcroft’ since it is set in Arlington. Bill based the novel on a lot of local trails. The familiarity of the story makes it fun to read.”
“The Fatal Folklore Trilogy” also resonates with readers outside of Arlington. The third book in the trilogy, “The Devil’s Colony,” reveals that the cryptozoological threats scuttering through the first two books stem from a white supremacist camp. Schweigart finished the first draft of “The Devil’s Colony” in October 2016, a month before the presidential election. He said, “As the election progressed, I started hearing more about the alternative right, which is a new label for the same old hate. I would have preferred ‘The Devil’s Colony’ to not be as relevant as it is. The story reveals that the greatest monster is man.”
“The Devil’s Colony” was released on July 11.
“Bill’s stories have become progressively less autobiographical. He knows how to spin a story without relying on direct experience,” Lammert said. “Really good authors, such as Bill, are skillful storytellers that capture you and engage you, whether or not they play a role in the story.”
Schweigart explained that he is currently working on a “new, light sci-fi book with an ass-kicking female protagonist.” A romance novel is also on the horizon. Another of Schweigart’s classmates at the Coast Guard Academy, Jorge Martinez, said, “Bill has a very creative mind that could take him in any direction.”
Although the genre of his next book could vary, one thing is for certain: it will feature Arlington. “Arlington is a great setting for more shenanigans,” Schweigart said.