By Roni Gehlke
WHEN CAROL DOUGLAS Tillotson graduated from Antioch High School in 1957, she dreamed of someday publishing a book. As the years passed, she thought about accomplishing that goal, said her husband, Don, but many things seemed to relegate it to the back burner.
She finally completed a manuscript for a romantic thriller but never got to see the book published. Just a few months before it reached bookstore shelves, Tillotson succumbed to a short battle with breast cancer. She died in June at age 70.
"Carol was an extremely gifted and talented woman," Don Tillotson said.
After graduating from high school, she attended UC Berkeley, where she scored 100 percent on her entrance exam. After graduating college, she interviewed and was hired at Dow Chemical in Pittsburg.
"When Carol went to personnel to take the test, she scored 100 percent there, too," Tillotson said. "She was the only one to do so at the time. She scored better than the chemists who worked there."
After working at Dow for a few years, the Tillotsons moved to Placer County, where her joy in life was working with quarter horses in the Yolla Bolly wilderness of Northern California.
"She did other work there," Tillotson said. "But the only thing Carol wanted to do was write. She was never happier than when she was writing."
She also was a perfectionist, and although she wrote a few books over the years, nothing ever became of them. Finally,when she was ready to publish something, she sat down and wrote what turned out to be her only published work.
The book is titled "The Legend of Round Valley: A Romantic Adventure." The story idea was a suggestion of her husband's when Tillotson was looking for a subject.
Don Tillotson remembered when the couple had gone on a 10-day backpacking vacation in 1974. At the time, the Mendocino County area was filled with wilderness and Indian camps. Today, headlines abound about the area's illegal drug activity.
A grand jury report in 2008 found that the illegal drug industry dominates the Round Valley economy and that many of the area children experience an unstable home environment because of abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs.
"Carol really enjoyed that trip, and she still remembered it fresh in her mind," Tillotson said.
"The Legend of Round Valley" is a thriller about three couples on a romantic vacation that takes a dark twist, leaving the couples in a struggle for their survival.
When Carol Tillotson started writing the book, she did not know that she would soon be facing life and death struggles of her own. The cancer in her breast had gone undetected for four years, her husband said. By the time the doctors found it, all of the treatments tried were too late.
After Tillotson's passing, her husband continued to work to keep alive her memory, dreams and talent for writing by fulfilling her final wish. "She wanted to share her romantic thriller, 'The Legend of Round Valley,' with the world," he said.
The book opens with three couples leaving behind their worlds of hectic work and family life for a romantic getaway, setting out to explore unfamiliar terrain. Far from civilization, their guided horse tour leads them into contact with drug traffickers and Indian tribes.
Soon, their idyllic vacation turns into a nightmare. Lost and on the run, they realize they must work together to fight their attackers in order to make it through their vacation alive.
Tillotson said that through themes of love, hate, trust and betrayal, the close friends experience the darker side of human nature. "'The Legend of Round Valley' examines the deepest components of friendship and forces readers to reflect on their own relationships and experiences. The novel keeps readers anxious and on edge, anticipating the final fate of the couples," he said.
Tillotson said that his wife wanted to make sure that this book would do well before she would release it. Before sending the book to a publisher, she sent it to a literary professor at UC Davis and the head of a prestigious writing club in Arizona, who both praised it.
She finally sent the book to the publishers and received the approval letter around the same time she was diagnosed.
"I want to honor my wife and her memory," Don Tillotson says. "She was so proud of her book, and I want the world to share in the exciting story she spent her final days crafting."
"The Legend of Round Valley: A Romantic Adventure" can be found on several Internet sites, including eBay and Booktopia at booktopia.com.au/.
This is an article I wrote for my local newspaper, where I work as a journalist.