MARION -- Sitting in a dimly lit corner booth with Billie Holiday crooning "I'll Be Seeing You" in the background, author Pete Spitler stuck another french fry in his mouth as he pondered a response.
"I guess you could call it 'alternative fiction or history,'" he said thoughtfully, describing the genre for his novel, "Tango Atlantica."
Spitler, who lives in Murphysboro, is a familiar name to southern Illinois newspaper readers in Du Quoin, Randolph County and beyond, known for incisive local journalism -- covering everything from sports to history to courtroom drama.
But this novel is Spitler's first foray into the world of publishing outside of journalism.
The book is a fictional take on events leading up to the creation of "Project Skywater," a 1961 geoengineering project funded by the U.S. government that proved it is possible to make artificial changes in the atmosphere.
"It's taking events that actually happened and putting a spin on it," he said.
With scientists on that project predicting the ability to "create" a hurricane in 40 years, Spitler's timeline of the book, the year 2005, makes it plausible.
"This is where Katrina comes in," he said.
Spitler said research for the book took him about six years. The actual writing took about 18 months and three full drafts.
"I'm my own worst critic," he said with a grin.
You can meet Spitler and get a copy of "Tango Atlantica" at a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 10 at Molly's Brew Pub in Murphysboro. Spitler will sign copies of the book and read excerpts.
He said that "connecting all the dots" of his research leads to his story.
"What if we had an agency dedicated to making artificial changes in the atmosphere?" he asked. "If I had to create an artificial weather system, how would I do it? What would it look like? What would its role be? What would its application be in the future?"
Spitler took these questions and skillfully wove an answer from his imagination.
Released last month, it appears that Spitler may just have hit upon a topic that is sparking interest across the globe. The novel, subtitled "The Story You Thought You Knew" is available on Amazon, where it recently sold a copy to a reader in Japan.
Spitler is already working on a second novel that he says is based on an "earthquake generator ... a Soviet doomsday weapon."
He has titled that book "Tango Pacifica."