Local readers may recognize characters in ex-YSU president’s novel

By Denise Dick


He swears it’s fiction, but former Youngstown State University President Les Cochran’s first novel details the troubled life of a successful university president.

“Signature Affair” tells the story of Steve Schilling, president of the fictional Eastern Arkansas University, who while enjoying an accomplished career is maintaining five extramarital affairs simultaneously.

“You write about the things you know best — not that I had those experiences,” said Cochran, who retired in 2000 after eight years as YSU president.

He lives in San Carlos Park, Fla.

While carrying on the affairs — none of which is with a student — Schilling enjoys professional success.

“He brings all these changes about,” Cochran said. “Enrollment is up. Everything is great, but he’s stressed because of his personal problems.”

Despite the subject matter, Cochran said the book isn’t a work of erotic fiction. The elicit encounters are implied rather than described.

Youngstown readers might recognize some characters.

“There are some plays on names,” he said.

One that’s obvious is Clarence Smithton, chairman of the Democratic party in Cochran’s book. Clarence Smith, former longtime Mahoning County Republican Party chairman, has been active with YSU organizations for years and was a YSU trustee.

Cochran said the similarity between the man and the character ends there.

Smith said Cochran sent him a copy of the book and that he looks forward to reading it. He read the portion with the character named for him, though.

“I enjoyed it,” Smith said.

Other characters were inspired by people from other universities where Cochran has worked.

Before “Signature Affair,” Cochran had written papers and columns but hadn’t considered fiction. He didn’t even read fiction.

At cocktail parties, he’d tell stories gleaned from his career, and one day, someone told him he should write a book.

He sat down and started writing, and six months later had written more than 500 pages. He connected with an editor who agreed to read it for a fee.

“I got back the five-page epistle,” Cochran said. “The first page said, ‘You write pretty well, but sociology papers don’t sell.’”

But she liked the story and told him that if he was willing to work and rewrite, she’d help him.

“She said, ‘You have to read fiction,’” Cochran said.

He took her advice and revised, sending the changes to the editor. It took more than three years, during which the editor schooled him on using the same word too often, overwriting and proper word usage.

It’s been published by Bookstand Publishing in California. Though it’s technically self-published, the publisher sets criteria and must accept submissions.

Cochran and his wife, Lin, are now in the marketing phase. Cochran plans two more installments in the story of Steve Schilling. The next is “Costly Affair” and the third, “Presidential Affair.”

His website, www.lescochran.com, includes a contest that allows participants to submit their own affairs for inclusion in the third book. It’s part of the marketing, he said.

A series of events to promote the book are planned next month, including stops in Youngstown. The first book-launch party is planned for Nov. 16 at a YSU football game followed by a week of events wrapping up with another book party at the Nov. 23 game.

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