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Split personality

Local author lives a double life penning fantasy and suspense for an eager online audience

By day, Aloha resident Pam Bainbridge-Cowan works mobilizing communities as part of the Washington County Commission on Children and Families, coordinating with local health centers, domestic violence groups and other resources to assist the community at large.

By night, however, she traverses worlds both dark and fantastical, realms populated by cold-blooded killers and wizards both good and evil. Magical beings soar through the stratosphere. Torture is an everyday occurrence. Hope and fear live side by side.

Now, the local author is opening those universes to the world at large with the publication of two e-books that are, in their own rights, worlds apart in tone and theme.

'Something in the Dark,' currently available on sites such as Smashwords and Amazon, is a dark and lurid story about murder, mayhem, fear and psychological terror.

'Yetzirah: The Pocket Worlds,' which the author anticipates will be released this week on the Web before hitting tactile bookshelves, is, by contrast, a 'high fantasy' novel wherein the narrative's twin heroines are transported to a realm of magical wizards in an effort to seek healing and hope.

Bainbridge-Cowan admits with a laugh that the contrast is so stark that she made the conscious choice to adopt two variations of her name to help readers differentiate between the content: P.J. Cowan for her suspense and mystery novels and her full name for her science fiction and fantasy works.

'It gets schizophrenic to try to be a thriller writer and a science fiction writer in the same brain,' she says. 'People don't want to pick up something by Pam Bainbridge-Cowan and have it be a mystery when they're expecting science fiction or fantasy.'

'Something in the Dark' follows the tale of a paranoid woman whose overwhelming fear of dark places causes her to lose consciousness when the lights go out. She becomes embroiled in a mysterious web of violence when blackouts both literal and psychological begin to plague her everyday existence, and must figure out whether the events are the result of outside forces or something more sinister in her own psyche.

'It's about forcing people to face their fears, and then saying what happens as a result,' said Bainbridge-Cowan. 'One of the things I was very proud of is that nobody who has read the book has figured out the resolution until I reveal it. I really like that.'

In stark - and lighter - contrast, 'Yetzirah,' which means 'fifth dimension' in Hebrew, follows a set of twin sisters who, enduring a life of abuse, stumble into a magical world of 'pocket wizards' who lord over a fantastically detailed world of the author's design where wizards rule over different sectors.

When an item from the magical world makes its way back to Earth, however, the worlds collide, with magic spilling into our reality and the pesky laws of Earthen physics wreaking havoc on the fantasy world.

'I think a lot of people have talked about what would happen if magic comes into our world, but I don't think anyone has talked about what would happen if physics, which is our magic, goes into a different dimension where that isn't the norm,' says Bainbridge-Cowan.

The books couldn't be more different in content. Yet Bainbridge-Cowan's works do share some similarities. Both take place in universes that the author plans to re-visit in future books.

'Dark' is set in a fictional Oregon county featuring many characters that could be considered broad-stroke composite personalities based on the author's experiences living in rural, suburban and urban Oregon. The interconnectedness of the characters and the environments will be revisited in her next thriller, 'Cold Kill.'

She also plans to revisit the magical world of 'Yetzirah' in a series of planned sequels to the magical adventure.

With so many conflicting themes constantly bouncing around her head - themes of darkness and light, hope and fear, pain and healing - Bainbridge-Cowan admits it's often difficult to keep the worlds separate. As a way of keeping those settings and themes from intersecting, the author says she has devised a rather literal way to prevent her worlds from colliding.

'It's funny, but I actually have two chairs and two computers in my office,' says Bainbridge-Cowan, adding that she also writes children's poetry while riding the MAX. 'I have an old wooden chair from the '50s, the days of the pulp thriller, that I like to sit in when I'm writing thrillers. And then I have this beautifully ergonomically functional chair for my science fiction fantasy - I'm in another world, but completely ergonomically supported.'

Bainbridge-Cowan, who also works with local writing group the Northwest Independent Writers Association, says she embraces the three-fold nature of her writing, flitting between the fun, fantastical and macabre. It keeps her on her toes, she says.

'There's such a juxtaposition between my latest short story - which is an incredibly horrible murder/torture/serial killer thing - and the fact that I just wrote a poem called 'The Red Sled' that's a rhyming thing like Dr. Seuss,' she says with a guffaw, toeing the line between sinister and slap-happy.

To learn more, visit pjcowanauthor.com or pambainbridgecowan.com.