The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson – Based on the journals and actual events of a young man turned fugitive By Patrice Johnson Disclosure from P.C. Zick: I grew up in the same small town as …
I started 2017 by reading two autobiographies of well-known people. I usually have a hard-copy book in my living room and something on my Kindle for reading before I fall asleep. Tired of reading books in the genre in which I write, I ended up with these two nonfiction titles without realizing the significance. And I’m finding inspiration in both of them.
From two different eras and sensibilities, Debbie Reynolds and Bruce Springsteen have something in common. When faced with failure, both believed in their passions and had personalities built on tenacity, which allowed them to get up and try again.
Debbie’s death, the day after her daughter’s, hit me. I loved both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, mainly because their personalities filled with humor in the face of adversity, had always impressed me. After reading half of Debbie’s Unsinkable: A Memoir, I understand even better that with Carrie’s death came a completion for her. She’d done her job as a mother. And despite set back after set back professionally and romantically, she carried on and saw her precious archives of Hollywood memorabilia go to those who paid top dollar and who preserve them. Her life was complete, and after all she’d gone through, she was just plain tired.
Now Bruce is still alive and rocking, but his story is equally compelling. I’m sure he had an excellent editor, but I know the writing voice is pure Bruce in Born to Run. There are times when I feel as if I’m falling into one of his songs. That’s how lyrical his prose is throughout his book. Bruce may be an icon today of working-class America, but he earned every bit of his blues-blowing credentials by living that life for more than two decades. And the rise to his amazing success would have flattened a person without his instinctual knowledge that he was a songwriter in the style of Dylan and a rock and blues man with talent. He never wavered from his belief in himself. And after every broken promise, every downtrodden dream, every false word of encouragement, he still rose and wrote and played his guitar.
Both Debbie and Bruce followed the same course, and it inspires me to keep trying with my passion. There are days when I feel like giving up, but then I continue to rise, filled with ideas and stories, and I put those down on the virtual paper on my laptop. I’m done following the crowd.
This year my goals are simple. Write, write, then write some more, and follow my own path to success after gleaning what I can from the success of others. And I plan on ignoring the bragging of other writers on Facebook about their output, their sales, their acceptances. That’s not where I want to spend my time. I’m investing in me and wherever that takes me, at least I’ve managed to follow my passion.
So here I am in the world of 2017 declaring to you that I will not give up. Nor should you.
Happy reading. And share the love of reading with those around you. We need it now more than ever.
The mass shooting in Orlando hit me hard. Maybe because I lived near Orlando for thirty years. Maybe because the death of so many in one place horrified me. Maybe because someone with mental health issues purchased an assault weapon days before. Maybe because hatred could be so strong toward people of a particular race, religion, or sexual orientation that it caused so many people to die–people who were simply enjoying a good time together.
Maybe all of the above made me cry for two days afterward anytime I saw media coverage. My heart is heavy and my prayers are for all the victims, survivors, and their loved ones.
Years ago, during the first wave of the AIDs epidemic in this country, I watched as friends and relatives ran away the gay community. Sons and daughters were left to die alone from a disease that had yet to find drugs to fight it. It happened in my own family. My uncle and aunt refused to go to their son’s bedside or to even attend his funeral all because they couldn’t accept him and his choices.
This man, my cousin, did everything he could to prove he wasn’t homosexual. He married twice, the second time Miss America of 1973, Terry Anne Meeuwsen. Both marriages ended, the first one worse than the second. The first wife took their son away and had my cousin sign away his rights of parenthood. But then, my handsome charismatic cousin continued on his path to please his parents and began dating Miss Wisconsin. My aunt and uncle were beside themselves with pleasure. And never were parents prouder than those two at the Christmas wedding several months after she ended her reign as Miss America with another famous Miss America, Phyllis George, at her side. During those years, their mantel was cluttered with photos of their daughter-in-law with President Nixon and other dignitaries. Stories of the amount of clothes they brought when they came for visits sprinkled all their conversations when asked “How is Tom?” I found an article today in the Ocala Star Banner, giving a nod to the pride they felt. Click here to see.
When the second marriage ended, Tom moved to California. And that’s when the disconnect came. Stories of his lymph node cancer came in pieces from them, but still they didn’t go to his side. “He’s recovering now,” came the reply to my inquiries.
And then the recovery ended with his death in 1992. His partner called asking them to attend the memorial service. They refused despite their ability to very well afford a trip from Florida to California. The partner sent them a poem about Tom. I never saw it until after my uncle died, and my aunt presented it to me. She asked me to take it and keep it safe. She couldn’t look at it, but she didn’t want it destroyed either.
So sad. And now thirty years after my cousin’s death we are living in a world where acceptance still doesn’t come. Compromise on the issues seems impossible. And a demi-god stands at his pulpit screaming more hatred and division.
As an author, I eventually wrote about my cousin in my second novel, A Lethal Legacy. It was with the writing of this novel that I finally understood what writers meant when they said, “being in the flow” of a piece of writing. As I wrote the death scene, I closed my eyes and tears streamed down my face. My fingers flew across the keyboard without my knowledge. I was lost in the writing. Twenty years later, I still seek those moments of the “flow.”
I have no solutions except to practice kindness and acceptance in my life and urge others to do the same. Love must conquer hate.
From A Lethal Legacy – The narrator Ed tells Gary’s parents about his condition.
“Ed, what are you doing out in this weather?” Claire said when she opened the door in the garage to let me in. “I thought you were at the beach,” she said as I came into the kitchen.
“Ed, I was just going to have a beer. Want one?” Philip asked, as he stood with the refrigerator door open.
“Sure, Philip, that’d be great,” I said as I hugged Claire.
“Can’t sit on the porch, now can we,” Claire said as she motioned me toward the living room.
“How come you came back early? I thought Marge said you’d be gone all this week. Was it the Gulf or Atlantic this time?” Claire asked.
“Neither, although I did stop at St. George on the way home,” I said.
“Your mother is getting more and more forgetful, Ed.” This remark came from Philip.
“On the way home from where?” Claire asked.
“Mom got it right this time, Philip. I mean, that’s what I told her. I was in New Orleans. Gary called last week and asked me to visit him. And he asked me to come home and tell you something.”
“You went to New Orleans? To see Gary?” Claire seemed surprised but not upset. “Did you see Kristina, too?”
“Yes, I saw them both. Claire, Philip.” They both looked at me expectantly. “Gary’s sick, very sick.”
Silence met my words, except for the storm raging outside the sliding glass doors. The rain began slashing against the windows.
“Sick?” Claire echoed my words after a moment.
“He wants me to bring the both of you back to New Orleans. We need to leave first thing in the morning.”
“What is it? Cancer?” Philip asked.
“AIDs,” I said without emotion.
“AIDs? That’s that gay disease. It’s killing all those homosexuals. Is that it, Ed? Is that the one?” Claire’s voice rose several octaves as she sat forward on her chair.
“There’s no cure, if that’s what you mean. Claire, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but Gary doesn’t have very much longer.” I said this as gently as I could.
“God damn it!” The outburst came from Philip. The storm moved inside. “He’s a queer, isn’t he? I always knew it. A pansy, Claire, that’s what you raised. Couldn’t even satisfy his wives, queer all along.” Philip finished his beer in one gulp.
“Shut up, Philip, just shut up.” I stood up and went over to his chair with tears streaming down my face. “Don’t you do this to Claire or to Gary. I swear I’ll kill you if you don’t shut up.”
Years of frustration with this man, who had nearly destroyed Gary’s life and now in his death wanted to strip him of his last shred of dignity, came bubbling forth from deep inside me. Philip rose from his chair, and we faced each other nearly nose to nose.
“Stop, both of you,” Claire said. “Ed, sit down, you too, Philip, and shut up. Now our son is dying, nothing else matters. Ed, when do we leave tomorrow?”
“I’d like to leave as early in the morning as possible, Claire,” I managed once I sat back down. “I need to go over to the apartment and check on Mom and Aunt Susan. I have to tell them, too. Then I need a good night’s rest, and so do the both of you.” I looked over at Philip who sat with his head in his hands. “I’ll come by around five to pick you up. That should get us to Gary’s by five or six in the evening. OK?”
“Should I call him?” Claire asked in a wounded little voice.
“It might be better to let him get his strength back. His roommate told me that the doctor started some new meds yesterday, and he seemed to even want something to eat last night.”
“His roommate.” Philip made a snorting sound.
“I mean it, Philip, if you say one more word,” I turned toward my uncle.
“Philip, that’s it, I’m warning you, too. One more word, and I walk out that door forever,” Claire said.
When I left, I was still angry with Philip. I realized I blamed Philip for Gary’s situation, for the fact that Gary had AIDs and lay dying while Philip sat in his easy chair drinking beer with his white shoes and striped blue seersucker pants. He disgusted me.
I didn’t blame Philip for Gary’s homosexuality. I believed that kind of thing is already predestined at birth or earlier. No, I blamed Philip for giving Gary the sense that he was inadequate, the sense that Gary was always lacking in some way. It was that sense of failure, of never measuring up, that left Gary searching and wanting and seeking out lovers at any opportunity. Gary never shared the details, but he told me enough for me to know that most of his adult life he led a promiscuous gay life. Only in the last year or so with Rick had he settled down to one partner. It was those multiple partners that caused his mortality to be reached long before its time. And for all of those reasons I raged at Philip in my mind as I drove to my mother’s apartment.
Gary went so far as to marry Miss America in an attempt to win his father’s approval. Probably for the few moments of his lifetime while he was in the limelight with Elizabeth, he earned his father’s superficial acceptance, but at what cost and for what reasons?
June 15 and 16 – Click here to download A Lethal Legacy for free on Amazon.
Good morning – I’m running a special offer this week. If you haven’t read any of the books from my Florida Fiction series, now is the chance to grab the first two for free. All three books are stand alone novels. Each one has its own cast of characters and political, romantic, and environmental issues facing them. Let’s start with the first one.
Tortoise Stew – FREE May 11-15 – The first book in the series follows the antics of rural small town Florida politicians, developers, reporters, and environmentalists. All of them have something to hide and the events that start unfold as Monster Mart tries to take over the town with trucks and warehouses.
Blurb: When a bomb is left on reporter Kelly Sand’s desk, she’s determined to find out who wants her to stop reporting on corporate growth in rural Florida. The open threat thrusts Kelly back into the arms of her editor and former lover, Bart Stanley.
Together, the two begin to unravel the master plan of major developers who want to destroy the last vestiges of Florida’s natural beauty. Tortoise Stew is a satire on political crime and Florida sensibilities.
A sometimes humorous, often harrowing, and never boring Florida suspense novel, Tortoise Stew contains a cast of characters who leave dead armadillos as calling cards, dynamite ponds as a way to fish, and carry guns under Santa Claus costumes during the annual Christmas parade.
Through it all, the steamy relationship between Kelly and Bart heats up to blistering hot as they rediscover what brought them together in the first place.
Trails in the Sand – FREE May 11 and 12 – This book leaves rural Florida to concentrate on state issues when the oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig threatens to harm the wildlife and environment on Florida’s Panhandle. While a sweeping romance between Caroline and Simon reveals much more about the family, environmental issues create the disastrous background from the oil spill to a coal mine tragedy in West Virginia.
Blurb: Caroline Carlisle loved Simon from the moment she first laid eyes on him when she was nine years old. Unfortunately, he married her older sister, and thus set a southern family on a collision course with its past. After the death of her sister that makes Simon a widow, the two finally marry and attempt to make a family with Simon’s daughter Jodi. Jodi has other ideas, and they don’t include welcoming a new step-mother who also happens to be her aunt.
As Caroline starts to report on the oil spill threatening the sea turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, she begins to uncover the secret of her own mother’s past, which includes her brother’s suicide and a teenage pregnancy. With Caroline’s sharpened reporter skills, she digs until she brings all the secrets to light, including her own.
Native Lands – $2.99 Kindle – The final book in this series widens its scope to the whole state from St. Augustine and the Everglades and beyond. It also goes back in time to the original native Floridians who are also fighting the invasion of their world.
Blurb: When their environment is torn apart by a conglomerate of international interests, a tribe of native Floridians thought to be extinct rise up and form their own oddly matched conglomerate, and with the assistance of nature, attempt to halt the destruction of the natural world they treasure. Cultural boundaries established centuries ago are erased as love and nature seek the balance lost in the battle for power and control of the last of the Florida frontier. Native Lands is a novel rich in intrigue and history as a tribe of Native Americans, thought to be extinct, fight to save their beloved heritage. They join with others willing to sacrifice everything to save the Everglades and St. Augustine.
There you have it! The three books in my Florida Fiction series. I’m also thrilled to announce that all three books are now available on Audible, narrated by the talented Jeffrey A. Hering of Hering Voices.
Alas, when the time came for me to be alone in the mountains, other things crowded my plate. Editing jobs for others, marketing of my books, and organizing the new home. Writing once again took the shortest piece of the straw. But I organized the new office, and I’m comfortable.
Then this week, when I realized my time for the writer’s retreat could be counted in days and not weeks, I developed a schedule and managed to write 6,000 words on a new manuscript, but it wasn’t anywhere near the goal I’d set. Then I got sick. Momentum gone.
I’m down to my final four days of my alone time, and I need to push forward. My mind doesn’t sit down for the tasks I
need want to complete. So here it is, one-thirty in the morning, and I can’t sleep. So I laid down 1,000 words. I have no idea if they are words worthy of the new book. But they are words–imagines and thoughts of my characters–jumbled out of my head onto the computer screen.
What I want to do requires more stamina than I find I have right now. Instead, I want to stare at the trees on the mountainside turning first yellow, then scarlet, and then the softer muted tones of red and orange. It’s been quite a show. Those moments of silence staring at the landscape or gazing at the stars in a sky not clouded with city lights bring peace.
Six novels await creation. Perhaps they can wait just a little longer.
I still have four days with an organized office, editing jobs completed for now, and rain on its way, keeping me inside. The long-anticipated writer’s retreat shall begin, unless the rain stops and more leaves turn red or yellow.
Hello – a Happy July to you all. We moved into the new digs this past week, but head back to Pittsburgh in a few days. I hate to leave but I still love the Steel City and plan on enjoying my last few weeks living there to the fullest.
In between all the moves, I still managed to finish my new romance, Third Base. It’s set in Pittsburgh, where I’ve created a winning Pittsburgh Pirates team with ace third baseman Tomas Vegas who hails from Puerto Rico. He falls in love with Adriana Moretti, a young, beautiful, and successful widow whose Italian family keeps a close watch on all of her romantic entanglements. Tomas must also deal with his super model ex-girlfriend whose not taken kindly to being dumped by the rising All Star. Lots of fun times in the Steel City this summer!
Third Base will be a part of the Score One For Love box set, which comes out later this summer and is filled with sports love stories by nine other authors.
Our entry into living atop a mountain didn’t begin with any auspicious drum rolls. In fact, if I took those first few hours after arrival at our cabin with two vehicles and a U-haul trailer as a sign, it would send me right back to Pittsburgh. But life throws us those little curves so we know how wonderful it feels when things go from bad to good.
We left Pittsburgh on a Friday morning around 6 a.m. in our little caravan of loaded vehicles and trailer. Mostly a smooth drive, but long because we both needed to stop often. Probably our tiredness and exhaustion from preparing to move was the key to our lack of stamina for what should have been a nine-hour drive. Within an hour of the new place, dark clouds came rolling over the mountains. Around 6:30 p.m. we pulled down our road. Unfortunately, the rain had started, and we forgot which of the turn offs led to our cabin. A newly installed steep driveway at our neighbors confused me, and I led our caravan up the wrong drive. I backed up my little Hyundai–right into a ditch. My husband had headed up a very steep drive that was not ours with the truck and trailer. When he tried to back down, he ended up jack-knifing the trailer, blocking the road up to our driveway. Two hours and one wonderful tow truck driver later, we arrived with everything intact, albeit wet, at our cabin. We wondered if we’d made a hasty decision in moving here, but daylight and views of the smoke on the Smokies changed our minds.
So did the beautiful cabin that we’ve spent this week making our own. I brought my office desks and a dining room table. The rest of the furniture we purchased here, but it won’t arrive until our next visit later this month. As our ten-day stay nears an end, I yearn to stay. This place has grabbed me despite the incessant rain for the past five days. I feel at home here already. I can tell because I’ve been able to work on my next novel every day this week. The words come easily in my new office, and it feels like the place where I’ll write plenty more novels.
WORD OF CAUTION: “Someone” in our crew threw in a large bottle of anti-bacterial hand soap at the last minute. It came open on the trip and dumped all over a table my great aunt made more than one hundred years ago. The table had been draped in a quilt made by my grandmother seventy-five years ago. Over that I wrapped an old tablecloth and put bungie cords around the whole thing. To our surprise, that soap acted as a harsh chemical and ate through the tablecloth, quilt, and damaged parts of the table. I don’t use this stuff and it wasn’t supposed to come on this trip, but “someone” saw it on the floor of the garage where we’re staying in Pittsburgh and decided it would fill a hole nicely. I’m even more convinced that I’d rather not use this stuff on my hands.