This summer, I did more reading than writing. Purposely, I had to take a break from my author website because I had to complete my ninth book, Fan Mail along with the revisions and edits, and that takes time. Happily, Fan Mail is in the hands of my publisher, Black Rose Writing and is scheduled to drop March 30, 2023.
The books I read this summer heavily leaned towards the genre I write in- thriller/crime. I’m also tackling a book my daughter and son-in-law gave me for Father’s Day, James Patterson by James Patterson. Looking forward to sinking my teeth into that one.
I noticed a few things as I did my summer reading, especially with respect to my own writing.
I read the first three books of a series by a well-known author, and noticed the main character didn’t change much from book to book. I expected to see “growth.” You see, when challenged and threatened, that changes someone’s mindset. When one’s life is challenged, it changes someone’s approach to life- real life like in the world we live in, but also fictional life, made up by the writer. It’s something I’ve learned over my 46 years in education watching kids develop and grow, watching the various adults interact with them and with each other. Events change people.
Not that people change daily, though I suppose that could happen. But at least people grow because of one experience or another. I noticed that in my writing, especially tackling the intricacies of Fan Mail. It wasn’t easy to write, though the book, at times, seemed to write itself. But as I pecked away on my laptop, I saw my characters grow- especially, Brian.
Brian was introduced briefly, almost a blink of an eye, in the third book of the Lives Trilogy, Splintered Lives. He was fully introduced in Caught in a Web, though he wasn’t the main character. George was. But Brian’s character was born, and so was his struggle that grew over the next few books.
In Caught in a Web, the setting and character arc begins with this narrative:
Ever since Brad had died, his parents had changed. In the year and a half since, he never had a conversation with his mom or dad like Brett had with Jeremy and that was unusual, because he and his brother always talked to his parents. Little things, big things, mostly everything.
But all that changed the night Brad was shot and killed along with so many others. Part of the summer of death. Ever since that summer, his parents sat around the house like extras in The Walking Dead.
Brian has been struggling, sometimes out loud, sometimes quietly. He’s a quiet kid by nature, pretty easygoing. Brad, his twin brother was shot and killed, and Brian lost his best friend. And as he “thinks it through” in the above snippet, he also lost his parents to some degree.
A conversation takes place between Brian and Jeremy, the father of three adopted boys (at that time). This conversation is key to Brian’s thinking and personality:
“Can I ask you a question?” Brian asked.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“Bri, you can always ask me anything and you’ll always get an honest answer. That’s one of the rules in this house. If we can’t be honest with one another, we can’t trust one another. And if we can’t trust one another, we can’t have any kind of relationship.” He finished by giving him a little hug.
Brian nodded and said, “Randy was your first son and Billy was your second. George and Brett and Bobby came this last summer after … everything.”
“Do you have a favorite?” Brian turned to look at him, to study his eyes as much as he wanted to hear his words. “I mean, is there one you like more than the other?”
Jeremy smiled at him, shaking his head, and kissed his forehead before answering. “No, I don’t have any favorites. As hard as it might seem, I love them all and you, the same.”
Jeremy experienced a strange sense of déjà vu having had the same conversation with George shortly after meeting him.
“Brian, love is like a candle. You take a candle and light it and no matter how many other candles you light from it, you never lose the light from that first candle. In fact, you can light a hundred candles and the only thing that happens is that the room becomes brighter. And that describes love.”
Brian’s face clouded over, but he said nothing.
“Bri, love is magical in that the more you give away, the more you have.”
Brian nodded, started to say something, but stopped.
“You’re a lot like Randy and George and Brett. You guys are thoughtful and deep. You have playful sides, but generally, you guys are quiet. Billy and Bobby are a little more outgoing.”
“Like Brad … was.”
“Yes, that’s the way I remember him. What I like about our family is that even though each of you are a little different from one another, you’re all similar to one another. I like being a dad to you guys. Even you, Brian. I know you have your own mom and dad, but I like it when you come over.”
“Everybody liked Brad.”
“Well, I happen to like you.” Jeremy hugged him and kissed the side of his head. He waited a little and said, “Brian, what are you really asking me?”
He watched a tear or two trickle down the side of Brian’s face that Brian didn’t bother to brush off. It occurred to him that Brian probably would have held it together and not cried at all if the boys were present, because he was a little self-conscious, maybe proud that way.
“I think my parents liked Brad more than me.”
Jeremy’s heart sunk. “Why do you think that?”
Brian shrugged and wept, but never answered. Jeremy let him, but didn’t let go of his shoulders.
“Brian, your parents love you very much.”
Brian said nothing.
“What you and they are experiencing is grief. They lost a son and parents should never outlive their own children. I can’t imagine losing one of my sons. And you not only lost a brother, you lost a friend.”
Again, Jeremy experienced déjà vu thinking about being alone with George up on the Mesa facing those three men. He thought about facing the man in the cabin, tied up to a chair with duct tape across his mouth, unable to come to Billy’s aid when the man pinched his nose shut. Billy had only passed out, but Jeremy thought Billy had died. All of what had happened during the summer of death.
“Brian, your parents are in pain.”
Brian struggled. Each sentence came out as a sob. “They. Still. Have. Me. It’s like I don’t exist. I was on the varsity soccer team. A freshman. I started every game. I played the whole game, every game. Do you know how many games my parents came to? None. My dad came to the soccer banquet, but left. Sean and his parents took me home.”
Jeremy was aware of what had happened. He had tried getting Brian’s parents some help and they had seemed receptive to it, but had never followed through.
Back when he was in eighth grade, shortly after the summer had ended, Brian began spending at least one night a week, usually on the weekends, with him and the boys. It was Billy, Brett and George who had looked after Brian the most, but each of the boys accepted him as one of the family.
“Sometimes I wonder if it was me instead of Brad …” but he couldn’t finish the thought.
As I said, this conversation is a clear portrait of Brian, his own internal (for the most part) struggle. In a real sense, Brian is born to you, the reader, in this brief passage. Through Spiral Into Darkness, Betrayed, and Blaze In, Blaze Out, Brian changes before your eyes. His core insecurity, his drive and his need to be loved and accepted, remains in each book. But Brian “grows” from an insecure fourteen-year-old, to a fairly confident, intuitive, sixteen-year-old.
In Spiral Into Darkness, Brian, along with George, protects his brothers from someone hell-bent on killing both he and George. In Betrayed, Brian puts his life on the line protecting George, Brett, and a new friend and soon-to-be-brother, Michael. Again, we find Brian cherishing family and holding family most closely to his heart, and the reader discovers Brian will place himself in harm’s way in order to keep his family safe.
But we also see the beginning of a struggle Brian has with Jeremy and Vicky, the boys’ mom, the biological mother of Brett and Bobby. It is a struggle of identity, of who Brian thinks or knows he is, and the perception of his newly adopted parents and brothers. Brian wonders, if not fully accepts that he might be or is, gay. This self-realization threatens to upend his family.
In Blaze In, Blaze Out, Brian and his brothers take a step back from the spotlight as the story focuses on three cops who have been involved with the Evans Family from the beginning: Detectives O’Connor, Eiselmann, and Graff. One of my favorite conversations takes place between Brian and O’Connor late one night in a lake house up in northern Wisconsin on a hunting and fishing trip.
It begins with Brian sitting in the dark dunking Oreos into milk, and ends with O’Connor asking Brian if he’s okay. Brian’s answer is short and honest. “I’m okay.” He doesn’t go into detail, though O’Connor knows what is bouncing around in Brian’s head.
They talk about Brian having to defend his family, protect his brothers, and the “rough patch” Brian is going through with Jeremy. What is bouncing around in Brian’s head is that Brian is questioning his own sexuality, his “love” for Bobby, and his parents’ lack of acceptance of him.
O’Connor doesn’t take that on directly, but lets Brian know that the friendship, the love Brian and Bobby have for each other is beautiful to witness. Brian asks, “You don’t think it’s weird?” O’Connor shakes his head and says simply, “No, I don’t. I don’t necessarily understand it because I’m not wired that way.”
Because of O’Connor’s and Brian’s friendship, Brian accepts his statement. He still questions himself, still worries about himself, but he accepts O’Connor’s statement.
In Fan Mail, it all comes out. Someone has been sending letters to Randy, Bobby, and their friend, Danny. The three boys pretty much ignore them. The sender, not liking the fact that the letters are ignored, threatens them. These letters take a toll on the family, particularly Jeremy. I won’t give away too much, but Brian and Brett have a conversation late one night.
He rolled onto his side to face Brett and said, “Mom and I talked at the hospital, and I told her dad’s and my relationship changed when Bobby and I got involved. It’s never been the same since. That’s the only thing I can think of.”
Brett remained silent, giving Brian room to get whatever it was off his chest.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m gay and he doesn’t like gay people, or if he doesn’t want any of his kids gay. Maybe because I’m gay, he thinks I’ve contaminated Bobby and might contaminate Michael.”
Brett sighed, but knew nothing he would say would be listened to.
Brian went on, and said in a whisper, “I think he regrets letting me move in, and I think he regrets adopting me.”
Brett reached out and pushed Brian’s bangs off his forehead and said, “He loves you.”
A tear slid down the side of Brian’s nose, and he whispered, “How can he love me when he doesn’t even like me?”
Brett thumbed the tear off Brian’s face, and then he kissed his forehead. He said, “Bri, dad does like you, and he loves you.” He added for emphasis, “He does. We all do.”
“It feels like I fucked up this whole family. We’ve not been the same since I moved in and got into a relationship with Bobby. And now dad’s worried I might be after Michael. I’ve never been interested in Michael that way. He’s only a little brother to me.”
Brett shook his head and said, “He’s concerned about the letters. We all are. The letter thing fucked him up, that’s all.”
This conversation takes place relatively early in the book. Quite a bit of action takes place well before this conversation, and to be sure, a great deal of action takes place after.
But the point I’m trying to make is that I believe you can see the growth of Brian from Caught in a Web to Fan Mail. Yes, the same question haunts Brian, but you can see the subtle (or not so subtle) change and growth in his thinking. There is an acceptance in who he is, even though Brian feels Jeremy hasn’t accepted him.
As a writer, I believe characters moving from one book to another must grow, must change. They become. Characters, good characters who are well-developed, mirror life. We aren’t stagnant in life, and characters shouldn’t be in fiction. For some characters, just like in life, growth is slow. For others, growth is fast. In Fan Mail, you will see exactly how far Brian (and his family) has come, even faced with all that I throw at him and them between page one and page 400.
As I said towards the beginning, Fan Mail was easy to write in that it almost wrote itself. At the same time, emotionally, it was terrifically hard to write. I am fairly certain you, the reader, will reap the benefits as you pick up a copy. I can’t wait until March!
While you wait for Fan Mail to hit, I hope you take the time to enjoy my other work. The last four books have won twelve awards, while my Lives Trilogy has won two.
If you have read one of my books, I would like to ask a favor. If you could go online and write a review or, at the least, give a rating on the book, it would be of great help. Both a review and a rating would be wonderful. The review could be one or two lines. It doesn’t have to be long. Just let others know you read it and hopefully, enjoyed it. Obviously, 4s and 5s are the best. Thanks for this consideration.
Connect with me on Social Media:
Author Website: www.jrlewisauthor.blog/
Twitter at @jrlewisauthor
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Amazon at: www.amazon.com/Joseph-Lewis/e/B01FWB9AOI /
Blaze In, Blaze Out: A Literary Titan Gold Book Award Winner! A Reader’s Ready Recommended Read! A BestThriller’s Editor’s Pick!
Eiselmann and O’Connor thought the conviction of Dmitry Andruko, the head of a Ukrainian crime family, meant the end. It was only the beginning. They forgot that revenge knows no boundaries, vindictiveness knows no restraints, and ruthlessness never worries about collateral damage. Andruko hired contract killers to go after and kill O’Connor and Eiselmann. The killers can be anyone and be anywhere. They can strike at any time. They care nothing of collateral damage. Andruko believes a target is a target, and in the end, the target must die. https://amzn.to/34lNllP
Betrayed: A PenCraft 1st Place Winner for Thriller-Fiction! A Maxy Award Runner-Up for Mystery/Suspense! A Literary Titan Silver Book Award Winner! A Reader’s Ready Recommended Read Award Winner! A Reader’s Favorite Honorable Mention Award Winner for Fiction-Crime-Mystery!
Betrayed is Now Available in Audio Book, Kindle and Paperback! https://amzn.to/3AfUUpS
A late-night phone call, a missing kid, a murdered family, but no one is talking. A promise is made and kept, but it could mean the death of a fifteen-year-old boy. Greed can be all-consuming, and seeing is not believing. No one can be trusted, and the hunters become the hunted. https://amzn.to/2EKHudx
Spiral Into Darkness: Named a Recommended Read in the Author Shout Reader Awards!
He blends in. He is successful, intelligent, and methodical. So far, he has murdered eight people. There is no discernible pattern. There are no clues. There are no leads. The only thing the FBI and local police have to go on is the method of death: two bullets to the face- gruesome and meant to send a message. But it’s difficult to understand any message coming from a dark and damaged mind. Two adopted boys, struggling in their own world, do not know they are the next targets. Neither does their family. And neither does local law enforcement. https://amzn.to/2RBWvTm
Caught in a Web: A PenCraft Literary Award Winner! Named “One of the Best Thrillers of 2018!” by BestThrillers.com
Caught in a Web is also available in Audio Book, Kindle and Paperback! http://bit.ly/2WO3kka
They found the bodies of high school and middle school kids dead from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. A violent gang, MS-13, controls the drug trade along the I-94 and I-43 corridors. They send Ricardo Fuentes to find out who is cutting in on their business, shut it down and teach them a lesson. But he has an ulterior motive: find and kill a fifteen-year-old boy, George Tokay. Detectives Jamie Graff, Pat O’Connor and Paul Eiselmann race to find the source of the drugs, shut down the ring, and find Fuentes before he kills anyone else. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CKF7696
The Lives Trilogy Prequel, Taking Lives:
FBI Agent Pete Kelliher and his partner search for the clues behind the bodies of six boys left in various and remote parts of the country. Even though they live in separate parts of the country, the lives of Kelliher, 11-year-old Brett McGovern, and 11-year-old George Tokay are separate pieces of a puzzle. The two boys become interwoven with the same thread Kelliher holds in his hand. The three of them are on a collision course and when that happens, their futures grow dark as each search for a way out. https://amzn.to/34nXBH5
Book One, Stolen Lives: Editor’s Pick by BestThrillers! Literary Titan Gold Book Award Winner! A Crime Thriller finalist in the 2021 Best Thriller Book Awards!
Two thirteen-year-old boys are abducted off a safe suburban street. Kelliher and his team of FBI agents have 24 hours to find them or they will end up like the other kids they found- dead! They have no leads, no clues, and nothing to go on. To make the investigation that much tougher, Kelliher suspects that one of his team members might be involved. https://amzn.to/3oMo4qZ
Book Two of the Lives Trilogy, Shattered Lives:
The boys are home, but now they have to fit back in with their families and friends. Their parents and the FBI thought the boys were safe. They were until people began dying. Now the hunt is on for six dangerous and desperate men who vow revenge. With no leads and nothing to go on, the FBI can only sit back and wait. A dangerous game that threatens not only the boys, but their families. https://amzn.to/2RAYIk2
Book Three of the Lives Trilogy, Splintered Lives:
Three dangerous men with nothing to lose offer a handsome reward to anyone willing to kill fourteen-year-old Brett McGovern. He does not know that he, his younger brother, and a friend are targets. More than anyone, these three men vow to kill George, whom they blame for forcing them to run and hide. A fun vacation turns into a nightmare and ends where it started, back on the Navajo Nation Reservation, high on a mesa held sacred by George and his grandfather. Outnumbered and outgunned, George will make the ultimate sacrifice to protect his adoptive father and his adoptive brothers- but can he? Without knowing who these men are? Or where they are? Without knowing whom to trust? Is he prepared for betrayal that leads to his heartbreak and death? http://bit.ly/SplinteredLives