I am pleased at the response I’ve been receiving on my newest book, Fan Mail. It’s a story about a patchwork family of seven adopted boys, told through the eyes of Brian, about the stresses and strains of a car bombing, letters that become progressively more menacing and threatening as they are ignored, and their adoptive father’s heart attack. While it is a thriller-crime-mystery novel, there is a strong coming-of-age storyline embedded within it. The coming-of-age theme is a hallmark of my books that readers have come to not only know, but to expect.
When I wrote Fan Mail, like any author, I had a story idea and I wrote it. It wasn’t until after it was completed, with all the edits finished, did I realize just how much each chapter or paragraph or sentence impacted the whole and led to the climax.
In this short segment, Jeremy, the father of the family, had a heart attack because of the stress of the threatening letters two of his boys and their friend are receiving. It is the combination of the heart attack and the strain of the letters that threaten to tear apart an otherwise close-knit family of adopted brothers.
The passage below takes place in the Evans kitchen. Billy, a twin of Randy, works on a landscaping project for his class with a friend, Tony. Randy has an issue with his brothers, but takes it out on Tony. Brett, Bobby, Brian and Billy come to Tony’s aid and it almost comes to blows:
“We can add some Knockout Roses spaced out between the green bushes if you like,” Tony said. “That would make things pop, without distracting from the house.”
“You sound like the guy from Queer Eye,” Randy muttered.
“Why? Because he’s an artist? What the hell is wrong with you?” Bobby asked.
“It was meant as a joke,” Randy said, turning his head away from everyone.
“The hell it was! It wasn’t funny. It was disrespectful and rude. You could have said Flip or Flop, Fixer Upper, Property Brothers, or even Maine Cabin Masters. But you went with Queer Eye. That’s offensive,” Bobby said.
Billy was fuming. “Last night at the restaurant, you were all over Tony’s ass, butting in when it had nothing to do with you.”
Tony’s face was beat red. He put an elbow on the table and his hand over his eyes. “Look, I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I’m sorry.” He turned to Billy and said, “Maybe you can do this presentation without me.” He looked up at Brian and said, “Maybe I should go home.”
“No, Tony! Please don’t,” Vicky said as she came around the table to hug him from behind. “I know Brian would be disappointed if you did, and I think the others would be, too.” To Randy, she said, “You owe him an apology and I don’t want to hear anything else coming out of your mouth! Is that understood?”
Randy shrugged and said, “I’m sorry.”
“That was dripping in sincerity,” Brett said. “I’m sure Tony feels welcome now.”
“Randy, leave the room,” Jeremy said. “You will not treat a guest in our house like that. He’s not only Brian’s friend, he’s everyone’s friend.”
Brian and Billy were seething. Both stood with their hands clenched into fists.
“Randy, I’ve been thinking for a while now. Remember, a couple of years ago when the guys and I were in the hospital in Chicago after we were freed from that shit hole? You would go from room to room and talk to us, listen to us, and encourage us?” Brett asked. “I miss that Randy. I don’t know where he went, but he’s been AWOL for a while.”
“Oh? What? What are you going to do?” Randy spat.
Brett slammed Randy into the wall with a forearm and grabbed the scruff of his shirt around his neck. A picture fell to the floor. In a small, but menacing voice, he said, “Dad told you to leave the room. If you don’t, I’ll help you leave, but you might not be in one piece. Tony is our friend. All of ours. You will not treat him disrespectfully or rudely. You will treat him as you treat Bobby or Danny.”
“You really want to go there? Because I’m ready if you are.”
George and Jeremy quickly pulled them apart. Bobby, Danny, and Two stood in front of Brian, who was more than ready to come to Brett’s and Tony’s aid.
Jeremy grabbed Randy by the arm and pulled him outside. George held Brett only as long as Jeremy needed to get Randy out the door.
Randy has been one character in my books that is a peacemaker, is conciliatory, and compassionate, as evidenced by Brett’s comment about the “old Randy.” There are other reasons within the chapters why Randy has an issue with Tony, and why Brett, Billy, and Brian quickly come to his defense. This is one example of the strain the letters and Jeremy’s heart attack has on the family, especially the seven brothers, and all of it leads to a dramatic confrontation at the finish.
The title, Fan Mail, has the initial meaning one would normally get upon first sight: letters to support or come against someone of celebrity. Anyone who has had a brush with the spotlight knows about and has felt, to one degree or another, the impact of such letters. However, as in all of my books, the titles often have more than one meaning the reader “gets” as he or she reads.
Fan Mail is told through Brian’s eyes. It’s his perspective, his story of his place in the family. Those who have read my other books, knows the journey Brian has been on, the difficulties he has faced, almost to the point of death. He is the defender and the protector of his brothers in many ways, but the hard shell the reader sees on the outside hides the soft vulnerability in Brian’s heart and soul. Yet, this passage summarizes Brian’s core beliefs, and in the end, he almost pays the price for it.
The passage below takes place in an English classroom discussing the book, Lord of the Flies. This book is chosen because of the implications it has on the action that takes place in Fan Mail. The two books are similar in that respect:
Brian crumpled up the call slip summoning him to the guidance office. He pushed it to the corner of his desk as far away as possible without tossing it on the floor. His English teacher, Penny Rios, looked at him questioningly, but didn’t question him about it.
Brian didn’t want to see his father, Jeremy. The ride to school was not only unexpected, but uncomfortable. Normally, Jeremy signed his own slips, not Farner, the assistant principal. That was a twist. Still, he ignored it.
Besides, Rios was one of his favorite teachers, and the discussion they were having on Lord of the Flies was a good one. Even though they were only supposed to read up to the fourth chapter, Brian had read the entire book in three days.
“Who would you consider a strong, independent character? Perhaps a leader among the boys?” Rios asked.
The answers ranged from Jack to Ralph to Piggy. Brian’s friend, Shannon Pritchert, mentioned Simon, which was an unusual answer.
Puzzled, Rios asked, “Why Simon?”
“I don’t consider him to be a leader, but he was independent. He wasn’t buying into either side. He spent most of the time by himself,” she said.
“Brian, you’re pretty silent today. What are your thoughts?”
He said, “It depends upon what you think strong means. Honestly, I don’t think any of them are strong. Being strong means having integrity. Ralph didn’t defend Piggy even when he was being picked on. If he had integrity, he would have defended Piggy no matter who was against him. Jack broke rules he felt weren’t necessary, even though there needed to be order. A person with integrity doesn’t break rules just because he might not like them. Piggy whined and complained, but he tried to establish order. I think because of his size and his whining, no one paid attention to him. A leader has to have followers.”
He looked over at Shannon, smiled, and said, “I have to think about Simon. I hadn’t thought of him being independent until Shannon mentioned him.”
“What is your definition of integrity?” Rios asked.
Brian didn’t wait to be called upon. He said, “Someone who speaks the truth and lives it even when others don’t. A person who is genuine.”
“That can make someone pretty unpopular, don’t you think?”
Brian nodded and said, “It’s what makes someone strong. Speaking the truth and following the rules, no matter who else does or doesn’t. Being willing to take a stand, even if it’s unpopular. Standing up for your beliefs. If you don’t do those things, you don’t have integrity and you aren’t strong.”
NOW AVAILABLE in Kindle, Nook, and Paperback!
A car bomb, letters that become more menacing as they are ignored, and a father’s heart attack. What else could possibly go wrong?
“At once a coming-of-age story that will appeal to mature teens, a thriller that can reach into adult audiences, and a psychological suspense novel that holds elements of deeper life inspections about sacrifice, redemption, and discovery; its gripping saga will reach a wide audience of readers and age groups.”
Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review, Editor of California Bookwatch
“An emotionally explosive and life-affirming coming of age story wrapped within a simmering crime thriller.”
Bella Wright, BestThrillers.com
B & N: https://bit.ly/3CRNHya
Black Rose Writing: https://www.blackrosewriting.com/thrillers/fanmail