While mates from college went on to be business executives, publishers, doctors, ad agency execs and stockbrokers, I chose a different path. I indulged my passion for telling stories. From an early age I loved stories. In church, where my mother dragged me three times a week, I remember sermons from preachers who knew how to weave a Biblical theme into stories about people. By the time I was in college, I was being encouraged by a mentor to go to law school and join his firm. It was tempting. The money would have been great. But I wanted to tell stories.
So, how do you make a living telling stories?
I studied the biographies of writers I admired to see how they paid their bills. Some wrote for magazines. A few wrote novels. My favorite, Ernest Hemingway, started his career writing for newspapers. That seemed the best path, so I returned from Massachusetts and New Jersey, where I was in schools, to Alabama to work for a struggling daily morning newspaper.
There I found a great story that took years to write, while I raised two boys and wrote for newspapers about politicians in Alabama, D.C. and later Texas. That story became the first novel I wrote – Iron City Conspiracy. It was based on what I had learned working for newspapers in Alabama and was built on one of the most horrific events in the state’s history.
A handful of Ku Klux Klan members planted dynamite in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church. When the dynamite exploded, it killed four young girls. The bombers were identified and eventually convicted. They were sent off to serve life sentences in the Donaldson state prison.
The reason for that bombing was easy to understand. The three bombers – Robert Chambliss, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry, and maybe more that were not caught – were white supremacists, who were threatened by the potential of black people gaining political power as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. Heroes like Bill Baxley, a young Alabama attorney general, whom I knew well, rose from the ashes to bring these men to justice.
The question that rolled around in my head for years was what if that church or any black church was bombed today, would the reason be as easy to understand?
The world had changed, although in recent years, seemingly not as much as I had hoped. Iron City Conspiracy explores that changed world, and how violence and corruption express themselves in different ways. And new heroes – Joe Riordan and Nicki Fabrini -- emerge to right wrongs and bring the wicked to justice.
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