When I began writing Free, a Novella in early spring of 2016, it was supposed to be a 3-4 installment short story with Lenore Porter remembering the breakdown of her marriage as she finalizes the sale of her home.
Honestly, it was writing practice.
I was working on my debut novel, In the Best Interest of the Child and kept stalling out and hitting walls. So, Free was supposed to be a little pseudo-flash fiction to keep me writing.
I posted the second installment and had already began the ending of Lenore’s story, when on April 8, 2016, my mister went into renal failure. His kidneys could not be saved and everything changed from that day forward… the addition of hemodialysis, his employment status, his diet, his daily medication regimen… and my stress level.
As I sat in hospital rooms, dialysis units, and doctor’s offices over the next few weeks, Lenore Porter’s story changed too. Best Interest was still my focus, but Lenore would not be ignored.
I continued to post installments of varying lengths on my author page, but the once-a-week postings died a quick death. I moved the release date of Best Interest twice and attempted to push Lenore’s story to the back burner.
The mister’s fistula implant was a problem from the beginning, making dialysis difficult. By the time we’d made all the rounds for MRIs, ultrasounds and vascular procedures and found some semblance of normalcy, it was Halloween. Best Interest was published and I was exhausted. And… Lennie Porter was standing in the corner giving me the duckface.
I didn’t have much of a current word count for Free, but what I did have was sixty-one pages of notes!
As I organized and typed up the notes, the story continued to change.
It was clear by the time I had a working MS, oldest son Duncan Porter would need counseling to get past his issues with his absent father to avoid lasting emotional trauma.
As a character-driven writer, I generally sketch out characters before adding them to any story.
That wasn’t necessary this time.
While Free, a Novella is a work of fiction, the characters of psychologist James Richie and his wife/receptionist, Alice, are not fictional characters.
James ‘Pas’ Richie was my mentor, father-confessor, co-conspirator in epic pranks, and at one time, my boss. He and Alice were like family and can be seen as often in my family photo albums as my mother.
In Free, Pas, is a retired minister with a successful practice in clinical psychology specializing in treating men and boys.
In real life, Pas was a minister for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. However, he didn’t receive the call to the ministry until well after his fiftieth birthday and put aside his career and degree in chemistry to enter the seminary.
It wasn’t long after Pas received his appointment to a Battle Creek church the community considered him “the city’s pastor.” (This was about the same time I gave him the nickname ‘Pas.’)
You didn’t have to attend his church… or any church… for Pas to lend a helping hand. Many who regularly attended other churches would find their way to his office when needing to talk.
And he would listen.
I don’t know if Pas solved any of their problems.
But I do know they left with a smile and a, “Thank you, pastor.”
He’d always respond with a hug and his trademark, “Peace & Blessings!”
Like Lenore Porter’s parents, Burt and Linda Kelimore, Pas and Alice were together over fifty years.
And the banter was epic!
In addition to his pastoral duties, Pas was the executive director of a local community outreach ministry, and Alice was a regular volunteer.
The days when Alice came in were the best days!
Staff would all suddenly find reasons to be near Pas’ office for another episode of what I dubbed “The Pas and Alice Show!”
Their banter was amazing, rocket fast… and hilarious.
Of course, Alice always won, but Pas wasn’t about let her have the last word and would always end with something like, “You’re adorable! I’m taking you to lunch!”
Over the years, through trials and tribulations in both our families, the Richie banter was an anchor for us all—as long as we could still laugh, everything would be okay–and their marriage was the model for couples newly married or married for decades.
After almost ten years, life broke up our small family circle, taking us in different directions, but the Richies and I stayed in regular—my children would say constant—contact.
Plans were put in motion for them to visit Arizona after Pas retired, which he did in January 2015. After a short search, Pas and Alice relocated to a small town in central Georgia which put them close to their three children and grandchildren.
Pas became ill while he and Alice were getting settled with what was first believed to be an upper respiratory infection.
The next year would see Pas hospitalized… and in a coma for several months.
But being the incredible man he was, James Richie came out of the coma, moved to a rehab center and learned to walk and talk again. He was discharged and went home to regain his driving privileges. He even went back to swimming three times a week.
Pas and Alice took a vacation to visit their children, and attended several social events, including one held by my family in Georgia.
I was encouraged. Alice said he still had a long road ahead of him to regain his strength, but they would get to Arizona.
Things in Arizona weren’t going as well.
Dialysis was still difficult for the mister and his blood pressure stayed at stroke levels despite several daily medications.
Alice called one evening and knew by my tone of voice something was wrong. We talked quite a while. I ended the call with a promise to call her in a couple of days after the mister saw a vascular surgeon.
Of course, she told Pas.
He called early the next morning.
Though the mass found at the base of his throat was benign, he still wasn’t strong enough for surgery to remove it. And it caused other problems. His voice was raw raspy and it hurt me to hear him speak. I tried to rush him off the phone. But Pas wasn’t having it.
He called to pray with me and the mister… and he did.
It was the last time I talked to him. Ten days later, he was gone… June 14, 2016.
Loss is a part of life and we all experience it. I’d already lost my father and a brother, but when Alice called me with the news, something inside me broke.
Suffice it to say, I managed to keep it together enough to take care of the mister, but I lost the fight with depression and spiraled for over three months.
This is why the release date for Best Interest was delayed… twice.
This is also why (and how) Pas and Alice became part of Free.
It took another four months to complete Free. Not because it’s long, in-depth or complicated. It was simply very emotional.
And it was cathartic.
I didn’t tell my family I’d added a bit of real life to Free until it was completed, and I still didn’t allow them to read it. I published it on May 30th and immediately began the formatting for print.
I received the proofs a week later. I signed a copy, stuck a note inside and sent it to Alice Richie.
I hadn’t told her what I’d done either. I was a little nervous with it being the first anniversary of Pas’ passing, but pushed it to the back of my mind and tried to concentrate on writing.
I was caught off guard a couple of weeks later when I answered my phone without looking at the caller ID… something I never do.
It was Alice…laughing… and crying, and screaming, “Girl, you nailed us!”
I laughed with her, and did some crying of my own when she said, “Richie would love it. And he would be so proud of you.”
It wasn’t an instant cure-all, but for the first time in a year, thinking of my dear friend didn’t cause me pain. Alice’s words were the best review I’ll ever receive for Free… and that’s enough for me.
So, if by chance you read Free, just remember James and Alice Richie aren’t fictional characters and their dialogue isn’t scripted or contrived. Their words were real, spoken in another time when life was a little easier and less burdensome.
Peace & Blessings.
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Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet, author, and teacher. Her work often dealt with the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on May 1, 1950, for Annie Allen making her the first African-American to receive the Pulitzer.
Throughout her prolific writing career, Brooks received many more honors. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, a position held until her death, and what is now the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for the 1985–86 term. In 1976, she became the first African-American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Honoré de Balzac (born Honoré Balzac, 20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) was a French author/novelist and playwright. The novel sequence La Comédie Humaine, which presents a panorama of post-Napoleonic French life, is generally viewed as his magnum opus.
Owing to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multi-faceted characters; even his lesser characters are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. Inanimate objects are imbued with character as well; the city of Paris, a backdrop for much of his writing, takes on many human qualities. His writing influenced many famous writers, including the novelists Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Jack Kerouac, and Henry James.
Lorraine Hansberry was born at Provident Hospital on the South Side of Chicago on May 19, 1930. She was the youngest of Nannie Perry Hansberry and Carl Augustus Hansberry’s four children. Her father founded Lake Street Bank, one of the first banks for blacks in Chicago, and ran a successful real estate business. Her uncle was William Leo Hansberry, a scholar of African studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Many prominent African-American social and political leaders visited the Hansberry household during Lorraine’s childhood including sociology professor W.E.B. DuBois, poet Langston Hughes, actor and political activist Paul Robeson, musician Duke Ellington and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens.
Despite their middle-class status, the Hansberrys were subject to segregation. When she was 8 years old, Hansberry’s family deliberately attempted to move into a restricted neighborhood. Restrictive covenants, in which white property owners agreed not to sell to blacks, created a ghetto known as the “Black Belt” on Chicago’s South Side. Carl Hansberry, with the help of Harry H. Pace, president of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and several white realtors, secretly bought property at 413 E. 60th Street and 6140 S. Rhodes Avenue. The Hansberrys moved into the house on Rhodes Avenue in May 1937. The family was threatened by a white mob, which threw a brick through a window, narrowly missing Lorraine. The Supreme Court of Illinois upheld the legality of the restrictive covenant and forced the family to leave the house. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision on a legal technicality. The result was the opening of 30 blocks of South Side Chicago to African Americans. Although the case did not argue that racially restrict covenants were unlawful, it marked the beginning of their end.
Lorraine graduated from Englewood High School in Chicago, where she first became interested in theater. She enrolled in the University of Wisconsin but left before completing her degree. After studying painting in Chicago and Mexico, Hansberry moved to New York in 1950 to begin her career as a writer. She wrote for Paul Robeson’s Freedom, a progressive publication, which put her in contact with other literary and political mentors such as W.E.B. DuBois and Freedom editor Louis Burnham. During a protest against racial discrimination at New York University, she met Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish writer who shared her political views. They married on June 20, 1953, at the Hansberrys’ home in Chicago.
In 1956, her husband and Burt D’Lugoff wrote the hit song, “Cindy, Oh Cindy.” Its profits allowed Hansberry to quit working and devote herself to writing. She then began a play she called The Crystal Stair, from Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son.” She later retitled it A Raisin in the Sun from Hughes’ poem, “Harlem: A Dream Deferred.”
In A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by an African-American to be produced on Broadway, she drew upon the lives of the working-class black people who rented from her father and who went to school with her on Chicago’s South Side. She also used members of her family as inspiration for her characters. Hansberry noted similarities between Nannie Hansberry and Mama Younger and between Carl Hansberry and Big Walter. Walter Lee, Jr. and Ruth are composites of Hansberry’s brothers, their wives, and her sister, Mamie. In an interview, Hansberry laughingly said, “Beneatha is me, eight years ago.”
Her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, about a Jewish intellectual, ran on Broadway for 101 performances. It received mixed reviews. Her friends rallied to keep the play running. It closed on January 12, 1965, the day Hansberry died of cancer at age 35.
Although Hansberry and Nemiroff divorced before her death, he remained dedicated to her work. As literary executor, he edited and published her three unfinished plays: Les Blancs, The Drinking Gourd and What Use Are Flowers? He also collected Hansberry’s unpublished writings, speeches, and journal entries and presented them in the autobiographical montage To Be Young, Gifted and Black. The title is taken from a speech given by Hansberry in May 1964 to winners of a United Negro Fund writing competition: “…though it be thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic, to be young, gifted and black!
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