John F. Harrison Speaks Up

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Everyone’s Story welcomes this week’s guest, debut author John F. Harrison. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know John a bit through our Facebook connection since we both belong to the NE ACFW chapter. I also had the honor of endorsing John’s novel Fighting Back.  Here’s a snippet of what I wrote: “What I liked most about Fighting Back is the unashamed showing by Mr. Harrison that although one can try to right one’s life, it’s where and what God has to show you that matters. In Eddie’s case, faith, forgiveness, and love are rediscovered against the backdrop of the hideous crime of human trafficking, leading the reader to conclude what in life is worth fighting for.” So, this being Christmas week, please take in all that John shares with us, including his excerpt, message, a Q&A, and his BookGiveaway. We’re looking forward to chatting with you.

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BookGiveaway:

John is offering 1 randomly chosen commenter 1 print edition of Fighting Back. The winner will be announced here on Friday, December 30th between  5-6 PM EST.

** For Giveaways: it’s not necessary to insert your private email information within comments.

Excerpt from Fighting Back:

 

Fighting Back by John F. Harrison

 

Part One: Transitions

Chapter 1: Eight Seconds

 

On the spur of the moment, Eddie Caruthers decided to help a damsel in distress, and thus began his long slide into darkness. Of course, that was not apparent from where he stood. Clarity about the genesis of one’s own misery comes mainly in the cold light of hindsight, too late to be of use.

The damsel was a doe-eyed young woman with a melodious voice, a sweet smile, and an astonishingly corpulent build. Rosalyn Pitts and three other women had exited the big stone church that occupied half a block on Union Avenue in downtown Framingham, Massachusetts. Hobbling with the help of a cane in each hand, Rosalyn jaywalked in the spill of the streetlights, talking cheerily and breathlessly over her shoulder to her three friends, who lingered on the sidewalk behind her as they finished their goodbyes.

Her distress arrived in a black suv, as the driver started spewing invective at her from his open window. She was in his way, forcing him to stop and wait while she made her laborious crossing. He loudly bemoaned the size, color, and unsatisfactory forward speed of the lady’s posterior, adding, “Does Old MacDonald know he’s missing a cow? E-I-E-I-oh my God!” Rosalyn hung her head and tried to move faster.

Eddie saw and heard all this from the courtyard of Solid Rock Church, where landscaping spotlights highlighted shrubs and ornamental trees just beginning to shed their red and yellow autumn garb. Eddie was strolling under those trees in rapt conversation with his—friend, girlfriend, wife to be? He was still trying to work all that out. But whatever the lithe and lovely Shawna Bell was to him, he enjoyed her company immensely and found that her nearness made the whole wearisome world fade away.

He and Shawna had been last to leave the building after choir practice, hanging back for the few seconds it took him to set the alarm and lock the door. Eddie wasn’t in the choir, but Shawna was, and he considered that reason enough to volunteer to handle building security and lockup on Thursday nights. He’d been doing that for six weeks, just for the pleasure of accompanying Shawna to her car—as slowly as possible—and listening to her small talk.

He didn’t appreciate having this moment spoiled by the sudden stream of insults and profanities he was now hearing. He looked over and noted the make and model of the vehicle, an occupational habit that was now a reflex. Then he focused his attention on the driver who was intruding on his happiness. It was especially aggravating that the target of this onslaught was poor Rosalyn Pitts. Roz, who was unfailingly pleasant despite suffering perpetual discomfort from the strain on her joints; Roz, who never showed embarrassment at having to sit on a bench in the rear of Solid Rock’s sanctuary, a bench placed there because she was too big to fit on the cushioned chairs used by the rest of the congregation; Roz, who doubtless had a too-short life expectancy and would probably never, ever be asked out on a date. If anybody deserved a break, it was Roz.

Eddie found himself yelling, “Hey, loudmouth, if you had any class, you’d shut up and leave the woman alone!” He fully expected an answering salvo of bluff and obscenities. People always acted tough from inside a car. Being wrapped in a four-thousand-pound steel and glass cocoon had a way of making people lose whatever inhibitions they might normally have had. Well, if listening to some thug curse at him would spare Roz further humiliation, so be it.

But the driver didn’t say another word. Instead, he slammed his vehicle into reverse and whipped it into a curbside parking space. Eddie was briefly impressed with the maneuver. Not many people could fling a Range Rover around so precisely while driving backwards, and fewer still would try it while sporting those oversized two-piece chrome wheels. What kind of nutcase would risk curbing rims that pricey? That fleeting question evaporated when the driver got out, slammed the door, and strode toward the courtyard.

Eddie’s pulse quickened. His senses honed in on the approaching man. Still, his next words were to Shawna: “Stand clear.” He glanced in her direction and made a shooing gesture with his right hand.

“Eddie!” Shawna’s normally silky voice nearly squeaked, and when she spoke his name a second time she drew it out to great length. “Eddiiieeee! Don’t get into it with him! Let’s just go!”

But Eddie had already turned his attention back to the lout who had been Roz’s problem and was about to become his. This man was compact, some three inches shorter than Eddie’s six-foot height. “Loudmouth” had an olive complexion and dark hair slicked back. He looked to be in his late thirties, a good ten years older than Eddie. Powerfully built, his broad shoulders and muscular physique marked him a dangerous opponent. The angry stare and clenched jaw suggested he wasn’t coming over to chat. He approached with, head up, chest out, fingers curled but not quite clenched into fists.

Eddie figured him for a sucker puncher. The man would probably try to get up in his face, and then attempt a knockout by throwing a sneaky roundhouse punch from out of nowhere. It was an old trick, demonstrated in a thousand YouTube videos. Not a chance he gets that close, Eddie thought. He could see that his own reach was greater, and the guy was leading with his chin. Then, on the edge of his awareness, he saw and heard the passenger door of the stranger’s Rover open and shut as a second man, much larger than the first, exited the vehicle and started toward the courtyard. Two of them. Not good.

Eddie’s heart was hammering under the influence of an adrenaline surge. But this wasn’t the remembered terror of all his childhood confrontations—it was just his body on autopilot, prepping itself for fight or flight. He took two calming deep breaths, as he had been trained, and positioned himself for what was coming next.

Taking two steps backwards, he raised both hands slightly above his head, palms out. Most watchers would see the universal gesture of surrender, a posture that says, “I’m not a threat.” Only a careful observer might notice that Eddie’s hands were not held up in the classic surrender pose; instead, they were well in front of his face, ready to be instantly deployed to block, grab, or punch.

“I don’t want any trouble, man.” Eddie spoke loudly enough to be heard by both the advancing attacker and any bystanders who might later be asked who started it. He knew he needed to win not only the physical fight but also any legal proceedings that might ensue from it. It was never too early to lay the groundwork for that court fight.

“Well, trouble is what you got.” The smaller man kept up a running commentary, declaring what part of Eddie’s anatomy was about to be kicked.

They were about seven feet apart. Eddie took another step backward, and as soon as the ball of his foot hit the ground, he reversed direction and charged. Strike while they’re talking. That was the rule, because an opponent’s reaction times were slower when he was busy spouting off.

The two men closed in an instant. Eddie landed the first blows—it was not far from his already upraised hands to the aggressor’s face. He missed with a straight left, but landed a right and a left in rapid succession as the other man raised his arms to block before trying to twist out of the way. None of Eddie’s punches were hard enough to do serious damage, but that was not the point of the initial flurry. The point was to get the man off his plan of attack. A foe who is defending himself from you is not hitting you.

Eddie was somehow more acutely aware of the sounds of the fight than he was of the tactile sensations. He heard the impact of his fists on flesh and the stranger grunting under the rain of blows. Shawna stifled a scream somewhere to his right. The attacker recovered from his surprise, dropped into a crouch, and spread his hands. He hunched his shoulders and ducked his head to protect his face. Lunging forward, he wrapped powerful arms around Eddie and set himself to throw him to the ground. Eddie raked his thumbs across the shorter man’s eyes, making him jerk his head back and loosen his grip. This gave Eddie room to insert his right arm under his opponent’s armpit. By twining his arm under, behind, and back over the shoulder, he trapped the man’s arm and put painful pressure on the rotator cuff, forcing his foe to bend down and twist awkwardly to the side.

The attacker’s face was now at belly level. Eddie palmed the man’s face with his left hand and rushed forward, pushing his overbalanced assailant, who had to scramble backward to stay on his feet. Eddie needed only three running steps. The back of the man’s head met the rough granite stonework of the church with a sickening thud. Eddie might easily have followed up with a knee to the face as the logical finishing move, but he was not inclined to overkill. His trapped arm now released, the man sank to the ground, where he feebly thrashed and twitched. His eyes were open, but did not appear to see anything. From first punch to lights out had taken around eight seconds.

Eddie spun, looking for the Rover’s passenger. He was standing about fifteen feet away, and not advancing. The large man looked much older than the one on the ground. His hair was mostly gray. He was paunchy, wider at the waist than at the shoulders, and inexplicably wearing sunglasses at night. He shook his head, and almost smiled. When he spoke, his voice was raspy. “I got no beef with you. I just wanna collect my hot-headed friend here and be on my way.”

Eddie nodded, edging over to where Shawna and Roz’s three friends were standing in a little clump. He knew better than to turn his back to the second man, but his caution proved unnecessary. The older man went straight to his fallen friend. He held him still and spoke quietly to him for a minute or two. Then he hauled him to his feet, and half dragged, half carried him back to the Rover. There was definitely some muscle under all that flab. He laid his dazed companion across the back seat before getting in the front and driving off.

Only then did any of the women in the courtyard speak, and they all began talking at once. The voice Eddie focused on was Shawna’s. “You could have killed that man!” She still sounded squeaky. She turned to gaze wide-eyed at the spot where the man’s head had hit the wall with such an awful sound. “What were you thinking?”

Eddie considered the question. He was a little stung that she offered no congratulations for having successfully defended himself against a dangerous attacker, no words of concern for his own well-being, no thanks for having stuck up for Roz. “I was thinking …” He too turned and looked toward where his attacker’s cranium had met the stone wall. His lip curled. “I was thinking … welcome to Solid Rock.”

 

 

The Ziklag Conundrum By John F. Harrison

I realize The Ziklag Conundrum sounds like it might be the title of a Robert Ludlum thriller. But it’s just my way of describing one of life’s mysteries. You know those times when it seems like things can’t get any worse — and then they do? How do you survive those times with your joy intact?

You’ve probably read how David fled persecution by King Saul, finding sanctuary in a city of the Philistines. The Philistine king gave the city of Ziklag to David and his 600 followers. After living there for sixteen months, David found himself in the awkward position of being required to join his traditional enemy in an attack on King Saul and the armies of Israel. But the Philistines got cold feet about having 600 Israelite warriors in their midst, and sent David and his men back “home” to Ziklag. When the exhausted warriors arrived after a three-day march, they found the city burned and their wives and children gone. The Amalekites had raided, and taken the women and children captive.

David and his men wept until they could weep no more. It must have seemed that life couldn’t get any worse. And then it did. And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6, KJV)

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And that’s the Ziklag Conundrum. The Bible doesn’t say how David encouraged himself. But it would be a great thing to know! Often when we feel down, we turn to others for encouragement. Sometimes it works. Sometimes the people around us are apathetic. Or maybe, like David’s men, they’re set on doing us in. Whatever the reason, when you find yourself without an encourager, you need to be able to encourage yourself.

I’ve found a few things that work for me:

  1. I stand a little taller. A slumped and defeated posture accentuates feelings of despair. “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;” (Hebrews 12:12)

  2. I refuse to suffer in silence. When I fill my ears with uplifting music, my mood soon improves. Whether it’s Bach, Fred Hammond, or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, music keeps me emotionally afloat until I rediscover the song in my own heart.

  3. I clear out the clutter. The goal is to devote more mental shelf space to God’s promises than I do to my problems.

  4. I seek perspective. God is bigger than my troubles. Therefore, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” (Psalm 56:3)

Fighting Back is the story of a young man who finds his life disintegrating all of a sudden. He ends up running from more than one “Saul.” And because he does not always know how to encourage himself, his road from ruin to recovery is not as direct as it might have been. [Interestingly enough, the word Ziklag means “winding.”] Along the way, he learns a great thing about God that I’ve learned for myself: Not only can God rescue us from our mess; He can birth something wonderful from it!

Questions for John Harrison:

John, you’ve worn many professional hats and have juggled a lot through the years. How does the hat of a published author feel?

I could get used to this! I published my first book in 2009, a nonfiction title about personal finance and biblical money management. Back then I had no idea I had a novel in me. But the creativity required for fiction writing feels like even more of an achievement in some ways. It’s addictive, and a sequel is already in the works.

What childhood influences have shaped your author’s voice?

I’m probably not consciously aware of most of them. But I recognize a few. The first is the fact that I was very introverted as a child, spending a lot of time alone with my thoughts. So my fiction writing delves deeply into the inner life of the main character. It was natural for me to want to spend time in his head. Second, I fell in love with music and songwriting at an early age, so I have an awareness of the sound and rhythm of words. I don’t think I’m poetic, or even deliberately lyrical, but the words have to sound good when read out loud. And music plays an important part in this story. Finally, my parents instilled a hunger for knowledge in me. I loved learning about almost anything at all. This is probably responsible for the “how stuff works” component that crops up in my writing.

I had the pleasure and honor of reading and endorsing Fighting Back. The story’s premise, plot, and characters impressed me, but I must add that either you’ve done considerable research on the topics of fighting and deluxe cars (among heavy-duty themes) or you’ve had first-hand experience. Any confessions?

First, thank you very much! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the book, and I really appreciate your endorsement. I admit to being a research nut. I obsess over getting the details right. One of example of this is when a character in the story needed her car fixed. I watched videos on how to do the repair on that particular make and model of car. And I spent months hanging out on automotive forums as part of my homework. I’m a bit of a car guy in real life, so I didn’t mind. But I did that with everything: drive times between locations, menu items at restaurants, police procedures. Because I had to research a number of those “heavy-duty themes” you mentioned, I made sure to infuse the story with enough fun and good humor to be an emotional counterweight to the heavy stuff. As for any first-hand experience I may have had with fighting … that would be telling!

Did you originally set out to self-publish Fighting Back?

Yes. By self-publishing, I got to make all the design decisions such as what the cover and interior look like. I’m also the only member of the marketing department with a say. Another factor is the novel’s frank treatment of potentially controversial topics. I didn’t want a publisher pressuring me to tone down the messaging for the sake of playing it safe. So self-publishing has always felt like the best path for me.

Since this is Christmas, do you have any Christmas wishes or tidings you’d like to share with viewers?

I wish you and all the readers the simple joy of the holy day, and none of the stresses of the holidays. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

John’s Ah-hahs To Tweet:

John F. Harrison @authorJHarrison Speaks Up: Surviving the The Ziklag Conundrum with joy intact. (Tweet This)

Without an encourager? See what #motivation @authorJHarrison advices. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Check out @authorJHarrison’s #BookGiveaway of Fighting Back about a young man in a big mess. (Tweet This)

Author’s Bio:

John F. Harrison has been a minister, a musician, a business owner, and an author. He’s still happily involved in three out of those four vocations, and greatly misses his music. John’s greatest ambition is to get up eight times after falling down seven. He chronicles the tribulations and triumphs of deeply flawed people, because he knows no other kind. John and his wife live in the Boston area.

Places to connect with John:

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon

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On SALE only through the holidays on Amazon.

 

 

 

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John and I look forward to your comments.

20 comments to John F. Harrison Speaks Up

  • Oh, wow! I loved the excerpt and look forward to reading the whole book. Thanks, Elaine, for introducing me to John and his writing!

  • Marilyn R

    My heart was pounding whilee reading the excerpt. I’m going to have to read Fighting Back. Thanks for introducing John to us readers.

    A blessed and Merry Christmas, Elaine. Enjoy the plans you have for the weekend my friend. God bless.

  • Julie Thomas

    I WANT THIS BOOK!!! I’m not sure I could put this book down before reading it in one setting.

  • My friend and fellow author, John F. Harrison, has knocked the ball out of the park with his debut novel. I’m thrilled to endorse it, and I’m equally excited about the successful future this book has waiting.

  • Ann Ellison

    The excerpt has me really wanting to read this one.

    • elaineadmin

      I always smile when I see you visit, Ann. Thanks for stopping by. Happy New Year, my friend!

    • I’m glad to hear it, Ann. One of the fun things about that chapter (fun to me, at least) is that it was kind of an experiment. I wrote the closing sentence second — right after the opening sentence. That let me fill in the whole middle with a very clear idea of where I was going. I liked the results so much I ended up taking that approach with most of the book. If nothing else, it helped me write stronger closing lines for each chapter than I otherwise might have. Anyway, I’ll stop talking your ear off now. Thanks for stopping in!

  • elaineadmin

    For me personally, and I believe my viewers, John F. Harrison’s blog feature was a great way to ring out 2016. Let’s close this year with hope in the only Holy One who can rescue us from a mess and make something wonderful out of it! John, I’m also hoping that Fighting Back is just the beginning of many more novels for you and an adoring readership.

    Thanks too for the BookGiveaway of Fighting Back. And the winner is…

    Julie. Yay, Julie 😊 Both John and I will contact you via direct emails.

    May each of you and those you love have a great 2017!

    Blessings.

  • To my dear friend John, I am so very proud of you and wish you the best with this new book. I am so honored in having known you in the Berklee years and all the spaces in-between. Thank you for all the faith and hope you had for me, when I had nothing for myself. I will never forget you, or your wife, and how you both fought for me when I was hell bent on destroying myself. You have no idea how you touched my life. I am okay now, and please know, there will always be a place at my table for you and your family. And on a closing note, when my Mom asked about the nice man that sent the letter, (she read it before I did ) I told her, “That is my friend John, and Mom, he is one of the few people that I meant and just knew without a shadow of a doubt, that God is with him”. So yeah, you seize the moment dear heart, and change the world!
    Your friend:
    Simply, Carla~

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