Panel inspires even the most time-pressed writer

Posted March 26, 2010, at 5:32 p.m.

Man cannot live by baseball alone, even in Fort Myers. Occasionally Red Sox fans leave the ballpark to absorb some of Florida’s West Coast atmosphere … and not just strip clubs.

Sometimes they attend cultural events such as last week’s Southwest Florida Reading Festival. I insist on attending since they always include a few “noir” novelists, a genre that has kept Cobb Manor overflowing with books and my credit card debt bursting at the seams.

This year featured one of my favorites, F. Paul Wilson, who has penned more than 40 books and nearly 100 short stories, when he is not working as a family physician in New Jersey. He is best known for his “Repairman Jack” series, which started with “The Tomb” in 1984.

One fan at the Harborside Event Center wore a “What would Jack do?” T-shirt. There are persistent reports about making a movie from the series.

Jack, according to his creator, is an “urban mercenary” who operates totally off the books, performing startling acts of violence without the traditional sidekick, or crucial friends in the CIA or FBI. Now Jack’s challenge is to maintain his “below-the-radar” existence when security-conscious America has a camera in every nook and cranny of most cities, the author said.

Alas, the next “Repairman,” the 15th, will be the last, Wilson told the disappointed audience. “It’s time, Jack has taken over my life,” he said. He desperately wants to avoid the fate of detective author Robert B. Parker, who wrote a dozen spectacular “Spencer” books, then recycled the same things until he died a few months ago, Wilson said.

Some decide to write, some have writing thrust upon them, Wilson said.

His fate was decided in the second grade, when he ad-libbed a story about ghosts and goblins in the traditional reading circle. When the class ended, the other students demanded an ending to his story. “I have never done it, but it felt like what an injection of heroin must be like. What a rush. Some people are just wired to tell stories, lies. Now, I get paid for lying,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s partner on the panel started writing out of sheer boredom. James O’Neal is a career law enforcement officer who spends long, long hours on surveillance. Other officers would bring crime novels and O’Neal started reading them to kill the time. “They were boring. I thought I could do better,” he said. He wrote two complete novels, which were rejected, before he clicked with “Human Disguise.”

He started the book years ago, the good old days, about the collapse of the state economy which forced all local, county, state and federal police forces to merge into one. Now many of the developments in the book are starting to come true, unfortunately, he said.

“The only reason to write is you have to. It is unfortunate that the writing business is associated with the publishing industry, which is run by morons,” O’Neal said. He said he can speak his mind and accept criticism willingly “Because most of the time, I carry a gun.”

The morning festival session was dedicated to the historical novel with authors Sheramy Bundrick and Johanna Moran.

Bundrick, an art history professor at the University of South Florida, chose Vincent Van Gogh for her first novel “Sunflowers.” The novel features the prostitute who got the severed ear from the tortured artist. Van Gogh ended up in a mental asylum, as much to get away from the public as for treatment, she said. Townspeople had circulated a petition to get rid of the artist. She was fascinated to learn that the whorehouses of France were licensed by the police and kept meticulous records about customers.

Moran was a flight attendant for 17 years before she returned to school to an English degree, then penned “The Wives of Henry Oades.” Writing was thrust upon Moran, too. Her father, then her mother had the court files from the famous court case, but was unable to find the time to write. The papers were inherited by Moran, who finally completed the book.

Fifty years ago, Moran’s father, then a law student, came across the case of Oades, who was tried and acquitted— three times — for bigamy in San Francisco a century ago, in an era when bigamy was a hanging offense.

Every year, these panelists convince me that everyone has a book inside them. Now, If I could just find the time…

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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