The little book that grew wings and learned to fly continues to ride the thermals. Many thanks to Readers’ Favorite reviewer Michelle Stanley for thinking my novel worthy enough for a 5-star rating in 2015.
First edition released from Leatherneck Publishing in October 2008. Thanks to the late Neil Levin for believing in me and this book which won a Silver Medal from Military Writers Society of America in 2009. Thank you to MWSA Founder Bill McDonald for the stellar review. In early 2010, the book was featured in USA Today, The Associated Press, Military Times, and many other publications.
E-Book released from Navigator Books in 2011 with a new cover featuring a missing man formation of A-10 fighter jets affectionately known as Warthogs. Thanks to Maria Edwards and Jeff Edwards for giving the book new life.
Second edition (print and e-book) released from Deer Hawk Publications in 2014. Thanks to Aurelia Sands at Deer Hawk for giving my book a new home.
A huge round of applause to all of my readers over the years who were kind enough to invite my characters into their busy lives and then went above and beyond by posting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and spreading the word to friends and family.
Johnnie Come Lately’s fictional setting takes place in Portion, Texas, modeled after Grapevine. Anyone familiar with the area will recognize certain locations along historic Main Street, such as the Palace Theater and the corner bank building at Worth and Main. The cemetery along Dooley Street plays prominently in the story, as does the nearby lake.
Johnnie Come Lately deals with the repercussions of a heat-of-the-moment confession, a son’s enlistment during wartime, and many other issues that American families deal with day to day. At the heart of the story is a woman whose mama has been missing for several years and the family secrets surrounding her disappearance.
My former publisher passed away on January 1, 2015, in Oceanside, CA. The day after his passing, I reflect on what this man did for my writing career. Before 2008, I was a longtime freelance writer with multiple credits in national publications. But my one dream…the dream that eluded me for nearly two decades…was to get my first novel into the hands of a traditional publisher, i.e., a publisher who believed in my work enough to invest time and money into my work.
On June 29, 2008, Neil Levin, Founder and CEO of Leatherneck Publishing, said YES to my first novel, The Final Salute. After sixteen years and over one hundred revisions and that many rejections, I finally found that one person in the universe who believed in my story enough to publish it. The novel was released in paperback that October, just in time for my 50th birthday.
Looking back, I don’t think Neil had any idea what he’d just set into motion.
About nine months after my book came out, Neil decided to leave publishing and closed his business, but he didn’t leave me hanging. He switched from being my publisher to becoming a supportive friend, and my book continued to sell on several online retailers.
Four months after Neil shut down Leatherneck Publishing, my book won a national book award from Military Writers Society of America. That same year, Army Wife Network selected it for their monthly book club pick. In early 2010, USA Today, The Associated Press, and Military Times carried the story of my sixteen-year journey to bring the novel to life, and the book hit #2 on Amazon’s paid bestseller list for Military Aviation. In 2011, Navigator Books released the Kindle edition with a new cover, and in 2012, the book hit #1 on Amazon’s Top Rated War Fiction. In 2014, my literary agent and I signed a contract with Deer Hawk Publications, and the second edition of The Final Salute once again soared to the top of Amazon’s bestseller charts for several days in December. To date, I have 137 reviews and most of them are five and four stars.
My only regret is that I never met Neil in person. But he knew that I never stopped being grateful. The last time I heard his voice was on my home answering machine last April when he called to check on us after my husband underwent major surgery. I can still hear Neil’s voice in my head. He was a big old gruff teddy bear. He was my hero.
Because of Neil Levin, I became a published novelist. He was the catalyst that started everything in motion. My second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, has just released from Camel Press, and I’m currently working on the sequel. When I started my first novel in 1992, I had no idea that a retired Marine fighter pilot would become my publishing angel.
For sixteen years I believed in this novel. Snarled at rejection. Revised. Raised two sons. Sold stories to national magazines. Stayed true to my dream of finding a traditional publisher. And then it happened. On my 50th birthday. Then USA Today, The Associated Press, & Military Times took notice. And now almost six years after the original publication, my little book that grew wings and learned to fly is back in paperback and e-book.
I’ve written about them often over the years. About their hell-raising good times at the Officers Club, living life to the fullest…on the edge of the envelope at a speed faster than the rest of us.
I’ve written about them at other times, too, when they have slowed down to a snail’s pace. When a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black veil because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. A young wife is widowed, a child left fatherless, an older couple wandering around confused, their future of grandchildren and the good life destroyed in a fireball. “Weren’t we supposed to go first?” they ask.
So when my essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” first appeared in the pages of Air Force Times, March 16, 1992, I felt a sense of joy mixed with sadness. Joy because I was happy to have another byline in a national publication that treated me like a professional, but the sadness came from the fact that once again I had written about loss––the loss of fighter pilots dying in peacetime training missions. This subject would be the driving force behind my debut novel, The Final Salute, first published in 2008.
Fast-forward twenty-two years later and the republication of my essay in a prestigious new anthology titled “Red, White, & True,” released from Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. Edited by Tracy Crow, a former Marine Corp officer and an award-winning military journalist and author nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, this provocative and powerful collection presents thirty-two true stories about the enduring impact of U.S. military service from WWII to present. The writers include a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a novelist with a New York Times Notable book award for 2012, and a writer seeing his name in print for the first time.
Today, I take pride in the fact that my story made the final cut as it “passed for review” in front of Tracy Crow and her editors at the University of Nebraska Press. Sometimes my job as a writer is to give a voice to those who are no longer living. In my own small way, I help keep their legacies alive. In Chapter 3 on pages 16 – 20 of “Red, White, & True,” I give a voice to the names of too many good men who flew west before their time.
This collection of powerful true stories would make a great gift.
Every Feb. 6, Tom and I remember our dear friend, USAF Capt. Roy Westerfield, killed in his F-111 as he made his final approach into Cannon Air Force Base, Feb. 6, 1980. Roy was a gifted musician, and he played the trumpet at our wedding just a few months before his final flight. His beautiful wife, Petey (Maryellen), took our wedding photos.
For us, Roy and Petey were always larger than life. Petey is gone now, too, but both of them live on in my Air Force Times’ essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” republished in the new anthology Red, White and True from Potomac Books. Thanks to editor Tracy Crow for including my essay in the collection. In some small way, my story helps keep their memories alive for future generations.
Petey’s poem “Taps” graces the opening pages of my first novel, The Final Salute. She did get to read the book before she passed in 2009. Her poem is a tribute to Roy.
Roy Westerfield’s death haunted me for years. With Petey’s permission, I gave Roy’s first and last name to two different characters in The Final Salute. Tuck Westerfield and Roy “Wheaties” Wheaton carry on the legacy of so many fighter pilots who die in the prime of their lives…while flying peacetime training missions.
This essay first appeared in Air Force Times, 2/19/89. After the story ran, I became a frequent contributor to Military Times. This opened the door for my future work atFamily Circle Magazine.
On The Home Front: It’s a sign That Daddy’s in charge
I fear some generals would scoff and full-bird colonels balk if they knew the truth – that Daddy is running their Air Force. At least that’s how it looks in the Tactical Air Command, from the perspective of two Air Force brats.
According to these experts on insignia, my 2-and 4-year-old sons, the blue, red and yellow TAC patch seen everywhere on our base belongs to a Very Important Person: D-A-D-D-Y! They don’t mind that others are wearing it, but they know that any man or woman in uniform bears “Daddy’s patch.”
Living on base, we cannot walk to a corner without the 2-year-old freezing in his tracks, pointing up to the street sign and firing off a round of “Daddy’s! Daddy’s!” He continues his verbal strafing until I’m forced to agree that, “Yes, honey, it’s Daddy’s patch.”
Frankly, I never noticed the TAC emblem displayed on every street sign on base until the baby started talking. Before then, I thought he was just pointing up at the birds and clouds and the usual airplanes. Daddy flies them. Every airplane within range is Daddy’s, according to the 2-year-old. The 4-year-old is smarter now. “That isn’t Daddy up there, silly goose! Daddy is fishing,” or home in bed sleeping. On rare occasions, he’s even at the office. By the way, wing headquarters belongs to Daddy, as does any building with a TAC patch displayed on the premises.
One day while the boys and I were driving down a street on base, both of them broke out in unison, craning their necks upward and pointing, saying, “Daddy, Daddy!” I was looking out the windows, attempting to keep the car on the road, searching the wild blue yonder for Daddy. The only planes I could see were the ones grounded on the ramp. Then I caught a glimpse of “Daddy’s patch” high up on the water tower. I started realizing then how much that emblem really meant to the boys.
Another example was recently when I rushed our youngest to the emergency room after he tried unsuccessfully to tackle a rose bush. He was distraught, but not from the injury to his eye. He hasn’t been too keen on hospitals and doctors lately because of repeated visits to the emergency room (he has one speed – Mach 1 – and he’s always banging and bumping into something).
I tried calming him, rocking him, only to hear him scream at the top of his lungs, “Home! Me go home, Mom.”
I decided then, out of respect for the other patients, to walk him up and down the corridor. “Home, Mom,” he was saying and pointing to the nearest exit when suddenly he changed gears and shrieked, “Daddy’s patch!” referring to a tiny TAC sticker on the hospital wall. That little sticker was my saving grace and his, because from then on, he tried to be a big boy, like brother, braving it out while a med-tech flushed the injured eye with two bags of saline solution.
My respect for the patch rose even higher after that. It makes my boys feel happy and secure – like a small shield of armor in a world built for grown-ups. If Daddy wears that patch every day, then seeing it elsewhere is a good sign that Daddy can’t be too far away.
~ Kathleen M. Rodgers is the author of the award-winning novel,The Final Salute , featured in USA Today and ranked # 1 on Amazon’s Top Rated War Fiction in 2012. The novel has been reissued byDeer Hawk Publicationsin e-book and print September 2014. The story takes place at a fictionalized England AFB, La. The base closed in 1992 and was part of Tactical Air Command. Her new novel,Johnnie Come Lately, is forthcoming from Camel Press February 1, 2015.