By Dan Levy
It was the late W.C. Fields who said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” Fortunately, many writers never got that message and, as a result, wrote many great things after struggling to get published.
J.J. White is among the authors who either didn’t get the message from, or just plain ignored, Mr. Fields. In fact, after seven fiction manuscripts and over 250 short stories, PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is White’s debut novel. “You have to be persistent in everything you do, no matter what age you are.”
At 61, White would be the first to tell you that he’s not really wired toward the conventional. He still surfs in the ocean, has kept his liberal leanings, and listens to Top 40/Contemporary music (unless his wife hears Rihanna, then she changes it). What’s more, unlike most authors, White had neither a penchant for writing or a mentor to inspire him at a young age.
White wrote and submitted a short story to his high school composition teacher who, after grading the story, suggested to White, “Good story. Please learn how to write.” He didn’t.
Decades past, and one day White found himself out for a week with a back injury. “During that week, I said to myself Why don’t you start writing? I was like Forrest Gump who started running for no reason. I started writing for no reason and got hooked.”
And it paid off. PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is set in 1962 Burlington, Vermont, where seventeen-year-old Gavin Weaver survives a dreadful explosion, six hours of brain surgery, and thirty days in a coma. He wakes possessing not just one savant talent, but several, including art, music, mathematics, and memory, and all without suffering any of the usual mental disabilities associated with head trauma. Even in the pre-cable TV/Internet era, Gavin quickly becomes a global sensation. The notoriety puts a murderer on his tail, while his newfound abilities, which seem like a gift, are coalescing into a madness that is robbing Gavin of reason and reality. The odds are slim he will survive both the internal and external conflicts that keep him from the one thing he wants most, the girl he’s loved since childhood.
In creating PRODIGIOUS SAVANT, White borrowed from his childhood. “It started when I was eight years old back in Burlington, Vermont where I was born. Two teenagers where shooting a rifle at a shed full of dynamite at an I-89 construction site. When it blew up, it killed one of the boys and the other was blinded.”
Many years later, White saw a television profile on Jason Padgett. “He was leaving a Karaoke bar after a night out, and he got mugged. He was injured on the left side of his head. When he woke from the coma, he was a genius at math and art.”
White concluded that his debut novel, “just clicked from there.”
White’s love of the 1960s and 1970s have worked their way into his second thriller, DEVIANT ACTS, a tale about a Greg Allman inspired private investigator that takes place in the 1970s. “I enjoy writing about the past, because I enjoy doing the research. Anything that I don’t know in my head, I enjoy doing the research online, or going to the library or interviewing people that know stories from that period.”
Like many of the backstories of debut novels and their creators, White’s is a lesson on persistence that is as true to life as it is publishing. And, as is often the case in life, there’s a silver lining to hard work and believing in yourself. “Once you get good (at writing), you may not have to query agents (or) publishers. They may come to you. That’s what happened in my case.”
J. J. White has had articles and stories published in several anthologies and magazines including, Wordsmith, The Homestead Review, The Seven Hills Review, Bacopa Review, and The Grey Sparrow Journal. His story, The Adventure of the Nine Hole League, was published in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Volume 13. He was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his short piece Tour Bus. He lives in Merritt Island, Florida.