All posts by Ron Rhody

A LOOK INSIDE

CONCERNING THE MATTTER OF THE KING OF CRAW will be released Nov. 5, 2016 at the Kentucky Book Fair.

         King of Craw by Ron Rhody I’m not sure how to characterize it. It is a work of fiction, yes —  but it is based on real people and real events. A mystery? Yes, but not of the usual kind. This one has to do with a man of glaring contradictions —  a mercurial man of lethal temper and tender compassion  whose acts cause him to  becomes an iconic figure in Bluegrass folklore. No one who knew him, not even he himself, could explain why he did the things he did.  He was either Lucifer let loose or Galahad  to the rescue of the poor and the powerless. The debate on whether the sum of his actions was good or evil was intense then and remains so now. And the matter of his death is still suspect.  Was it a fight over a game of dice  as the newspapers reported, or a killing ordered by powerful men who had had enough of the King of Craw?  The book is about all that, and friendship, and the odd turns love can take. Considering this, I thought it might be  good  to give prospective readers an idea of what the story is and how it unfolds. So over the next few weeks we’ll run a  few of the opening chapters here. The one that follows is the Prologue – the “overture” before the curtain rises. Comments and questions are welcomed.

* * * *
“The essence of good and evil is a certain disposition of the mind.”
                                                                                    Epictetus

PROLOGUE

 

I have been able to reconstruct most of the facts of his life, but I still cannot explain the man.

The sudden explosions of violence.

Like the cutting of Semonis.

The surprising acts of compassion

Like the burial of the mountain child.

What drove him?

He and Semonis were friends. At a dance. A woman. A remark by Semonis that John Fallis thought insulting? The knife was out and in Semonis’ side before anyone could move.Some spark, some circuit in his mind connected and he reacted violently and without thinking.

That happened often.

Ted Bates.Not serious. The bullet missed the bone and the leg healed. Tubba Dixon had a pool cue broken over his head and would have had the jagged stump shoved down his throat if he hadn’t been pulled out of Fallis’s reach.

There were other shooting and cuttings.

Anger? Surely.Self defense?  Perhaps.

For the Semonis knifing, he was arrested, charged with cutting and wounding with intent to kill without killing, and jailed. But nothing came of it.

From his bed, Semonis petitioned the Judge to set John Fallis free. John is my good friend, he declared. It was a simple misunderstanding, as much my fault as John’s.  Please let him go.

The battered and the wounded often petitioned the court to let him go.

Because of acts like the burial of the mountain child?

A stranger, a man from the mountains, had come to town to find work and feed his family. No work could be found. While the man searched, his baby son caught the river fever and died.

The man knew no one. Had no friends or family to call on.  No job. No money. No way to bury his baby son, his only son. For a man like him, a man from the prideful culture he came from, the shame of it was damning, the despair of the loss of his son crippling.Then someone told him about a man who might help.

No need to belabor the story.

The stranger came to the grocery. Stood before the counter. Humble. Humiliated. Told his story. Promised somehow, someday, if only Mr. Fallis could see his way clear to lend him enough money to bury his son, he’d pay it all back, swear to God.

John Fallis listened quietly. Took the measure of the man. Didn’t lend him the money. Gave it to him. More than was needed.  And stood with the man and his wife at the burial so that they didn’t have to endure it alone.

Like the spark that set off the violence, there was a spark that triggered compassion.

I doubt he was aware of either.

Whatever the case, to most of those in that section near the river where the poor lived, that section where the bad-ass bars and the honkey-tonks and the cat-houses huddled, to most of the people in that part of town where John Fallis had his grocery, and to many others all over town that were poor and powerless, he was revered. He stood up for them.

To the proper folk of the city, though, he was Lucifer unleashed. He was a lawless, thuggish, un-intimidated insult to decency and the Powers-That-Be. They wanted him gone.

John Fallis was ten when he began to carry a knife.

The older boys, the bigger boys, picked on him. He fought back. They thought it was funny. Until he got the knife.

When he became a man, no one thought it would be funny to pick on John Fallis. He brooked no insult, would not be cheated, would not be pushed around. He bent a knee to no man.

He was the King of Craw and Lucas Deane was his acolyte.

I came to know Mister Fallis through Lucas. That’s how I thought of him—as Mister Fallis.

He was strikingly handsome. He had a charm that was almost magnetic. When he chose to use it, which was not always, he won friends easily and women became willing prey. Being around him was like being swept up in a vortex of energy where something exciting, something dangerous, something unexpected could happen, would probably happen, at any second. I fell gladly into his orbit. I was only a boy then. We were in the seventh grade, Lucas Deane and I, when we met. I was transferring in from a distant school. Lucas was already there. That year was nineteen-twenty. The Great War was over. The country was opening the door to the Roaring Twenties.  The Big Shoot-Out was a year in the future.

The Big Shoot-Out. The day John Fallis took on the entire city police force. You’ve heard of it. Everyone’s heard of it. Even the New York Times was appalled. But John Fallis was special to Lucas Deane long before that. Lucas and his mother would have starved but for John Fallis.

Lucas’s mother was ill and couldn’t work. They were penniless.  No money for food, no money for rent. Lucas was only seven at the time.  John Fallis heard of it. He found Lucas and gave him a job … things he could do, sweep up at the grocery after school, stock the shelves … and paid him enough that they could get by.

Later, Mr. Fallis kept Lucas on. He liked the boy. Lucas’s gratitude was endless, his admiration boundless. I could understand that. I came to admire John Fallis, too. But not to the point of blind devotion.

Lord, save us from our heroes.

WHY HIM?

Antonio (Anthony Policastro, the CEO & Publisher of the Outer Banks Publishing Group) asked the question, and others, in an interview after reading the final manuscript of Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw. Fair question.  The answer, and others, follow:

What brought you to write about John Fallis and his life and times?

King of Craw by Ron RhodyI had just wrapped up When Theo Came Home (the last, maybe, in the Theo trilogy) and was searching for a subject for the next book. I had two ideas. One was for a story about what happens when the meek inherit the earth – you know, the promise in the Beatitudes, Mathew 5.5, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” – what would happen, I wondered, if that happened?  The end of times… everyone gone … to heaven or hell … only the meek left. What would happen? Fascinating idea to play with. The other idea was to try to build a story around John Fallis, the King of Craw. Fallis was a real character, a fascinating character, a dominating figure in Kentucky’s capital city during the Roaring Twenties, controversial at the time, legendary now. I grew up in that town.  I remember hearing stories about about him  – most of them bad. He was a legitimate businessman on the one hand, but on the other a gambler, a brawler, the biggest bootlegger in the whole area with a violent temper and a reputation for mayhem. He was also handsome and charismatic. The  common folk loved him. He helped them and stood up for them against the Establishment. The-powers-that-be thought he was Lucifer unleashed. There is speculation even today that powerful forces in the city sent a hit man to do him in.  I thought I’d try to find out about him and build a story around him. The meek could wait.

Fallis is a real person. How did you get the information you needed to craft an informed story?

 The way a reporter goes about it. Search the record. Ask questions.  Talk to people who might have some information on the matter.  Son Bixie Fallis’s “biography” of his father at the Capital City Museum was a start and an enormous help.  Bixie’s story is that of a loving son writing about a hero father, so it has to be taken with a certain reserve, but it is first hand and intimate. And, thankfully, there is Jim Wallace’s collection of oral history interviews with people who lived in the Bottom and Craw and who did know John Fallis. Those interviews are in Jim’s This Sodom Land treatise done for the University of Kentucky. It is enormously rich. And there is Doug Boyd’s work in his book Crawfish Bottom. It has a whole section on Fallis. Those two pieces, and the local area newspapers, were my principal sources. And there are, of course, people who didn’t know Fallis but have relatives who did and who remember the stories they were told. I managed to find and talk with several of them.  After that, it was a matter of imagining what might have happened or could have happened. I’ve tried to stay true to facts I could uncover and make sure the inferences I’ve drawn from them are fair.

Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw is my fourth novel.  I think it is the best. I learned a lot listening to Theo. The first three books are about him and make up the Theo trilogy. They did not start out to be trilogy. But one story led to another and then became three. Like Concerning The Matter, they are set in Frankfort, which is Kentucky’s capital city – a jewel of a place, a river town in a Bluegrass Valley that has a character and a feel to it that works on me like magic. The Theo books are about a young man who starts out as rookie reporter assigned to cover a bizarre murder which leads him to a career in big time newspapering in New York city and other world capitals and ultimately back to that little town on the river trying to decide whether to run for Governor. Along the way there are a couple of murders. There is political intrigue and malfeasance, graft, blackmail, Melungeons, and, of course, a girl, Allie, who becomes a woman and who is in and out of his life through it all. I don’t know whether Theo runs and gets elected Governor or not. At present, I’m not interested in finding out, but I may want to.

I “reported” those first three books.  I grew up newspapering, That’s the way you tell a story – who, what, when, where, why –and, if you can figure it out, how. I think they’re good books. They move fast and the stories should keep the reader wanting to know what happens next.

I didn’t “report” Concerning The Matter Of The King of Craw.  I wrote it. There’s a difference. The who, what, when, where, why, and how are there. But there’s more. I think I’m getting the hang of it.

When you start a novel, who are you writing for?

I’ve given that a lot thought. I’m writing for myself. I’m telling myself the story. If I can hold my interest, keep the story moving, touch a cord of emotion, be intrigued by things I didn’t know, discover something of value in the motives and actions of my characters, I’m happy.  I’m not trying  to do art. Or ” literature.” I’m trying to tell a story. A good story. A worthwhile story.   Our live are built on stories. All we knew is stories — the stories we are told by others … the stories we tell ourselves. We live by stories.

Is there another book on the horizon?

 Probably. For a long time I’ve wanted to try a memoir of a sort. Not a real memoir. A string of stories or vignettes that tell of some of the things – people, places, events – that have mattered and may hold some interest for others. I’m not sure I have the courage to do that. There is the remembering of course. Pain came along with the good times. Not sure I want to revisit all that.  And there is the matter of ego. I’ve never been accused of being overly modest, but there seems something so egotistical about presuming to do a memoir that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with trying one.

Theo is still hanging around. Not sure whether he’ll want to run for Governor or not. Might be interesting to find out what happens if he does. And, of course, there’s the meek. I’ve often thought that given choice of an ambitious Heaven, or the certain beauty of Mother Earth, I’d opt for her.

We’ll see.

 

King of Craw by Ron Rhody

COMING IN NOVEMBER: THE KING OF CRAW

He brooked no insult, would not be cheated, would not be pushed around. He bent a knee to no man. He was the King of Craw and the powers-that-be wanted him gone.

John Fallis, the King of Craw
John Fallis, The King of Craw

That’s the notorious and perplexing John Fallis — a legend in his own time and an icon in Bluegrass folklore now – a mercurial man about whom a great deal is said but very little really known. He was a successful businessman, a political power, a gambler, a bootlegger, movie-star handsome, sometimes wildly violent, yet compassionate and charismatic. The proper folk thought him Lucifer unleased. To the the poor and the powerless, he was Galahad ascendant.

The story is set in the Roaring Twenties in Kentucky’s capital city. It’s about two boys who fall into his orbit and are witnesses to the events that made him a legend and sparked questions that are still unanswered.   It begins just before the night of the The Big Shoot-Out when he takes on the entire city police force and ends with his bullet-riddled body lying on a craps table in Craw. They said it was a gambler’s fight. But many then, and still, think powerful forces in the city brought in an assassin to take him out.

This is the first piece of fiction built around the man and the times. It moves fast, has much drama and action.  For readers particularly drawn to the mystery of why men do the things they do, and to the unending struggle between good and evil, it should hold a particular appeal.

Titled Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw, the book is set for release on November 5, 2016 at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort. The publisher, Outer Banks Pubishing Group, is taking advance orders now. The website is outerbankspublishing.com.

______________________________

Concerning The Matter of The King of Craw

Concerning The Matter of The King of CrawList Price: $16.99
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
288 pages
Outer Banks Publishing Group
ISBN-13: 978-0990679042
ISBN-10: 0990679047
BISAC: Fiction / Historical / General

Now $11.99 – Pre-order here

 

FLIP A COIN

I’m not sure whether I’m conflicted about this next book or merely procrastinating.

They are three possibilities. I’ve already mentioned them to you

One is a story about what happens when the meek, whoever they are, inherit the earth, as it is written they will.

The second is how the King of the Craw was killed, and why, and how — and what therefrom resulted. He was a person of quite some notoriety was the King, John Fallis, and the Craw itself even more so. Fallis wouldn’t be the main character, a young man who becomes involved with him would be. But Fallis will be pivotal and since he is real and much about him is known, I must be extraordinarily careful about what I imagine him doing and saying. This requires more control of a character than I’m used to. Usually, I just listen and watch.

The third is that  tale of the poor country boy trying to do the best he can in a world he never made. You’ve seen some copy from it — the More To Come stuff. I’ve put that story hold. It would be a true story, or as true as memory can make it, and very difficult to write. I’ve not jettisoned the idea entirely. It’s still there like one of those old songs rarttling around in your mind that you can’t quite turn off.

Must decide. Must pick one. Must begin. Flip a coin?

Tomorrow.

 

RECON, COMPLETED

 

The early returns are in.  The reactions to the opening copy for the More To Come manuscript have been  encouraging. The consensus was “we like it, tell me more, stay with it.”

Which I’m tempted to do.

But….

I didn’t quite realize how difficult a task I’d set myself. Making a story out of all that, a “story” of real interest to those who don’t know me or know of me, a story honest to the facts yet with the suspense and emotion a real story must have, a story that grabs yet is sensitive to the feelings of those involved and respectful of matters that ought remain confidential — figuring out how to handle all that is a bit more than I think I want to try to handle at present. Fiction is inordinately easier.

So for the time being, More To Come is truly more to come and I’m taking the easier way out — starting on a new piece of fiction…the story of Jimmy O’Day and Billy D. and the King of the Craw, I think.

Will keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks for you input.

 

 

RECON,continued

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 9.45.55 AM To refresh your memory, I’m at the start of a new book and can’t decide which idea to follow,

 So I’m doing a recon.

The idea is to load a few chapters of the one I’ve started here and see what sort of reaction it gets. Loaded the first chapter last week. This is the second. If the piece seems to appeal, I’ll stay with it. If not, I’ll start on the other.

The working title for this one is “More To Come.” It’s a reminiscence of a sort, not exactly fiction, but based on remembrances and conversations with people who were there and notes and stuff.

The other, as yet without a working title, will be pure unadulterated fiction. It will probably have to do with what happens when the meek inherit the earth, as it is said they will do — or be another Kentucky based story using the King of the Craw as a pivotal character.

If you’re so inclined and have the time, your reactions would be appreciated.

Honest, unvarnished, opinion is needed.

Many thanks.

More To Come

Chapter Two

 Brigadoon

 

My mother was afraid of thunderstorms at night.

We lived a long block away from the newspaper where my father worked as a young reporter then. The quickest way there was through an alley that ran behind the two Five-And-Dimes and the Grand Theatre.

Our apartment was on the second floor of a big brick house on the corner across from the Old Capitol grounds.  From our front windows we could look out on the almost constant activity there. In early times, it had been the town square. People were always there — young mothers wheeling baby carriages, small children running and playing,  older men sitting quietly on benches under the trees reading their papers or talking.

In the summer it was shady and cool and we played tag in among the trees and over the rises, and in the fall, when the oaks and the maples took on their colors and dropped their leaves we ran laughing and kicking through the mounds of red and orange the groundsmen had raked up.

The square was on the northern edge of the downtown business district, bounded on three sides by residential streets such as the one we lived on, and in front by Broadway, the main street of town. Railroad tracks ran down the center and all traffic stopped, pedestrian as well as automotive, to the let the long trains pass. Oddly, I don’t remember ever being wakened by the sound of a train while we lived there, but I was only four.

Fort Hill was to the rear.  Rebel cannon had been entrenched there when John Hunt Morgan’s raiders briefly occupied the town before the battle at Perryville during the Civl War, and the Kentucky River, the state’s major waterway, was almost in sight down at the end of Broadway.

The Old Capital itself was majestic. Made from Kentucky River marble and fashioned after an ancient Greek temple, it sat on a slight rise in the center of this square. The only Kentucky Governor ever killed in office was shot on the sidewalk leading up to it — William Goebel — almost caused an uprising. Politics is passionate business in the Commonwealth. A brass plate marks the place where he fell. Later, after we had moved to another part of town and I had grown old enough to be allowed out after dinner to play, we’d chase each other among the trees near the marker and tell stories of old Ruby’s ghost walking these grounds while the whole town was asleep.

So there we were, my mother and I, in that second floor apartment, she just barely into her twenties, enormously proud when his byline appeared in the morning paper, but apprehensive at being left alone with only me at night while my father did the work that newspapermen do.

She managed fine — except for thunderstorms at night.

When the big black furies of spring came roaring down the valley, whipping the trees across the street into a frenzy and thunder cracked like cannons and lightning stabbed the sky, she would grab me, no matter the hour, throw her coat around us both and run with me in her arms through the wind and the rain up the alley to the Journal and the safety of my father.

I do not know what they must have thought of us, charging bedraggled and breathless into the newsroom. The Journal was a morning newspaper. The editor and various reporters, unless out on assignment, had to be there, working on their stories for the next morning’s paper. What did they think when we came busting through the door? Though she would have been embarrassed,  I think they would have been amused, and indulgent, and protective. She was so young and pretty they would have had no other option. And they were Kentuckians. Kentuckians are honor bound to be comforting and courteous to ladies in distress.

I do know that my father would take me, frightened by my mother’s fear and the dash through the storm, and stand me on the work table in front of the big window that looked out on the street and he would stand behind me with his arms around me and we would both watch the storm. He’d tell me how to count the time from the flash of the lightening to the sound of the thunder and to watch how the wind danced with the trees.

He’d tell me what a grand show Mother Nature had arranged just for us, that all that thunder and all that rain — and the wind, and the lightening — it was nature’s magic — it was marvelous– not something to be afraid of, it was something to wonder at and enjoy.

Afterwards, when the storm had passed, he would walk us home and see us safely settled.

My mother never fully lost her fear of the storms, but after a while the fear shrank to mere uneasiness and after that season, we did not run through the alley anymore.

I, though, ever since, have loved the beauty of thunderstorms at night.

The street where we lived then isn’t there anymore. It disappeared under the bulldozers of urban renewal. But I see it still.

The town I grew up in isn’t there anymore, either. Oh there is a town there. A fine town. Just not the one I grew up in.

I still see that one, though, superimposing my memories of it over the look and the feel of the town as it is now. It’s still there, but in the background, Brigadoon like.

I bring the matter up now, here at the beginning, because I think home places, the places where we are born and grow up, mold and shape us. They set our sense of self, our manners, the ease and confidence we hold, the way we talk, the way we think. The look and the feel of them comfort us, reassure us.

And the kids we grew up with, and the adults whose values and actions defined the town as we were growing up — these thing have a fundamental influence on who we are and what we become.

So there I was in this little town that I liked a lot and that I felt liked me.

Then we left.

 

(more to come)

A RECON

I’m at the start of a new book and have a couple of ideas in mind.

Can’t decide which to try.

 So I’m doing a recon.

The idea is to load a few chapters of the one I’ve started on here and see what sort of reaction it gets. If the piece seems to appeal, I’ll stay with it. If not, I’ll start on the other.

This one, working title “More To Come,” is a reminiscence of a sort, not exactly fiction, but based on remembrances and conversations with people who were there and notes and stuff. The other, as yet without a working title, will be pure unadulterated fiction.

I’ll file a bit of copy from “More To Come” here each week for a couple of weeks starting today. Not too much, just enough to give a feel for the book and where it might be going. My guess is that the piece of fiction will be a better use of time, but want to test the water with this idea before deciding.

If you’re so inclined and have the time, your reactions would be appreciated.

Honest, unvarnished, opinion is needed.

Many thanks.

_________________________________

MORE TO COME

Country Boy

I haven’t decided whether I’m just a poor country boy trying to do the best he can in a world he never made … or a lover and a poet.

Neither may turn out to be the case, but we’ll see.

Kentucky State Capital Building
Kentucky State Capital Building

When I say country boy, think of Kentucky, think of the Bluegrass of Kentucky.

Think of a land where, in the spring, broad meadows of blue-tipped grass flow in gentle swells across the countryside like waves on a peaceful sea.  Think of small creeks gurgling over polished pebbles and white board fences lining pastures where young colts play. Think of cornfields in rich river bottoms and tobacco, golden brown, hanging in racks in big black barns whose sides are open to the season to let the sun and wind do its work.

And moonlight. Lord, there is no light so soft and clean as the light of a full moon on a mid-summer’s night with the whippoorwills calling and the big bass moving up on the rocky points at Cumberland.

Think of that.

I haven’t mentioned the snow-capped hills of winter, or the bright woods of spring with the dogwoods and the redbuds blooming. I haven’t mentioned the fight around the flagpole the night the Northern Lights came down. Or how he died arguing that blacks had rights. I haven’t mentioned the visitors at Romance, or what we did about the cyanide in the river, or the L.A riots, or the Tech Center rapist, or the way we gobbled up empires, or even the day they killed the king and brought the old king back.

But I may. And more maybe.

I confess that all this may be mostly fiction. It is only what I remember. I will try to make it true, though there is the lesson of Roshomon to be recalled and the truth that truth, like beauty, may lie in the eye of the beholder.

As for the lover and poet part, think of John Donne and Andrew Marvell. Think of King Solomon’s Song of Songs and the Rubyiat. Think of the real Thomas Wolf searching down that lost lane end into heaven, looking for a leaf, a stone, an unfound door.

Think of your first serious kiss. Think of the morning coming and the scent of her still warm and fragrant on the pillow. Think of music on summer nights drifting down the hill to the little beach by the river. And sunsets hanging on as long as they can over Hanalei Bay.  And how peaceful it is.

Think of that.

Country boy.

Poet and lover.

We’ll see.

___________________________________

 Wanderer

My dad was a newspaperman

Rhody.Dad
My father and I at the Frankfort Sportsman’s Club. I’m surely not a poster child for gun safety!

One of that special breed.

A crusader.

He died fighting for the little man.

He was only forty-six.

My mom, bless her heart, was the prettiest, sweetest woman you ever saw – a country girl that came to town and met this dashing young man just back from the Navy.

She was still a young woman when he died, with four children to raise and no money to speak of.

She lived to be ninety-one.

Fifty-odd years a widow.

I ache when I think about that now – about how lonely it must have been for her – and how hard.

If she thought it was hard, she didn’t let on.

We lived in a lot of places

My dad got wanderlust and we trekked out to California… to Yreka, a county-seat town up north in the Siskiyou Mountains near the Oregon border. He edited the paper there. It was his first editor’s job. He’d been a reporter back in Kentucky, so moving up to the editor’s chair was a big step.

He liked Yreka all right. Mom and the rest of us loved it. My youngest sister was born there. But he wanted to come home. Our town had a hold on him he couldn’t shake.

There were no newspaper jobs open there then so he had to do it in stages. From California, we went to Mississippi, to Tupelo. Hated it. We were there only a few weeks. And then to Sarasota and Tallahassee in Florida, and then to Mobile and Dothan in Alabama.

He edited papers in all those towns.

We weren’t gone very long – three years or so. To make that many moves in that short a time span, we must have been almost constantly getting on and off trains and buses and in and out of schools.

I don’t remember whether I thought we were gone a long time or not. I was about eleven when we left. I know I was glad to get home.

Home.

Little-Frankfort-nestled-among-the-hills, seat of culture and learning, capitol city of the Grand and Glorious Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Home.

That seems the place to begin.

______________________________

Wonderer

So the story starts in a small town in a bend of a river in the Bluegrass.

It moves on to another little town in the bend of another river and from there to Manhattan and then San Francisco, with diversions to attend to a few matters in Washington and Chicago and London and Paris and Weipa up on the western edge of the Cape York Peninsula of Australia, and Dusseldorf and Hong Kong, and Tema  in Ghana, and the Druid’s island of Anglesey in Wales.

 

(more to come…)