The King of Halloween & Miss Firecracker Queen is a memoir of your life growing up in a family that traveled often and the challenges you faced and lessons you learned. Why was this an important book for you to write?
I wrote this book for my mother- to help her heal after my dad’s death. We had spent almost 20 years dealing with his decline. Thus, it became all we could remember and all my children knew of their grandfather. I thought that if I could write the complete story, it would help all of us remember the good with the bad. Once I got into it, it helped me understand myself more fully, and set me up to live my current life which is wonderful.
This is a ‘daughters tale of family and football’. What were some ideals you wanted to capture in this book?
I want readers to feel the love and complexity of this family. We had/have big love for each other, and had a big love for football. I want readers to know that you can overcome the hang ups from your childhood. I want readers to see that race in the South was more complex than is typically discussed. I want people to know that sports can be a bridge. I want families that are dealing with the cognitive decline of a loved one to know that they can forgive themselves their impatience and frustration with the situation; we are all just doing the best we can with the situation as we understand it in the moment.
The book shows the dedication your father had towards his career and family. What is something that stands out to you to this day about your father?
My father was relentless- that was the key to his success. He was full of optimism and faith in things bigger than himself.
What do you hope readers take away from your story?
First, that my father would not have made a different choice, but he did not make an informed one. I want parents to think carefully about letting their young children engage in any kind of contact sport. I want football in general, and the NFL in particular, to think more deliberately about additional reforms to football that will make it safer. I want the general public to understand the burden CTE places on a family. And I want families that have experienced CTE to draw some comfort from reading our story.
The King of Halloween & Miss Firecracker Queen tells the story of a football life from a daughter’s perspective. Chronicling a rise through the competitive ranks—from high school to college to professional coaching, and ultimately a Super Bowl championship—it also reveals the struggle to deal with the decline and death of the patriarch, Lamar Leachman, from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of that life.
With forewords by NFL legends Phil Simms and Harry Carson, this is a true story of one family’s love for a game and for each other, one man’s strength of character, one woman’s love that sustained him.
Posted in Interviews
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Reading a sports-themed inspirational novel is one of the best things about literature. You get to learn a lot about particular sports and your heart is filled with hope and aspirations at the same time. ‘The Backwards K’ is a great book simply because the author wrote it with enthusiasm and deep feelings. The book is nothing but entertaining, exciting, fun to read and educative. There is so much one can learn from Jet Brine’s life; everything from his struggles, achievements, goals, personal life, general work and contribution to the baseball community. Reading about Jet Brine’s love for baseball was a wonderful experience. I learned how passion and dedication can make you move mountains through his life. Each one of us wants to be a winner and achieve set goals at the end. Jet Brine made me clearly visualize this.
Jet Brine’s end game was to be the best at baseball. He loved slot machines too and enjoyed playing the games. I loved that about him because they made the story cheerful and happy. I loved reading Jet’s story up until things started falling apart. I must admit that I did not see the troubles in his marriage coming, as he seemed so much in love. Linda is among the characters I loved in the book. I had so much faith in her as she seemed to turn things around. She rarely disappointed and was incredible throughout. She was one of the engaging characters whom I could feel connected to. I loved how she reasoned and how she brought the best in everyone. I appreciate her because her encounter with Jet Brine made the plot interesting and fun to read.
The Backwards K is a fictional inspiration book which apart from being entertaining, offers lessons that can help the reader in real life. It is great when a work of fiction blends with the real world, making the reader relate better to the events and the characters in the book. There are some things that most of us did in the past and would love to forget or overcome them. Jet Briner struggled with such things and got to be in situations where he needed to forgive self to move forward. Through Jet Brine, one gets to see how imperfect humans are. You may excel in everything else but one thing comes between you and your success. I am glad the author helped me examine myself when he wrote about Jet. The major theme in the book may have been sports but the author sure explored a lot of issues through the main character.
J. J. Hebert is an excellent writer. His way of storytelling is great and his execution of characters worth noting. Everything in the book flowed well; the plot, themes in the book, lessons, the diction and the general presentation of content. The author is skilled in more than one ways. I love that he made me inspired and motivated by reading Jet Brine’s story. One good thing about J. J. Hebert is his style of narration. One easily grasps what he is talking about and fully enjoys the story.
Pages: 226 | ASIN: B076B6M1RS
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Black Overalls by Tom Donaldson is an all-American tale of home-grown heroism, set in the struggling farms of Texas during the 1960’s. We follow Roy, failed football prospect turned journalist, as he digs into the history of his football idols – and discovers the tale of an unexpected hero. The story takes us from backwater Texas counties, to the State championships, to the horrors of Vietnam, and beyond. We find two seemingly separate lives are more intertwined than we think, and that there’s not much a small town with a big heart can’t do.
The comeback story has a universal appeal – you don’t have to know much about the game in question to appreciate the little guy standing up to the big team. And that’s exactly what this book is: a classic underdog story.
Black Overalls oozes with heart. Tom Donaldson clearly cares deeply about his subject, about the setting, about old-fashioned American values. The book touches on era-appropriate controversies, particularly around race, which culminates in war-torn Vietnam. I have to admit, it’s not where I expected the book to go. But it gives the story a touchingly human element and a feel-good ending. It’s nice to read a book where there’s no shocking twist, no depressing revelation; just a happy ever after. Occasionally that’s to a fault – scenes can lack conflict sometimes – but you certainly come out of it feeling okay about the human race.
This book is obviously a passion project for the author, but it struggles with a lack of proper grammar and punctuation. The pacing is sometimes confusing. The mixed perspective can occasionally jump between past and present without warning or context. And some chapters are often just technical descriptions of matches, venues, plays and lists of scores more comparable to Match of the Day.
Despite the flaws, a need for an editor, and dry sports commentary, I enjoyed Black Overalls immensely. If you’re a football fan or just looking for a short, light read then I think you might just enjoy it too.
Pages: 145 | ASIN: B01BNR347O
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A little bit romance novel, a little bit suspenseful thriller, and a thorough introduction to the world of women’s cycling, Wheeler by Sara Butler Zalesky is an enjoyable and well-written story of a strong female protagonist battling both physical and emotional challenges. Spanning just a few months in professional cyclist Loren MacKenzie’s life, Wheeler is a whirlwind of a read. It begins in the heat of her cycling competition season when she meets handsome actor, Graham Atherton, roadside after a well-timed popped tire and follows their blossoming romance as well as Loren’s cycling competitions across Europe. It’s not all easy riding for Graham and Loren though, as Zalesky weaves intricate relationships between Loren, her teammates, family, and a sinister former boyfriend who is dangerously obsessed with Loren.
Readers who are familiar with professional cycling will doubtless appreciate Zalesky’s attention to the sport, and even readers who have no prior knowledge will enjoy learning about the strategy, training, and teamwork involved in cycling. Zalesky expertly creates a believable and enthralling team dynamic, following Loren and her team through both victories and crashes. Crafting relatable characters and developing story lines over the course of the novel is one of Zalesky’s strengths. Though the first half of the story feels rather one-dimensional with clichéd characters (the hyper-driven female athlete; the handsome, Shakespeare-quoting actor; the jealous ex-boyfriend), Zalesky develops her characters so that by the second half of the story, each of these characters has a well-defined history and far exceeds expectations.
Whirlwind romances are, of course, fun to read and daydream about, but the almost instantaneous and passionate relationship that Loren and Graham form feels forced. Their relationship is full of Shakespeare quotes and French puppy-love nicknames (hundreds of variations on mon amour and ma cherie are tired after awhile). But midway through the novel, Zalesky seems to hit her groove and relies less on these easy wordplays for content, allowing Loren and Graham to have more meaningful conversations. This is pleasing for readers, who may not have realized the novel they were reading would have more Shakespeare than they had read since high school.
Overall, Wheeler offers readers an intriguing literary escape into the intense world of women’s cycling and creates a protagonist that readers will consider a good friend by the end of the story. While few people could withstand the physical challenges that Zalesky puts in front of Loren, it is the emotional challenges she faces that make Loren such a wonderful character. Wheeler examines challenging topics such as emotional and physical abuse, the difficulties of balancing work and relationships, and familial estrangement, and does not shy away from painful moments. Multi-dimensional, inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking, Loren will have readers rooting for her successes and looking forward to a second installment. Hopefully Zalesky’s second novel will come soon, as Wheeler’s abrupt end may catch readers off-guard, feeling almost as if they’ve fallen off their bikes unexpectedly.
Pages: 456 | ASIN: B01I0DTSQU
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Worth Holding On To is a memoir about how you found and lost the love of your life. Why did you decide to write about something so beautifully tragic?
It goes without saying that writing this particular book was no easy task. I remember dating the real life Cyrena (which is an alias, of course) just like it was yesterday. In fact, I remember all elements of that romance and its fallout just as vividly, but I wanted to write these things all down so that should there ever come a day when my memories start to fade, I will still have captured the reality of what was while it was still “fresh,” if that makes any sense. I will never forget her or what we shared; that, I’m sure is evident, but I also wrote this novella as a form of closure. What began as a writing project simply with the end-goal of a sort of ‘self-improvement’ exercise became a source of immense interior strength and spiritual journeying that I felt compelled to share with the world. I knew I wasn’t the only one who ever had experienced a love like this… I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last, but hopefully as readers take the journey with me through the book, they will reflect on their own loving relationships eventually coming to the realization that I did. Love is not an illusion; it is not some made-up philosophical construct. Love is alive; Love is transcendent; Love is a Person. God is Love and if we are all made “in His/Her image and likeness,” then Love is, as God is, all-good, unending, and cannot be overcome by darkness, evil, hatred, sin, sorrow, or shame.
There is a sense of love and innocence throughout the novel. How were you able to capture those feelings and put them into words?
When I knew the real Cyrena, she was indeed a very “innocent” young 18 or 19 year old woman. Of course, then, I was only 20 or 21, but in a number of ways was “not so innocent.” This may sound like the beginnings of a sort of “tale of corruption,” but as the book itself well demonstrates, I never thought of Cyrena as any sort of a “romantic conquest” or anything even remotely close to that. In fact, she was my turning point. What I mean by this is that prior to her entry into my life, I was rather cavalier with the women I had dated. She changed that… The whole experience changed that aspect of my life. I no longer date with the intention of “good feelings,” but rather with an eye, a mind, and a heart towards being for another person what they have yet to find. Rather than showing them another man who “only wants one thing,” the aim now is to show them not even myself, but the reflection of the One greater than I who lives through me.
There is so much to be said about love in this book. What do you hope your readers take away from your story?
Memories are a beautiful thing… of that, we can all be certain. For every single one of us, we also can be sure that there are painful memories. These are all things that are subject to change, however. Memories fade. Experiences do not. There is “something” – maybe it’s in the ether or maybe it’s ensouled within us – but there is definitely “something” that remains with us even when the memories have faded or the experiences are long over. And, we can always carry that with us; we can always go back to it; no one can take it from us; it even follows us into the next life. I believe it is all bound together through, with, and in Love itself. Take this as an example: When a person with Alzheimer’s has reached the advanced stage, they rarely recognize people they have known their entire lives. They truly appear to be a mere shell; almost completely devoid of who we’ve known them to be, but the fact remains that they ARE! They are who we’ve always known; who we’ve always loved. What, then, is it exactly about them that has NOT changed? That is what I want readers to take away from this novella: When we encounter good in this life – no matter how great or how small – there is an “essence;” that “something” about which I have just spoken that we carry with us… That goodness pushes us forward. It gives us hope for better and brighter days and “hope does not disappoint!”
I understand that you currently serve as life-coach and chaplain. Do you feel that these experiences influence your writing?
Certainly, I think they do. As much as others think I am helping them, I find that I am often helped just as much, to be entirely honest. When you interact on a regular basis with the teen struggling with a number of life changes, I see myself in that person and know that I was once where they are. When I encounter the ill child fighting cancer but still desiring to be happy, to experience life, and to “be normal,” I see in them that very hope that I know I need to press on and that we all need from time to time. The people I encounter in my work are not just people; they are reflections of God’s very self.
“You never forget your first love,” according to the old adage. Most of us would probably agree that this is true. However: contrary to what would seem reasonable, our first love need not necessarily be the first, second, or even third romantic relationship we’ve held. Neither must it be the longest one by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, our first love typically ‘touches’ us, indeed, ‘moves’ us in an inexplicable way that is unique and different to each person. What causes one person to love so dearly may repulse another and the other way around, but the real measure of the sincerity of this loving is when someone ‘imprints’ their very memory within your heart.
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