Some of you may not have been able to find this review and interview when it first appeared in September. An edited version will be at MTSU publication Mass Comments in late January or early February 2014. – Tom
by Tom Wood
Official disclaimer: For the past 12 months the author and I have participated in a critique group where I had the opportunity to read portions of this novel while it was a work in progress. This is my first reading of his edited finished product.
The novel is uniquely written as a fictional true crime novel. Think of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but with the major difference being Mr. Capote’s work is based on an actual crime and interviews with real people. Vendetta Stone has the same style and tone but is fiction.
The novel takes place over a 6-day period from August 13, 2010 to August 19, 2010, in the city of Nashville, TN, and is told through the eyes of fictional newspaper reporter, Gerry Hilliard. Readers familiar with Nashville will delight at the references to various city spots, from Rotier’s restaurant to seedy Dickerson Pike, from Percy Priest Lake to Percy Warner Park, gated Brentwood communities to East Nashville, the Tennessee Titans to the Parthenon.
This is a well-written novel with a minimum of very mild profanity, and one where several murders are committed without gory descriptions. While I referred to this as a fictional true crime novel it is more appropriately in the thriller genre.
The Principle Characters
Gerry Hilliard – newspaper reporter and story narrator
Angela Stone – the victim
Jackson Stone – Angela’s husband
Patrick Stone – Jackson brother
Sheila Stone – Patrick’s wife
Sarah Fletcher – Angela’s guilt ridden best friend
Herb Fletcher – Sarah’s husband
Delmore Remus Wolfe – psychopathic serial killer
Chief Wilson King – Nashville’s Chief of Police
Sargent Mike Whitfield – lead investigator
Dan Clarkston – television news reporter
Pastor Robert Armstrong – Jackson Stone’s minister
Dr. Erica Karnoff – psychologist
The fictional Author’s Note provides background information on the beautiful and talented Angela Stone. From there the reader jumps into a news conference that takes place after her battered body is discovered. A distraught, zombie-like, Jackson Stone takes the podium and public announces his intentions to personally find his wife’s killer, no matter the consequences. The city, and soon the nation, is quickly divided between those who want to see vigilante justice and those seeking the order of law.
Mr. Wood weaves us through a tapestry of mania where careers can be made or broken on the outcome of Jackson’s personal tragedy. It seems everyone connected to the investigation has an opportunity for personal gain. The reader also sees the dynamic behind the scenes interplay of today’s media (print, talk-radio, television, and social media) as it chases a headline-making story.
Jackson Stone’s only method of finding Angela’s killer rests with making himself bait for a trap. The novel’s climax ultimately comes to the only intersection possible, a showdown between Jackson Stone and Angela’s psychopathic killer, Delmore Remus Wolfe.
If you enjoy thrillers, you will enjoy this novel.
Michael J. Tucker is the author of Aquarius Falling and Capricorn’s Collapse.
By Author Michael J. Tucker
An Interview with Tom Wood
Author of Vendetta Stone
Tom Wood is a former sports writer and copy editor for The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. Since his retirement, he has continued to contribute freelance articles for several news outlets. He is also an actor and has appeared in several episodes of the ABC series Nashville. His prior literary work includes a piece for the anthology, Filtered Through Time, and as a contributor of an interview for Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King.
MJT: Tom, congratulations on the publication of Vendetta Stone. Though this novel is a work of fiction it has the feel of a “true crime” story. What was your inspiration for book?
TW: This all began in 2008 when my wife and I were watching a local newscast. A man’s son had been murdered and he was very angry in the interview. I turned to my wife and said, “Wow, that guy doesn’t want justice, he wants revenge.” After a few seconds, I added, “And so would I if something like that ever happened to you.” I couldn’t let go of the idea and an hour later, I was writing. I don’t have the skill set to hunt down a killer, but Jackson Stone does.
MJT: Your story showcases the interplay between the media, print and television, and law enforcement. What role did your experience in the newspaper business play in writing those scenes?
TW: Everything. I wanted to show how the media – newspapers, radio, television and now social media – covers an event of national proportions. We see the results every day when we open a paper, click on a television or turn on a radio. But we don’t see how that coverage is decided. It’s a fascinating process, one I have been privileged to be a part of for four decades, including college. They say people want to see the baby, not the birth. Well, plenty of people are videotaping their babies’ birth these days. I’m providing some of that transparency, in much the same way that the television show ‘The Newsroom’ starring Jeff Daniels does a tremendous job of showing how network news gets on the air.
MJT: I thought you did an amazing job with your writing technique. It is somewhat unusual in that your reporter, Gerry Hilliard, becomes both an observer and part of the action. Your chapters are dates with numeric subchapters, wherein there are time jumps, flashbacks, and multiple points of view occurring in the same timeframe. While it’s complex you deftly wrote it without confusing the reader. It’s a very unusual structure. What was behind your decision to use this approach?
TW: One, to show how fast things can happen, and give a sense of immediacy. What’s your wife doing right now while we’re talking? Something. How about your neighbor – what’s he doing right now? Something. The TV people are trying to put together their newscast at the same time we are trying to get out the morning paper. A chapter I really enjoyed writing was how everybody reacted differently to reading the Sunday morning headline – I set it at 15-minute intervals to build up to Jackson going to church that morning.
The idea for writing it this way came after I had finished my first draft. I took it to a local publisher in 2009 and met with one of the editors. I had written it as a straight narrative tale and the editor said she liked the story, but would like to see me revise it by writing from either the protagonist Jackson Stone’s point of view or from the journalist’s. I tried for a month to get Jackson’s POV because I thought it would be too easy to write from reporter Gerry Hilliard’s. I wanted to challenge myself. I was never quite happy letting Jackson tell the story, so I decided to let Gerry act as the narrator. And, Mike, the rewrite just started clicking. And then I realized that if the reporter was writing this book, he was writing it as a true-crime story that actually took place in Nashville and went national because of Jackson’s behavior. And I thought it was a cool concept. I mean, this is just a basic revenge story, but it’s the twist that sells it. So I went all out, starting over from scratch and treating it as a real incident. And people are responding. I know I’ve done my job when someone comes up to me as says, ‘how did I miss this in the news?’
MJT: How long did it take you to write the story, from the first keystroke to publication? What was your process?
TW: It was about three years’ worth of work stretched over a five-year period. There was a lot of down time, or dead time, between waiting for responses from agents and/or publishers, who want exclusive looks at a manuscript. I presented it at the Killer Nashville Conference for Thriller, Mystery and Suspense Writers and Literature Lovers in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Each year, multiple agents would ask to see it, spend time with it, suggest changes or reject it. It really wasn’t ready for publication, but it got better each year. After the 2012 conference, an agent suggested I work with an editor and then resubmit. I found a great editor in the Nashville area, Kathy Rhodes, who helped me reorganize and polish the book. A little restructuring, but not a lot of rewriting. That was a three-month process this spring. Instead of re-submitting to the agent, I chose to self-publish through Amazon’s CreateSpace, and learned how to do all that myself. That was how I spent June and July. I did it all, except for the cover. Katherine Campbell, the daughter of a former fellow journalist at The Tennessean, designed a great cover that captures the essence of the book. If I had gone the traditional publishing route, it would have been another year to 15 months before publication. It was just time, and I am very pleased with the finished product and initial reader reaction.
MJT: There is a very dramatic scene near the end of the novel where Jackson Stone hears his name shouted, but there is no one there. What are you trying to do with that scene?
TW: Well, it was a convenient plot device, but mostly it was to show that there is more to this world than just the physical one we can see, that God, or one of his angels, will directly intervene on our behalf and provide protection when we need it most. That scene is based on a supernatural, life-saving incident that really happened to me. My father died in 1986 while we were living in Franklin, Tenn. About a year later, I was sitting at a major intersection and looking straight ahead when the turn-signal light flashed green. As I stepped on the gas to turn left, in my left ear I heard my dad scream my name, TOMMY! It was my dad’s voice, loud and clear, and that’s what he always called me. My foot came down hard on the brake pedal and I whipped my head to the left. In that instant, a car came flying through the intersection traveling at about 50 mph. If I had proceeded, that car would have T-boned me right in the driver’s side door. I likely would have been killed. Or seriously injured. True story.
I wasn’t going to a church at the time; I considered myself a spiritual person, but wasn’t a fan of ‘organized religion.’ The incident got me to re-thinking those views and helped set me on a path that led me to switching from the Methodist faith I grew up in to the Southern Baptist faith to which my wife belonged, and it has ultimately led to my writing this book. For many years, only my wife and family members knew the story of this incident and of my salvation. We were living in East Nashville when I shared the story with the pastor who would baptize me, and he said it was an angel using my father’s voice to communicate in a voice that I would recognize and respond to. Makes sense to me.
MJT: Is there a moral message that you wanted to communicate with Vendetta Stone?
TW: I wanted to show the inner conflicts and grief that a man of faith must cope with in the worst of times. How faith in Jesus can sustain us when we are faced with a horrific personal tragedy. I’ve never been through anything like what happened to Jackson, and pray I never do. But I hope I show the moral fiber and character to deal with whatever life throws at me whenever it happens. And it will. Life is a series of tests, then we pass on to the afterlife. I no longer fear death because of my faith in Jesus. Whenever that day comes, it will be a glorious day, no matter the circumstances in which I am called home.
MJT: What’s your next project?
TW: I am working on the sequel now as well as a screenplay of Vendetta Stone. I have mapped out ideas for three or four more sequels, and will keeping writing about Jackson and his friends as long as readers want. I am also working on a couple of non-fiction projects. I am still doing some freelance writing for newspapers and magazines and I have also caught the acting bug. I was a background character actor – a fancy description for an ‘extra’ – on 10 episodes of Nashville in season one and I have been on set twice for season two which airs beginning Sept. 25 on ABC. I have been in a couple of film projects and even a music video – all things I never planned or expected to do. I recently signed on for representation with Talent Trek in Nashville. So who’s retired? Not me!
MJT: Where can readers get a copy of Vendetta Stone? Do you have a website?
TW: It is available through my website, tomwoodauthor.com, as well as Amazon and Kindle. And it is at several Nashville bookstores, including Bookman Bookwoman, Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt, Parnassus, East Side Story and Mysteries & More. And I am exploring other non-traditional outlets.