Look Inside –> First Pages of Text + Reviews

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Well Considered

Cover Design By Audrey and Rick Engdahl

For Barbara

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ONE

Red taillights flashed in the pre-dawn glow. Ron jammed on the brakes of his white, four-door Ford Taurus, glanced at the rearview mirror to see if the car behind would hit him, and then looked ahead again. Shit. I almost rammed him. But why did he stop? What is it? A wreck? A pedestrian?

Cars were stopping at the traffic light even on green, drivers staring across the four-lane highway toward the new subdivision of town homes, straining for a better look, pulling onto the shoulder, jumping out, grabbing cell phones. He stopped too and climbed out. On the shoulder a young black woman was talking on her phone. He saw her scanning him as he approached and imagined what she saw—a tall slender man, medium brown skin, handsome, very short hair, fortyish, dressed for the office.

“Excuse me. Can you tell me why everyone is stopping? Is it a fire or something?”

“Hold on,” she said, pressing the phone against her chest. “Can’t you see it?”

“What?”

She pointed across the road. “That wall over there. By those houses.”

He turned, focused, and saw it—racist graffiti in huge white letters spray-painted on the sound barrier by the Big Oak subdivision, facing the highway.

“Damn. Thanks.”

“No problem,” she said, returning to her call.

A man in his mid-thirties with dark brown skin wearing business attire jumped out of a black Mercedes sedan. Frozen, he gazed with his mouth wide open for half a minute, before returning to his car with his lips curled into a snarl. Next to him on the shoulder, a white man with graying hair, in similar professional dress, stared from a cream-colored Buick LeSabre, reading the wall and slowly shaking his head.

Ron pulled out his cell phone and speed-dialed Wilma. “Listen, don’t bring the kids on the highway today. Take the back way.”

“Why?”

“Oh, they don’t need to see this. It’s really obscene.” He told her about the graffiti, not before looking around to see if anyone could hear him. “The wall says, I Hate and then they use the n-word, and then it says White Power, KKK, I Hate Koons, and Hitler is Back. Whoever did this must be neo-Nazis. I’m not kidding. And then it says Die the n-word, and then FUCK the n-word. And there are two swastikas. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d like to grab the sons of bitches who did it and ram their heads down a toilet.”

“Now, Ron.”

“They must have been up on ladders to do it. And it was right out there for everyone to see. I don’t know how they did it without being seen from the road.”

Wilma was quiet for a moment and then agreed to keep the children away. Ron hung around for a few minutes gaping with the others in an angry demonstration of solidarity before climbing back in his car. He turned on the light jazz station and resumed his commute.

Shit, he thought, shaking his head and recalling the advice his mother Mildred had given him two months earlier, before he and his family had moved from California into the Washington DC area. Maybe she was right.

He remembered her sitting at the head of the table in her dining room in Oakland, white curly hair framing her tan face, her blouse a brown-and-white African print. Ron was beside her, his hands folded on the lace tablecloth, Wilma in the kitchen, and the children nearby in the family room.

“Things are different back east—you’ll have to be more careful there,” she said. “Those were slave states, you know—Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and—”

“Yes, yes, I know, Mother—Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were slaves in Maryland—”

“—and they keep building those suburbs out in the farmland, Ronnie, where the rednecks and racists live.”

“Racists are everywhere, Mother. You haven’t forgotten about the cops beating up Rodney King.”

“I remember. And him saying, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’”

“Yeah.”

The sounds of cartoon villains from the family-room TV intruded, mixing with the clinking of dishes from the kitchen. Aromas of leftover ham and sweet potatoes lingered in the air. A basket of cold white rolls, a tray with butter, salt, and pepper, a few plates, and two stray glasses littered the table.

Mildred put her hands on the edge of the table and looked straight at her son. “But listen, Ronnie, I never told you this before, but I think I should now. The reason our family moved to the West Coast was something really ugly that happened back east.”

Ron sat up straight and looked at her quizzically. “What?”

“I hate to even think about it. That’s probably why I’ve never told you.”

His brows furrowed. “Told me about what, Mother?”

She spoke hesitantly. “Well, the thing is that my grandfather—your great-grandfather—was lynched back there.”

Ron sat back. “Lynched? My God! That doesn’t happen to people you know.”

“It did to us.”

“Where did it happen?”

“East of Washington somewhere—we don’t know exactly where—in a farming area. He was a farmer.”

“Great. That’s near where we’re moving.”

“I know it is.”

“When did they do it?”

“In 1907. That’s when the family moved.”

“But why did they lynch him?” he asked, raising his hands in supplication. “What did he do that led to it?”

“We don’t know why they did it. It was a long time ago. I never even heard about it till I was sixteen. I guess my mother and father didn’t want to lay that load on me until I was old enough to carry it.”

Ron’s eyes narrowed. “Load?”

“Oh, you know—people assuming he was lynched for some supposed good reason—like he raped or murdered someone—and us having to explain it if anyone found out.”

“But that was generations ago. Who would care now?”

“You never know who. And you never know what people whisper to each other.”

Ron nodded. “So when did you find out?”

Her eyes gazed away into the past. “My father told me in 1956, not long after California integrated the schools and public places and repealed those laws against mixed marriages and interracial sex.”

“Hmmph. 1956.”

She said her father had spoken to her as she got ready to go out on a date. He wanted her to know how dangerous some white racists could be, and where she shouldn’t go in the city. Then he told her about the lynching. It had happened when he wasn’t much more than a baby, so he didn’t remember anything except going to live with his grandparents afterward and not having a daddy. Not much later, his mother had moved the family to Chicago, where they lived with relatives for a few years, and then to California, where she cleaned houses. She remarried when Ron’s grandfather was ten or eleven.

Ron slowly shook his head, his eyes never leaving Mildred’s. “Sounds like she wanted to get as far away as she could.”

Mildred spoke in a bitter tone, her eyes squinting, shoulders tense. “Uh-huh. And what my father remembered most was his mother’s rage and how she never stopped hating white people and never ever trusted any of them. She told him how the white people back there treated his family like they were animals and strung up his father even though he never did anything wrong.”

“Damn.”

He took a pen out of his pocket and picked up a paper napkin from the table. “What was his name?”

“My grandfather was named Thomas Phillips.”

“Thomas Phillips. He was the one who was lynched?”

“Uh-huh.”

“In 1907.”

“Most likely.” She waited for him to finish writing. “And your grandfather’s name was Benjamin Phillips.”

“Right.”

“Anyway, Ronnie, I know things have changed a lot since then. But my father had enough hate in him for a thousand men because of what happened. I want you to promise me that you’ll be careful back there. There are still bad, bad people out there.”

“I will, Mother. You convinced me.” He grinned and relaxed his body. “I’m going out and buy some guns today.”

“Ronnie. My handsome boy. It’s nothing to joke about …”

He left his mother sitting in the dining room and carried the remaining dishes to Wilma in the kitchen.

Marty appeared from the family room and started following Ron. “Hey, Dad. Who got lynched?” Marty was four-and-a-half feet tall and slim, with his dad’s color, good looks, and short hairstyle.

Ron threw Wilma a helpless glance as she looked up from loading the dishwasher. Her medium build was clothed in black slacks and a short-sleeved white blouse, her hair a shoulder-length curly shag, her skin a shade darker than Ron’s. Ron looked down, shook his head, and…

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Well Considered — A novel of suspense, mystery, history, and humor,
as Ron Watkins looks into the 1907 mob murder of his great-grandfather
on a Maryland tobacco plantation

“A profoundly memorable and affecting novel” —Robert Fleming,  AALBC.com

 “A sensitive study of race and history in the American South” and
“A multilayered thriller” —Kirkus Reviews 

 The lives of their ancestors collided a century ago, and through a suspenseful plot, they collide again today, in “Patuxent County” outside Washington DC. Morris lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland, one of the most diverse in the country, and locals will recognize this region and its complex history as the basis for his novel.

The descendants of slaves and sharecroppers, tobacco farmers and white supremacists live side by side with recent implants. The location is a microcosm for the rest of the nation, and the characters, dialogue, and inter-racial relationships, as well as the action and drama, will hold much interest for all readers.

Morris has a wry sense of humor and a deft ear for dialog between characters having many different racial and cultural backgrounds. Also, as we saw in his Vietnam-era novel, Cologne No. 10 for Men, Morris knows how to put together gripping action scenes. And his deep humanity comes across in the way the story resolves. Dick Morris is a clever writer, and this book deserves broad readership and great success.

—Michael A. Gollin, Esq., author of Driving Innovation

Well Considered gives an interesting historical perspective on Southern Maryland where so many people in the past have worked in tobacco fields.
C. Bruce Johnson, TV anchorman, WUSA9, Washington, DC author of Heart to Heart

Well Considered is a modern-day quest tale, enlivened by the protagonists’ interesting and believable pursuit of historical facts.
Susan Pearl, Historian, Prince George’s County Historical Society.

Morris has written an entertaining novel on a difficult subject – how neighbors of different races can break through the color line and become friends.”
Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, author, In Between, Memoirs of An Integration Baby

Well Considered reminds us that even today we must be vigilant against hate groups and vigilante justice.
June White Dillard, Esq., President, NAACP – Prince George’s County, MD, Branch

As an African-American attorney who moved into the Washington-Annapolis area from California, I empathize with Ron’s adjustment to the Southeast, with an emphasis on ‘South.’  I particularly appreciate how Richard Morris tries to grapple with some of the complexities of race relations in America, and capsulizes the universal truth that individual relationships, like the one developed between Ron and Annie, are key to closing the chasm between the races. Once you have a true understanding of a person’s life struggles and history, many of the perceived barriers to community and even friendship, fall away.           —Deon C. Merene, Washington, D.C. and Maryland

The reader gladly joins the protagonist as he methodically researches the past to uncover the truth behind a wretched murder in his family. The suspense escalates as modern-day evil threatens to repeat history. I definitely felt compelled to turn the pages right to the very end.           —Wendy Kedzierski, Founding Editor, Child Guide Magazine

Genealogy is generally considered a dull, but safe, obsession suitable for elderly folks with weak hearts. However, in Well Considered, the hero, Ron Watkins, finds climbing his family tree to be anything but dull; in fact, it is full of surprising twists and turns which leave the reader alternately claustrophobic or terrorized. Ancestral research has seldom been more gripping.                —Laird C. Towle, Ph.D., founder and formerly CEO of Heritage Books, Inc.

Well Considered is a suspenseful but deeply moving novel that gripped me throughout.                 —William C. Byers, artist and educator

Racism and injustice are part of American history; Well Considered tells some of the story.           —Joseph B. Herring, historian, author of The Enduring Indians of Kansas:           A Century and a Half of Acculturation and Kenekuk, the Kickapoo Prophet.

Well Considered is populated with real characters, and Morris again shares his smart storytelling. Like his previously acclaimed novel, this read is fast paced and fascinating.              —Janis Rose, librarian

Through the novel’s diverse characters and points of view – 360-degree covereage, if you will – Well Considered helped me to refine my views as to race relations, but it did not attempt to tell me what to think.              —Samuel F. Heffner, retired businessman


Complete AALBC Review:

Some critics have often said white authors cannot capture the soul and passion of African American characters, but that is not the case with Richard Morris’s aptly titled novel of race, hate, eugenics, and violence. Morris (Cologne No. 10 For Men) takes the tortured memory of a lynching of a Black man, Thomas Phillips, killed by a white mob in 1907 in Maryland and places it front and center in the mind of a contemporary man, Ron Watkins, his great-grandson. After learning the sordid details of the race crime, Ron seeks to unravel the facts of the murder of his elder.

His family, relocated from Oakland, California to the D.C. area, knows the vicious, subterranean venom of prejudice running just below the veneer of civility. Mr. Morris, a white man, has been looking and listening to all of the nuances of modern life, especially the joys and disappointments of Black culture and history. Through Ron, he examines the fear, insecurity, and potency of the American Black man, which some of our authors dismiss as just cheap machismo, gangsta posturing, and emotional shallowness. But Morris also creates the customary white bigot, Jimmy Clay, a son of the Confederacy and a Neo-Nazi with predictable gusto and demonic Gestapo rage. Peerless narrative point and counterpoint.

Mr. Jimmy Clay, sometimes speaking like hate rabble-rousers Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, addresses the white fears of the post-Obama era in this fictional Eastern state: “Goddamned uppity niggers, coming in here acting like they own the country, wearing their white shirts and ties, and dressing up in suits, and driving their big black SUVs…Buying them big, fancy houses, moving in their little black monkeys, coming into the stores and bars and restaurants and movies. They’re the problem. They don’t know how to act. Don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know their place.”

Yes, Ron explores some of the bitter, disgusting segments of the Black history, but the lynchings completely underscore the vitality and strength of our ancestors. The writer looks favorably on the spice and spunk of our families, our husbands and wives, as they make their way bravely into the white world. When he probes the race killing deeper, he finds that his current situation mirrors the one endured by his great-grandfather decades earlier. In fact, Jimmy Clay, with his horny kinfolk Annie, is living in the house where Ron’s elder used to reside. Ron has a yen for the suggestive Annie and changes his running routine to trot past her home. Jimmy and his boys spy on the Black man, eventually assault and toss him in a deserted well. The book asks some important questions: Is it possible to right a historic wrong? Is prejudice a part of human nature? And what is the remedy for hate?

With on-target commentary or race, sex, crime, family, social and gender issues, and mob violence, Well Considered is a profoundly memorable and affecting novel of an African American man trying to come to grips with the hate-filled past and the poisonous divisive present.

—Robert Fleming, AALBC.com

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