Valley author speaks to Shawmut Men’s Club
Published 4:09 pm Thursday, August 1, 2019
VALLEY — Roy Roberson had the opportunity to come back home Tuesday night, reminisce about growing up in the Shawmut community in the 1950s and 1960s and to discuss his career as an author.
Roberson graduated from Valley High in 1969 and went on to earn degrees in journalism and mass communications. He says the best job he ever had was to be the sports editor of The Valley Times-News in 1972. It led to a 27-year career at Auburn.
“I’ve been blessed by God to travel all over the world,” he told members of the Shawmut Methodist Church Men’s Club. “When I was growing up at 367 Railroad Street I never dreamed I would travel to five continents. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, Shawmut will always be my home. It’s so good to be back here and in the company of men I respected growing up.”
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Those men include Roy McClendon, who coached him in baseball, and Ed Davis, who umpired lots of games he played in. Speaking at the meeting also gave him a chance to be with long-time friend Buddy Combs.
“We grew up poor, but didn’t think about that much,” he said. “When I was young, I couldn’t even imagine going to Chicago one day, much less so many other places I’ve been.”
Roberson’s participation in the state retirement system allowed him to retire in his early 50s, and to launch a quest to write the great American novel. He thought he’d done that when he produced a 650-page double-spaced manuscript and started sending it to publishers.
He thought he was on the verge of something big when a lawyer for Random House called him and told him that a publisher wanted to read his book.
“He later called me and encouraged me to keep writing,” Roberson said, “but that he wasn’t interested in publishing my book.”
That was in 2002. He kept the manuscript in a box on his desk for the next 11 years and did very little writing.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I tried to do it in my spare time but the words just wouldn’t come.”
Then something very strange happened in 2013. He had a vivid dream about these eight boys growing up near Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery during the World War II era. They all wanted to be pilots in the war, dared to dream and eventually were able to fly P-51s, the plane credited for changing the war in Europe to the Allies’ advantage.
“I woke up and looked at the clock,” Roberson said. “It was 3:28 a.m. I made a cup of tea, went upstairs, sat down and started writing.”
He was still writing when his wife came home at the end of the work day.
“She asked me what was I doing in my pajamas, and I told her I was writing a book,” he said. “I knew it wouldn’t be the great American novel, but people would enjoy it. It took me a year to finish it.”
The book is entitled “Some Days in June” and written under the name of James Roberson. A publisher recommended him using his first name, given that there was a lot of material out there under the name Roy Roberson.
Roberson has since authored nine more books, all available on Amazon. They are entitled “Kings of Rock & Roll,” “Ethan’s Way,” “Escape from Milltown,” “Call Me Deaconblue,” “Warrior Sisters: Revenge for 911,” “Goodbye Mr. Kang,” and “Finding Mr. Son.”
“Escape from Milltown” and “Kings of Rock & Roll” have influences from Roberson’s youth in the Shawmut community.
“I was in the dark for 11 years and somehow a light was turned on, and I have been writing ever since,” he said.
Some of Roberson’s childhood friends believe one of his characters is based on Roger McDonald, the now retired long-time recreation director in Shawmut. Roberson said that it’s not intentional, but if that’s what the reader wants to believe it’s up to them.
“Kings of Rock & Roll” is a fictional account of music legends Eddy and Billy King.
The story is loosely based on Harry Aldridge, a musician who played for the very popular group the Bushmen, a band that played at the West Point Teen Club in the 1960s. The book deals with such social issues as alcoholism, drug addiction and abortion.
Roberson says there’s an anecdote in Escape from Milltown that’s based on an actual incident that took place in front of Bryan’s Transmission in the 1960s. It’s about a young person being pulled over by a deputy sheriff while driving without a license. He thought he was in deep trouble but his cool-as-a-cucumber uncle seated next to him knew he could use his friendship with the sheriff to get him out.
Swigging from a jug of moonshine, the uncle told the deputy to get on his radio, contact the sheriff and tell him that Freddy was going bird hunting with his nephew. The deputy did that, got chewed out and meekly went back to his car and drove off without saying anything to the two guys in the pickup truck. The fictional character lived to be 95 and was married five times. He had a philosophy to never do what you think will happen; play your cards out and see what happens.
“I don’t follow an outline when writing stories,” Roberson said. “The stories are in my head. I sit down and start writing them down.”
He’s now working on a series of books in A Family of Ghosts theme.
“They work for the Defense Department, fake their own deaths and then travel all over the world,” he said.
Roberson said he doesn’t write for money.
“I get full benefits from the state teacher retirement system,” he said. “Writing books is pure joy — selling them is a nightmare.”
Roberson survived a personal crisis two years ago this September, when he had quintuple bypass surgery.
“I was having no symptoms,” he said, “but I called (cardiologist) John Mitchell for tests. That’s when they found out I had a problem.”
He got himself checked out after what happened to childhood friend Robert McClure.
“He was someone who had always been in great health,” Roberson said, “but in August 2017 he had problems swallowing. He got it checked out and found he had stage four esophageal cancer. And all I could picture him was someone in perfect health.”
Following his heart surgery, Roberson had another vivid dream. In it, he visualized him tugging on a breathing tube.
“I felt my hand being pushed away from it and hearing a man’s voice telling me it was okay, to leave the breathing tube alone,” he said. “The voice told me to go back to sleep and rest.”
Roberson later asked the nurses who was the man who told him not to be pulling on his breathing tube.
“They told me I was confused about things and that no one had been in the room at the time,” he said. “It all seemed so real. I promise you that someone moved my hand off the breathing tube. Was it some kind of divine intervention, my guardian angel or the same source that inspired me to write in 2013? I don’t know.”
Roberson has some advice for anyone who wants to get into writing to make big money.
“You need two million followers and three social media platforms,” he said. “You have to have that to successfully sell books today. It’s an international thing now. A guy in India designed my web page and a girl in Austria did my Facebook page. Some people I deal with work for a company in Israel. It’s a very complex business, and you have to be global to make it now. Also, it’s a young person’s thing now.”