Good Monday Morning, reader friends!
Today, we’re featuring an interview with Dave Jackson about his book Harry Bentley’s Second Chance.
Interview with Dave Jackson about his book, Harry Bentley’s Second Chance:
Alexis: What inspired you to write this story?
Dave: As Neta was writing Where Do I Go, the first book in her House of Hope series, I became intrigued by the doorman in the high rise building where Neta’s main character, Gabby Fairbanks, lived. Harry Bentley was wise and capable of so much more than working as a doorman. But that was all we learned about him in Neta’s novel. I began wondering why he wasn’t running a company or functioning in some professional position? And what about his personal life?
That’s when I began to imagine that he was a retired Chicago cop, who’d been asked to take early retirement by Internal Affairs after he blew the whistle on his corrupt boss. They essentially put him on ice while they investigated his accusations and put together the case. So, he “retired” and got a simple job as a doorman, something that wouldn’t draw attention but would give him something to do with his time.
Of course, we don’t really have any problems with police corruption here in Chicago, right? So, this is all fiction.
Alexis: Who is Harry Bentley and why does he need a second chance?
Dave: Harry’s career as a cop had pretty much decimated his family life. Crazy, unpredictable schedules meant he wasn’t home for his wife or his son, Rodney. Stress contributed to a drinking problem. His wife finally divorced him, and his son continued to get in trouble with the law until Harry lost touch with him for ten years . . . until DCFS contacted Harry, asking him to take in his grandson—a grandson Harry didn’t even know he had.
Threats from his old boss, being accused of assault and kidnapping by his grandson’s crack-head mother, and complications in trying to care for his elderly mother with dementia, left Harry in need of help, the kind of help the brothers in the Bible study he visited said came from God. But if he wanted to be a good father to his grandson, he needed to have God as his father . . . Perhaps he was being given a second chance at both!
Alexis: Was it challenging for you as a White male author to write a character that is an African American male? Why or why not?
Dave: Of course, it was a challenge, but one I richly enjoyed. I am part of a men’s Bible study, not unlike the group Harry finally met, and not unlike the Yada Yada prayer group in Neta’s novels. Over the years, my Bible study has been at least half African American. One was a cop. As I developed the character of Harry Bentley, I had my brothers read the early drafts and correct me in various ways. Over the years, Neta and I have also been privileged to be part of black churches that have enriched our lives immensely. Also, for several years I worked with a street chaplain to gangs and assisted him leading Bible studies in the juvenile detention center. All these experiences helped me become comfortable with and highly respectful of Harry Bentley as he developed. But like I said, there were still times my Bible study brothers said, “No, no, no, Dave. Harry Bentley would never say (or do) that. See, what you don’t understand is . . .”
Alexis: Do you want to see more books like yours that are written by White authors about characters of color, published by the Christian book market? Explain.
Dave: More importantly, I would like to see more authors of color get their stories published! But I would also like white brothers and sisters to put in the time and effort to really get to know people of color well for their own sake. Perhaps then they can create authentic characters of color when they include them in their novels . . . and they should always be included, and not just in stereotypic or peripheral roles.
Alexis: Where is your story about Harry set? Is it a setting that can be found in real-life or is it fictional? Paint a picture of the setting with words.
Dave: All these inter-related novels that grow out of The Yada Yada Prayer Group are set in Chicago. Gabby Fairbanks lived in the Richmond Towers penthouse—before her husband kicked her out—and that’s the building where Harry is the doorman. It’s a real building, the tall, black-glass, high rise on the north end of the outer drive on Chicago’s lake front. The House of Hope shelter is fictional, but located near the Sheridan ‘L’ stop on the Red Line. Any public or major location is real and can be found if you want to take a tour. Ball game scores and the weather are even accurate. Neta and I had fun doing this. For instance, when Harry took Estelle out to dinner at the Dixie Kitchen in Evanston, it looked like this (for real):
“The Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop fulfilled the ‘bait shop’ half of its name through its funky décor—there were no crawlers on the menu or in an icebox in the corner. But an old wooden fishing boat did hang from the ceiling, “Rent-a-Rod” fishing poles for twenty-five cents leaned in the screened porch, jars of home-canned peaches and tomatoes sat in open cupboards, and bright tin signs for everything from Genuine NeHi Orange Crush to Burma Shave patched the weathered clapboard walls. Mismatched wooden chairs, checkered tablecloths, and Zydeco music made Harry feel like he was in an authentic Southern diner as they sampled complimentary johnnycakes and selected peach-glazed chicken wings and fried green tomatoes for appetizers. Estelle ordered her étouffée and a side of greens while Harry got crawfish fritters with jalapeño jelly and a side of slaw.”
Alexis: How did Harry feel when he was asked to take an early retirement?
Dave: Harry had put in over 20 years on the force, so he qualified for full retirement. But being a cop is a very stressful career, and he was glad for a break. But reporting his boss’s corruption was the primary reason for his retirement. Harry’s sense of civic duty and concern for justice was why he reported Fagan in the first place. Potentially, it was a career-ending move no matter what way the case went. You just don’t “cross the blue line” and think your career will survive. But he couldn’t have lived with himself otherwise.
Alexis: Why is Harry as a doorman still working to build a case against his boss?
Dave: After submitting his evidence, it was up to Internal Affairs to investigate and build a case. But everything became deadly serious when Harry was threatened for his plans to testify… and when his grandson’s welfare was threatened.
Alexis: What are “parallel novels” and how does Harry’s story follow that concept?
Dave: Parallel novels were a completely new concept in Christian fiction when we proposed the idea: two stories taking place in the same timeframe, same neighborhood, involving some of the same characters living through their own dramas and crises but interacting with and affecting one another—just the way it happens in real life. It’s the kind of undertaking that only a tight writing team can accomplish—like Neta and me. Continual coordination is essential. Of course, we had to work out compatible storylines, but a few “moments of intense fellowship” arose over such trivia as what kind of furniture was in the lobby of Richmond Towers where Harry worked and Gabby lived. But we always worked it out.
Alexis: What was the most challenging—and easiest—aspect of writing this story?
Dave: As is often the case for me, when a character is well defined and fully understood—including motives, history, character strengths and weaknesses—then when you put that person in a situation, the story almost begins writing itself because you know how they would respond to each crisis or triumph. When leading writing workshops, I’ve sometimes used this illustration: Imagine that your best friend’s cat just died. You probably have a very good idea how your friend would respond: Cry unconsolably for a day, and then get on with life. Or go into a long depression. Or say, “good riddance; I was tired of that hairball anyway,” etc. You can predict their response because you know their character.
Alexis: What’s the moral of this story?
Dave: To be a father (or a mother) like God, you need to have God as your father.
Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about this book?
Dave: As the story progresses, and after Harry meets some caring brothers in the Bible study, he begins feel like someone is choreographing his life, not in the sense of forcing him to do or not do anything, but in the sense of providing opportunities for good—to be a father to his grandson, to begin a healthy relationship with Estelle Williams, to develop new, positive friends at the Bible study. Could that be God caring about him and inviting him, he wonders? I hope readers see that possibility in every good gift that comes into their lives.
Alexis: Thanks for the interview! Do you have closing comments to share?
Dave: Neta began including all these new elements about Harry Bentley in her second House of Hope book, Who Do I Talk To? But that, of course, created another timeframe for Harry’s life to progress. He was doing just fine once he had custody of his grandson and was enjoying a second romance with Estelle. He’d connected with God, the Yada Yada brothers, and SouledOut Community Church . . . and then he developed a blind spot right in the center of his vision in his left eye. Was it a brain tumor? A stroke? Diabetes? Or worse . . . was he going blind? Where was God? Why didn’t he answer Harry’s prayers?
So, I had to write Harry Bentley’s Second Sight. Ultimately, he used his police skills as well as his “second sight,” to solve a major crime.
Furthermore, Harry and Estelle became such favorites of many fans that we made them the anchor family when they moved to Beecham Street for the Windy City Neighbors series of five more exciting “parallel novels.” All these novels, and more, can be found at www.daveneta.com.
Thanks so much, Alexis, for this opportunity to share with your marvelous readers.
*Interview conducted by Alexis A. Goring, contributor
About the Author:
Dave Jackson and his wife, Neta, are a husband and wife writing team and the authors of more than 120 books that have sold over 2.5 million copies, including their 40-volume Trailblazer Books about Christian heroes for young readers.
Most of their adult novels, including Dave’s Harry Bentley novels and the Windy City Neighbors series (featuring Harry and Estelle Bentley) are set in Chicago where the Jacksons make their home.
However, Dave’s latest novel, Flying Blind, is set in Colombia, South America, and involves a kidnapping by the revolutionary forces of FARC.
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About the Book:
HARRY BENTLEY’S SECOND CHANCE “To be a father like God, to have God as his father … perhaps Harry was being given a chance at both.” Retired Chicago cop, Harry Bentley, was lying low.
He’d blown the whistle on a gang of rogue cops and was awaiting the day when Internal Affairs would call him to testify and help put their leader, Lieutenant Matty Fagan, behind bars. His cover was working as a doorman in a luxury high-rise on Chicago’s lakefront. Then Gabby Fairbanks and her husband moved into the building’s penthouse. She brought home a bag lady, got a job at the Manna House Women’s Shelter, found her life falling apart, and managed to entangle Harry in the whole affair. (Gabby’s story is in Neta Jackson’s parallel novel, WHERE DO I GO?) But there was an upside. Through Gabby, Harry meets the Yada Yada brothers and the classy Estelle Williams and envisions a second chance at romance.
The Yada Yada brothers provide a new circle of friends to replace his old CPD cohorts. But when Harry discovers he has a grandson he didn’t know about, will he find the faith to take on the boy as a “second chance” to be the father he’d failed to be to his own son-even when the boy creates new dangers in Harry’s fight against corruption and may derail his “second chance” at love?
Dave Jackson and his wife, Neta, are the award-winning authors of the 40-volume Trailblazer series. The phenomenal popularity of Neta’s Yada Yada Prayer Group series inspired them to write “parallel” spin-off novels, two stories taking place in the same context … just the way it happens in real life. They live in the Chicago area, where these stories are set.
Purchase link for Harry Bentley’s Second Chance: