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From the Writing Desk

WINSTON

In 2012, I was trying to get my first novel, The Professor, published and my agent, Liza Fleissig, recommended that I try to obtain a blurb from a big name author. I sent hundreds of emails and website requests to my writing heroes. As an unpublished writer without a book under contract, it was a tremendous shot in the dark, and almost every single author I queried at that time said no. All were very nice about it, but most bestselling authors have a huge stack of books that actually have a publisher that they are being requested to blurb. I knew the chances of getting a blurb were very slim, but I still asked.

After over a hundred rejections, one author said yes.

Winston Groom.

I knew Winston then as the author of Forrest Gump, one of my favorite novels and my very favorite movie of all time. He was a legend. I figured there was no way he would even respond to my request. But he did. And one week later, I had the blurb that eventually donned the cover of The Professor.

When I reached out to Winston, we were so close to breaking through. Several times, we got as far as the boardroom of a publishing company, where editors who liked the story had pushed things to a vote and a decision had to be made. But the answer kept coming back no. All we needed was a push. A nudge. A break.

Winston Groom was that push. He did that for me without ever meeting me. Without knowing me. And without me having a publisher. It was the break of a lifetime.

I met Winston a few months after he gave me his wonderful blurb. We were in Point Clear for the State Bar Meeting, and he invited my wife, Dixie, and I to his house for a drink and then to dinner. He was an incredibly gracious host and it was a pinch me moment for me to hear him talk about his trials as a young writer. Since then, on several return trips to Fairhope, we were able to connect with him, and he was always kind and generous with his time.

Last December, Winston was nice enough to offer a blurb for The Golfer’s Carol. As with The Professor, Winston’s words will again grace the cover.

I learned yesterday that Winston had died. He had an incredible life and touched so many people in a positive way with his words and actions. He created a fictional character, Forrest Gump, that will live forever. His early novels were critically acclaimed as were the histories he wrote in later years. He was an icon in the state of Alabama. A beloved figure in Fairhope and all over the world. And one of the damn finest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Winston taught me a couple of lessons that I have shared with prospective writers and readers in my book talks over the years. First, you never know what someone will do for you unless you ask. Second, in the writing world, which is full of a thousand “no’s,” all it takes is one “yes,” that can change your stars.

Thank you for saying “yes,” Winston. Thank you for being so gracious to me and my family.

You will be missed.