The switchblade and the cross on the cover are pivotal in the book’s first scenes as a twelve-year-old boy uses both to protect his younger brothers from a thief who turns out to be their uncle. Both, by the way, belong to the man who inspired the book. He made the cross as a boy.
Meet Ben Tom Lawless. I kept sporadic notes on the stories he told me, committed to memory the bizarre scenes I witnessed. But I never really believed they would find their way into print. The journey from those scattered notes and memories into a novel is difficult to tell. And the novel was somewhat painful to write.
I try to write what I know. Some authors would say that’s a coward’s way out—that we should write about things we dream or stories pulled totally from our imagination. They say that’s real creativity. Maybe, but I think most novelists conflate true life stories into fiction. Most write from personal experience.
But for Firstborn Son, the early scenes are told vicariously. I am not the protagonist; I wasn’t there. But I’ve heard the stories told many times and few know the character who inspired Ben Tom Lawless as well as I do. I was there for many of the later events, so I only had to bend my rule about writing what I know.
There are lessons to be learned here. Ben Tom Lawless is an enigma—a creative, multi-talented genius who also does things that defy logic. He’s not well-read (well, hardly read at all). But he is an artisan possessed of an innate talent for creating, building, drawing, or repairing almost anything—a God-given talent that compensates for his almost impossible upbringing, attending dozens of schools, and his lack of what most would call “scholastic skills”.
He also has an incredibly generous spirit. And he practices his munificence even when it is detrimental to himself and those he loves most. He is possessed of acute business acumen. He has great ideas, knows certain things about starting a business and how employees should be motivated. But his business insight is more than offset by decisions and actions that defy common sense and normal business practices.
The extreme deprivation he suffered as a child causes him to keep things long after they have lost their usefulness and value. His sense of generosity causes him to pay too much for things he purchases. A walking contradiction, right?
He has a “mother- hen” complex with an insatiable desire to physically and spiritually nourish and protect not just his wife and children, but his parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, even cousins. Even strangers, con-men, and criminals are welcome under his wings. If a human snake bites him, he welcomes it home again.
I think all these inconsistencies can be traced to his very difficult childhood. His brothers succumb to the negative experiences and influences of their childhood, but Ben Tom takes the opposite direction.
Read about Ben Tom and tell me what you think. What can we learn from this man?
One experienced writer complimented the writing, but said she felt “bruised” after reading the first few chapters. I’m still trying to make up my mind if that was a compliment or not.
If you read this book and Rails to a River, you will see how they connect. If you follow my books, you will probably see more of both Ben Tom and Tee.
Here is a sampling of what other early readers are saying about the book:
Firstborn Son is a "can't put it down" book. Jim Ainsworth has delivered another wonderful story, leaving you with wanting more about this family.
Ainsworth is my new favorite writer. Great story of how circumstances affect our lives. Loved the book.