I have a confession to make: I love the writings of J. Fitzgerald Williams. I know most of you have never heard of him and those that have are rolling their eyes. I also understand that most of you don’t welcome this diversion and just want to get on with the business at hand. Believe me, you need to hear this.
J. Fitzgerald Williams has been called “The Great Offender of the Language”, and with good reason. His semi-literate ramblings that some call novels are heart-breakingly awful and yet are read by millions. They are a guilty pleasure of mine in much the same way marijuana or pornography gives a dirty feeling of wellbeing to others. His lack of talent and inability to write a cohesive story helped persuade me to peruse my MFA in creative writing.
I should have known it would get me into trouble.
My adviser was aghast when I suggest my thesis would be on this train-wreck of an author.
“This is the most important paper of your academic career,” Dr. Fleming said. “You can’t waste it on a third rate bumbler. Please chose another topic.”
“But professor, this untalented hack has six publish novels, each of which has sold millions of copies. He can’t just be ignored,” I said.
“Oh yes he can, and should, be ignored,” he responded. “McDonalds has sold billions of hamburgers but would a culinary arts student write a thesis about their secret recipe?”
“Aren’t you interested in why so many people find his work so fascinating that they’ll part with hard earned money to read it?” I asked.
“The world is full of idiots,” he said. “Because people find a serial killer fascinating is no reason for you to stake your scholastic reputation on this literary serial killer.”
“A criminologist might write about Ted Bundy,” I said. “My thesis isn’t to praise this anti-Caesar but to bury him. I wish to find out how he has gained such a following. Why do people put up with his transparent plots that have holes big enough to drive a fleet of aircraft carriers through them? If a little of what makes him so popular can be distilled out and added to writing that is worthwhile but otherwise ignored, don’t you think I’ll be doing my duty to the literary community?”
He thought about it for a while before giving me his blessing. “OK, go ahead and have a crack at it. You’ll soon find that getting any factual information about this man will prove difficult at best. If you decide later to change your topic, I will happily help you find something a little more worthy of your talents.”
I thanked him and left his office before he could change his mind.
He was right, of course. J. Fitzgerald Williams was more than reclusive. There are no pictures of the man, he has never given an interview, and his web site and blog are obviously created and kept up by his agent, who claims to have never met him.
His pseudonym is often considered by far his most creative work of fiction, particularly when you remember that his first two books were attributed to “J. Fitzgerald Williams of Tennessee”. There are so many hints and questions in that name.
Was he named after the popular president, J. F. Kennedy? Perhaps the “J” isn’t for “John” but for “Jay”, like Jay Gatsby. With several references in his name to F. Scott Fitzgerald that interpretation of ‘J’ makes sense. This could even tie into Sci-Fi author, Jay Williams, though he more than once references books by Charles Williams in his own writing. But then, looking at the tag “from Tennessee” it is most likely he was thinking of the great playwright Tennessee Williams. Or was it all of the above? Is his name a great triple or quadruple pun?
When you look at the man’s ineptness and his inability to write anything more subtle than an attack by wild grizzly bears, you can see why people find the riddle of his name so improbable.
So, my first task was answering the question “how do you track down a false name when even the author’s agent claims to not know his true identity?” The answer, of course, is you follow the money.
I asked a hacker friend to help me. After about 20 minutes he sent me a report. Discovering J. Fitzgerald William’s true identity was insultingly easy for my friend. He told me that the only reason nobody had found him is nobody was looking.
Our man’s true name is William Gerald Johnson. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Gerald Ronald Johnson and Evelin Rosemary Johnson, nee Fitzwilliam.
His pseudonym lost most of its cleverness but added a different layer. It was, of course, just his name rearranged and slightly embellished. With “Fitz” meaning “son of” he really was Fitzgerald. Of course he also got “Fitz” from his mother as well as a second William. So he had “Fitz” from two sources, “Gerald” from two sources and “William” from two sources. “John”, being the odd name out, became an initial. And then when you throw in that he was born in Tennessee, it all fit.
His life was much less remarkable than his name. He grew up in a small town outside of Memphis. He dropped out of high school less than two months before graduation after a nasty argument with a teacher. He left home and worked a series of odd jobs before becoming a ranch hand in Montana.
That is when the remarkable actually did happen. He wrote his horrendous first book, “The Mis-Content”, and actually found an agent and a publisher. Just as amazing, people actually bought the book. To tell you the truth, as a sixteen year old I bought it just to see if I could find the answer to why it was called “The Mis-Content” instead of “The Malcontent”. I never did figure it out, but I was hooked on the strange twists and tortures of words he called sentences.
With the success of his first book he quit his job and never looked back. Since then he has lived like a recluse in his little farm in the mountains. He did go through a few hard times, like the fact that he lost every member of his family in just over two years, but this didn’t seem to change his pattern.
I talked to a few people who knew him as he was growing up but didn’t find anything of interest. He was a poor student at best and nobody really expected much from him.
I was about to concede defeat and look for a new topic when I saw a strange coincidence.
Mr. Perkins, the teacher who Will had fought with before dropping out of school, died in a hunting accident exactly one year to the day after the first J. Fitzgerald William’s book was published.
Strangely enough, the antagonist of the book, a plotting, scheming ex-professor of the main character, was killed in a botched robbery. It was a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time type of death and made for unsatisfactorily convenient end to the book.
Mr. Perkin’s death was, of course, nothing more than a coincidence, the accident happening in Tennessee while William was in Montana, but I decided to see if there any other such coincidences.
Right away I discovered that Will’s brother, Larry, died exactly one year to the day after the publication of the second book, “Thin Blood”. Larry, who was just starting off life on his own, was involved in an auto accident. The other driver, who was drunk, lived. Larry had a large insurance policy in William’s name.
The hero of “Thin Blood” had a beloved sister who died in an airline accident. The pilot had been drinking.
Another coincidence? I had discovered that there was little love between the brothers. Most in the town think they had stopped speaking long before Will had left. So why was Will the beneficiary of Larry’s rather large insurance policy?
The third book, “The Dread Disease”, had the protagonist’s parents as the first victims of the title plague.
William’s father died of colon cancer six months after the book was published. Will’s mother fell sick while his father lay dying. She never recovered and passed away exactly a year after the publication date of “The Dread Disease”.
Three books and three deaths exactly a year after the publication dates. Not just deaths, but deaths that were strangely similar to the deaths in the books.
I was fascinated and horrified. How about the other three books? I started researching, knowing they wouldn’t be as simple.
Set in the early Nineteenth century, Williams’ fourth book, “The Banker’s Pride”, was a poor attempt at a historical novel. A rich land owner made life miserable for one of his indentured servants. In the end the landowner, also the banker of the title, was found guilty of many crimes against the indentured servant and his poor wife. Because of the great justice system in America the rich man was hanged and the poor man vindicated.
It actually didn’t take as long as I assumed to find this one. Will had been having property disputes with one of his neighbors since he had bought his farm. The neighbor had been on vacation in Mexico and was accidentally shot by the police during a raid on a house owned by a drug cartel. His death was, of course, exactly a year after the fourth book was published.
The fifth book, “Mr. Green”, proved to be a little harder, but not much. It was the story of a man, Mr. Green, coming to terms with his life after the death of his wife. Looking for deaths exactly one year after the publication date I soon found Amanda Greeley. She had gone to Will’s high school. Asking around, I could at first find no connections. Amanda’s best friend, however, remembered that Will had asked Amanda to the prom and she had turned him down. Amanda was the victim of domestic violence. Her estranged husband beat her to death exactly a year after “Mr. Green” was published.
The sixth book, “The Don’s Death” was about a normal man hiding from the mob. The book had quite a few deaths. Which one was the important death? Or were they perhaps all relevant?
Looking up the publication date I found that I was a little early. The publication date was twelve days away.
One of the deaths in the book came to mind. The main character was in hiding in Wyoming. One of the Don’s cronies discovered his hiding spot. On his way to inform the boss he was mowed down by a rival gang.
I went to my family’s lawyer. I knew he wouldn’t believe me, but he could at least help me in another way. I did my duty and then went into hiding.
In myth, one usually receives seven magic bullets. The first six do the holder’s will while the last provides the fatal shot sealing the contract with the devil. If this be so, Will doesn’t have much more time. He has fired his first six shots.
Of course nobody will ever believe this story. But I beg of you, please look into it. If you are reading this or hearing it read out loud then my worst fears have been met for I plan on destroying this document on the thirteenth day.
That is, I plan on destroying this document on the thirteenth day if I am still alive.
So I must begin:
Being of sound mind and body, I Thomas Patrick Adams, do hereby create my last will and testament.
As a lead up to Halloween I am going to repost some of my stories that have a spooky, sinister or creepy edge to them. This is the first. I originally posted on the 26th of May, 2014.