Lower Thames Street follows the Old River into London. Like many of the streets in the timeless city, the harmony between old and new has to be seen to be believed. I walk on the blue stones marveling at my surroundings.
In just a few moments, I'm meeting with Lewis Bettford, one of the driving forces behind The Gaze, and The Next Chapter.
At the junction of Thames and the end of Monument Street, the Walrus and The Carpenter is ensconced behind the shade of an ash tree. The traditionally narrow doors are nonetheless welcoming, and soon I'm enjoying a sip of the best Amaretto sour I've ever had, sitting by a window.
Outside, a man strolls easily while talking on his mobile. Dressed impeccably in a dark ensemble, he exudes a classy elegance that sets him apart from the people around him. He ends the call with a smile on his face. He runs a hand through his brown hair and shakes his head as though frustrated, except for the bemused grin. He must have been talking with his best friend, Samantha.
When he sees me, he begs for a moment to order a glass of wine before joining me at the small, heavily lacquered table.
"Was that Samantha you were just talking to?"
"The bloody Queen of England herself, lad. Just ask her, she'll tell you all about it," he says, shaking my hand in a strong grip. "The word is you've been busy, visiting each of us. I appreciate you hopping the pond for me. I couldn't get away from this conference, and you know how life can be so busy."
"I do. I'm just glad you agreed to see me."
"Believe me, the pleasure is all mine." He reaches for something in his pocket. "Got us tickets for the Liverpool match. I was supposed to take Sam, but..." he shrugs.
"Great, so you leave me to contend with her wrath."
Lewis laughs. "It is legendary. You'd know better than any of us. To the next great story, chap."
"To friendship," I toast back.
We touch our drinks and settle in to do a bit of catching up. When we begin our third round, I pull my notepad out and suffer his lecture on technological advances. I explain that when it comes to writing, I still enjoy the very basics, and we begin with the interview.
JR: So what's it like to have the adoration of so many readers?
Lewis: (grins) There is nothing whatsoever to dislike about receiving the love and adoration of complete strangers. Mum would be quite proud of her son, and take all the credit, of course.
JR: Of course. I don't think I've had anyone say anything bad about you, especially when it comes to your friendship with Samantha.
Lewis: I'm sure I'm found as imperfect as the next man. Despicable even but there are times you have no choice, but to love a dear friend no matter what they do. Perhaps allow them to find their own answers. It's not easy to be around Sam at times. You know that. I can only say that I like a good challenge, and being a best friend to someone as bloody complex as our dear girl, is quite overwhelming indeed.
JR: It's almost hard to believe there isn't something more between you too.
Lewis: Friendships between men and women always ride an undercurrent of sexual attraction. But there comes a point in the relationship when your roles are so well defined that you want for your friend to be happy, and be there for them when they're not. I always looked at Samantha as my obnoxious, often-troubled, little sister, and I love her as such.
JR: Is that how you view all your friends?
Lewis: A certain lovely lass by the name of Gwen truly pulled my strings. She's tough, kind, and ever so lovely.
JR: In other words, you really like her.
Lewis: Gwen is someone you want by your side.
JR: There were more special relationships that you formed throughout the story. Can you say something about those?
Lewis: Brooke and Emily. I love them dearly. Children are incredibly capable of bringing the clearest perspective to those of us, so called grownups, when we need it most. I love kids. I'm a big kid myself so it's easy for me to assume a carefree outlook and live the moment for what it is. It's really too bad we lose that in our never ending quest for more.
JR: Are you always this eloquent?
Lewis: (laughs) I love poetry. Sometimes it gets away from me and comes through in my speech.
JR: If I tell you that I have an inbox full of messages about you, where the senders want someone like you in their lives, what does that do for your ego?
Lewis: Samantha would undoubtedly assume that it would send my ego into the stratosphere, but I'm humbled by their opinion. I can always say I was following the author's script. Do you agree?
JR: Not at all. Some characters become larger than life and the author is unable to suppress their glow. Sam did say you'd try turning the tables on me.
Lewis: Can't blame me, lad. Authors are interesting to me.
JR: Some people want to know exactly what it is you do for work.
Lewis: I deliberately break into digital fortresses, expose their weaknesses, and then make improvements to attain impregnability. We live in an age where once somebody figures out everything is either a one or a zero, the power to move information is within reach. I could give you a long lecture that may inevitably spark a new novel that may raise the hair on the back of everyone's neck, but simply put, I build digital super vaults.
JR: Wow. Guess I'd better stick to the topic at hand. What's your take on The Gaze, overall? Don't pull any punches.
Lewis: Modesty aside, it's one smashing story. I can't imagine it's a simple task to get inside the mind and soul of a troubled lass, and guide a reader through their labyrinths. Based on the reviews, Gaze manages to touch more than one nerve. I'll say that you took many risks and I will sincerely say you have my respect. Some parts are difficult to read, but the characters are memorable, and the ending is satisfying. What did Samantha say about it?
JR: You'll have to ask her yourself. Gaze has a tiny fan group, but each person demanded to see more of a certain character.
Lewis: It's a just reward to your readers. (he looks at the cover of the new novel, but doesn't reach for it) The Next Chapter, is it? What's in store for our dear girl?
JR: You'll have to read it once I leave.
Lewis: If it's a fraction of what Gaze turned out to be, I wager I'm in for another emotional roller coaster. What are the fans saying about it?
JR: (smiling) You're a good guy, Lewis. I'm proud to know you.
Lewis: As am I, my friend. It means quite a bit coming from you. May your new future be bright, Mr. Author.
JR: My new future?
Lewis: I read a short story, John and Ezekiel. Every work of fiction has a kernel of truth and all that. Now, I believe we have a match to attend.
The Liverpool Reds beat Tottenham by a goal, much to our delight. Lewis and I part ways only after I talk about a certain friend of mine, who became the basis for the main character of The Next Chapter. His approval and interest mean the world to me.
Much later, as my flight descends towards the runway at JFK, I realize that there may never be an ending for the voices of Lewis and Samantha. I once vowed never to write a series but the truth is, I miss being a tiny part in the lives of my British friends. I wonder if there's anything strange about missing my characters.
Does Elise Stokes miss Cassidy in between books? Does CF Winn miss Savannah? Does Kristi Ayers miss Chayton and Darian? Does Kaye Vincent miss Jodie and Jay?
I'm willing to bet they do.
I think about the entire experience until I finally find myself at home in front of the screen. With My Two Flags Book 1 in edits, and A Girl Called Mom in its final stages, I give in to an impulse and set my fingers over the keyboard.
The tapping and clicking go on for an unknown length of time.
Recalling CF Winn's strong opinion of the first sentence, I stop and scroll back to the top of the page...
Small towns are cradles of secrets. I left the promenades of Margate as a child, and lost every shred of innocence in a laughable war that left deeper scars than the ones on my back. I never returned...
I allow myself a tiny smile of satisfaction, knowing I'm on the right track. I'm just not ready to let go of my friends. They may exist only in my mind, but have also managed to live in the hearts of my readers for more than a few pages. Jason Stephen McElroy, another of my characters has got a story to tell, and Samantha and Lewis will be a part of it as well.
Javier A. Robayo