Saturday, December 1, 2018

Interview: Shelton L. Williams, author of COVEY JENCKS

Narrated by Kathy James
Genre: Mystery / Social Thriller
Publisher: Southern Owl Publications, LLC
Publication Date: February 10, 2018
Number of Pages: 229 pages
Audio Book Length: 6 hours, 38 minutes


Covey Jencks is a murder mystery with a social conscience. Set in West Texas with a cast of colorful and humorous characters, it follows a young lawyer from Washington, DC back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas. He wants and needs to solve a murder case from 1979 in 1993. The problem is that the Odessa Police Department has already found its man, and no one wants to re-visit the case of a black prostitute whose life was seemingly of no consequence to anyone. But Freddie Mae Johnson’s death matters to Covey, and eventually he discovers an old flame, JayJay Qualls, who also knew and loved Freddie. Together they undertake an investigation that uncovers not only the truth about Freddie but also the secrets of Odessa’s south side, Mexican gangs, a Boston mobster, and the fallacy of unexamined assumptions. Finding out who killed Freddie is one thing, but preventing their own demise is quite another!


Williams seamlessly braids a murder mystery with a love story and a drama about the pervasiveness of racism in the South... The author’s prose is buoyantly eccentric, both insightful and self-effacingly humorous. And the clues Covey and JayJay track down are meted out to readers with impressive judiciousness: The author never prematurely surrenders so much information that the conclusion is rendered foregone while the tale’s swift pace prevents it from becoming tedious. An engrossing crime drama that’s both entertaining and provocative. -- Kirkus Indie

Shelton Williams

You shared that the name “Covey” has been with you thirty plus years, but how did you come up with names like Covey, Cleon, Gro, China (pronounced Cheena), and even good old Alfreda “Freddie Mae” herself?  
I came up with Covey working on another book in the mid-80s. I wanted a classic-sounding but uniquely Texas name. Travis and Austin were no good then. Covey popped in my head and, I swear, Jencks just followed. The African-American names all belong to people I knew and loved. I try to honor them here. China is a friend of mine here in DC, and she bears no resemblance to the China in the book.

Covey Jencks is now available as an audio book. How did you make the decision to use a female narrator when your main character is a male?
Two reasons: I listened to a couple of male narrators from Texas, and they sounded like cliché cowboys. No bueno. I know the book is in Covey’s voice, but there are so many important and different women in it, and Kathy nailed them. She is also now working on my other book about the death of my female cousin. She relates to these women, and I appreciate it. 

In Covey Jencks, you don’t sugar-coat any of the ugliness of social injustices towards minorities, and many characters are still as racist and narrow-minded in the ‘90s as they were in the ‘70s.  What message do you want readers to take away from those scenes/characters?
Well, racism has never left us, but what role it plays in our lives varies from time to time and from person to person. In the book I show that we all have bias and sometimes it comes out as hate or fear. Racial bias or hate should never be the basis of public policy, never. 

Back in April, when Covey Jencks first showed-up on LSBBT’s radar, we asked if there was a series being set-up. Your answer was, “Yes…the monster is still roaming the house.” Any progress there? What’s coming and how soon?
Yes, Covey and JayJay Get Educated is almost finished. While the setting is a fictional college, the duo investigates a triple murder and stumbles into a Neo-Nazi conspiracy. Don’t hold it against me that there is more sex and violence in this one. Oh, and a good portion of it is told in JayJay’s voice. 

What’s something that has really surprised you when you returned to Odessa?
I have not lived in Odessa since 1962, but I have been back there many times. For years and years, I only visited the areas I lived in or knew well as a kid. I was astonished that downtown Odessa looked the same every time and the houses in East and West Odessa were basically unchanged but always in various states of repair or disrepair. Finally, I said to an Odessa friend: "Why doesn't Odessa change even a little? Everything looks the same!" That's when she directed me to drive well east of my old high school to an area of new, well-manicured, and obviously wealthy homes that I had completely missed in my two decades of visiting Odessa to do book research! Then I was disappointed that part of Odessa looks like Plano.

You’ve been living outside of Texas for fifteen years now, and as you said before, you can take the boy out of Texas, but… What part of your personality will always be uniquely Texan? What one thing from the Great State do you miss most?
I am a member of the Willie Nelson wing of the Democratic Party. Mollie Ivins and Ann Richards are heroes. Richard Linklater, too. So, the food, the sports, the dance halls and the politics are what I miss. My family comes first, so here I am in Bethesda, MD. Besides, I stopped drinking long ago; I rarely dance or play sports anymore; and the politics of Odessa seems to be everywhere now. 

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now Covey Jencks. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.

My first part time job while I was in high school was announcing at the local radio station, and I had fun being "on the air” and using my sarcastic sense of humor. I worked in the radio business for more than twenty years. My favorite pastimes are teaching figure skating, getting lost in a great book, and watching movies. I narrate and produce audio books in my home studio, and I truly enjoy bringing an author’s characters to life with an audio book. I currently reside in Minnesota with my slightly overweight cat and two childlike golden retrievers.

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