This is all about irony and the fate of two authors.
On Sunday, the 27th of January, during an annual writer’s conference in Cocoa Beach, Florida, I was honored to be presented with the presitious Don Argo Award for Fiction Writing by the Space Coast Writers Guild, for my newest crime novel, The Upside To Murder.
Not only am I duly gratified, there is a poignant story about Don Argo and me, and what led up to the completion of this book which — incidentally — is now under consideration by a motion picture production team. For me, it is not just an award, it’s a message about courage, determination, love and struggle.
Donald Argo was a fellow author and friend. As fate would have it, we met at a book signing in 2004 like authors often do. He had penned Canaveral Light, an historical, post-civil war novel about migrants who settled in the east coast of Florida which is now Cape Canaveral. It was meticulously researched, with clear and interesting characters. Many copies were sold.
Don didn’t seem the intellectual sort – until you got to know him. He was born and raised in Arkansas, spoke with a distinct accent like he’d just come from the farm. But not to be fooled. Don Argo was also a mathematics processor at the local college, thought to be a virtual genius by most who came to know him, students and faculty alike.
We formed a critique group a couple years later. Every two weeks we’d meet and wrangle over each other’s nascent manuscripts. He was writing a sequel to his book. I was working on a new novel about the failures of the criminal justice system and how the father of a brutally assaulted daughter had to deal with cops and criminals. The Upside To Murder featured a tenacious and powerful character in Dr. Orville T. Madison, an African-American physician with an undying, unselfish devotion to his injured daughter.
We were about halfway through writing the books when Don became ill. We temporarily suspended the critique group for a while until Don could recover. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be temporary. As Don’s manuscript lay unfinished, so did mine. For two years, Don fought multiple illnesses, including cancer. For me, the story was on hold, perhaps forever. I had moved on to other things.
The last time I saw Don at his home, he was struggling to speak. We had a difficult visit, but it was important for him to know he had a caring friend, an admiring friend. I knew then, I would probably never see him again, alive. It was difficult indeed to say goodbye, without bursting into an emotional episode. But I managed.
As I headed out the door, I heard his raspy voice trying to call out, “Marshall!”
I turned. “Yeah, Don.”
“Don’t forget,” he sputtered. “Orville T. Madison.”
He passed away two days later.
It’s unlikely that The Upside To Murder would ever have been completed if not for that solitary moment and a laborious utterance by a dying man who thought, not of himself, but of me and a character in my book that we hadn’t mentioned in two years.
Those final three words told me how much he cared. In his dying breaths, he expressed his love and admiration for my writing skills. He implored me to finish. His days and hours were numbered, but he could still care about others. When he died in 2008, the Space Coast Writers Conference established the Don Argo award for excellence in writing fiction, in his honor.
And so, I dedicated the book to Donald David Argo, without whose confidence and affection may never have been seen the inside of a book cover.
How ironic it is, that I now hold a writer’s trophy that bears his name.
Whatever comes of The Upside To Murder, I will forever know it was a joint venture.
Thank you, Don.