It was a dream come true the day former 30-year Wrightsville Beach parks superintendent Billy Beasley was awarded a publishing contract after working on his first book for nearly 20 years.
“In September 2013, [Oak Tree Press] sent me an email saying, ‘We would like to send you a publishing contract,’” Beasley said. “I cried because it had been so long and I called my son, because he remembered when I didn’t even have a computer to write it on.”
For the past 20 years Beasley tinkered with the story after writing the base in one year. For a portion of that time, an old computer in the parks office served as his only means to work.
“I would go to the parks office at night or on the weekend when I was not working to use the computer there, and I hauled that story around on a floppy disk,” he said. “There were times when the story was flowing when I would wake up at 4 in the morning and I would go to the office and write before 7.”
Titled “The River Hideaway,” Beasley’s full-length novel is set in 1967 Wilmington and follows the growing and unlikely friendship between the wealthy white Bret Marin and black Clarence “Money” Wilkins.
Throughout the novel, the two boys, both on the verge of manhood, struggle with the racially charged environment they live in while finding solace on the basketball court and an abandoned unfinished home on the banks of the Cape Fear River.
While it is not based on any particular historical figures or real people, the novel does contain influences from Beasley’s childhood growing up in Wilmington during the same era. The tense racial atmosphere of Wilmington struck Beasley the first time as a child after witnessing many of the parishioners at his church leave one Sunday when a choir with a black singer came to church.
“I was a small kid but I remember thinking, ‘Isn’t this where we should come together?’” he said. “They would sing the song ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children,’ but they didn’t mean it and that stuck with me.”
Another situation Beasley was placed in that helped him navigate the racially charged world in “The River Hideaway” was being the first class in his neighborhood bussed to the inner city Williston Middle School for ninth grade.
“Of course that was a class of cultures and I think it surely helped give me a background to write the book,” Beasley said. “I share two things in common with my favorite character in the book: faith in God and a belief that hearts have no color.”
While it was a dream come true for Beasley to get the email with a publishing offer, the easy work of writing the story was over and the hard work of editing, finalizing and marketing the book had just begun.
“There was a tremendous amount of back and forth editing,” he said. “There were some 13-hour editing days for sure and then we would go back and the publisher would edit again.”
Finally Beasley reviewed the novel so many times he asked friends to look at the work with fresh eyes and vividly remembers the phone call he made to the publisher saying it was time to print.
Two boxes of the first prints of the book were not supposed to arrive to Beasley until May 12, but a few days earlier he got a surprise from the friend to whose post office box the books were sent.
“He walks in and he’s got this box and he was holding my book up and said, ‘This looks really good, the cover came out great,’” Beasley said. “That was the first time I physically saw the book and I could not get over what he was doing holding my book.”
Equally exciting for Beasley was hiding a copy of the book in his kitchen cabinet for his wife to find later that day.
“It was really neat to share it with her and the people that have shared in my joy with this,” he said.
So far Beasley said he has received rave reviews from the people who have purchased the book. Some said they read the 311-page novel cover to cover in as little as one day.
“That is a great compliment and I am very humbled,” Beasley said. “I love to read but I don’t know any time when I’ve read a book in one day.”
With the first one out and on sale at Amazon.com, Two Sisters Bookery and Pomegranate Books, Beasley said he would wait to see how “The River Hideaway” is received before attempting to publish the other three novels he has already written.