Crossroads: The Long Way Home By Vince Howard

SYNOPSIS: As a teenager living in the inner city, Benjamin Frazier is extremely hopeful for his future. But there are no guarantees in life; he must undergo numerous tests of his judgment and his decisions have the power to transform his destiny. Standing at a crossroads and staring down the unknown, Benji can embark on five different paths. But where will each decision lead? And more importantly — can he live with the consequences of his choices?

While the narrator serves as a spiritual guide to Benji, as readers, we are compelled to consider our own life choices and confront the resulting circumstances. Offering an insight into the diversity of the African American experience, Crossroads speaks to people of all ages, genders, nationalities and races and reminds us that we are often only ONE decision away from a totally different life. 

EXCERPT:  “Tootie Mo was bullying Benji to the point where Benji could take no more—he walked into class one day and on a bet, without any provocation, for no reason at all, he slapped a sitting Benji hard in his face; so hard, he fell out of his chair. Benji angrily scrambled to physically retaliate but he was restrained by classmates—thankfully, in his mind. He was glad somebody held him back—otherwise he might have to actually fight. 

But the memory lingered of Tootie laughing and yelling, “Let him go! Let him go!” In the aftermath, Tootie was removed from the class, but both teens promised to settle it after school. 

Benji was frightened. He couldn’t believe Tootie hadn’t been suspended, what did it take to get suspended in this school anyway? But it wouldn’t have mattered. Benji would still have to fight eventually unless he was OK with every gangster in school slapping him without warning whenever they felt like having a laugh or were bored.

Tootie had been left back, had hair on his face, was older than the rest of them, and ran with a local set. Benji was truly terrified to fight, but the unprovoked slap and accompanying laughter from Tootie’s bullying pushed him to a point where he really had no other choice. When school ended, Benji noted a larger than normal crowd slowly drifting behind him as he started on his way home, and he imagined each one of them could hear his heart, which seemed like it was ready to leap out of his chest in terror with every beat. Benji wished somehow Tootie wouldn’t show, or maybe he would forget they were supposed to fight, but no…there he was, surrounded by his crew, waiting at the vacant lot down the street from the school. Benji hoped maybe an adult would drive by and stop the slaughter. Maybe a teacher would drive by and help him.

Or maybe he was on his own.”

Author Bio: Vincent Howard was born in Denver and raised in San Diego with an ancestry that originates from the West African nations of Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. He served for over thirty years in the United States Air Force, earning recognition as one of the 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Arizona for 2011. He holds a bachelor’s degree in social science from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in executive coaching and leadership from Bellevue University in Nebraska. His hobbies include singing, playing the piano, and learning Swahili. 

Author Interview:

1.  What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Crossroad: The Long Way Home?

This is a book about choices. I ended up serving in the military for over 30 years but I wondered one day what I might have been if I hadnt joined the military.  It occurred to me that it is our choices more than anything else that determines our destiny. Talent plays a part and so does luck & opportunity but I believe the primary factor is our choices.

2.  If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Crossroad: The Long Way Home, what would they be?

My main character is good natured but flawed in many aspects; since he has to demonstrate a toughness and resilience resulting from bullying and teenage insecurity, I think appropriate theme songs would be “Aint No Stoppin Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead or “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. 

3.  If it were up to you, what actors would portray the main characters in your book if it was a movie?

Because the book spans several years, it would take teenage and adult actors and actresses. Morris Chestnut for the title character as an adult maybe?  But they’d have to “plain him up” some first, I don’t see the title character as a pretty boy (ha ha ha).  And if she’s reading this, I’d insist on Bernadette Stanis as the main characters mother – I was a huge “Thelma” fan back in the day!

4.  What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Historical fiction is my favorite genre but reading is like music to me… I like a variety of genres but my taste in that moment depends on my mood. But historical fiction makes our stories come alive; I have a number of future projects that will explore and combine my love of history and fiction.

5.  What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

What a great question – I enjoyed writing each chapter for different reasons. I think my LEAST favorite scene was the chapter detailing the character’s military journey. Since I was in the military so long, it had a “been there, done that” feel to it so it was not as much of a stretch to write.  

6.  Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

I have a number actually, many are reflected or symbolized by my tattoos. One is “Simba si baada sungura kidogo” which is Swahili for “Lions don’t chase bunny rabbits”; it is a reminder to focus on what’s important. My most recent tattoo was Psalm 118:24 – a reminder to rejoice and hunt for the goodness in every day. But I’m a fighter in my heart – “Boxing is Life” is something I’ve been known to repeat a few times.  And my children roll their eyes when I say AGAIN “Hard work is fun – because the harder you work, the more fun you’ll have in life.”

7.  If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

That we’re always one decision away from a totally different life….so make good choices.

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