Seven Wings to Glory, by Kathleen M. Rodgers: a Columnist Exposes Her Town’s Racist Past

seven_wingsSmall towns harbor big secrets.

Seven Wings to Glory ($15.95, 304 pp., IBSN: 978-1-60381-599-4) is a work of women’s contemporary fiction by Kathleen M. Rodgers. A woman whose son is fighting in Afghanistan uses her newspaper column to expose a shameful legacy of racism in her small Texas town. Seven Wings to Glory is the sequel to Johnnie Come Lately.

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Johnnie Come Lately received several awards, including First Place in Women’s Fiction for 2016 Texas Association of Authors Best Book Award Contest, a gold medal in the Military Writers Society of America 2015 Book Awards, and a bronze medal in the Readers’ Favorite 2015 Book Awards–Women’s Fiction Category. The cover of Johnnie Come Lately was one of eight winners in the Southern Writers Magazine’s Cover Contest.

Kathleen lives in a suburb in North Texas. Kathleen has a particular connection with the military; her husband is a retired fighter pilot/commercial airline pilot and her youngest son is a former Army officer who deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. Her first novel, The Final Salute, takes place on an air force base.

Seven Wings to Glory “masterfully weaves the story of the Kitchen family, capturing a vivid snapshot of the American South.”

—“On the Shelves” library feature, Eastern New Mexico News

Seven Wings to Glory is “full of elements that draw the reader in. [….] You will like the conscientious Johnnie and her friends and family so much that when you close the book, you might even seek out the first novel in the series, just so you don’t have to say goodbye.” Read more….

—Lisa Shirah-Hiers for Story Circle Book Reviews

“A nuanced portrayal of military connectedness…. Rodgers writes convincingly of relationships, foibles and struggles. Johnnie’s worry over her son is particularly tangible, informed by Rodgers’ experiences as the mother of a deployed soldier…. In Seven Wings to Glory, the author has created a satisfying story, one that reveals the variety of military family experiences.”  Read more….

—Terri Barnes for Stars and Stripes

“I was so happy to be reunited with the ‘Lois Lane of Portion, Texas,’ again—Johnnie Kitchen—in Seven Wings to Glory. Kathleen M. Rodgers writes so sensitively about Johnnie and her family that I find myself growing truly devoted to them, eager to share in their joys, their laughs, fears, their very real losses. Johnnie and Dale’s worry over their son Cade’s combat deployment is realistically and carefully wrought, and her distress over a sudden resurgence of racism in her hometown brought out my fighting spirit right alongside hers. Of course, because this is Johnnie Kitchen, the story unfolds with equal parts grit, humor, and generosity, with unforgettable characters to meet along the way. I adore the flawed, imperfect, deeply loving, and tough-as-nails Kitchen family: I would read a hundred books about them, and I will read anything Kathleen M. Rodgers writes.”

—Andria Williams, author of The Longest Night and founder of Military Spouse Book Review

“Kathleen Rodgers is adept at creating graceful characters. In her third novel, Seven Wings to Glory, Johnnie Kitchen and the residents of Portion, Texas, return to exhibit the power of love to transform even those seemingly damaged beyond repair: an injured solider, a mother who abandoned her daughter, even a young boy poisoned by racism. Rodgers depicts her characters fully and empathetically, inspiring her readers to have the same grace exhibited by the Kitchen family and friends.”

—Terri Barnes, author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life, a collection of her columns for Stars & Stripes

5 Stars: “Seven Wings to Glory captures the mind, heart and soul of its heroine. Kathleen M. Rodgers’ gift of storytelling is extraordinary. She pens true emotions, and although her works are fictional, they portray genuine realities. Her words and writing style pluck at your heartstrings[….] The theme throughout the story is faith. No matter what happens, or how bad life seems—never surrender your hope. Do whatever it takes to survive and then move on. With each word, the story becomes more earnest and heartfelt. Seven Wings to Glory is a novel that you don’t want to end.”  Read more….

—Cheryl E. Rodriguez for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

“This book is terrific [….] Rodgers’ stories are imaginative and engaging. No wonder I think she’s one of the best. I love the way she takes you step by step though Johnnie’s life, whether it is about her family or her writing. I loved this book so much I was sorry I finished it in one day. Rodgers shows what a family goes though when one of them is off to war. My heart goes out to these families. With what is going on now in our country, Kathleen connects on all of this. Great book! Read Johnnie Come Lately first, then this one. You will love them both.” Read more….

—Sharon Salituro for Fresh Fiction

“There’s enough warmth, heart string tugging and heartbreak in Rodgers’ blend of an imminently lovable protagonist, a postcard pretty small town, and a cast of quirky townsfolk to give fans of the Kitchen family hope for more adventures to come.”  Read more….

—Melissa Embry’s Blog

“Johnnie Kitchen is the kind of character all fiction writers dream of creating. Kathleen Rodgers is a master at writing women’s fiction and proves it in her new novel, Seven Wings To Glory. A rich, timely story of love and strength.”

—Ann Hite, award-winning author of Sleeping Above Chaos, fourth novel in the Black Mountain series

Seven Wings to Glory humorously captures the gamut of emotions common to military families dealing with deployments, homecomings, and the struggle to make everyday living as routine as their civilian counterparts. Kathleen M. Rodgers, herself a military wife and mom, expertly characterizes the soaring pride and gripping fear of life in the military. Set against a backdrop of racial discord, Seven Wings to Glory will make its mark on readers, ensuring they never forget that as long as one of us is denied freedom there can be no true freedom for the rest of us.”

—Karen Spears Zacharias author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).

“I really loved Seven Wings to Glory! Kathleen M. Rodgers has the gift of making you care deeply about her characters, and in this sequel to Johnnie Come Lately she explores some important issues: Johnnie’s son is serving in the military in Afghanistan, and back home, Johnnie is dealing with the impacts of racism on her friends and her town. I had a hard time putting this book down until I reached the end!”

—Deborah Kalb, author of George Washington and the Magic Hat and Haunting Legacy, co-authored with Marvin Kalb

“Kathleen Rodgers is a true painter/artist of words. She has the ability to bring her characters alive on the pages of her books. The characters she creates resonate with her readers and they are drawn into a world that captures their imaginations and doesn’t let go, not even when they finish the book. Rodgers has also been able to open up this world to civilians helping them to understand, love and respect our men and women in the military, their families and the sacrifices they make daily. Her newest book, Seven Wings to Glory, opens our eyes to man’s capacity to hate but it also opens our eyes to man’s capacity to love and forgive and the power that love brings.”

—Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine

“From the start of Seven Wings to Glory, Kathleen Rodgers skillfully shows how no town is small enough and no family perfect enough to be outside the reach of war, racism, and the heartbreak life hands out on a regular basis to all those who love. She especially shines when she gives us a young man who could easily have been seen as a villain but is much more complex than that and requires more from the central characters and his small town than they may be prepared to give. With this wonderful sequel to her novel, Johnnie Come Lately, Rodgers opens the reader’s eyes and heart.”

—Elizabeth Marro, author of Casualties

“Kathleen Rodgers saved the best for last in Seven Wings to Glory, her third book and the second of her Johnniebird novels. Deftly wrapping her story around characters we first came to know in Johnnie Come Lately, Rodgers’ fiction is both sensuous and gritty, and her references to people and topics currently in the news make this story riveting, with seven wings adding a touch of mystery.”

—Drema Hall Berkheimer, author of Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood

Johnnie Kitchen is finally living her dream, attending college and writing a column for the local paper. She adores her husband Dale and chocolate Labrador Brother Dog, and they reside in a comfortable home in the small town of Portion in North Texas. Their three children are thriving and nearly grown.

But Johnnie is rattled when her youngest boy Cade goes to fight in Afghanistan. The less frequent his emails, the more she frets for his safety. On the home front, Johnnie learns that Portion is not the forward-thinking town she believed. A boy Cade’s age, inflamed by a liberal bumper sticker and the sight of Johnnie’s black friend Whit, attacks them with the N-word and a beer bottle. After Johnnie writes about the incident in her column, a man named Roosevelt reaches out with shameful stories from Portion’s untold history. More tears and triumphs will follow, as Johnnie’s eyes are opened to man’s capacity for hate and the power of love and forgiveness.

Says the author, “I’m driven to explore the issue of military service when only one half of one percent of Americans are willing to step up and defend our freedom and democracy. My challenge in Seven Wings to Glory was to effectively depict how the trauma of war can affect generation after generation. Yes, there’s a persistent underbelly of racism in our society, but I hoped to convey that these attitudes are partly born of poverty and ignorance and could change if those problems were addressed. This story is a bit of a departure for me in that it contains an element of magical realism.”

Kathleen M. Rodgers’ stories and essays have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Through the open passenger window, they caught sight of a teenage boy wearing a straw cowboy hat and a dirty white T with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, emphasizing his ropy sun-burnt arms. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.

The kid flashed a toothy grin then peeled out down the street.

“He reminds me of Cade,” Johnnie joked, “in a country-boy kind of way.”

The pickup didn’t get far before it whipped a U-turn in the middle of the block, tires squealing, and headed back toward them.

Johnnie heard Whit catch her breath. “I don’t hear any music, do you?”

As Johnnie strained to listen, Whit grabbed her by the arm like she was afraid.

The truck veered sharply to the left, crossed the centerline, and barreled straight toward Granny’s car.

Clinging to each other, Johnnie and Whit stumbled back, trying to get out of the way.

At the last second, the driver swerved to the right, barely missing the Lincoln.

“Nigger lover!” he screamed and flung a beer bottle out the window.

As the ugly slur crackled around them, the bottle torpedoed through the air and exploded at the base of the war memorial, sending brown glass and yeasty foam flying.

Time slowed as Johnnie stared at the kid, his creepy grin reminding her of a jack-o’-lantern. “You stupid jerk!” she bellowed, trying to read the kid’s license plate, but the truck sped away too quickly.

Like shock waves, the racial slur reverberated in her ears, and Johnnie went numb when she turned to find Whit standing rigid in the middle of the sidewalk, breathing through her nose. Tears ran down both sides of her cheeks. She sniffed and closed her eyes, as if she couldn’t believe what had happened.

“That stupid kid’s probably just pissed off because a black man’s in the White House. He saw Granny’s bumper sticker and—”

“That beer bottle was meant for me,” Whit croaked, looking taller and more regal than ever.

“It was meant for all of us.” Mama leaned against the war memorial, seeming not to notice her blood-splattered culottes or the blood dripping down one leg.

“Oh my God, Mama, you’re bleeding.” Johnnie rushed to her side, glass crunching under her shoes.

“It don’t matter,” Mama said, digging through her purse for what Johnnie thought was a cigarette. Mama pulled out a wad of paper napkins and hobbled over to Whit. “Sorry I don’t have any tissues, sugar. These’ll have to do.”

Whit took the napkins and dabbed at her wet cheeks. “After all this time,” she sniffed, her voice choked with tears, “there’s still so much hate in this country.”

Mama nodded then put her arm around Whit. “And so many ignoramuses like that fool.”

Staring up at the bronze soldier, Johnnie vowed to get even. She wanted justice.

“That white kid in his pick ’em up truck isn’t the only one in Portion who knows how to turn words into weapons, is he, Mr. Statue Man?”

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