Men in My Town

A Conversation with Keith Smith, Author of Men in My Town

Posted in Men in My Town by Keith Smith on June 30, 2009

Q: Keith, I understand you’ve recently finished writing a book. Tell us about it.

A: The book is titled, Men in My Town. It’s a suspense novel based on the true story of the abduction, beating and sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy in Lincoln, Rhode Island in 1974 and the brutal unsolved murder of his attacker in Providence in 1975.

Q: What can you tell us without spoiling the plot for those who haven’t yet read the book?9781439226254-FrontCover

A: The story focuses on the young boy’s relationship with a few men in his town, men who are close to the boy and his family, men who watch over him, men that protect him after he’s been assaulted. They’re good men with the capacity to do bad things. It’s a story that causes the reader to revisit their position on the question, “Does the end ever justify the means?” and vividly juxtaposes the good and evil that can exist simultaneously in every man.

Q: Why did you write Men in My Town?

A: There are a number of reasons. First, it’s a good story worth telling. It’s a gripping suspense novel with a storyline that includes characters based on real people, real places and real events. It’s a glimpse into the street hustle hiding in the peaceful suburbs of Providence, Rhode Island in the 1970’s, complete with gamblers, bookies, car thieves, petty criminals, organized crime, hard-working honest men and a murderer or two.  Secondly, Men In My Town is my personal story. I am the 14-year-old boy in the story and only a few people, very few people, know what really happened to me on that cold winter night in 1974. I wrote Men in My Town to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family.  And finally, I wrote the story to raise awareness of male sexual assault, to let other victims know that they’re not alone and to help victims of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

Q: Why did you wait 35 years to tell this story?

A: I’ve been silent because of shame and guilt. I was ashamed that a man sexually assaulted me. My guilt was based on wanting to protect my protectors, to eliminate the possibility that someday, someone would get arrested and perhaps go to jail for killing the guy for what he did to me. I’ve been fighting these thoughts, these feelings, these emotions, for decades and I’m finally able to properly deal with these things. I now realize that I shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty because I’m not responsible for what my attacker did to me… and I’m not responsible for what others may have done to him.

Q: What makes Men in My Town unique?

A: It’s unique because it’s the only fact-based suspense novel that I’m aware of that deals with the subject of male sexual assault and the unsolved murder of the pedophile rapist. It’s unique because there aren’t many novels set in Rhode Island and this is the first novel ever set in the Town of Lincoln. Men in My Town is unique in that it helps people understand that violent crimes against children can occur anywhere, even in bucolic, beautiful, sleepy little suburban towns like Lincoln, Rhode Island.

Q: Are there other works, either books or movies, that you think are similar to Men in My Town?

A: Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River comes to mind. Mystic River opens with the abduction and sexual assault of a young boy from a tight knit, working class suburb of Boston. It deals with pedophilia, murder, secrets, average guys, cops and criminals. Michael Corrente’s movie Federal Hill, set in Providence, deals with relationships between close friends, organized crime and what I refer to as ‘street hustle.’ If you’re familiar with either Mystic River or Federal Hill, you may see similar themes in Men in My Town.

Q: How long did it take you to write this book?

A: The story has been with me since 1974 so I can actually say it took me 35 years to write this book. The actual writing, putting pen to paper, hammering out the story, revising drafts, took about 6 months; working with editors, literary agents and publishers took the project out to a full year.

Q: How did you write Men in My Town? What was your process?

A: I wrote this story inside out. I didn’t start by writing chapter one, page one. Instead, I listed the events that I wanted to write about, the places I wanted readers to visit, the characters I wanted readers to meet and the emotion I wanted readers to feel. I wrote sections one at a time capturing the events, places, characters and emotion, then pieced them together in a sequence that made the story whole, like a quilt.

Q: I understand you left Rhode Island in 1982. What do you miss about Rhode Island?

A: I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in the Fairlawn section in the south end of Lincoln, 4 miles north of Providence. Everyone on my block knew my brothers, my sisters, my mom, my dad and me. People went to baseball games at the field in the fall, skated on the pond in the winter and lined up on Smithfield Avenue to watch the Memorial Day parade in the spring. There was a wonderful sense of community, security, peace. People sat on their porches and knew their neighbors. Neighbors watched out for one another, took care of each other. I miss that. I also miss coffee milk, clear chowda, clam cakes, great Italian food on Federal Hill and the beaches from Narragansett to Watch Hill.

Q: Well we’re glad you’re back in Rhode Island, at least for today. Keith, how do we get a copy of Men in My Town?

A: Men in My Town is available now on Amazon.com. You can pick up a copy of Men in My Town at all public libraries in Rhode Island and public libraries in Mercer County, New Jersey. If your local library doesn’t have a copy in their collection, they’ll typically order one after they receive a few requests, so please visit your local library and ask them to stock a copy or two. Discounts on orders for 10 or more books are available, just email your request to MenInMyTown@aol.com.

Q: Thanks for being with us tonight.

A: It was my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about Men in My Town.

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Keith Smith, author of Men in My Town, is a Stranger Abduction Sexual Assault Survivor and a Keynote Speaker on issues of child safety. He’s available as a speaker for conferences, seminars and fundraising events benefiting non-profit organizations, government agencies, companies and professional associations dedicated to helping children who have been sexually abused. 

Men in My Town by Keith Smith.

Available now at Amazon.com

Email the author at MenInMyTown@aol.com

 

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BookReview.com rates Men in My Town, “Very Good.” Cites novel as “Compelling storytelling… a rare, reassuring tale of vigilante justice.”

Posted in Men in My Town by Keith Smith on June 9, 2009

Books-and-Reviews

9781439226254-FrontCover

In 1974, a young man was abducted and raped by a total stranger. Using his wits, the boy is able to make identifying markings on his attacker’s car, and he memorizes the license plate, enabling the police to identify and arrest the man. One year later, the boy’s attacker is found brutally beaten and murdered, yet his murder is never solved. “Men in My Town” is based on the author’s own experiences, and blends together the author’s own account of the events that occurred, and fictional speculation of what may have happened to his attacker.

Compelling storytelling in the opening chapters draw in the reader and keeps the reader interested through the concluding chapters. Author Keith Smith describes the residents of Lincoln and their relationships to each other in elaborate detail to show how this network of men may have banded together to track down the attacker and arrange his murder. The interesting cast includes a bookie, gamblers, lawyers, and a tailor, all who may have played some role in the plan. The author also traces the attacker’s steps both before and after the rape, leading up to his murder, following him even through other attacks on young men. While the story often feels disjointed, one can imagine the difficulty involved in Smith revisiting the attack and trying to get inside the thoughts of his attacker.

Men in My Town” tells a rare, reassuring tale of vigilante justice. While the authorities failed the author as a young man, pushing back the rapist’s trial gradually for over a year, the men of Lincoln stepped in to provide necessary resolution and relief.

Men in My Town by Keith Smith.

Available now at Amazon.com.

Email the author at MenInMyTown@aol.com

Sex Abuse Victim Finds Solace in Written Word

Posted in Men in My Town by Keith Smith on May 25, 2009

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Monday, May 25, 2009

BY MICHELE ANGERMILLER

EAST WINDSOR — March 1, 1974, was like any other day for Keith Smith.

The then 14-year-old boy attended a hockey team meeting at his coach’s barbershop in Lincoln, R.I., after school. Around 6 p.m., Smith headed home, but made a decision that forever altered his life.

“I decided to hitchhike,” he said. “A car pulled up to me, opened the door, and I got in.” What happened next is every parent’s nightmare — Smith was beaten and raped by a serial pedophile — a 29-year-old man who had been arrested, jailed and released many times before the abduction.

“It is the real story of a 14-year-old kid who was assaulted by a man not familiar to the victim,” said Smith, who now resides in East Windsor with his wife and two daughters. “He was a stranger. I did not know him.”

Smith, who until January was employed as a vice-president at Merrill Lynch, recounts the details of that horrible night in his new novel, “Men in My Town.” It is the story of Smith’s ordeal and the subsequent events that remain a mystery to this day.

According to Smith, his assailant was never convicted of the crime because he was found brutally beaten to death in the streets of Rhode Island one year later. “Men in My Town” is Smith’s catharsis. It is also a fictionalized composite of the characters he grew up with and an imagining of who may have killed the predator.

“The book has a few different angles,” Smith said. “The man who attacked me owned an adult book store, and went to prison for distributing pornography. So maybe the mob killed him. Maybe he had ties to organized crime.”

Another theory in the book is that he was killed for what happened to Smith, although the boy kept the ordeal a secret for 35 years.

Photo by Butch Adams / The Times

Smith retells the events of that night as if it happened yesterday. His voice shakes with the memory as he tells his cautionary tale of what happens when you get into the wrong car, in his case a purple AMC Gremlin.

“I asked him if he could drop me off at a business called ‘Hartley’s Pork Pies,’ and he drove right past it,” he said. “I then told him to pull over at the Fairlawn Lincoln fire station, and he drove right past that. I knew I was in trouble.”

The driver remained silent for an eighth of a mile before he slowed down to make a right hand turn. Smith’s plan was to open the door and roll out of the car, but the man had it rigged so the car door wouldn’t unlock.

“When the door didn’t open, he pounded me on the side of my face with his fist,” he said. “I was trapped in the car.”

Smith then made a conscious effort to memorize the license plate number written on the inspection sticker, which was located on the passenger side of the car windshield. He scratched the inside of the door with his fingernails so investigators would have evidence he was in the vehicle.

“I kept thinking, ‘if I live through the night, I will make him pay,'” he said.

After the attack, Smith was let out of the car. He found a broken cement block on the ground and hurled it at the man’s car as he drove away, smashing the entire rear window.

Smith ran, cowering under parked cars in fear that the stranger would come back to harm him. Eventually, he made it home. His father, Albert, and his brother, Brian, immediately knew something was wrong. After he told them everything, he was brought to the police station.

When the suspect, who Smith calls “Ronald Kohl” — not his real name — in his book, was arrested, the boy was asked to identify the man in a photo lineup. Smith was asked to testify at the indictment that summer, and a trial date was set. “Kohl” was released on bail.

Then nothing happened. A year went by, and no trial. One week before the trial date, in August, 1975, “Kohl” was found beaten to death in the streets of Providence, and left out in the open to rot.

Smith’s book explores the still unsolved crime of the man who assaulted him. The release of the book on March 16 broke the silence he kept for 35 years about what happened that night.

“Why write the book?” he said. “It is based on real characters and real events that happened in my neighborhood. It is also about the men in my town. Some were gamblers; some were car thieves, or organized crime guys. A lot of them were regular hardworking guys.”

“Some people say to me the men in my town were bad men,” he said. “I say they were good men with the capacity to do bad things.”

The seeds of the novel were planted two years ago, when Smith started writing notes to himself as a way of preparing himself to tell his two daughters, aged 15 and 20, what happened. He kept writing, and completed the tome in December, 2008.

“People ask me how long it took to write the book, and I tell them 35 years,” he said.

Smith went to a few agents and publishers, and decided to self-publish with the Amazon.com “BookSurge” program.  He says about 400 copies have sold through Amazon.com. The book is available by “print on demand,” which Smith says is a very “green way to publish.” “You order your book, they print up one copy and mail it to the customer,” he said.

Writing the book has been therapeutic for Smith, who now serves as a trustee of a nonprofit organization called PEI – Kids in Lawrence, helping young victims deal with trauma.

Already Smith has received letters from other victims who found his book online.

“I have gotten e-mails from around the world,” he said. “I heard from a woman that lives in an American Indian tribe in Northern Michigan, on the Canadian border. She told me there is an epidemic with boys being assaulted on Indian reservations, and she is using my book to help teenage boys be comfortable with confiding in an adult if it happens to them.”

Does Smith believe his attacker got the proper comeuppance?

“My neighborhood was safer because he was no longer around,” he said. “That animal that grabbed me was trolling my neighborhood looking for kids.”

Smith says now that his secret is published he is sleeping better at night. His nightmares, long triggered by news stories on television, are less frequent.

“What I want other victims to know is that they shouldn’t feel ashamed, guilty, or responsible,” he said. “I wasn’t responsible for what that guy did to me and I wasn’t responsible for what other people did to that guy.”

Men in My Town, published by BookSurge, is available for $14.99 on Amazon.com and as an “e-book” download for Kindle.  It is also available in the Mercer County Library System and on the shelves of Chicklet Books, an independent bookstore in Princeton.

Email the author at MenInMyTown@aol.com