Freddie Lee Johnson III

Freddie Lee Johnson III
Other Men’s Wives

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
October 3, 2005

Q.    Who is Freddie Lee Johnson III?

A.   I am a Christian with a passion to write stories that not only presents life with all its difficulties, dilemmas, and frequent disasters, but communicates that there’s hope, love, and victory on the accomplishment side of trouble. I am a divorcee who knows the anguish of a marriage tearing apart; a father whose heart broke every time he said goodbye to his sons after a visitation weekend; a man who lives daily with the fallout from the days when he scorned wisdom; a black man and historian who’s struggled with America’s contemporary ills and its historical dark side; a proud descendant of Africa for whom I cry and yet rejoice; a former Marine who’s still glad he’d won the privilege of wearing the uniform; a professor and teacher who prays daily to pour more love out onto my students; a flawed, vulnerable creature, stumbling daily to follow Jesus, the Christ, in the best way I know how. This is who I am.

Q.   How did you come about the idea to write Other Men’s Wives?

A.   Other Men’s Wives developed from an idea that had revenge as its central theme. Some of the questions I wanted to explore included: What happens in the heart and mind of a man whose wife has cheated on him? How far would a man be willing to go in order to inflict upon perpetrators the same hurt he’d experienced? What are the consequences if a man’s quest for revenge spirals out of control? And most important of all, what are God’s directions about revenge, forgiveness, healing, and redemption?

As for the “vehicle” of having a wife cheat on her husband, I knew that there were few things that could drive men and women to, or across, the threshold of emotional collapse than the thought of their true love being with someone else. It seemed a perfect setup to send a man on a journey to find and destroy the cause of his misery. It also offered a good way to have the male “voice” articulate the pain of a broken heart and wounded spirit.

Q.   How did you come about the title?

A.   In choosing the title Other Men’s Wives I wanted something that would surely grab people’s attention. I wanted something that would tell people about the story without giving it away. I wanted to dare people’s curiosity, hoping that once they read that title they’d be compelled to want to know the tale.

Q.   What message would you like readers to receive about Denmark’s character?

A.   For Denmark and all the book’s characters, I’d like readers to first and foremost realize the dangers of essentially worshipping another human being. It’s natural, of course, for a man to love his wife. But Denmark’s focus and love for Sierra was the kind of love that he should have been giving to the King of the Universe; but his attitude about God had been destroyed years earlier. Sierra had many good qualities but she was not perfect which meant that the moment her imperfections manifested, Denmark was bound to be disappointed. He boxed himself and Sierra into a corner in which no normal human being could long endure. It was then that he gradually discovered that there’s only one person who could give back the love he’d tried giving Sierra, and who’d also forgive him after hurting so many others.

Q.   What message would you like readers to receive from the reason Sierra cheated on Denmark?

A.   I’d like for readers to understand that for married couples there are many fault lines, dark spaces, sink holes, and quicksand pools that destroy communication. Denmark and Sierra lived in the same house, but existed in two different worlds. They had a major issue of intimacy that both were troubled by, but which neither brought to the table of discussion. That issue festered into action, then reaction, discovery, retaliation and finally large scale pain. Maybe talking about it wouldn’t have made any difference. What’s certain is that because they didn’t, they lost their love, their marriage, and the life they’d built together. Couples need to talk about their issues as honestly as possible, risking much while praying hard that the love of God will see them through to resolution. The alternative is the turmoil of not knowing, guessing, and drawing wrong conclusions that produce wrong, destructive actions.

Q.   How did you come about Gordon and Alice’s relationship?

A.   I wanted someone like Gordon in the story to help communicate that people like Alice, the seemingly shy, unassuming kind, know more than what we think, and are capable of action when the time suits them. Gordon’s so slick and enamored of his own success and repeat philandering that he’s accustomed to Alice and everyone else tolerating his foolishness. It was important to demonstrate that even someone as apparently sweet and longsuffering like Alice has a point at which they will unleash troubles of their own that will drive perpetrators like Gordon to their knees.

Q.   How did you come about Harry and Inez’s relationship?

A.   The conflict over children between Harry and Inez brings elements of desperation into their relationship that I believe impact many couples. I wanted to show how fast priorities and people can change in relationships, especially when one remembers a past they refuse to relive. I also wanted to emphasize that husbands and wives should remember that, children or not, their first responsibility is to love and cherish each other, and make sure that neither party has reason to doubt.

Q.   What message would you like readers to receive about Amos’s character?

A.   Amos represents the risks that always lurk for the rich and powerful who, living in a world that seems above the law and trouble, are sudden brought low. In Amos’s case, he discovers that all of his money and connections are not enough to overcome the historical disdain for his blackness and all it entails. He discovers that from society’s perspective, he and his poorer brethren have more similarities than differences, and learns a humbling lesson about the superior quality of character in those whom he once overlooked, dismissed, and despised.

Q.   How did you come about the idea for Hilda’s character?

A.   Hilda Vaughan was one of my most cherished characters in this story. In creating her I sought to present someone who’d made mistakes, lived to regret them, been redeemed, and now sought to guide others into the ways of loving wisdom. Hilda’s being a black woman, a lawyer, and servant of God makes her uniquely qualified to counsel Denmark at a time when he most needs someone like her. The challenge for him is to harness his rage long enough for him to see the destruction he’s inflicting upon himself! Hilda’s one hundred percent accurate when she tells him: “You don’t have the capacity to reap what you’re about to sow.”

Q.   How long have you been writing?

A.   I’ve been writing stories and poetry since I was in third grade. It’s to the point now where if I go for more than two days without writing, I get cranky. Writing calms me, let’s me explore new worlds in new ways, and helps me fulfill the mission that I believe has been placed upon my life.

Q.   How many books have you written?

A.   Thus far, I’ve written three novels: Bittersweet (2002), A Man Finds His Way (2003), and Other Men’s Wives (2005).

Q.   Are you currently working on another book?

A.   Yes, I’m currently at work on four projects. Two of them are novels entitled Summer of Kenya: A Love Story, and The Breakup Club; one is a memoir entitled Confessions of a Christian Fugitive: Odyssey of a Hypocrite; and the last is a collection of essays and commentary focusing upon the black community since the Civil Rights era.

Q.   What message would you like readers to receive about infidelity in relationships, trust, and religion?

A.   There are few things that can devastate a marital relationship like infidelity. Indeed, there may be nothing else with the same potential. It destroys trust, taints the bedroom, slashes the heart in ways that may take years to heal (if possible), and places tremendous unnecessary stress upon a process that’s stressful enough on a good day. It’s something that plays in the mind over and over, punishing the wounded party again and again until they can barely survive (and for some, they cannot). Like thievery, infidelity steals something which can’t be replaced, and even if attempted there’s never the same secure feeling that one had before the crime. I suppose that, in some ways, it’s a murdering of the heart.

If there’s one avenue through which healing can occur in the aftermath of infidelity, it’s through the Cross. This is no easy process. Believing that an invisible God can resolve a pain that’s real, deep, and persistent is a journey fraught with its own troubles. Even so, it’s a journey worth taking if a relationship is valued enough to be saved. Love is in short supply on planet earth, and shouldn’t be lightly tossed aside. There’s no pretending that forgiveness is easier said than done, but if it can be done, the rewards are rich and a second chance can be had. Thus, I don’t particularly have a message about religion, but more one about faith in the Christ who, once upon a time, stared me down in my weakness, turmoil, and confusion and said, “I can love, save, and redeem you anyway.”