Set in Jacksonville, Florida in 2014 between the two Michael Dunn trials, the reader meets Soleil St. James, an elementary school teacher, who is struggling in an abusive relationship with Judge Barker Gordon. Dawn Anthony a news anchor of a nightly political magazine program has just begun dating architect Victor Russell. Ebony Jones, a fitness instructor, who in her year of dating Assistant State Attorney James Parnell, has yet to tell him about her family. Finally, the reader meets Dr. Jonelle “Johnnie” Edwards, who is an emergency room surgeon at Jacksonville’s flagship trauma hospital and married to stay-at-home dad Nathan Edwards who takes care of the couples two children Danielle and Tyler.
The story opens with the women going about their normal lives; Soleil coping with Barker’s latest attack, Dawn closing a show and heading out on her first date with Victor, Ebony cooking dinner for James and arguing about her family, and Jonelle grocery shopping after a long day at the hospital where she is in desperate need of alcohol to cope with her stress. The women are mostly strangers save for Jonelle and Soleil. Jonelle’s daughter, Danielle, is in Soleil’s class, but Jonelle is not a very hands on parent.
One Saturday afternoon the women all attend a luncheon hosted by Jacksonville’s Mayor. Dawn is the emcee, Ebony and Soleil are the guests of Barker and James and happen to be sitting at the same table, and Jonelle is a recipient of an award being given out by the Mayor. It is at this luncheon that the women all become familiar with each other, especially when Ebony realizes Soleil is dating her ex. The realization sets the stage for a clandestine conversation between the two women where the pleasantries of initial introductions are forgone in favor of a real conversation about their personal relationships with domestic violence.
After running into Dawn Anthony, and a group photo later, our four women disperse back into their own lives. Lives that are again altered days later after Ebony confronts Barker about abusing Soleil at the Duval County courthouse. He ends up shot and rushed to the hospital where he dies on Jonelle’s operating table. Dawn’s romantic morning with Victor is interrupted to report on the breaking news. Soleil discovers what happened at work before a school field trip, Ebony hides from the crime she did not commit, and Jonelle’s state of mind is questioned after Barker’s death.
What happens next is the untangling of the truth. Ebony turns herself in with James as her defense attorney by her side and a stand your ground defense in tow. Dawn secures exclusive interviews with both Ebony and Soleil after realizing her connection to the case. Jonelle, in a drunken stupor refuses to hide from her part in Barker’s death, and Soleil set free by the death of her boyfriend struggles to enjoy that new found freedom.
Fast forward five months and Ebony is ready to stand trial for the murder of Judge Barker Gordon. The trial takes place just days after the riots over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri where the importance of black life is questioned. Ebony takes the stand in her own defense with Jonelle, Soleil, Dawn and her estranged mother all in the courtroom watching. It is after her testimony that the reader must decide if she is innocent or guilty of a crime she is certain she did not commit.
Johnnie hangs up the phone and pushes it into the thigh pocket of her scrubs. Before getting out of her car, she reaches for her water bottle in the side pouch of her book bag in the passenger seat. Johnnie brings the bottle to her lips, pulls the black cap open with her teeth, and drains the contents inside. She smacks her lips and releases an “ah” as she tosses the bottle back into the seat, gets out of her car, and makes her way inside her own personal hell.
For Dr. Jonelle “Johnnie” Edwards, the grocery store after 5 p.m. on a Thursday is the second worst place to be in the world on a Thursday after 5 p.m. The first worst place being the Shands emergency center operating room. The former name of the hospital before the University of Florida decided to assert all of its monetary authority with the eponymous UF Health. That’s the worst place to be in the world on any day.
Johnnie found herself able to leave early, if you call stopping at 36 hours instead of going for the full 48, leaving early. The week had been one shooting victim after another. Some victims were women and children; most of them were men. If they made it to the operating room the majority of them lived.
Johnnie praised God for her quick, nimble fingers. But sometimes victims died. A regrettable feeling she let worm its way inside her heart until she was standing in the grocery store after 5 p.m. on a Thursday, looking for something quick and effective to erase the memory of the face who died on her table two hours ago. Johnnie plans to drink away her failure today, and again after her victim’s funeral. A ritual she began when she lost her first patient two years after her residency.
Maneuvering the grocery side of one of the world’s largest discount retailers, Johnnie finds herself facing the back racks of cheap wine and no spirits. She desperately searches for a 12 dollar bottle of anything hoping the higher price will mean better quality, but the shelves filled with nine dollar bottle after nine dollar bottle force her to settle on Beringer’s White Zinfandel deciding, you don’t have to be fancy to be drunk.
Wine bottle in hand, Johnnie pushes her way to the front of the store where she stands in the long line for people with 20 items or less; reminded once again why she hates the grocery store on a Thursday after 5 p.m. 18 cash registers man the front of the store. Only six are open, not including the chaos of the self-checkout square.
Johnnie waits, tapping her feet. Crossing and re-crossing her arms. She sighs loudly, clears her throat, and stares down the cashier, daring her to say anything other than “May I help you?”
The line crawls until finally, Johnnie is able to set the wine bottle down on the conveyor belt. She brings her hands to her temples and massages her head, regretting not picking up the bottle of aspirin from the pharmacy when she had the chance. Stretching her neck to each side, muscles and tendons crack. Forcing herself to relax, Johnnie scans the racks of magazines. Paper tabloids that make no bones about what they are, stand next to glossy tabloids putting on airs as respectable publications. They are all the same — telling the same story from cover to cover. One fat pop star; one skinny celebutante. A picture of a post-pregnancy, wedding-planning Kim Kardashian on every cover, even if she isn’t the cover story. None of the pictures are new. Stock photos plaster the covers of the tabloids; all of them old and outdated. The only thing separating one from another are their headlines; each one more sensational than the last.
Johnnie roves across the magazines stacked high on the display shelves, until her eyes fall to the candy crates where children can easily reach and beg their tired parents for a sugar high.
“Will this be all for you today, ma’am?” The cashier asks dryly.
“No,” Johnnie says. “Add these too.”
She places four cans of Altoids on the sliding conveyor belt thinking, I need to restock anyway.
Get to know the author:
- What inspired Four Women?
There are many inspirations for Four Women. The first is Nina Simone and her song “Four Women.” I have loved that song since I first heard it when I was 8 so it played a big role in shaping and describing the four women of the novel. The other major inspiration were the events going on at the time. I am a news producer by trade so when I first started writing Four Women the George Zimmerman trial was going on, Michael Dunn was going through court proceedings for killing Jordan Davis, Marissa Alexander was in prison for attempted murder for firing a warning shot, and I was covering these stories at work and they never let me. They bothered me so much that I wanted to tell a story about the inherent biases in laws like Stand Your Ground and self-defense, but most importantly I wanted to tell a story about Black women. Women like myself and ones I know who show up for the cause and hold the family and our community down but are rarely put at the forefront of anyone’s story. I wanted the women in my story to inhabit every role possible: the victim, the suspect, the media person, etc, so that I could put the fullness of Black women and all that we are o display in the foreground instead of in the background.
- The women presented in the novel are very relatable who is your favorite of the four, and are any of them based on you in real life?
My favorite character is Ebony. She popped up on the page and took over. There is something beautifully flawed about her and I love all of her messiness. As for the second part of that question. None of them are based on me. All of the characters have a part of me but none of them are me or anyone I know.
- What motivates you to write?
The ideas that I have. I’m not the kind of writer that writes everyday. I may have the intention to but as a wife and a mother life happens. But my phone is always with me so when ideas come to me I let them ride out for awhile, but if they keep coming back to me, in the same way, I pay attention and begin to take notes in my phone. By the time I sit down to write the book is outlined from start to finish, with room to play, and I have no choice but to get the story and the characters out of my body and make them real. I am obedient to the spirit. No matter how many days or how many hours I work or even how little sleep I’ve gotten, when I sit down to write there is nothing else that I’d rather be doing.
- How long did it take for Four Women to go from an idea in your head to a book in your hand?
This is a question that I always laugh at. This book took an extremely long time to go from idea to publication. The first chapter in the book started as a short story that I wrote in 2010 because I was bored. I sent it to my best friend and saved it but didn’t do anything with it. The second chapter was an idea that I had for a television script proposal in 2012 that I never did anything with, but it never left me. In 2013 I was between jobs. So while I was waiting on call backs for employment I made the most of my days by taking the characters from 2010 and 2012 and writing this story for a contest I saw. You write the first 10,000 words of a novel and get professional feedback. I figured I could do that and Four Women was born. After the contest I kept writing. In March of 2014 I was seven chapters from the end, when I lost my manuscript because my flash drive failed. All I had were those 10,000 words I happened to have saved in one other place. So I started over in May of 2014 when I realized data recovery specialists couldn’t help me. That’s when I found out I was pregnant with my son and I wrote all through my pregnancy and finished the novel in 2015 when he was about six weeks old. From there I looked for agents, found agents, and did two major revisions and waited to be “discovered.” That didn’t work out for me, and by the end of 2016 I decided the novel was going to come out in 2017 whether it was through a traditional publisher or on my own. The traditional route didn’t work for me, so I started my own company and released Four Women on Thanksgiving Day 2017.
- What advice do you have for other writers who want to make the leap to pursuing their passion and dreams but are currently working day jobs?
Do both. If you want to write, sit down and write. If you have to write and work, write and work. Eventually the one that is your true calling will prevail, but you have to be patient and persistent.
- Four Women ends on a cliff hanger, can we expect a sequel?
Yes. There is a sequel to Four Women. It’s called The Appeal of Ebony Jones. It will be out in August.
- What do you see for your future beyond Four Women and The Appeal of Ebony Jones?
More books. Definitely more books. I have a lot of ideas that I’m currently working on that will be released over the next couple of years. Beyond that I definitely plan to get into screenwriting and possibly playwriting. As a producer I’ve been trained to write for an audience and to see a show in my head before it’s ever broadcast. That has translate to the way I write. I am writing what I am seeing the way it’s being acted out in my head, so naturally television and film and scripted stuff I think is the natural next step for me.
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