Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Release: From the Ashes

by Janet W. Butler

Can love mend a broken spirit?

Concert artist James Michael Goodwin has been in a race against time and lost: crippled and unable to perform, he decides to end it all. But fate intervenes in the form of Melody Rowland, who reaches him on a level no woman has done before. Can James trust Melody with his music…and his heart?

Melody Rowland is on the verge of launching her performing career when James Michael Goodwin walks into her life again, after nearly destroying her four years before. Soon, she realizes that playing his music is one thing; admitting she’s never stopped loving him is another…


About the Author:

Janet W. Butler couldn't decide whether to be a musician or a writer—so she's elected to do both. After earning her degree in Music Theory from Roosevelt University, she married a percussionist, sang in a madrigal group, discovered the world of opera choruses…and scribbled stories, something she's been obsessive about since the age of ten. She also presently belongs to the IPFW Choral Union, in which at times she sings soprano notes only dogs can hear.

Originally from Chicago, she's a transplant to northeast Indiana, where she lives with her husband, Patrick, daughter, Jessica, and Cassandra “Trouble” Butler, SRC (Spoiled Rotten Cat). When she has the occasional profound thought, she blogs at

Now available at
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“You did it, Goodwin! You son of a gun!”

James Michael Goodwin had savored those words when he first stepped offstage. But now, in the early hours of a midwinter morning, his friends’ exuberance rang hollower with each step.

Through the stage door leading out of the depths of Symphony Hall, toward the parking garage where an attendant stood ready to retrieve his black convertible, the truth now tolled like a somber bell inside his head, a macabre counterpoint to the remembered applause still ringing in his ears.

He closed the driver’s side door, switched to a public-radio jazz show on the car stereo, then swung the Mercedes through the side streets toward home. He was finished.

Too soon.

At last.

Fifteen years, he’d had, good years. Even when he never got enough sleep, playing jazz piano in smoky two-bit college rooms and seedy bars all night, then dozing in between fits of scribbling down charts in the back of the band bus. The hard work paid off in time. The crowds got bigger, the critics kinder. The CDs sold. And then came years of Grammys and flying first-class…

…and tonight, a five-minute standing ovation from a crowd known to be stingy with its praise.

Boston’s upper crust had thrown him a whale of a party. Never mind James could barely hold his champagne glass without dropping it, couldn’t shake hands without wanting to cry out in pain…

Looking down as he drove, he felt sweat bead on his upper lip. How were those gnarled, twisted fingers controlling the steering wheel? Were they this bad onstage? Had anyone known how hard he fought to play his own music? Had the crowd suspected they were watching his swan song?

He parked the car and locked it. All that mattered now was he’d left them smiling. Wasn’t that the best any man could hope for, in the end?

Inside his townhouse, the trappings of his life made a surreal, dark portrait: the oak worktable, covered with orchestral score paper and nubby pencils, the bottle of India ink, the calligraphy pens. Shrugging out of his topcoat, he crossed the room and picked up an oversized manila envelope, then slid onto a polished bench fronting a sleek ebony Bösendörfer grand. He moved to switch on the piano lamp, then decided against it, slipping the narrow sheaf of score paper out by feel. Light wouldn’t make any difference on it now.

He knew the title page already read Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, and his name. The first concerto — the one he’d played tonight — had been a gamble, a dare to himself, to reckon back to his classical training for a serious piece.

That bet he’d won. But lightning never struck the same man twice. This second time he’d tempted fate, writing that page so soon, and he’d paid for it. Stuck at the second movement, against a wall he couldn’t penetrate, he’d pleaded with the caged Muse, only to have his petitions drop into a fathomless void.

Now, one month shy of his thirty-first birthday, James Michael Goodwin was a man with his best days behind him, a man who’d outlived his usefulness. Now his failure was complete, and his silence would be eternal.

“Has-been,” Toni had taunted him. And his ex-wife had been right.

Gently, he slipped the manuscript back under cover, rose and placed it on the piano bench. It could stay as it was. Maybe someone in the music world would treasure it more that way. Like Schubert’s unfinished Eighth Symphony.

Opus posthumous.

Taking a deep breath, he crouched down and opened a squat oak cabinet, took out a half-empty bottle of scotch and a glass. He willed himself to ignore the slight spill as he poured, amber drops over the side of the glass bespeaking his unsteady grip. One finger, two fingers. He tossed down the burning liquid, quelled the urge to choke. This was his celebratory toast to himself, for knowing when to leave. A man couldn’t lose it on that.

He paused a few moments, allowed the liquor to warm and numb his senses. Then he unlocked the side door on the cabinet and drew out a third object from its secret place. His hands shook a little cradling the cool blue steel, but these quavers were born less of infirmity or even fear than genuine, if bittersweet, relief. He could stop pretending now. He could stop smiling on the outside while despair tore him in two below the skin.

It was over.

Breathing shallowly, he settled at the worktable. Swallowed back the aftertaste of scotch and defeat. Grasped the ready .38 in his left hand. Felt one last, fleeting jolt of pain as he drew the weapon upward, as he positioned it carefully at the spot where a pulse throbbed beneath his temple. Then James closed his eyes, slipped his index finger around the trigger. Caressed it for a moment. And, gently, squeezed.

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