The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson was selected as the Winner in the 12th Annual National Indie Excellence® Awards in the category of new non-fiction. The book tells the true and tragic story of the author’s physicist son and his fatal struggle to overcome the irreversible consequences from one night of college binge drinking.
Ellen Reid, Founder NIEA, wrote, “We are proud to announce this year’s award-winning books as they embody the excellence this award was created to celebrate. We salute you all for such fine work!”
One winner was selected in each category, and several finalists were also named. The lists of winners and finalists are displayed on NIEA’s website, www.indieexcellence.com. Just click on the Winners & Finalists tab to see the list of winners in the various categories.
The team at the National Indie Excellence® Awards wrote to Johnson that they “hope your participation in our contest will serve you well in your ongoing success. You have our deepest congratulations.”
The prestigious National Indie Excellence® Awards is an award contest open to recent English language books in print from independent, university, and self-publishers. Judging was completed for the 12th year of this contest, and the results “celebrate a spectacular range of titles.”
Winners and finalists are determined on a basis of presentation in every facet of the published product. Jurors value a synergy of both form and content as they review entries spanning a wide range of genres.
The National Indie Excellence® Awards celebrate independent publishing as a strong and proud facet of the publishing industry. Recognizing authors’ and publishers’ hard work, NIEA is a champion of self-publishers and the small or independent presses that go the extra mile to produce books of excellence in every aspect. Established in 2007, the NIEA competition is judged by experts from all facets of the book industry including publishers, writers, editors, book designers and professional copywriters.
Last week, this author was honored to present at Michigan’s highly regarded Rally of Writers. In addition, I was invited to join with six other storytellers for Storypalooza, the Rally of Writers Warm Up at Schuler’s Books in Okemos.
In a format modeled after NPR’s MOTH series, each storyteller was allowed a maximum of 8 to 10 minutes to tell his or her TRUE story. The event was to be good old-fashioned storytelling under the theme When Everything Changes. One by one, each storyteller stepped to the podium and delivered a talk ranging from funny to intense and from emotional to observational. No powerpoints. No notes.
In preparation, I drafted the story below, and then did my best to retell the gist without props. I thought perhaps readers might be interested, so here goes:
When Everything Changes
By Patrice Johnson
The year was 2003. It brought the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster, the completion of the Human Genome Project, and the Iraq War began. “No Blood for Oil” became the rallying cry of anti-war activists. The country, still raw from 9/11 terrorist attacks two years earlier, was dropping the hammer of the Patriot Act.
On a personal level, my son Tyler graduated in June among the top of his class from the California Institute of Technology, arguably the most prestigious theoretical physics institute in the world. Top science journals had published two of his research papers in artificial intelligence and in quantum physics.
Seems Tyler had shown, mathematically, that Star Trek-like teleportation is theoretically possible, and he’d used group theory to write a computer program that could measure complex evolutionary factors. Artificial Intelligence magazine called his work “Digital Darwinism.”
Tyler was happy. He had a full ride with a $16,000 annual stipend to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico. He was at the top of his game.
Our family could not have been prouder.
We never saw the storm clouds rolling in.
You see, the natural world was the bedrock of Tyler’s spirituality, and he was passionate to the point of unflinching about protecting the environment. He’d become friends with a string theory grad student at Caltech, and while our Tyler was normally independent-minded, he spoke of Billy in terms that rang of reverence and hero worship. We never met Billy, but Tyler told us he was considered a modern-day Einstein.
I refer to Billy as Danny Blair in my book, The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson.
The two used to conduct marathon physics sessions and then go for long runs. Sometimes they’d boulder or “builder,” as Tyler called it, explaining that they liked to climb desert boulders and Pasadena buildings.
August 2003, Tyler was home—we lived in Pennsylvania then—and we were preparing to drive him to the airport to fly to Albuquerque and begin this doctoral work.
“I’m going to segue to Cali,” he said, “to pick up my stuff and say goodbye to some friends.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Jim said, and in what struck me as uncharacteristic generosity, he added, “We’ll pay to have your things shipped.”
But Tyler declined and insisted that he wanted to hike California’s Channel Islands. There was no deterring this son of ours.
Afterwards, we read in FBI documents that Billy had planned a send off party for Tyler. In keeping with their tradition of “ninja nights,” Tyler had paid $200 for bumper stickers to read “SUV’s = Terrorism.” But the stickers arrived misspelled, and someone came up with the bright idea to use spray paint instead. In the early morning hours of August 22, the night of binge drinking deteriorated beyond repair when someone torched vehicles at a Hummer dealership, and an outbuilding burst into flames.
No one was hurt, but during the melee, someone tagged a vehicle with E.L.F. The FBI interpreted the letters to stand for the Earth Liberation Front, which they considered one of the nation’s “most dangerous environmental extremist movements.”
Tyler woke the next morning to news broadcasts that the FBI was on the hunt for what was now referred to as domestic terrorists. If apprehended and convicted, reporters said the perpetrators would face mandatory sentences of up to life in prison.
The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson begins with Tyler sitting in his friend’s car. In the face of panic, he turned to writing in his journal in order to force his mind to concentrate through a logical decision-making process.
In the end, he decided to flee the country, and his Japanese girlfriend, Yuki, insisted on joining him.
Vancouver—Amsterdam—Paris. Lost and confused, the couple gravitated to the comfort of a bookstore. There, as they were combing through a rack of travel materials, they found a brochure featuring a remote desert island south of France.
Corsica became their destination.
On arrival, they managed to survive in remote deserts and mountains. Sometimes they migrated to the city streets of Paris and Marseille.
Tyler grew up fast and learned to think more deeply than most people with more years under their belts. He trained an insightful, compassionate eye on experiences that most of us will never know, showing in depth what it is like to live on the run and in the wild. Early on, he and Yuki were adopted by a dog, and when this dog killed a calf, Tyler experienced the anguish of putting the creature out of its misery. It was then that he realized that this was the way of his new world.
Tyler journaled many of their struggles—how they managed to feed themselves in the wild, or to survive lip-parching thirst in the deserts. From staving off starvation and physical threats on city streets to surviving hypothermia and lightning strikes in the mountains, he documented his remarkable experiences.
Once, Tyler was on a mountaintop when a Canada Air plane barely missed crashing into the peak and killing him and all on board. He survived wild boar attacks and lost a tooth at the punch of a local resident who suspected him of trespassing.
He learned to subsist as an undocumented migrant farm worker and as restaurant bus boy, working well below minimum wage. He wrote of his and Yuki’s stretching a jar of Nutella over a period of weeks.
In many ways, Tyler’s journals chronicled a romance, too, for he and Yuki struggled to preserve their relationship despite their hopeless situation.
In the end, Tyler was taking photos in the wintry mountains and writing about another Into the Wild-like expedition when an avalanche crashed down on him. He did not survive.
While some might say Tyler died free, it is also true that he was a prisoner to a moment when everything changed in his life. He was trapped in a cascade of irreversible consequences that one mistake, six years earlier, had set in motion.
This book should be made into a movie, but for those who enjoy good literature I suggest reading it first. This heartbreaking, true story is so well written that I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading it. It’s highly thought provoking and moving. I highly recommend it.
Dec. 11: The roster of session leaders is now full for Michigan’s A Rally of Writers on April 14, 2018, and Patrice Johnson, author of The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson, will be among the featured presenters. Held every spring for the past 30 years in Lansing, Michigan, the rally highlights Michigan writers, poets, teachers, editors and publishers discussing aspects of writing and the publishing business.
“Rally is the warmest, longest-running conference in Michigan,” Linda Peckham, the event’s longtime organizer, said. “Great speakers, great company, and pretty good cookies.”
“I’m honored to have been selected,” Johnson said. “A Rally of Writers is a don’t-miss, event for writers in Michigan and the whole Midwestern region.” Johnson’s one-hour workshop, “Crossing the bridge from business writing to narrative nonfiction: Learning the tools of the craft,” will focus on three elements key to scene structure. Attendees will hone their skills in conflict development, the evolution of characters, and plot as a driver toward storyline goals.
Keynoter Terry Blackhawk: Founder of InsideOut,
poet and teacher
Greg Baldino: Ethics in YA Books
Michael Byers: short stories, novels: Percival’s Planet
Desiree Cooper: journalist, flash-fiction novel: Know the Mother
Lisa Grady: Screenwriting
Patrice Johnson: nf book, The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson
Linda Peckham: The Clumping Theory
John Smollens: Wolf: A Novel
Alice Speilburg & Elana Roth Parker: Agents, First Pages
Whitney Spotts: Book Promotion
David Stricklen: MG Blackwater Pond series
The Richard Bradley Scholarship will again be available young writers 15 to 20 years old.
As in the past few years, the event will take place at Lansing Community College West Campus Conference Center at LCC’s West Campus in Delta Township, west of downtown Lansing. Parking is free and virtually unlimited.
Based on a true story, The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnsontraces a young genius’s struggle against irreversible consequences. One day, Tyler is a rising star in physics. Twenty-four hours later, he is labeled a domestic terrorist and hunted by the FBI. Here’s what readers are writing:
“Riveting. Horrifying. Thrilling. And unbelievable, yet the book is not a work of fiction,” the Book Addict.
“Truly loved this book. It was honest and had me hooked. As I read I just felt like I was watching everything unfold. It was beautifully written,” Cinthia.
“I highly recommend this book, both as a warning of how to not get in trouble with the government, and a reminder of our own humanity and the importance of helping out the people in need we come across. Tyler’s account is heartbreaking, yet if it helps just one person avoid a similar fate, this book was worth publishing,” Viper Engineer.
Reprinted with permission from Schuler Books & Music:
Join us Tuesday, October 10 at 7 p.m. for Local Author Night, featuring a panel presentation of accomplished authors from the state of Michigan! Featured authors include Rick Bailey, author of American English, Italian Chocolate: Small Subjects of Great Importance, a memoir told in essays; RJ Erskine, author of the suspense novel Casting Demons into Swine; Patrice Johnson, author of the nonfiction account The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson: Based on the Journals of a Young Man Turned Fugitive; and John Marks, author of the Beyond Madness 45◦N. Where? Schuler Books & Music, Meridian Mall location, 1982 W. Grand River Ave., East Lansing, MI
About American English, Italian Chocolate: Small Subjects of Great Importance by Rick Bailey
American English, Italian Chocolate is a memoir in essays beginning in the American Midwest and ending in north central Italy. In sharply rendered vignettes, Rick Bailey reflects on donuts and ducks, horses and car crashes, outhouses and EKGs. He travels all night from Michigan to New Jersey to attend the funeral of a college friend. After a vertiginous climb, he staggers in clogs across the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In a trattoria in the hills above the Adriatic, he ruminates on the history and glories of beans, from Pythagoras to Thoreau, from the Saginaw valley to the Province of Urbino.
RICK BAILEY is a professor emeritus of English at Henry Ford College in Michigan. He is the author or editor of several books on writing, including The Creative Writer’s Craft.
About Casting Demons into Swines
The career of Malcolm Cromarty, D.V.M., was finally settling into a routine, despite his recent divorce and being new to the valley. However, the daily grind veers off course with the arrival of a disease outbreak that doesn’t stay on message with the textbooks. To cope with this challenge, Malcolm must rely on a patchwork of local inhabitants to guide him through the peculiar culture in which he lives. However, with each passing day, he stumbles deeper into a community that holds science, change, and outsiders under a high degree of suspicion, and a family feud with a dark and malevolent past. Hardly a promising path to control the outbreak.
RJ ERSKINE has served as a large animal veterinarian for 35 years. From working among farmers and the rural community, he has developed an agriculturist perspective in a society that is increasingly distant from food production. He is especially interested in the natural and cultural forces that not only impact farming, but the inertia of rural communities. The author currently lives in Michigan and continues with his professional career.
About The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson: Based on the Journals of a Young Man Turned Fugitive by Patrice Johnson
PATRICE JOHNSON weaves a powerful account of her son’s life as a fugitive of the US government. Her creative nonfiction work shows the price of living in a post-9/11 world and the limitations of law and order. It reveals the degradations of homelessness and the resilience of the human spirit.
Tyler Johnson has a bright future ahead of him. Major scientific journals have published his research in quantum physics and in artificial intelligence, and he has recently graduated from Caltech. He has a position in a doctoral program at the University of New Mexico waiting for him, but before he can arrive at the school, everything changes.
Tyler and his friend Danny Blair plan to affix bumper stickers in protest of gas guzzling vehicles at SUV dealerships in California. The evening of binge drinking spins out of control, and a Hummer catches on fire.
Suddenly, Tyler, a brilliant presidential merit scholar, is labeled an environmental extremist, a domestic terrorist. He has two choices. He can come forward and risk spending the rest of his years in prison, or he can run for his life with the woman he loves.
The story that follows shows the ramifications of one impulsive mistake and a young man’s struggle against seemingly irreversible consequences. It serves as a warning flag to all who may feel tempted to cross to the wrong side of the law. A portion of the royalties will be donated to the Longmont Community Justice Partnership, LCJP.
PATRICE JOHNSON is publishing her account of the life of her son, Tyler, to tell the true story. Patrice graduated summa cum laude from Alma College and received her master’s degree in English literature from Michigan State University. When her children were young, she taught high school English and community college writing. She then spent sixteen years in the computer industry, serving as vice president of marketing and communications with a Fortune 500 company and as a weekly columnist for the industry’s largest trade publication. She has founded three successful technology companies and authored a chapter in a college textbook on quality.
Patrice has been quoted in USA Today and Business Week and currently helps write and edit a community newspaper. Her work has received six first-place awards from the Michigan Press Women. She and her husband live on an eighty-acre farm in the Midwest.
About Beyond Madness 45◦N by John Marks
His midlife crisis seemed to peak when Harlan Holmes, an ex-cop turned private eye, lost the son of his only client somewhere along the Leelanau coast—about 45°N.
The job initially seemed simple, more like babysitting than private investigation. Harlan was hired to look after his client’s son Leo while the young man attended law school away from home. But Leo, it turned out, was a determined gambling addict. And Harlan was clueless about the March Madness scam that Leo was running on some locals just before he went missing.
Complicating matters is Harlan’s client, Leo’s dad. It so happens, he’s a full-on wiseguy, and he’s in town with a crew to micromanage the private eye who lost his son. When they learn about Leo’s fate, Harlan will learn that his midlife crisis has just begun.
JOHN MARKS is an attorney in Michigan. He previously practiced law in California and has taught classes at law schools in California and Michigan. John and his wife, Dena, have traveled extensively but enjoy most the time they spend close to home with their children and grandchildren.
I highly recommend this book, both as a warning of how to not get in trouble with the government, and a reminder of our own humanity and the importance of helping out the people in need we come across. Tyler’s account is heartbreaking, yet if it helps just one person avoid a similar fate, this book was worth publishing.
Thank you to J and K W for the five-star rating and review below:
Captivating Story about her Son’s Tragic Mistake
“This is a book with two stories, both tragedies.
“One story is the narrative, the tragedy of Tyler’s life. The author portrays Tyler as kindhearted, introspective, devoted (family, girlfriend, dog, mentor), poetic about nature/love/science, and optimistic. He soldiered on, knowing that he had done something very stupid, not blaming it on anyone besides himself, doing the best he could with his genius while living in fear and anxiety. His moral strength, courage and innate need to do what is right sustained him through years of pain as he did all he could to protect his girlfriend and family.
“The other story is the courageous, honest perspectives of his mother, Patrice Johnson, the author, and his sister, Kelsey, who wrote the beautiful Foreword. They make no effort to rid Tyler of blame for his error. Their object is to portray Tyler in large: his genius, dedication, sensitivity, honesty, moral courage. This ultimate faith and love in the face of great loss is quite possibly more tragic than Tyler’s story. His girlfriend Yuki is an important figure from the point of view that the love between her and Tyler illuminates the youthful idealism they shared.
“It is a new American Tragedy with no villain this time.”
This full moon photo taken by Tyler seems an appropriate image as author Alex Weddon and I prepare to make our books available for signing and sale during the Harvest Moon Festival, September 8 and 9 at the Stockbridge, MI, Township Square. If you live in the area, we hope you’ll stop by.
Also, thank you to all who have posted stellar reviews and ratings of The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson on Goodreads and Amazon.com. If you haven’t already posted a review or clicked a star rating, please consider doing so. Reviews mean a great deal. So far, Amazon features 8 reviews with a 4.7 star rating. Thank you!