BREVARD COUNTY – "Some focus on darkness, some focus on light. What you choose to see will change your life," Ron Lewis writes in his book "Missing Pieces," which encapsulates his own philosophy of life.
He draws many parallels between his characters and his own life. With a childhood riddled with abuse endured at the hands of a violent stepfather, Mr. Lewis has found a way to turn tragedy into art.
Mr. Lewis and his family, consisting of his mother, Pracilla Lewis, and two brothers, grew up on a farm in New Jersey during his time with his stepfather. A callous, possessive man with a drinking problem, Fred Emmons dolled out unprovoked beatings to Mr. Lewis and his family routinely.
"He had an alcohol problem, an abuse problem and he was just mean. When he drank he was even meaner," Mr. Lewis said.
In an effort to escape the mental and physical torment, Mr. Lewis sought refuge in literature when he could. A specific book helped him harness as much optimism as he could.
The book, an old Intermediate Algebra textbook is peppered among formulas and problem sets with positive affirmations and motivating sentences like "Dream Big, Plan Big" or "Fertilize a dream."
"My birth dad left me this book. It's the only connection that I have to him," Mr. Lewis said. "I started looking at this book when I was in third grade while living with my stepfather."
Mr. Lewis' real father died when Ron was a baby. He has no memory of him, but formed a characterization of him through his father's writings.
"When I had to endure the beatings and the yelling, I would sneak away and grab this book," Mr. Lewis said. "[Fred] hated books in the house. If you had a book in the house, you were useless. He graduated from the sixth grade and he never thought education was worth it."
As an 11-year old, Mr. Lewis felt a kindred connection with his birth father and used the affirmations as encouragement to study the math inside the book.
"By the end of sixth grade I could do algebra, geometry, any kind of math, you name it," Mr. Lewis said.
Mr. Lewis went on to become a math teacher for 40 years in Brevard County. He maintained the unsullied, optimistic mindset throughout his life and through his teaching career.
"All of those years, what I tried to do was teach them to take the 'im' off 'impossible,'" Mrs. Lewis said. "I wasn't just teaching them the math skills, I was teaching them how to overcome anything."
Mr. Lewis' mindset is that of a constant optimist, a rare payoff given his arduous upbringing. He credits his mother's strong constitution throughout her painful marriage to Mr. Emmons and the inspiration he and his family gained in their eventual escape from his nightmarish household.
"Mom would have this can under the front porch and whenever we got extra money, I would get a couple extra pennies from picking blueberries, we would put the money in the jar and save until we had enough to buy a car and get us out of there," Mr. Lewis said. "It took six years, but she was finally able to do it."
They relocated to Brockton, Massachusetts. Mr. Lewis' stepfather later died in prison.
When he decided to write "Missing Pieces," a fictional depiction of some of the harsher aspects he endured, he channeled a broken childhood into the characters that form the plot of the novel.
"I took that concept of that voice in your head and how to change that voice, your thoughts, so that you change your world," Mr. Lewis said.
"Missing Pieces" is the story of a nine-year-old boy, the victim of a crime gone awry, who wakes up with no memory of his past. He's placed in protective custody in Florida with a new name, Jace Burke, and a family for six years until the murder of Aunt Betsy, who kept Jace safe, unearths his past and links the terrible crime to the abuse his mind has shut out. Together with his foster sister, Cailey, they work to solve the mystery of who killed Aunt Betsy in a small town with big consequences.
The antagonist of "Missing Pieces" is a man named Bremble, who is based on Mr. Lewis's stepfather. He said that channeling his own abuse was a cathartic experience, and that the process was therapeutically rewarding.
"Bremble is in there as an evil character off to the side, but I could see [my stepfather] during the writing," Mr. Lewis said. "It was good because as I was writing, I came to realize that he is not a part of my life."
In the truest form of altruism, Mr. Lewis donates the profits from "Missing Pieces" to Nana's House, a children's group home for neglected, abused or needy children in Brevard County.
Mr. Lewis is currently working on a second book, "Josh Out of Darkness", which further elaborates on his childhood through new characters; a book he explains was more difficult to write due to the more personal aspects it details.
Perseverance and the result of positive thinking are consistent themes in "Missing Pieces", which has recently been awarded Best Juvenile Novel in the 2019 Indie Originals Book Competition in Brevard County. Mr. Lewis will be among the local authors showcased at IndieCon on June 15 at the Melbourne Auditorium.
"I was my own ship, I was in that sea. The negative stuff around me, it could flood me, but unless I let that stuff get in, nothing would happen," Mr. Lewis said. "I had to let it get in in order to sink me."
“Missing Pieces” is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Mr. Lewis’ website www.rhlewisbooks.weebly.com.