William E. Johnson traces the idea for his first novel back to his move to Mathews County 22 years ago and people he has known while living there.
Johnson, an attorney who lives in Bavon at the county's southern tip, self-published "A Silent Tide" in November. It's a legal thriller set on the Chesapeake Bay, with the plot centering on the defense in a highly charged murder case.
So with no money and no clients, he moved to Mathews and bought a small house. Searching around for contacts, he went to a watermen's association meeting and offered legal representation for free.
He met Walter Coles Burroughs, a well-known Chesapeake Bay waterman who was one of the last to use the pound net method of fishing.
Johnson became close with Burroughs and a small group of leading regional watermen, attending meetings with them and going to Richmond at least once a year for the Virginia Seafood Council's banquet while the General Assembly was in session. A watermen's Cadillac would be used for the trip, and Johnson said it was full of the local giants of the business.
"They would just have a hoot, watermen-style," Johnson said. "They'd all drink far too much, and then I would drive them all home and they would all be snoring. Just having the opportunity to listen to their tales was tremendous."
Johnson gave a talk, read an excerpt and signed books at a Jan. 28 event organized by the Yorktown Book Club at the Yorktown Library. His latest work has touches of things he is immersed in — law, the watermen's way of life and even schools.
"It's been a wild ride," Johnson said. "The visuals of that which was going on around me never escaped me. And I always felt I was part of something special. And I always wanted to write a book."
Johnson's law practice specializes in criminal defense and claims personal injury, with a lot of murder cases and forensics. He is probably best known as the defense attorney for Benjamin Fawley in the 2005 murder case of Taylor Behl, a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman.
Johnson served two terms on the Mathews County School Board, from 2006-13, and seven years on the board of the Chesapeake Bay Governor's School. He started writing in 1996 with a novella titled "The Death of Redemption," and wrote a non-fiction education book called "A School in Pennsylvania" that was self-published in 2012.
"A Silent Tide" probably started about 18 years ago in a very rough format, he said. The people, food and flavor portrayed are based on Johnson's neighbors in Mathews with the character of Walter Taylor emulating Burroughs, Johnson said.
He hinted at film possibilities for the story, and said he will be writing a sequel.
"It will be darker and probably less case-based," Johnson said.
Williams can be reached by phone at 757-247-4644.
William E. Johnson's debut novel "A Silent Tide" is available on Amazon.com.