Monthly Archives: November 2009

Creepy Enough?

Since launching my web site/blog in early October, those in the know—my publicist, the PR gal from Amazon Encore, and other notable marketing gurus—have insisted that my site is not creepy enough. It stands to reason that an author who created one of the most diabolical series killers ever to live on the pages of a novel, should have a site that screams creepy. 

Well, I’m anything but a web site designer. In fact, other than my ability to upload daily posts and adding an occasional photo, I’m basically retarded when it comes to anything even remotely close to web site design or management. Thank God, my dear friend and “savior” Paula, held my hand throughout the design and upkeep process, and basically did 98% of the work. What I really love about Paula is her willingness to help. When I call her and ask if she can add this or modify that, she virtually drops what she’s doing and tackles it immediately. 

So, I sent her a few photos, shared my concept with her, and voilà! Just like magic she changed the home page from boring to creepy. But is it creepy enough? Will visitors get the message that They Never Die Quietly takes the whole thriller genre to a new level of evil? Only you, my readers, can truly answer this question. Should I leave it alone? Should I modify it? Change an image? Use a different background color? Any suggestions? What say you?

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Once is not Enough

How many times have you promised yourself after gorging your belly with a 10-course Thanksgiving dinner that you’d never do it again? Next year, you proclaim, you’re going to pace yourself and walk away from the dinner table not feeling like you’re at the verge of exploding. Well, for me, I set an all-time record this year, and to be honest with you, I’m totally disgusted with myself. 

You see, it wasn’t just “BirdDay” that got me in the gut; it was the week that preceded the holiday. My mother-in-law came to visit for a week and spent Thanksgiving with us. So, my wife and I felt the need to wine and dine her during her visit. But instead of taking her to nice restaurants that served modest portions, we went the all-you-can-eat buffet route. We did the Soup Plantation, Onami’s Sushi, Zorba’s Greek buffet, Palomino’s Mexican restaurant (not a buffet but the portions are ridiculously gi-normous!). We also did breakfast at the Broken Yoke Café, and did some serious damage there as well. 

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, my stomach was well prepared to chow down a record-setting amount of food—and believe me when I tell you; I was like an eating machine! We were invited to a friend’s house for dinner, a friend who cooks enough food to feed every man, woman, and child in the western hemisphere. Seriously. Not only did she roast two twenty-pound turkeys with all the fixings, her appetizer selection was a buffet all by itself. I’m talking everything from artichoke dip to cheese trays to hummus to shrimp cocktail—you name it, and she had it. 

By the time I downed a couple of glasses of wine and grazed on the selection of finger foods, I wasn’t really hungry for dinner, but hey, I didn’t want to be rude! So, I did what any red-blooded American boy would do on Thanksgiving, piled it on my plate and stuffed it in until my eyes were out of focus. And then, of course, when my brain caught up with my stomach, I could barely breathe. It was not a pretty sight. 

So, as a result of my glutinous behavior, I have decided to make an early New Year’s resolution. I’m going to lose 15 pounds by March 1, 2010 and limit my visits to my favorite buffets. Yes, I know, you’ve heard it all before. In fact, this is not the first time I vowed to lose weight and limit the calorie intake. But unlike in the past, I’ve got a little more incentive this time. I donated my “fat pants” to a local charity. So either I lose weight or run around in my skivvies. And that would be a scary sight.

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Alex Immortalized

For those of you who follow my blog regularly, you know the sad story of my beloved cat, Alex, who died from renal failure on November 17. After 16 years, she is now enjoying eternity in Kitty Heaven. It’s been unimaginably painful; more difficult than I ever anticipated. I have tough days and tougher days, but as of yet I haven’t had any peaceful days—not even modestly peaceful. 

Yesterday, when my Florida-visiting mother-in-law, my wife, and I returned from a visit to the San Diego Zoo, I found an 11×17 package waiting for us inside the screen door. It had been shipped FedEx and was very official looking. The return address read: International Star Registry. Being the cynic that I am, I figured it was some come-on, a scam of sorts; some ploy to extort money. As I carefully tore open the package, mindful to heed the “Do Not Bend” and “Fragile” warnings, my skepticism grew. 

The enclosed letter read: 

“A star in the heavens has been named, Alex, in memoriam. 

The enclosed certificate indicates the new name of the star and its telescopic coordinates. The booklet with constellation charts will help you in locating the area of the star and the large sky chart shows the named star encircled in red. 

Alex, the new star name and telescopic coordinates will be registered in the International Star Registry’s vault in Switzerland and recorded in the astronomical compendium, Volume IX, copyrighted in the United States of America.” 

I looked at the astronomical map and located the star named, Alex. It is in the constellation, Ursa Minor, and its location is RA15h32m20.58s D73°1’54.60” Of course none of this astronomical mumble-jumble means anything to me. However, somewhere out there in space, 50, maybe 100 million light years away, a star shines in memory of Alex. 

Exploring deeper into the package, I found a greeting card with this inscription: 

So sorry for your loss, but Alex’s light will shine forever. 

Janice & Puma 

Janice is a dear friend, a lovely woman and a real cat lover. Puma is her feline companion. 

It took only a nanosecond for the tears to fill my eyes. I had to excuse myself and dash to the bedroom. I suspect that for the next few weeks, maybe for the next few years, triggers like this will choke me up. It may be silly for a grown man to react like this. But all I know is that I miss my little girl and know in my heart that the star dedicated in her name will not only shine brightly, it will warm the universe and warm my heart. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

ALEXANDRA

Born: October 2, 1993

Reborn: November 17, 2009

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Reading as a Writer

There was a time when I loved curling up with a good novel and losing myself in the story. There was no particular genre that tickled my fancy—I read everything from Stephen King to Clive Cussler to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Pat Conroy to Victor Hugo. But that was before I began writing fiction. Since writing my first novel, Divided by God, in 1993, I’ve gone through a peculiar metamorphosis that unfortunately has for all practical purposes forever compromised my ability to enjoy fiction.

This phenomenon didn’t happen overnight; it was a slow process. I first noticed it when I read David Baldacci’s debut novel, Absolute Power. About 100 pages into this thriller, it seemed as though I could not concentrate on the story. Instead of absorbing myself into the book and the characters, I began to dissect every adverb, every adjective—every single word. I would focus on sentence structure, use of language, dialogue, and evaluate each scene with fastidious scrutiny. I quickly discovered that I could have done a much better job than the author—or so my big, fat ego thought.

So distracted by this chronic preoccupation to editorialize every syllable, it reached the point where I could no longer enjoy this book. At first, I blamed it on the author, believing that all the hype that preceded the release of this novel sparked some curious need in me to find flaws with Mr. Baldacci’s writing. It’s not uncommon for unpublished novelists to be highly critical of successful writers. I think they call it sour grapes.

After careful consideration, I concluded that the book was not was it was hyped to be and wrote it off as one of many bestselling novels that didn’t deserve to be bestselling at all. No disrespect to David Baldacci; it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

I moved on to another novel (can’t remember which one), and less than 50 pages into this book, guess what happened? Yep, the writer in me took control and made the reader in me go stand in the corner. After going through this process with book after book—many of them remarkable works of fiction—the fog lifted and the dust settled.

I realized that I was no longer capable of reading a book as a reader, but instead, read books as a writer. So rather than enjoying a read and letting the story flow, I was like a crotchety old English teacher looking for every opportunity to criticize the writing. And this phenomenon has made it virtually impossible for me to enjoy a novel.

I can’t begin to tell you how many novels I’ve started but never finished. And it’s terribly disturbing because every writer worth his or her salt knows that a writer who doesn’t read seriously limits their ability to grow as a writer and improve their creative skills.

So, what can I do to cure myself of this affliction? I’m missing out on an activity I truly enjoy. I’m missing out on a world of poetic narratives, wonderful characters, and compelling plots. I have friends who read two or three books a week, and I can’t get through one in a month. How do I suppress the writer in me and unleash the reader?

 

 

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Hawk Eyes

My emotions are still flying high and I can’t believe how totally crappy I feel. But life must go on, and in spite of the fact that I would like to just curl up in the fetal position for the next couple of months and sleep my life away, I have obligations and responsibilities that require my attention. 

One of my tasks as author of They Never Die Quietly, is to carefully examine a meticulously edited manuscript and either approve or nix suggested changes. 90% of these proposed changes relate to language, sentence structure, grammar, syntax, and punctuation—issues that are likely not debatable. But 10% of the copy edited notations deals with style—which in some cases is subjective—and continuity.   

Because the text had already gone through a comprehensive review and editorial process, I expected to see only a few changes noted on the 250-page manuscript. Was I in for a humbling surprise. Only a handful of pages were clean and okay as written. But the majority of the pages were littered with multiple corrections, and in some cases I found a dozen or more on a single page! Wait a minute. How, pray tell, did I miss these obvious problems? 

While reviewing page after page of these corrections, I felt totally illiterate. That I could overlook these mistakes absolutely stunned me. The editor who performed this copy edit was remarkably competent. She didn’t miss a thing. What really blew me away was her extraordinary attention to details. On page 23 she wrote a note: “Character states that her car broke down on Soledad Mountain Road, three blocks south of Nautilus Street. Nautilus doesn’t intersect with Soledad Mountain Road.” She actually Googled the street to be sure my information was correct? Wow! 

On another page she wrote: “On page 79 you mention that Al went through rehab three years ago, but on page 156, you claim it was only one year ago.” Is she kidding me? How could she remember such an obscure fact? All I can say is she must have a photographic memory.  

This one really blew my mind: “You mention the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) having jurisdiction over illegal aliens, but according to Wikipedia, the Department of Homeland Security was tasked with this responsibility in 2003.” This gal could spot a pimple on a mosquito! 

Needless to say, I tucked my tail between my legs and humbly authorized the necessary corrections. However, wherever she changed the word “Freeway” to “Interstate”, I had to flex what little remained of my creative muscles and try to preserve my bruised ego, by insisting that they stay as written. I mean, I do live in California and they are Freeways, right?

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The Floodgates Have Opened

As I sit and write this post, I can barely see the computer screen. The last 12 hours have been nothing less than a nightmare. In prior posts I talked about Alex, one of my two 16-year-old cats. She’s been struggling with chronic renal failure and in spite of our efforts, home treatments and the care of a great veterinarian, my wife and I had to do the right thing last night and put her down. 

I’ve been on this planet for more years than I care to remember, and I’ve lost many loved ones throughout my life. My mother died on April 27 of 2008 and as strange as it sounds, since her death I haven’t shed a tear. I can’t begin to tell you how guilt ridden I’ve felt because no matter how dearly I loved my mother and how grief stricken I’ve been, I haven’t been able to cry.  I’ve read that when we lose someone close our grief is often overpowered by a self-preservation instinct. Sometimes the impact of losing someone you love hibernates for weeks or sometimes years before it hits us. And in many cases, the trigger that unleashes these suppressed emotions is an unrelated event. 

Well, since last night at 7:15 PST, when the vet injected Alex with a drug that put her to sleep forever, I haven’t been able to stop crying. I have never wept like this in my life. At times it feels totally uncontrollable. I didn’t realize until early morning that Alex’s death was the trigger that finally allowed me to suffer the grief of losing my mother last year. My tears are for Alex, because I loved her dearly, but they’re also the welled-up tears that I’ve been unable to purge since my mother’s death. 

When we brought Alex to the vet’s last night for a follow-up appointment to determine if the home treatments had lowered her toxic levels, we were hopeful that she’d made a little progress. We weren’t expecting miracles, but even a marginal decrease in her creatinine levels would have given us hope. When the vet delivered the bad news and told us that her levels had gone from 8.3 to 11, we knew that the time had come to do the right thing. 

So, reluctantly and painfully, we knew that Alex had silently suffered long enough and that it was time for her to leave us and go to Kitty Heaven. The doctor left us alone with Alex in the private room where she would be put to sleep. In my heart, I was certain that Alex knew what was coming, that she had reached the point of no return. It was as if she couldn’t get close enough to us. And the way she looked at us, broke my heart and my spirit. She snuggled her head against us and the look on her face was pathetic. 

I’ve never had to put down a pet before and didn’t know what to expect. When the doctor came in she explained the procedure in great detail so we would be prepared. As we stroked her silky fur, the vet injected her with a drug that almost instantly put her into a peaceful sleep. Then she injected the lethal drug that would end her life. It took no more than 15 seconds for her heart to stop. She lay there, quiet and peaceful. And I’m certain she didn’t feel any pain. We stayed with her for a while and the doctor tried to comfort us. But the moment my wife and I got into our car, every welled up tear, every emotion, erupted to the surface. We were both a mess. 

I cry. I remember. I feel an unbelievable sense of loss. Through this loyal, loving cat who was daddy’s little girl for 16 years, I was able to finally feel grief for my mother. Thank you, Alex. And thank you Mom for understanding why I haven’t been able to cry. I love you both with all my heart.  

 

 

 

 

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Laura Roppe’

Several months ago I heard the amazing story of singer/songwriter Laura Roppe through her mother-in-law, who works with me. Although I’ve never met Laura face-to-face, we’ve gotten acquainted through several e-mails.  She’s a cancer survivor whose story is remarkable and uplifting. Against all odds she’s licked cancer, quit her lucrative career as an attorney and followed her dream to write music and sing. 

Her CD, entitled, Girl Like This, has done very well and has gotten lots of attention. Float Away, a cut from this CD, just won Americana Song of the Year at the L.A. Music Awards in Hollywood. 

I could go on and on about her, but please take the time to read her story: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/lauraroppe  

And make it a point to visit her web site: http://www.lauraroppe.com/  

If you’d like to watch her music video of Float Away, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtiUQUT4nDk.

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