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Monday, July 28, 2014

Jan's Paperbacks Event (7/26/2014)

This past weekend combined a road trip, an author event, and hanging out with some very cool people, old friends and new.  See why I love what I do?

After a 12-hour shift I was asked to do last minute, I made a solo drive to Beaverton, OR for an afternoon at Jan's Paperbacks.  The staff there was welcoming and fun (those ladies were actually incredibly awesome).  I was paired with an author much more local to the area than I was, one Anne Riley, author of Aerie.  I picked up a copy that day to check out.

Aside from the cookies and the charming customers that came in pretty steadily throughout the day, it was  also great to pick Anne's brain about writing and self-publishing, give our opinions about Amazon (short version, CreateSpace is awesome, but indie bookstores won't touch Amazon with a ten-foot pole).

I'm gonna take this very brief post to thank Shari, Debbie, Jody and Anne for a wonderful afternoon! I am going to definitely make them a part of my next project's promotional tour!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Progress Report (Short Post)

Hey all!

Here's an update on various writing projects and a plan for what's next!

This week, I finished Chapter 16 (24 planned) of the first draft of my next novel, which examines a married couple whose relationship has gone stale, and the bad decisions they make to try and reignite their interest.  The working title is Open, but I will likely find a new one.  I'm plotting the next eight chapters and I'm going to start writing Chapter 17 this week.  I'm on target for finishing the draft by October of this year!  Woo-hoo!

I finished the first draft of a short story called Father Figures, which serves as a sequel to my first novel, The Fab 5.  I will offer the story, gratis, on this site once I've edited it.  This is the second short story I've finished this year, but the first one I'll be sharing.

I'm starting character sketches and plot arcs for my next project, Urban Legend, today.  I'm not offering details on that publicly yet, only to say it's different than the stuff I've been writing the last few years.

As for my currently available novel, The Favorite...

I'll be at Jan's Paperbacks in Aloha, Oregon on July 26, sharing a signing table with Anne Riley.  She will be there signing and promoting her novel Aerie.

The Favorite is a finalist for a Readers' Favorite Book Award in Sports Fiction, along with Jacqueline Eubanks's well-received novel, The Last Time.  Winners are informed in early September, so good luck to us both!

And finally, later this summer I will be watching my nephew, Desmond Diaz, compete with the US National Martial Arts Team in the World Martial Arts Games in Vancouver.  And you can bet you will all hear about that!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stay-cation Daze

I don't usually take vacations.

Don't get me wrong, I take time to go places.  I take time to be sick.  I go back to New York at least once a year.  But very rarely do I ever unplug, go off the grid like I have the last couple of weeks.  I mean, I was still connected at my father's funeral last year.

The last couple of weeks, I've been off.  No day job, no writing, very little in the way of shameless self-promotion.  I needed a break.  It's not even like I went anywhere of importance: I rediscovered my liver, and went on a local boat cruise; went to Pike Place Market with my girlfriend; sat on my butt and watched the All-Star Game.  There was a fun picnic and a beach day where I had an unfortunate skin reaction to lake water (itchy, itchy, itchy!!!).  And I have to say, there's definitely something to this whole vacation thing.

The last time I took this much time off, I went to the Dominican Republic for a week or so and had a blast.  There's a story in there about how my brothers and I were mistaken for members of the 2012 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, which I will happily recount another day.  I can't begin to tell you how relaxed I felt afterwards, except that I feel the same way now.

There is something to be said about recharging your batteries, putting yourself on airplane mode, so to speak.  A couple of weeks away and I'm ready to get back to the grind of the paying job and the fun of writing.  I'm ready to get the rest of this year going.

I'm back.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"It's... it's a cookbook!"

Ah, the Fourth of July.

Independence Day.  A where we celebrate our love for our country, where we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  It is a day that is marked by time-honored celebration, where we indulge our love for the things that are so incredibly American.  Such as:

Recreational explosives.


Apple pie.


And Twilight Zone Marathons.

Since I was a kid, I had a fascination for reruns of The Twilight Zone. Summer nights routinely had me staying up late to watch the episodes at 2 and 3 in the morning on WPIX.  That was back before the CW ran it, back before the WB ran it.  I could watch that show anytime, anywhere.  To date there isn't an episode of the original 1956 series that I haven't seen at least once.

Imagine my glee when, at 10 years old, WPIX announced the first 12-hour Twilight Zone marathon.  It's rare on a summer day when a kid wants to stay inside, especially in a New York City summer with no air conditioning.  But on that first 4th of July marathon, I wasn't going anywhere.  Up at 7 to watch "Time Enough at Last," done at 7 with "Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."  I became familiar with old actors unburdened from classic roles, like Burgess Meredith not playing Mick from Rocky, or William Shatner as someone other than James T. Kirk.  Jack Klugman was not Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple), and he was alongside Jonathan Winters.

Mostly though, the draw for me was the storytelling.  A lot of my early writing hinged heavily on slightly supernatural plots, science fiction and twist endings, and that is all stuff I attribute to watching this genius show.  It's creator, Rod Serling, was one of the master storytellers of his day.  His writing credit appears on such classic episodes as "I Shot An Arrow Into The Air," and his iconic deadpan delivery of the shows monologues are hallmarks of that show.  A lot of that found its way into my writing as a teenager and some still filters through today.

As a matter of fact, the title of this post, if you are uninitiated, is one of the series most quoted lines, from the episode "To Serve Man."

So, I leave you today, to visit a dimension not of sight or sound, but of mind. A dimension where the only limits we know are the limits of imagination.  A dimension called...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer in the City

It's no secret: I'm a big fan of summer.  All my favorite things are summer things.  All my favorite activities are summer activities.  And not just any summer, either.  City summer, the kind I haven't been a part of in half a decade.  Once the weather gets warm, everything about life I find worthwhile starts to happen.

Back home, summer meant kids.  After June 22, schools were out and all the kids in the city ran rampant around town.  To some that means playing in creeks and woods and what have you.  To me, it was no curfew, football in the streets (I had a mean arm once) until you couldn't see the ball.  It was basketball from noon 'til dusk, or later if the court was near a streetlamp.  It meant movie hopping from one summer flick to another, sneaking around ushers and cameras to turn a matinee ticket into an all-day film festival.

It meant the Mister Softer Ice Cream trucks, whose distinct jingle could be heard from blocks away like an approaching T-Rex.  On the hottest of those summer days, that jingle meant relief was coming and sprinkles were free.  It meant the Spanish dude selling Icees on the corner of Church and Flatbush Avenues, and how with a little hustle and the guts to stand the heat, you could turn a 20-pound block of ice and some syrups into shaved ice treats, happy kids, and money.

It meant baseball, and who didn't love baseball? It was the middle of the season and the pennant races were either really starting to get interesting, or really getting out of hand (I'm a Yankee fan, guess which end I usually saw?), and we waited in anticipation of the Home Run Derby.  It meant work for some, play for others.

As adolescence set in, summer meant exposed midriffs and cut-off shorts.  It meant teased hair and bikinis.  It meant sundresses.  It meant sweat making every inch of fabric, no matter how thin, stick strategically to bronzed skin.  It meant girls in their late teens and early 20's knowing full well they had me and my hormones in the palms of their hands.  As an adult summer meant late nights chasing women and thrills, fueled by drink and dance.  It meant that even if the temperature cooled slightly, the streets were just as hot as they were in the daytime.  It meant watching the transformation as women traded in their business wear for outfits that were less confining to their bodies and attitudes.

It meant thunderstorms.  It meant that just before one would hit, the air would be heavy with a certain energy, thick with humidity and heavy with expectation.  When it was over, the air was cool and light and if you were outside,  you were happily drenched and enjoyed a powerful lightshow full of sound and fury.

It meant Coney Island and the rides that, even though you had been on them a million times, you still once in a while ponied up that $5 for one more go at the Cyclone or the Zipper. 

It meant not having a backyard pool, but having a fire hydrant and a hollowed out tin can.  It meant skelly in the streets, and if you're from Brooklyn or the Bronx and I have to explain that to you, you need to put the video games down, son, and get out more.  (For my Canadian friends, think curling, only with bottlecaps on asphalt.)

Summertime was eight short weeks of wide open possibility, that always seemed to last forever until it was almost over.  And even though as a working man I never had summers off, there's still a conditioned mind-shift that you anticipate in late May, starts in earnest late June, winds down around Labor Day and ends around the first day of school.

I still love Summer.  Let the games begin.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I Believed That We Would Win

Okay, so a day after the US was eliminated from the World Cup, it's time to take a quick look back at what it did.

Despite what Ann Coulter said, it kind of reinforced the commonality of all Americans.  No matter our walk of life, political alignment, ethnic background, or religious slant, we all supported our team.  We all chanted.  We all watched. 

We all gave props to Tim Howard for his gutsy performance against Belgium.

The beauty of it all was that we did so without hesitation, without consideration of whether the person chanting next to us was pro-choice or not, without worrying about the confrontation between creationism and evolution.  We did so without the worry about whether or not climate change was real.

For the first time in a long time, it wasn't the 1% versus the 99%.  It was the USA against the World.

Maybe it was because we were such huge underdogs, and everyone loves underdogs.  Maybe it's because secretly, some part of our evolving national identity loves soccer as much as NFL or baseball.  But for some reason, we were all believers.  And it's even lasted after we've lost.

We need to hold on to this feeling of unity.  Moments like this, where even an embattled President and his supporters and rivals are all on the same page in support of our country, are too precious to allow to pass.  And they should happen much more often than every four years.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Boy and His Tiger

I recently watched a documentary on Calvin and Hobbes.  Well, most of it.  It WAS five in the morning.

This documentary focused on the impact that little comic strip had, and inevitably, I thought about the impact it had on me.

When I was a kid, Calvin and Hobbes was one of the handful of reasons I ever touched the Sunday paper.  As I got older and developed an interest in the world around me (and sports), I developed a system for reading the New York Daily News on 15 minute subway ride to my high school: lead story on last night's Yankees or Knicks games, comic pages (Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or For Worse, Doonesbury), league standings.  Everything I needed to know about the world.

Calvin and Hobbes, for the uninitiated, is a strip about a six year-old boy and his stuffed tiger.  The tiger comes to life in when he and the boy are alone and they have adventures that range from the closeness of their backyard to the far reaches of time and space.  The boy's boundless imagination, as well as what would today be diagnosed as ADHD, lead him into hilarious situations with his parents and teachers, and he observes life with a simplicity and poignancy that only a child could.  It's one of the few things created in a decade of cheesy schlock that holds up years and years later.

I won't lie and say I saw myself in Calvin.  By the time I was reading that strip, I was old enough to know that stuffed tigers didn't come to life, that girls weren't so slimy and that a cardboard box was just a cardboard box.  I did get the messages in the story, that imagination is priceless an that life is best lived with a friend.  As I got older, a lot more of the jokes made sense, and a lot more of the subtle philosophy became clearer, but it was always about a boy's imagination to me.

Looking back at Calvin and Hobbes, I will say I found a degree of inspiration from that strip.  It's just way more fun to embrace your imagination than to suppress it, way more honest to think things like a child would.  Bill Watterson left behind something timeless, and that's something every writer or artist would want to do.

December 31, 1995 was a sad day for me.  It was the day that this strip ran: 

The last one.  One that suggested it was time to move on, to turn the page, to explore new possibilities, and (dare I say) to grow up.  I was 17 years old.  And I cried a little.