Update on My Writing

I have a confession to make. I haven’t been writing much in recent months. Actually, that’s not quite true. I’ve been writing a lot about our current political reality, but I haven’t been able to make any progress on the two books that are in process.

The truth is, I’ve been consumed by politics for the past 8-10 months. That’s not like me. I like to think that I am politically aware, but I’ve never let politics take over my life before. I spend good parts of my day scouring the Internet, following social media, reading books and articles, and keeping an eye on TV news. I feel a bit like a political junkie. That’s not the person I want to be, but recently, I haven’t been able to help it. As a result, I’ve made precious little progress on Second Chances and Paris, the two books I’m working on.

They say the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. Trust me, I have a problem. I also have a plan to pull myself away from politics and start spending more time on writing.

For the next several months, I will be working on revising short stories and submitting them to literary journals. I find it easier right now to focus on smaller projects, so I’ll focus on essays and short stories. In time, I should be able to start focusing on larger projects, like the two books I’m working on.

The deadline for my first project, a nonfiction essay, is February 22. I plan on meeting that deadline, then revising and submitting one short story a month for the next four months. That will take us to the middle of the year, when I should be ready to return to my longer works.

Let’s put some dates to these smaller projects:

  • 2/22/21 – Revise and submit “The Greatest Catch”
  • 3/31/21 – Revise and submit “The Art of Charcuterie”
  • 4/30/21 – Revise and submit “Little Bass Lake”
  • 5/31/21 – Revise and submit “Pie”
  • 6/30/21 – Revise and submit “The Barking Dog”

That’s the plan. Now it’s time to get busy.

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The Best Books I Read in 2020

As you’ve probably heard, 2020 was a strange year. In addition to a worldwide pandemic that changed all of our lives, we had an economy in ruins, country-wide protests for equal rights for black Americans, and a dysfunctional government that became more and more authoritarian as the year progressed. As a result, my reading habits were a bit different than usual.

For one, I read a lot more nonfiction in 2020, especially books about Donald Trump and his attack on our government. As you’d expect, some were good, some not so good, and some were exceptional.

I also consumed many more Audible Originals (AO) in 2020. These are audio books produced by Audible and available only to Audible members. Last year, I debated whether or not to include AO with other books. This year, I decided to include them. Even so, none of them made it into the top ten. There were several excellent AO books (along with a few duds), but in the end, the best ones fell just outside the top ten.

In the interest of transparency, the two best books I read this year are not on the list. Those books are 11-22-63 by Stephen King and Deadwood by Pete Dexter. I re-read both books this year, and since both were on previous top ten lists, I didn’t include them here. However, they are both excellent and highly recommended.

Unlike previous years, I did not read any books this year that I was really disappointed in. To be sure, I read a few books I didn’t like, but I wasn’t disappointed in them the way I have been in some books in the past. Part of that is that I didn’t have high expectations for the books I ended up not liking.

Without further ado, here are the ten best books I read in 2020:

10. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris – What our country went through over the past four years with Donald Trump had me thinking about the purpose of government. I heard historian Heather Cox Richardson mention that the purpose of our government was viewed differently by Abraham Lincoln than it ha been by any president before him, and that his views were, in essence, handed down to Theodore Roosevelt, and then to his cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I found this intriguing, and the comment reminded me that I had heard great things about Morris’ books on Theodore Roosevelt (he wrote three), but I had never read them. Finally, I took the time to read the first of the three, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and was not disappointed. If you’re interested in reading the book, let me warn you, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is extremely detailed. Some would say, way more detailed than necessary. While the book did get bogged down from time to time with too many details, overall, I came to enjoy the little facts, comments, and interactions that, while not necessarily moving the story forward, added color and depth to an already interesting story. If you read it, give yourself some time. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is long (816 pages)

9. A Day in the Death of Walter Zawislak by Molly O’Keefe – All I knew about this book before I read it was what it said in the book’s description. I can’t remember who recommended the book to me, although I’m fairly certain it was recommended. Otherwise, it would not have been very likely that I would have read it. It’s just not a book that would have come up on my radar. However, I learned about it, I’m glad I did. In A Day in the Death of Walter Zawislak, author Molly O’Keefe tells a story, not of redemption or second chances, but of seeing our lives in a new perspective. As the protagonist, Walter, is about to die, he is given the opportunity to relive one day of his life. Problem is, Walter doesn’t want to relive any day of his life. He feels he’s wasted his life and doesn’t want to relive any specific day. Even the thing he cherishes most–his marriage to Rosie who predeceased him–doesn’t inspire a certain day to relive. With the help of Peter, a kind of benevolent angel of death, Walter comes to see that he didn’t waste his life, and helps him to choose which day to relive.

8. Chances Are… by Richard RussoChances Are… is the most recent book from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo. It’s a quiet book without a lot of action (no car chases or shoot ‘em ups) and is a good example of the saying that in literary fiction, not much happens, but what does happen happens in great detail. Russo has a unique way of telling a story. I saw this same skill in Empire Falls, his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. He tells a leisurely story, introducing us to the characters and unobtrusively brings us into their lives. Most of all, he takes his time to make us care. In the first half of his books, you’re hooked, but you’re not exactly sure what the story is about. You have an idea, but you can’t pin it down precisely. In the second half of the book, he delivers the goods. All of the questions you had are answered and all of the care you’ve built up is rewarded. Chances Are… is no different. The story is about three college friends who get together after many years of separation, and re-visit a mystery that helped shape all of their lives. The mystery, the disappearance of a woman they all loved, was never solved. But at their reunion, they learn the truth of not only what happened to her, but what happened to each of them.

7. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes – I don’t think I was supposed to like Evvie Drake Starts Over. I mean, I don’t think it was written with me—or my demographic—in mind. Evvie Drake Starts Over is a book for women, what some might call Chick Lit (a term I understand, but don’t really like). Even so, I really, really liked it. It is one of the few books that stuck with me months after I read it. That is unusual. One of the things that I like about Evvie Drake Starts Over, and which I admire about a lot of books, is the way the author takes a relatively simple story idea and turns it into a captivating book. I don’t need a plot that contains a convoluted set of circumstances. Maybe it’s that I’m simple-minded, but if you want to impress me, take everyday humdrum life and make it interesting. That’s what Linda Holmes did with Evvie Drake Starts Over. The story centers around Evvie Drake, a woman whose husband has died and who, for the first time in her life, is truly on her own. At times, she navigates her new reality with all the grace of a water buffalo, but through it all, maintains a charm and sense of humor about herself and the world, until she doesn’t. Sometimes, life’s hardships are too much even for Evvie Drake.

6. Beneath A Scarlett Sky by Mark T. SullivanBeneath A Scarlett Sky is based on a true story that took place in Italy during World War II. Pino Lella is a typical Italian teenager at the start of the war. He has no interest in the Nazis or politics. Instead, his concern is first and foremost for the ladies. Although Pino ignores the Nazis that have taken over his town, his parents haven’t. They worry about their son and eventually convince him to join the Nazi army. They think he’ll be safer being in the army, rather than in the resistance. They don’t support the Nazis. In fact, just the opposite. But they want their son to stay safe. Pino lives a double life, escorting Jews out of Italy, across the Alps, to safety, while also serving as the driver for a mysterious Nazi officer. His position as a driver allows him to spy on the Nazis and funnel information to the resistance. His work helps defeat the Nazis, but has dire personal consequences for Pino. Author Mark T. Sullivan does a masterful job of keeping the reader engaged and turning pages. If you enjoy World War II era stories, this is the book for you.

5. Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives by Brad Watson – Brad Watson was a highly respected literary writer who died in 2020 at the all too young age of 64. I had heard a lot of good things about Watson over the years. My friend, Nick Rupert, even studied with Watson at one point, and spoke very highly of him. Until his death, Watson taught creative writing at several different schools, including the University of Alabama, Harvard University, University of West Florida, University of Mississippi, University of California-Irvine, and since 2005, at the University of Wyoming. Sadly, I had never read any of Watson’s work, so I made a point after his death to read one of his most popular short story collections, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives. The bad news is that I bought just the story, not the story collection by the same name. The good news is that Watson’s writing was every bit as good as I had been told it was. I very much enjoyed the story, and now want to make sure that I read the entire collection. Maybe I can get that done in 2021.

4. (tie) Lake Life by David James Poissant and Bosses of Light and Sound by Nick Rupert – You could say this is a bit of a cop out on my part. Jamie and Nick are both friends and I would feel a little strange claiming one was better than the other. But their place on the list is not a cop out. Both of their books are terrific. Not only is it hard to separate them on the list, it is also difficult to compare them. Lake Life is a fully-realized debut novel. Bosses of Light and Sound is a wonderful short story collection. In fact, I gave input on several of Nick’s stories. He ignored my input, and the collection is better for it. Lake Life follows a dysfunctional family as they navigate the potential sale of their beloved family lake house. The characters are richly rendered, and Jamie describes their flaws and struggles with wide open eyes and a healthy dose of compassion. He does a masterful job of weaving together disparate stories into a wonderful novel. In Bosses of Light and Sound, Nick gives us quirky characters living lives of largely unseen struggles. Whether it’s an older woman seeking a sort of cockeyed redemption at a miniature golf course, a potentially suicidal man who is the unofficial savior of others wanting to commit suicide, or a pair of friends reliving a night they’d rather forget as a sort of tribute/apology to their dead compatriot, Nick offers his characters in all their flawed, all-too-human glory. Bosses of Light and Sound is Nick’s first publication, but it certainly won’t be his last.

3. Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore – Here’s the deal: You get to live up to 2,000 lives in order to perfect yourself and become enlightened. It usually doesn’t take all 2,000, but if you need that many, you can have that many. But no more. Milo, the protagonist, is getting dangerously close to having lived 2,000 lives. He’s down to just a few, and he doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to perfection. With the help of Suzy, a sort-of-god and sexual partner, Milo makes his way through his final few lives, learning along the way what it really means to live a life of sacrifice and service. Reincarnation Blues is not for everyone. At times it is confusing and chaotic, skipping around from life to life, never stopping to explain how one life impacts another. But if you’re willing to open your mind and do a little of the heavy lifting, Reincarnation Blues is a terrific, deeply philosophical novel.

2. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder – I mentioned earlier that I spent a lot of time reading nonfiction this year, especially as it related to Donald Trump. On Tyranny is not specifically about Trump, but the book did an excellent job of pointing out the authoritarian action he was taking and gave the reader a roadmap to follow to avoid authoritarianism and fascism in the future. Snyder is a history professor at Yale University who specializes in the rise of fascist regimes. His insights, while not taking aim directly at Trump and his administration, laid out a strong, detailed case that what we saw during Trump’s four years in office was a progressively strengthening authoritarian administration hellbent on betraying our democracy for their own political gain. I turned to Snyder’s book several times in my own political writing to better explain what we were witnessing. I found On Tyranny invaluable as a resource, and as a ray of hope that we would find our way out of one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history.

1. Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior – The best book I read all year was Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior. Unlike On Tyranny, Hiding in Plain Sight took aim directly at Donald Trump and explained, in no uncertain terms, what he intended to do to the United States. Kendzior was not alone in her warnings about Trump, but she was on the record long before others sounded the alarm, and she was as prescient as anyone about what Trump held in store for our country. One thing that separated Kendzior from other writers is that, unlike those other writers, she was not ensconced in Washington D.C politics. Kendzior wrote from her home in St. Louis where she had a clearer view of what was happening in the heart of the country. Too often, we forget that, while our politics often emanate from Washington, lives of ordinary Americans are lived outside the beltway. From her perch in the Midwest, Kendzior saw the shift to authoritarianism taking place, and understood the danger of such a rise. She also identified early on what kind of harm someone like Donald Trump could do with this burgeoning authoritarian bent taking hold around the country. Hiding in Plain Sight is a must-read for anyone who wants to not only understand Trump, but also understand the movement that brought him to power and empowered him to threaten our democracy.

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A Long Overdue Update

It’s been a while since I posted anything on here. It’s been a crazy time. With the pandemic, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in the house, not venturing out for anything but groceries and an occasional errand. In theory, that should have given me plenty of time to write. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. My head just hasn’t been in the game. But I feel the tide turning. My plan is to write more often here on the blog as a way of rebuilding that writing muscle, and with the intent of using that stronger muscle to get back to my in-progress books.

So, let me tell you a little about those books. The first is tentatively titled Second Chances. It’s about a high school basketball team from the 80s. They go to the state championship, but lose to a team that is discovered to have cheated, having two ineligible older players. The scheme is revealed, but the state athletic association fails to adequately punish the cheaters, leaving the kids from the losing team little salve for their wounds.

Now it’s thirty-seven years later and players from that losing team, all in their mid-50s, have moved on with their lives. Or have they? Each of the members of the team struggles with issues from their state championship loss years after it happened. They’ve tried to move on, built families and careers, but there’s an empty space in each of them that they haven’t been able to fill. That is, until one of them concocts the idea of putting the team back together to compete in the state senior Olympics.

The novel follows each of the players through their lives, looking at how the state championship loss so long ago affected them, and how putting the team back together changes things.

Publication of Second Chances was originally scheduled for 12/1/20, but I have a feeling it may be delayed a bit.

The second book is tentatively titled Paris, but I’m almost certain to change that. The book was inspired by the Jimmy Buffet song “He Went to Paris,” which in turn was inspired by the life of Eddie Balchowsky, a one-armed veteran of the Spanish-American War who went on to become an artist and musician in Chicago. Buffet isn’t the only one to write a song inspired by Eddie. So did Loudon Wainwright, Utah Phillips, and Dion Dimucci (of Dion and The Belmonts fame).

The story follows a starry-eyed dreamer as he graduates from college (a rarity in the 1920s) and travels to Paris to solve some of the mysteries that trouble his mind. There, he meets and befriends Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other members of The Lost Generation, all ex-pat artists who flocked to Paris after the first World War.

He gets a job as a newspaper reporter documenting the burgeoning blues scene, and meets an actress, who eventually becomes his wife. They move to England and he opens one of the first blues clubs in London. For a while, their life is idyllic. Their love deepens, they have a child, and the club prospers. But England is soon drawn into a war with Germany that leaves his life (and much of England) in tatters.

Paris (or whatever I end up calling it) is looking like it could become a novella. It still needs a lot of work, and I’m not sure when it will be published, although I’m leaning toward mid-to-late 2021.

In the coming days and weeks, I plan on writing much more here. In addition to book news, I want to start sharing more everyday things. In the past, I’ve avoided writing much about my life, except as it pertains to my books or short stories. I think I’d like to expand that a little by including my thoughts on other topics as well. Keep an eye out. We’ll see where this goes.

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The Ones That Got Away is Launched!

Thank you to everyone who purchased The Ones That Got Away, my new novel. Because of your purchases, The Ones That Got Away moved into the top 50,000 books on Amazon yesterday (6/1/20). That may not seem impressive, but for a book like mine without a top publisher and big marketing budget behind it, it’s not bad. It was also in:

• Top 1000 in historical literary fiction (Kindle)
• Top 6000 in historical fiction (Kindle)
• Top 6000 in literary fiction (Kindle and print)
• Top 7000 in historical fiction (print)

These are not best seller numbers, but they’re better than I expected. They’ve already started to go down, but for a brief, shining moment, they looked pretty good.

Thank you for purchasing the book. I hope you enjoy it.

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The Ones That Got Away: What If You Had a Second Chance?

Have you ever thought about what your life could be like if you had the chance to do it over? What mistakes would you correct? What regrets would you re-do? What would you do if you could do it all over again?

That’s what Scott Thompson wonders. Scott is the protagonist in my new novel, The Ones That Got Away. He’s just gone to bed in the guest bedroom after another fight with his wife, Kathy. He’s lying in the dark and thinks how much better his marriage and his life would be if he had married any one of the three women he seriously dated before meeting Kathy.

Melanie was his college sweetheart. She was smart, sexy, and adventurous. She could also be a handful when she drank; loving and amorous one night, volatile and angry the next. But when things were good with Melanie, they were very good.

He met Holly when he was in law school in Chicago. Holly was driven and in control. She had a plan for her life and she wanted Scott to join her on the journey.

Liz came into his life when he was first practicing law. She was a sweet and upbeat woman who was full of life. She loved her job as a teacher, and had plans to move into administration. The thing about dating Liz was, they never fought. Scott had never been with a woman he got along with so well.

He’s thinking about these three women as he drifts off to sleep. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds himself back in his college apartment. And lying next to him is a naked Melanie.

This is the start of Scott living his life over and over again. What changes will he make? Who will he build a relationship with? How will he try to change his life…and the world?

The Ones That Got Away comes out on June 1. It’s available as an ebook or in paperback from Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

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Book Cover Reveal

We are only a couple of weeks away from the publication of my newest novel, The Ones That Got Away. Writing this book was a long, difficult slog. Even so, I’m happy with the way it turned out, and I’m excited for the publication date (June 1, 2020) to arrive.

Today, I want to introduce the cover for the new book.  Here is the cover for the ebook version of the book.

I would share the print version cover, but it’s in a format that this site doesn’t like. Oh well… How do you like the ebook version?

The last couple of weeks before a book is published are exciting and nerve-racking.  I’ll share more news with you as we get closer to June 1.

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The Latest on “The Ones That Got Away”

For a change, I have some good news concerning my next book. I finally finished it!

The book went off to the editor (again) a couple of weeks ago. He made quick work of the manuscript, sent it back to me, and I made the necessary changes.

Recently, the manuscript was sent off for final proof reading, and copies of the book have been sent to beta readers. The next step is to get a book cover. That should happen in the next two or three weeks.

As we get closer to the publication date (6/1/20) I’ll have more news for you, including a synopsis of the story and a cover reveal. Things are starting to get exciting!

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The Latest on “The Ones That Got Away”

The book I’m currently working on, The Ones That Got Away, has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Since beginning the novel, I have electronically lost the manuscript twice (once my fault, once not), I’ve moved, gotten sick, had a death in the family, and suffered from a streak of laziness that has gone on for months. All told, the writing of this book has taken more than four years so far. The good news is, I think it’s finally nearing an end.

The Ones That Got Away asks the question, how would you live your life if you were given a second chance. What would change? What would stay the same? What I’m finding is that the answers are much more complicated than I first imagined.

I’m in the home stretch of writing the book. It’s gone to the editor once, I’ve made a bunch of changes, and I continue to make changes. My plan is to have the book finished and ready for publication by June 1, 2020. As I write that date, I realize how soon it will be here. There’s still lots of work to be done, so I’d better get busy.

I’ll post more info about The Ones That Got Away as we get closer to the publication date.

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A New Cover for Driven: A Novel

My book, Driven: A Novel was published in November 2017. The story takes place in Miami in the early 1980’s, just as the drug trade in South Florida was really taking off, and becoming much more dangerous. The main character, Alex Booth, dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, but he lacks the financial wherewithal to make a go of it. That is, until he’s offered the opportunity to fund his racing by smuggling drugs.

When I originally published the novel, I wanted a cover that represented the Miami lifestyle in the early 80’s with palm trees, lot’s of neon, “Miami Vice” fonts, and, of course, a race car. The book cover choices I was given weren’t the greatest, so I went with this one:

Even early on, I wasn’t crazy about the cover, but it came closest to checking all of the boxes I wanted. Since then, I have grown more and more unhappy with the cover. So, I’ve finally done something about it. I commissioned a new cover that isn’t nearly as gaudy as the first, but still let’s the reader know a little bit about the story. I think the new cover is more subtle and understated than the original, and does a better job of representing the story the reader can expect.

And without further ado, here’s the new cover:

So, how do you like it?

Over the next week or so, I’ll be replacing the old cover with the new one on social media, as well as on both the print and ebook versions of the book. Also, in a day or two, keep an eye out for an update on my latest work in progress. And, as always, thanks for following along.

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My First Flash Fiction Story Has Been Published

I’ve been toying with writing short-short stories. This kind of writing is commonly called flash fiction and it’s usually a thousand words or fewer per story. The length varies depending on the publishing outlet. Some places restrict the word count to 100 or less, while others go as high as 1500 words.

In any case, the general length is shorter than a full-fledged short story, which presents challenges to the writer. Every word has to carry its own weight. There’s no room for superfluous language or red herring plot lines. With flash fiction, the story has to be direct and to-the-point, but the characters still have to be well developed and the plot has to be complete and logical.

I’m happy to report that my first attempt at a flash fiction story has been published. The story is “Kissing Gigi.” It was published by Flash Fiction Magazine. You can find it here.

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