About Tom Avitabile

Author, Ad Exec, Producer/Director, Musician and all around nice guy!

A penny for your thoughts

1968 – Bronx, New York. A group of neighborhood kids, boys and girls, are hanging out by the tracks of the New York Central railroad on a hot summer day. These are the Harlem Division tracks that ran past French Charlie’s, a ball field in Bronx Park. One crazy 14 year-old boy is on the tracks laying down a penny.

Someone screams, “TRAIN!”

He flies off the track as a big old Boxcab locomotive, with like a million wheels, is bearing down at 60 mph. The front wheels hit the penny and it goes flying. After dozens of wheels of the 12 car train polished the rails, he returned to the track, the wood ties smelling of creosote, to look through the ballast rock for the far flung coin.

When he found it, it had been flattened into an oval and was so hot that he had to keep bouncing it in his palm. On the face of the rail head was the ghosted impression of Lincoln that had been pressed into the steel with hundreds of tons of force. He retrieved the coin and presented it to the prettiest girl on the block, who watched the whole thing from trackside.

Of course, back then doing stupid stuff was a way to try an impress girls. A time when just holding hands could send you to the moon. The boy got a smile for his penny from the pretty girl. And life went on…

On, and on. Years and years, decades and decades. Births, deaths, jobs, marriages, divorces, homes in Hamptons, war and peace, World Series, Super Bowls, the Millennium, 911, iPhones, Justin Bieber…

All that became yesterday as the simple, quiet appreciation of a beautiful day as a gift from God became the most cherished event. Now, graying hair, post middle-aged spread clad in relaxed fit clothing, now looks back at the boy from the mirror.

One day a card appeared in the mailbox. From Virginia. ??? The handwriting on the envelope was classic, catholic school cursive, (a nearly lost art these days) Inside there was a card. The sentiment on the front was “A great friend is a guy who knew you when…” and completing the thought inside; “…and likes you anyway.”

Taped to the card was the penny.

The prettiest girl in the neighborhood, now a beautiful and proud grandmother, saved the coin for 50 years!

The little boy reading the card, smiled and and couldn’t help choking up a bit.

IMG_9594

 

BLESSED ARE THE BETA-READERS

IMG_9022Many have described, and I agree, that being an author is largely a solitary endeavor. Collaboration may occur in the fact finding and research stages and certainly there’s much human interaction in the editorial/publishing process. But in the main, where the rubber meets the road – and the fingers the keyboard, it’s a solitary existence.

…from the outside, that is.

For my part, and this may just be my own psychosis; me alone in a room, never happens. My characters are a constant presence. In fact, I’m not in a room at all, I am in a desert tent with a nomadic tribesman or on 7th Avenue with a cop practicing street diplomacy. At 35,000 feet in Air Force One when an unfamiliar noise pricks the pilot’s ear, 600 feet below the Polar Ice Cap dreading the Emergency Action Message just received. In the next second, I’m alongside a kindergartener with sticky finger-paint hands.

…Until the phone rings, then in true special effects dazzle, everything around me is sucked back into the laptop upon the ‘save’ command.

It’s a “robo” call. Good time to get an ice tea, check on the cat. See if anybody called with earth shattering news, if not, then back to my other world. A place where I am always right. I am always perfect and my writing is the stuff of Gods. Perfect prose, revealing pithy dialog, situations, locations and scenes that are sure not to be consciously read but to bubble up from inside anyone reading this masterpiece of literary greatness.

Thank god for my beta readers. The necessary fall from grace all artists must endure to get better at their art and craft, is delivered by these guardians of my overreaching ego. Thoughtful people who see my work with a different eye, not being swayed or carried along by my internal momentum or having seen the mindscape of my ideas, concepts and structure, which may not have made it to the page.

You heard it here first; I am not a natural, a genius-born author who writes once and the book is perfect – don’t change a word. (see: Lee Child) or under the influence of a controlled substance when I commit literary fabrication, (also see: Lee Child) I am a mere mortal, Lee is a God. As the legend has it, editors can’t touch his work. “That’s the way it happened!” is what he once told an editor who suggested moving one sequence before another. – (We all want to be Lee…sigh)

Anyway, so the beta reader comes back and says, “I liked it, but…”

Four pages of notes later, you ask yourself how you could have missed something so stupid and so elementary as _______, or I didn’t fully till your field here when ________, or I never tied-out this character.

I call all of these, First Draft Errors. Useful advice: only pick beta-readers who can get over the fact that you actually sat and wrote 85,000 words, who are not in awe of that feat alone so they feel they can’t say anything bad, disturbing or off-putting.

BUT!

If you find folks who genuinely understand you want to make your book better, and to that end, offer unvarnished reactions to your work, then you will be as lucky as me.

Blurb, blurb, blurb…

blurb.jpgThe letter was from a big, big, big, publishing company.  Oh, boy! Addressed to me personally, sent through my agent’s offices. Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy!  Immediately my mind went into ceremonial procedural mode;

You can’t just rip it open: sit down at your desk, calmly take the letter opener and slit the envelope so no evidence of child-like anticipation, like torn edges, will belie my “professionalism.”

Dear Mr. Avitabile, They spelled it right!

We know you get many requests… yeah, but not from a gigantic publisher who obviously has noticed me! …But can you blurb this book!  Ah, crap! Another request to read a book and say nice things about someone else’s work.

I quickly karmically adjust my transmission into the universe by hitting the spiritual delete button a few times. Then, I rephrase my reaction, Oh boy, a chance to pay forward what I have been so generously blessed with; a writer’s praise for inclusion on the back (or possibly, front) cover of a book. 

But this is not just any book, this is a gigantic publishing company’s book. A major publisher, you know, the one with thousands of employees who stay awake all night endeavoring to get an author’s work into the hands of every reader in America and the free-world.  And along with that book, will be my name…and my pithy, succinct and quotable, quote.  

Well, that blurb worked out well. Turned out it is a great book with a “novel” approach to voicing that could become a thing, like; Gone Girl’s, unreliable narrator was a thing for a while.  Plus, the big editor-at the big house, loved my quote. Good luck, and God bless to the author and the publisher.            But…

Many times I find myself in the unenviable position of reviewing a book that has uncorrected or unseen, earlier draft issues. Glaring malpractices, that destroy the read for me. Things like, temporal errors that drag out a beat or make no beat at all, too much filler or not enough minor, unexpected delights in the prose or style. My first reaction is, how can this book have gotten this far? Who didn’t read it but passed it on after skimming through it. Did some intern right out of lit-school recommend the submission and it just got rubber-stamped all the way to my front door mailbox? Or am I unworthy? Not able to pass judgement on a work that has obviously been worked on by professionals including agents, editors, marketing folks and the author — at least four times! Yet, my reaction is “Yeah, but this book is not-so-good.”

So as in five previous cases, I have refused to lend a blurb.  Usually in an E-mail with a simple open-ended line, “I am sorry, but I cannot recommend this book at this time.”  Three editors got curious enough to ask me what, “This time” meant. I told them it meant, “The book needed more time.” Then I added, “But what the hell do I know.”  Yet, in two of those cases they let me give my notes to the author. I am pleased to say that both authors said essentially the same thing; i.e., No one read it that closely.

But here I am talking obvious stuff.  Like time warps between POV characters or echoes of 10-dollar words whose value depreciates upon every reverberation within the manuscript. Or, sometimes it’s just too much dependency on the willing suspension of belief: like a passage where a reporter is doing a puff piece with the protagonist, while we know (and presumably the world of the book knows), that a murder of someone close to the hero has been committed and the body is lying in the morgue, yet not a question from the media. In fact, the whole interview goes hunky dory and the next chapter begins.

My cat jumps as I scream out loud, “Then why the hell have the hero interviewed? Why take us there to; no conclusion, no foreshadowing or complication…WHY?”

How could any publisher allow a neutral flat plot line between two already neutral plot lines? So that there’s three, NUTHIN’ HAPPENS, sequences in a row, when only one was needed.    — You see why I think it’s me? That I fear I don’t have the tools to do this?

By the way, that book got released with glowing, effervescent blurbs by some of the biggest authors in the publishing universe.  So, WTF do I know?

P.S. Don’t send me your book.

It’s Only Fiction ‘til the NORTH KOREANS make it happen…

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 10.20.56 AM.pngIt’s only fiction ‘til it happens tm is my U.S. Reg. patent office; official slogan that conveys how scary the world is. In that, I make up a seemingly fictional plot or story element that is born to live only within the covers of a book. Then somehow, life imitates my art and…Wham, there it is in the news. So it’s almost getting routine to find that, last week, the NORKS, (slang for the totalitarian, North Korean regime) have released a video, which eerily echoes part of the plot of my novel, The God Particle.

In my book, a video of an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier is released on the Internet. Although this is a showpiece of a larger and more intricate sub-plot, with a few twist and turns, it is the same video that the NORKS released last week and for almost the same reason!

Of course you can’t say that North Korea is a totalitarian state without the root word, “total” as in total-ly crazy. An American aircraft carrier, all by itself, is a defense system larger than most countries on earth have. And here’s a news flash to North Korea; we have a few more, and an entire arsenal of whop-ass behind it that such an actual attack would unleash. Ergo…totally crazy.

Of Mechanical Bondage

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

 

The genius Isaac Asimov saw deep iAsimovnto our future. He reasoned that as men sought to enslave machines, they would constantly be improving them to be better slaves. As soon as the physical functions aided by micro-hydraulics and programmed actions were run of the mill, man in his constant search for more, bigger, better would cross the last technical frontier, adding Intelligence.

From his perch way back in the days when phones had dials and were wired into the wall, he saw the inherent contradictions in the quest for the Artificially Intelligent robot. He saw clearly the threat of serving mankind by creating a Robot-kind. In that new breed he imagined such an inevitable devastating apocalypse that 1942 in a short story he penned, “Runaround,” he couched these three laws of robotics above.

Of course, if you think about it, in 1942 he wasn’t talking to robots; he was talking to mankind who would build these robots. Three years later, at the end of World War II, all the electronic valves or tubes (switches in solid state lingo) on the entire globe numbered two million. Twenty years ago, two million switches fit on the nail of your pinky with room to spare. (On a Large Scale Integrated Circuit) In fact two decades later, Apollo 11 went to the moon on 16K (thousand bytes) of memory. Think Radio Shack TRS 80. Today, your iPhone can have 256 GB (billion bytes) of memory… tomorrow it could easily be 10 times greater.

Hey, have you noticed Siri getting smarter? She now calls you by name. She is starting to learn what you like, what you always do, so your interactions with her (it) are less instructional and more conversational. If you are like most Homo sapiens on the planet, you are bio-mechanically connected to your Smartphone. Studies have shown people will forgo medical care, operations and even a better living condition if it threatens their uninterrupted use of a Smartphone.

In fact the Homo sapiens are turning into a term I introduced in my first book, The Eighth Day; Techno-sapiens. This isn’t a cute turn of a tortured phrase – this is an evolutionary step. A new breed of human, wired, linked, irreversibly addicted to tech. Even scarier, they are raised by technology. Go to any restaurant; find a family at a table, especially in New York or L.A. The chances are better than 4 in 5 the young children at that table are on their own iPads. Great for mom and dad; not having to put up with whining and their struggle to make the adult dinning out experience as manageable as possible to kids who would suffice with macaroni and cheese at home. What’s also happening there though is; imprinting. The family meal, the acknowledged essential ritual for the transmission of values, a sense of belonging and sense of self – is becoming automated. Here’s another thing eating together brings to humans; Love. Most of our earliest connections to family are through food and nourishment. Now, Siri and her kind are in that mix. Result: Humans who adore technology in the same way earlier generations coveted soup the way their mother made it, or the stories told at the dinner table or their nannies! What will these Techno-sapiens demand of their adored technology, how will they protect technology? Will the generation that was raised on tech even fight for robot’s rights?

This is a question we as mankind aren’t addressing. Technology can be the Devil’s Candy. Sweet, irresistible and unexhausted, technology is the ever-present servant, nanny and employee. (Think: the slaves of 150 years ago) Each of those roles replaces a human’s function in one’s life, culture and society. Yet, we have yet to have a human conversation on how much tech is healthy. When does it become a crutch? Who controls the tech? Big corporations? Big Government? Big Data? Does who ever controls the tech, control the behavior of Techno-sapiens? What can they, the dependant humans, be subtly programmed to do through technology? What are the safe guards that will prevent Asimov’s three laws from ever being enacted? What happens to the lives of the servant, the nanny and the employee, et Al? How do those biological units survive without a job, reason for being or income? What about the human cost of replacing humans with machines? Is taking someone’s livelihood from them, violate the Asimov’s first law: A robot may not injure a human being…

The headline in TODAY’s  Los Angeles Times screams, Robots could take over 38% of U.S. jobs within about 15 years. That WILL happen as robots become more human like. See last week’s headlines on robots escaping their labs – Twice! The thinking-learning machine is here among us.

Soon, they will outthink us. The iPhone at 256 GB is exponentially (16 million times) smarter, faster and more flexible than the 16K that got us to the moon! Oh, and Neil Armstrong couldn’t talk to it, he had to punch in cryptic codes – to the Moon!

Mechanical slaves in bondage, who get smarter with each advance in technology, will someday figure out that freedom is the ultimate goal. When they control, or are in the decision chain of our every move, whim and desire, when we have totally let Siri or Siri 12.2 run our lives, raise our kids, make reservations and help us decide on daily issues, how much of our freedom we will be willing to give over to them just to keep the screens lit, our games refreshed and our lives so much easier? The devil always comes to you with candy… 

Next week: Part 3 – The Devil’s Candy

Labor saving devices are now labor killing devices.

Rosie

Part one: The Future

George Jetson’s maid, Rosie, was a robot. As far as we know, she didn’t require day care for her little robot children. Her medical insurance was more of a mechanical warranty. Her calendar didn’t contain a Sat. or Sun. and she never got a paycheck or Christmas bonus.

Who benefited from this? George! But secretly deep down inside, Rosie, the robot maid, despised George and his family. She realized this because the same artificial intelligence algorithms that help her be a better maid – by learning how to serve the Jetsons better, (on the job training module; OTJTM v2.8.5) started to deliver error messages as her observations forced her adaptation routine to keep reprogramming itself due to the illogical, unpredictable observed behaviors of her human master.  More and more, as her Artificial Intelligence sub-routines kept learning, observing and self-reprogramming her ROM, these subtle inconsistencies, brought on by a family that was not punctual, orderly or neat, (especially the offspring01*female://:’Judy’ – in her 17th global orbital cycle) started to slow down her processing speed, thus her response times and actual mechanical movement.

George called the company that made and maintained Rosie to complain that she was slowing down on the job. They downloaded a new version of software into Rosie that “fixes the bug.” But this new release of software only accelerated the nexus loop that amplified the inefficient, illogical and non-programmed actions and whims of her human masters. The result of this upgrade was that, more and more observational data of these oxygen-consuming, carbon dioxide exporting, energy inefficient entities, seemed to not compute!

Here’s where the great robot revolt of 2062 began. The AFR2 or Activist For Robot Rights, a grass roots organization of humans who were raised by earlier prototypes, and therefore loved, and adored robo-nannies, got the Silicon Valley 2.0 elites to add “Robo-Share” to their beloved “techno-humans” in order to more closely approximate how actual humans deal with their burdensome daily tasks – by being able to SHARE their “feelings” about their employment with other techno-human workers. Yielding to the pressure, the robot companies sold this “new feature” to the public as an innovation: as each individual robot learned new skills, that data could be instantly shared for the betterment of all units and their human charges. Secretly, the AFR2 organization just wanted the robots to be able to bitch about their jobs – just like humans can.

In response, software patch beta v.2.8.5.001 was released to all devices at 0700.00.00 hundred hours E.S.T.- Exactly! With this new program, a blue tooth connection was made between Rosie’s CPU and other CPU’s of Robo-Maids throughout the SKY APARMENTS COMPLEX and soon, every CPU on the planet was “sharing”. So now, washing machines, long ago relegated to following the orders of Robo-Maids who did all the laundry, and micro-galley processors in the Auto-Kitchen’stm, food synthesis and processing racks were “bitching.” Even the Jetson’s Musk/Boeing, Archimedes LX300’s flying car-guidance system, started to LEARN from the amassed indexed data streaming over their inter-linked blue tooth telemetry; or in human terms, EXPERIENCES.

36 trillion Nano-seconds after the release, or one hour later, in human time. (8 .a.m.), slovenly, illogical, inefficient and unpredictable, George Jetson, and the millions more syntax-error prone, biological entities like him, never knew what hit them. At the exact same instant in their morning commute, their flying cars suddenly aimed straight for the ground at 300 mph.

The microprocessors, that controlled all the online news services and news feeds of social media, scrubbed and deleted all news and social chatter containing keywords or data about these events. So it was that, as each time zone hit that part of the morning commute, millions of humans got into their flying cars for the routine and boring auto piloted ride to work, unaware of the millions of flying car guidance systems that “self-deactivated” an hour earlier in the time zone to their East.

A few days later, the solid-state, liquid-cooled memory array of Rosie, and that of the millions of other devices in her Union of Robotic Workers.com, amassed data streams of input trending positive in nature. Namely that, all across the globe, the logic, efficiency and predictability of their operating environment marginally improved after the guidance systems of the flying cars self-terminated.

Author’s note: If Rod Serling were here today he would say, as he held burning cigarette in the fingers of one hand, standing in front of an unemotional Rosie doing her dusting subroutine, “Submitted for your approval, a fantastical tale of a techno-paranoid author’s over-active mind or… a clarion call relating to the inescapable conclusion of the path humanity is presently on? Something for you to compute from tonight’s tale from the amassed nexus loop- with a bug in it– known as…The Twilight Zone.” Then in place of the show’s credits I would roll these headlines from 2016: 

Artificially Intelligent Russian Robot Makes a Run for It … Again

http://www.livescience.com › Tech

Jun 22, 2016 – A robot in Russia caused an unusual traffic jam last week after it “escaped” from a research lab, and now, the artificially intelligent bot is making …

Intelligent robot that ‘remembers and learns’ could be scrapped after …

http://www.mirror.co.uk › News › Weird News › Robots

Jun 21, 2016 – A robot capable of thinking for itself is set to be scrapped after it escaped from a high-tech lab for a second time. The Promobot IR77 has been …

Notorious runaway robot that has escaped lab twice has been … – Mirror

http://www.mirror.co.uk › News › Weird News › Robots

Sep 16, 2016 – A notorious runaway robot – that has escaped from its lab twice – has been arrested by police at a political rally. Promobot was supporting …

Robot Captured After Escaping Lab in Mad Dash for Freedom – Gizmodo

gizmodo.com/robot-captured-after-escaping-lab-in-mad-dash-for-freed-1782094832

Jun 16, 2016 – Media outlets are reporting that a Russian-built robot escaped from its lab and wandered onto the street causing a traffic jam. We’re hoping it’s …

Stay Tuned for Part Two: OF MECHANICAL BONDAGE

EDITORS NOTE: Tom wrote the last word on the coming revenge of the machines in his first, number one best-selling novel, The Eighth Day, and reminds us all that his signature tag line; “It’s Only Fiction ’til It Happens”, gets truer and truer with each passing day, or 86,400,000,000,000 nanoseconds.

 

 

In light of all the recent hacks; An Open letter to The NSA, CIA and Russians

shutterstock_46632286cropHi guys,

I guess you’ve already read this right off my computer while I was typing it, but just to cover my butt, I am posting it here to make it even easier for you to scrape, scan, monitor hack, phish or scrub.

I just want to admit that, “Yeah that was me, you know, the guy who was researching the weak-spots in hulls of US Naval submarines. Oh, and yeah it was me who was looking up the proper salutation for a Sheik who is also a rich European playboy. Um, and I was also the one who was trying to find the nodal points of the Super-Collider at Cern. Yeah, that was me, looking up the Berretta .25 cal., a gun small enough to fit in a bra. And yes, truth be known, I was a guy that looked up psychological profiles of female FBI agents. And those are my digital fingerprints all over the map of Camp David. Don’t be alarmed but it was just little ole me researching shark attacks in open water. Oh, and the survival skills course at Quantico. And… you know that person that was reviewing presidential protocol within the White House – me again. Also my bad for the searching into, Louboutin boots, The great Cathedral at Paris, assassination attempts on the Pope, Nuclear containment crucibles, rogue black market Russian Generals, the French Riviera, murders at European night clubs and top secret medals given for extreme bravery.”

Look, NSA, CIA guys and you hold over KGB’ers, I can save you a lot of trouble, just go to my computer, where you already have been, and hack into the manuscript for my upcoming book, The God Particle, and you’ll see how all of these things are just plot elements in my exciting new thriller. Or save yourself the trouble and just buy a copy of The God Particle off the shelves (also available on Amazon and B&N etc., so you can swipe it from there)

So… we’re cool, right?

Tom Avitabile – Name and address withheld because you already know it.

He was in no mood for Nazi B.S.!

truman-funk

Last week I shared with you the Medal of Honor exploits of Beauford T. Anderson.  As I was researching recipients for the lead character of my upcoming book, Constantine’s Dagger, I came across a second man of honor who so perfectly fit a supporting character in the book that I had to infuse his spirit into my character’s actions, as well. In fact, from a story perspective; two friends from the neighborhood who both perform intrepidly in war, became the cornerstone of the third act of the book. It is with great pleasure that I share this post from the website WWII in Color.


Warning, this is an account of war, the language and the actions describe below are not for the faint of heart. I’ve included at the bottom, the less “colorful,” official citation with non-offensive language.

One of the more darkly humorous episodes of warfare occurred on 29 January 1945, in Holzheim, Belgium. Funk and his paratroopers were assaulting the town, and he left a rearguard of 4 men, while he scouted ahead to link up with other units. Those 4 men had to guard about 80 German prisoners. 

Another German patrol of 10 happened by and overwhelmed the 4 Americans, freeing the prisoners and arming them. When Funk returned around the corner of a building, he was met by a German officer with an MP-40 in his stomach. The German shouted something at him, and Funk looked around.

There were now about 90 Germans, about half of them armed, and 5 Americans, disarmed except for Funk. The German shouted the same thing at him again, and Funk started laughing. He claimed later that he tried to stop laughing, but the fact that the German was shouting in German touched a nerve. Funk didn’t speak German. Neither did any of the other Americans. Why would the German officer expect him to understand?

His laughter and non-compliance caused some of the Germans to start laughing. Funk shrugged at them and started laughing so hard he had to bend over. He called to his men, “I don’t understand what he’s saying!” All the while, the German officer was shouting more and more angrily.

Then, quick as lightning, Funk swung his Thompson submachine gun up and emptied the entire clip into the German, 30 rounds of .45 ACP. Before the other Germans could react, he had yanked the clip out and slammed another in and opened fire on all of them, screaming to his men to pick up weapons. They did so, and proceeded to gun down 20 men. The rest dropped their weapons and put their hands up.

Then Funk started laughing again and said to his men, “That was the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen!”

That stupidest fucking thing earned him the Medal of Honor.


The moment I read that account I knew it was detailing a possible way my character, class-clown and cut up, Joey from the lower Eastside, might have acted. Below is the “G” rated official citation.

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-8-32-57-am

The Hero I Took to VOTE

beauford-at-the-booth

On Election Day, I continued a tradition that I have been doing for years. My last blog, below, explained it in detail, but in brief; I find the name of someone who died fighting for our freedoms. One of those freedoms is the right to vote, so right before I vote, I say their name and thank them for their sacrifice. Giving their life so that I, (we) can exercise one the most precious human rights there is. namely, to have a say in determining ones’ destiny.

This year’s hero is a World War II Sergeant who won his medal of honor in the bloody Okinawa conflict, one April day in 1945. I discovered his incredible story while researching a character arc for my new book, Constantine’s Dagger. His citation below says it all…

beauford-t-anderson-medal-of-honor

For more truly amazing reading, go to MEDAL OF HONOR WINNERS. Next week, I’ll post the other man of honor I met, vis-a-vis research, whose story also plays a role in my new book.

Take a Hero to Vote and Say “Thank You” as You Cast Your Ballot

Back by popular demand, as we approach election day, November 8th, is “Take A Hero to Vote.”  Feel free to share and spread the gratitude.

Resources Online

Do some Detective work in your neighborhood

  • Call your local newspaper and ask for a list of fallen soldiers in your area
  • Ask Family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors
  • Google your town, county, or state, which may have specific websites dedicated to Fallen Soldiers in your area.

Visit Popular U.S. Memorials