The still-beating heart of darkness…

Photo by Tyler Malone

Being an author from the Bronx, the only thing I thought I had in common with Edgar Allan Poe was that he had a place up on the Grand Concourse a few blocks away from George Barbera’s house. But Halloween reminds me that he was also a poet, editor, as well as an author of some of the darkest literature ever created. On Halloween, we dress up and look forward to safe terror. We can get the thrill and giggle, without the danger. We can assume other identities, some random others secretly desired, by merely dressing the part. By the way, this is what authors do every day. But for Poe, he was deemed guilty of darkness by association – to his characters.  

Here’s something that he could have written…

Imagine if you dressed up as Jack the Ripper for October 31st. But on November 1st, you woke up in a dank and stinking, horse manure redolent alleyway in Victorian England. A knife – bloody to the hilt in your left hand, a woman of night lay sprawled out beside you on the cobblestones as the blood from her cold, lifeless body congealed at the precipice of the sewer grate. And try as you might, you could not remove the costume. You had become your Halloween avatar.

That’s a pretty good premise for a Poe nightmare, if I say so myself. But it’s not too far from the reality of writing crime, mystery, or thrillers. I get many readers who look at me with a sly smirk, coaxing me to admit that I have lured women to their deaths by seducing them on tropical atolls. Or bludgeoned a fake priest to death on a staircase or one of a hundred other dastardly devices and plot points of my novels. Me! Scared of my own shadow, faint at the sight of blood, a wimp that catches and releases house flies, me! I used to object (and sales went down). Now, I smile like the cat next to the empty canary cage, leaving them to their fantasies, which I created within them. (Sales went back up.) 

“Supreme rationalism” is a term associated with Poe. Yet, if you think about it, Poe was saying that there was darkness in every human heart and that it was rational. That darkness was as much a part of our existence as the flowery literary stuff coming out of mid-1800s England and France. As one critic, Herbert Marshall McLuhan, put it, “creating a parochial fog for the English mind to relax in.” In my humble opinion, not many readers relaxed while reading Poe’s detective fiction and horror. 

Poe was at once reviled and revered by his literary contemporaries. There are actually psychoanalytical studies made of his work. So supreme was his rationalistic exploration of the darkness that beats within the breasts of man, that (as I occasionally am), he was painted as having been as vile and evil as the characters he created and capable of the horrors he detailed, just like the way I have been imagined by some readers. I see that as a testimonial to his ability to affect the heart of the reader, dark or otherwise. And in that, I take some comfort for being accused of the same thing. 

Unlike me at this point in my career, his work was bigger than he was, and it eclipsed his life and forever shadowed him with the darkness he so brilliantly related to readers for generations. 

It wasn’t until the 1940’s that a biography by A.H. Quinn finally emerged that balanced this lazy and sloppy “pop” analysis of Poe. For anyone who cared to look, he did not identify, nor was he the reprobate that his madmen and murderers, those that populated and advanced the plots of his most famous pieces, as he so skillfully drew them. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people having Halloween-type fantasies of how I dress up at night and wonder if the darkness I write about exists within me. It’s all part of the process of reaching into a person’s psyche and messing with their suspension of belief.  

My ‘moll’ tells me that I am dressing as a gangster for Halloween, spats and all. She’s going as a flapper. I hope the next day I don’t wake up in Al Capone’s gang, Tommy gun in my mitts, in prohibition-era Chicaga!

Where were we…?

Oh yeah, right here. Right where you are now. Right where we are now…in front of our screens. Many of us can’t imagine what the last year plus would have been like without them. A time that brought new words into the lexicon. Some not so welcomed, like Comorbidity, Strains, Herd Immunity, and other here-to-fore inside baseball terms – if you played on the immunologist’s ball team. I can’t wait for the frequency of usage for those words to lessen to the point of very seldom.  

But since words are my business, here’s one; Zoom. An interesting redefined usage of a verb. It used to mean to accelerate to a faster rate of speed or to express a sudden fast change in movement. Instead, it became the verb for not going anywhere. But it did allow us to do work and meet up with distant friends (you know, the ones also in lockdown, who live across the way). As a director (another of my passions that I am lucky enough to have as a profession), Zoom has a whole different meaning. To move in closer…Ha! But I guess zooming did keep us closer.  

One way I got closer to people, who grew to mean very much to me, turned into one of the very few good moments from our time in self-quarantined solitude. Since my other passion is music, I am a drummer, have been since I was 8. Somewhere around 9, my moms skimped and saved to get me an actual drum set. (But really, I suspect, to save her pots, pans, and wooden spoons.) Now, I perform from time to time with two great musicians/entertainers, simply known as Mark and Ted. We play all kinds of music, but one of our ‘sweet spots’ is what is known as “The Great American Songbook,” standards and jazz from the uniquely American idiom of music. That genre is very appealing to folks of a certain age. Over the years, they have become a cadre of loyal fans. Almost every Friday night, at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey, we play for nearly full houses, 2-3 deep at the bar sometimes. 

And then came Corona. Tumbleweeds. Crickets. Stay home. Stay safe. Social distance. Our dear fans and friends, most of whom are all in the high-risk group, as one might expect of folks who would love oldies and pop music, were forced to sit at home every night. Gone were those sweet Friday nights when we used to all get together…

So, I gets this idea, see! Why not Zoom a live set to all our loyal following. A live stream. Right from my apartment. Right from my apartment of us performing a set just like we were in the club. Mark, Ted, and I, socially distanced 6 feet apart, plus a large HEPA filter to allow them to sing without masks. Add some digital wizardry and we ‘counted it in’ to a downbeat at 7:15 p.m. on Friday night, May 29th, 20-COVID-20. We performed for our dear friends and music fans, remotely.

The result was that 245 people “zoomed in” that night and texted during the performance. Saying, “Hi,” and thanking us for a few hours of “the way it used to be.” To my surprise, folks from as far away as Malaysia, the U.K., New Mexico, Florida, and even the Bronx (Yaaay!) streamed in. It was a labor of love, met with love and which generated much love. What a great moment in a horrible time.

The sound is a tad bit distorted, but if you like that kind of music…

As for many people whose businesses closed during Covid, creating an online business became the only way to survive. I was lucky enough to hang up a digital shingle announcing that I was available to coach writers through their manuscripts. (I happen to know a little about that.) To my amazement, my little book coaching business went very, very well. I couldn’t be happier with the response I am getting from first-time and published authors who have found my analysis and suggestions well worth my fee. (Thank you to each and every one of you for confirming that I am on the right path). In many ways, I am paying forward the kindnesses, considerate and insightful criticisms, and constructive points of which I was the beneficiary. I received good energy from generous people that led me to seven novels and three #1 bestsellers.

And, of course, when something is successful, good friends and investors step forward. We are now considering a way to avail more folks of some of the handy-dandy tips on “realizing your novel” that I impart to help writers transform into authors. Stay tuned…

Finally, not many of us got through the time of corona unscathed; I, like many of you, lost loved ones, dear friends, and acquaintances. Nothing will replace our loss, but I guess the best we can hope for is for something good to have come out of all this. I believe that some small measure of good must have come out of all our mutual sacrifices. I hope you feel the same…

Tom

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 3th, is “Take A Hero to Vote.”  No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to thank those who preserved that precious right. 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 

Terrorist in America? Bad Form, old boy.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 10.50.54 AMIn my 5th novel and 3rd bestseller, Give Us This Day, my hero, Brooke Burrell is trying to stop a impending and devastating ISIS attack on New York City, but she is halted in her chase of the bad guys in order to appear in Federal Court to answer charges of illegal government profiling of suspected terrorist. Now, as an author when you go there in a novel, you best know of from what you write. That means research.

Here’s why you should never research. Nightmares! Because real life is much scarier than my book could ever be. In fact, since 2014 the government admits to have captured or killed 113 people implicated in terrorist plots in the United States. HUH? Did you read about this? Was this the lead story on the day I was on vacation? Nearly 6 times the number of terrorist who perpetrated 9-11 were caught or killed since 2014!

Some of them, had travel histories and social media postings that all but said, “Hey, stupid American, look over here, I am going to destroy you, your family and your country.”

Yet in spite of the most expansive immigration and border control systems and budgets of all the countries in the world, at least 113 potential mass murderers waltzed through the system on the way to their dance of death.

Just like Brook Burrell faces in my book, the federal government’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies are caught between our sacred constitution, with it’s civilian protections, and the threat poised by those who intentionally defeat our screening system.

If I wrote how these 113 did it, how they infiltrated, invaded and successfully evaded our federal government’s defensive apparatus as part of a book, no editor would buy it, no reader would believe it and no one would ever read one of my books again.

But here’s the unbelievably scary reality; these intenders of death and destruction eluded our defenses, not by some novel way of avoiding detection using skillful spy craft, or James Bond styled, electronic evasion; where they passed an electronic device over a scanner, thus jamming it and walking through our national front door.

No, they are here, aiming their sights on you, me and the country we love, because they checked the “No” box on the official questionnaire that is the paper document which is all that stands between your family and death by terrorist attack…QUESTION 38

The congress just approved funding to allow 170,000 migrants from countries – known to have been visited – by most all of the 113 to enter our shores. Of those I am as sure as the government that those of them coming here to kill us will surely be stopped at the border by Federal Form  DS-156U.S. Department of State Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form to the United States of America. Question 38(C): “Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose?” Check one: yes/no.

That’s it! Just check the “NO” box and you are good to go! BUT read the fine print at the bottom: A “YES” doesn’t automatically signify ineligibly!!!! What a great country… to bomb. But let not your heart be troubled, the system does work – kind of– as the government recently revealed after one migrant was found to be a terrorist; “(he) swore untruthfully on his formal application when applying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen,” See they eventually found out… (all comfy now?)

Sounds like Fiction? Well, It’s Only Fiction… ‘Till It Happens that untruthful bit of genius, that effective means of evasion which defeated and outsmarted our state department’s “State of the ARK” detection system is exactly the same box the San Bernardino terrorists checked off on their entry form as well as the Boston Bombers, the 9-11 hijackers. Add to that the countless other’s, some American citizens, who have similar suspicious travel records and social postings of the likes of, Edward Archer, who yesterday fired 13 shots a Philadelphia policeman and later admitted to authorities he did it as an act of terror for ISIS.

Folks, if I wrote all this in a book, nobody’d believe it.

Post Script: Amazingly, Officer Jesse Hartnett, survived this latest terrorist attack on American soil.

Post Post Script: Also, notice that this computerized U.S. form specifically calls out Nazi’s (1930’s and 40’s) but not Al-Qaeda, ISIS or any other known terrorist organization of today – a form adapted to be filled out on a computer after 9/11/01!!!

The signpost up ahead… this is the next stop on…

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Welcome to the next stop on The Writing Process Blog Hop.  I’m Tom Avitabile and thanks for ‘hopping’ in.

First off, I’d like to thank the author who handed this off to me, Joe Badal. An extremely gifted writer and someone of whom I once wrote,

[His] writing is as crisp and as tight as a line drive home run. Author Joe Badal hits all the bases from the military, to the political, the tactical, to safe at home – Homeland that is.

Read Joe’s books, but not on a train, bus or other form of public transportation – You WILL miss your stop!

As followers of the blog know, we are asked to answer four questions, well, I have been cramming for weeks to get the answers right, so here goes…

1)  What am I working on?

That seems simple enough  I am working on two things, er… three things. My fifth book “Give Us This Day” (got four on the shelves and one in the laptop). This book marks the emergence of a new sub series – A Brooke Burrell Novel.  My FBI agent turned special operative for the president turned Navy wife turned reluctant operator again, is getting some nice notices and it just seems right to give her a platform of her own.

The second thing I am doing is totally new for me, editing content on my brilliant cousin George Cannistraro’s brilliant second novel, “Constantine’s Dagger.”  It’s an epic story of war, family, courage, royalty and a mother’s unselfish sacrifice to protect her sons – spanning decades. It is an epic book, and the stuff of miniseries.

The third thing is, I am always working on being a better writer. Blasphemous statement alert: I hate writing!

I am the last person on earth to write a composition for school, much less a 120,000-word manuscript.  Geez all those wordsit gives me the willies just thinking about em.

HOWEVER, I love, love, love AUTHORING!

I see “author” as a more comprehensive role: the job manager, the architect, the engineer, the artist, the psychiatrist, the logistics coordinator, the personnel department, the scenarist and the problem solver. The author does all that before the story goes over to the ‘writing department.’  You know, the monkeys who sit in the room (on the other side of my brain) and bang out words in an order and manner detailed and outlined by the author.)

I guess if I didn’t discover authoring, I would have never had the drive, commitment, and stamina to finish even one chapter.

2)   How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The MONKEYS!  They are what make me different.  In fact, I would venture to say that no serious writer of any period, genre, or level of notoriety has ever admitted, much less, handed his work over to a bunch of damn monkeys…

You see, these little banana-eating, key pounding creatures, only know what the Author has outlined for them to write. But those little troublemakers start writing stuff that wasn’t in the big picture. Yes, I have to edit out many scenes where an agent, or the President, asks someone if theyd like to get a banana but on balance these little guys are so divorced from the story that they bring an “on the ground” perspective to the characters.  It’s like my character’s still have to take out the garbage or change their pantyhose that have a run in them, WHILE they are saving the world. Ugh, monkeys… they complicate the lives of my characters and in doing so bring them closer to the reader’s experiential match points. So, in the end, is my work different from other author’s? I wouldn’t begin to say that, but I know this, every person leaves their creative DNA on anything they write. Plagiarism aside, it is almost impossible for any two writers to write the same scene the same way.

3)   Why do I write what I do?

The old adage states: write what you know. Most people take that to mean, a lawyer should write courtroom dramas and a cop should write crime novels and an old, snoopy biddy should write cozy mysteries.

Well, my stock and trade is as a Stage/Film director. BUT! I started out as an electronic engineer; I have worked for the House Committee on Science Space and Technology; I have built computers and designed new systems in movie making. I am also currently a Senior Vice President and Creative Director of a smaller New York advertising firm.

The core through line tying all this stuff together is human perception, reaction, and condition.  As a director of humans, a student of humans, and a human myself, my core competency is in Human characters.  I know the human character. Therefore in “writing what I know”, I write humans. Humans who are: plagued by their choices, intelligence, stupidity, compassion, pathology, genetics, up bringing, and whatever moral code serves them for good or evil. Then I place them in settings that I know, (see above list) and, even more fun, places I don’t know.

If all that is too wordy then skip to this: “I author the books I desperately want to read.”

Okay kids, we’re coming to the last question. In case you all run out of here, I just want to say that’s it’s been a pleasure hosting this next stop on the blog hop. As you are leaving, you might want to check out some of the books on the table in the back.

godparticle-e1399395262826 HOG-cover3D    TED-cover3D

And thank you for supporting living authors…

Now the last question…

4)   How does my writing process work?

Pretty well, thank you…Goodnight!  Oh, you want more? Ah, Yes. Well…

I try to write five out of seven days a week mostly. You know, get up an hour early, write through lunch and go to bed an hour later. Don’t watch Homeland or Home Shopping Network. Write instead.

Writing to me is a subset of what I really am. Let me go back and explain, once again, my dirty little secret, I hate writing.  To me writing is a tool, one of many to be used to get to a final product. That product has been designed by the author – me, if you are able to follow this warped way of thinking.

When I am deep in a book, the world and it’s characters that I have created become a dream. A very good dream! When I have to stop writing, it becomes a dream interrupted.  And just like on those nights when you are having one heck of a good dream and you awaken and then try hard to get back to sleep – to re-enter that wonderful dream… Well that’s my process. Only, I always have the last sentence I wrote as a marker of where to pick up that dream already in progress.  I then see life as the distraction that takes me away from this beautiful dream, incredible characters, and a story that keeps me in awe and wonder.

My line is “Writing is a dream interrupted by life.”  The International Thriller Writers, ITW, of which I am a member, said it so much better when they simply said, “Writing is dreaming in ink.”  But you’d expect that conciseness, them being writers and all.

Well, I think I’m done. Thank you for getting this far in my blog.

And now a word about the next stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour, on August 25th.  We have two great authors who are all ready to share their thoughts, practices, fears and joys about the process with you (and I can assure you, no more about monkeys).

 

EC_mh2
ETHAN CROSS

When a fireman or a policeman would visit his school, most of his classmates’ heads would swim with aspirations of growing up and catching bad guys or saving someone from a blazing inferno. When these moments came for Ethan Cross, however, his dreams weren’’t to someday be a cop or put out fires; he just wanted to write about it.

And his dream of telling stories on a grand scale came to fruition with the release of his first book, The Shepherd, which went on to become an International Bestseller published in several countries and languages. Ethan followed this up with more great titles like The Prophet, The Cage, Callsign: Knight, and Blind Justice. His latest book is the third installment of the Shepherd series, Father of Fear, coming from the Story Plant in Summer 2014.

In addition to writing and working in the publishing industry, Ethan has also served as the Chief Technology Officer for a national franchise, recorded albums and opened for national recording artists as lead singer and guitar player in a musical group, and been an active and highly involved member of the International Thriller Writers organization.

Ethan Cross is the pen name of an author who lives and writes in Illinois with his wife, three kids, and two Shih Tzus.

http://www.ethancross.com/category/blog/

AuthorPic1Color-248x300JEREMY BURNS

An avid reader since the age of three, Jeremy Burns was devouring novels by the time other children his age were still learning their ABCs. Blessed (and, at times, cursed) with a decidedly active imagination and an insatiable curiosity for nearly everything, Jeremy made learning and storytelling two of his chief passions. After earning his degree in History from Florida State University, Jeremy accepted a position teaching literature, creative writing, political science, and philosophy at an international school in Dubai. Like the characters in his books, Jeremy is an intrepid explorer whose own adventures have taken him from Mayan ruins in the Yucatan to the pyramids of Egypt, from medieval castles across Europe to the jungles of Bangladesh, and beyond. To date, Jeremy has traveled to more than twenty countries across four continents, seeking adventure, discovery, and ideas for future novels. When not exploring a new corner of the globe, Jeremy lives in Florida, where he is working on his next thrilling novel.

http://www.authorjeremyburns.com

Getting Buzz

I was recently on The Business Buzz with host Jeff Sherman and Marty Keena to discuss aspects of writing a novel including character and plot.