What I’m Reading (October 2014)

Towards the end of the month, I had the beginning of this post planned. I figured I’d write something along the lines of, “Some months, you might read a bunch of books, enjoy them all, but none of them blow you away. Such is October 2014.” But then I experienced the most pleasant surprise. A book I couldn’t put down. I read the last 150 pages in one sitting.

Book of the Month: Malice by Keigo Higashino. At first, this Japanese mystery appeared to be another locked room mystery. A person has been killed, yet the the house is locked. The persons with a key to the house have an alibi. Who killed the deceased and how did they do it? Malice is not your typical locked room mystery. The answer to the who and the how question is answered in the first third of the book, which left me wondering what the rest of the book would be about it. Malice is not a who done it, but a why done it. Malice grabs your attention and has you questioning and rethinking what you’ve read in the other parts of the book. Superb. I also read his previous book to be published in English, Salvation of a Saint.

Fiction

As soon as I heard about The Big Ugly by Jake Hinkson I wanted to read it, and I bought it on the first day it became available. That’s a testament to how much I enjoyed his previous three books, which I consider classic southern noir.  With The Big Ugly, perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn’t love it like I thought I might. I think I might have been expecting something along the lines of his previous books, and this one, albeit set in the south and a noir book, is a slight departure. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I’m going to read this one again. Hinkson remains one of my favorites and I’m anticipating his short story collection due to be released next year.

Other works of fiction I read this month:

The Ploughman by Kim Zupan, Winter Sleep by Kenzo Kitakata,  The Good Life by Frank Wheeler Jr, The Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman, and Dove Season by Johnny Shaw.

Non-fiction

As I’ve mentioned before, I listen to quite a few podcasts, and this month I heard an interview with Lawrence Block by Brian Koppelman on his podcast. Block is famous mystery writer, but not one I’ve read a great deal of. He mentioned a memoir of sorts he’d written, which had to do with race walking. Maybe it was something he said about the book, or the fact that the topic seemed rather odd. I never thought I’d read a book on race walking, but Step by Step is more than a book on race walking. It’s about writing, life, wanting to give up, and forging one’s own path through life.  Excellent book. I also read Afterthoughts, a collection of introductions he recently wrote to most of his books.

I also read The Getaway Car by Donald Westlake (a collection of essays on writing and such), and Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan.

TV, Movies, Documentaries, Podcasts:

You must listen to Serial: This American Life a weekly podcast, and you must start at episode 1. It’s the story of a murder of a high school girl in 1999 and her ex-boyfriend who was convicted of the crime. The reporter interviews the convicted, family members, friends, and conflicting accounts of the relationship and the events of that day become quickly apparent. I was hooked after one episode.

I finished season two of Rectify. I liked it, but not as much as season one.

Book Update

They Took Me For Granted is coming along. I’ve got 30-40 pages left to edit in this draft, and I’m at the point in the process where the story has come together. I’m not sure how I’m going to proceed once I finish. I may inquire with some agents to see if they’ll represent me with this book. We’ll see.

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Take A Chance

Take a chance on yourself, an opportunity, a project, an endeavor, a job, a relationship, a physical challenge, on something. Analyze if you must, and I’m prone to do that to death, take the necessary precautions, which I’m also known to do, but eventually, and maybe before you’re ready, step off and take a chance.

What might happen?

You might fail, and it might hurt. Nobody likes those outcomes, but you’ll learn far more by failing than by succeeding, which means I’ve probably learned a lot. Of course, when success does come your way, it tastes much sweeter because of the failure. You appreciate the work and the effort to get there.

That little voice in your head telling you to wait and coming up with a million excuses as to why you shouldn’t take a chance, he never goes away. He’ll always be there trying to talk you out of whatever chance-taking opportunity you’re considering.

A little over a year ago, a friend suggested I apply for a job with his company. Was I interested? Absolutely. Was it a drastic departure from what I’d been doing? Yes. Did I believe I could do the job? Pretty much, and what I didn’t know I believed I could learn and learn fast. Did I think I had a chance at the job? Not a shot. I almost didn’t apply.

What a mistake it would’ve been. I got the job, and it’s been a great year.

Around the same time last year, I published my first crime novel, the third book I’ve published, and my first novel. Every book is an experience in taking a chance. Will anyone read it? If they do, will they like it? Or will they hate it? Writing a book is an egotistical, audacious act- I wrote this, now read it. Today!

(please)

(pretty, pretty, please)

I’m not retiring to a beach anywhere, which wasn’t the goal, or winning any prizes for my writing, although that might be nice, but I took a chance and wrote three books. I plan to keep doing so.

Ah, but those are two that worked out, what about the ones that didn’t? There are plenty of them, and I’d be lying to you if I said that some of them didn’t sting at the time. Some still sting. I’ve made some mistakes in friendships, and sometimes that has cost me a friend or two or three.

I’ve changed jobs, always with the best intentions, and on occasion, I’ve made a choice that didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. Once I had to choose between two companies in the same field. I chose the startup over the established company, and the startup went bankrupt inside of a year. Another time I took a job that proved to be a disappointment, not at all as I’d expected or hoped. One of the few positives, other than what I learned about myself, was meeting the guy who later emailed me about the job I have today. I’d have never met him otherwise.

Take a chance.

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What I’m Reading (September 2014)

September is one of my favorite months of the year. It might have something to do with it being the month of my birthday, although who likes being reminded that they’re a year older, but I’d like to believe it has to do with the fall weather and the release of new books. Perhaps, it may have something to do with me receiving some amazon.com gift card money- courtesy of my birthday-  to splurge on some books I was too cheap to purchase on my own. The irony of someone who buys 10-12 books a month being too cheap to splurge on a $15 kindle book is not lost on me. It is, however, a true statement.

Some good books this month, and I had a hard time picking a Book of the Month.

Book of the month: Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer. Patterson Wells is drifting after the death of his son. He made bad choices before his son’s death, and the pattern continues. He wants to disappear, from society, from his past, from his present, and maybe even from himself. This is a superb novel, even if it is a crime novel, depicting the sadness of human life and the cycle of people making bad choices and suffering the consequences of their actions. What makes this book stand out, aside from the quality of the writing, the stark descriptions of the landscape, are the letters from Patterson to his dead son. Interspersed throughout the book, they are sad, emotionally-charged, and elevate this book to another level. They alone are worth reading.

Fiction:

Q Road by Bonnie Jo Campbell. One country road and a whole of lot of odd neighbors. Some are trying to preserve their way of life, while others are trying to bring the country to the city. Polite to one another on the surface, but anger, resentment, jealously, and lust bubbles underneath among these neighbors. Oh, and there’s murder or two as well. Quite entertaining.

The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is one of my favorite writers and this book, recently published, received great reviews. The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki differs from 1Q84 or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I enjoyed it a great deal. Some compared it to Sputnik Sweetheart. On a return trip from college, Tsukuru Tazaki, is cut off from his four high school friends without explanation. They no longer want to see him or even talk to him. Years pass, and a girlfriend challenges him to find why his friends excommunicated him from the group without explanation. She believes this cutting off traumatized Tsukuru and hinders his ability to engage in relationships. Almost made this my book of the month.

The Cage and Ashes by Kenzo Kitakata. I almost never buy actual physical books anymore. Ebooks are cheaper, I can read them anywhere, and they don’t take up space in the house. If a book isn’t available as an e-book, I almost always pass and wait for the publisher to get with it. My youngest brother sent me The Cage by Kitakata, which is only available in paperback, which isn’t available as an e-book. I would’ve missed out on some wonderful Japanese noir. A middle-aged businessman who had left a life of crime is drawn back to the underworld with potentially disastrous consequences. I found Kitakata’s work so amazing, I bought the other three books of his translated into English, and also not available as e-books. Ashes was tremendous as well. I can’t remember the last time I read an actual book.

I also read Piggyback by Tom Pitts and Missing by Sam Hawken.

Non-fiction:

The Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn. A seemingly encyclopedic review of Texas BBQ. Vaughn is now the BBQ editor for Texas Monthly. His book increased my hunger for BBQ, if that’s possible, and gave me a better understanding of what makes good BBQ and how some places prepare it. After reading this book, I couldn’t wait to have some more brisket. I drove to Waco for the Waco Wild West, rode 67 miles on my bike, and then, in great hunger, I drove to a popular Waco BBQ restaurant only to be severely disappointed. With my new knowledge, I could tell the minute the cashier handed me my food that I wouldn’t be enjoying the meal. With one look, I could tell the meat had been overcooked and would lack taste. One bite proved me right. I tried a whole lot of BBQ sauce on it, but this meal couldn’t be rescued.

Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe by Charles Kelly. I’ve read one book by the noir master Dan J. Marlowe, but I had no clue about the chaotic life he’d lived. A public servant who served on the city council, a man who corresponded with and helped a notorious bank robber, and a writer of some of the most brutal pulp novels, not to mention a few ‘adult’ novels, which he wrote to supplement his income. When his wife died, he packed up, moved to a new city, and launched his quest to become a writer, which succeeded. Twenty-odd years later, he suffered a stroke which robbed him of his memory. He would read his own books and not even recognize them. That bank robber he assisted, he returned the favor by helping Marlowe recover. A great book.

I also read A Spy Among Friends by Ben MacIntyre (about the infamous British spy who turned out to be a double-agent for the Russians), and Books, Movies, Rhythm, Blues by Nick Hornby

Documentaries, TV, and Movies:

As for TV, I’m slowly working through Rectify from Sundance, and I found time to watch The Fault In Our Stars. Like the book, it’s a tear-jerker.

Writing Update:

I managed to find time to write a blog post this month: 45 Great Things From My 45 Years.

As for my next book, it’s coming along, and yes, I know I keep saying the same thing every month. However, I have decided on a title – They Took Me For Granted. Coming??? Eventually.

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45 Great Things From My 45 Years

On September 16th (Tuesday for those of you without a calendar handy), I’m turning 45. 45! Where did the time go? In celebration of, or in remembrance of, I compiled a list of 45 great things from my 45 years. What puts a smile on my face? What’s most important to me? What do I like most about life? What are the things I want to remember (while I still can)?

You’ll see some expected items, even a few that might qualify as sappy, but you’ll also find more than a few atypical items. For me, those unique items provide the color that enriches and distinguishes one life from another. It’s what makes you and I different.

What are you going to learn about me? I like to eat, read, write, and ride a bike.

By the way, as you peruse the list and see the many food items I’ve highlighted, you should keep in mind that those foods, enjoyable and delicious as they are, are not a daily staple in my diet. Unfortunately. However, one of the side benefits of riding a bike so much is the freedom to indulge a bit more than I should.

Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. The Wife – For the last 25 years, she’s been a near daily presence in my life. She puts up with a lot, as you’ll see from the list below, and in return I’m not sure she’s getting equal value, unless doing the shopping and cooking counts more than I think. Regardless, I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll keep saying it, I cannot imagine who or what I’d be without her. (Don’t worry, this list won’t be a sapfest.)
  2. My son – I’m not padding the list here by adding my son as a separate item. How do you even begin to describe the joy that a child brings? He can wrap his arms around my chest and make the frustrations of the day go away. (And no, you cynics, he’s not reaching for my wallet. At least I don’t think he is.)
  3. My two brothers – One day, we’re chasing each other around the house and yard (sometimes in fun, and sometimes while swinging a baseball bat), and the next day we’re living in three separate cities. Growing up, it seemed like you two would be a daily presence in my life forever, and I never imagined a life apart from you. We don’t see each other enough, and no one is to blame, but I look forward to every time we’re together again. You guys are amazing.
  4. Friends – If I wanted to pad the list, I’d list you all separately. Of course, you could also accuse me of hiding those persons I’m not too fond of by refusing to name the friends who mean the most to me. But then you might be a cynic. I’ve lived in San Antonio, Austin, Seguin, Abilene, Ovilla, Arlington, and a few other places, and I’ve always been fortunate enough to make new friends who’ve enriched my life. I’m a lucky man. (Enough with the sappiness.)
  5. Breakfast tacos- Now we’re getting somewhere. FOOD. Eggs, cheese, a dash of salsa, and bacon or sausage. The perfect way to start a day, or as I have started doing, the perfect mid-ride snack. I like mine the best, but I’ll settle for a batch from Fuzzy’s Tacos or Rudy’s BBQ or even Smokey Mo’s when I’m in Austin. By the way, when did it become popular for BBQ restaurants to start serving breakfast tacos (not that I’m complaining)?
  6. Iced tea – You never saw my Dad without a glass of tea nearby, and I am the same. No coffee or hot tea for us, we like our tea on ice. I can drink it without or without sugar, unlike Dad who required copious amounts of sugar in his. Each morning I start the day with a glass of iced tea- not juice, not coffee, but iced tea.
  7. Chili - The first food item I ever learned to make, and to be honest, it took me awhile before I found just the right mixture of ingredients. Nothing hits the spot like a good bowl of chili. I love to get it started on a cold morning, let it simmer all day, and fill the house with its smell.
  8. Homemade flour tortillas – Or as close to homemade as you can get. Here’s how you can tell if you have a good flour tortilla – does it leave a residue of flour on your hand? If it feels like plastic, then leave it in the plastic bag it came in. Eat them plain, slathered with butter or guacamole, or fill them with nearly any type of meat or vegetable. HEB, Taco Cabana- you feed my addiction nicely.
  9. San Antonio puffy tacos – Here’s what you need to know about these puffy tacos to understand their allure. Dad, upon being released from the hospital after a surgery to clear to a clogged artery (and no I don’t remember which time this was) demanded I drive him to Jacala’s henrys-puffy-tacoMexican restaurant on West Avenue in San Antonio where he proceeded to order a half
    dozen puffy tacos. I protested his dietary choice given his recent medical procedure, but he failed to hear my words as I was busy stuffing my own mouth with some puffy tacos. Dad devised his own homemade recipe and cooked them on Sunday afternoons, filling the house with smoke, which nobody minded. Corn tortillas, fried till puffy yet still soft, and filled with meat, cheese, salt, pepper, and salsa. I was pretty much useless after those Sunday lunches. A number of restaurants in San Antonio serve them, and I must have them when I visit. I don’t know why anyone outside of San Antonio (especially in the Dallas-Forth Worth area) has not started serving them. They are the best. My only regret- Dad never taught me his recipe, and I’ve never been able to get mine to taste like his.
  10. Warm and chewy chocolate chip cookies (preferably with nuts)- Homemade is best, because you can eat them straight out of the oven, if you haven’t over indulged on the cookie dough. Who am I kidding? Even if I have gorged on cookie dough, I’m eating those cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. In a pinch, a dozen or so from a bakery will do. If you happen to work near Tiff’s Treats, they’ll deliver warm cookies to your office.
  11. Ice Cream – I like ice cream, but I didn’t become a raving ice cream addict until I tried Brusters Real Ice Cream. Unfortunately, the location near us closed last year, and it’s been a bit of an ice cream drought lately. Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip, New York Style Cheesecake, S’mores, and Pumpkin, I miss you. I think we started having family night as an excuse to go to Brusters. Don’t worry, I’m avoiding withdrawals thanks to Blue Bell. Is it bad to plan a vacation trip to Florida around a stop at Brusters? I didn’t think so either.
  12. Fudge Brownies (preferably with nuts)- In the second and third grade, I walked home from school and passed a barbecue restaurant in a red building on West Avenue. The front display case, next to the cash register, contained a tray of freshly-made fudge brownies. Other kids might’ve spent their money at the ice cream truck or the sno-cone stand, but I stopped for brownies. I’ll still stop for brownies.
  13. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – Chocolate and peanut butter, how could you go wrong? They also mix quite well inside a DQ Blizzard.
  14. Mexican food – Tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, tamales, fajitas, beans (black, charro, and refried), rice, tortilla soup, chips, salsa (I may have four open containers in the fridge), queso, and guacamole (homemade, of course). Nothing else need be said. If the question is ‘Do you want to go out for Mexican food?’ then the answer is always ‘Yes.’
  15. Sub sandwiches – A nice wheat roll piled high with deli meat, pepper jack cheese (preferably), lettuce, tomato, onions, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and bit of oregano. Jersey Mike’s is right down the road from the office, and let’s just say the discovery of their mobile ordering app, thereby allowing me to bypass their long lines, made for a very good day.
  16. BBQ – I’m from Texas and live in Texas, so yes, I love BBQ. Brisket, pulled pork, sausage, and when done right, turkey and chicken. Psst, by the way, brisket or sausage inside a homemade flour tortilla makes a great meal. And no, I cannot pick a favorite BBQ restaurant. Too many.
  17. Roasted vegetables – Hey, I’m all about the vegetable as well. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Asparagus, Corn, or Brussels Sprouts- drizzle a bit of olive oil, add some salt, pepper, and garlic, and then roast them in the oven till just right. Phenomenal.
  18. The Thanksgiving meal – Thanksgiving might be my favorite meal of the year. Start cooking on Wednesday night and continue first thing in the morning on Thursday. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing (whatever you want to call it), gravy made from the drippings (which I could eat as a meal by itself), some roasted vegetables, and biscuits. This might be the one day of the year I could forgo dessert, having tasted so much food while cooking, and then eating the meal itself, but, as you might imagine, I can’t resist the dessert table. Okay, that’s enough of the food.
  19. Reading – How this one slipped so far down the list proves my list should not be considered a ranking in order of importance (except for the first two). I’ve had a book in my hands as long as I can remember, and since college I’ve been devouring 8-12 books a month on all sorts of subjects. Ebooks have been a lifeline, saving me money on the cost of purchases and keeping me in the good graces of my wife as the books are no longer spilling out into other parts of the house. The upside of ebooks, or perhaps the downside, is that I can have my entire library with me at any time, which means I can read ANYWHERE ANYTIME. And I do.
  20. Riding a bike – Another one that seems too far down the list. I started on a bike in kindergarten, but I didn’t fall in love with riding a bike until the fourth grade when we moved to Seguin. The bike gave me a sense of freedom and discovery as Mom let me ride all over town. In my thirties, I picked up riding a bike again, and have become a bit of dedicated nut about it. Cold, hot, windy, hilly, or flat, I’ll ride almost anywhere in nearly any conditions, although I’m not much of a fan of riding in the rain. And yes, I take my bike with me on vacation. If you see me twitching in the corner, it’s because I haven’t ridden one of my bikes in a few days (yes, I own more than one- all Treks). On occasion, certain family members have strongly suggested I go for a bike ride. That is love.
  21. Riding a bike on country roads – I’m all in favor of bike lanes in the city, and I never hesitate to ride in the city, even after being hit by a truck (and I lived to write a book about it- shameless plug- available at amazon). BUT, I love wandering along a desolate, two-lane country road with only the occasional car passing. Just me, my bike, the open land, and some farm animals. I sometimes wonder what those horses and cows think when they see me speed by (a relative term, I’ll admit) clad in lycra and adorned with a helmet hunched over two wheeled pedaling machine.
  22. Writing – Next to reading books and riding a bike, writing is one of those things I love to do. It relaxes me, helps me focus, and clear my thoughts. I’m not sure I understand why. Maybe it’s an extension of loving to read and wanting to give other people some pleasure in reading. I don’t know. I only know I have to do it, and I would continue writing even if no one read what I wrote.
  23. Hoosiers (the movie) – I saw Hoosiers the night I graduated from high school. Other people went to parties, and I went to the movies. Probably an early trend being played out in my adult life. I’d like to think I enjoyed the movie for the story, or because I happened to be obsessed with basketball at the time, but it might also be due to the nostalgia of that day in my life – one period ending and another beginning. Sort of the theme of the movie as well. If I happen to run across Hoosiers on TV, I always stop and watch.
  24. Basketball – Growing up, I spent most of my time on the basketball court. Before school, at lunch, after school, and all day Saturday and Sunday. When we moved to a new city, I looked for two things right away, the nearest basketball court and the library. I didn’t let the weather conditions bother me- heat, cold, wind- I was shooting hoops. Sometimes, I played until my fingertips bled. When I wasn’t playing basketball, I watched it on TV. My knees can’t take the jumping and running anymore, and I switched my enthusiasm to cycling, but every once in awhile, I’ll pick up a ball and shoot a few baskets.
  25. Memories – Collect as many good ones as possible, and appreciate the bad ones once they’re in the rearview mirror, even though I’m no different than anyone else in wanting to forget them. Good and bad have played a role in shaping who I am. I consider myself fortunate to have built up a bank of good memories. If you and I go somewhere where I’ve lived or worked, I can usually bore you with some recollection about my time there. A few weeks ago, we stopped in Seguin for the morning. I bored the wife and son by showing them both houses where I’d lived, the skating rink my step-dad managed, the hospital where my youngest brother was born, the library I frequented, the elementary schools I attended, and the hill we rode our bikes down. I pointed out where the Dairy Queen used to be, the Mr. Gatti’s where we ate cheese pizza every Saturday night, and the Palace movie theater in downtown my brothers and I frequented. I even bored my wife and child by pointing out the electric pole where we used to lock our bikes when we went to the movies. Memories. I hope to have ‘em a long time.
  26. The Austin-San Antonio corridor - I’ve lived in Arlington for nearly as much time as I lived along the Austin-San Antonio corridor, but that place still has a hold on me. I love to visit as much as I can, although most of my trips tend to be to Austin these days.
  27. The Florida coast (specifically the Redneck Rivera) -
    I could labor on with a bunch of words, and they would fail to do justice to the scenery. If this is what you get to look at it while riding a bike or going for a walk, wouldn’t you want to go back?photo
  28. Libraries – I’ve spent untold hours hidden inside a library. As a kid, I loved nothing more than grabbing a stack of books on a subject, sitting down, and immersing myself in the subject matter. Even in elementary school, I stopped at the school library nearly every day, exchanging one book for another, and in college I spent many afternoons and evenings there.
  29. Bookstores – Before ebooks came along, I stopped at various bookstores two and three times a week to to roam the aisles and see what new books had been released. If I went out of town, I made it a point to check out as many bookstores as possible-  chains, independents, and used book stores. It was not uncommon for me to come home from a trip with stacks of books. On a trip to Sanibel Island, I stopped at a local bookstore where the owner insisted I read a book by a local author. I read the book that afternoon, and returned the next day to buy the other three she’d been pushing me to get. From one book lover to another. As much as I love ebooks, scrolling through a website just isn’t the same.
  30. Flannery O’Connor - The first Southern goth writer I ever encountered. Reading her stories and novels is to be transposed to a different world. Many try to imitate, but no one comes close.
  31. Huraki Murakami – A celebrated Japanese author who blends unique elements and crosses genres. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I’ve read numerous times, is just amazing.
  32. David Foster Wallace – The smartest, funniest writer I ever came across. I’m one of those people who read Infinite Jest, all 1,076 pages. To think, he cut 500 pages from the manuscript. When I finished that book, I sat there in awe at his abilities. When I read his non-fiction, particularly A Funny Thing I’ll Never Do Again, I became even more amazed.
  33. Mystery and crime fiction – I don’t just like mystery and crime novels, I love them. I started with the American, particularly the American private eye (the grand master himself Raymond Chandler) and have spanned the genre from the British to the Noridic to the Japanese and back to Southern noir, which is my favorite. I love the genre so much, I even wrote my own mystery novel (shameless plug number two, also available at amazon. By the way, if you’re looking for a warm, fuzzy, feel-good mystery with a happy ending, buy mine, BUT don’t read it. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller with murder, mayhem, and deceit- buy mine AND read it.)
  34. Ken Bruen - Bruen is the master noir writer in my opinion. Lyrical, poetic, and unlike any other crime writer. He’s pure genius.
  35. Jo Nesbo – He’s turned into a crime-writing powerhouse selling millions of copies of his books. Whereas Bruen is poetic, brief, and stark, Nesbo knocks you between the eyes with brutality. What kind of man thinks of these things?
  36. The first paragraph of The Bird Artist by Howard Norman – The single best opening paragraph to a novel I have ever read. I cannot count the times I have pulled this book off the shelf and re-read this paragraph. “My name is Fabian Vas. I live in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. You would not have heard of me. Obscurity is not necessarily failure, though; I am a bird artist, and have more or less made a living at it. Yet I murdered the lighthouse keeper, Botho August, and that is equal part of how I think of myself.
  37. Frederick Buechner – I stumbled upon his books in college, and I’ve read his memoirs countless times. In his third memoir, Telling Secrets, he writes of the helplessness of being a parent, and in his fourth, The Eyes of The Heart, he describes the pain of his brother’s passing. More than any other book, I’ve given and recommended his four memoirs.
  38. On Writing by Stephen King – How you write by one of the most prolific writers. Excellent book.
  39. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Read and recommended multiple times. Phenomenal book. How do you write? Put your rear in the chair and get to work. It’s also how you live.
  40. Jack Logan - On random chance, I happened to walk by a TV one morning, turned it on, and saw a three minute segment about a musical artist, Jack Logan, from Georgia who’d been discovered. His discovery faded fast, but his debut album, BULK, a two-disc collection of forty-two songs, recorded over a period of time, garnered great reviews, and I consider it one of the best albums I own. I’ve listened to it thousands of times. He has an ability to tell mesmerizing stories. Can I pick a favorite? ‘New Used Car and A Plate of BBQ,’ ‘Optimist,’ ‘Floating Cowboy,’ ‘Drunken Arms,’ ‘Terminal Gate,’ and ‘Towne Crier.’ No, I cannot pick one favorite. Logan has released multiple albums since then on a variety of labels, and he always finds a new story to tell, be it ‘Alison Hilliard,’ from Tinker, or ‘Rained Like Hell‘ from Little Private Angel.
  41. Quiet Company – One of my brothers raved about this Austin band for years, and I finally gave them a listen. There’s a reason they’ve been voted Austin Band of The Year. My favorite song, if I had to pick one, is ‘It’s Better To Spend Money Like Theirs No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There’s No Money’ from We Are All Where We Belong. Simple, stark, and beautiful.
  42. Podcasts – My favorite part of the drive to work. Actually, the only thing I enjoy about the drive to work. I can queue up a podcast, and learn something new.
  43. iPad – With one device, I can read books and magazines, listen to music and podcasts, watch TV shows and movies and even professional cycling, search for the nearest restaurant and maybe place an order, store my recipes, check out new roads to ride my bike on, and keep track of my friends and family. On one little device. If they could only figure out a way for it to make the meals and desserts I enjoy, and take care of all the mundane tasks with which I waste too much time (like mowing the yard), then it would be truly perfect. Until then.
  44. Words of wisdom – They don’t come along too often, so when they do, collect them, write them down, hold on to them, and most of all, never forget them.
  45. Mom and Dad – A lot of what’s on this list is due to my parents, so they deserve their own separate category. First, they gave me the genetic material which created me, and then in their own ways, they shaped and molded me. Dad, you sent me a letter when I turned 39, perhaps the only letter you ever sent me, and I still have it. For a long time, I carried it with me in my backpack, but then I got wiser and put it in a safe place at home. I read it a few times every year. Mom, you gave me a Christmas card with a two sentence note the Christmas before you passed. Nobody knew you were sick at the time, but as with Dad, I’ve kept that card and I re-read every year. The words you both wrote have meant a great deal to me. Mom, thank you for standing up to your doctor in 1969. Your back hurt and you knew something wasn’t right. If you hadn’t trusted your gut and raised a fuss, I might not be here. Thank you. My upbringing may have been a bit chaotic and certainly not normal, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I miss you both greatly and wish you were here. There are things I’d like to tell you, such as you’re proving to be more right than I ever gave you credit, but most of all I’d like to see your face and hear your voice.

There you go- 45 great things from 45 years. I don’t plan on doing one of these at 46. I’m holding out till 90, when blogs will probably be holograms or something like that. Now it’s time to celebrate my birthday (Yeah, I always start early) and enjoy some of these great things. Thanks for reading.

 

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What I’m Reading (August 2014)

This might be a first, but I’m a few days late getting this month’s reading list posted. With a holiday weekend, I thought there’d be no problem writing my monthly post, but work, LegoFest, painting some rooms in the house, yard work, and more left little time spare time. It even cut into my bike riding time. That’s when you know it’s busy, if I can’t find time to ride the bike. Nevertheless, this month’s list:

Book of the Month: The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock.  Amazing. I’ve been discovering lots of southern noir to read this year, and not only does this rank as one of the best, it might be one of the best books I’ve read this year. Rather than focus on one person, the novel centers around a small area and the interwoven lives of the characters over a period of time. Stunning, unique, picteresque. Go to amazon and read the summary sample. It’ll either creep you out or get you hooked. This is one of those books I’ve been recommending to people, and so far people have enjoyed it. Pollock previously published a collection of short stories, Knockemstiff, which I read after The Devil All The Time.

Fiction:

Juarez Dance by Sam Hawken follows a careful hit man who is hired to plan an attempt on a man’s life, and in the planning, he falls for the man’s daughter. At the same time, th his last murder for hire begins causing him problems. This is the classic story of a man in control losing control. As of now, this ranks as my favorite Hawken novel.

Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bowman came recommended to me and I’m glad it did. Another country noir novel, although this one, written in the first person, follows a small town policeman trying to determine the solve the murder of an unidentified corpse. Drugs, distrust, and long-standing feuds simmer in this well written book.

They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross, originally published in the 1930’s, is like stepping back in time. Money troubles come to two men in a small town, and the solution they find is to rob and kill a lonely man for his money. Greed, distrust, and backstabbing ensue.

I also read The Sins of the Father by Lawrence Block, and A Cool Breeze on the Underground by Don Winslow

Non-fiction:

The MAD World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Define the 1980’s by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein brought back memories of the music I listened to in high school and college. Each chapter focuses on one band and one of their hit songs. They write about how the band came together, wrote the song, and in a number of cases eventually broke up. Really interesting book. Fun to skip around and read the different chapters.

I also read The Skeleton Crew (an account of amateur detectives who try to help solve missing person’s cases) by Deborah Halber, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe, and Tibetan Peach Pie (a memoir from the author) by Tom Robbins.

*****

A few enjoyable documentaries this month as well:

Stories We Tell – Is this a documentary about a family history? how we remember things? the search for truth? the implication of those truths? It is all of the above. The documentary begins as a daughter’s search to resolve long-standing questions about her mother, who died when she was young, and the man she considers her father. To say anything more is to give the story away, but it’s worth your time (and available on Amazon Prime).

Dangerous Edge: A Life of Graham Greene – An overview of one of England’s most celebrated authors. Novelist, travel writer, and spy. Fascinating life.

The Other Dream Team – Tells the story of the 1992 Lithuania Olympic basketball team, which contained the core members of the team which had previously enabled the Soviet Union to be a dominant basketball powerhouse. Despite their prowess on the court, when the country declared independence, they lacked the financial resources to support an Olympic basketball team, and they financial support from the Grateful Dead. You may remember the tie-died uniforms and shirts from the 1992 Olympics.

****

Book update – I’m still editing away at the latest draft, a page a day. It’s a slow process, but I’m pleased with how the story is evolving and taking shape. In some ways, it’s quite different than what I imagined in both the first and second drafts. The slower process might be frustrating, but it’s providing great rewards.

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Five Years After The Accident: Appreciating A Cosmic Kick in the Butt

Five years ago, 8/11/09, I lay on a gurney in the emergency room at JPS Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. Pain radiated from head to toe, and the morphine the nurses injected into my IV made me feel as if the room were spinning. I tried to figure out how I’d ended up in the emergency room. I remembered riding my bike, and then ‘waking up’ inside an ambulance. Whatever happened in between those two moments was lost to me. Later, the police would tell me a truck had hit me from behind. Staring up at the white ceiling, worried about the extent of my injuries, I could not fathom the possibility of one day appreciating this accident, but I would. It proved to be a much-needed cosmic kick in the pants.

As for my injuries, I turned out to be quite lucky. A broken leg, a concussion, some stitches, and a bunch of cuts and abrasions. The injuries could’ve been worse. As I recovered, my thoughts focused on that possibility.  If myself or the truck had been a few inches over in one direction or another, the outcome might’ve been much different.

Horrific perhaps.

I could’ve even died.

After the initial shock of the accident wore off, the realization of my good fortune kick-started a self-examination and evaluation of my life. I’d lived through the accident, but how was I going to live? What did I want to do with my life? Where did I want to go? Who did I want to be? What did I want to do?

The answers to those questions would lead to some significant life adjustments.

Writing. I’d been writing on and off for most of my life, and I found myself in one of those off phases. Nothing else I did gave me as much satisfaction as writing. I determined to write. I didn’t concern myself with publication or even having one person read my writing. I wanted to write and keep writing.

Not sure of where to start or what to write about, I started with the accident. I bought two spiral notebooks and started scribbling. I typed those those words in to a Word document, and later I started a blog where I started posting some of my writing. Wanting to improve my writing ability, I worked with a writing coach who provided me with some great advice.

E-books rose in prominence about that time, and Amazon made it possible for writers to self-publish their own books. I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll give it a try.’ I published the book on my biking accident, The Accident: A Bike, A Truck, and A Train, and not only did it sell better than expected, but people seemed to like it. The year after I published a book about my Dad, One Last Word, and then last year, I published my first mystery novel, Secrets To Keep. I’ve spent the past year working on a second mystery novel. Three books in five years, and I started with the simple goal of writing. If not for the accident, I might’ve lingered in that off-phase, not doing the thing I enjoyed most of all.

I also had a job I didn’t enjoy. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to keep doing that same job for the rest of my life. Changing jobs and careers proved a bit more problematic, and took more time, but eventually, with the help of some friends, I landed with the company and the job I have now. I’ve almost been there a year, and I haven’t dreaded going to work once.

Thankfully, I didn’t have a list of ten things I wanted to change. Those two were significant enough and required a great deal of energy. I had little things as well, such as being more attentive to my wife and son, and making better attempts to communicate with my parents and brothers.

If anything, I wanted to be intentional about how I lived, rather than reacting to life as it happened to me.

It’s hard to believe the accident occurred five years ago. I would never want to go through an accident like that again, although it didn’t stop me from riding a bike, but it proved to be the cosmic kick in the butt I needed. Life’s too short.

On this five year anniversary, I will treat myself to lunch, nothing fancy, probably a burrito at Chipotle with a book, but as I eat, I will be thankful, for life, and for a second chance.

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What I’m Reading (July 2014)

After a slowing down in June, I picked up the reading pace in July. I found some new authors and even found a few books by some of my favorites.

Book of the Month: I don’t often highlight a history book as the best book of the month, but Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb tops my list this month. Hunting Eichmann reads like a spy novel. Bascomb summarizes the career of Adolf Eichmann, one of the German leaders responsible for the Holocaust, before getting into the meat of the story- his escape from Europe after the war, his settlement in Argentina, his family rejoining him, and the team of Israeli spies who searched for, eventually captured, and then snuck him out of the country in 1960. Wright Thompson recommended this book on Twitter, describing it as a book he couldn’t put down, and I found that to be the case for me as well.

Fiction books:

Sam Hawken has staked his ground writing noir novels rooted in Texas and Mexico, and of the three I read this month, I enjoyed them all. Even though he writes about crime and violence, his stories move at a slower pace, allowing his characters to develop, and the texture of the surroundings to sink in. If you’re looking to start out, I’d recommend Tequila Sunset, which proved to be my favorite. I also enjoyed The Dead Women of Juarez, and La Frontera.

For fast-paced noir, look no further than the collaborative novels of Jason Starr and Ken Bruen. I will always read a Ken Bruen book, and he’s yet to disappoint. These three works- Bust, Slide, and The MAX- were a pleasure to read. Two characters, Max and Angela, are the thread that run through all three books. In their own way, these are two ordinary people with grand ambitions, looking for the easy way to fulfill those desires, but although their ineptitude helps them most of the time, it ends up getting them in the end. Highly entertaining.

Ben H. Winters released the final book of The Last Policeman Trilogy, entitled World of Troubles. It’s hard to say much about the book without giving away too much of the plot. In short, an asteroid is headed towards Earth, and former Detective Palace is on the search for his missing sister before the world ends.

I also read Easy Money by Jens Lapidus, the first of a trilogy, and A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride, another noir writer of the South.

Non-Fiction

Roland Lazenby has written one of the most well-researched biographies on Michael Jordan, called Michael Jordan: The Life. He reveals a great deal about Jordan’s childhood, and he spends time taking apart many of the myths that have built up around Jordan.

Just when you thought there couldn’t be anymore cycling books, I finished two more this month in conjunction with the Tour de France. Etape by Richard Moore provides a revealing look at various stages of interest of past Tours. After interviewing Moore last year, and hearing him talk about the book, I was excited to get a chance to read the book. I particularly enjoyed the chapters dealing with the lesser known infamous stages. I also read A Clean Break by Christophe Bassons, which is his autobiography of being a professional cyclist during the highly-doped era of the late 1990’s and the constant pressure from other cyclists and team management to take performance enhancing drugs. I’ll spoil the ending, although tempted, he does not give in. Fascinating tale.

******

Other than watching every stage of the Tour de France, I only found time to watch two documentaries: One, Slaying the Badger, dealt with the 1986 Tour de France won by Greg Lemond when he was challenged by his own teammate, Bernard Hinault.

The other was Mistaken For Strangers, a documentary that began as one about the band, The National, and ended up being the documentary of two brothers, one who has achieved fame as the lead singer in the band and the other who is trying to find his way in life. Well worth the 1 hour and 15 minutes.

*******

Writing update: There’s been a dearth of blog posts, and I’m not sure when that’ll change. Between working on draft number four of my book- still don’t have a title- and slow-go editing-, and my day job as a technical writer for a software company, I’m a little worded out. I’ve started a few posts, but haven’t finished anything, and I’m not sure when I’ll get back to them.

As for the book, it’s coming along quite nicely. I’m very pleased with the progress. I only wish I could speed it up.

 

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What I’m Reading (June 2014)

With a week off from work and a trip to Florida, I anticipated getting quite a bit of reading done. What’s the saying, all good plans… or something like that. Not only did I read less than I expected, but I think I read the fewest number of books in month for the entire year. Looking back, my reading lacked a bit of variety as well- crime novels, cycling books, and a self-help book.

Best Book of the Month: Corrosion by Jon Bassoff.  How do I even begin to describe this book? Imagine the talents of Flannery O’Connor, Jim Thompson, and Chuck Palaniuk being dropped into a blender. This would be the book they’d produce. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the book. Part One struck me as an outstanding story of a drifter down on his luck, who comes into a small town, saves a damsel in distress, who it turns out has double-crossed him. Throw in some creepy characters, a little southern religion, and it was a great read. Part Two introduced an entirely new set of characters who pushed the creepiness factor to new levels. Bassoff does a great job interjecting the hallucinations of the main character so that you have to stop and figure out what’s real and what’s not. The pace picks up towards the end of Part Two and the book becomes a fascinating, engrossing, twisting, dark tale with some of the most unique and fascinating characters I’ve encountered in awhile. I finished it earlier in the month and I’m still thinking about it.

Last month I introduced one of my new favorite authors, Jake Hinkson, and this month I finished a third book of his, Saint Homicide, which is the story of a zealous young man ravaged by shame and faith who determines his holy course of action is to commit a homicide.  A short, but great read. Hinkson also has a short story, “The Theologians,” in the latest issue of All Due Respect, and there’s an interview with him as well.

Other crime novels I read this month, Federales by Christopher Irvin, and Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres, both of which I enjoyed.

The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Program by Steve Peters is one of the more insightful books I’ve read on understanding how the mind operates. In simple terms, according to Peters, we all have a chimp, a human, and a computer in our brains. The chimp is that part of the brain that usually gets a person into trouble by fighting, freezing, or fleeing in stressful situations. Peters provides insights into understanding how the chimp part of the brain works and learning not to change it, but to manage it. Lots of interesting thoughts.

The Tour de France starts on Saturday, which means publishers are releasing any and all cycling books. The Climb by Chris Froome is his as-told to life story. Froome, last year’s winner of the Tour de France, didn’t come up through the normal ranks, and his emergence is a testament to his dedication. As nearly every level, his career almost didn’t happen. Pro Cycling on $10 A Day by Phil Gaimon is the “traditional” story of how an average rider climbs the ranks in pro cycling. It’s not pretty, or glamorous, and far from lucrative. Gaimon has an entertaining, self-depreciating way of writing, and he doesn’t hold back in telling you what he thinks. In contrast is The Loyal Lieutenant by George Hincapie, the telling of his life as a professional cyclist, who is most known for riding with Lance Armstrong. While the book covers his lengthy professional career, he tends to gloss over the details, and he doesn’t give much analysis about why he did what he did. He took performance enhancing drugs, then he stopped. That’s about as deep as it gets.

****

On the TV front, Rectify is back for season two on Sundance. I caught the first episode and the season looks promising. That’s about all I’ve watched. With the Tour starting on Saturday, I doubt I’ll watch much else this month.

***

The reason for the lack of reading- I finally finished the third draft of my next novel. Sometimes, you get in a groove and figure out the story and you just want to keep at it. I may post something about the third draft process here in the next week or two. We’ll see.

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My Must Listen Podcast List

In 2007, I listened to my first podcast while commuting to work, and I haven’t gone back to radio since. Podcasts have introduced me to people and books and ideas I never would have discovered otherwise. But more than being another thought provoking medium, a good podcast is flat-out entertaining.

You can find podcasts on almost any topic. For those on my must listen list, I’ve stumbled upon them in a variety of ways. Sometimes, I’ll search through iTunes, other times I’ll hear about one on Twitter or in a blog post, or after reading an author’s book I’ll search to see if they’ve been interviewed on a podcast. As with my reading habits, my must listen podcast list is wide and varied.

1. The BS Report with Bill Simmons – Bill Simmons got me hooked on podcasts. Long a fan of his column on ESPN, when he started a podcast, I decided to give it a try as well. I loved it from the very beginning. His interviews range from the famous to his friends, and from sports to entertainment and beyond. My favorite interviews have been Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klostermann, and Alan Sepinwall.

2. The Cycling Podcast – For people interested in professional cycling, this is THE podcast to get. Available weekly, except during the Tour de France when they record every day, Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie, and Daniel Friebe offer their insights on the sport of professional cycling. In addition to disagreeing with one another, they also interview cyclists, directors, and owners in the sport. All three are established writers on cycling, and last year I had the opportunity to interview Richard Moore on writing, and we spoke a bit about podcasting. (Here’s the link.)

3. The Nerdist Writer’s Panel- Ben Blacker, the host, interviews TV writers and showrunners about writing for television. Not only does he delve into how they got started in the business, he asks about their respective shows, decisions they made about characters, story, plot development, and more. Although my focus is writing novels, I’ve learned a great deal about writing from this podcast. Some of my favorites have been with Vince Gilligan, Damon Lindelof, Jane Campion, and most recently, Noah Hawley.

4. The Moment With Brian Koppelman- Koppelman, a movie writer and producer, is a newcomer to podcasting, and new to my list. His podcast focuses on the moment, or moments, when a person’s life has changed direction. Koppelman is already expert at pushing and prodding the guest to go beyond the surface answers. His interviews with Baron Davis, Michael McDermott, and Jenny Hutt, although you might not have heard of one or all of them, are outstanding. Each time I listen to another person discuss the inflection points in their lives, it gets me thinking about my own. (Note: Koppelman was recently interviewed by Tim Ferriss on his podcast, and that hour long interview is worth a listen as well.)

5. mysterypod- I discovered this podcast by Steve Usery when I was searching for interviews of a writer whose book I’d recently read. When I stumbled on this treasure trove, I must’ve downloaded ten or twelve from the archive. It’s fascinating to hear mystery writers talk about their books and their process. From this podcast, I’ve found a whole new set of writers to read, such as Jed Ayres, Jake Hinkson, and Jon Bassoff, as if I didn’t already have enough.

6. WTF with Marc Maron – Let’s just say you never know where Marc Maron is going to go on an interview. He might interview a comedian, or an actor, or musician, and the interview will not go as you expect.

7. The Andy Greenwald Podcast – Andy Greenwald writes about TV for Grantland, and he interviews actors, show runners, and TV executives. Recent favorites include Noah Emerich, Antony Bourdain, and Noah Fawley.

I download other podcasts, but depending on the guest, I may not listen to the episode. These are the mainstays on my must listen podcast list.

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What I’m Reading (May 2014)

Early in May, I finished a book I felt certain would be the best book I read this month, All The Wild Children by Josh Stallings. I didn’t think anything would come close, but later in the month, while driving to work and listening to a podcast, mysterypod, Steve Usery interviewed Jedadiah Ayers. Before they talked about his books, they mentioned an author I’d never heard of, Jake Hinkson, and his book, Hell on Church Street. Between that book and Stallings, I can’t decide which one I liked more, as if it really matters.  What I have found are two writers who are definite must reads going forward- Josh Stallings and Jake Hinkson.

Books of the month: My first introduction to Josh Stallings came in the form of his first novel, Beautiful, Naked, and Dead, which is rather good. Moses McGuire is quite the protagonist. While checking out his website, I noticed Stallings had written a memoir entitled, All The Wild Children. Ken Bruen called it ‘stunning.’ Ken Bruen!! Let me digress here: Bruen is my number one favorite writer, and I’ll read anything he writes. It was Bruen’s book that gave me a glimpse of what crime and noire writing could be. He sets the bar that I aim for in my own writing. If he said this book was stunning, then I had to give it a try.

Stunning was an understatement.

After reading All The Wild Children I can no longer say my childhood was crazy. Comparing mine and his, well, my upbringing looks like an afternoon floating around in the kiddie pool. And I hadn’t even gotten to his adult years yet. The last third of book floored me. Outstanding.

In addition to All The Wild Children, I read all three of his novels, Beautiful, Naked, and Dead, Out There Bad, and One More Body. They are violent, bloody, and wildly entertaining. Can’t wait for the next one.

Like I said, I didn’t expect anything to top Josh Stalling this month, but then I heard about Hell on Church Street. I read this book in one sitting. Hinkson is Southern noir at its best. I don’t think I’ve come across a writer so able to accurately describe the religion of the south. In the book, a young man takes a job as a youth minister, not for his love of God and religion, but because church people have to love you and the job is pretty easy. Things go downhill quickly at this Southern Baptist church when he becomes involved with the pastor’s teenage daughter. Oh, and he narrates the story while being held up by a robber. Fantastic book.

I enjoyed Hell on Church Street so much, I also read The Posthumous Man which was a gripping, suspenseful book. I’ve started Saint Homicide.

I did read some other books this month, and some of them weren’t mystery or noir. The Son by Jo Nesbo (Another excellent thriller. This one is a stand-alone book, instead of another in the Harry Hole series), Running Away by Robert Andrew Powell (a memoir about the writer’s attempt to turn his life around by qualifying for the Boston Marathon as his Dad had at the same age), Walking Home from Mongolia by Rob Lilwall (a travel journey where two men walk across China), The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead (the writer takes part in the World Series of Poker), My Bright Abyss by Christian Wyman (the author ponders God, life, and meaning while dealing with cancer), and Reckless: The Life and Times of Luis Ocana by William Fotheringham (you knew there had to be a cycling book- this is a biography of a rider from the late sixties and early seventies, known for his explosive temperament).

****

As for my follow-up novel to Secrets To Keep, the book is coming along well. I’ve made some serious progress in the last few weeks on the third draft. I’ve been in one of those phases where everything seems to be clicking with the story. Let’s hope it continues. I don’t have a title yet, and even if I did, I’d probably change it before it before completion.

Thank you to everyone who reads my books and shares them with others. Each of them continue to sell every month, not in large numbers, but they sell, and that is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

 

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