Coming in September 2023–Take the Lively Air, a new novel from Unsolicited Press.

When Riley Walker takes his Firecracker Red Jeep Wrangler for a drive on a Jersey Shore May morning, he has no idea that he’s about to collide with a honking pickup sporting a timber rattler warning DON’T TREAD ON ME. The crash leaves the drivers bleeding and hospitalized, and a gun-toting relative eager for revenge. Riley, girlfriend Molly, and her adopted grandson Klyde already have heartaches aplenty when their personal pain collides with America’s toxic cultural climate. Take the Lively Air is a tale of yesterday’s ghosts, today’s troubles, and the search for a promising future.

What America Believes (In Memory of Emmett Till)

Today is the 65th anniversary of the lynching of 14 year-old Emmett Till.  I don’t remember the incident, but I do remember seeing a photo of Emmett Till lying in his coffin. I don’t remember how old I was, but I know it horrified me.

Seeing was believing.

The photo was black and white. It possessed an unreal quality, almost as if it were a theater poster for a science fiction movie from the 1950’s. But it was all too real.

If you have never seen the photo, I suggest you use the Google machine and take a gander. There are many before-and-after pictures. See a pic of the lady who claimed the boy wolf-whistled at her, the reason her husband and his half-brother tortured and murdered him. Some folks claim the crime galvanized the civil rights movement. I remember Emmett Till’s mother in an interview. “I want the world to see this,” she said, meaning what had happened to her son.

So was it the crime itself or Emmett Till’s photograph that galvanized a movement?

The other night thanks to Twitter I saw what an AR-15 round can do to a human arm. There wasn’t much left of it. Most of the musculature above the elbow was shot away. Seeing this arm made me wonder. Suppose the parents of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary got together after that terrible day and decided to publish photographs of their children’s bodies. What would have occurred if the Sandy Hook crime scene photographs had been published?

Something tells me people would claim the photos were doctored. ( Just like the moon landing!) Of course Sandy Hook took on a bizarre nature of its own. Some people claimed it didn’t happen. It was crisis actors, a deep state conspiracy.

Only the most knuckle-headed among us won’t admit the last few years truth has gotten the shit kicked out of it. Like an old palooka in his last fight, truth gets bounced around the ring. I’m talking about truth, not facts. Facts don’t seem to matter anymore. Facts used to be something you could not combat with reasoning. Now it’s what you believe that counts.

Well, the men who murdered Emmett Till believed what the woman claimed. They believed a black boy had no right to wolf-whistle a white lady. And they believed he deserved what happened to him.

When humans carry their beliefs to an extreme or try to foster their beliefs on others, those beliefs become lost, clouded, without form. They don’t bring people together. They isolate. When you separate yourself from mankind, instead of looking for the common–justice, dignity, love–you see only the particular. When you separate yourself by your beliefs, it breeds violence.

Don’t believe me? Check the historical record. You may not believe what you see.

Take the Lively Air–Preview

Nothing in common but air and water. That’s what Bobby Burkett, the antagonist in my new novel, Take the Lively Air, has to say about folks in my hometown. He’s an outsider, you see. Comes all the way from Pennsylvania to Jersey to do some fishing, surf fishing, to be exact. There’s been an accident involving his uncle. The way it looks to Bobby, it’s a simple case of road rage. His uncle’s pick-up has been hit and then pushed across an intersection. There are tire marks. And the truck stopped when its tires hit the curb. The other vehicle pushed it “…like a goddamn snowplow.”

Bobby’s pissed. Pissed is what he does best, and the focus of his anger is Riley Walker. Riley, the other driver in the accident, is in his mid-fifties and scared. He’s scared he’s losing his mind. He has nightmares, most of them about his former wife. She was killed in a traffic accident thirteen years ago. Guess who was driving?

Riley’s got to find out what happened at this new accident. He can see for himself his Jeep has its grill bashed in, and the pick-up truck’s been pushed against the curb by the Jeep. Trouble is he can’t remember. He bashed his head open, and he can’t remember exactly what happened.

He has to find out because Molly, the woman he’s falling for, recently adopted her grandson, Klyde, whose father is in drug rehab. This grandson is 12. He’s a good kid, but a handful (three handfuls). Molly doesn’t want some maniac hanging around Klyde–that’s the correct spelling, btw.

Riley, in case you haven’t guessed, is the MC. He’s where the action is. He has to find out what he’s done and try to make amends, try to find common ground. Riley has to dig deep, and in doing so, make amends for both accidents, including the one haunting him from thirteen years before.

The novel’s told from multiple viewpoints. Riley, Molly, and Klyde, along with Vera and Justin, a young (30’s…30’s to me is young) couple. There’s also Gus, Vera’s uncle and driver of the pick-up. And don’t forget Bobby. These characters are of different backgrounds, socioeconomic situations, political leanings, and religious beliefs. How to sort all this. I have to tell you, it wasn’t easy.

I hope you got a little interested in my novel. It’s in the re-write stage, which could could last quite a while. I hope you weren’t put off by my not-so-subtle way of catching your interest. All I can say is, don’t be like Bobby.

Whatever your viewpoint, now’s not the time to find differences. Let’s find similarities. Aside from air and water–fairly important items–what do we have in common?

“So, let us not be blind to our differences–but let us also direct our attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breath the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

~John F. Kennedy



Prostate Cancer Biopsy

Yesterday I had a consultation with a doctor and a nurse practitioner at York Hospital. I viewed the MRI scan of my prostate. Reading a report about an MRI and viewing an MRI are not the same thing. It’s similar to the difference between reading a summary of a baseball game and actually being there in the stands. I saw the two lesions on my prostate. They were bright spots on a dark oval, and that’s a cause for concern. It gave new meaning to the phrase “bright spots.”

I’m going to have a biopsy on November 18th. That’s what I really want to talk about, because I’m not writing this blog to only report on my condition. Believe me, I’d much rather be writing about writing. This is about the second most common form of cancer in men after skin cancer–prostate cancer.

These next three paragraphs are what I recall my urologist and the doctor I met yesterday telling me in conversation. If I’m wrong, I hope some doctor out there will correct me. To get started, the medical “gold standard” for detection of prostate cancer is a biopsy. It’s been that way for 20 years. You wouldn’t know it if you’re young and healthy, but trust me, most medical procedures have advanced tremendously in the last 20 years. I have first-hand knowledge of that. Not so much for prostate screening.

Most biopsies consist of small needles, from 10-12, used to collect tissue samples from the prostate. These samples are then analyzed. The prostate is about the size of a walnut or golf ball. I’m going to use a golf ball for my example. Ever look at the dimples on a golf ball? There are quite a few of them. Now imagine taking 12 samples from twelve dimples. See what I’m saying? It’s not hard to miss something. Yesterday I was told that regular biopsies miss 40% of cancers. The doctor who used that figure is a very firm believer in imaging. He said the ladies have it down pat with breast cancer screening, but men have a long way to go when it comes to prostate screening.

Since I had an MRI, the doctor will be using the images of the MRI to take samples from the specific areas which seem suspicious. In other words, the golf ball dimples get colored in beforehand, and that’s where the needles go (I’m told they also go into other areas).  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concludes using MRI with ultrasound produces better biopsy results.

I hope this educates at least one guy out there. Ladies, you may have to help. Men, at least consider a PSA test. All you do is give a blood sample. That’s the starting point. Although prostate issues can be very confusing depending on your age, race, and family history, unless you trust Larry King or some other talking head on TV with your health, it’s something men should consider.

Prostate Cancer

Okay, here’s the thing. I lost a very close friend to this disease one year ago. It’s been on my mind before my PSA started to rise. I’m not a doctor, of course, so I’m not going into areas where I’m not qualified. I suggest if any men or their significant others have concerns, check with a urologist. At least Google some basics, such as PSA.

My PSA started going up a few years back. One point something to two point something–nothing big. The routine is when your PSA gets above four, that’s a possible warning sign. All of this depends on your age. Does this sound confusing so far? Good. Because it is. There is not much that’s certain when it comes to the prostate from what I gather. But here’s what happened to me.

My PSA shot from three point something to five. Not good. So I waited six months. Boom. Now it’s seven. I knew about prostate biopsies. They are, shall I put it, hit or miss. My friend had a biopsy after his PSA went up–negative biopsy. One year later, his PSA hit the roof. Two and a half years later, he was gone.

The biopsy can easily miss a cancerous spot or tumor, if you prefer the more serious term. I went with another test. Google it, guys. MBT prostate cancer. It’s a test following a DRE (do I have to explain that pleasant acronym?) where you pee in a cup and send it to a lab. Mine came back 45% chance of cancer.

On to the MRI. A prostate MRI is quite accurate according to everything I’ve read. I had one. The MRI measures any detected lesions/spots/tumors in terms of PI-Rads, 1-5. 1 PI-Rad is best. Pi-Rads of five aren’t. I have one spot with a four, and one with a five. The good news is, hopefully, this was caught early. I have a biopsy coming up, and that will dictate treatment, obviously.

So my points are these: 1. Get your PSA checked. If it goes up, there are choices other than an immediate biopsy. 2. Read up on the topic if you are faced with a problem. Prostate cancer is VERY curable. 3. Don’t put your head in the sand about your health. Be proactive.

I’ll let you know how all this comes out.

Lieutenant Columbo, Meet President Trump

I haven’t watched TV at dinner time with my brother since the last big election. We’re both retired. We watch a lot of TV. If it were up to my brother, he would never flip from his favorite news channel. Without fail he argues with different viewpoints than those found on his channel. Often, he argues with me before I speak.

We used to watch the detective genre. I like to see the bad guy get caught. “Murder, She Wrote,” “Hart to Hart,” “McMillan and Wife.” Sometimes I’d pick newer shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” Unfortunately, some of the newer crime shows are very detailed, very scientific. My brother always refused to watch CSI.

I remember my last dinner-time detective show we watched together in the kitchen. It was an episode of “Columbo.” It was very interesting. The murderer was a magician. If you have never had the pleasure of watching “Columbo,” the show’s premise is very simple. In the show’s beginning, a murder is committed. We, the TV audience, witness the crime, the alibi, and, of course, the criminal. We know who did it. The fun is in watching the seemingly inept detective use his smarts to catch the criminal and bring him or her to justice.

This magician was very clever. While supposedly locked in a trunk and then lowered into a tank of water, he killed the nightclub’s owner. But the constant objections of my brother regarding the magician’s guilt during this episode made it very difficult for me to enjoy the show.

We witnessed this magician leave his trunk before the trunk went into the water. We watched as he climbed down a step ladder, went into his basement office, changed into a waiter’s uniform, and snuck upstairs to the owner’s office. He picked the door lock and shot the owner. All this time, the magician was supposed to be locked in a trunk in a tank of water. Despite what we witnessed, my brother wasn’t convinced the magician was guilty.

“I don’t know how you can say that the magician isn’t guilty,” I told my brother.

“It’s simple,” he shot back. “He’s a magician.”

Without trying to sound boastful, I challenged my brother immediately. I reviewed every point of the magician’s steps he took to commit the crime and conceal his guilt. Each time I was met with my brother’s objections. I pointed out that we saw the magician climb down from a trap door out of his locked trunk.

“I didn’t see him leave the trunk. I saw him climb down the step ladder.”

“We watched him put on the waiter’s uniform.”

“I saw many other waiters,” my brother countered.

“We saw the magician shoot the owner.”

“I saw the magician fire a gun. Then the owner fell.”

Imagine my frustration. I tried to explain to my brother the act of pre-meditated murder. The person guilty of the crime must plan or consider the act beforehand. He cannot act out of emotion, nor can the death result from accident or carelessness. The corpus delicti, as the deceased is sometimes called, must be the direct result of a conscious, mindful act.

Over the course of the show, every time we watched Columbo prove part of the magician’s alibi a lie, my brother refused to accept it. He claimed every revealed clue could be a lie. “Don’t be stupid,” he told me.

I told him not to call me stupid. “Columbo follows clues. He doesn’t lie to the TV audience.” Otherwise the rumpled, cigar smoking character whose name also serves as the show’s title would lose all credibility.

He pooh-poohed me. “Clues don’t matter. People use fake clues to throw everybody off track.”

I had him. “That’s exactly what’s happening on the show. The magician’s trying to throw everybody off track. Columbo has to follow a reasonable path. The clues have to add up. They have to make logical sense.”

When a commercial came on, my brother changed to his channel. The brand new President was speaking. He had recently made his inaugural address. I had watched part of the address and recalled it had rained. As a bit of harmless small talk, I mentioned that very fact to my brother. “Too bad it rained for his speech.”

My brother shushed me.

“But we had a massive field of people,” President Trump continued. “You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was—it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well. I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech.”

“Hah! It didn’t rain during his speech. You don’t know shit,” my brother laughed.

I said, “I remember seeing open umbrellas and ponchos covering people in the audience during the inauguration. Please get my show back.”

“A lot you know,” my brother laughed. “So much for clues.” After he switched back, he pointed at the TV. “Look, Columbo’s wearing a raincoat. I suppose it’s raining inside that nightclub they’re in. That would be some magic.”

After his ridiculous remarks, I left my brother and took my dinner into the den. I heard him change channels. After watching this program for well over an hour, my brother was content to skip the end. This annoyed me. Determined to have my brother witness the inevitable outcome where the magician is proven to be the murderer, I finished eating and waited until the last five minutes of “Columbo” before I returned to the kitchen. As I put my plate in the sink, my brother stood up and handed me the TV remote.

“Go ahead. Watch the end of your program,” he said. “I’m going to take a shower. I’ve seen this one before.”

I’ve eaten in the den ever since.


This essay, originally titled, “No Clue,” appeared in different form in From All Corners, a collection of five finalists in an Unsolicited Press essay contest.

Writer Dead Time

Bless me, blog, for I have ignored thee. Devoutly, for half a year, for 1/132 of my lifetime (66 x 2). And why? Because I wanted to, because I needed to, and because I can. That sounds like the President, doesn’t it? Let’s examine those items one at a time except for the President bit.

I wanted a break. I admit I took a complete sabbatical. Toying around with an old short story and getting banned from Twitter don’t count as writing. From June when Beat the Blues came out until November, I did not sit down to write. I did not consciously get to work. Leaves didn’t get raked, dishes remained stacked in the sink. The vacuum cleaner didn’t run by itself. You get the idea. My juices or inspiration or any other term identified with the creative process skipped town. Instead of characters spinning in my head, I thought of pleasant diversions such as, wait a minute, some vacuum cleaners–those robots–run by themselves. Useless drivel in other words. I enjoyed it.

I needed to. I’ve been retired from teaching for exactly eight years. In that time I’ve done a lot of writing–four novels worth. I ignored things in my personal life to accomplish this. Most of my days revolved around sitting down and getting to work, how long I worked, how much I completed. When that kind of work is your day’s major routine, the rest of your time sometimes seems trifling. For a young writer with more energy, that might not be a problem. You can go places, do things, keep the motor running. Doctorow said that “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Perhaps I became less inclined to begin the trip.

I can. Mark Twain stopped Huckleberry Finn for two years to “let the well fill up.” Huck and Jim had passed Cairo, and Twain knew he had a different sort of book on his hands. Hell’s bells. If Twain could do it, so can I. Maybe as writers we get to know ourselves better as we work. If we write to discover how we feel about things, perhaps we pause to figure out exactly what things we want to examine. Now there’s a couple of chapters of a new novel saved on my hard drive. There’s a new short story out in several Submittable accounts. There’s a lot of cleaning up to be done, and it’s time to get the vacuum out of the closet and get moving.

Novel Dedication 6/21/18

Tomorrow my new novel gets released. But I’d gladly scratch that event off the calendar if the wonderful man I dedicated the novel to got well. I’d rather talk about him.

He was an LIU teacher. He taught special kids, troubled kids. He worked one-on-one with them in grade school, followed them to their jobs after h.s. Worked with their bosses. Checked on them. Paid more attention to his students than many parents pay attention to their children. He kept in contact with them after h.s. He visited them, checked up on them long after his job requirements ended.

He loves his kids. He knows them and follows their progress in life after most teachers are concerned about the kids sitting in front of them. He makes me, also an ex-teacher, feel very inadequate. He never dismissed kids–passed them on to another grade, lost his sense of humor about them–(believe me, you need a sense of humor if you’re going to teach). In short he’s a man I admire for many reasons.

We talk all the time. We talk about this country. He thinks maybe it’s time to admire what’s best in us. Even if we don’t see it in ourselves. Even if we don’t like the sound of it. Laws, for instance. Immoral laws like separate lunch counters, separate drinking fountains. Like two people, any people, not being able to marry. Those laws weren’t our best. And they were changed. But change seems to be heading backwards.

Maybe it’s time to admit our shortcomings as a nation and aspire to something better. You pick the source. I’m not a preacher. I’m picking my friend. That’s why I dedicated my novel to him. I’m 65. I’ve seen some shit, and he’s seen some shit. And I can guess–if this country doesn’t pick something or someone who appeals to our better selves, my friend is going to be very disappointed.

Robert Francis Kennedy

Robert Francis Kennedy begins my novel Beat the Blues.

Robert Francis Kennedy was nine days dead, and not one of Katie’s Inlet Terrace neighbors gave a damn.

RFK is probably a hero to Beat the Blue’s main character, Katie. I say probably because she never admits this, never even hints at it. Yet the fact is apparent to me simply because they share the qualities of courage and idealism.

I’m old enough to remember RFK. I was 15, a sophomore in high school. America was a mess, and Kennedy’s assassination seemed a blow to the hopes of fixing that mess. 1968 was a year of political assassination, social upheaval, violence in our streets, and the escalating war in Vietnam. On the occasion of Kennedy’s death, though I shed tears, I had little knowledge of the notion of regret.

Katie confronts readers with the notion of regret in the first line of Beat the Blues. As a new high school graduate, she is unaware of life’s ebbs and flows, and so resents the everyday normalcy around her so soon after Kennedy’s murder. She informs a neighbor, “…tragedy is a form of history.” Introspective and sensitive, four years later as a college graduate, she heads off to New York City on her own in search of a career in print journalism. Carrying her portable typewriter, Katie tells her mother, “I’m going to help fix the trouble.”

Since the novel takes place over the course of 40 years, characters are tempted to look back to their pasts. They find it difficult to look back with objectivity. The past takes root, grows, and bends with the winds of their lives–the hurts, the slights, the regrets. To fight the winds, they build foundations. They choose a place, gravitate toward fellow believers, and hold on. Sometimes when they look back, their memory plays tricks. Memory illuminates what they wish to recall, dims what they desire to dismiss.

But fiction, like history, tolerates no such trickery. Fiction concerns truth. Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,~Albert Camus. Katie’s idealism and courage never leave her. She stays true to those qualities. Even though she may be unaware of life’s ups and downs in the novel’s first line, she is quite aware and unafraid of them at the novel’s end. Perhaps the way Robert Kennedy was made aware of life’s cruelty after the assassination of his brother.

Robert Kennedy is a hero to Katie. Was he a hero to me? It isn’t important to the novel. I can say with certainty he wasn’t a hero when I was 15. But change in real life is as certain and as necessary as change in a novel. I can see more clearly now what was lost when RFK died. I can see who and what has taken his place. And I understand the notion of regret.

Beat the Blues releases June 21st.

The Autonomous Writer or I’ll Write How the Fuck I Want, Thanks

The autonomous writer…autonomous meaning, “acting independently or having the freedom to do so.” All-powerful, self-publishing, kick-ass independent.  The AW isn’t afraid to use three hyphenated adjectives in a single fragment. The AW says it’s perfectly okay to begin every concluding paragraph with “And so,” every contradictory paragraph with “But on the other hand.” Because of self-publishing. (The AW starts sentences with “Because” too…well, in the previous example, another fragment).

Is autonomy when it comes to writing a good thing or a bad thing? Autonomous or under contract or both, chances are one of the following words has spiked your interest when it comes to writing: rejection, advice, and aspirations. I’m speaking about people who are at least serious enough to accept writing as a craft, and a difficult one.

Let’s look at rejection. I’ve spoken with writers who, having been accepted for publication, claim to have forgotten all about their rejections. I also know writers who don’t deal with rejection. They publish on Amazon and collect money. Fine for both. What about the unpublished writer who wants to have his work juried but can’t tolerate rejection? Some find writer groups, a spouse, or tech sources such as a blog or Facebook page. As long as you write, the experts say, you’re okay. Writers write. But for whom? There have to be readers, no? It’s a shame writers don’t get the immediate feedback painters receive. And our books don’t become more valuable after we die.

Advice must be examined with the writer’s age in mind. A young writer doesn’t seek advice–she goes to school and learns, probably from other writers. What about older writers? Out of curiosity–and, I hope, an urge to assist–I twice attended a local writer’s group meeting. These meetings were run, for lack of a better word, by a very nice writer who had self-published a number of books. I won’t call the meetings classes. There was advice given and notes taken, but the discussions resembled a writer’s anonymous meeting. Instead of stories about getting bombed and wrecking Aunt Ethel’s birthday by vomiting at the dinner table, there were lots of stories about writing stories. And that’s fine. Everyone knows the number of times published writers employ writers as characters is too frequent to contemplate.

Many of these writers in the writer’s group reminded me of the Aesop tale of the fox and the grapes. You remember–sour grapes. One man made fun of literary writers by pushing up the end of his nose and pronouncing the word literary in a mock-snobbish sort of way. Another man insisted that five word titles were absolutely the most effective. Five words, but never longer than five words. Too much of the advice seemed to center on marketing rather than technique.

As for dreams and aspirations, I suspect many writers wish to be famous and wealthy. Writers used to appear on late night TV. Now some have TV commercials. Not many of us make it that far, published or not. Too much ambition and not enough talent can be a bad combo. People who really shouldn’t write anything other than “at the store” on the fridge notepad write on Facebook and Twitter despite a general lack of knowledge. People die trying to write and drive, although I’m convinced if the laws forbid “writing while driving” instead of “texting while driving,” most people would stop breaking the law.

And so (wink) does autonomy help negate fear of rejection, often times useless advice, and dashed dreams? Maybe. Everyone knows anyone can get published.  Then again some of us just have to write. It’s part of us. It’s not a hobby. If you’re a serious writer in charge of your own writing, good for you. If you have a publisher, an angel in New York (agent), or both, good for you. If you are autonomous and have a publisher and an agent, you’ve already laughed until coffee came out of your nose.

You can find thousands of quotes about writers and writing. I’ll leave you with this from Raymond Carver, who wrote in a return letter to me, “Good luck with your own writing.”