After UNREQUITED I went on another extended hiatus from writing. I was still doing the performance poetry thing, dabbling with this and that. At around that time I also took a hiatus from work, ostensibly to write another book. That didn’t work out so well. But I did manage to do two important things that still color my work until this day. I took a drive down south for my first writer’s conference, KILLER NASHVILLE. There I met one of my all-time literary idols, Michael Connelly, had a sit-down critique with best-selling author and critic Hallie Ephron. Hallie, one of the literary Ephron sisters, gave me an insightful critique of the book idea that I was working on. I rubbed elbows with authors Chris Grabenstein, Mary Saums, Mike Jastrebski, Bill Travis and Don Bruns. It was a seminal experience for me and resonates to this day,
The second thing I did in 2007 was take my first trip out west to Colorado. A friend of mine moved out there the previous year. With time on my hands and money in my pockets, I went out there and spent a week. It was the great musical weekends of my life. My first night in Denver we went out to see a fantastic outlaw country band named The Railbenders. I’ve never been into country music, but they broke through my barrier (albeit slightly). The next night we took a limo out to Red Rocks to see the great Etta James, Al Green and BB King. Just wow! Then we hopped in the car and headed out to points west for the Aspen Snowmass Jazz Festival.
A funny thing happened at the end of this trip. I stayed for a day too long. Now I was familiar with this concept from trips to Vegas, but here I was in the American mecca of outdoor activity. My friend Matt and I were partied out, sitting on his living room couch with an extra twenty-four hours to kill without killing each other. In a seminal moment (at least it seems like one now) I said, “Let’s grab our cameras and head into the mountains. I’m sure we can find something cool to shoot.” We did just that and minutes later we were on I-70 heading toward the Continental Divide. It was on that westward journey that I saw two signs that would in large part shape the next novel.
The first sign was a large banner for the Tommyknocker Brewery. Now if you know your Brother T, you know I’m a huge fan of craft beers. I’ve even been known to brew a gallon or five myself. As we raced into the mountains the sign caught my eye and I took in the tiny town that surrounded it. The town was Idaho Springs, Colorado. It is the real-life model for the eponymous fictional town of JACKSON FALLS.
The second sign that I saw just a little way down the road was for St. Mary’s Glacier. The glacier is a focal point for that part of the Rockies. It’s visible all year around, but especially in the summer, when all the other snow has receded. We navigated our way to the trailhead and made a half-hearted attempt to climb to the summit. I told you we were partied out. The altitude was too much for this flatlander. St Mary’s Glacier became the image for the White Mountain glacier that sets the scene for Katie Darger and later for William Moss in the novel.
As happens with my writing, this was another case of fits and starts. It took a few years for me to really hit my stride on the story. I came back to Ohio and got back into the pizza business. I stumbled along with my writing. I wrote the first forty pages of the story and set it aside. That was it for a long time. It was around this time that I started dabbling in social media. I reconnected with a lot of folks that I hadn’t thought about in twenty or more years. It’s funny that many of the people that I encountered from my earliest days were folks that I never really associated with way back when. The foremost and one of the more cherished of those was Lori Gum. She’d posted some compelling photos on Facebook and I’d commented with my positive impressions.
Lori is something of a renaissance woman. She spent twenty years in NYC working as a screenwriter before coming home to work in the family business. I can recall a few “getting to know you” messages back and forth. It seemed like we had a lot of common interests. We were simpatico. Funny, but I think the fact that we were both into women helped our friendship along. One day out of the blue I sent her the first forty pages of the story that would become JACKSON FALLS. It was one of those things that could have gone either way. Had she not responded, or worse, said it was shit, I probably would have never written the book. She gave me just enough encouragement for me to jumpstart the story. So I plunged headlong into another novel.
When my writing is on point and I’m in the flow, I can produce hundreds of pages in a rush. That’s what I did with JACKSON FALLS. I completed the first draft over the next couple of months and sent it on to Lori. My goal was to see if it was total shit or if I was on the right track. Lori surprised me. She invited me out for drinks with her and a friend. That night was the beginning of Periodisa Publishing. Over the next few months we crafted a book and released it to little acclaim and it nearly died at birth. That part of the story is not mine to tell. Let’s just say it was a learning experience for all of us.
I was sobered by the publishing experience and fallout of the book. It was about that time that I switched up careers. I went from the dark side of restaurant management to working for the forces of Progressive Politics. I dived headlong into my current job and began crisscrossing the country working on toss-up elections in swing states. My travels took me back to Colorado, where I was determined to write the sequel to JACKSON FALLS. Over the course of the next two years I was based in Denver, but traveling all over for election work. I managed to write 120 pages or so of the new book before it petered out. I went into hibernation like the bear that I am.
Fast forward to 2015. I was based in Greensboro, NC at the time, but again I was on another extended road trip. I worked on two huge election campaigns in the city of Philadelphia. In between, I relocated again, this time to Cleveland. Predictably, I started writing a novel about Greensboro and the Piedmont Triad. I caught a swell of inspiration and rode it until the next election road trip, when I headed back to Philly.
A note about my job. When I shift into election mode, I am so busy that the days can never be long enough. I find myself waking in the middle of the night wondering whether I scanned this document or sent that report. I’m juggling a team of 100 people with as many as ten new hires every day. It’s consuming and my creativity is nowhere to be found. When it’s over, I’m like “Holy Shit! I have all this time!” That’s when I get busy on my real job. Writing books.
In November of 2015 I came out of the election cycle with two goals. I was going to write another book and I was going to get the first two up on Kindle for the first time. Operation Kindle was easier than I thought. I created new Kindle and paperback editions of UNREQUITED and JACKSON FALLS in December. On December 13 I scrapped the first 135 pages of the book that has became FIONA’S RULES. I threw it out and started over. This time I was on point. I blasted out the first draft in two months.
I’m fortunate to have had a few literary idols who’ve given me words of encouragement over the years. One of those is my fellow Central Ohioan Craig McDonald, author of the great HECTOR LASSITER novels. The protagonist, Hector is a fictitious novelist who rubbed elbows with the giants of the early 20th Century including Ernest Hemingway. Hector is one of those larger than life guys who has epic adventures and writes all about them. But the main thing I get from Old Hec is the 4:00 AM writing session. For me, getting into a routine like that is like opening up a vein for a vampire. It was the key that turned on the flow to the tune of 1000-5000 words per day.
Another one of my hero-friends is Tim Hallinan. Tim has written three separate series of novels that are each unique in their cast and setting, yet incredible in their depth of character and intricate story lines, From Tim, I take two different writing keys, the first being that background music is important. Tim has a habit of giving a shout out to the artists that he listens to while he’s writing. I dig that. I get it. The other thing that I take from him is his vast universe of characters roaming the streets of Los Angeles and Bangkok. It inspired me to do the opposite.
My first (and unpublished) novel TRENCH bounces around the country like Forest Gump but is largely based in New York City. The second UNREQUITED, is also a New York City novel with many of the same characters, including Mick and Conor O’Brien. The third novel JACKSON FALLS is another globe trekking story, but the main elements take place in Colorado. The characters Johnny Turner and Maya Beauchamp in JACKSON FALLS also had cameo appearances in UNREQUITED.
Which brings us to FIONA’S RULES. It’s a novel of the Piedmont Triad region of North Carloina with a largely new cast of characters. Conor O’Brien, the protagonist of UNREQUITED is a second tier character in FIONA’S RULES. Act 2 takes place in Denver. Dani Darger and DJ Standifer from JACKSON FALLS also play bit parts in this little drama. It’s a lot of fun weaving the characters from three different worlds into a vast universe of possibilities.
The next novel, code named THE OLD BOY NETWORK is already in full swing. Suffice it to say that you’ll get a full dose of the O’Brien boys and many of the other UNREQUITED characters. In the meantime, happy reading…
FIONA’S RULES is set for publication in June of 2016.