Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Blue Highways – A Road Trip – Part 1

Blue Highway
My wife and I have often discussed over the years of traveling the roads of the western United States. Lord knows, I’ve done the LA-San Diego to San Francisco trip maybe thirty times, even the SF to Phoenix interstate dance a few times. Twenty-five years ago we went north to Portland and Bend, Oregon. But the real west, the old west of cowboy lore and Injuns and pioneers and mountains has eluded us – and what about the new West – they were all there to be seen. And we, for forty-five years, had been very remiss.

A favorite high school author (and still to be sure) was John Steinbeck and when his book Travels with Charley was published in 1962--it became a favorite. It teased me as a teenager about America and the places that were beyond the prairies of the Chicago and Midwest which eventually lead to a solo cross-country jaunt in 1969 to LA and San Francisco. Two years later my bride and I moved from Chicago to San Francisco taking the still, under construction in places, interstate system using I-70 to Denver, south on I-25 to Albuquerque, west on I-40 (some of the old Route 66), and eventually stopping at the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and finally San Francisco. That was April 1971.

In 1982 another American highway travelogue was published, and like Steinbeck, William Least Heat-Moon in his Blue Highways, tried to find the true American—who ever they are—by traveling the two lane highways of America, not the high speed interstates. His book, remarkable for its insight, clarity, and humor, again struck a cord in my traveling soul. But for the past twenty-five years Europe and other exotic places called and we answered. The western trip seemed to elude us, “Maybe next year.” Well this was finally the year.

Our goal was a simple clockwise loop, from Walnut Creek to Walnut Creek. This was not to be a camping trip, no sleeping under the stars. My idea of camping includes marble countertops in the bathroom (call me a retired boy scout). At my age crawling out of a sleeping bag is not a pretty sight. But it was also not going to ultra-first class, economy is good if there’s legroom.

Steinbeck along with his traveling companion, Charley the poodle, towed a trailer (now in his Salinas museum) behind a new pickup truck. Heat-Moon drove a green van with a camp stove and portable toilet. Sorry guys – AARP approved hotels were our base line and certainly anything above that was more than acceptable. Our horse was a red Ford Escape with 3000 miles on it when we rolled down the driveway. Our goal was to see as much as we could in seventeen days. The route is posted below.

First Leg:
Nevada and Idaho and Montana 
I worked as a consultant to a mining company back in the late 1970s designing a work camp and support housing near a town called Challis, Idaho. I wanted to see what had changed. 
We went east through Reno onto Wells, Nevada then north into Idaho and through Twin Falls. The last time I’d been in Twin Falls was the late 70s. The population then was about 25,000 people and agricultural based – the shock of driving through this now very modern upsized town of more than 46,000 was stunning (I’m sure the population was well above that in the surrounding county). Construction and new growth was everywhere – and as we were to find out almost everywhere - there has been tremendous growth in the west during the last twenty-five years. After spending a few days in Ketchum and Sun Valley (where Hemmingway lived from 1935 to 1947 and later died) we headed north into Challis and discovered almost nothing had changed in forty years. It is still a simple main street town, spectacular surrounding mountains, and verdant fields and cattle lands below, all flanking the Salmon River. Its population had gained about 200 people since 1980, now about 1,000 people call Challis home (the Village Inn where our base camp had been set up, was exactly the same).

We headed north into Montana then east to Virginia City, Montana. Montana is Big-Sky country. It’s as open as a when a very young Sacagawea lead Lewis and Clark through the region in 1805, now cattle populates the great expanses of the country and not the Shoshone and buffalo. We stayed south of Butte and west of Bozeman on two lane highways that were in finer shape than California’s and headed south to the old mining town of Virginia City. What we did find were small and seemingly prosperous towns and ranches. The country was, to use an overworked term, awesome. Then on to Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is worth the visit. I took some good photos of the usual suspects: buffalo and elk, the Old Faithful geyser, mud boils and the forest recovering from the massive fires of 1988. The most traffic we ran into (on the whole trip) was at the entry gate to Yellowstone. One of the funniest incidents were the cars backed up behind a bull buffalo ambling down the main entry road. He was in no hurry and his slow ponderous gate proved it. The town (just outside the entry) is like a cowboy version of Fisherman’s Wharf; I still cringe when I think of it. The scenery and the underlying geology of Yellowstone is very exciting, but for drama and great photo opportunities take your time as you travel fifty miles south to the Grand Tetons and Jackson, Wyoming.

Leg Two:
Wyoming and Utah
While Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho seem a tad artificial and pretentious, Jackson (also referred to as Jackson Hole), Wyoming exhibited a warmth and what, to us, felt more like what the modern American west is like. Compact, free parking, good to great restaurants, and high quality galleries, modern conveniences, and an airport that takes in Delta and United flights. Fly fishing is a short drive away, a call will get you guides and float trips to some of the best cutthroat trout fishing in the world (as well as brown, rainbow, and brook trout). These are the drainages of the Madison and the Gallatin and Firehole rivers made famous in a hundred books and movies about trout fishing in the western United States. We will be back, in many ways the trip was worth the discovery of Jackson Hole.

From Jackson we headed to Park City, Utah. While Jackson retained some of the character of the Old West, Park City has all the character of a modern resort subdivision built outside Salt Lake City. But wait, Park City is a modern resort subdivision built 35 miles east of Salt Lake City. The 2002 Olympics made the place and even though there were good winter activities (fueled by Salt Lake and Provo) it was the post Olympic growth of townhome complexes, modern hotels, and professional in-migration that has fueled it’s substantial growth. At over 6,000 feet the air is crisp and dry. The old town is one street (and a hefty climb from one end to the other as well) of the usual shops, restaurants, and even a brewery. It’s no longer mining that drive the economy it’s the tourist and second homes. I think, in time, it will be a big retirement draw as well. Two days was more then enough. But it is the rest of Utah that can take your breath away – for better or worse. 

Stay Tuned . . . . . . . .

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Backbeat to Beatlemania

If there is one thing that Tony Broadbent brings to the written page, it is the colloquial perverseness that can be found in the jargon of the home turf of the English language, England. His new novel/thriller, THE ONE AFTER 9:09, does it and does it well. I discovered Mr. Broadbent a few years back at the Mystery Writers conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California where he brought an engaging wit and style to the discussions. After reading his three book ‘SMOKE’ series about Jethro, a burglar with more on his plate than nipping some rich dowager’s jewels, Broadbent turns to what could be his second loves, rock-and-roll and the Beatles.

Now I ask you, would you write a thriller about the most famous and most fantabulous rock and roll group since, like, forever? Would you even think of trying? The Beatles are chronicled in a thousand books and stories, videos, posters, handbills, and even some of the earliest bobble-head dolls. Gutsy work on the part of Mr. Broadbent, damn gutsy—and, to write a thriller, damn cheeky too.

We’ve moved from Jethro’s ruined post-World War Two London of the late 1940s to Liverpool 1961. Social disruption is the norm; the economy is in tatters, the kids—all products of the war itself, are searching for something, something they can call their own—and its rock and roll. In the cellars of Hamburg and Liverpool a new sound rises, a sound that slams you in the gut, makes the boys jump, and the girls get all excited and I mean, really, really excited.

Mr. Broadbent’s tale is of money, promoters, ambition, culture, rival rock and roll clubs, and men bent on causing as much trouble as possible. It is the story of Brian Epstein and his desperate desire to manage these mop-heads to their fame and his fortune. It is a story of deals, double-dealing, failures and success. A book very hard to set down. Well recommended.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Couple of Book Reviews

Daniel Silva – The English Spy
I become a Gabriel Allon fan, it has taken me a few of Silva’s books to get here, but after The English Girl and now The English Spy, I’m hooked. In The English Spy, Silva takes us on a tour of nastier underside of Europe (and some of the nice spots as well). From the dark alleys and country lanes of Northern Ireland to the sunny ruas of Lisbon, there are no shortages of touristy stops and dead (as in body) ends. London, Rome, even Corsica come into play as an international terrorist and bomber, who works for the highest bidder, pushes his way back into Allon’s tragic past. All the big players are here: British intelligence, Israeli Mossad, Russia, and the IRA. As usual Silva plays his spy games across the world.

If there is one complaint is that Silva has become more brutal. There seems to be a moral ambivalence seeping into his characters, and sadly Allon as well. There was always a morality and justification to Allon’s assassinations, in this book it seemed to be more about vengeance and retribution, anything goes in trying to find the killer of women, children and possibly the man who killed Allon’s son and destroyed his wife.

As always Daniel Silva leaves the door slightly ajar at the end giving us a peek into the next chapter in Gabriel Allon’s life – as father and head of Israel’s intelligence operations. Boy, is Allon’s life about to get complicated.

I give it a strong recommendation.

Andy Weir – The Martian

Sometime a book just grabs you from the start – and as a writer it make me soooo jealous. Andy Weir’s The Martian is such a book. What would you do if trapped on a desert island: Robinson Crusoe, Cast Away, Lost? That story has been told a dozen times. What would you do if abandoned on a planet that is 70 million miles away from earth, has no air to breath, is colder on a summer day than the most frigid winter in Antarctica? Most likely we would all be dead after whimpering for a few months until the food runs out. Not Mark Watney – so sir, he—in the best MacGyver tradition—literally makes life on Mars bearable and survivable. This is a story of creative destruction, adaptation, politics (yes, there is an Earth component), loneliness, defeat, and great triumph. Heroes abound, there are no bad guys (other than the damn planet that is trying to kill him every second of every hour of every day). The Martian is a great read.

Mr. Weir does a spectacular job with the technical details, while I have no idea if his jury-rigged contraptions are real; I’ve not heard one word from the science community that what he presented wasn’t plausible and possible. You can believe this book; you do believe that this can or will happen someday in the near future.

I also admire Weir’s tenacity in getting this book published, first serialized on his own website, then to Amazon (where it made its mark) then to Crown for a tidy (though I think low) sum. Now it’s to be a Ridley Scott and Matt Damon movie out in October 2015. I listened to this book through Audible – one of the best reads I’ve heard- - it won an Audie Award in 2014. All I can say is great job and I recommend this to anyone – geek or not.

A must read recommendation.

More Later . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


It has been a while since I’ve updated my readers on where I am in the world of publishing and what projects I am working on. It has been a busy year posting new books online, setting up print versions, scheduling books on new promotion avenues and beginning research on a couple of new thrillers.

So here we go:
Diamonds For Death was released in January for both print and ebook sales, we did a promotion and book signing at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California on February 15th. All to the good, reviews have been outstanding, sales could be better, but it’s not the content it’s the marketing department (since I am the marketing department, I need to set up a meeting and kick some ass).

I brought out a new character this spring and the start of a new series. Anthony Alfano, (Tony to the few friends he has), is a veteran Chicago police detective during the Depression of the 1930s. Chicago Swing begins with seemingly random and brutal bombings in downtown Chicago in the weeks before the start of the Century of Progress World’s Fair. Tony has to fight corrupt Chicago politics and the remains of the Chicago underworld to find the bomber and stop them before they kill thousands at the fair. The reviews have been great, and I was thrilled when one called it killer Noir. I have just finished the first draft of the next book in the series Chicago Jazz. Should be out this winter. These are short and fast paced, word count at 60,000 (most thrillers are in the 95-110,000 word count – or more). For now this is only available in ebook format from Amazon – click the cover in the above left column and it’s yours for $2.99.

By the way, I have also dropped all the ebook prices for the Sharon O’Mara books to $2.99. The only exception is Land Swap For Death (where it all began) that is still at $0.99. Click the covers and they can be yours.

I have my World War II thriller This Face of Evil on the desk of an agent who has promised to read it. I believe in promises, I believe in this agent. But I also am not going to sit around for months waiting. Unlike wine, a good book does not better sitting around unread or unpublished. It wants to live in the real world of readers. I will remain patient for a time, and then we will see what happens.

Future Work:
There is a great character in This Face of Evil that wants (is demanding) a sequel, and I may give it to him. Something dealing with the end of the WWII and the impact it had on the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. Even though it was almost seventy years ago much of the nasty mischief by Hitler and his association with radical Islamists is still with us. So there is much to research and develop.

Current research is going into a new contemporary thriller that takes place over four days in Venice. A new character—a Cleveland cop—is running away from a failed marriage (her cop husband has been sent to jail) to Venice. She does not find peace and escape but gets caught in the middle between the bad business of the Balkan war, Cleveland gangs, and the FBI. It already has me hooked.

Sharon’s on vacation—or at least that’s what I tell myself. After five books in four years she’s off on one of her “me” times. At least that’s what her emails brag about: big fish, suntans, scotch, and a Frenchman. But there is a rumor that the next Sharon O’Mara Chronicle will take place in Ireland, includes an important birthday, a castle, smugglers, and a very nasty Albanian bitch. Just saying.

As always we are trying every imaginable idea to push the books out there. The recent idea of book promotion sites (Freebooksy, BookBub, Booksends, etc.) is working—at least to a degree. Right now getting our name out is as important as real sales. In mid-June we did a free book release of Toulouse For Death that had almost 4,000 downloads. Not bad for an investment of less than $100. And a lot cheaper than putting together a book tour where only three people show up.

We are looking, for now, to release the Tony Alfano thrillers as ebooks, thus saving both time and investment in paper. While we use paper book distributors such as IngramSpark and CreateSpace (both print-on-demand), I still have to manufacture the InDesign files, formatting, and cover art. All time consuming. I do use the cover art as a reference for the book (often generated in the middle of the draft) to help me visualize the book (the Chicago Jazz cover above is an example). But for now the world is ebooks for thrillers, crime stories, and mysteries (and romance and erotica—so I’ve been told).

I have a very busy fall ahead of me. If I meet my goals I will be one very happy and mentally exhausted fellow.

More Later . . . . . . . .