Friday, December 19, 2014

The Death of Sex and Violence - Stories for the Modern Age FREE on amazon

The Death of Sex and Violence - Stories for the Modern Age   is FREE on amazon Wednesday 12-17 to Sunday 12-21 Get your copy now!

The Death of Sex and Violence, eleven stories, including:

“Famous Vegetarian–” A group of men meet in a cafeteria to salvage what’s left of their lives.

“La Fleur–” An elegant New York restaurant is a war zone for a blacklisted writer.

“The Plagiarist–” A male ghost writer confronts his famous female alter-ego.

“The Family in the Brush–” A homeless family journeys across town to relocate their lives.

“The Death of Sex and Violence–” A bereft man finds his past still with him in a new town.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

60 Seconds - chapters 1-4

Sixty Seconds

Finally, there is only the beginning, and the beginning is always hard to remember, and even harder to isolate. You recall small things or larger things, seminal events in your life, and you try to gather kernels of truth, moments of significance. In the end, you’re always left with more questions.
     You have only your memories and your memories are so often mistaken, twisted by confusion and uncertainty. You think about someone and feel sure it was that person who got you into a foul mood or a sour disposition. Then you realize it couldn’t have been that person at all.
     You fly by the strength of a formidable confidence, chiseled over years of experience, convinced that, for example, you have been somewhere a hundred, a thousand, a million times. You must be right when you remember that you were at a certain place at a certain time, standing in a doorway with that certain person, having that certain conversation.
     But you’re wrong again. It turns out that you might have made up the whole thing, the whole rotten story. The first thing you learn in the intelligence business is that there is no such thing as pure certainty. You dance by the moment and worry about truth later on.
     This is how I think about the events of that day. In retrospect it makes perfect sense. One page moves into the next and the next, and the order turns into something resembling the arrangement of the day. But even now, even after everything has fallen neatly into niches and files, I wonder if it really was the way it seems. What really is the truth about the role I played in the events of that day?
     Here then is the story, as neatly and nearly as I can present it. It began, as it should have, in comfort and sunshine, along the banks of the Hudson River, in New York City. It unfolded for me in real time–a lifetime in sixty seconds.
     The story is about a family on an ordinary Summer day in New York City. The family is my own: my long-suffering wife, Denise; my beautiful soon-to-conquer-the world daughter, Janey, who at an age just shy of ten years old has already announced to herself, to her friends, and to her parents (who tend to believe everything she says, anyway) that the world is waiting breathlessly for her contributions; and myself, abject failure as a husband, partner in business, romance, and in more than a few issues relating to my life’s work: (of all things) intelligence.
     Until that day, we were like most other families—bitter, contentious, loving, disagreeable; a snapping coil of stripped emotional and social anxiety. Depending on the circumstances, of course–there were always plenty of circumstances to go around. Normal matters,  as these things go. A thousand complex dispositions. We become complacent; that’s the truth of it; that’s what families are for. Events follow paths. Things become knotty with time. That’s the familial set-up.
     This is the story of a disappearance. It is the story of how a wife and daughter vanished in daylight on a summer day in the middle of the biggest city in America. It’s the story of how that happened, the mechanics of unpleasant events. Its the story of why it happened, and what I chose to do about it. Because that’s all that matters in the end, isn’t it—what you do about a situation, how you react, when you react, what are the  defining actions you take? These are the things that classify you; these are the things that set the stage for what people will say and think for the rest of your life.
     A life can change in any number of ways.
     Sixty seconds.
     That’s what it took.

It was so much warmer than usual in a season that had seen unexpectedly balmy temperatures. New York in summer is often a place of savage extremes, a frontal assault, an asylum for otherwise reasonable people, a place best left to those who know how to fend for themselves, or better yet, for who have others charged with waging their own petty skirmishes. Most people fortunate enough or rich enough or accomplished enough to know better have usually managed to escape with their wits to public and private places east, north and west of the city. Those of us left, do the best we can with what we have; we flee to shady pockets, or to shorelines and beaches, suburban islands with rickety boardwalks.
     On a good day, which this seemed to be, I could admit that life had turned out close to the ideas of my inexperienced youth. Neither rich nor poor, I was part of that sub-set of so-called middle class strivers, attentive to detail (wasn’t that why I had been chosen in my early twenties to spend my life in the foreign and domestic services?) and sometimes almost rigidly devoted to following other people’s orders. In a lengthy and mostly unsullied career, I managed to straddle that dim shadow between steady, fulsome raindrops; colleagues found my later career challenges hard to explain. Ever the cheerful (and dependable) executor, I was usually the one expected to deliver the happy ending. Even in those moments when bureaucratic habit entered my ordered world, I managed to make the best of it all.
     So where was I on that uncomfortable, muggy day? Sitting at a plastic garden-style table, surrounded by broken plastic chairs in an outdoor café in Riverside Park.
     Sitting to my right was Denise, my wife of fifteen years; to my left was Janie, my perfect ten-year-old daughter. I’m sure, like many of her spoiled friends, she had many cruel questions about her parents but she was reserved about them. It served her purpose. She wanted to be at this table. She needed to be there, enveloped by the safety of this flimsy family unit.
     My wife had been employed until recently as a librarian with an antiquarian library in the basement of a private foundation in Soho. She’d always had her passion for books—not the words on  the pages, but the physical and olfactory qualities of the volumes. Since retiring last year, she favored serious works of politics and history. She was seldom seen with a novel. On our walks to the park, she usually carried a copy of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. So it was notable to me on this particular day that she was, in fact carrying a novel, a thriller by one of the trendy Swedish writers.
     In retrospect, everything about that early afternoon seems now, eerily relevant.
                                                                        First Second
Janie was coloring weirdly shaped bridges and tunnels in a book Denise had bought for her. She was content to be sitting out in the sun, tracing her crayons this way and that, adding flourishes to a world she seemed to have some control over.
     I was trying to relax in my way, but there were things to think about, issues I had been avoiding for weeks and months-financial matters, marriage matters, survival matters. It would have been sensible get these things out on the table. Denise was a good listener when she wanted to be. She was buried in her novel. That was good enough reason not to talk.
     The shade from the overhead umbrella gave little relief from the stickiness and heat, and my attention wandered to a collection of small craft bobbing on the water, around the Seventy-Ninth Street Boat Basin. The calm sense of the River took my mind off things and I decided to follow it to the Marina.
     I walked away for a few minutes to take a look at the shore. I was curious. It was part of who I was–and who I had been all those years before.   
     I’d been gone from the table for less time than it had taken us to walk to the Cafe. When I returned, I expected things would be as I’d left them.  But nothing was the same.
     I looked around to make sure I was in the right place, in the right moment, on the right day. But I knew where I was and where I’d been. Denise and Janey were no longer at the table. I looked in every direction. I figured they’d  wandered off to the pier that jutted out into the Hudson. My eyes fixed on the end of the pier but it was deserted except for a couple of bicyclists.
     It had begun.
     And eventually, it ended.
      I am an analyzer, a relentless reviewer; it’s the work I’ve done most of my life.
     So that’s what I did just then. I reviewed the events of that day.

                                                                         Second Second
And this is what I thought: the marina. They must have gone to the marina.
      Janey had been asking about the boats since early in the morning when she came crashing into the bedroom, waking us up with the day’s agenda: today we will watch the boats go by at the Seventy-Ninth street boat docks–and mimicking me–There will be no discussion. We’re going.
     I hurried back to the Marina. I feared that I was wasting my time, putting everyone in more danger. And exactly what danger was that? There were a million possibilities and each was one I didn’t want to think about. It was always like that. I’d spent most of my career as a level 6 analyst, trained in sinewy prospects; this should have been easy for me.
     They could have been been kidnapped, I supposed. But who could have done that, and why? Plenty of people, that’s who; a city full of possibility.
     I tried to think. The disappearance could have had something to do with work, projects, clients, appointments. There were more than a few prickly questions.
     It had to have been me they were after, but they’d taken the family because it was second best, bait to the catch. That was it. It had to be. Or maybe it was my wife they’d been after. That was, of course, a whole other can of worms.
     It could have been a random thing.
     This was New York City, after all, the city that never sleeps, especially in the middle of the day, in the middle of broad daylight, when no one would suspect anything out of the ordinary. When no one would wonder why a woman and her daughter would be walking in front of a man with his hand buried beneath a sweater, holding onto something that looked a lot like a gun. And why would that man be wearing a sweater anyway–in that kind of weather? No one would care, no one would stop to ask. In New York you mind your own business or wonder why you didn’t when it’s too late.
     Or it could have been nothing at all. Wasn’t I the guy everyone used to rag for fixing up fancy scenarios, for being so damned dramatic?  
     Denise and Janey could just  have wandered away, gone for a walk around the park, whatever. No reason to wonder, no reason to panic.
     None of this made sense to me because I didn’t believe they were gone. How could they be? I had just been with them only a few minutes before. Even in this strange city of day and night, no one disappears like that. Not in that ridiculous blink of time.
     I picked up the pace, sure I would find them when I got to the Marina.
     The boat dock was much more crowded than it had been half hour earlier. During the week the Marina is a small, compact neighborhood, a languid appendage of the bustling Upper West Side. On the weekend it becomes a tourist attraction. Except for the joggers, you don’t see many locals.
     As I moved closer,  my eyes squinted into the rays of the bright sun showering the Marina.
     They’ve got to be there. They’re waiting for me. They’re looking out at the water, imagining what it would be like to have a boat of their own, a big, sturdy American houseboat that can take them away on a ridiculous, carefree holiday.
     But they weren’t there. I looked all around the rasping docks, maneuvering my way down the slat path to the water. A few of the faces of the year-rounders, seemed dimly familiar to me. I’d probably seen them in the neighborhood or even at the park, hanging out at the café or on the pier. My eyes crossed one of them. He hesitated for a second, then smiled meaninglessly. He wasn’t hiding anyone in the grimy hold at the bottom of his boat. Why would he? He was being polite. He had no idea who I was.
     I expected the floor to groan when I stepped onto one of the boats. There was a FOR RENT sign hanging from a post outside the boat and I pretended to be interested. There were about sixty boats docked that day but at least this was a start, a chance to check things out. It’s always about the chance. Ridiculous. I knew I was grasping for anything. Nothing about any of this made sense.
    The floor didn’t creak at all. The boat didn’t rock. It seemed sturdy, like it had been moored to that dock since the day it left the factory. The owner was pleasant, although he seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. He asked me when I might be interested in renting the boat and for how long. He called it a “craft.” The craft was rented for six month periods, he told me, so if I was looking for something on a short term basis, I should talk to the man down the dock, a mister Caputo. I told him I really was looking for something more short term, maybe a month or two. He picked up his cell phone, called Mr. Caputo and told him I’d be coming over.

                                                                        Third Second
I used the chance to see Mr. Caputo’s boat; maybe I could narrow the chances. Mr. Caputo was friendly, like the others, but I suspected he’d already decided I wasn’t the type who pays rent on a houseboat. One look at me–could tell where I was coming from: middle-class workaholic, Zabars deli; Fairway market.
     Mr. Caputo laid a concerned  hand on my shoulder. “When are you hoping to get something?” he said. “These boats aren’t always available.”
     “Not sure,” I told him. I looked around. Nothing seemed out of order.
     “The boat is a fine one,” Mr. Caputo said, stamping his hairy fist on the sideboard. “But living on a boat is for a special kind of person. Not a better person, mind you, just different, someone special. It’s tough. Winters are difficult on the water. Not for everyone.”
     “I understand,” I said, my eyes searching for seams in wood slatting, or anything that might lead to doorways or big storage spaces.
     “So when were you hoping to move?” Mr. Caputo asked again.
     I shrugged my shoulders. “Really not sure,” I said. “Depends on my wife and daughter.” I watched him closely for a reaction; there was none. “I guess I’ll have to think about it a little more,” I said, and moved back toward the slip.
     Mr. Caputo smiled. “Nah,” he said. “You don’t have to think about it. You ain’t the nautical type. You best stick with the Circle Line. No offense.”
     “None taken,” I said, and walked back out onto the wobbly boards of the pier.

                                                                        Fourth Second
     Nothing was right.
     The day had become too brilliant; the sunlight drifting off the Hudson sent hard rays to my pupils. The passersby on the walk along the Park were all preoccupied with themselves. I tried to focus but the cheerfulness of these strangers irritated me.  They weren’t  struggling with the day. I didn’t want to be struggling either.
     My attention had settled on a particular couple, walking, hand-in-hand like characters in a pallid Hollywood musical. They skipped along the low fence that separated the walkway from the river. They were lost in a world of empty thoughts. I was so jealous of them. Part of my life was slipping away and these people looked like the world was their fucking oyster.
     I had to stop this. I was frittering away my time and I didn’t know yet how serious things might be. I concentrated on the cutaways in the fence; that got my mind back to where it needed to be.

     I walked toward the cafe where everything had started. Where the end had begun. 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Another day, Another Riot!

So another day, another riot in America. The dust had far from settled on the decision of the Ferguson grand jury when the rioters were already out on the streets of the small town in Mo. vented their collective distaste for the Jury's decision. Washington Spectacle can easily understand the frustration of the protesters. But it seems to me that there is a more serious issue to address here, and that issue if media complicity in the fires that are raging in Ferguson.
I spent ...most of the day yesterday watching the coverage of the events in Ferguson from the safe vantage of my bedroom television and frankly, what I saw disgusted me in ways that surprised me. Sure, this is an important news event that is being closely watched all over the United States, and even in far away places abroad. But the coverage of Ferguson yesterday begs the question: when is enough enough?
The press seemed to be collectively salivating like hungry lions at the prospect of a savage riot breaking out if the Jury's findings "went the wrong way." Apparently the media got its wish, because hours later Ferguson was on fire, a fire that the media must take more than a little responsibility for. Let's call it the fire of the agitated broadcasters...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rewriting is hard


Rewriting is hard. Bloody hard. Cut your wrists hard.


Not necessarily. How much you hate rewriting depends in large measure on how seriously you want your work to be top drawer. A lot of writers don’t care that much about this. They just want to get to the last word in their book. A decent goal. But if you want the book to be the best book of the year, you’re going to have to do a lot of reworking. A lot. More than you imagined when your book was just a gleam in your naive eyes.

Rewriting makes books good. It’s that simple. And all books are different. Your novel may call for three or four rewrites, or it may need a dozen or two dozen, or in the case of many famous authors, years and years of savage rewriting,

It’s just that simple. Get used to that idea. Or write a really awful book.