By Any Means

It’s difficult to say where ideas come from. There are theories about the collective unconscious. Or maybe I saw something in the news that piqued my interest. I can’t really say where the idea for my latest book By Any Means came from. All I knew is that one day I started rolling in my mind a “what if,” which, I guess, is how most ideas come into being.

What if, like a superhero, you had an ability that could save millions of lives, but in doing so, you would die? Would you make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good? Jesus did, but who among us is Jesus? I’m sure we all have a fantasy of saying yes to that question. (I’m a good person, right? But wait, I sure do love the beach and a BBQ in the summer. Maybe if I wait a day…)

Once I had that idea I started thinking, how could I ground this idea? Who would have that ability? And I thought: what if it’s a kid who doesn’t have the wisdom yet, or even the legal recourse, to make that decision for himself? An adult in his life would have to make that decision.

And then I wondered who would that adult be? Maybe a father, but a dysfunctional one. A single father. And that gave rise to their tumultuous relationship. And from there, it was off to the races.

I admit, it’s a hard sell to say to someone, “Hey, read this book. It’s about this kid with cancer, but he may have the cure for cancer in his body.” I’d think no one would want to read a book about a kid with cancer, but I guess John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars proved me wrong.

My own father died of the disease. So I’m very aware of people’s emotional reaction to a book with that topic. I want to say to any reader: this book is not about watching a child die from cancer. This is fiction, a good yarn, and hopefully well-written, that tells the story of a father and son on the run, up against all odds. And how some terrible events have a way of bringing people closer.

I hope you’ll give the book a chance. You can find it on Amazon. Here’s the link:

Thanks, readers everywhere!

Screams You Hear

I’ve probably metaphorically shot myself in the foot, as far as my writing career goes. Most successful authors write in a specific genre, generally telling the same story over in different variations. I understand this. When you go looking for a book to read, do you usually try the unknown – something that may disappoint, or waste your time? Or do you go for the tried-and-true? 

Honestly, I’m the same way. My time is limited. My bandwidth is limited. So I stick with what I know, or rely on recommendations. It’s like when I pull into McDonald’s: I’m in the mood for those sinful fries, and I know exactly what I’m going to get, and sure enough those fries deliver. (Shout-out to the Golden Arches, as it was my first “official” job at 16. But that’s a whole other story.)

And yet, looking over my books, they are all plot-heavy; that’s the common denominator. But they really vary in tone.

Screams You Hear is a horror novel. It’s my first, and maybe my last. Not that I don’t think it’s good. I’m proud of it. My mom hates it. She asks me, “Jimmy, when are you going to write something nice?” One day, I tell her. One day I’ll write something sweet and clean. But not yet.

The problem with writing horror, or at least my problem, is that I spent a lot of time in Ruthie’s headspace and trying to make her experience real on the page. It’s tough to write horror. After finishing, it really made me want to write something frothy and fun, just as a palate cleanser.

But it’s important, as horror allows us to visit our Dark Places in safety -- a way to say hello to our shadow selves. And maybe, just maybe, enjoy the rollercoaster that horror provides. Think of it like a literary adventure park – a few screams, allowing yourself to let go, and in a way you’re purified.

I admit I used this piece as an exorcism of sorts. To lay down some of my own baggage. But isn’t that what all writing is? We explore what’s interesting to us at the time, and try to share that experience to make it more understandable, even if it’s only as a myth?

Enough of my armchair philosophizing. Hopefully you enjoy Ruthie’s journey. And you can let me know if you’d like more horror stories from me in the future.

If you’re interested, here’s the US Amazon link, where it’s a free kindle book for a limited time:

Timesucks and Other Distractions

There are a lot of timesucks out there. Commuting to and from work is one. The day job many of us have is another. Don’t forget the innumerable errands, chores and minutiae that make up our day: brushing our teeth, doing the dishes, laundry, making the bed. Plus the obligatory family events, bathroom breaks -- even sleep. It’s amazing we have any spare time at all!

So how do we find time to do what we really want to do?

This is no Readers Digest article, so I have nothing new to say, but I’ve been practicing simplifying as much as I can. I only watch TV when there is a particular show I want to see, rather than channel surfing. I set times after work where I don’t make any phone calls. And I carve out time to sit at my computer and plunk out sentences on the keyboard.

Sounds like a good plan.

But like any plan, it goes awry in practice. I found that while  I was technically sitting at my computer, I wasn’t writing. I’d get sucked into one of my biggest timesucks – the Internet. Oh, I’d think, I’ll just check my email. Or browse a few news sites. Or check out an interesting thread on reddit. And let’s not even go into the psychologically damaging treks into Facebook.

Sure, getting lost sometimes brings about nuggets of information and interesting bits I might use in a story down the line. But more often, it’s a distraction. The kind of distraction that pulls me out of my internet fugue only to find that what was supposed to be a two minute break has become a near hour down the rabbit hole of clicks and more clicks.

Have I beaten this distraction digression that eats into my writing time?

Sadly, I’m only human. But I do my best. I limit my use on social media, not only because it was a timesuck, but I also found I didn’t like the negativity or political rants.  Maybe it’s just me, but I often feel that even though people are active on social media, none of them are really connecting – it’s all about look at me or see what I’m doing that’s special (and by default, you’re not.) Are people really sharing their lives online? Or are they simply advertising their lives?

But this isn’t a social media rant.

It’s about doing things that make me feel good. And that’s what I’m trying to do: keep doing the good things while limiting the things that make me feel bad.

Strange how hard that can sometimes be.

For those of you who are interested, my next project is coming out early May, a young adult drama called Feel Me Fall. It’ll be up to you to see if I was distracted while writing it.

My Book’s 1st Birthday

A little over a year ago, I entered my dystopian novel Melophobia, which is set in a world where music is illegal, into the Kindle Scout program. It was chosen for publication, and it entered the digital data stream in September 2015. Since then, it’s garnered over 138 ratings on Goodreads, trending near the 4.0 mark. I’ve been really happy with its reception, as well as the promotions that Amazon has done for it, which has expanded my readership beyond anything I could’ve done on my own.

I think the worst thing to happen to writers – or anyone, really – is expectation. Every writer has hopes that their book will rocket to the top of the charts, trend on Twitter, and eventually woo Hollywood. No, none of these things happened, and there is nothing better than a little humbling to keep the ego in check. In the place of stellar fame, however, I’ve discovered pockets of readers who are passionate about the book, from the Philippines to Brazil, and it’s been this groundswell of readers that has made my heart sing. They found the book, not with a massive marketing push from New York, but through their own efforts to try a new book by a relatively new author.  And while I may have nudged my book along the way, these readers found me, and I am ever grateful.

I continue to write books – some in a variety of different genres – and hope to have more stories to share soon. But for now, I wanted to wish a Happy Birthday to Melophobia, as well as all the readers who wrote reviews, commented, and shared on social media. I thank you all!

In Harm's Way

I sometimes feel compelled to read contemporary books, at least to keep up with today's styles, as well as what stories seem to capture audience's attention. But I also love history, and that includes older books. I recently finished IN HARM'S WAY: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of its Survivors, by Doug Stanton, first published in 2001. The subtitle is a mouthful, but every word is true regarding the story within.

The book tells the tale that many of us heard of first in the movie "Jaws" when the character of Quint talks about why he is the way he is from his time on the Indianapolis

Frankly, I was surprised that I hadn't heard of this story before, in high school, or in any college history class. I'm also surprised this hasn't been made into a film as it seems ready-made for a translation to the big screen. But what struck me most is that it read like a real-life horror novel. Those of you who love horror, will be glued to the page. And of course, it's all true, from the delivery of the atom bomb, to the ship's sinking by a Japanese sub, to the horrific survival - and deaths - of the hundreds of men in the ocean, some by elements and drinking salt water, and others, more viciously, by shark attacks.

I highly recommend this read to both history buffs, as well as those who love thrillers. But the book is more than a wartime tale; it's about survival, and I repeatedly found myself wondering if I would've had the courage and fortitude to continue on in the face of seeming hopelessness. Pick up it; you won't regret it.