Tag Archives: novel

In the wake of the mayhem

13 Oct

Let me get this out of the way first: This is not a post about gun control.

Okay, now we can move on.

As I write this, the Mass Shooting Tracker has logged 373 mass shootings in America this year. Check here to see the current number. The tracker defines a mass shooting as any situation in which four or more people, including the shooter, are shot. Simple as that. The FBI defines a mass shooting as any situation in which four or more random victims are killed, not counting the shooter. In either definition, families are left in a world of hurt. Yet, the volume of mass shootings has caused many of us to become inured to stories of them.

That’s what my new novel, Come up a Cloud, is about. “Come up a Cloud” is an old expression that means it looks like rain. It can portend menace, or it can indicate hope. In Come up a Cloud, I cloudcover_fbimagine how a mass shooting in a small town affects its residents. Because the killer shot himself, where will the families of the victims direct their hurt and anger?  Will they seek revenge against someone else? Or can they forgive?

And what about the parents of the killer? How can they properly mourn? How can they forgive themselves and their son?

Here’s the prologue:

The bald tires whined on the bucket-of-bolts truck as it rattled past Sandstrum’s Machine Shop on Route 4. Out of the corner of his eye, the farmer behind the wheel glimpsed a plump figure in camouflage pants loitering near the back corner of the corrugated tin building. The old man would have assumed it was one of the machinists taking a smoke break, except the person wore an odd headpiece. It looked like a Viking helmet, like the ones you saw at Minnesota football games. The other odd thing: The Viking held a rifle canted downward. The gun looked like one of those fancy Bushmasters, which copied M-16s like the one the farmer had carried in the jungle.

The farmer rummaged his brain for any hunting season starting in early August. Squirrel season wouldn’t kick off for a few more weeks, not that a flimsy law stopped anyone who craved pan-fried rodent. He’d heard Bushmaster made a .22, which wasn’t much more than a peashooter dressed up like a serious piece of work. Anything more powerful would rip a squirrel to thunder. And wearing desert camo to hunt squirrels? That was even less necessary than an assault rifle, unless squirrels had gotten a lot smarter than they used to be.

The farmer decided the hunter was one of Sandstrum’s friends, a city fool who had come up to pretend-hunt. That didn’t explain the helmet, but lots of things city people did were hard to explain. He headed down the road to Snoots for a lunch of ham sandwich and PBR. He would give the camoed figure no more thought until he heard the sirens thirty minutes later.

The novel is not a basket of warm and fuzzies. Still, it is not without hope, and I hope you will find it worthwhile.

You can buy the book here.

Better yet, support your local independent book seller. Here’s mine.





I’m slightly less stupid than a year ago

10 Jan

Reason #1: I know I should not be my own editor

I published my first novel, The Savior of Turk (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!) a little more than a year ago. I don’t know if I’m any smarter, but I was dumber then than I am now.Turk_Print_Cover

An adage, which I just made up, goes that even John Steinbeck needed an editor. Everyone, no matter how good they are at writing, requires a good editor to keep them on the right path. However, I was so sure of myself when I wrote The Savior of Turk  (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!that I thought I could get by without a professional putting the thing under a microscope.

No matter how good a writer I may think I am, I need someone who can look at my work objectively. This person is not my dear wife, Michele.  I find it a good idea to have Michele read my work because she takes the better or worse thing seriously and has willed herself to be my biggest fan. If she doesn’t like something I’ve written—and, believe me, there have been such occasions—it confirms I have written junk. If, however, Michele praises my work, it doesn’t prove anything, except that Michele is a supportive spouse.  Michele said she really liked the manuscript for The Savior of Turk  (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!). This proved that our marriage was on reasonably solid footing, but it did not confirm anything about the book’s quality, other than it was at least slightly better than something a baboon could produce.

Professional editors do more than look at a manuscript objectively. They also see the big picture. After Michele read the manuscript, I asked two friends with extensive writing experience to take a look.  Glenn Kleier, whose novel The Knowledge of Good and Evil is available for $7.99 while digital copies last! also read the manuscript. All three gave me favorable feedback and good suggestions. However, none of them could be expected to go through the manuscript as an editor, who would evaluate the story arc, character development, dialogue and all that. That’s what a professional editor does. And they don’t care if they hurt my feelings like my wife or friends theoretically might. An editor is paid to help the writer craft the best possible story.

Since The Savior of Turk  (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!) was published, I have revised it twice, primarily re-proofing, shortening and eliminating some sections that I decided added little to the story. I know the book was always good, but now it’s even better. It could have been that way all along if I had gotten an editor to look at it. Next time, I will, you know, because I’m not the idiot I was twelve months ago.


Next Post: Reason #2 I’m slightly less stupid than a year ago

Budda is staying busy

12 Sep

The Night Budda Got Deep in It is featured by these fine book bloggers and reviewers. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to Budda’s head.

Jenn’s Review Blog

All Things Writing

Crystal’s Book Corner

Spotlight on Budda

10 Sep

Budda’s in the spotlight at Books by Centeno.

A little taste of Budda

7 Sep

 An excerpt from The Night Budda Got Deep in It.  At the urging of Blood Mama, a voice only he hears, fifteen-year-old Budda Jessico has run away to Kentucky to find his former foster sister, Addie Starkwether. Budda thinks he’s tracked Addie to a Chinese restaurant where he’s heard “the Starwether girl” works.

Mrs. Wei returned from the restaurant’s kitchen with a small bowl of steamed rice and set it in front of him. Budda now felt even worse. He had seen how much a bowl of rice cost — more than he had — and he didn’t even like rice.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to eat,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” the woman said. “Rice is cheap. Better for you to eat than to throw away.”

She went to the other table to refill their drinks. The man at the table returned to the buffet to pile on another plate with four varieties of breaded or sautéed chicken. He was so skinny Budda wondered where he could put it all. As if to transform his plate into something healthful, the man sprinkled a few sautéed green beans on top of his Mount Leghorn.

Budda didn’t like to be adventurous when it came to eating. His idea of pushing culinary boundaries was trying strawberry instead of grape jelly on his PB&J. Yet, the aromas coming from the buffet table smelled delightful. They reminded him of the Asian dishes his dad made him try once in awhile, dishes Budda refused to taste. Tiny pangs of homesickness began to creep in, but he blamed his burgeoning hunger instead.

Budda considered the bowl of rice in front of him, concluding it would suffice under the circumstances. He was hungry, and the rice provided an antidote, bland though it was. He dowsed the contents with a generous slosh of soy sauce that turned it into rice soup. He was about to take his first spoonful when a girl with tired eyes came to his table. She plopped down in the chair across from him and began fidgeting with a cigarette and lighter she had placed in front of her.

At first, she didn’t speak or even look at Budda. Budda was mesmerized. For the second time that long day, a pretty girl had joined him at his table without asking. He was going to like Kentucky a lot.

She’s trouble, Blood Mama said.

You think everyone’s trouble.

I don’t think it. I know it. She could be the reason our girl’s in a fix.

The girl made it clear from her blasé mien that her eight-hour shift was plenty tiresome enough without having it further dulled by a negative number like Budda.

“You the one looking for me?” she asked, making it clear from her tone that she didn’t care one way or another.

“No,” said Budda, who was loath to say more in case she really was as much trouble as Blood Mama believed.

The girl rolled her eyes the same way Budda often had seen Addie do when his legal parents gave an answer she considered asinine.

“My boss said a kid was here to see me,” the girl said. “After taking an exhaustive survey of all three customers in here, I’ve come to the conclusion you are indeed the only kid in this haute cuisine establishment.”

“I was looking for my sister. Addie Starkwether,” Budda said. “I apologize for not making myself clearer.”

It was a misunderstanding he found quite acceptable. Even though her hardened indifference was a bit off-putting, he would be content to sit at the table with the girl the rest of the night. She was around the same age as Addie, though prettier. Maybe even prettier than Baresha. She smelled wonderfully clean, too. Budda guessed she must have been scrubbing something with a bleach cleaner. Someone should make a perfume with bleach, he thought. It seemed so obvious he wondered why no one had thought of it before. Maybe he would develop a bleach perfume when he got older.

“I’m Kevin, and I came here to find her,” he said. He wanted this girl to know how much trouble he had gone to so far, thinking that might impress her. “I rode a bus from Missouri all the way to Louisville. Went across Illinois and Indiana. And then I hitched a ride to Valkyrie. That part cost me 20 bucks. Then I asked around a couple of places, and I was told Addie might work here.”

“You were told wrong,” the girl said flatly. She rifled an evil look at her boss, who stood at the banquet table, eavesdropping while agitating a pan of stir-fried tomatoes with a serving spoon to keep them looking fresh. “You got a Starkwether, all right, but not the right one. I’m Ellie, Addie’s cousin. Louise over there has been here half her life and she still can’t understand English.”

“It’s not her fault,” Budda said, not wanting to get Louise in trouble with her kitchen help. “I didn’t know Addie had a cousin. I just asked for the Starkwether girl. I didn’t think about there being more than one.”

Budda wasn’t disappointed to learn that he still had some more to do to get to Addie. He knew Ellie would have to know exactly where she was, because Addie had talked about how close the Starkwethers were, and how they kept an eye on each other.

“Maybe you could call and tell her to come here? My phone battery’s dead.”

Ellie fidgeted even more with the items in front of her. Ever since the meddlesome yahoos on the Valkyrie city council forced through the smoking ban, she’d been headachy and ill-tempered at work. The Weis didn’t give her nearly enough smoking breaks. Screw it. She was going to take one anyway.

“I’ve got to suck me some nicotine,” she said as she stood up. “Come on outside, and I’ll explain the situation to you.”

Ellie had the cigarette lit before they made it out the front door. She began to relax immediately. It wasn’t so bad smoking outside where she could enjoy the fresh air in her lungs.

Exhaling a plume of smoke, she asked, “You say you’re looking for Addie, huh?”

Budda nodded. He was momentarily less interested in finding his sister than watching this girl put her lips around the cigarette. Even the smoke couldn’t overpower the smell of cleanliness about her. He would from then on see her in his mind when he smelled bleach. But he had to get that out of his mind, because that wasn’t what brought him to Valkyrie.

“I just need to find Addie.” he said.

“She’s inaccessible at the moment,” Ellie said, blowing a plume of smoke upward.

“Inaccessible in what way?”

“The kind where she can’t be accessed.”

Told you so.

Ellie sized up Budda, but she couldn’t make him fit as Addie’s brother, even a half one she didn’t know about. Addie had moved with her mom a long time back to Missouri where her mom had an aunt or some such. Ellie hadn’t heard anything about Addie until she showed up back in Valkyrie a few months earlier, broke as the day she was born. Addie didn’t talk much about all the years she’d been away, and it didn’t matter enough to Ellie to ask.

“I guess her mom got knocked up with you after she left here,” Ellie said, going with the most obvious possibility.

“Addie’s my foster sister,” Budda said absently. “How long before she can be accessed?” He began to think Blood Mama was right about Addie needing help.

Ellie took a long drag, and then exhaled the smoke in bits like a chugging train as she answered. “I wouldn’t hold my breath. Could be awhile. Sorry you came all this way for nothing.”

This here girl’s a lying liar. She knows where Addie is, all right, Blood Mama said.

Am I supposed to just accuse Ellie of lying? That’s not going to make her too happy, Budda said.

You’re thinking with the wrong part of your anatomy. You’re not here to make this girl happy. You’re here to save your sister.

P.S. Order the book here. Seriously, please do. Winter’s coming.

Budda is ready for his closeup

13 Aug

The Night Budda Got Deep in It, a novel, is now available for your enjoyment. 

Fifteen-year-old Budda Jessico would first have to be noticed to be unpopular. Instead, he leads an unremarkable and anonymous life in suburban St. Louis where he lives with his over-protective father and his bullying older brother.
At the urging of Blood Mama, a voice only Budda hears, he catches a bus to Kentucky to rescue his former foster sister, Addie. As soon as Budda reaches Louisville, he goes to a McDonald’s for the first time in his life where he meets the resolute Baresha, a fellow runaway on her own adventure. Then Budda’s mission to find his sister goes awry. He hitches a ride to Valkyrie, Addie’s hometown, in hopes of saving her from some danger Blood Mama won’t reveal. Instead, Budda encounters her blood kin, led by the ominous Odyn Starkwether and his violent brother Dickie.
A drug shipment controlled by the Starkwethers has disappeared and so has Addie. The brothers have a mess to clean up, and Budda is soon in the middle of it. At first, Budda goes along willingly, if it will help him find Addie. Before long, though, Budda realizes it’s sometimes better to stay put.
Available at Smashwords in all digital formats.

ARC at Smashwords

28 Jun

A not-yet-final version of The Night Budda Got Deep in It is now available for download at Smashwords.


Cover Design

13 Jun

Cover Design

The new cover for The Night Budda Got Deep in It, out late this summer.