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In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Bob Beamon was a long jumper for the United States. After scratching on his first two attempts, Bob’s third attempt broke the world record by TWENTY-ONE AND THREE-QUARTERS INCHES!! Understand, when the world record in the long jump is normally broken, it is broken by maybe an inch or two. Bob broke it by almost TWO FEET, and to make it even more impressive, he did it in all capital letters. Even Bob couldn’t come close to that feat again. In fact it was 1991, almost twenty-three years later, before someone broke his record.
In 1973, Secretariat had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He was the favorite to win the Belmont Stakes and to be the first Triple Crown winner in twenty-five years. When the race was done, Secretariat had won the race by thirty-one lengths and beat the old track record by two seconds. Neither of those records has yet been broken.
It always amazes me when someone (or a horse) can pull off a one-time miracle performance—not that Bob wasn’t a good athlete and Secretariat wasn’t a good horse, but these feats went far beyond what anyone had expected them to do. In writing, maybe Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird might fit into the miracle category, but when someone writes one book that does well and doesn’t write another, I put that in a different category. Hemmingway said in Green Hills of Africa that some writers get a few accolades and become impotent with their writing because they believe everything they write must be a masterpiece, so they write nothing. Maybe J.K. Rowling would come close to Beamon and Secretariat. She did outstanding with the Harry Potter series and has not been able to duplicate it with any of her books since then.
Every time I start a book, I hope it will be the book that will catch fire and grab the imagination of readers and spread like ebola through the reading community; the Bob Beamon book that will leap way beyond at least anything I’ve ever written before; my Secretariat story that leaves everything before it in the dust. My new book, In The Lake, is a good mystery. I enjoyed writing it. I like the characters, and it’s a good story with a surprise ending. It’s well worth the read, but I’m not sure it’s in the miracle category. I’m working on a book now—I’m calling it The Almond People—that is different from anything I’ve done before. Sometimes I’ll think: This is the book. This is the one Bob would be proud of, Secretariat, too. But even if it isn’t—and it probably isn’t—I’ll keep writing, because there are stories bouncing around in my head that need to be put on paper. If I don’t get them out, who knows what damage they’ll do in there? Not that they haven’t done quite a bit already.
The paperback for my new book In The Lake is for sale at the Wings ePress website. You can go to the Wings website and read an excerpt at this link, Wings ePress. The ebook will be out later at Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and Amazon. Amazon will also be selling the paperback, but it will be cheaper through Wings.
Recently there has been a scandal in the writing world. An author was exposed for paying a company to post almost five thousand glowing reviews of his book on Amazon. The reason he did it is because it works. He sold over a million copies of his book. Since then it has been revealed that numerous authors have paid companies to post fake reviews for them. I would never do that. I have ethics, integrity, pride and about a buck sixty-three in my pocket—I’m not sure that much would get me even a one-star review.
I don’t think readers are aware how much a good review can do or even a mediocre review. People don’t want to be the first one to dip their toe in the water when it comes to a new author. They don’t mind being duped into doing something stupid, like buying a bad book, as long as they know there are a lot of other people who were also—it’s how they are able to sell so much bottled water.
When I have a book come out, I have a few friends who automatically read it and post a review on Amazon. I get a few people who write reviews who I don’t know at all. I appreciate all of them. Occasionally I’ll meet someone at a book signing or on the street who will say, “I read your book.” Then there’s that pause that lasts at least three hours when I wait for them to throw up or say, “I really liked it.” If they liked it, I’ll ask them if they could write a review to put on Amazon. Normally they look at me like I just asked them to give themselves an appendectomy, without anesthetic, blindfolded while wearing leather mittens without thumbs.
I know writing a review is tough for the average person. Writing a few sentences and then posting it where everyone can see it, takes some courage. (Now try writing seventy thousand or so words, putting them in book form and making people pay to read it, and you can began to see what it’s like being a writer.) But if you like a book, anyone’s book not just mine (but especially mine) write a review. You will be doing the author a HUGE favor. If you think a book stinks, write a review. You will be doing some reader a HUGE favor.
I have a book, In The Lake, coming out next month. I would like anyone who reads it and likes it to write a review. Even if you don’t like it, a review would be nice. (The guy who bought the reviews mixed a sprinkling of bad reviews in so they would seem more realistic.) For those of you who don’t know what to write, I am putting a sample review below. You don’t need to copy it word for word, but I think you’ll get the idea.
In The Lake is absolutely the best book ever written since the beginning of time. I believe it should win the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize, the Daytona 500 and the Kentucky Derby. Not only is it a great murder mystery with dead AND live people, but it has fishing in it—how can you not like a book that has fishing in it? I also believe the book has magical powers. I was hardly through the first chapter when the hair started to grow back on my head, and I’ve been bald since I was eleven. By midway through the book, I had lost eighty-three pounds and my persistent boil problem had gone away. So now, because of the book, I’m thin, good-looking and there’s flowing blond hair growing on my head, back and Chihuahua Poopsy. I also heard—don’t quote me, because it’s not official—that they are going to stick a check for seventy-three bazillion dollars between the pages of one of the paperback books. (Let’s just keep that our little secret.) So read the book because it’s yummy good.
Starting this Friday, the 24th, my book County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald will again be on sale for $0.99 until May when my next book comes out. If you haven’t read it, this would be a good time. If you have read it, write a review. There’s a sample above.
Above is the cover for my fourth novel In The Lake due out in May in paperback and ebook. Richard Stroud, who did the cover for my first novel, did the cover for this one also. I told him sort of what I wanted, and he took the mush in my head and made it into something presentable.
In The Lake is a sequel to my first novel In The Sticks. Lyle and Cheryl are back, but this time they go on vacation and of course run into a murder—it’s funny how that keeps happening to them. A woman’s body is found floating in the lake with a single stab wound. A short-handed local deputy, Teri Snow, asks Lyle to assist with the investigation. Lyle discovers the woman is part of a group of millionaires who live in a gated community on the north end of the lake. Every Friday night they have a party filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll. Did things get out of hand? Did one of the woman’s local boy toys get tired of being used? Did her husband get jealous, and kill her in a fit of rage?
It sounds racy like another Fifty Shades of Grey—don’t worry, I don’t do racy. My wife read it and never blushed once, and she blushes when she sees Donald Duck, because he’s not wearing pants.
It has a lot of good minor characters and of course seven gazillion suspects. (Up until the second to the last chapter where the secret is revealed, my wife was still guessing whodunit.) It keeps things moving, and it’ll keep you guessing. I’m not sure what else you could want from a mystery.
For those of you who haven’t read In the Sticks yet, In The Lake works as a
stand-alone novel, or you could click on the thumbnail below and catch up on the background of this couple who keep running into dead bodies.
stand-alone novel, or you could click on the thumbnail below and catch up on the background of this couple who keep running into dead bodies.
My wife and I just got back from California. We went out to celebrate my aunt’s eighty-eighth birthday, and decided to stay a week to check out the state. My aunt is the last one of my mother’s siblings still alive. Nowadays eighty-eight doesn’t seem that old, but considering the curse of cancer and heart attacks that has plagued my family, it is very close to a miracle to get to that age. Although she still gets around, physically age has caught up with her, but her mind is still clear. I hope when I’m her age my mind is that sharp, but I doubt it will improve in the next few decades. When I asked how she managed to stay so youthful, she said, “Keep a positive attitude, eat good Bohemian food and keep enough Manischewitz in you to pickle King Tut.” (I’m joking. She actually kept saying, “It’s okay if I have one glass of wine, isn’t it?”)
We flew into Sacramento and drove up into the mountains where my aunt lives. The first thing we noticed is California doesn’t have a speed limit. Oh, they put up signs with speed limits, but those are just so the locals can make fun of the tourists who try to follow them. If you go the speed the signs say, joggers pushing baby strollers will pass you and give you the finger as they go by for blocking traffic. The real speed limit is how-fast-will-your-car-go-mph, and that won’t fit on a sign.
My aunt lives in the mountains in the Jackson/Sutter Creek area—around the area where gold was first discovered in California. It’s amazing that anyone even noticed the gold as beautiful as the area is. As a former pursuit driving instructor, I kept thinking how much fun it would be to take a crotch rocket or Corvette and see how fast I could go on those winding roads; it would be a blast. But as a lifelong flatlander, having to drive twenty miles on those roads to get to work every day would make me crazy(er?). We had a little gathering with my aunt and relatives from all over the country that I hadn’t seen for years. It was good to see everyone again, and not once did I ask, “And who are you again?”
It’s funny the things I noticed, the family resemblance in everyone. I saw a lot of my mother and grandmother in these people. Not so much looks, although that was definitely there, but their values, at what and how they laughed and their speech cadence. I guess those are the true legacies of families: the things people pass on to their children without trying—both good and bad. (Okay, that’s way too sentimental for this blog, so moving on.)
After we left the birthday party, we headed down to San Francisco for a few days. We took a ferry out to Alcatraz and climbed the sixty-three gazillion steps to the top of the island where most of the cell blocks are. If I had been the warden, I would have made the prisoners go up and down the steps twice every day. The ones who didn’t die would be too tired to try to escape. Of all the escapes that were attempted while Alcatraz was a prison, only three of the prisoners have never been accounted for. They are the three who built a raft out of rain coats and tried to swim across the bay. They told us while we were on Alcatraz that because the water is so cold and filled with sharks, plus a strong cross current flows out to sea, that they believe all three of them drowned and were washed out into the ocean. I believed them until the next morning when we met a woman who had just swam from the Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is almost twice as far as the distance from Alcatraz to the shore and against the current all the way.
That night we went on a night bus tour of San Francisco. We learned a lot about the history of the city. The tour was on a double-decker bus with an open top. They took us across the Bay Bridge at sixty mph when it was fifty degrees outside. That translates into a wind chill of two degrees below the temperature where oxygen freezes solid. Something like riding a snowmobile in a t-shirt. Hopefully by July I’ll stop shaking.
The following day we took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city. Before we got off at Chinatown, our guide told us they expect you to haggle over the price in Chinatown. My wife’s eyes lit up. She loves haggling. She’d haggle over the price with a guy giving out free samples. (True story: The last time I went to buy a boat, my wife came along. After about a half hour of haggling over the price of a boat, the owner of the place offered her a job. He said, “I’d rather have you on my side then working against me.”) We stayed in Chinatown until a little Chinese woman said, “No more deal. You go home.” But my wife got the t-shirts she wanted.
I wanted to get off at the Haight-Ashbury district where a lot of great music and heroin overdoses happened in the sixties, but as we came to the area, there were homeless people sleeping all over in the streets, so we didn’t get off. We had a bad experience with a homeless person on the trip. As we came upon him, he was freaking out, screaming profanities at his girlfriend and threatening to beat her up. I think it scared my wife a little. I’ve been in law enforcement long enough to have seen numerous domestic situations, although I must admit that in Iowa you can usually see the woman.
We visited an aquarium, a WWII submarine and a wax museum, plus we ate way too much at way too many places. On the way back to Sacramento, we went through Napa Valley. It was nice and well-kept, but neither of us are really wine people. We got back home and I was glad to be here.
Just a few words about the people of San Francisco. The first day we were there, we were trying to find the place where we were supposed to go to take the ferry to Alcatraz. We had a small map of the area the hotel had given us, and we couldn’t even find the street we were standing on. A woman came by and just out of the blue offered to help us. She had lived in San Francisco all her life and showed us where we were—not even on the map—and where we needed to go, before she stole my watch and wallet (just kidding). On another day we were trying to find a certain coffee shop. By the directions we had been given, my wife thought it was about three blocks over, and I thought it was in San Diego. We finally stopped a young lady in a business suit to see if she could help us. She was very nervous and maybe a little afraid, but she told us where the coffee shop was before we stole her watch and wallet. The point is, as with all big cities, I think most people are generally nice. They just seem to live in their own little bubbles. They ignore everyone and don’t even look at anyone. It is as if they are on the street by themselves. Maybe that is the way it has to be, or you end up with homeless people screaming at you instead of screaming at invisible girlfriends, but I don’t have to like it.
When I was still in law enforcement, the most asked question I got was: “How come you belly hangs so far over your belt?” (“It’s where I store my spare ammunition.” Stupid kids.) The most asked question I got from real adult persons was: “How do you like being a cop?” Usually I’d say: “There are things I like and things I don’t like.” Which was true. What I didn’t say was, the thing I disliked the most was always having to be a cop and never really being able to take off the uniform. It wasn’t that I wanted to break laws of rob a bank—unless I was absolutely sure I could get away with it—but it would have been nice to have been just one of the guys.
Most people thought of me as a cop first and a person second. If they saw someone go through a stop sign without stopping, I’d always get the obligatory: “You better go write them a ticket.” (Sorry, I left my squad car in my other pants.) Or if I was riding in a car with several people, and the driver went a couple of miles over the speed limit, I was sure to hear. “He’ll be sending you a speeding ticket tomorrow.” (Sorry, it isn’t a calibrated speedometer, so I have no evidence they were speeding, even if I wanted to give them a citation, which I don’t.) I always heard about a wife, sister, brother, mother, father, cat, parakeet… that got a ticket for speeding and wasn’t speeding. (It didn’t happen. In twenty-six years of law enforcement and tons of speeding tickets, I never had one person tell me they weren’t speeding. Often they said they weren’t going as fast as my radar said, but they still admitted to speeding—so why would I make up a higher speed when they were already speeding?)
My wife and I once went out to eat with some other couples. Another couple rode with us and two other couples followed in a separate car. As soon as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot and stopped, the driver of the car behind us came running up to my car.
“If I was a cop I’d be writing you a speeding ticket,” he said. “Because I had you going fifty-six miles an hour!”
“I had the cruise control set for fifty-five all the way,” I said.
“That’s true,” the guy who was riding in my car said. “I watched the speedometer all the way, because if he went over fifty-five, I was going to say something.”
I wonder how they would feel if the police started writing people citations for going one mile an hour over the speed limit?
There are other occupations where you can’t take off your uniform even if you don’t have a uniform. I imagine people are always coming up to doctors, even away from the office, asking about an ache, pain or funny looking lump. If I was a doctor I could fix that rather easily.
Guy walking up to me if I was smart enough to graduate from medical school: Hey Doc, I keep coughing up this funny looking purple stuff. What is it?
Me, pulling out a rubber glove out of my pocket and snapping it on my hand: Turnaround, drop your pants and grab your ankles.
I think after a couple of times, the word would get around and people would leave me alone when I’m not in the office, but I’m pretty sure I’d get kicked out of Wal-Mart for life.
A minister is another line of work where you can’t take off the uniform. You can’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, it’s my day off. I think I’ll go do a little sinning today. Nothing big. None of the seven deadly ones. Just a couple little thou-shall-nots.”
Okay maybe that’s not how it would go. But I think they get tired of being at a ball game and someone blurts out the f-word, and then seeing the minister they say, “Sorry Reverend.” The minister probably thinks: Why are you apologizing to me? I’m off duty, and I didn’t make the rules. I just follow them like you’re supposed to.
To update you on my writing, I put aside the novel that I posted the opening for a few weeks ago. I still don’t like the voice, and until I get it right, I’m going to work on a different one. It’s darker than anything I’ve done before. Yesterday I drowned a guy. Or maybe not.
It is interesting to know one’s heritage, especially if that one is me. My great grandfather on my father’s side came over from Germany. My grandfather was the first person in his family to be born in this country. The family came through Ellis Island and family legend has it that they didn’t have a penny to their name at the time. The Ellis Island guards were going to refuse them entrance because they were so poor, until one guard said, “Watsa matta? Dey got five boys in da famlee. Dey all get jobs, and dey’ll be fine.” Since Ellis Island is in New Jersey, I figure the guard probably spoke with a New Jersey accent.
As soon as they were admitted into the country, the first thing my great grandfather did was to change the spelling of the family name. My father said it was because of the pride his grandfather felt at being in this country. He wanted to Americanize their name so everyone would know they were Americans, but my grandfather said it was to confuse the bounty hunters. That grandpa, what a kidder…I think.
I have a younger brother who tried to trace our family heritage on our father’s side back to the old country. He got to the part where they reached Ellis Island, but he couldn’t find much about our family in Germany— except for a few old wanted posters. He even checked land ownership records and found nothing. You’ve heard of being dirt-poor? My family was poorer than that. There are not even any records of them owning dirt.
My mother was Bohemian—they say Czech a lot nowadays. I once had a guy call me a Bohunk. He meant it derogatively, but I’m at the point if you call me any kind of a hunk, I’ll take it. Where I live now there aren’t many Bohemians. Not like it was where I grew up back in South Dakota. Back there you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Bohemian, and usually they’d pick it up and throw it right back at you. My brother tried to find out about my mother’s family and didn’t have much more luck than he had with my father’s family—remind me not to hire him as a private investigator. My mother’s family has been in this country longer than my father’s family. They were here before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but don’t blame us for that. We all have alibis.
I guess when it gets right down to it, the past isn’t as important as what is inside you. And of course I’m referring to the food. A couple years ago my wife and I had my brothers and sisters over for a Bohemian celebration. We had all the Bohemian things we remembered eating when we were growing up: sauerkraut, potato dumplings, prune, peach and poppy seed kolaches and homemade ice cream. (Okay, it’s not Bohemian, but we like it, so sue me.)
I have a sister who had to have some genetic testing done. The genealogist told her from the genetic markers that it was likely we had some Jewish blood flowing in our veins. There’s a rabbi in the woodpile? It’s possible. I do like chicken soup and bagels, and we did have a great uncle die at Auschwitz—he fell out of the guard tower. (Okay, it’s an old joke but I’m an old guy.)
Next month I’m going out to California to see my mother’s sister. She is the last surviving sibling of my mother’s family. Many of my cousins will be there. Maybe they can answer some of the questions about my heritage that have perplexed me for so long, such as why is my second toe longer than my big toe? Some of these people I haven’t seen in maybe fifty years. I’m sure I won’t recognize them. They won’t look the same as they did the last time I saw them, and if they do I’m going to figure they’re vampires, so I’m leaving.
As always I am currently working on two novels. One is probably the darkest novel I have ever written, and the other is a coming-of-age novel which has more humor in it than any book I have written. I’m about thirty thousand words into the coming-of-age novel, and I still do not have the opening right. I have rewritten the opening four different times in four different ways from four different points-of-views and starting in four different places. It is one of those books that may never see a publishers desk, but sometimes you write things just for your own amusement. Below is my fifth attempt at an opening.
In 1962, Bon Homme wasn’t much different from most small South Dakota towns of that time, except for the eight-foot granite muskrat statue that greeted everyone coming into town from the west. The statue had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Nobody could say for sure where it had come from or why it stood guarding the west entrance to town. The oldest residence of Bon Homme, Seth Robinson, thought he remembered his grandfather saying something about the statue having been commissioned by either President Pierce or Buchanan, but he couldn’t remember which one or why. Zeke Johnson, Seth’s roommate at the Sisters of the Cross Nursing Home, was adamant that giant muskrat-looking aliens had once ruled over Bon Homme, and they’d left the statue as a reminder that one day they would be back to again enslave the good people of the town. Zeke also believed tapioca pudding was a mind-control substance invented by the government, and the nurses at the home often found him in the mornings buck naked in the aviary, flapping his arms and crowing like a rooster to attract the female finches, so nobody paid much attention to his theory.
Twice every year, homecoming and prom, the Bon Homme High School Senior Class would make a run at defacing the statue: a red clown’s nose, painted on genitalia, Mickey Mouse ears taped to the head …. Every time it happened, Bon Homme’s street department, Matt Bailey, would dutifully clean it up, because an eight-foot muskrat statue might be ridiculous, but by golly it was their eight-foot ridiculous muskrat statue. In a town of less than a thousand people, you grabbed whatever uniqueness you could find and clung to it. The high school’s nickname was the muskrats and the second weekend in July they celebrated Muskrat Days in Bon Homme. They had muskrat races, muskrat tossing contests, muskrat bingo, muskrat sculptures carved out of butter and the merchants gave away free hot dogs–they called them musk dogs. People came from as far away as Yankton, and for those two days the town tripled in size … until they ran out of hot dogs.
Other than Muskrat Days there wasn’t much to do in Bon Homme. The bars and churches were the only social clubs. Some people belonged to both clubs, even the Baptists—if two Baptists ended up in the bar at the same time, they had an unspoken agreement to pretend they were invisible.
The churches played an important role in the town. Many people thought of God and the church as interchangeable. Some put the church above God. Some even made the church their substitute for God, or at least that’s what Donnie Hanson’s father said on the way home from church one Sunday as he gave his usual after-the-sermon sermon and told the family how wrong the minister was about everything. Donnie’s father had considered being a minister at one time. Donnie thought he would have been a good one, because he knew a lot about the Bible—except he used a lot of swear words, especially the F-word. It would have made for an interesting job interview with some church deacon board, Donnie thought, but probably not a successful one.
Donnie liked living in Bon Homme, giant muskrat and all. He’d lived there his entire thirteen years of life so he had nothing else to compare it to. He could have been living in Hell, and he wouldn’t have known the difference. But there was always plenty for kids to do in Bon Homme. They had their own social clubs, but not the churches—churches were places parents made you go.
The girls used the bandstand in Main Street Park as their social club. They played jacks in the afternoons, talked about boys and did whatever adolescent girls do—Donnie didn’t know and didn’t want to know. The boys had Hoch’s Creek.
Hoch’s Creek flowed about a mile west of Bon Homme snaking its way to the Missouri River. It provided a daytime gathering spot for the boys in town. They went there with the pretense of fishing, but it was a boy’s club where they played army, hunted frogs and turtles, fished and even camped out when the begging got so bad that the parents relented just to stop the whining.