Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Killing Stones (Opening Chapter)

“Will you shut it, you moron?” I whispered. “They’re gonna hear us!”

But Miko only laughed harder. A mere thirty feet separated us from them, and if not for their own noise, they surely would have made us.

“I’m serious, Miko. If they find us in here, we’re dead.”

He still didn’t acknowledge. Instead, he cupped a hand over his mouth to stifle his giggling. I glanced back through the soft, dark green cover of the bushes. Our prey hadn’t heard us. I turned again to Miko. “Okay?”

He nodded, his eyes fixed upon the three most loathed teenagers from my neighborhood. They were all freshmen at Somerton High and three years older than us. Brian Goldman – the ringleader – was smoking. His girlfriend, Connie Parker, wrapped her arms around his waist.

“He’s got a joint!” Miko whispered.

I’d have to take his word for it. Although Miko and I could shout to each other from our bedroom windows, he went to a middle school in neighboring Quinnipiac where - even in the sixth grade - drug use was already commonplace. In my sixth grade class at Nelson Elementary, a joint was still a knee or elbow.

But Brian wasn’t the one who worried me. My eyes were on Carl Posey - slasher of inflatable pools, torturer of defenseless kittens. Posey was the one we needed to take by surprise. He kicked a hacky-sack into the air, making his way around Brian and Connie. God only knew what he was thinking. Once he turned his back to us, we’d make our move.


Miko nodded. Now, even his eyes were absent of humor.

I peered through the hole in the bushes. Posey quickened his pace. He was at twelve o’clock. We needed him at six.


Miko giggled. Posey was at three o’clock.

“Two. And shut up!”

He did. Posey moved into position.


I pushed myself up from behind the bushes. The sudden weight I put on my left hand crushed the egg in my grip. Cold yolk gushed through my fingers, dripping onto the sun-baked pavement as I led the charge. My only regret? With only one egg, I couldn’t peg both Posey and Goldman. Sure, Connie was a skank, but she was still a girl.

Posey still had his back to us, and Goldman and Connie remained in their self-absorbed, drug-induced haze.

“Hey Posey!” I yelled.

He ripped his head around, mouth gaping, eyes already flaring in anger. Meanwhile, the two lovebirds looked my way with casual amusement.

“You suck!” I yelled, then reared back and threw. If I missed, I’d lose valuable seconds in my escape. I didn’t miss. The egg hit Posey above the left eye, splattering a yellowish goo across the side of his face. Before turning to run for my life, I noticed two things. One, Posey wasn’t the one chasing me. Two? Miko still hid behind the bushes. No wonder I only saw one egg flying. Aside from Posey disappearing, everything else was going as planned.

I would run faster that summer, but only once.

The footfalls of Goldman’s sneakers clapped louder on the hot cement. He was only a few steps behind me. As I veered into my yard and down the hill towards my house, a wave of confidence surged through me. I leapt over the azaleas lining my driveway. Now came the hard part - fighting the urge to head into the garage.

After all, we had a plan to stick to, by golly.

I ran onto my front porch. Usually it was a twenty-foot long screened-in haven of cold lemonade and Bobby Vale. But not today. Today, only silence and an empty table. I turned around. Goldman stood in the driveway, wary of coming too close. Connie ambled down the sidewalk. They said nothing, studying their surroundings instead. Would they dare come onto the porch? Sporting the best worried look I could muster, I kept an eye on Goldman as I fumbled for the front door. When I found the knob, I pretended it was locked.

Goldman smiled, then approached. Connie stood watch. A late afternoon thunderhead moved in front of the sun, and the sky darkened.

“You some kind of idiot, Cusamano?”

Depending on how the next ten seconds went, maybe so.

He stepped onto the porch, and I backed up. If the plan failed, I’d at least get to rub cold wet yolk into his face. It still dripped from my left hand.

“I think he’s home alone, Brian,” Connie yelled from the end of the driveway. “The garage is empty, and his mother’s stupid music isn’t on.”

I was hoping someone would notice that.

I backed up towards the porch’s far corner. He followed. As he did, I realized he had at least forty pounds on me.

“Up yours, Goldman.”

He shook his head.

“You know, Frankie, I was going to let Posey get you back, but now I’m not so sure.”

Where was Posey, anyway? Beating up Miko?

Goldman took two more steps. Only his conscience and six feet of air separated us.

“Kiss it,” I said.

“Does you mommy know you talk like this?”

I winked at him. “Mommy’s not home.”

“Nice. And I guess Tony’s down at the Amoco?”

Right on cue, my brother - senior class president and captain of Somerton High’s baseball team - opened the front door and slipped onto the front porch.

“Nope. Right here, Brian.”

Goldman stiffened. We stood eye to eye as the color drained from his face. He turned around. Which was worse for him? Seeing my brother’s grin or watching Connie backtrack towards the street?

“Oh, hey, Tony,” Goldman said. “What’s up?”
But he knew my brother wasn’t buying.

“What’s up? Your number’s up.”

Goldman, shifted on his feet then backed up towards me. “Come on, Tony,” he said. “We were just having some fun.”

”Save it,” Tony said. “Where’s Posey?”

Goldman’s shoulders relaxed. “Dunno. Probably washing yolk off his face.”

Tony looked around, then shook his head. He walked towards Brian. Goldman backed up some more. I did, too, just so he wouldn’t bump into me.

“I want my bike back, Goldman.”


“Yeah, my bike. Don’t tell me you guys didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“That crappy three-speed of yours? Why would we want that?”

”Course not,” Tony said, taking a couple steps closer. “The ten-speed I got for my birthday last week. Someone stole it two nights ago.”

Goldman started to say something but stopped. Carl Posey - nostrils flared, cheeks flushed, and egg yolk smeared into his hair - stood six feet behind Tony. He wielded a small pocketknife. Though its blade was only three inches, it was more than enough to do damage.

Posey moved towards my brother.

“Tony!” I yelled. I’m quite certain it was the last time I ever called my brother by name.

Tony wheeled around just in time to grab Posey’s flailing arm, and in one smooth motion he pinned the creep face down on the porch. I’m sure the look on Posey’s face was priceless, but I was too busy watching his knife hand which was pulled tight behind his back. Ouch.

Posey gasped. His grip loosened. The knife fell from his fingers, clinking onto the cement. Its gold Cub Scout logo glinted in the sun. Three letters were engraved on the blade. BCP.

I snatched it up.

“I want my bike back, Posey,” Tony said.
“I doh –”

“I don’t care if you stole it or not. Get it back.”

He rolled him over. Posey’s eyes were vacant but a faint smile returned to his face. It was spooky. Like he knew something my brother didn’t.

“You got twenty-four hours,” Tony said, then let go of him. “Now get off my porch.”

Posey got up and walked to the driveway. Goldman followed. Tony held the door open for me. I turned and caught one last glimpse of Posey. Yolk notwithstanding, he smiled at me and mouthed two words.

You’re dead.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Step Closer to Knowing

Ever wonder what it'd be like to have lightning in a bottle for two months? Now I know. And even though I didn't meet my own arbitrary deadline of approaching agents with a polished version of Healing Chiron by June, I did improve and tighten the tale so much that I truly believe it's as good as it's gonna get. Version 10 is officially (for now) complete, thanks mostly to a goldmine of a beta reader I found in Florida and a whole lot of 'bridging conflict'. In theory, I can polish up my query blurb and start hitting up agents.

But there's a 'but'.

I've also been blowing through new versions of The Killing Stones. TKS - in my opinion - is not only more marketable than Healing Chiron, but would be a far less palatable second act to Healing Chiron than vice-versa. So, I think I need to finish this guy up and pitch him first. The good news? I've made tremendous progress the last two months on TKS, too. The only thing remaining on this page-turner is to tighten, tighten, tighten, and check for proper comma usage. The tightening is primarily an exercise in replacing as much passive language with active. An active voice is far tighter than a passive one. If I put my mind to it, this means TKS will be ready in, oh, two weeks.

I guess if every other writer avoids querying agents in the sweltering heat of July, maybe this means my queries will stand out in the crowd.

The most frustrating part of the past couple months? Of the half dozen or so prospective beta readers, only one of them panned out. The reason for this is most of the ones not panning out are friends or relatives that simply aren't voracious readers. They read a couple books a year. Of those that were voracious readers, a couple of them had beta read both novels at least once. Asking anyone to read your novel for the third time is a lot to ask, especially when you're trying to gauge their level of surprise/suspense leading up to the twist.

So, I'm basically at the point where (aside from my friend in Florida) I need to have faith in my gut feeling that's telling me "Yep....this is good....send it out." And I do. Too bad I had the same feeling on Healing Chiron when I started marketing it for the first time three years ago. But not only am I a better story teller now, I'm far more patient and far less desperate.

I guess we'll just have to see. That's the fun part, anyway, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lazarus Has Risen

Welp, it took three years, but I seem to be back on the horse. Last time I was here, I was in a dark place getting darker. A few weeks after my last post, I was given my 14-months notice at work that I hadn’t been ‘mapped’ into the new Post-Merger organization. Did I give a crap? Nope. I was still awash in the throes of acute grief, trying to ignore the chronic physical and emotional toll awaiting me. It took over a year to get the house cleaned out and sold, along with getting the estate closed. Even though my writing took a back seat during that time, I was somehow able to get through two drafts of The Killing Stones, but until recently, that’s been sitting in a drawer gathering dust. Meantime, I got THIS close (hold your thumb and forefinger half an inch apart) on landing an agent for Healing Chiron (v4.0). She sent me a note in July 2008 telling me why she was passing on it after sitting on fence for close to a year.

That, too, got tossed in a drawer.

Luckily, a much better company bought the company that bought my original company and in Fall 2008 I found myself with a new job – a promotion in fact. I also found myself in way over my head with two huge projects…Just in time for Angie to lose her job in the Spring of 2009. In the back of my mind, my original plan of walking away with a huge severance and focusing solely on getting my two novels published (while being supported by a Sugar Mama) was now a pipe dream. Healing Chiron and The Killing Stones sunk deeper into the trunk.

Work-wise, everything was going well. Nice bonuses, decent raises, 30+ vacation days a year. Who could ask for anything more? I could, apparently. In Spring of 2010, I basically hit the emergency shut-off valve when a health scare struck my immediate family. My mind defaulted to ‘worst case scenario’ and I not only had trouble focusing at work, but just staying emotionally stable was a challenge. After more test results showed there was basically nothing wrong, I realized I needed to talk to a professional. Because something was wrong with ME.

The psychologist scored me for moderate depression, theorizing my traumatic childhood (watching my brother die over the course of a decade) had conditioned me to believe Life Only Dishes Out The Worst. And apparently, Survivor’s Guilt had infiltrated me to the point of altering my genetic make-up. It made sense. Just realizing these two things has better equipped me for handling the next helping of brussel sprouts Life serves me.

As for the root cause of my depression? It dawned on me this January I wasn’t doing what I loved. I wasn’t writing. Sure, I could blame Dad for dying, or blame Wachovia for putting my career on hold, or blame Angie for getting laid off. But what it came down to was this: If I really wanted to write, and if I’m really supposed to write, then the only thing stopping me was ME. Even if I’m working my tail off at work. Even if I only average five or six hours of sleep a night. Basically, it was time to Man Up.

So, in February, I re-read the feedback I got from two of the agents who had read the 93,000-word tome Healing Chiron (v4.0) and came up with an inventory of changes that would make it (gasp!) more marketable. I set a goal of re-approaching both agents with Healing Chiron v7.0 by mid-May – I want to hit them before the publishing world goes dormant for the summer. As we speak, a few friends are beta reading v6.0 and I expect to have an 80,000-word v7.0 polished up in time to meet my arbitrary deadline. Meanwhile, I finished v3.0 of The Killing Stones last night, chopping out over 5,000 words from the 95,000-word v2.0. Realistically, I need to get this, too, down to 80,000 words (v5.0) before shopping it around.
The best thing about it? Before I broke the emergency glass three years ago, I had to give most of my beta-readers printed manuscripts. Now I can provide readable versions for the Kindle, Nook & iPad.

Meanwhile, two ideas (one is a fake documentary and the other is another paranormal) simply won’t go away until I at least map them out. I’m not getting much done around the house, but one thing’s for sure: The fire’s back.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

So Long, Dad

My dad died Friday. He was 80. I miss him terribly.

His adventure started late at night on Friday, September 28. He knew he was having a heart attack, and while I slept, he drove himself to the hospital after taking two doses of outdated nitroglycerin. He waited until 5 a.m. the next day before letting the nurse call me. He didn’t want to wake me. The hospital was a half-hour away and when I got there he was stable, but not well. Still, I scolded him for not calling me and for not calling 9-1-1. He just smiled.

A few days later, the heart doctors did a cardio catheterization on him. More bad news. The bypass he had back in 1984 had run its course, he had a leaky valve and the arteries surrounding the heart were almost all clogged. They could operate, they said, but the operation and subsequent recovery made it a risky endeavor. You see, Dad was also diabetic, which – in case you don’t know – wreaks havoc with complications when the body is invaded with scalpels and dyes.

It was the dye used during the heart cath procedure that began the two-and-a-half month battle between Dad’s kidneys and heart. He was discharged from the hospital October 3rd. My sister from Connecticut (God bless her) flew out to stay with the cranky old man. My brother flew out, too. In a day or two, they had to take Dad back in. His blood sugar was going crazy. He was discharged a few days later, but my sister and I were back in the emergency room within a week. Congestive heart failure and pneumonia, they said. This hospital stay was longer, but he eventually got out. When it came time for my sister to fly back home, a nursing agency came to stay with my Dad round the clock. He didn’t want a nursing home and there was no way he’d impose on my family by living with us.

He went into the hospital for the final time on October 30. His nurse was with him when I got there. Congestive heart failure again. He was released a week and a half later. One day as I sat with him working on a jigsaw puzzle, I asked him if the doctor has ever told him if he thought he was going to die.

“Nope,” he said, “And I don’t wanna know.”

But I knew. I’d seen congestive heart failure before and the seesaw battle between a man and his failing organs. Docs prescribe heart drugs to pump harder, increase blood pressure in an effort to clear the body of fluid. Meanwhile, the kidneys – often the victims of diabetes - can’t keep up with things, and they wear down, too. Fluid builds up, the heart works harder, the heart gets bigger, and, well, something’s gotta give.

On Friday, December 14, 2007, something gave. My sister called, letting me know that my dad gained three pounds overnight. When I called Dad’s house, the nurse answered. She was keeping the line clear for the doctor to call back. A trip to the ER was imminent. I asked her if I should go, too, and she said, “No, it’s just the fluid retention. I’ll call you if it gets bad.” I didn't get to talk to him.

I’ll never get that moment back. I’ll never get a do-over.

She called me back around 11:30 a.m. to let me know the doc told them to head to the hospital. I called my sister to let her know. A half hour later, the nurse called back. She was hysterical and I knew Dad was dying if not dead.

I was right.

He died like he wanted to, though. He wasn’t wasting away in a nursing home. He was on his feet, walking to the nurse’s car when it happened. And he never saw it coming. The doctors think he died immediately.

At the hospital, I kissed him goodbye, knowing he couldn’t feel it. Knowing he was too busy reuniting with Mom. Or, playing catch with my brother Tommy. I stood there, eyes closed as I ran my fingers through his gray hair. “See ya soon, Dad,” I whispered.

Ever since Mom died, I made it a point to try to talk to Dad every night. Sunday nights were special because he and I (along with my brother and cousin) would bet on each football game played, and on Sundays, Dad would pick up the phone and either say, “Hello Winner” or “Hello Loser”. Ha. He loved it, and we’d go through the remaining games, scenarios, etc, and assess which teams needed to win and who would be the big loser for the week. We always hoped it would be my cousin.

When I talked to my Dad the night before he died, he asked me what I had going on for the weekend. When I told him my son actually had no soccer games on Sunday, I cringed, because I knew it was my last weekend day to Christmas shop and I thought he was going to invite the family over. Instead, he said, “Great! This’ll be the first Sunday all season where you can watch football all day and not go to soccer!” Not a sniff about me coming over. Typical Dad. Selfless. Thinking about me. How can it be that I am his son?

I called so many of his friends yesterday. I didn't want them to find out by reading the newspaper. Many cried. Many didn't know what to say. I had to stop after every two or three calls, just to get my bearings. I have a few more out-of-state people to call and I'll be done. Maybe I was putting myself through unnecessary stress, but this is my way of honoring my father. Tom Henshaw was too loved by too many to have an unheralded death.

Today will be hard. But it won't be the phone calls. Instead, it’s the first Sunday I have ever known without my father. Something tells me I won’t be able to watch much football.

So long, Dad.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

How to get a Wii

So my nine-year-old son, Nick, has completed his Christmas list. What's he want? An X-BOX 360. And a PlayStation3. Oh, and throw in a Wii, too. He finally understands that since all gifts flow from Santa, you may as well ask for the world. Hell, it's free, isn't it?

After explaining to him that we just got our X-BOX a couple years ago and that there are kids in Africa dying because they couldn't pay twenty cents for proper immunizations, he narrowed his list down to the X-BOX 360. Since some of our X-BOX games are upwards compatible on the X-BOX 360, I applauded his choice. Until, that is, I saw my twelve-year-old daughter's list. Amanda wants a Wii. Making matters worse? After doing a little research, I determined the PlayStation3 made the most sense. After all, it's got a built-in BluRay DVD player - a $200 add-on if you go with the X-BOX 360.

But really, how much better can a 360 or PS3 be over the XBOX we have today? Is it worth plunking down enough money that could otherwise save 2500 African lives? Probably not. And for half the cost of a 360 or PS3, we could buy a Wii which offers a totally different gaming experience.

Thing is, how do you get one? Aside from there being a huge shortage of them, consumers far savvier than I know when to camp out and where.

Enter Google. The other day I googled "How to get a Wii" and the search returned with twenty-eight gazillion hits. I found a couple links that I think will help.

Here's one:

Here's another:

Long story short, if you want to buy one online, you need to sign up for email alerts through a service like the one offered on which will also let you know when your local stores stock a Wii on their shelves. Be warned though. I got an email alert today at 1:37pm that had the Wii in stock. By the time I clicked on it at 1:45, guess what? Sold out. Ya gotta be quick.

As for snagging one at a local store, here's what I gleaned:
* WalMart receives shipments at 3pm each day. Call them at 3 (or shortly after) and ask them if they got any Wii's. If the answer is 'yes', be prepared to get down there within 15 minutes.
* Target receives shipments on Sunday mornings. Get there when the store opens.
* BestBuy receives their Wii's before the store opens on Sundays. You almost need to camp out to get these since most people think of BestBuy & Circuit City when it comes to stuff like this.
* Don't overlook stores like GameStop. They get 'em too. Call them often.

How much trouble will I go to? I dunno. But I'll make these two predictions: It'll probably be a PS3 under the tree and the names of both my kids will be on it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What's it all taught me?

In the two and a half years it took me to conceive, write and polish Healing Chiron, here's what I've learned:

1) Any bumbleskin can write a book. The hard part is crafting it into a story that contains not only good, fluid prose, but also the essential elements of a tale. Things like voice, stakes, bridging conflict - I never totally comprehended the importance of these things three years ago.

2) Don't tell anyone you're writing a book until it's at Borders. Avoiding this mistake is SO hard, but, dang, I want to vomit whenever I see certain people coming who know what I'm doing. "So how come I don't see your book at Walden's?" "What's taking so long? Do you need some addresses of publishers?" The absolute worst came when a relative pointed out that writing books is an excellent source of "Passive Income". Passive as in 'no effort required'....just sit back and collect the residuals. Gak. This, after I've poured over a thousand hours of effort into Healing Chiron. No discounted copies for him.

3) Patience reigns supreme. If writing it didn't take long, marketing it will. I got my first request for a full on July 24, and I remember hoping to hear back in a week. And why not? She only took a few weeks to say she liked the first 100 pages, and surely she goes through her fulls faster than her partials. Fortunately, three more 'request for fulls' have staggered in since and the days are moving faster.

4) Believe in yourself. Once your collection of rejection slips causes your manilla folder to bulge, it's easy to believe you've been delusioned about your writing. But don't let the bastards get you down. There's a reason you were put on this ball of dirt and if you think it's because of your writing, then you're probably right. And if that's true, then have's only a matter of time.

5) Know your inner motivations. The fantasy of seeing your book in print is a siren's call that leads to failure. As you craft your novel, if your focus is more upon being published and quitting your day job than it is upon creating something beautiful, well, guess what? You'll probably never be published...unless lulu counts. It's okay to dream, but stay focused on making your story the best it can be.

I'm sure I'll have more once I get a better taste of the publishing world.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

As Promised...Chapter One of Healing Chiron

Chapter 1
Wednesday, July 6th, 2005 – 3:18 am.

“Danny says he can still smell Mom.”

It’s been almost two years since she told me, but I still remember the quiver in Nat’s voice. I haven’t heard it since.

“Really?” I asked. “How so?”

But I already knew. A few mornings after Sharon died I spied Danny lingering in the silence of my bedroom. Only six years old, he climbed onto my bed and scurried toward Sharon’s pillow. He hovered above the pillowcase’s cool surface, moving back and forth - sniffing where his mother once slept. At some point he froze, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. Then he set his head down near the source of the scent and whimpered.

Grief is only unbearable until you watch your own child mourn.

Six hundred and twenty-two days have passed since the all-knowing, ever-loving strangers in heaven stole Sharon from us. An hour doesn’t pass that I don’t think of her. On the nights I allow sleep to take hold, I curse myself in the morning if I haven’t dreamt of her. And if she visits my dreams? Well, then those dreams are of ordinary times and places in which I’ve forgotten she’s even gone. Once there were mornings when we would laugh, each with faint memories of talking to the other in our sleep. To this day, I still wake thinking she’s next to me. Sometimes it’s because one of the kids has crawled into my bed. Other times I’m not so sure. I’ll never tell Danny this, but on the nights I don’t try hard, I can smell her, too.

But not this night. This night it is only the sound of one of my children, thinking she is quiet as she makes her way to my room.




Then, the soft squeak of the bedroom door. Nat, indeed, because Danny bursts in as if the house is on fire. Nat, though, listens before saying anything. If I pretended to snore, I’d hear the unmistakable click of the closing door.

I held my breath.


Duh-dee? My twelve-year-old daughter only uses this sleepy moniker when she feels the need to regress into the little girl she once was, is still embarrassed by, and yet secretly longs to be again.


No answer. Maybe she’d forgotten how to converse. Over two weeks had passed since she initiated a conversation with me. In fact, over the past two months - a stretch of time when my introverted daughter became increasingly withdrawn from even me – I tried various approaches to open her up. None worked. So when I hear the echoes of the Nat who once loved me, my Pavlovian grey matter takes notice.

“What’s the matter, Ignats?” It was the softest voice I could muster.

For a few seconds, only more silence.

“I think I’m sick.”

Four words I’d often heard before, yet this time her voice wasn’t polluted by the frustration of a headache, the fear of vomiting, or the throbbing pain of an earache. Instead, Nat’s ‘I think I’m sick’ sounded like my ‘Kids, there’s been an accident.’ Of course, it didn’t help that I’d been thinking of my brother Jimmy so much lately. But, seriously, how sick could she be? A girl doesn’t realize in the middle of the night she has a chronic and fatal condition. You don’t wake up thinking you have leukemia or bone cancer.

Do you?

“What do you mean, Honey?”

At first, more silence. Then, the strained exhaling that comes only with tears. I felt her forehead. Dry and hot - one of those fevers you feel before your hand even makes contact.

“Oh, Honey. You’re burning up.”

She continued to cry. I sat up and pulled her to me. After calming her, I took an inventory of her symptoms. A slight headache, she said, but yes, her stomach and ears were fine.

Probably a virus.

I gave her some Tylenol, and though she weighed far too much for me, I carried her back to bed knowing this closeness would be gone by sunrise.

“Don’t worry. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”


Did I know even then it wasn't true?

“Absolutely. And if you don’t, we can go see Dr. Matt. It’s not like either one of us has classes to go to, right?”

“Yeah. Right.”

My lips lingered on her warm cheek. For now, my baby was back.