Friday, July 29, 2011

Fact or Fiction

In Hell on Earth, a love story, when I decided to have Louis D’Amato hide a stash of cocaine inside his wife’s vacuum cleaner, I didn’t know how believable the story would be. I was merely looking for something that would scare the hell out of Hank and cause him to move 3000 miles to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It wasn’t until the final days of production that I discovered this article.

I especially liked the part where authorities believed that the cocaine was hidden in the vacuum cleaner when it was being refurbished in Juarez, Mexico. When I absolutely, positively couldn’t bring myself to knock on another door to sell a vacuum cleaner, I began working in the back of the store refurbishing old machines. I guess it is just a sign of the times that now we even ship that crummy job out of country. Unbelievable.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Connecting the Dots

When I wrote Postal Service I didn’t have a name for my main character until I was pretty far along. I wanted to reference Johnny Cash’s rendition of The Ballad of John Henry since I was a carrier and the Postal Service was banking its future on machines that would replace the clerks and carriers. Once I put that song in I decided to name the mailman Henry Johnson, which quickly became just plain Hank.

Since Hell on Earth, a love story is the story leading up to Postal Service, Hank picked up his second leading role. But I wanted to pay tribute to another singer in this book.

John Prine is a great songwriter and storyteller. Like Hank, he was also in the Army—Hank in Vietnam and John in Germany. Some of Prine’s most famous songs dealt with the Vietnam War and the similarities don’t end there. He also just happens to be an ex-letter carrier who delivered mail in Chicago, which is where Eddie Repulski set the door-to-door vacuum cleaner selling record of 60 machines in one month.

In Hell on Earth I write about the Bob Hope Show and the influx of GI’s coming to Long Binh to watch it. There was a fairly large amphitheater but it was not big enough to accommodate everyone. So many of the men were content to watch the show from the top of a telephone pole “the way John Prine listened to Little Richard sing Tutti Frutti on a beach in Indiana when he was nine years old.”

A novel can be many things but it is almost always a string of individual and often unrelated events that when brought together somehow gives new meaning to them all. Take a little war, an interesting part time job, a lot of other not so interesting jobs, a favorite song, an idea you get riding home from a date one night, a Charles Bukowski poetry reading on Halloween night and before you know it you have a book staring back at you on the computer screen. And that’s not all you have.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fullerton, California

I was recently in Fullerton visiting my daughter and her husband. The three of us attended the Thursday night Farmer’s Market and I learned about the website Here is my Fullerton story.

In a nation that talks about the American small town in the past tense I would like to say that the small town atmosphere we all long for is alive and well in Fullerton. With a population of 132,000, Fullerton isn’t a small town but the Fourth of July fireworks show—free and easily accessible to everyone and the abundance of block parties going on that day—made it easy to think I had stepped back in time. In fact the last block party I attended may have been back in New York in the 1960’s.

I have been to many firework displays over the years but the playing a patriotic music to accompany the show is also a practice unique to Fullerton—at least in my experience. This was my second Fourth of July in Fullerton and I expect to be back again next year.

There is a section on the Fullerton Stories website entitled “Word on the Street.” Let me tell you what the word is on the 2500 mile-long Route 40, probably one of the longest streets in the country. I was driving in Oklahoma on my return to Virginia Beach and had stopped at a MacDonald’s. I was wearing a Fullerton tee shirt and walking to a table when a couple stopped me. They said they lived in Fullerton many years ago. I smiled, told them I had just been visiting my daughter there and thought that was the end of it. But he wasn’t finished. He leaned over and added, “Tell your daughter we are very (and he emphasized the word very) envious of her.

So that is the word on the street.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stellar Visitors Everywhere

In Hell on Earth, I write about a lot of events that seem to be tied together even when they occurred many years or often decades apart. Maybe that’s just the writer in me trying to tie things together.

One such event was the publication of my first free-lanced article in the LA Times entitled Tall Tales about a Stellar Visitor. There was just a short mention of the article in the book but there was much more to Tall Tales about a Stellar Visitor that made the event important enough to include in the novel.

The story starts on a quiet night in San Pedro when Cecil and I are sitting in a bar discussing the world and how we could fix it if someone gave us a chance. A man sitting next to us, possibly recognizing our unutilized potential announced to us that he was from Alpha Centauri and that he was down here observing. We spent the next several hours quizzing him to see if he was legit. I believe at one point we put a lighted match inside the heel of his shoe to see if he could feel pain. We also played a little pool with him to see if he had any superhuman skills. We also allowed him to buy numerous rounds to possibly determine just how big of an expense account someone traveling from another star might have to play around with. What we learned was that yes he could feel pain and no he didn’t have any special skills and yes aliens did travel quite comfortably. In the end we couldn’t reach any conclusion as to whether he was telling the truth and eventually returned home and forgot about the alien.

A few months later I picked up the LA Times to find an article about 22 Oregonians who had sold all their possessions and vanished in preparation for a rapture event they believed to be right around the corner, where most rapture events seem to be waiting. These faithful were led by the Bonnie and Clyde of the rapture movement, Marshall Applewhite, who called himself Bo and Bonnie Nettles, who went by the nom de plume Peep. Get it? The obvious question with these kind of stories is how much of it can or should we believe. In my article I related the story about the man in San Pedro from Alpha Centauri, if in fact he really was from Alpha Centauri and if in fact we really were in San Pedro. Again that should have been the end of it but just as some wells never go dry some stories never die.

Twenty years later, living in Virginia Beach, I picked up the paper again to read that 39 members of a cult group, “Heaven’s Gate,” had successfully committed suicide to coincide with the passing of the comet Hale-Bopp overhead, which apparently was their ride out of here. No word on whether the rapture was successful but get this, “Heaven’s Gate” was led by the dynamic duo Bo and Peep.

Put all these things together—the man claiming to be from Alpha Centauri, the Oregonians following Bo and Peep to nowhere, my article debunking the hysteria surrounding these missing Oregonians based on my actual meeting with an alien in a bar, and then the re-appearance of Bo and Peep in yet another trip to nowhere and I decided the episode earned at least a mention in a novel involving more than a little unexplained coming and going and at least a few stellar visitors.