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I Got Me a Great Kirkus Review

And here it is…

In this fourth installment of a series, a private eye—out of commission for nearly a year—tries to regain lost memories and stumbles on a nefarious plot.

Sixty-year-old Max Bowman has no idea how he ended up in “the Community.” He knows he’s a former CIA operative, but the last few years of his life are a blank. After Howard, an old friend, visits, Max learns he’s in a Florida retirement home (of sorts) for agents who may know too much. He stops taking his medicine and makes a daring escape via motorized cart. But the life he’s slowly remembering has drastically changed in only 10 months. His girlfriend, Angela Davidson, has wed lobbyist Dudley “Duds” DeCosta. It’s not a happy marriage and Duds readily agrees to a divorce at Max’s request. The condition is that the private investigator must attend fundraisers for Sen. Eddie di Pineda’s reelection campaign. Max’s vouching for him will ease the senator’s ties to conspiracies swirling around the detective’s last few cases. At the same time, Max believes an enemy he thought he killed is still alive, at least according to cryptic, grammatically inaccurate texts he’s receiving. Soon, the PI and Angela’s son, Jeremy, called PMA (for Power, Mind, Action), find themselves in the middle of another conspiracy of worldwide proportions. As in earlier books, Canfield’s (Red Earth, 2017, etc.) latest entry—supposedly the final volume starring Max—boasts an often humorous tale and a progressively convoluted plot. Though initially the hero is simply piecing together returning memories, the story ultimately focuses on the mysterious yet clearly sinister scheme. But the best moments involve Max’s reunion with Angela and PMA. Max even acts like a nosy father to “the kid,” asking about his love life and offering his unsolicited opinion that PMA’s last boyfriend “wasn’t the right guy.” Max has been cynical throughout the series, but in this bracing and enjoyable tale, readers will surely sympathize with him as he hears what he’s missed (primarily in 2017). His reaction to Donald Trump as president and Coke Zero becoming Coke Zero Sugar is apropos: “What the hell had happened to the world in the past ten months?” 

A comically eccentric detective gets a terrific and fitting send-off.

WHITE RAIN, available on Amazon. Go ahead and get a copy.  You know you want to.

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Seriously. Your Book Needs an Editor.

ignore (3)You’ve finished your manuscript. All the months of hard work are behind you, and now, all that’s left to do (after you’ve popped the cork on that bottle of champagne) is publish your book and get it out there so people can start reading your masterpiece and experiencing the sheer awesomeness that is you.

There’s just one more thing…

Before your book is ready for the world, if you’re seriously serious about wanting it to look and read like a “real book” and a professional piece of work, you need to have it edited. And in most cases, that means hiring an editor to do the job.

Full disclosure here:  I didn’t always feel this way. When I first started ghostwriting and a client would hire an editor to work over one of my manuscripts, I’d feel slightly insulted. They think I’d turn in a manuscript with mistakes? As if! Part of my writing process, whether I’m writing for me or for somebody else, is going over every page multiple times; polishing and honing and tweaking my language. Okay, it’s a little anal, but it’s also why you’d assume that if there are any mistakes hidden in there, I’ll find them!

Except, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the more times I go over a paragraph or a page and mess with it, the more certain mistakes seem to “sink in.” They become such a natural, normal part of what I expect to see in the manuscript that they become invisible. At least, until someone else reads it and points it out to me, and then I feel like a complete idiot.

And I’m not the only writer who has let the odd mistake or two slip by. Last year, I started taking on some editing projects—and have since been witness to just about every form of tense irregularity, typo and derailed train of thought you can imagine. I’ve seen characters’ names change, and then change back, and then change into something else entirely. Seriously, people, it’s a jungle out there! And while I’m not saying your book is some kind of incomprehensible word salad in desperate need of professional help, I have seen enough to know that an editor isn’t just a fancy extra for “real” writers with publishing deals and agents and a New York Times bestseller. It’s a necessary step for anyone who wants to put out a book that looks like it was written by a grown-up.

So save that champagne for another day, and invest in someone who will help make sure your book shows you off as the smart, competent, professional adult you are. When they’ve finished, you’ll really have something to celebrate.

Edited by Joel Canfield

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Writing SOS – Support Options for Wannabe Authors

By now, we’ve established that writing a book is a lot of work. Which I realize probably does not come as much of a surprise to you. Nobody expects 200-ish coherent pages to magically appear overnight. What you might not expect, however, is that the hardest part of getting a book written isn’t always the actual writing.

In fact, there are all kinds of annoying little road blocks that can stand between you and that book you’ve been planning on getting done. You might feel perfectly confident in your writing ability, but still struggle with where to start, or what to write, exactly, to reach your audience. Or you may have trouble organizing your thoughts so they make sense. Maybe you have a hard time deciding what to include in your book and what to leave out. Or you might have issues staying motivated and making progress, or just finding the time to sit down and writeWhat can writing a book do for me- the thing.

Whatever your particular challenges may be, they can reach the point where they stop you and your book cold. And you don’t want that to happen!

The good news is; you don’t have to be the person who puts in 100% of the effort when it comes to getting your book written. There are tools you can buy and people you can work with to make the process a lot easier and help you feel less alone, ranging from super-inexpensive (and even free) products and services to more serious investments.

At the low (cost) end of the scale, there are tons of books and online programs designed to guide you through the book-writing process. Some of these include templates and/or step-by-step instructions to follow to help you complete your manuscript. Of course, that manuscript might not be particularly original if it follows a template, and that template may not reflect your style or be the best fit for the sort of material you want to present. Still, if you’re looking for a place to start without spending a lot of money, a book or program can help you organize your thoughts and at least get something down as a starting point.

If you need a little more human support, there are writing groups, classes and workshops created around the ultimate goal of helping people get manuscripts written—and some of them are even free. Regular meetings with fellow members hold you accountable, help you work through blocks and give you a place to get feedback (and a shoulder to cry on, when you need one). In some groups (usually the pricier options), there’s also an expert coach or teacher on hand to guide you and possibly answer questions and/or offer feedback on your work. The downside to an environment like this is that it’s not all about you—a good portion of your time will be dedicated to helping all those other people in the group solve theirproblems. The amount of attention you get will be limited…and it may not be enough.

A writing coach or editor can solve that whole “but what about ME???” problem. Coaches and editors are paid to focus exclusively on you and your book, without anything else getting in the way of your ultimate goal. It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. You can meet with a coach just one or two times to nail down a tone and structure for your book before taking over on your own. Or you can enlist a coach as a sort of professional writing partner who works through every step of the process with you. You can even hire an editor to help you improve a manuscript you’ve already written. Of course, the more help you get, and the more “expert” that help is, the more you will probably pay for it—but the better and more professional the end result should be.

Finally, if you don’t have the time, talent or desire to write a book yourself, you can put all the pressure to get it done on someone else by hiring a ghostwriter. A word of warning here: When it comes to ghostwriting, you usually get what you pay for—I have seen (and rewritten) some completely unreadable stuff provided by some who represented themselves as professionals but were anything but. So please, do your research, people! References are good, and real, published books they’ve completed which you can look at are even better.

A good ghostwriter will work with you to figure out the best way to bring your book to life, whether that means interviewing you for each chapter and crafting your book using your input, words and voice, or taking your general idea, researching it and writing it up on their own. Or it could be a completely different process—after all, you’re the boss. Of course, since a ghostwriter does the bulk of the work for you, it’s usually the most expensive option. However, if you’re a busy person who wants or needs to get a quality book written, it may also be the best one for you.

The moral of the story is, whatever your budget, skill level and time frame, you don’t have to write your book all by your lonesome. If you’re still procrastinating, I encourage you to pick up a book or a program, or join a writing group, to get in the habit of writing and start to get a feel for what your book could be. And if you decide you want some one-on-one help, just shoot me an email to schedule a free, no obligation (or pressure) chat about the best kind of support to help you get your book written.

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7 (Relatively) Easy Steps to Writing a Book


A lot of people put off starting their books because they’re worried writing a book will be hard.

Those people are right.

Yes, there are a lot of programs that promise to make a finished manuscript magically appear within some crazy-brief period of time. But I can tell you from experience (I write and edit books for a living), the book that results from it probably won’t be very good. Writing a book is, by nature, a hard thing.

But just because something is hard, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or that it can’t be done by you. One thing that really helps, especially if you’re a beginner, is breaking the giant task of Writing a Book down into smaller steps you can tackle one at a time. Steps…such as the seven I’m about to share with you now.

Step 1 – Target Your Audience

Before you start writing a book, it’s a good idea to figure out who it’s for. Your clients? Potential clients? Fellow professionals in your field? The general public?

Who your audience is will determine what information you provide, including how detailed and specific you get. General audiences may not need and may get bored with a whole lot of detail, while your peers might not be interested in a beginners’ overview of your subject. Once you know who you’re writing for, deciding what to write (and how to write it) should be a lot easier.

Step 2 – Find Your Hook…and Your Book

A lot of the time, when someone comes to me for help writing a book, they start with a subject that’s really broad, like “relationships” or “nutrition.” There are probably 80 zillion books written on those subjects, and maybe that many on what you want to write about. So how is your book supposed to stand out from the pack? The key is giving your book some sort of hook.

Say, for example, you’re an employment lawyer.  You could write a book that’s simply about Employment Law, which will pretty much cover everything there is to know about your field.  But who would really want to read a book like that?  At least, besides people who are studying to become employment lawyers?

It may establish you as an expert, but you’ll be a boring expert.

That’s why adding an attention-getting “hook” to your subject matter will substantially up the interest quotient of your book. For example, you can target employers by writing a book detailing How to Give Someone the Axe without Getting Sued. Or you can focus on employees with the tempting proposition of 10 (Almost) Foolproof Ways to Sue Your Boss and Never Need to Work Again. By engaging a specific audience, you’ll entice a lot more people to buy and read your masterpiece.

Step 3 – Choose Your Presentation

Whatever information you want to present or story you want to tell, it will make more sense to your readers (and to you while you write it) if you decide on some sort of framework to present that information in. The books I work on with my clients usually fall into one of these four general areas:

  • The “list” format is great for quick, call-to-action type info books like 99 Ways to Feel Beautiful or The Top 10 Tax Secrets You Never Heard…and How to Use Them.
  • The goal-directed format is a great way to take the reader through an educational process from start to finish over a set period of time, like, Jump Start your Small Business in 30 Days or 6 Weeks to a Better Body.
  • The traditional chapter book format usually dedicates each chapter to an idea. Traditional titles might include Raising Confident Kids, or The Millionaire Dentist—How to Get More from Your Practice Than You Ever Thought Possible.
  • Many business and thought leaders focus on sharing more personal stories in their books, to the point where they follow an autobiographical format, like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Using your own life as an example to inspire others or make a point about your area of focus can be an especially effective way to showcase who you are and why you do what you do.

Step 4 – Set the Tone

One of the really great things about writing a book is that, on the page, you can be anyone you want to be. A trusted friend. A professional expert. A salesperson with a killer offer. A leader with an inspiring story.

You can be funny, serious, touching, or even “in your face.” The possibilities are basically endless. Which is one big reason why it’s important to take a moment (or several) to think about who you want to be when it comes to your voice and tone.

As a starting point, look back to the first step in this process. Who you’re writing the book for will probably have some bearing on the voice you write in.  You wouldn’t write a serious business book in a casual, slang-filled tone. Or maybe you would, but it would be a deliberate choice.

Because the other side of this particular coin is, when you’re writing a book, who you want to be is just as important as who you should be. If you like to communicate with people on a warm, human level, reach for that connection. If you’re writing a manifesto and you’re angry about something, go ahead and get mad. If humor is important to you, be funny (please—there are too many boring books out there!). There is always room for some aspect of the real you to help you connect with your readers.

It’s your book, so you have the power to decide exactly who you want to be in it.  You can be yourself, or you can be someone else entirely.  You can highlight some aspects of your personality while downplaying others.  Or even invent some you always wished were there.

Step 5 – Create an Outline

Remember that format you decided on in Step 3? Now is the time to take that basic idea and flesh it out into a detailed outline.

Some people (like my husband) like to write without outlines, just to prove they can. But while experienced writers may feel comfortable winging it, non-crazy people, like me, prefer to drive across the country with a map. Or bake a cake with a recipe.

I promise I’m done with the metaphors.

Anyway, unless you’re a pro writer or a person who spends an inordinate amount of time playing around with words and language, flying by the seat of your pants is not something I recommend. A book outline is like a lifeline—when you get stuck, it’s there for you to grab on to and figure out where you are and where you need to go.

And you will probably get stuck at least once. So it’s best to be prepared.

Step 6 – Write That Book!

Once you’re done outlining your book, it’s time to follow the blueprint you’ve created and fill it in with stories, examples, information, statistics, random musings, and whatever else you want your reader to know. In other words, the only thing left to do is sit down and write the thing.

This is, obviously, the hardest step out of the seven. But it doesn’t have to be painful. Writing a book is a process, and that process is whatever you make it. You can leave your regular routine behind and go on a retreat where all you do is write. You can schedule a regular block of writing time daily, weekly or monthly. Or you can work on your book when you feel like it, or when you can. It all depends on you.

People always ask me how long it takes to write a book, and as you might expect, that also depends on you. When I work on other people’s books, I try to write a chapter (usually somewhere between 10 and 25 pages) a week. Which means I can finish a book in two months. But that’s my job, and if I couldn’t do it in a reasonable amount of time, I wouldn’t be very good at it!

My advice to you is to treat writing your book like any other job you need to do. Schedule time to write, take it seriously, and find a way to hold yourself accountable. If you have a strong outline to work from, then going chapter by chapter and concentrating only on those pages (and rewarding yourself when you’ve finished them), will help you maintain your sanity and make steady progress.

Or you can get some professional help to make sure your book gets done.

Step 7 – Polish Your Masterpiece

Congratulations! You’ve taken your original idea and fleshed it out into a cohesive manuscript that lets your readers know who you are and takes them where you want them to go.

At least, you hope it does. And that bit of uncertainty is why you’re not finished. Now your work needs to be edited.

Your book is comprised entirely out of stuff you know. This may be why, when you read it, it makes perfect sense to you. However, just because you know exactly what you mean doesn’t mean another human being will feel the same way. So it’s time…to ask another human being!

Find a friend or relative or trusted colleague who is willing to read through your manuscript to make sure everything is a-ok. Encourage them to be as brutal as they can be—this isn’t about telling you what a great job you’ve done, it’s about telling you where you’ve screwed up and making sure everything makes sense before you publish your book.

If there’s no one you trust to evaluate your manuscript, or if you know your book needs more work or you just want an expert opinion, you can hire a professional editor. Editors can do anything and everything from helping you restructure your book so that it makes more sense, to cleaning up your spelling and punctuation and getting it ready for publication. The first service costs a little more and takes a little longer. The second service is recommended before you publish your book to make sure the style is consistent and the spelling and grammar are correct.

Phew! I told you writing a book was a lot of work! But if you take the time and put in the effort, it may be a great investment to make in your business…and even yourself. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be the person who puts in all the effort. There are people you can hire (like me) who specialize in helping people get their book written in a variety of different ways. I’ll talk about those different options next time, but if you want to know more now, email me at and ask me anything!

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Yes, You Should Write a Book (or Have Someone Write One for You)

ignore (1)

Okay, as a ghostwriter and book writing coach, I’m admittedly biased when it comes to this subject. But I also know that when it comes to showing the world who you are, or establishing yourself as the expert in your field, books really can do amazing things.

Why a Book?

There are a million ways to connect with your audience these days—video, podcasting, social media, blogs, etc. But there’s something about a book that says “credibility” the way other forms of communication don’t. In the words of famed entrepreneur James Altucher, “A book is the new business card.” It’s the ultimate way to establish you, your business and/or your message in a way no other medium can.

Here’s why.

For starters, the fact that you’ve managed to put together 200 or so coherent pages about a subject is a massive testament to the fact that you know your stuff. Becoming an author instantly elevates you above everyone in your field who hasn’t published—and if your book is actually good, it can also elevate you above a lot of those who have. Taking the time or making the investment to make sure your book is a solid piece of work can really help you stand out.

Beyond that, if you have an incredible depth of knowledge or a provocative new take on a subject, a book is the ideal place to show it off. There’s no time limit on a book, it can be as long (or short) as you need it to be, in order to give your readers the exact experience you want them to have. So it can provide a really powerful platform for your message.

But, maybe most importantly, a book allows thousands (and hey, if you’re lucky, millions) of people all over the world to get to know you and what you’re all about. Reading a book takes at least a few hours, and for those few hours, it’s like your reader is right there with you—“hearing” your voice, enjoying (hopefully!) your personality, absorbing your knowledge, your experiences and your take on the world. There’s no better way to connect with so many people at such a deep and intimate level.

So if you have something of significance or value that you want to communicate, and you’re wondering if a book is the right way to do it, chances are, it is.

How exactly do you do that?

You’ll have to wait for my next post for that one.

(Or, if you’re in a major hurry, email me at to set up a free conversation about the best way to bring your book to life.)

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Blue Fire, Part 5: 10 Gracie Square

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which is NOW available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents through April 15th)


And now, for my final post about my new book, I’d like to reveal the real inspiration for it – a building.

As I was finishing Dark Sky, the first book in my Max Bowman series, I became obsessed with a structure I would see across the East River from Roosevelt Island, where I live. It’s an old apartment building, fifteen stories tall, and built in the late 1920’s, right as the epic Wall Street crash that triggered the Great Depression was happening.

10 Gracie square

What I was most fascinated by was the rooftop, which had a series of posts and pillars that resembled some sort of ancient temple structure. Okay, what it really looked like was the rooftop from the climax of the original Ghostbusters. Which made sense, since that building, located at 55 Central Park West, was built the same year and with the same Art Deco sensibility.


Anyway, when I did more research on the building, I found out I wasn’t the only one who admired it. Tom Wolfe, famed white-suited New Yorker and author of Bonfire of the Vanities, named it one of only 42 “good buildings” in the Manhattan area. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, former First Lady of China, lived there until her death in 2003 at the age of 105. Gloria Vanderbilt also lived there with her son Anderson Cooper – and, sadly, in 1988, her other son, Carter Cooper, committed suicide by falling to his death from the terrace of her apartment (which they movingly discuss in their new book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes).

Another fun fact about the place? It was originally built right on the waterfront, where there was a private club of sorts at the foot of the building. Unfortunately, a few years later, the FDR expressway was constructed right outside its front door – so the club was demolished and waterfront access blocked off; the bottom two floors ended up being walled off from the highway (and the East River) and are now only accessible from the sidewalk by two flights of stairs leading down to the first floor, where the windows have bars on them and the only things on the narrow walkway in front of them are trash cans. Those creepy below-street-level floors inspired even more creepiness in my novel.

A lot of bad things happen in this building in my book – both at the top and the bottom of it. Actually, some weird stuff happens in the middle floors as well. All in all, in Blue Fire…you want to avoid the place at all costs.

Oh, and stay out of the park across the street from it at 3 a.m. as well…

Oh yeah, the book…as it says on the top of this post, the “official” release starts today, Friday, April 8th – and the eBook will be on sale for $.99 for the next week.  I hope you’ll check it out.


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Blue Fire, Part 4: There Is No “Off” Switch

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents starting tomorrow and continuing through April 15th)


I have two gay sons. I’m neither bragging nor complaining about that fact – I’m just communicating it as a fact.

Now, some would still to this day, despite an overwhelming amount of scientific study to the contrary, insist that homosexuality is not a “fact.” No, they believe it’s an individual’s choice. In other words, gay people decide their sexuality much as they might choose what to have for breakfast.

And that ridiculous notion is how gay conversion therapy came into being.

The thinking behind this kind of treatment is, if you can choose to be gay…well, then you can choose not to be gay. You just have to “get your mind right,” as the warden said in Cool Hand Luke. And gay conversion therapy is designed to do just that, “cure” patients of their “disease.”

It would be nice to be able to say, here in the 21st Century, that gay conversion therapy is no longer regarded as a desirable or credible practice, but I can’t. Yes, the American Psychiatric Association condemns the practice, but, from a legal standpoint, I live in the only state in the U.S.A. (New York) that currently intends to ban it through regulatory law.

The history of gay conversion therapy is more than a little horrific. Here are some of the kinds of methods licensed physicians have used over the years to try and “cure” patients of their homosexuality:

  • Ice-pick lobotomies
  • Chemical castration with hormonal treatment
  • The application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals
  • Nausea-inducing drugs administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli

Fortunately, the above barbaric practices aren’t commonplace anymore, at least here in America, but there are still hundreds of gay conversion therapy organizations in existence in this country. It’s still a thing.

And it’s hard to imagine all the psychic damage it’s doing to those who are forced to undergo it.

So what does this have to do with my new mystery novel, Blue Fire? Well, it goes back to that psychic damage that I just mentioned. When so-called professionals attempt to rewire someone’s fundamental biological programming, it has to cause some level of trauma to those involved. And if the trauma were deep enough, it would create more than a few tragedies in these victims’ lives.

In Blue Fire, those tragedies have already happened. And now everyone involved with those personal calamities has to deal with the resulting fallout.

Hopefully, we live in more enlightened times now. Hopefully, gay conversion therapy will someday be an extinct practice that no sane doctor would advocate. But we’re not there yet. And we have to keep fighting against less enlightened thinking that wants to forcibly remove gay people from the planet.

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Blue Fire, Part 3: The Dirty Business of Comics

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents from April 8th through April 15th)


As a kid, I never knew comic book heroes would end up as the hub of a multibillion-dollar business. Unfortunately, neither did the guys who created them.

When I was growing up, comics were mostly for very young children. That was because, in the early 1950s, comic books were vilified by “experts” as morally suspect, much like early rock music would be a few years later, and sales began to plummet. In response, the industry formed the Comics Code Authority to police their own content. Sex, drugs and extreme violence were suddenly a no-no, and respect for government and parental authority was emphasized (you can read more about the Code here).

So the comics survived, but barely. DC, the company with Superman and Batman, still prospered, but many of the other comic lines either severely slashed the number of titles they released or went out of business altogether. And that was the state of the business when I started reading comics – mostly Superman and such kids’ stuff as Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost and the like.

Then one day, my older brother brought home the third issue of a new comic, The Avengers.  I remember vividly staring at its cover, which featured all these strange-looking colorful freaks threatening each other, freaks who immediately intrigued me, even though I had no idea who the hell they were. Yes, I went on to find out these freaks’ names were the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Giant Man and Thor and I would end up reading their adventures for years to come, but, at the time, all I could think was…

“These guys are different. These guys aren’t like anybody else.”

Marvel’s heroes frequently had bad attitudes and nasty tempers. They fought each other as much as they fought their villains of the month. It was a whole different vibe, more grown-up, self-aware, with a unique balancing act of hilarious irreverence and ever-more-cosmic epic storylines.

Soon, Marvels were my comics of choice. We had just moved from a small town, where everybody knew everybody else’s business, to a new suburban development, where no one had any connection to anyone else. I felt isolated and alone, so I threw myself further into comic books. I made scrapbooks, I drew my own and I had collected hundreds of them by the time I hit Junior High. And the artists and writers of my favorite comics were superstars in my mind. Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, Curt Swan, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams…to me and other kids like me, they were creative legends (and they continue to be to this day).

To the comic book publishers, however? They were the hired help and expendable if they got uppity about it.

I never thought about the business behind these comic books when I read them. What kid would? But a few years ago, when I was living in New Zealand, I picked up a British book entitled Men of Tomorrow. And that’s when I learned the ugly truth about how horribly these guys were treated, even though they made their employers millions.

For example, take Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the guys who came up with Superman, the original superstar superhero and one of the few to bring in big bucks in the early days of comics. They sold the rights to the character for all of $130 – but, in those days of the Great Depression, they were glad to get paid anything for an idea. Then, when Superman was suddenly being made into movie serials, cartoons and, later on, a TV series, they thought maybe they deserved a piece of the action. They thought the management would see the fairness of their request and negotiate with them. Instead, after the duo’s repeated attempts to claim part of the copyright all failed, they were shown the door. For years, they struggled to survive while their creation prospered in almost every medium available.

This set a pattern of artist abuse that continued on through the early days of comics, right through to the period when I read them. For example, Jack Kirby, who co-created many of Marvel’s most popular heroes and Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man, also saw no rewards for their efforts when those characters became huge successes. They both left the company after promises of profit participation never came through. Of course, Kirby had been through these soul-crushing circumstances before – he and Joe Simon, his partner at the time, had created Captain America in the 1940s and also had received nothing for their efforts, except a token payment.

I often think of those guys – and the overwhelming majority of them were guys – drawing as fast as they could just to scratch out a living, while the publishers became rich off of their efforts – and I knew I wanted to use one of them as the lynchpin for Blue Fire, the second book in my Max Bowman mystery series. Not a real one, of course, but one of my own creation, a comic book artist who had disappeared into near-obscurity (much as Ditko did) after being treated shabbily by the comics industry.

Why was using this kind of character important to me? Because the best of the comic book creators were geniuses in their own right – but completely unrecognized at the time by anyone over twenty, because they worked in a business that had no prestige or standing, a business that was frankly looked down on by most adults until the Baby Boomer generation grew up. But now, miraculously enough, their creations are at the center of our most popular movies and television shows. In a sense, they brought to life today’s equivalent of the ancient Greek and Roman mythical gods, represented in Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and all the rest of those super-powered heroes running around in their long underwear.

Sound pretentious? Maybe. But it’s also the truth.

So Blue Fire is, in part, my salute to those artists and writers. Thanks to recent court cases, they’re finally receiving their financial due – well, at least their surviving family members are, since many of them passed away years ago. But then again, it was never really about the money for them – or they certainly wouldn’t have picked the comics field to work in.

No, for them, it was all about having the ability and freedom to create. And that’s a feeling I can understand.

Blog Posts Joel's Posts

Blue Fire, Part 2: CIA Mind Control

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents from April 8th through April 15th -see first part of this series here )


When you write a mystery-thriller, you obviously have to concoct stories that are a little bit bigger than life. But what’s interesting is that I keep discovering real life is a lot scarier than anything I can think up.

For example, in Dark Sky, the first book in my Max Bowman series, the back story was based around a series of savage raids by Americans in the Afghanistan war. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t know if this level of unrestrained violence had really occurred. After some research, I found that it had; after our military surge in Iraq seemed to have met with some success, we then took off the brakes in Afghanistan and let our troops loose with a vengeance, so much so that the Afghani government asked us to tone it down – too many civilians were getting killed.

Not only that, but I found out some of the Special Ops troops were conducting night raids…with tomahawks. Yes, tomahawks, just like those used by Native Americans back in the day. And these were not ordinary tomahawks, but Hollywood tomahawks, because these particular weapons were hand-crafted by the same guy who made them for the 1992 movie version of Last of the Mohicans.

So that was weird.

When it came time to start thinking of plotlines for Blue Fire, the sequel to Dark Sky, I knew there was some kind of secret mind control project that had been conducted by the CIA back in the 1950s and 60s. For some reason, I at first thought it probably didn’t amount to much, but again, my research proved otherwise. The CIA program was called MK-Ultra and its aim was to create brainwashing techniques to persuade enemies to talk – and also to create zombie assassins who could be programmed to carry out whatever lethal orders the agency decided to give them.

Fun stuff. And it gets better – because the CIA started the mind-control ball rolling with the help of some former Nazi scientists who were anxious to continue the loathsome experimentation they had begun in the Third Reich. We even brought these lovely gentlemen and their families into the country through another secret initiative called Operation Paperclip.

The more I read about MK-Ultra, the more twisted the whole effort seemed. The CIA secretly dosed hundreds of people with LSD – just to see what would happen to them. Friends, family, other CIA agents…everyone was fair game. The agency even set up a drug rehab program in the South where they gave out free heroin to junkies if they would agree to participate in their LSD experiments, and attracted some very famous contemporary jazz musicians in the process. The CIA director even covertly gave his son LSD on multiple occasions and the kid ended up being committed for a time to an institution.

There are more wild and weird facts about MK-Ultra in the book, almost all of them true, including the tragic story of Dr. Frank Olson, another associate who was surreptitiously dosed with LSD and ended up mysteriously falling out a window from a New York skyscraper – oh, while a CIA agent just happened to be in the room.

All of the dirty details about MK-Ultra were, of course, meant to stay secret. As a matter of fact, the CIA tried to get rid of any evidence that the program ever existed. In 1973, when Watergate fever ravaged Washington D.C. and government mistrust was at an all-time high, the CIA frantically destroyed all of the MK-Ultra files in case Congress came after them. And Congress did – holding hearings on the program in 1975, where direct participants testified. In 1977, 20,000 MK-Ultra documents were found to have survived the CIA purge, but only a small portion of those have been declassified.

Despite all the damage done, MK-Ultra is still an almost-forgotten footnote in our country’s history, even though a top secret agency was running amok and messing with innocent people’s brain chemistry at will.

As they say, you can’t make this shit up – and fortunately, I didn’t have to.

Tomorrow…the dirty truth about comic books!

Blog Posts Joel's Posts

The Secret History of Blue Fire, Part 1

(The first in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents – from April 8th through April 15th)

As I write these words, it hasn’t even been a year since I decided to write my first novel. That happened on Memorial Day weekend, 2015 (for more details on that epiphany, read this post from last year).

Now, I’m releasing my second one. I hadn’t anticipated completing another one so soon – especially one that’s about a hundred pages longer than the first. But when you’re inspired…

And boy, was I inspired.

In the next few days, I’m going to be writing more about that inspiration. About the ideas and the history that made me have to write this damn book…in spite of my regular ghostwriting work and my lovely wife telling me I was crazy to try and do a second novel so soon after the first one. The problem was, as with the first book, Dark Sky, I couldn’t help it. I was flooded with characters, plot complications and the overwhelming desire to do a bigger, deeper and richer book than the first – and I had to get it all out on paper. Well, on the computer anyway.

This isn’t to say that I was unhappy with Dark Sky.  Far from it. The feedback from friends and family was fantastic and so were most of the reviews posted on Amazon. But still, it was the first novel I had attempted in thirty years or so and the first time I had really attempted the mystery-thriller genre. I knew I could do even better with the second one.

Of course, whether I did or not is up to the ultimate judgment of readers. And there’s some controversial stuff in this one. And there’s a different tone, particularly in the closing chapters. This time around, I took more chances – and I hope they paid off.

In any event, I hope you’ll come back to this here blog space over the next four days to find out just what went into Blue Fire – and why I’m a little bit nervous about how people will react to it.