The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl

June 24, 2010

Marc Schuster

The Permanent Press, 2009

293 Pages, Fiction

4 out of 5 stars


The question is not, ‘what happens when a suburban divorcee tries cocaine for the hell of it?’ The question is, ‘what secrets lie behind the doors and discreetly parted blinds and curtains of your neighbors?’ What are the dark and shameful habits of your coworkers? What questionable pastimes happen after the workday is done, when the work shoes and suits are back in the closet, and the kids have gone to bed?

Marc Schuster’s Wonder Mom and Party Girl is the story of a seemingly normal, law abiding, single mother named Audrey who gives into peer pressure and, trying to please everyone in her life, decides that it won’t hurt to try a single line of cocaine. I’m taken back to the days of grade school, when Nancy Reagan was the face of the Just Say No campaign but millions of kids would still D.A.R.E to use drugs. I remember that old commercial where the kid is confronted by an angry father holding a box full of drugs, demanding to learn where they came from. “You alright? I learned it by watching you!”

The war on drugs ended neither in victory nor defeat, it just sort of petered out. Did we give up? Or did the children who were being coached to just say no grow up and decide it would be okay to just say yes?

Audrey is quite likely one of these children. Now a grown up mother of two grade school girls, she is working a thankless job and putting up with her ex-husband’s new girlfriend and a cast of selfish coworkers who are more interested in getting high than looking out for Audrey’s well-being. This is a suspenseful tale that layers anticipation for Audrey’s first encounter with cocaine. As a suburban mother, she keeps excusing her sin. “I’m an adult…I’m really a good person.” Like a college freshman experimenting with marijuana,  it’s just one little taste.

The story really comes to life after her first experience with the drug. The crash, the regret, the promise to never do it again. Some people never change. Then the story calms back to its tale of mundane suburban family life, but then Audrey does another line of cocaine and returns to the video game with her daughters and starts to kick ass.

The spending spree in the mall is one of the strongest chapters, where Audrey is powered by coke and in command all the way. Just when you think she’s ready to come clean about what she’s done, you learn that “coming clean” means  admitting that she just spent thousands of dollars at the mall. On the way home, she turns into a complete bitch and we know we’re headed for disaster.

Like most American drug stories, we know where this one is headed and the supporting characters are not as well developed as Audrey. The first person narrative sticks with the protagonist and we don’t have a chance to get into the heads of her children. Her boyfriend Owen is a jazz-obsessed blur, who fades in and out of the story to suit Audrey’s needs.

It is Audrey’s downward ride to the bottom that remind us that drugs are still a part of our culture. I’ve encountered them at every job I’ve had, every school I’ve attended. Yes, even grade school where it was all about getting high. High on sugar. Or the teachers, drinking powerful coffee (as the author calls it – drugs in a cup). Chocolate, chamomile tea, bath crystals that take you away.

What about the hard stuff? The real drugs?  Sure, they are everywhere too. From leftover Vicodin capsules to a radio talk show host arrested for being addicted to pain medication to the guy at work who was fired for being drunk. We cannot tolerate these infringements on our peaceful society let we live to get high.

The search for a drug-free culture is the search for a perfect society. It does not exist. It will never exist. Instead we must face it and live our lives confronted with a series of daily choices.

The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl is available wherever books are sold but you should visit the author’s site first.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, June 2010


How to be Interviewed on the Radio

June 19, 2010

5 Simple Tips for Sounding Great on the Radio

Having done several radio interviews to promote my second novel The Cigar Maker I thought I would share some things I have learned about being a great interviewee on the radio. Here are five easy tricks to sounding great on the radio and conducting a great interview.

1. Be Prepared

You need to be quick with your words and be ready to talk. Write down a list of talking points and have them in front of you during the interview. The host will probably start by introducing you and giving you a chance to talk about your product. Have a 20 second pitch written down. I usually have about two pages of typed notes that I refer to during the show.

You need to sound credible and if you’re bumbling with your words the listener will not take you seriously.

2. Know Your Audience

It is very important to understand the show’s audience and to speak to things that will interest that group. Talking to other authors on Blog Talk Radio is much different than speaking to seasoned cigar smokers on The Cigar Authority. For one audience, I talked about the writing process, my characters and my experiences in publishing. For the other audience, I talked about the history of the cigar industry, how the struggles of the early 20th century cigar workers are still relevant today, and my favorite cigars.

The host or producer should be able to provide a demographic breakdown of their listeners, so you can adjust your talking points accordingly.

3. Educate and Entertain

The worst thing you can do when answering questions is to give short answers lacking in substance.  Example. The interviewer will likely ask where you live, or where you are from. Take a look at two possible interviews.

#1 Guest Gives Brief Answer

Host: You live in Minneapolis, right?

You: Correct.

#2 Guest Gives a Little More

Host: You live in Minneapolis, right?

You: I live in Minneapolis, where the Minnesota Twins have put together a terrific team and are having a great season in a brand new outdoor ballpark.

Which interview is more interesting?

Since you know your audience, you should be able to provide information that either entertains or educates them. Don’t spend a lot of time talking about yourself, unless you have some interesting anecdotes that relate to your product. Overcome the “so what?” factor and keep giving the listener a reason to take another look at your product.

4. Control Yourself and Your Environment

You do not want to control the interview or the show. Leave that to the host. What you can control is you. Your voice, your environment, your audio posture. Find a quiet room and beware of outside noises like airplanes, lawn mowers, pets and curious children. Sit outside in your car if you must but know that the airwaves can be sensitive and you don’t want a ringing doorbell to distract listeners from your pitch.

Project your voice. Speak a bit louder than you normally do and make sure you sit up straight. Hunching over can muffle and weaken your voice. I actually stand up when I’m being interviewed on the radio, and imagine I’m giving a presentation to an auditorium filled with hundreds of people.

And don’t forget to mention your product! Don’t rely on the host to do this for you. Instead of saying, “my book is about blah blah blah,” the listener who just joined will appreciate it if you say, “my book, The Cigar Maker, is about…”

Do plenty of name dropping – of not only your product but your website.

5. Make a Strategic Follow Up

After the show be sure to follow up and thank the host and/or the producer. But your promotion doesn’t end when you hang up the phone. Offer to provide several free promotional samples of your product. After two of the shows I did, I offered to send 3-5 books that the host could give away to listeners on future shows. If they are giving something of yours away, that means they’ll be talking about it, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. It’s free media and free media that you will not have to manage. Your presence will linger long after the show and the free items will create buzz, which is exactly why you went on the show in the first place!

Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker and Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy


Perdomo 10th Anniversary Maduro

June 17, 2010

Photo by Daniel T.

This cigar gave me a nice buzz. Granted, I haven’t smoked a maduro in awhile, but this one hit the spot. I headed on over to the Golden Leaf in Uptown Minneapolis to pick up some sticks for my dad’s Father’s Day gift, and to resupply my own humidor. The Perdomo rep approached me, introduced himself and said they had a special going: buy any Perdomos and get the Perdomo 10th Anniversary puro for free. What man in his right mind would resist such an offer?

The Perdomo 10th Anniversary is made with attractive Cuban-seed Nicaraguan Maduro wrappers and had one of the smoothest finishes I’ve tasted in a maduro. The cigar is beautiful, with a dark, even wrapper and an even roll. With an aroma of fine, slightly sweet, slightly damp tobacco I was worried that the tightly packed cigar would have a tight draw.

Boy, was I wrong. It had a great pull. A perfect little chee-gar. A bit on the side of heavy, but that’s the way I like it: with lots of smoke. I thought the cigar might burn a little too fast but the burn was even, with a slight crease at first that quickly evened out. This was fine tobacco, on the sweet side, with some mocha thrown in for good measure, and very, very smooth. Although this was a maduro, it didn’t taste or feel like a maduro, not until I was about halfway in and realized how strong the P- 10th A was. I did not have to tend to this cigar at all, and was content to sit back and listen to the Minnesota Twins finish a great game against the Colorado Rockies. The Perdomo took me all the way from the 5th inning until Jon Rauch’s 1-2-3 inning to end the game and secure his American League leading 17th save of the year.

I had some red wine with the cigar – a standard cabernet with a twist of tonic water and a pair of ice cubes. This might not have been the best drink to accompany the Perdomo as the wine was a bit too dry and didn’t help to compliment the Perdomo’s heavy taste. I might have been better off with a light beer or even a Diet Coke.

As I reached the end of the cigar I was pleased when the flavor barely changed and the cigar retained its shape and burn. I took a walk around my house and found a swarm of ants gathered on the walkway leading to the front door. We’re talking about a massive invasion of thousands of ants, piled three high, crawling from the cracks to face the world for the first time. I had a cigarette lighter in my pocket and a nice white-hot ash ready to fall from my maduro.

Ants don’t like my hobby as much as I do.

UPDATE: the Perdomo image above is from Casa Fumado.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, June 2010. Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker.


Two of My Characters – in Comic Book Form!!

June 15, 2010

Coolest thing ever. Check out Salvador and Juan Carlos at a cock fight during the opening chapter of The Cigar Maker!

This comes from Lupi (be sure you check out her site!) whose latest endeavor is Bantam a comic she created for Lutefisk Sushi which is a silk-screened bento box filled with original mini-comics from Minnesota artists. This summer the 4th edition will be out and it’s always filled with some of the most creative and original artwork and stories you can imagine!


Some Misconceptions About Authors

June 11, 2010

Okay, let’s clear these up right now.

Authors make a lot of money selling books

Yeah, right. Seriously though, some do. Most don’t. Sarah Palin made millions, more than enough to quit her day job. On the absolute opposite end of the continuum, Joe Schmuckarola, who you’ve never heard of even though he lives right down the street, sold a total of 4 copies of his self-published underwater crime thriller. And he bought one of those copies himself, just to see what it would do to his Amazon ranking (it sent his book from 2,341,556 to 341,457 — but only for about two days, until the ranking promptly fell back into the 2 millions).

So we make money, but our bottom line is a direct result of the amount of intelligent effort we’ve invest in our marketing, the commercial appeal of the work, and the ability to talk about our books in a way that either entertains or educates the public.

Authors are famous, or will be one day

You don’t write a book and get famous, you get famous and then write a book.

Authors worked their tale off to perfect their craft, labored for hours to win the attention of an agent, sent their manuscript in and waited and waited until a giant NY publisher called and wrote them a giant check

Naw, anyone can write a book these days. Really. It’s not that hard. And it’s only going to get easier. Check out Garrison Keillor’s article on The End of an Era in Publishing.

In school, authors received high marks in English, spelling, grammar, etc…

I was terrible in English class, still can’t spell, have awful grammar and a limited vocabulary. I scored much higher on the math portion of the SAT than that other section. My reading comprehension scores were always the lowest of all my standardized test scores. I’m great with numbers, but struggle with words. Ultimately I’m a storyteller. Discuss the nuance of  Jane Eyre? No. Won’t even try.

Authors are backed by a publisher who handles all their publicity and marketing

If this was true I wouldn’t be writing this. Or posting a link to the official website for my newest book, The Cigar Maker.

Thanks for reading, gang! See you next time!


War Crimes, Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Weapons, Great Reviews

June 10, 2010

Working out an outline for my next book….tentative working title is Unit 731. Read more about Unit 731 on Wikipedia…We’re talking World War II, we’re talking biological and chemical weapons research, we’re talking war crimes, we’re talking atomic bombs. We’re talking about redepmtion!!

Two characters…good guy vs. bad guy. Chase scenes. Sharp dialogue. Thriller. JG Ballard meets John Hersey.

While we’re at it – if you haven’t seen these reviews for The Cigar Maker, please check them out. They’rrrreeee great!!!

The Historical Novel Review recommends The Cigar Maker to anyone who enjoys probing into the neglected corners of history.

Blogger News Network calls it a window into an unexpected and fascinating world.

Small Press Reviews calls it the great American novel!


Supply vs. Demand: The Economics of Book Sales

June 7, 2010

How are you selling your book? Are you trying to get it in bookstores, making it available online, getting it in every library in the country, setting an online store?

Or are you getting yourself in the news, creating a buzz, letting the general public know that your book exists and overcoming the Who-Cares Factor?

Some authors make the mistake of spending nearly all their time trying to get their book stocked on bookstore shelves. It’s nice to see your book on the shelf, no doubt, but then what? With thousands of books on the shelves, who will even notice that it is there? Who will care? The problem with this approach is that people, even people casually browsing a bookstore, already know what they want. They might not know exactly what they want, but they have a good idea. Your book ends up going virtually unnoticed.

Instead of relying on a store to push your work to the reader, send the reader into the store.

Even if the bookstore doesn’t carry your book, they can order it. Some people, if they really want to read your book, will ask for it, make the bookstore order it, even pay for it in advnace. People read either because they want to be entertained or educated. If you can convince them that your book will do exactly this, you are one step closer to sending mass amounts of people into the store to demand their copy of your book.

Case in point: Sarah Palin. Her book sold millions of copies and not because millions of copies were available. Say what you want about Mrs. Palin, she (and her publicist) was able to create a stunning level of demand for her book. As soon as it went on sale, the people gobbled it up faster than a turkey headed for slaughter during a half-term governor’s television interview.

Does this mean you need to become the governor of a large state, spend $150,000 of political contributions on clothes, get involved in a primetime media war with your daughter’s ex-boyfriend and quit your job to go on a major speaking tour? That would certainly help but most of us simply don’t have the time for all that stuff. Instead, here is what we can learn from Sarah:

Get in the news

Send a press release tailored to your target market. People will be paid to read it. Get a radio spot, or a few radio spots. Reach as many potential readers as you can. Or take a note from Sarah and do something unusual that media outlets can’t resist!

Hit the blogs & social networks

Blogs are more important than websites. They have lots of readers. Millions. Establish a presence there by getting to know the owner, sending a relevant press release directly to them, volunteer to write guest articles, register as a user and post, post, post! Link everything to your (branded and professional-looking) website. And make sense. Don’t post just to post, but have something educational or entertaining to say.  Stuff like this actually works but only if you really understand your audience…

Make yourself credible

Okay, the former governor is still struggling with this. But she’s at least trying to look like she knows what she’s talking about. You have to do this too. Borrow from the success of others and use words that paint pictures. Instead of saying that your book is about “The life of a former politico” say that your book is “A modern day 1984 written in the style of John Grisham.” This will help to establish your brand and your credibility as an author.

Check out Dr. Wayne Dyer’s website. I have no idea who this guy is but his website makes him look like a friggin’ expert. I would go to this guy for financial advise, to get a tooth pulled, to learn about Egyptian mummies, and to fix my car, plumbing and television set. He looks like a damn genius.

Try Everything

Interest is going to come where you least expect it. Just when you thought they wouldn’t give a damn, try them again.

And don’t give up!!!

If you can create an interest in yourself as an authority or an entertaining personality, people will be interested in your work and will venture into the online and brick & mortar bookstores to check out your book. At that point, they already know what they want. It’s your job to create demand and convince them that what they want is your book!!

And so I can put my money where my mouth is, I’m going to direct you to The Cigar Maker official website.


The Summer of ’88

June 2, 2010

After a 450 page novel that took 7 years to write, I needed to do something quick and easy. Check out this short story….

The Summer of ‘88

by Mark McGinty

This is pretty much a true story. Sorry if anyone gets offended. Back in the summer of ’88 there were these two kids who lived in the same neighborhood. They weren’t really friends, weren’t really enemies either. They just never paid attention to each other.

Daniel had a lawn mowing business that he put together with an investment from his dad. Daniel talked his dad into springing for the newest state-of-the-art riding lawn mower with the promise that the machine would be used to make money. That Saturday they stood in the driveway and admired their purchase.

The Honda HT3815 Lawn Tractor was red with black tires and a cushioned black seat. It was equipped with a 13 horsepower 2 cylinder gasoline engine with a 1.88 gallon gas tank, and a 5-speed transmission capable of reaching a top speed of 5.4 miles per hour. It could also be shifted into reverse. The wheelbase was just over 45 inches across and the tractor was nearly 70 inches long, weighing in with an empty gas tank at 545 pounds. A stable machine, with little to no risk of tipping over. And the engine started with a key instead of a rope.

Daniel’s dad asked. “Have you thought about how you’re going to get it from place to place?”

Daniel froze. He hadn’t.

***

Down the street, Joe slept in. He always slept late Saturday mornings because he was always up late on Friday nights. He’d be awake long after his parents had gone to bed – if his father was even in town. Poor guy worked his tail off and traveled all the time. Last night it was just Joe and Mom at the house. She made dinner, timing the entrée and side dishes perfectly so that everything was ready at exactly 5:30.

“Thirty minutes to cook the chicken, ten minutes in the microwave for the potatoes. Put the chicken in at 5:00 and the potatoes in at 5:20. Make a salad while they cook.” At 5:30 the oven buzzer and the microwave bell sounded and her son arrived in the kitchen to take his seat. Like a passenger catching a train, or Pavlov’s dog. He arrived in the kitchen mere seconds after the buzzer sounded. “Like a robot sitting down for his scheduled maintenance,” she mumbled to herself as she set a pair of plates on the table.

“Robots,” she shook her head. She had seen too much of those Star Wars movies that seemed to always be playing on every television in the house. After cleaning the kitchen and dishes and settling down with a glass of rum and Diet Coke, Joe’s mom was usually in bed after the evening news, with the worst timing, arriving just as the nightly Cheers rerun broke for its first commercial.

“Damn it!” she’d curse as she arranged her blanket and settled in to watch a message from a prolific local law firm.

Joe hung out in the downstairs den, with the TV on almost all night. The spacey second family room was used mainly by Joe and kept all his most important toys: the television set and VCR, an old Atari 2600 that he was sick and tired of playing, the Apple IIe, hundreds of action figures, Transformers and little plastic green army men, board games, and Legos.

The really important stuff was in his room next door: his baseball cards (Joe didn’t collect football cards because as he once told a friend, “Football is dumb”), a shelf decorated with little league sports trophies and pictures of his friends and family, a writing desk with a top drawer filled with treasures Joe had collected over the years. A New York City subway token, a pair of voodoo dolls his dad had picked up on a trip to the Dominican Republic, a wad of cash. $33 in total. Some of that was from mowing the lawn – he had more in the bank.

Joe spent a lot of time at the Apple IIe. Wings of Fury, Lode Runner and Robotron were his favorite games and he played them over and over, until he mastered all levels and advanced so far he wondered if he was a pioneer. The first person to achieve the rank of Captain and sink five ships in one mission.

The Tonight Show was on after Cheers, then Letterman. Joe kept the TV on for background noise but hardly paid attention. After another hour of computer games he returned to the command prompt and wrote a short program.

10 PRINT “JOE IS COOL”

20 GOTO 10

RUN

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

And on and on and on…Joe stopped the program and added one more line of code that would make his infinite proclamation fall from the top of the screen like a curtain dropping to end a show.

5 HOME

RUN

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

JOE IS COOL

When Letterman was over he had no idea what to watch. USA Up All Night, Showtime or a movie on video? He had half of Return of the Jedi on video from when he’s recorded it the night it aired on prime time. But he had left the recorder on pause during a commercial and forgot to click play when the movie resumed, so he only captured the first half of Episode 6.

Joe remembered a kid at his school, a brainchild named Matthew, who knew everything about Star Wars. Matthew had told him, “They’re going to make episodes 1, 2 and 3!”

Joe imagined the possibilities. “Man, those are going to be so awesome!”

But it wasn’t the right night for Jedi. He changed the channel to USA Up All Night which played some cheesy movie about zombies and teenagers. It would do. He slipped his Transylvania disk into the A drive and wondered what he could do about that damn werewolf who showed up on every screen.

***

Daniel was up late on his family’s home computer designing a flier for his lawn mowing business. He had the words curving over the top of the page, “Daniel’s Lawn Service”.

Under that he typed, “Lawn Mowing, Trimming and Weeds.”

He typed their phone number at the bottom. Under that it said, “Call Daniel!”

He sat back to inspect his work. Something was missing so he leaned forward and typed, at the very bottom of the page, “(Be sure to ask for Daniel Jr.)”

Satisfied, he saved the flier and printed 50 copies; the family’s dot matrix printer made an electronic back-and-forth zinging sound as it worked. Daniel calculated his costs and profits. Three lawns a week at $20 a lawn, figuring the season would last 16 weeks, was $960. Four lawns a week was $1280. The lawn mower had cost his dad $400, which Daniel had promised to pay back.

Then there was his four wheeler.

Daniel planned to use the four wheeler with a flatbed trailer as transportation for the mower. He could ride around the neighborhood and unload his mower at each stop, and carry extra supplies on the trailer. As the printer kept zinging, Daniel took a blank sheet of paper and made a list of his supplies:

four wheeler

mower

trailer

helmet

gloves for four wheeler

gloves for yard work

gas for four wheeler

gas for mower

extra spark plugs

oil

rags

bucket

weed trimmer

extension cord

Sony Walkman

cassette tapes

extra batteries for Walkman

sunscreen

clippers

notepad

pencil or pen (or both)

gum

shades

a couple baseball hats

water bottle (filled with water)

bucket

rag

Daniel saw that he already had the word “rags” so he crossed out “rag” and continued.

spare change

key chain for lawnmower key

envelope to hold money and checks

calculator?

He sat back to calculate his costs. He’d need to mow three lawns a week just to break even so he set a goal to mow at least four lawns a week. He checked the clock and saw it was 11:30…way past his bed time. He saved his work, flipped off the computer and went to bed.

***

The next morning Joe woke up in time to catch the last 10 minutes of Roadrunner-Coyote, toasted a couple of Eggo Waffles and headed outside to mow the lawn. He finished 45 minutes later and as he was pushing the mower back into the garage, Daniel from down the street walked up the driveway. He carried a stack of white papers with him and peeled a layer off the top, handing the flier to Joe.

“Will you give this to your mom for me?”

Joe looked at the flier advertising Daniel’s lawn service. Call Daniel. $20 a lawn. Joe wondered if Daniel noticed that Joe had just finished mowing his own lawn.

“I’m handing them out to every house,” Daniel explained before he headed next door to drop a flier in the neighbor’s mailbox.

Joe went inside for a glass of lemonade and the latest episode of This Week in Baseball. When Joe’s mom returned from her tennis match, she pulled into the driveway admiring the careful and thorough job Joe did with the grass. Once inside, she handed him a $10 bill and thanked him for mowing. “Good job.”

Joe handed Daniel’s flier to his mom. “Daniel told me to give this to you.”

She read the paper and scoffed. “Call Daniel? Yeah, right.”

Joe smiled as she crumpled the flier and threw it away.

***

“Got the flier, looks good.”

Daniel clutched his phone and listened.

Mr. Winchester said, “Twenty’s a little high but I’ll give you a shot. Can you do it Tuesday afternoon?”

“Absolutely!”

Daniel spent Tuesday afternoon prepping for Daniel’s Lawn Service’s first official appointment. He gassed the lawn mower and four wheeler, emptying the last drop of the family’s 5-gallon gas tank. He gathered all his supplies, throwing most of them into a cardboard box that he placed on the flatbed trailer. He popped his helmet on and wiggled his hands into his gloves before running into the house to grab his last canister of Bubble Tape. He slipped the gum into his back pocket, a popular practice among the boys at his school and one that his father hated, since the round, plastic Bubble Tape case had the exact dimensions of a can of chewing tobacco.

He rode the tractor onto the trailer while his dad stood in the yard and supervised. Then they both secured the tractor to the trailer with a pair of ropes before Daniel’s dad wish him luck and sent him on his way.

Mr. Winchester’s house was just 200 yards away and as Daniel parked his rig on the street, he inspected the vast green lawn before him. Flat and wide, with two small trees on the left side of the driveway and a wooden fence on the right that bordered the neighbor’s property. There was a flowerbed near the house, maintained by Mrs. Winchester and a garden hose snaked across the front lawn. He’d need to use the weed trimmer around the front steps and wondered if there was a nearby outlet. He removed his helmet, untied the ropes that held the tractor in place and got to work.

When Mr. Winchester arrived home from work a few hours later and inspected the fresh cut lawn as he pulled his Buick into the driveway. The kid must still be working on it, he thought as he noticed a row of dark green clumps of grass clippings where the driveway met the grass. A small bed of grass in the front corner had been missed entirely and there was a long row of uncut grass running the length of the yard from the house to the street. A ragged green Mohawk decorating the otherwise flat, even lawn.

“The kid missed an entire row!” Winchester said as he stepped out of his Buick, his briefcase in one hand and his gray sports coat draped over his other arm.

Winchester walked towards the house and saw the garden hose thrown sloppily across Mrs. Winchester’s flowerbed as if overturned by a pair of vandals. He dared not go to the back, but on his way there, he saw where someone had tried to trim the edge of the grass along with house’s side wall but quit halfway into the job. When he finally reached the backyard, he saw two piles of grass clippings beside the rock garden, decorating his otherwise pristine backyard like a pair of messy, green haystacks.

It was the worst lawn mowing job Winchester had ever seen.

“Twenty bucks for this shit?”

“He’s just a kid, Roger. He did the best he could.” Mrs. Winchester explained as she prepared the evening meal.

Mr. Winchester set his coat on one of the kitchen stool. “You didn’t pay him, did you?”

“Of course! It was your idea to call him. ‘Give him a chance,’ you said. ‘He’s working for a living,’ you said. I can’t not pay him, Roger!”

“He missed entire rows! Did you see where he dumped the clippings? I’ll have to go out there and fix everything he did!”

Mrs. Winchester shrugged. “I can’t argue with that.”

***

Daniel rested on his bed and stared at his money. A fresh, clean $20 handed to him by Mrs. Winchester after a job well done. Daniel held it to his nose and took a long, soothing sniff of the green cotton and wood pulp. It smelled like success. It smelled like Play Doh. Actual Play Doh, the gummy colored clay that came in yellow cans and dried up if you left it out too long.

He smiled and gently placed the twenty into his money box – a white cardboard cigar box with gold trim that his father had given him. He sat back and rested his eyes, satisfied with a hard day’s work.

***

Joe had a great backyard. Grass for about 30 feet and then nothing but woods and prairie for as far as a kid could walk. They had only lived in the house for three years but the amount of time Joe spent in the backyard, and the intricate fantasies he had concocted there made for a century’s worth of experience. He had buried a jar of nickels, dimes and pennies back there last summer and had drawn a map to their location but vowed not to dig it up until next summer. He had also buried a time capsule nearby – a paint can filled with a few sentimental trinkets: a Darryl Strawberry rookie card, Luke Skywalker in Rebel pilot uniform, a broken Swatch, a hackey-sack, a $2 bill, a quarter from Canada (another souvenir from one of his dad’s trips), a couple Hot Wheels, a box of matches, a AAA battery, a picture of a girl he liked in 5th grade, and a scrap of paper with Gary Gaetti’s autograph.

Joe had once planted a row of popcorn seeds in the backyard, trying to grow a crop of corn but they never sprouted. Other than a failed farm and a temporary burial ground the backyard also served as an army base, a nomad’s hideout, a strange forest on a distant planet, Vietnam, Guadalcanal, the future site of a kickass tree house and in the winter, with three feet of snow on the ground, the backyard was Hoth and nothing but Hoth. The family Collie, Buddha, was Chewbacca.

Two summers ago, somewhere in the backyard, Joe had found a rock that looked exactly like the Sankara Stone from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He painted three white lines across the face to look exactly like the rock from the movie. But during a frantic escape through the backyard, it had fallen from his shoulder bag and Joe had never recovered it. He was on a search mission now, sweeping his feet over the ground trying to find the lost rock when he saw something better: a flat piece of glass with a red tint. It looked like the bottom of a glass bottle. He picked it up and brushed the dirt off seeing that it was translucent, with a slight red hue. Perfect! He put it in his pocket and continued his search.

***

Winchester was livid over his lawn. Entire rows missed. Clippings everywhere. Disrespectful treatment of a garden hose. That was the last time he’d spend $20 on an amateur. Maybe he could get that Joe kid from down the street to do it for $10. The kid’s lawn always looked great and he wouldn’t bring an entire construction crew with him.

“Are you interested in mowing my lawn next Tuesday?”

Joe was undecided. “Um, Tuesday?”

“Sure, Tuesday! Are you free?”

“Um,” Joe nibbled his lower lip and he fiddled with the cordless telephone. “It’s just that I don’t really mow lawns on Tuesdays.”

“Wednesday then.”

“Sure.”

“Can you have it done before 5:00? I like the lawn to be mowed by the time I get home from work. And dump the clippings all the way in the back, behind the giant tree.”

“Sure.”

“Give a knock on the door when you’re done and my wife will pay you. $10.”

“Sure.”

They hung up and Joe went back to his project. He took the circular piece of glass with the red tint and attached it to the top of a broomstick using a couple strips of clear packaging tape. He took his contraption outside and saw the sun was starting to set and was about to cast the perfect light on the family shed. He opened the door and slipped his side.

On the floor of the shed Joe had used empty milk cartons and juice boxes to build a miniature city. An Egyptian city. The city of Tanis, the possible resting place for the lost ark. Late afternoon sunlight spilled in through a circular window near the ceiling and would illuminate the city in a matter of moments.

Joe positioned himself under the window and stuck the broomstick in place on the floor. The red tinted piece of glass sat atop his makeshift Staff of Ra, ready to focus sunlight on the city and point a red beam of light onto the final resting place of the lost ark. Joe waited, holding his staff, watching as the staff’s shadow slowly crawled across the floor of the shed.

It did not emit a sharp red spot like he hoped it would. It didn’t emit any red at all. It was just a blurry shadow that took forever to move across the floor. It worked much better in Raiders.

“Aw, this is stupid.” Joe pulled his staff away and tossed it across the miniature city.

He went inside for a Fudgsicle.

His mom asked him about Mr. Winchester.

“Yeah, he called.”

Joe’s mom sat at the kitchen table reading a magazine and drinking a rum and Diet Coke. “Mr. Winchester told me Daniel does a terrible job. He said Daniel leaves entire rows uncut.”

Joe smirked.

His mom smiled. “What?”

“Nothing. I just always thought that Daniel kid was kind of a dipshit.”

“You better not let your father hear you talk that way.”

“It’s true though.”

Her eyes returned to her magazine. “Yeah, I know.”

***

Daniel had delivered 48 fliers and had booked four jobs, but for some reason, Mr. Winchester never called back for a second gig. Maybe he just needed a reminder. The business was secure and Daniel began planning for the winter. He sat at the computer and typed the words “Daniel’s Snow Clearing”.

Under that he typed, “Driveway Clearing, Shoveling and Salting”.

He typed the phone number at the bottom. Under that it said “Call Daniel! (Be sure to ask for Daniel Jr.).”

He smiled and saved his work.

***

It was getting late and Joe could hear his mom closing the dishwasher, putting things away in the refrigerator and shutting off the kitchen lights. A few minutes later he ducked into her bedroom. Dad was still on a business trip and Joe’s mom was under the covers watching the last ten minutes of Cheers. Sam and Coach were arguing about something while Norm watched from his corner stool.

“Good night, Mom.”

She managed half a smile as she awoke from a half sleep. “Good night, honey.”

He went downstairs on turned on his computer. He typed a quick program.

10 FOR T = 1 TO 3000: NEXT

RUN

It made his computer pause for 3000 whatevers before the blinking cursor reappeared at the bottom of the screen. It was boring. He turned on the TV just as Johnny Carson was getting underway. He went to his bedroom and started sorting through his baseball cards, opening his box of 1985 Fleer and sorting the position players by batting average, highest to lowest, as Doc Severinsin’s band played in the background.

The end

***


The Academician – Southern Swallow – Book I

June 1, 2010

Edward C. Patterson

CreateSpace, 2009

402, Fiction

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Edward C. Patterson, one of the most prolific indie authors I’ve encountered, has published (by my rough count) somewhere between 15 and 17 books and has another 6 or 7 on the way. Some of these are on Kindle, some in paperback, some available through both. The point is, this guy can generate some words. And he’s been writing long enough to have developed a confident command of the language. His books are rich in detail, and filled with minutiae. Patterson seems not to labor over every detail, but to naturally sprinkle these convincing spices into his work morsel by morsel, whimsically and flippantly, but always with little effort. He makes it look easy and these colorful details build a world, populate his environment, and become the essence of his writing.

The Academician, the first of four books in Patterson’s Southern Swallow series, takes us on an epic journey through 12th Century China. A government servant (think of him as a middle manager for the Hui Dynasty) Li K-ai-men and his servant K’u Ko-ling travel through the country together and, shall we say, bond with each other. The story is rich in history and filled with meticulous detail, descriptions of the food, clothing, and customs are expertly concocted with historical precision. The execution of brigand Ch’ien Mu by blade (literally a death by 1,000 slices) is gripping in its violence.

The relationship between master and servant, though not entirely inappropriate, does cause complications for Li K-ai-men, who knows his lover can be “neither concubine for inheritor,” but continues the affair, losing his wife’s trust.

This is heavy reading. It was difficult to read in large chunks and I kept taking breaks to devour something quick and easy before picking it up again to chew through another 100 pages. The writing is excellent and feels like Patterson went back in time to the 12th Century, lived there for years, and came back to write this book. Or perhaps he’s actually from the 12th Century? The research is that strong.

This should be a 4-star book, but I’m deducting half a star for the cover. I’ve stressed again and again the importance of a strong cover but this one is pixilated and blurry and difficult to interpret. It looks like a low-resolution jpeg was expanded by Microsoft Paint and then shrunk, expanded, shrunk and expanded again. Make sure your cover is designed by a pro.

All in all, a good book backed by very strong writing and expert knowledge of the setting.

The Academician – Southern Swallow – Book I is available from Amazon.

Visit Edward’s page on Author’s Den.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, June 2010.


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