A Change Is Gonna Come

It is the summer of 1969, capstone of an incandescent decade, a time of conflict and hope. Elizabeth Reed and Hayden Quinn have both. The couple are on a mission. Just not the same one.

The daughter of Quakers, Elizabeth is fighting to save the family farm from a dam that will flood the Delaware Valley. Armed with only grit and a camera, she documents the destruction wrought by a government intent on damming the last free-flowing river east of the Mississippi.

Hayden Quinn, the man Rolling Stone calls the next Jimi Hendrix, is committed more to music than Elizabeth, the woman he’s supposed to love. For the guitarist, a genius at fusing disparate genres like classical and rock, liberty is freedom from restraint. His dream is to take his group to Woodstock—if someone doesn’t kill them all first.

An explosion at the band’s homecoming concert, a fire that threatens Elizabeth’s farm, and a series of suspicious deaths plunge them into a race to identify the saboteur, a person closer to the pair than either can imagine.

Their lives are complicated by Quinn’s distrust of tradition, Elizabeth’s aversion to risk, and a youthful passion that blinds them to the dangers they face.

Born Under a Bad Sign, my first standalone novel, tells the story of a young woman torn between duty and love. Alive with the culture and music of the 1960s, the book marks the coming of age of not just a pair of star-crossed teenagers but of a generation.

On sale May 1, the novel is available for preorder through bookstores and online at Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

By the time we got to Woodstock

Two years after the Summer of Love and life in the rural town of Pennsboro, Pennsylvania is about to explode. A dam that would flood the valley pits family against family. Protesters riot. Buildings burn. Amid the chaos of 1969, two lovers risk everything to fight for their dreams.

That turmoil forms the setting for my first standalone novel, Born Under a Bad Sign, a book that captures the spirit of the era through the eyes of an unlikely couple—a pacifist Quaker and a rebellious rocker, two people who wield their differences like armor and sword.

Elizabeth Reed has three passions: photography, the river the government wants to dam and a musician who can’t settle on any one person or place. Hayden Quinn, the guitarist Rolling Stone calls the next Jimi Hendrix, feeds a single obsession—to play Woodstock, the biggest concert of his life. He presents Elizabeth with a dilemma: does she stay to save her family farm, or relinquish her dreams to follow Quinn into the unknown?

In a time when her generation trusts no one under 30, Elizabeth must face the greatest risk of all—whether to trust herself.

The story of Elizabeth and Quinn is inspired by real events. I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, the site of that proposed dam, and watched the conflict tear apart families and entire towns. Our band never would have made it to Woodstock but we opened for national acts and played some of the holes Quinn’s fictional group plays. And like Elizabeth, I wielded a camera for a small newspaper that covered the crises of the region, including the forced eviction of its citizens and the squatters who claimed their land.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the novel is a portrait of love and loss in the one of the most turbulent times in American history.

With an on-sale date of May 1, Born Under a Bad Sign is available for preorder through bookstores and online at Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

For business, the high cost of high tide

The tide is shifting. The debate over global warming has moved from theoretical to practical. As in, what is the cost of climate change to businesses and, eventually, to all of us?

Real estate agents find themselves at the heart of the issue. Anything that affects property values affects their livelihood. So it’s encouraging to see a call to action from one of their own.

Craig Foley, chair of the National Association of Realtors’ Sustainability Advisory Group, says that ignoring the impact of climate change on real estate has serious business implications. “Particularly in coastal areas, members have told me both they and their clients are worried about declining property values and buyer interest.” The piece, entitled “We Don’t Have 50 Years to Wait,” appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Realtor magazine.

In case you think that’s the hype of tree-huggers, Foley backs his observation with well-credentialed statistics. “Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University compared properties that are similar except for their proximity to the sea and found that the more exposed homes sold for 6.6 percent less than the others during the sample period from 2007 to 2016.”

Foley ends his commentary with this thought: “As I see it, we can’t afford to be on the wrong side of history on climate change.”

That captures a core issue of Permanent Vacation, a novel in which the protagonist, real estate agent CW (Candace) McCoy, discovers that encouraging construction in a flood zone is a sure way to sink a career.

You can read Foley’s commentary here. If you buy or sell real estate and have a comment on this or any other issue, you’re welcome leave it here as well.

 

 

A man for all time

The dark lord of marketing is back, and he’s aiming his talents at politics. Can civility survive?

Brinker, the antihero of Mr. Mayhem, has lost his magic. The agency’s CEO wants him to ace the competition. His former girlfriend wants him in detox. And as rival advertising executives disappear, an ambitious state trooper wants him in jail.

At this rate, the PR whiz who turned a serial killer into a national brand may have to vanish himself.

Throw in toxic waste, a nude car wash and a gun-toting presidential candidate and the czar of PR will have to spin some potent magic to escape the snare of lies and greed that threatens to destroy his job, his sanity and the love of his life.

In Mr. Magic, the ad world struggles to cope with Brinker’s insatiable lust for sex, satire and PR events that push the boundaries of legality and taste. The second outing for the defrocked journalist is available through Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and by special order at bookstores everywhere.

A rising tide floats all buildings

Sometimes reality catches up with fiction.

Yesterday, a Florida Senate committee advanced legislation that would require the state to plan for rising seas. The action comes after storm surge has repeatedly flooded parts of Miami and threatened its infrastructure.

The proposed legislation is unique in that it avoids the politically divisive issue of climate change and addresses the economic aspect of rising sea levels.

Lawmakers aren’t alone in considering the financial impact of coastal development. The economics, and ethics, of building in flood zones form the central premise of Permanent Vacation, a novel set in a fictionalized version of Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida, both of which border the Gulf of Mexico. Central to that issue is whether governments should encourage or discourage behavior that puts people and property at risk.

Permanent Vacation is available from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords. You can read the story about Florida lawmakers here.

You bet your life

The measles are back with a vengeance, and so are the protests.

So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking six outbreaks affecting more than 100 people, with 68 cases in the Pacific Northwest alone, according to the CDC, Associated Press and Washington Post.

Yet despite the demonstrable success of vaccines—the near worldwide eradication of polio a case in point—anti-vaccination fervor is spreading like a virus. Some lawmakers are pushing legislation that would allow parents to opt out of childhood vaccinations, a move that could jeopardize not only the health of their children but others with whom they come into contact.

None of this is new. In 1897, Dr. Richard Slee, founder of the firm that would evolve into the U.S. operations of biologics company Sanofi Pasteur, faced a similar backlash when he introduced to the United States a vaccine to prevent smallpox.

The story of his struggle is told in The Spirit of Swiftwater, a chronicle of the fight to eradicate vaccine-preventable disease in the 20th Century. The story is a timely reminder of the efficacy and controversy of this form of medicine:

The new science of immunology had proven vaccines could save lives. It had progressed quickly from the late 1700s, when British physician Dr. Edward Jenner discovered that smallpox could be prevented by inoculating people with the substance from cowpox lesions. The vaccine worked. According to the New York City Health Department, the death rate from smallpox in 1869 was 21.9 per 100,000 people. In 1876, New York’s Vaccination Corps fanned out to inoculate the city. The following year, the death rate per 100,000 people had dropped to 0.18.

That did little to convince parents who’d heard reports that bacteria from the lesions had caused serious infections in some children.

Even with a tacit endorsement from the federal government, the fledgling biologicals industry still faced a daunting problem not related to finance — a public backlash against vaccination. Despite the reduction in mortality that immunization had brought to the nation, not all of its citizens were convinced this was good public policy, or even effective health care.

In 1908, a medical doctor from Niagara Falls, New York, J. W. Hodge, wrote that compulsory vaccination was “the crime of the century,” citing evidence that the process not only violated an American’s freedom but that it was ineffective. “The accumulated experience of more than one hundred years has conclusively demonstrated that vaccinia neither prevents smallpox nor mitigates that disease when it attacks the vaccinated.”

Slee countered those attacks and others in a letter to the Bergen County, New Jersey, Medical Society in 1910:

The growth of the anti-vaccination societies in this country is largely due to the undeniable fact that the protection by vaccination was sometimes followed by results that were more serious than would be a mild attack of smallpox. We are now passing through the transition state, so to speak, and in a short time physicians will begin to realize that the regulations of the government are wise and that the failures from time to time are more than offset by the undeniable elimination of many severe and unpleasant sequelae [an abnormality following a disease, like paralysis following polio].

Unless lawmakers take the decision out of the hands of the experts.

[Measles vaccine doesn’t cause autism, says a decade-long study of half a million people.]

 

What’s my line?

The logical successor to the Washington Post article on famous last lines in fiction is a piece on opening lines. Since Ron Charles hasn’t written that one yet, here are a few suggestions for the sequel on first lines that pull the reader into a work:

From A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window:

Her husband’s almost home. He’ll catch her this time.

From Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451:

It was a pleasure to burn.

From Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections:

The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen.

If I might add to that body of work the opening lines from Mr. Mayhem, the first of the series of crime novels about a chronically underemployed former journalist with revenge in his soul:

Brinker stood beside the body with its red flannel shirt and black ski pants and two-tone duck boots and smiled. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

What’s your opening line?

   

Famous last words

Ron Charles has written an intriguing article for the Washington Post on famous last lines in fiction. Intriguing in that the lines summarize the emotional volume of the work. They leave you with a sense of satisfaction, a reward for reading to the end.

Charles leads with an example from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which the restless Huck foreshadows people as disparate as Jack Kerouac and Cole Porter (you remember 1934’s “Don’t Fence Me In”):

I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

Haven’t we all. Which is why I’d like to add a few memorable lines to the list.

From Philip Kerr’s novel The Pale Criminal, in which former Berlin police officer Bernie Gunther takes on the ugly and ironic job of solving crime in Nazi Germany. In the final scene, Gunther watches workers rake and burn leaves in the Botanical Gardens, “the acrid gray smoke hanging in the air like the last breath of lost souls.”

But always there were more, and more still, so that the burning middens seemed never to grow any smaller, and as I stood and watched the glowing embers of the first, and breathed the hot gas of deciduous death, it seemed to me that I could taste the very end of things.

Anna Quindlen also writes about endings in Miller’s Valley—of the drowning of a community and its culture, the loss of the narrator’s family farm and her brother Tommy—but comes to a different conclusion:

I never go over that way, to the recreation area. Never have, in all these years, even when the kids wanted to water-ski or swim. I let them go with someone else. I don’t even drive by there. But every couple of years I have a dream. I dive down into green water and I use my arms to push myself far below the surface and when I open my eyes there are barn roofs and old fences and a chimney and a silo and sometimes I sense that Tommy’s there, too, and the corn can, and my father’s workbench, and a little tan vanity case floating slowly by. But I swim in the opposite direction, back toward the light, because I have to come up for air. I still need to breathe.

While it cannot compare with Twain or Quindlen or Kerr, a final line from the first in the CW McCoy series of crime novels, Peak Season, carries its own emotional punch. CW has run to Florida to escape her violent past. Here she shares birthday cake and the mission to protect her grandfather with friend and mentor Walter Bishop:

Taking a deep breath I said, “You know what I’d like?”

“Another cupcake?”

“What I came here for . . . peace and quiet.” I pecked him on the cheek. “No more drama. From now on, I’m selling real estate and taking care of Pap.”

He gave me a cracked smile. “We’ll see.”

Isn’t what why we read to the end of anything?

What’s your closer?