Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Next Big Thing; Week 28

A special thank you to Kmom, one of my very first pals from AQC and a warm person that kindly greeted me. Future generations may hold this against her, but she has my gratitude.


(for those under 30, Abaddon is a synonym for ‘Purgatory’. Arms is the same for ‘Hotel’. Purgatory Hotel was a dud title, hence the different wording)

2- Where did the idea come from for the book?

…From being on vacation and looking at a house. I know that sounds weird. While the wife and I were on our long delayed real honeymoon we had this place close by that we thought was a hotel. It turned out it was an over-the-top house for some very rich dude. But it had an ominous look, with its stucco walls, Spanish flair, ground level lighting and high walls. Next thing I knew, little bits of story were starting to filter and accumulate in my head. Personally, I think rum had something to do with it.

3- What genre does your book fall under?


The genre dartboard says Paranormal Thriller! My heart says horror. We’ll see which is right when I’m done and if I trigger some sleepless nights for my betas.

4- Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Seeing as the main character is a chameleon by nature and vocation, I believe Sam Rockwell would be an interesting choice. His co-protagonist has to balance strength, vulnerability and brains. My pick right now would be Gabrielle Anwar or the wonderful Mila Kunis.

The antagonist has Julian McMahon springing to mind. Suave yet sleazy.

5- What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Leave it to a born loser like Jake Lane to find humanity at Abaddon Arms, the very last place on earth.

6- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’d like to be psychic or arrogant and say ‘it will be represented by an agent’ but understand that decision isn’t entirely up to me. What is my call is that, one way or the other this book will be available to readers.

7- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ll let you know when it’s completed. For now, I predict three months.

8- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Within my genre is a little dicey, given the subject matter. I’ve read some pretty gory horrors that run along similar lines, but don’t feel this story applied to that model. I know there’s nothing new under the literary sun, but this comes pretty damn close.

I’ll let others be the judge of just how close.

9- Who or What inspired you to write this book?

They still haven’t gotten rid of this redundant question, I see. How many times do I have to say ‘I dug a cool, creepy big house’?

Okay, I’ll try to drill down a layer. I’m a horror fan but firmly believe that no walking mosquito (vampire), biped angry puppy (werewolf), overgrown lizard with halitosis (dragon), or any other fantasy tormentor can match the depravity or nobility of the human species. With that in mind, I wanted to generate a scene and mood to adequately represent the duality of man.

The setting is a perversion of purgatory, used by the antagonist as a placement service for those that would fit in with hell’s management structure. Bad people with depth fascinate me, and if one baddy is fun, a whole cast of them is better.

10- What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

If you like the irony of the human animal, satire on corporations and ambitions, tenuous relationships created in extreme conditions and a cast of characters with precious few redeemable qualities, then have I got a story for you…

Tagged for next week are some of my very talented writer friends. Check out their blogs next Wednesday, December 19th, when it's their turn to post answers to these same questions about their own works-in-progress!

First up, a terrific YA Fantasy writer (who let me beta read) and creator of sci-fi. Let’s hear a round of applause for a great AQC bud, Lucid Dreamer!


Not to be outdone, I'd like to also give a shout out to Mia, currently struggling with which project to share with us all. I'm sure it will be intriguing, no matter what she decides on.



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

So You Think You Can Write a Novel: The Next Big Thing (week 24)

I’d like to open with thanking Debra McKellan http://debramckellan.blogspot.com for this opportunity to entertain myself and (hopefully) a couple readers. Thanks again Debs for the So You Think You Can Write a Novel: The Next Big Thing inclusion.

I guess I could go on a bit about the allure and intricacies of literary creation but instead I’ll sum it up thusly; I enjoy writing and would love to have it entertain others.

There, I said it. If you were looking for deep insight…sorry.

Instead, I’ll use the opportunity to dwell on a piece of work I’m rather fond of – mine.

1- What is the working title of your book?


2- Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’m a huge horror and thriller fan and had an idea that brought something different to the table. I love the seashore, isolated old houses, hidden dark history, complex relationships and emotional triumph. Once I had all the ingredients, I diced them up to share the stew and spiced liberally with paranormal horror and friction.

3- What genre does your book fall under?

Paranormal Romantic Thriller. I understand this is probably a mish-mash of genres but the overall balance of Keepers supports this. The story, for me, is the story. The genre is the end product and generally as indicative as referring to Dom Perignon as ‘carbonated liquid’.

4- Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Being a movie huge fan that likes to pick out underappreciated actors, were I given the option, I’d love to hear Taylor Kitsch read for Mark Grady. I like the roguish swagger he brings and feel the poor guy could use a break after John Carter (I know I could have used one).

The real draw would be Kate Mara as the tormented and complicated Valerie Sheldon. I feel she has that balance of beauty, ability to translate the fragile and varied moods of the character, with the stylistic grace to pull it all together. The eye and hair color is wrong but I don’t care. She is the mental image that springs to mind when I envision Keepers as performance art.

For the other roles I’d like to draw upon the talents of those with experience and distinctive style. Zooey Deschanel, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helen Hunt, Willem Dafoe and Edward Burns would effectively round out the cast.

5- What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A withdrawn home renovator and his complicated tenant discover far more than love within the sinister embrace of Haven House.

6- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published. I am notably impatient and would love to gauge reader’s reactions as soon as possible while setting my own price, simultaneously building my presence for future works. I understand this is a profit based industry (otherwise, it wouldn’t exist), and a first time author with a complicated story faces an uphill battle on all fronts. Were an agent to approach, I’d listen. But for now, I like the idea of guiding this ship with my own hand.

7- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Approximately two months for the first rough. After that, it took about a year to polish with a bunch of help.

8- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Seeing as I feel I’m on uncharted ground, the comparisons would be varied. The physical conflict of Haven House is a hybrid of Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings and The Shining by Stephen King. Both had an interesting view of that ‘Cursed Place’.

The Haunting of Hill House by the great Shirley Jackson brought the overall theme from slash and burn horror to suspenseful / creepy.

None of these had much in the way of romantic development, so that was drawn from the work of Nelson DeMille in general and The Gold Coast in particular. My focus was refining the growth of the main characters and their relationship while keeping it edged with conflict. 

9- Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Short answer:

I challenged myself.

Long answer:

As stated above, I’m a thriller junkie and I’ve read a ton of them. What I’d discovered was those that had complex characters and relationships were more satisfying than those more dependent on some impending catastrophic event.

With Keepers, I sought to draw the ‘relationship created under fire’ aspect more to the forefront – rather than have it as subtle character shading.

Balance was the challenge. I did my best to tread the line, stressing Valerie and Mark’s dynamic without setting up camp on the turf of contemporary romance novels. At the same time I strove to create a perilous situation to be dealt with by real people, not standard thriller protagonists.

And therein lay the rub. I’m more than satisfied with the final product – but will anyone else say the same? Have I successfully straddled genres, or have I created something perceived as neither fish nor fowl? There’s only one way to find out, and it isn’t by keeping this story locked away on my hard drive.

Motivation and encouragement from close writing friends also helped drive the story during its creation, with inspiration being maintained as the word count piled up. Special thanks to my close AQC buddies for their cajoling, taunting, brainstorming and chiding.

10- What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

This is not a horror story written for horror’s sake. Things happen for a reason and everything is interconnected. What I strove to bring to the table is the tension of love, family, tormented past and supernatural evil. Relationships are of paramount importance in Keepers, and I feel I captured their depth in a way that makes this a unique read.

The paranormal aspect is also relationship based, using a mirror image to pervert the love embraced by the two main characters. Lust, greed and domination are the antagonist elements that seek to short circuit healing, trust and growth.

My mission was to captivate the readers with my characters so that they feel they are behind the steering wheel. When they put it down upon completion (and buy copies for friends and family), I’d like to imagine them letting out a slow breath, smiling contently while saying “What a ride.”

Immediate enjoyment is nice, but what would truly flatter is if the story moved them enough to resonate for years to come.

Tagged for next week (Week 25) are some of my very talented writer friends. Check out their blogs next Wednesday, November 21st, when it's their turn to post answers to these same questions about their own works-in-progress!

http://pineapplelightning.blogspot.com/ For Brighton (formerly the Lord of Awesome, now just Awesome)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day Six: Mourning Thoughts

Day Six: Early Mourning

‘Tis almost that time, folks. One more day of Jensen Beach and Hutchinson Island remains before we depart for the one day stay in Orlando. After that, home and real life awaits.

Coffee will no longer be sipped while sitting on a sixth floor deck, overlooking the surf and commuting with the pelicans and other cool birds. Instead it will be drunk from a giant travel mug while planted behind my desk. Showers will no longer be lackadaisical, when-I’m-ready affairs, returning to a rigidly timed routine. Breakfast and lunches will be packed cold cuts, no longer the delicious leftover fare prepared by others. The scent of ocean spray, the intensely warming sun, the ever ready pool and hot tub shall be replaced with falling leaves, autumn chill and…ah, screw it, I’m going to screw up our last day here if I keep this shit up.

It’s time to dwell on the few things that irk, out of mental self-defense more than anything else.

What I won’t miss:

1)      Taxes; as a New Hampshirite, we have taxes and I believe in paying my due, but vacationland has raised the stakes to greedy levels.

2)      Traffic circles: What the hell is up with that? Haven’t traffic lights been around a while now? Do you know what a pain it is to try to spin around these things, looking for a street sign that is, 50% of the time, non-existent while avoiding getting t-boned by a jeep jacked up to the lower ionosphere?

3)      Margaritaville: Okay, okay. I get it. Nothing supposedly sells a vacation retreat like the constant strains of an old fart pseudo beach-bum with 1.5 hits in thirty some years. But get real, folks. This guy makes Chris Isaak look like Elton John. I’ve had endure this leather skinned wrinkled anthem in reggae, elevator muzak, calypso, country and its repulsive original variation. Break it up. Someone go out and buy a Roy Orbison CD or something, will ya’?

4)      The parking space glare: This is restricted to where we are staying, so in the defense of native Floridians, they are completely excused. No, this is directed at the bitter pool vultures that stake out one of three tables by the pool since 7 am and look at me like felon when I get a good spot in the carport. Why do you people give a shit? By the salt encrusted windshields you’re vehicles sport, it doesn’t look like your cars have moved since the Bush administration.

5)      That bitter envy: I’m a lucky guy. I married a woman that easily looks 10-15 younger than her actual age. For this area, that means it looks like we just graduated High School. My wife is a quiet type that manages to carry herself with a certain aristocratic grace, accented by a heavy collection of jewelry. I like the look. I like it a lot. Unfortunately, around here, her looks have come with a few snide remarks spoken under the breath of blue haired ex-receptionists while their over-nagged hubbies are checking out her chest.  Another week here and some fossil is going to wind up calling the hotel staff to get their false choppers and 75 pound handbag out of the bottom of the Jacuzzi.

Okay, that’s enough venting for today. Instead I will focus on bronzing up flesh a bit more, breathing in the slat air and desperately trying to keep this relaxed state of mind in place for a few weeks when I go back to reality. Other than my self-indulgent travelogue, I haven’t read a blessed thing. Hopefully the creative batteries are recharges as well.

This is your intrepid explorer, signing off for another day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Day Five: Field Trips

Day Five: That Tuesday state of mind

                Steel gray clouds and high winds had us on the move, pushing back the plans for a solid total beach day. For the most part, it was time well spent.

                The Florida Oceanographic Institute wasn’t exactly Sea World, and I mean that in a good way. Small and not exactly jam packed with marine life, it was nonetheless staffed with courteous and informative people that provided us with a great deal of information in regards to the areas ecosystem. I don’t need bribed mammals jumping in the air to entertain me, I can get that at any local restaurant that advertises an all you can eat buffet.

                Since the FOI’s stingray feeding tank was being refurbished (not that I ever wanted to feed a stingray), our admission cost was cut from $10 to $7 per person. Regardless, it was money well spent.

                The main area had a collection of smallish aquariums, each showing the diversity of marine life, segregated so no bad-ass fish goes gladiator. There was probably only about twenty minutes of entertainment and educational value here, but it was a pleasant opening act for what lay beyond.

                Outside, in the 43 acre campus, a variety of displays, tanks and informative placards awaited us. The wife and I lingered by the mollusk petting tank longer than expected, mostly due to the chatty and charismatic lady manning that station. I got the distinct impression this place is more used to occupying bored schoolchildren on field trips and doing their jobs in saving and studying fish. Regardless, they also appeared anxious to strut their stuff when an eager couple comes along, looking to actually learn something. We were two of only about ten people there, and were treated like royalty.

                Once we got our fill of touching sea urchins, sea cucumbers and other sea things that look completely unappetizing, we were called over to witness the daily feeding of the game fish in a 75,000 gallon protected lagoon. Hungrily awaiting their daily meal were a vast collection of Tarpon, spadefish, nurse sharks and other large things I forgot the name of. Most impressive were the four sea turtles that were being treated for ‘buoyancy issues’, meaning parts of their anatomy were damaged by boats and were un-releasable into the wild for concerns of their survival. This convalescence home was a heartwarming, and after seeing some of the local menus and if I were them, I’d be milking this recovery thing as long as I could.

                After another round of comprehensive information, presented by the kind of smart and no-nonsense pretty young girls I wish my sons would bring home, we blew a wad at the gift shop, knowing the proceeds would be funneled back into this impressive facility. The staff bid us farewell and Angie suddenly lost the appetite for seafood.

                Another round in the hot tub and pool on our return, it was decided the very local color restaurant should be frequented. I was in the mood for sandwich fair. Thankfully, my cynical radar did not fail me as soon as we walked into one of the close by eateries.

                It should have been alright. The place was well decorated and was the first establishment we experienced that had cloth napkins, but something was amiss.

                For starters, the large and well decorated place was nearly empty, possibly due to being a Tuesday night but curious nonetheless considering this time-share neighborhood had to have at least 30,000 vacationing folks within a mile radius. Also, despite the fact that there were only 8 people in the place, the waitstaff and associated workers outnumbered the patrons. Not a good sign.

                We kept it simple and cheap as I suspected watered down drinks were the house specialty.  Since you can’t water down a martini, I started out with that while Angie tried the diet coke and rum. Sure enough, her drinks couldn’t get a fly high and though not diluted, my martin ran about ¾” shy of the rim of the glass. My next drink was a draft beer as we skipped dessert and escaped far wiser.

                After another stop for a ‘real’ drink, we came back to home base. My wife had suddenly become addicted to the hot tub/Jacuzzi. We now visit it three to four times a day. After ten minutes each time of being boiled like Maine lobster, we’ve discovered the invigorating practice of jumping into the close by poll immediately after, enjoying the slamming shut of our pores while tempting hypothermia.

                To close the out-of-room evening, we attempted a game of pool on the outside billiard table, a futile exercise as the table was as off as our aim, the balls were as out of round as our sobriety, and the cues were more crooked than the bartender from our meal. Two things became apparent; we can’t play pool worth a damn and Wednesday will be spent on the beach, recovering.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Latent Honeymoon; Days four and five

Day Four and Five: Getting’ in that Florida groove

                It’s incredible how quickly we have adopted that laid-back, it’s all good, mentality. Maybe it’s the heat and humidity; movement + effort = sweat. It could be that I’m still a tad shell-shocked from my job, and my brain is shutting down for a re-boot. Most likely, however, it’s the people down here.

                I’ll admit it flat out. I’m a New England snob. You think you have spurts of crap weather? BAH, we have damn near every weather related disaster on a regular basis and we hang in there. You call that pizza? Chinese food? A hospital? You’re kidding me, right? It’s probably that southern US stigma I carry and my narrow minded perceptions that bolster perceived superiority.

                Now I lived in warmer climates, Southern California to be more specific. But in the three and a half years of living there and a week-long visit recently, I never warmed to the place (pun intended). Something about it, lying just under the surface that I couldn’t put my finger on, irked me. The song Hotel California seemed to sum it up for me on a subliminal level. Las Vegas was even worse. One week was a lifetime there.

                But so far, I love Florida. Being slightly paranoid by nature and occasionally confrontational by choice, I’ve yet to feel like prey. There’s a sincerity and politeness that we’ve encountered everywhere we’ve been (the hotel pool and bad restaurant as exceptions). Sure, it’s a tourist trap on one level, but we haven’t been treated like a mark.

                Case in point: Last night.

                We found another charming restaurant that could hold its own with many from Boston’s North End. Garlic invaded our senses from the parking lot, the service was attentive and friendly and the quality and quantity of food was superb. Being a weeknight, we were even able to park our now beloved rented steed on the street directly in front of the establishment. Downtown Stuart is a charming place, accommodating for walks and decorated with fountains and an astonishing lack of litter. It’s like a theme park with the only theme being ‘we give a crap how our town looks’.

                Granted, with a couple small blemishes, we have been supremely fortunate during our stay, enough so that the wife said something that should have put a cryogenic freeze on my spinal column, but instead only provided a small chill.

                “I could live down here.”

                I did point out a few logistical issues like family location, lack of employment, 90+% humidity wreaking havoc with her curly hair and, most importantly, during the summer months Florida is only 12 miles from the sun. Early September is likely not the best representation sample for long-term weather. Still, I had to give the suggestion some consideration. I could take Florida, but could Florida take me – long term?

                Of course, I’d need a job with a pay rate that approximates my present salary. I’d also need to lose that high-strung NE mindset (no small feet). I think I’d also need a 2012 Camry and a place near the shore, but capable of withstanding hurricanes.

                But enough of all that. I can daydream on the issue after my return. For now I’ll deal with the present and change it up. I’m going to write my first Car & Driver grade car review.

Car: 2012 Toyota Camry LE

Price: $23,700 (approx.) or, 33% of the cost of the Audi A8 in saw in flames on the side of the highway during the ride down here.

Engine: 2.5 liter four cylinder, 178 hp.

Seats: 5 actual life-sized people/ 10 Kate Moss’s / 2 Cape buffalo

Cargo capacity: As much luggage as my wife can pack with none of it invading the back seat.

Demographic: Old farts and people that don’t want to think about their car as more than an appliance.

Cop visibility: Next to zero (trust me on this one).

Performance: It has plenty. Easily faster than my old ’73 Camaro except it turns and stops.

Fuel mileage: More than I have any right to expect with my lead foot and limited patience (31 mpg AVERAGE between highway and congested in-town traffic)

Interior room: Bigger than my first apartment and far better equipped.

Options: None.

Color: Stealth Fighter gunmetal metallic.

On the road: AC is meat locker grade, ride is tight, Radio kicks ass, handling is solid and it will obliterate any sport ute imaginable from a stop light. After a three hour flight to Orlando, the seats actually soothed on the remaining 2.5 hour drive here, allowing us to remain mobile and active until the wee hours during our first night here (We were both up since 4am, bear in mind). The wife has yet to ask for the keys and it may boil down to an arm-wrestling match if she does. It eats miles like I kill potato chips.

Nits: The sill is high for the wife and for resting elbows on the widow frame when the window is down. It also tricks you into believing 80mph is actually 60. The speedometer needs a settable alarm.

Subjective: I want one. The wife isn’t even arguing the point which is scary good news.

But enough of that. We are off today to pretend we are studied intellectuals that are environmentally conscious, meaning were headed to the Florida Oceanographic Institute to witness some of the un-releasable endangered species they keep in a secured lagoon.

Irony alert! After that, the wife wants to try a local dish called ‘onion encrusted dolphin’. I may or may not mention that during the tour.

She may get to drive the car after all if I do…

Monday, September 10, 2012

Latent Honeymoon: Part Three

Day Three: Lethargy

                Since much of Florida appears to be closed Sunday, we spent the bulk of the day not driving anywhere. The southern beach walk was the closest we came to exercise, heading onward until my left calf throbbed due to the angle of the beach. Thankfully, the walk back reversed the slope, balancing the pain to include my right calf.

                It’s amazing how spoiled you get being on the private section of the beach. In gradual progression you could see the crowd, noise and litter thicken on approach to the public section. Since premium was paid to be a snob, we turned back to our own far cleaner, quieter and roomier turf.

                It was during the walk back that we spotted a baby sea turtle, fighting against the incoming surf, being pushed back repeatedly on its way to escape being eaten by birds so it could be eaten by something else in the ocean. Hey, being small and crunchy is a bitch. Since we humans have an odd sense of balance (see a couple paragraphs down) we stood guard, valiantly looking to fend of those evil opportunists aerial carnivores (i.e. environmentally unprotected) that have the NERVE to want to eat. Remarkably, another walking couple stood by as well, strengthening our numbers and joining our vigil. My idea to flip the poor little guy over and skim him to his destination like a flat rock was met with distain. Environmentalists have no sense of humor or practicality. Imagine the jump on his un-skimmed brethren this particular turtle could have boasted. “Hey, I was busting my little turtle balls (or whatever) getting out here. Man, was I wiped out. Next thing I know this cool guy comes along and gets four full bounces off me. What a rush!”

                Just so you know; sea turtle conservation and protection is a VERY big deal here. Upon checking in we were presented with rules in regards to accommodating these floating tanks. They are as follows:

1)      Never disturb the sea turtles, their nests or their path – they don’t want to hear the latest Nickelback CD, you can’t make a sea turtle egg omelet, and they have the infinite right of way. This would be simpler if I had any clue what a nest looks like and the paths, seeing as they are on a beach, tend to lose the track rather quickly. Surf does that to things.

2)      After dusk, close the curtains of the beach front facing units. Shore lights will discourage the mother turtles from coming ashore to nest. – Apparently sea turtles don’t have access to sunglasses (no ears to hold them on, either). In an odd turn of events, one is allowed to blunder around on the pitch black beach (without a flashlight). Why one would want to do this, I’m not sure. But since it was permitted, we did it. Thankfully no one tripped over these shy creatures or I’d be writing this from turtle jail.

Flush with self-satisfaction in delaying a small amphibious creatures consumption, we make the conscious decision to go out for seafood in order to eat far less adorable creatures. There is a price to pay for being homely and having no PR. The price involves gutting, boiling oil and crispy breading. Were the perceptions of cuteness altered, think of the effect (Kardashian fillets anyone?)

        Somehow, my normally enviro-conscious wife adopted the culinary ferocity of Jack the Ripper. After trying (unsuccessfully), to get me to order ‘dolphin fingers’, she did succeed in my ordering of Alligator fritters. Why she cannot order these things herself is a mystery, likely tied into a future plea-bargain if the authorities arrive. Just for the record, ‘gator tastes like rubbery chicken (no, not a rubber chicken). It’s tasty and despite my poor description, is not at all like rubber band soaked in bullion. Thankfully, actual chicken is cheaper, tastier, and has less chance of ripping one’s legs off or dragging them to a bottom of a swamp to tenderize before eating. Being ugly may have drawbacks, but being mean and ugly has certain benefits.

        Since we were guiltlessly in ugly creature dining mode, Angie ordered Tilapia prepared in a vague Italianish manner while I munched on what might be the ugliest fish short of Abe Vigoda – Grouper.

        For those that missed Jacques Cousteau, the grouper is a very large and bulky fish that has a mouth the size of a single car garage. Besides being esthetically displeasing, it is doubly cursed with being delicious. Imagine a haddock fillet the size of half a sleeping bag. Now imagine it covered in cornflakes and fried to crispy perfection. Then imagine being charged $25 to eat it – and not complaining.

        I have no idea what a tilapia looks like, but it is apparently also cursed with being yummy so I have to assume it has a face like Sandra Bernhard, a personality like Sandra Bernhard, or both. Maybe cannibals should look into this. Get Kathy Griffith while you’re at it. The Tonight Show won't miss them anymore -- trust me on this.

        Flush with our violent appetites satiated, we returned to frolic in the empty pool then wander around a pitch dark beach, hoping we didn’t step on the same creatures we vowed to protect – at least until they show up on the menu.

The day thus ends in a fashion that is none of your business. Just tune in for the next installment.

Latent Honeymoon: Part Two

Day Two: Settling in

                The place is still gorgeous. Having breakfast out on the sunny deck (fried eggs and onion bagel with coffee) was a soothing joy. The wind made the heat pleasant and I even got a bit of sun. Even the run to a strange hybrid of pharmacy/grocery store unearthed charming surprises.

                A walk on the beach and dip in the warm ocean water made the early afternoon. The pelicans were gracefully grazing the ocean’s surface and the cloud of dragonflies in an odd ritual was fascinating.

                Then it started to go wrong.

                Our first mistake, visiting the pool.

                In all, the pool/ hot tub area is a tasteful place. There was a pleasant cross section of polite elderly and polite Spanish speaking folk. The sun was out, the breeze was right, everything was going nicely.

                As usual, when things are quiet and relaxing, you know what’s going to happen and who’s going to screw it up. Enter; three of the white trashiest white trash bunches you can possibly imagine, arriving like the Mongol horde with their loud, rude mouth-breathing DNA chain in tow.

                Now, if this was just a travel weary crew that was looking to unwind after arriving at their destination, that’s cool. The issue is that they brought their Sally Jessie Raphael worthy squabbles to air – loudly – so we ALL got to enjoy them. So we endured the sparring, screaming, rotten brats fiddling with the handicapped equipment without doo-rag wearing loaded parents saying a word and filed out of the area, group by group, ceding ground to the ambitiously obnoxious.

                Weren’t people like this why Disneyworld was created? Why are they two hours south of that destination? Am I going to get lucky and maybe hear that they are going to drive on to Cuba?

                Anyway, to forget the damned, the bride and I make plans for dinner. She is in a chicken type of mood, a fare that seems to be in short supply in this seafood and steak climate. I decide to take a monumental risk and find the location of a supposedly well-received Greek restaurant twenty minutes’ drive away, name...well...let's call it The Parthenot. The menu has a plethora of chicken dishes and (of course) offers one of my very favorite foods of all times – stuffed grape leaves or Dolmades. In my experience, Greek restaurants also have some of the best coffee. That goes well with another dessert fave, baklava.

                I really should have known better, so I must take a portion of the blame for what happens next. It’s not like there is a significant Greek community to support such an establishment, regardless of comparable climates.

                The first indication that my judgment was flawed hit us as soon as we left the car. Greek music was blaring from inside the building. We open the door and are greeted by a substantial crowd and – get this – a blond haired, barely eighteen looking belly dancer, outfitted with Steve Nick’s eighties ensemble after it was passed through a wood-chipper and dancing to the odd discordant Greek parody music..

                The look my wife gave me was not “Good choice”.

                Since we were there and the collection of families were encouraging this cultural mish-mash (Really, would you accept Geisha Girls waiting on you in a Chinese restaurant?), we were lead to a table, our drink and appetizer orders taken (in the local tradition, they do not have a full liquor license, so ouzo was out of the question). The only thing missing, other than cultural relevance, was napkins and silverware. Apparently the wait staff was a distracted by the floor show as the patrons.

                Thankfully, onion rings (Angie’s fave) are finger foods. The problem was there weren’t even curtains to wipe our fingers on. Since Angie had a new blouse, bought for the trip, it was up to me to shoot up a flare gun to get someone’s attention at this oversight.

                We let that pass and thankfully the odd show came to its conclusion, dropping the volume of the discordant music from ear-splitting to merely obnoxious. Added bonus; we are presented with actual utensils – things are looking up, right?


                The food comes and I look down at my plate, spotting 8 odd looking tiny lumps of grape leaf covered fair, next to a pile of rice ‘pilaf’ that appears to have come from a boil-in-bag mix. Regardless, I venture forth and pop a dolmade in my mouth – and nearly gag.

                I cut up another one and look at it, then a third to make sure I’m not hallucinating. I’m not. I’ve just been presented with a $15 plate of Greek rice roll sushi that was boiled for a period of time that could be measured geologically. Maybe the rice is better than it looks? Wrong again. There is no orzo and the seasoning mix is like someone dropped the spice tray into the pot.

                “Uhm…waitress?” I grab her attention when beer #2 is presented.

                “Is everything alright?” She cocks her head like a German Sheppard that has heard a high-pitched tone.

                “I ordered dolmades, you know…stuffed grape leaves.”

                “Yes, that’s what that is.” She points down, in case I’ve mistaken my plate for the bowl of sugar packets.

                “There is no meat in these. No lamb, no beef, just…rice pudding.” I point down at the plate as well, signifying that I can indeed identify an entrée.

                “Yes, that’s how we make them.”

                “But you call them dolmades.”

                “Yes, that’s what they are.”

                “No – there are not. Stuffed grape leaves have ground lamb or beef or both with seasonings. This is rice wrapped in mulch.”

                “But…that’s how we make them. Is the rice alright?”

                Obviously one of us is missing the point. Angie, sensing an eruption, shakes her head and focuses on her far better prepared (albeit, in no way Greek), chicken dish, called a Greek taco (apparently the intent is to offend several cultures at once).

                “The rice isn’t pilaf and these are not dolmades.” I try again.

                “Do you need more lemon sauce?”

                “Will that make them spontaneously sprout ground lamb?”

                “No…” she takes a step back, “But I can bring you a plate of lamb.” She offers.

                Great, a kit form entrée. She hurries off before I can confuse her more and brings me a small plate of what appears to be, and actually is, gyro innards.

                “This is processed gyro meat.” I point down again, lest we revisit the plate confusion.

                “Well, you wouldn’t want a big chunk of lamb, right?”

                God forbid, why would a part Syrian and longtime Greek food enthusiast want a plate of icky lamb? I realize this is a futile discussion.

                “Does an actual Greek person own this place?”

                She thinks for a half minute (no word of a lie) and comes back with ‘oh yes’.

                “Are they here?” I slip my steak knife under the table.

                “No.” she shakes her head after another very pregnant pause.

                “This is inedible.” I push the plates away.

                “Would you like something else?”

                “Yes, the check.”

                “We can give a complimentary dessert.”

                The mind boggles. If this is how they butcher a several thousand year old simple Greek dish, the thought of what they could do to baklava is terrifying. Since I don’t want a squashed Twinkie with honey and peanuts ladled on it and doubt they could master the intricate art of coffee, I stick to my plan of getting the hell out of there, ASAP. Angie is on board with this as only 1/3 of her entrée is deemed consumable.


                That comes sans my initial entrée, as it should. I interpret this as an indication and agreement that neither us blight the others presence again. On that, Ms. ‘but that’s how we make them’ are in utter and complete agreement. McDonalds could not have violated Greek cuisine any worse than this place. I’d say I’ve given her something to consider as well, but realize that is highly unlikely. Next week she’ll probably be working at an Applebee’s anyway – or moves up to belly dancer (at least she was brunette).

                So, day two would up with us back on our wonderful deck, listening to the sound of surf while consuming cocktails and munching on far superior day-old leftover pizza and cashews. At least the night ended well and provided a few cynical laughs before bed.

                In truth, we got very lucky the night before in finding top-notch surprisingly authentic Italian cuisine in a place it had no right to exist. My failing was thinking that was possible in a place that actually claimed to cater to that ethnic menu. Live and learn.

                Tomorrow we’ll go to a close by Thai restaurant and sample their chicken fried steak.

Latent Honeymoon: Part One

Day One: Invasion: Friday

                Couldn’t have arrived in Florida with finer omens. We landed 20 minutes sooner than predicted (Favorable conditions), the flight was only ¾ full (with NO screaming brat immediately in front or behind) and the weather was clear and bright (albeit searing).

                The lady at the car rental counter and I just happened to share a birthdate. That, coupled with Angie and my politeness and charm yielded us a degree of good fortune. Immediately sought out by a charismatic gent in the garage, we were escorted past the rows of Sentras and butt-ugly Chrysler 200s and presented with a very handsome and classy 2012, gunmetal gray metallic Camry, just washed. Oh yes, my new garage pal, Greg was tipped well.

                With my trusty Magellan GPS hooked up, we never set a wheel wrong. The car feels as big as my Buick and soaked up highway miles like a dream. I need a name for this temporary steed. We bonded quickly.

                Florida drivers are relatively courteous. No doubt a surprise to couple trained in the take-no-prisoners New England school. This may have something to do with a State Trooper positioned every ten miles, but whatever, I like the end result.

                Other than a swarm of bugs that had my trusty (and still unnamed) chariot covered in a gooey glaze of deceased insect parts, the ride was straight and true with my lovely wife hoppin’ and boppin’ to classic rock, pouring from the unnamed Camry’s impressive sound system. A quick stop at a gas station for bottled water and a serious windshield squeegee cleared most of the carnage. A brief but substantial rain squall took care of the rest. 

                Since we were both excited to see the place, the view, the layout (Ok, we wanted the use of a private bathroom), we headed straight to Jensen beach.

                There, the story got better.

                The place, a corner unit with an ocean-facing deck that can house a couple shuffleboard courts, came complete with a dining set and a pair of lounge chairs. I am writing this journal from the table now, soaking in the sound of surf and enjoying the morning breeze. Too bad if you’re jealous, this is our vacation/honeymoon.

                Tasteful and roomy inside as well, I can’t imagine a better place to stay for the week. ‘Condo’ doesn’t seem to do it justice, not with a wonderful Bose wave sound system (already well-used) and three giant televisions (that I have yet to even turn on). They may have to ply me out of this place with a SWAT team by next Friday.

                Regardless, the palace did not come equipped with food, necessitating a supply run and sustenance. I’d stupidly not eaten anything other than a blueberry muffin 12 hours earlier and was ready to gnaw my own arm off. This, coupled with the lack of vacation/honeymoon beverages, desperately needed to be addressed. This late lunch (NE Seafood – what the hell was I thinking?) was underwhelming but the good nature of everyone outweighed the overdone haddock.

                Since we are familiar with the place, a 'super' WalMart cut down the shopping for items. I was forced to remind my significant other that we are situated on the sixth floor of the complex, so the services of Sherpa’s may be needed. She looked at me and smiled, her expression saying “did you think I just brought you along for your charming company?”

                We made to the room in one trip. My arms are now five feet long but there is beer in the fridge.

                After unpacking, unwinding and unthinking, we started to explore our beachside surroundings. Nothing disappointed. That water is warm and the beach is long and awaits a pleasant walk.

                But first things first. My lovely bride had gone 3 whole days without pizza by eight pm and was showing visible signs of cheese deprivation. Out of concern for her well-being, we walked the quarter mile to a small pizzeria with the obvious name of Surfside Pizzeria Bar and Grill. Two pizza snobs would normally approach a place like this with some trepidation, but only one of us was operating at optimal non-pizza starved efficiency.

                Looks and expectations can often be wrong, as was the case here.

                The bartended and part-owner, a charismatic type named Bill, takes an admirable pride in his pizza and Italian food prowess. As well he should. It turns out Bill is a displaced New Yorker, a land where a pizza slight can get you killed. Regardless, the locals seem more interested with less swarthy fare, seeking gravy covered items poised next to mounds of mashed potatoes.

                Bill is about to have the spotlight of two serious pizza aficionados cast upon him. He matches our steely gaze, takes our ingredient combination order (which he admitted had never heard before) and, in the nature of an Italian gunslinger, came out shooting.

                In the end, it was two NH snobs that had blinked. We ordered green olives, broccoli, sausage and bacon, FOOLISHLY omitting the one item that would have made this pie perfect – onions. The barkeep gunslinger was generous in victory, however. Then, as if an otherwise delightful pizza wasn’t enough, he sunk the hooks deep.

                This man, 1500 miles away from his native turf, surrounded by chicken fried steak enthusiasts, had – homemade cannoli. Again the steely gaze came. Again he smiled knowingly and headed off to the kitchen. Again, out perceptions were shattered. They were very good (3rd best I ever had) and Bill has two big fans now.

                In palatial surrounding, relaxed, stuffed, comfy and knowing that very acceptable pizza is available close by, our long delayed honeymoon had so far been a raging success.

                That brings me back to the deck, soaking in copious UV rays and wondering what today holds in store.

                I can hardly wait…

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The fine art of titilation, romance, and a brave new word

                I read a lot. Normally may tastes run to horror, literary fiction, thrillers and a few history (human and mechanical) mixed with a dash of humor. Regardless, romance was never on my serving platter.

            Or so I thought.

            Upon reflection, I realized that many of the horror and thriller books had romance as a crucial component. Some even had sex, albeit the executions of the scenes were constructed with varying degrees of success. Granted, it wasn’t the absolute central theme but they were there. And you know what? Take them out of the story and the ride would have been less entertaining.

            As my dozen or so followers know, I wrote an unvarnished view of the first published book that I would consider romance. Now granted, this book is so polarizing that many question what it is. For them, I offer the following link:

            As the esteemed Ms. Lopez so eloquently illustrates, there can be a way to categorize fish, fowl, and…well…a different type of fishy fowl (flying fish?).

            Now, I have had a couple great talks with this writer and I enjoy her view on the subject immensely. Adept at talking mechanics, style, emotion, never once was I ever made to feel embarrassed by how she addressed subjects. She approaches her selected craft with grace and intelligence, seeking no apology and offering none – nor should she.

            But enough with the singing praise for J. Lea Lopez. She doesn’t need my fawning attention. This is (as usual) about me. i.e. I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

            As one of five men in the known universe that has apparently read the first ’50 Shades’ book – and openly admitted it – I have since been extended the offer on no less than five occasions to read the sequels. These offers come to me with anticipation on the part of those readers that were captivated by the book (all hard copy, no pirating). Still, I have held my hand up while considering the offers. The look of disappointment on their faces is measurable, and I respect these people enough that it causes a touch of guilt. All these people are intelligent and professionals in their field. All were also analytical enough to admit that the writing style had (ahem) certain flaws. This is, however, beside the point.

            I think I treated the book fairly in my analysis, even if I did present my findings with humor and some fiction (my wife has many reasons to be occasionally embarrassed by me, but humiliating her in a supermarket never happened. I only triggered an impromptu discussion group at the checkout line. It wasn’t like I was polling people while they were ruminating over which breakfast cereal to purchase). That being said, while I’ve defended the book in regards to the misconceptions about it, I’m sure there are better examples of romance I can peruse.

            I know, I know. ‘Nice time to get picky, Revo. What’s the matter, are you afraid of a couple books?’
            The short answer; no. The long answer; not in the least.
            I’m not saying I won’t buckle to the pressure. I rather enjoy discussing books with people. Hell, Nelson DeMille and Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child should be giving me kickback for all the praise to other readers I’ve offered. When I like a book, I want to see if others share in the experience, if for no other reason than it provides something to discuss other than the weather (a constant overriding them in New England, BTW).

            What I am saying – to go full circle – is that if I do read the sequels, I will do it with a far more comfortable mindset than I had before reading the first book. I am no longer on the outside looking in. I am not following biased opinion based on ‘excerpts’. Can you imagine if Tom Sawyer was presented to you by means of snippets with agendas? There would be maybe a half dozen copies left in this country.

            No, I’ve stepped through the portal and took the first few steps into a new world, and thanks to passionate readers I know and writers like Ms. Lopez, my horizons are broadened for doing so.
“Of course, there's a certain type of person who feels that anything which becomes mainstream has to be rejected immediately. And that's part of the indie-alternative snobbery and hierarchy and elitism.” –Alex Kapranos