Ghost Music an award winner


Great news! I’m pleased to announce that Ghost Music has been recognized as a winner in the 2014 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. Ghost Music, the first novel in the Marcus Brace detective series, took home a 4th-place, honorable mention finish in the Best Mystery category. This year saw a record number of entries and I’m honored that my novel was among the winners.

Among other great benefits, Ghost Music now has an official listing on, my book will be listed in an October 1 Readers’ Favorite press release, and I have been invited to their annual awards ceremony in Miami. My publisher can also now add the new awards seal pictured above to the cover of my book.

5star-flat-webThis 2014 Honorable Mention finish is in addition to the official seals that Readers’ Favorite had previously awarded me for receiving multiple 5-star professional reviews. While still in unpublished manuscript form, Ghost Music also received a 3rd-place award from the Public Safety Writer’s Association, which specializes in stories about crime and/or detectives.

All of this is to say that I am thrilled with the critical attention my book has received from multiple sources. But I still need your help. Probably more than ever. You can help in two important ways: 1) Please help spread the word about my book. If you have friends who like mysteries or are looking for a new book, I’d love it if you would recommend my book. 2) If you haven’t already, please leave a review of Ghost Music on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews are a fantastic help for an author and are more useful than you might know in generating interest for an author’s work.

So, please spread the word and leave a review for me. As always, feel free to contact me directly (email listed below) with questions about the book, what I’m working on next, or queries about how I can help if you would like to use Ghost Music as a book club selection—I have a package of materials available for book clubs and am available to answer questions either via email or—if you are in the Seattle area—in person at a book club meeting.

Happy reading!



Overseas and underwater

Floating on the Mekong

Sorry for the long absence. I owe you some updates! Here goes:

  • I took some time off from all writing while I went on a trip through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It was an amazing experience. Angkor Wat was incredible, the killing fields were even more powerful than I thought they would be, and Vietnam had Communist flags flying but capitalism ruled all of the streets. I also had a few martinis on the rooftop bar seen in The Hangover 2. All told, it was a great trip. Well, minus the jet lag. That was terrible.
  • I’ve had a few essays featured on the online arts journal Rebelle Society. I was lucky enough to have one of my articles classified as a “Classic,” and they picked up another essay soon after the first. They’ve also asked me to be a regular contributor, which is incredibly flattering. That’s where some of my writing time is now going. If you haven’t seen my work at Rebelle, I would love for you to check those essays out (and share them if you like them).
  • I am getting closer and closer to having my novel published. I’m continuing talks with Oak Tree Press and it looks like there could be an October release date for my mystery Ghost Music. I’m incredibly excited and, while I wait, am continuing to refine my thoughts on marketing the novel after it’s released. Prepare yourself for giveaways and other goodies.

Basically, I wanted to let you know that I’m back, that I’m still writing, and that I really appreciate you stopping in to read my work/musings. I’m no longer underwater while trying to move between my job, writing, parenting, etc.–you know, life. Thanks for sticking with me. More posts, more frequently–that’s what I’m aiming for here. Stay tuned 🙂


Spiritual confessions, from the devoutly non-religious

skeleton holding a sign reading "confession"A confession. Actually, multiple confessions. I know–it all sounds so JUICY! But before I start, a qualifying note—some confessions prior to confession, if you will. First, these confessions ain’t all that juicy. So get your mind out of the gutter (those are reserved for a later time). Second, “confession” brings with it a quality of guilt and need for reparation, either with something bigger or with yourself or with another. That’s not what my confessions—what these particular confessions—are about. Yet there is most certainly a spiritual undertone and undertow to all of what follows. Let’s continue.

First confession. I grew up in Kansas. When young, I regularly attended Sunday School (of the Methodist variety). My parents were friends with the pastor and I remember visiting their house even after they had moved to another city (sidenote: their house had a cool stairway from the kitchen to the upstairs—reminded me a bit of playing Clue and escaping via a secret passage). After my parents divorced, I also spent a fair amount of time at Catholic mass. Growing up, I attended small churches where everyone knew who you were, as well as giant mega-churches where you were anonymous yet (supposedly) somehow part of something so much larger. My best friends in high school were a Methodist, a Lutheran, a Baptist, and a Mormon. I know, it sounds like the start of a joke: so this atheist/agnostic walks into a bar (well, probably not a bar) with a Methodist, a Lutheran, a Baptist, and a Mormon… If Kansas is part of the Bible Belt, then growing up I felt situated squarely in the middle of the buckle.

Second confession. I never liked any of it. It didn’t feel comfortable to me. Ever. Even as a child. While young, I loved exploring the darkened church, running behind the alter and choir area in what felt like hidden walkways that few ever saw or even knew existed. I still remember hiding behind the trees and bushes in front of the church and climbing into the newspaper recycling container with my best friend Rob. I liked trying to figure out the fire escape with its counterweight. But beyond the cool, young boy explorations, I didn’t like it. I felt uncomfortable wearing the gown-like garment (aww, let’s face it, it was definitely a gown, nothing “gown-like” about it) as I walked down the aisle to extinguish the candles on the alter. The special candle snuffing device was cool, though, as was the smell of the wick after it went out. “Lock-ins” were cool because I got to play basketball all night long. “Lock-ins” weren’t cool when we had to stop and talk about religion. Hide-and-seek in a church is pretty much more awesome than anywhere else. It’s creepy late at night and there are a million places to hide, hoping that the girl you like will find you before anyone else. It’s not nearly as cool to stop and join together in prayer.

Third confession. All of these feelings made me feel alone and lost and confused at times. One friend was going on a mission. Another friend’s brother went to divinity school. Another friend was so devotedly involved with his church that he always felt the most religious of all of them to me. This same friend gave me a book a few years later, an attempt to save me, I think, but done in a way that never made me feel uncomfortable or pressed upon. My mom gave me a plaque with the religious connotation of my name. I’ve kept it, and the Bible I was given as a child, all of these years, but simply have them boxed away. I tried to read the Bible from cover to cover once, maybe twice. I didn’t make it. And so what was I in the midst of all of this? A fraud? Not really, because I never professed to believe like the rest. They knew I wasn’t religious. It was more like I was the one who missed the day at school where everything was explained. I somehow just didn’t quite get it. Or, I was the one who saw the punchline that everyone else missed. Either way, there was a certain outsider status that I felt, though none of them ever placed it upon me.

Fourth confession. One of the above-mentioned friends told me years later that he thought of me as the most spiritual of all of them. Took me completely by surprise. I’d never thought of myself that way. I moved to the Pacific Northwest but I hadn’t become a new-age hippie or anything. Where did this come from? It did two things, though: 1) it altered my understanding of my friend, who before I would have guessed as being the most dogmatic and proscription-driven (he didn’t drink, smoke, etc). His concept of religion and spirituality turned out to be much broader and inclusive than I had ever guessed (broader, certainly, than mine since I could never conceive of myself as “spiritual”). 2) it made me think about what, in fact, was “spiritual.” Nothing dramatic happened, but I think it planted a seed.

Fifth confession. I’ve come, when I’m most open and at my best, to believe in trusting the “universe” and keeping myself as open as possible to it. That’s when the best things in my life have occurred. It’s hard to do, though, with guilt about the past and worries about the future and anxieties about my self-worth robbing that comfortable melding with the present that has been fuel for when the tumblers of life click into place and things move unimpeded toward the beauty and love that means more than anything else in life to me—whether that’s being filled with thankfulness when staring at the ceiling and asking that I be a good enough father to teach my soon-to-be-born son about love and ask that he feel love surround him like a bubble throughout his life, or putting all fears aside and risking myself in a relationship by fully letting go in the pursuit of unprotected love (big difference, kids, between unprotected love and unprotected sex: yes on the former, no on the latter).

Sixth confession. I want to believe in something bigger. (Have I indeed become a NW hippie after all?). For me, that something bigger is love and understanding that nothing happens in isolation. I think about my novel Ghost Music and I see those undercurrents swirling through the plot and character growth. The past, present, and future chase one another. The main character, Marcus Brace, has to learn to heal his wounds and risk himself with another woman again. At one point (in a pop culture nod toward a Brady Bunch episode where the kids break a vase playing ball in the house and try to glue it back together) Marcus wonders whether what has been fractured grows stronger for that break or remains forever fragile afterward. I say, with all due acknowledgment to the more typical Biblical aphorism, that you reap what you risk. Willing to risk fragility is its own type of strength. Be willing to be fragile, my friends. And in that, know that you are strong and there is love coming back to you.

Thanks for stopping by. Please help out by spreading the word about my blog and my soon-to-be-released novel Ghost Music by emailing the link above or sharing via Facebook, Twitter, Google+. And always feel free to email me with any questions or requests. 

The past you like, the past you hate

pencil erasing the phrase "the past"

The great thing about America, they say, is that it’s a land of second chances. People come here to make a fresh start. Your ancestors probably did. And it’s a land that loves to forgive, to let people try again and start over after their mistakes.

That’s a lovely theory. But how do you “start over?” There’s no reset button to life. There’s no way to erase the past. There are real-life reasons (financial and familial and familiar) why most of us can’t just fold up our tent, hop a train, and start a new life in a different town. And even if you could, would that really be escaping from the past? You tote your past with you everywhere you go. It’s the invisible baggage that no porter will ever carry for you; only you get to push and pull and tug and lug it from place to place.

Whitman, one of America’s first great poets (and a personal favorite), famously claimed that he was large, that he contained multitudes. Beautiful. Lyrical. It’s a fundamentally democratic poetic statement, abundant and amenable to differences. I loved it as a college student. I love it as a theory.

The darker side that I overlooked in my first enthusiastic embrace? What if you can’t stomach some of the past (personal, cultural, national) that you contain? How do you make sense of not just the good that you have done but also the errors, sins, and mistakes that you have committed?

In my novel Ghost Music, characters try different tactics: some attempt to ignore the past wholly, some are swallowed by the past and lose the present, while others learn to balance what happened (good and bad) with the present. It’s a delicate issue, this effort to contain not only the multitudes that you like, but also those that you want to excoriate and burn and vomit away.

Yes, Mr. Whitman, we do indeed contain multitudes. At times, though, it is easy to wish we did not, that we could be simple, happy, uncomplicated monads, blissfully unaware of the past and able to leave all mistakes behind. Ghost Music shows the impossibility of that wish. It is a novel not just about past sins, but also about learning to forgive (both yourself and others) and attempts to reconstruct.

Shopping for concrete shoes with Faulkner

I’m thinking of murder again. Fictional, of course. There’s no mystery to the deaths I’m contemplating, though. They have to go.

So whose eminent demise am I talking about? It’s time for select phrases, sentences, and even sections of my novel Ghost Music to sleep with the fishes. I’m fitting them with concrete shoes, courtesy of the delete key.

I’ve of course revised and edited and cut a great deal from my novel already. It’s in a spot where I even think of it as “final.” Writing is rarely final, though. What I have, I think, is good. But it’s still too long. It’s bloated in spots and needs to be made leaner and more efficient.

All of which returns me to murder. I’ve made the easy cuts to my novel. It’s time to “kill my darlings.” The advice comes from Faulkner (though I’ve also seen it ascribed to others, including Stephen King). As a writer, there are probably sections or phrases that you particularly love. Words that you’ve hammered together that feel especially well constructed and resonate with exactly the right type of emotion. I have several spots like that. They need to go.

Why do I need to cut them if I like them so much? In part, it’s smart to kill your darlings because you are simply much too close to them. You love them. You can’t see them as objectively as you need to. And because of that, they can actually be disrupting the flow of your novel.

That’s what’s happening in my book. My darlings are sabotaging a few chapters. So should you immediately and always murder your favorite parts? Of course not. Sometimes your favorite parts are your favorite precisely because they do such a good job. But equally, you shouldn’t refuse to cut them just because they are your favorites. Divorce your ego from the writing. Look at the work as objectively as you can. Have others read those sections and don’t let your feelings be bruised if they don’t think as highly of the work as you do.

It’s not easy. It hurts to kill them. I feel guilty. But I know they need to die. To continue this strange pairing of Faulkner and the mafia, I need to murder some of those that are closest to me but have put the rest of the work in jeopardy. So here I am, shopping with Faulkner in Yoknapatawpha County for a pair of concrete shoes to put on my darlings. Murder, for a better manuscript.