One of the two T-shirts I bought while we were hanging in Provincetown last week.  The other is pictured on my Zachary Klein Facebook Authors Page, which, if you check it out, please “Like” the page.

I bought this shirt because it is funny, it is true, and it made me think about what fiction really is.  Where is the line between reality and a reflection of reality?  What is that line?  These aren’t entirely new questions because countless people, who have read my Matt Jacob books, have asked how I was able to do as much drugs and drink as my hero and still write a book.

Clearly they believed that Matt Jacob was me rather than a make-believe character.  There’s part of that conflation I appreciate.  It suggests that Matt, my character, is believable enough to be real; and, as a novelist, that is rewarding.  It’s less rewarding to be thought of as a drunken dope addict, but hey, if that’s the price I pay to create interesting characters, so be it.

Actually I begin each book pondering about themes.  What undercurrents of life do I want to think about and explore?  Betrayal?  Ass-biting from the past?  Manipulation?  Lies?  There’s gotta be an overarching idea I’m interested in before I start writing.  Then, it’s how will my characters relate in their own way to the particular theme while still surprising me with aspects of their personality.  Writing a series makes that a little easier because I’ve grown to know some of my cast better and better which means I’m able to dig deeper and deeper into who they really are.  On the other hand, it’s often a lot of fun to introduce the new characters and have the opportunity to discover who they are over the course of the book.

While there’s a difference between detective fiction and straight fiction, there really is a tremendous overlap.  In both cases a story to be told, characters to come alive, situations that need to feel real and a writers’ job to avoid false notes all along the story’s way.

And though detective fiction has a certain form, as someone who works in that area I see my job as pushing the form into different shapes and directions.

A funny incident from my legacy publishing years.  (And a harbinger of much worse things that came.)  I was having lunch with my editor and his assistant concerning TWO WAY TOLL before the book was written.  The editor told me that I was such a good storyteller that I needn’t worry about having the murder within the first forty pages, which was the general rule of thumb for mysteries.  Yet, the very first thing I heard once the book was delivered was, “There’s no murder in the first forty pages.  You know better than that.”  Even after being reminded about our previous luncheon conversation, there was a significant tug of war before they accepted the book as written.

I want more out of my writing than formula.  In fact, I want the individual characters and their relationships front and center.  To me, they should be of greater importance than the “who done it,” which means drawing on interior lives readers can relate to and relationships between these characters that ring true.

That doesn’t mean I short shrift the storyline.  I actually like the challenge of plotting–however difficult it is for me to conjure up that which allows for my people priorities.

Sounds a lot like a literary novel, doesn’t it?  So why am I so committed to detective fiction?  I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I think of detective fiction as uniquely American and filled with the same potential as jazz—the opportunity to riff and play and experiment with the form with each book I write.  Fresh and new fascinates me.

So what does this have to do with that Provincetown t-shirt?  For me it suggests one of writing’s most difficult challenges.  “Keeping it real” but using imagination to do so.  I’m not interested in rendering my friends’ lives public.  In an interview on my website in the Happenings section, I talk about how a part of me is in each of my characters, but that “part” of me isn’t me and nor are the relationships within the book mine.  Unless I can absorb the internal lives of people I know and meet, unless I can understand the relationships that surround me and transform, transform, transform what I’ve learned in ways that relate to readers, I’ll never be able to “make stuff up.”


To my new virtual home.  A shout out to http://www.boismierjohndesign.com/ (Tim and Paula) for all the work they did in creating/decorating the site and their patience with my constant emails.  Also a thank you to http://www.breadwig.com/photography/ who kindly let me use his photographs for some of the banners.

Please look around, play with the buttons, check out Monday’s post, WORD OF MOUTH, and by all means let me know what you think.

Mi casa es su casa.


would be a thorn in my side–if its first name was Charlie.

I’m well aware that Charlie Rose interviews interesting and often brilliant people.  We’re not talking Dr. Phil here.  Or even Oprah.  Rose invites really intelligent people who deal with matters that don’t necessarily make the headlines.  True, he also does his fair amount of headline hunting.  But even there he chooses people and perspectives that the major networks often ignore.

This realization makes it harder to hate him.  And more difficult to flip the channel.  But I just can’t stand Charlie’s interview style.

That, I really, really hate.  Rather than dig into his guests’ knowledge of their specialty, Rose insists on showing how much he understands about that subject.  I know he’s learned a lot over the years, that his researchers do a fine job, and that it’s his program.  Still, it’s the guests I’m interested in, not his know-it-all pretentiousness.

Charlie often won’t let a guest finish his or her thought or sentence before breaking in and finishing it for them.  I guess the risk you take when you invite really bright people onto your television show is their desire to speak for themselves.

And interruptions aren’t the worst of it.  All too many times, Rose won’t even bother with a question but simply asserts (often emphatically) what he believes to be in his guests’ minds.  Recently I watched an interview with the winner of The Masters Golf Tournament.  Apparently the player was behind heading into the final nine holes.  Charlie leans across his plain round table, arm outstretched, and pushes his horse face into the middle of the screen while telling the guy (and I paraphrase) But you knew you would nail all those birdies on the back nine.  You knew it, you had to!

A puzzled look crossed the golfer’s face and you could almost see him getting ready to say huh?– but then he simply responded, (again I paraphrase) I had no idea at all about what was going to happen.  I just tried to play one hole at a time.

If this had been an exception rather than the rule, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.  Only I find this two-part crime, especially annoying.  First, stealing the punch line of a guest’s story is remarkably ungenerous.  And I just don’t believe in clairvoyance.  Over and over.  You always know what Charlie believes is in his invitee’s mind.  Or what the guest plans to do, or what he knows about his or her field of expertise.  I guess it ain’t called The Charlie Rose Show for nothing.

And woe to those who participate in a panel discussion on the program.  I may not be the best facilitator on the planet, but the golden rule is to give people an opportunity to participate.  And, if they are reluctant to do that themselves, it’s the moderator’s job to include them.

No golden rule for Rose.  I’ve seen discussions where he’ll let one person remain silent for the entire conversation until, as an afterthought, Charlie will ask a quick question to that person, then switch to another before his afterthought even finishes answering.  I’m sure it’s his producers who create the gathering, but I’m equally sure that Rose okays them.  He clearly has a hierarchy of people he’s interested in during his group presentations–or this form of rude is his payback to all the mean kids in high school who used to ignore him.

From where I sit, if you invite someone onto your television program you really ought to talk to them.  Not Rose.  Even Bill Maher, a snotty snoid if there ever was one, makes sure to let all his guests speak.  Even those who actually have nothing to say.

Finding something good and intellectually engaging on television is hard enough.  Most of the people Charlie invites are never on the tube anywhere else.  Where else can you hear world renowned physicists discuss the Higgs boson particle discovery?  Or modern architecture?  Or unusual museum exhibitions?  Or any non-pop culture phenomena that’s actually interesting to people with curiosity and want to expand their knowledge.  If Charlie lets them.  The one interview show that doesn’t cater to Kardashian followers and it gets smothered by an out-of-control ego.

Back in the day, I always believed that Dick Cavett’s best interview would have been with a mirror.  Certainly the one that he’d be most interested in.  Today I’d rather watch Cavett and Rose interview each other at the same time.

Shame on me for blood lust.

There are those that are wise. Then there are those that are otherwise. ~ Arushi Nayar


Something I find disturbing in political discussions on the internet, TV, and in general, is the growing number of people who dislike (even hate) government per se.  This outlook isn’t limited to one or the other end of our political spectrum.  It’s a general attitude that has become an undercurrent in our present culture.

I have problems with this.  Not because I support the way our government functions, or even a ton of its policies.  But rather I believe government needs to be a pact among our citizens to provide as decent a life as possible for as many as possible.

Clearly this isn’t the present case; systemic reforms are desperately needed.  Just as clearly, the road to those reforms cannot be Hate Street.  The only way that we can reach the pact mentioned above is if people talk to each other with respect and try to understand the others’ needs.

I’ve been tough on progressives for their all too often dismissive attitudes toward people with whom they disagree.  But it’s not just them.  It takes two to talk.  And two to listen.  And two to try to understand.  And a whole lot more than two to change the way things are.

Unfortunately, media being what it is–the use of polarization as a ratings tool–as well as promoting party line bullshit, may very well make reasonable discourse impossible.  And that’s a highway “hardnosed” to hell.

More thoughts:  The economy and the incredible budget cuts in federal and municipal governments have had a terribly negative effect on women and people of color disproportionate to the rest of our population.


This reminds me of when Clinton “ended welfare as we knew it.”  Bang, a sudden huge spike in jailing women for non-violent crimes.  All the better to jumpstart ‘for profit’ prison systems.  Money for prison growth when sixteen million children go to sleep hungry every night in the United States.  Are these really our priorities?  I didn’t think so.

More thoughts:  I understand why people don’t like paying taxes and it’s clear the major bang for the buck are the wars our leaders place us in.  But does this tax hatred include a reluctance to pay for police and firefighters?  Trash collection?  It certainly includes a lack of desire to pay for first rate schools, teachers and other public sector employees.  Are we actually happy having a crumbling infrastructure?  Bridges we can’t cross, potholes that wreck our cars’ suspensions?  Blocked roads and highways?  To say nothing about our desperate need to update everything from education to transit systems to actually be a player in this century.  We know private industry won’t take us there unless it brings great profits, which, by their definition means cutting corners and leaving government to hold the bag. (See The Big Dig, Boston.)  Once again, this hurts the poor, working, and middle classes.  Not Bechtel Parsons.  Worse, the Supreme Court decided corporations were entitled to the same rights as humans.  Which, as the sign says, “I’ll believe that the minute they execute one in Texas.”

More thoughts:  Unions.  The Walker victory in Wisconsin (regardless of the money differential spent) says something about our culture’s perceptions and attitudes. I don’t know enough about seniority as an issue so won’t opine (surprise, surprise) but let’s have some perspective.  Seniority simply doesn’t stand alone.  Unions have also brought us Child Labor laws, forty-hour work week, benefits, the busting of sweatshops, the push for a minimum wage, and job protection.

Worse, our distaste toward unions is allowing basic rights like collective bargaining to be eliminated or neutered and pensions decimated.  Sure, unions have done stupid things and need some serious reform–but what institutions haven’t and don’t?  Hell, the financial sector came within an eyelash of completely destroying our economy, but the only people who curse them are the people who got fucked by ’em.  I never hear a general call for an election built around “bank busting,” a refrain often heard about unions.

More thoughts:  Of a much different nature.  Music.  Been listening to Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammon’s album We’ll Be Together Again.  One song in particular, My Foolish Heart, reflects how two different horn styles can come together and create beyond belief beauty.  Ammons’ soft, seductive minimalism partnered with Stitts’ hard attack and shower of notes merge with each other in an almost miraculous manner.  The entire album is extraordinary but that song is worth the price of admission.

Also been listening to a friend’s (Bruce Turkel)


new cd called The Southbound Suspects.  Really super for a first.

I can’t think of better piano playing than Thelonious Monk’s Solo Monk and Monk Alone: The Complete Solo Studio Recordings of Thelonious Monk.  If this is fodder for debate, please argue away.

More thoughts:  Watching the construction of my new website by people whose aesthetic taste and expert technological skills   (Paula & Tim John) has been an eye-opening wonder.  The world in which they work might be virtual, but there is nothing virtual about the skill it takes to create something that’s beautifully reflective of me and Matt Jacob.  I’ve been crazy privileged to know Michael Paul Smith who designed my book covers and Tim and Paula.  Sometimes I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So.

“Making predictions is a very hard thing to do, especially when it’s about the future.” ~ Yogi Berra


As an extra opportunity for fun and male bonding, best man, Josh, sent an email saying he and Matt had set up a helicopter tour of New York City on the morning of Matt’s wedding.  The six men walking down the aisle, Matt, Josh, Matt’s brother Jake, Richard, [Alyssa’s father], Andrew [Alyssa’s brother], and myself were to fly over the city from Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the Washington Bridge and back to see the sights from above.

At first I wasn’t particularly worried.  I still have to wear a post-op sling virtually all the time and figured I’d get the kibosh from my physical therapist.  Who, to my surprise and chagrin, said as long as I’d be strapped in it would be fine.

Fine for her perhaps.  Not so fine for me.

See, my idea of high risk recreation has to do with driving my car without getting plowed by cell phone talking drivers in three-story SUVs.  Or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk because the street has cars, trolleys, buses and trucks.

This lack of lust for HRR (High Risk Recreation) had been confirmed when I was a teenager and my girlfriend and I rode the Steeplechase rollercoaster at Coney Island.  I survived, but just barely made it to the men’s room in time to upchuck.  When she asked whether we could ride it again, I seriously considered breaking up right then and there.  But it was her car and I needed the ride back to Jersey.

This fear of fast was reinforced about thirty years ago when I tried a white water rafting trip in Maine.  I was fine right up to the moment they passed out a loss of life and injury waiver, explaining that we’d better pay attention to the raft leader or we’d be tossed out like popcorn kernels from a hot open kettle.  My stomach knotted, throat tightened, and writing hand began to shake.  Still I signed, grabbed a paddle, and struggled onto the raft (which did have narrow sides upon which to perch) along with Sue and two other friends.

It began seductively well.  Floating down a river on a warm, sunny afternoon, the shoreline lined with beautiful trees, lulled me into a false sense of security.  My breathing normalized, I paddled along with the rest of the passengers, and listened carefully to our guide as he calmly told us what to do.

Which abruptly ended when he suddenly shouted “whitewater ahead!”  At that moment every instruction that had been given flew out of my mind and all I could do was hope I wasn’t gonna be that popped-out kernel.  The raft began to toss up and down and all the while the guide shouted instructions that my fear refused to hear.  I just hung onto my paddle and side until the rocking and rolling was over.

Once the river calmed, the guide looked back at his crew and said with a wide grin, “That was a small one.  Wait ’til we hit something decent.  Hope you’re enjoying this.”

Enjoy?  Hadn’t thought that word existed once we hit the white.  But before I had a chance to beg him to take me to the shore, he shouted again, adding “this is a big one so listen up or we’ll roll over.”

That did it.  No more side sitting for me.  I crawled onto the bottom of the raft and tried my best to grab onto its rubber floor.  Not easy, but I managed to hold something (I think it was my friend’s foot).  I stayed hunkered down there for the entire rest of the trip.

When you cross the finish line, they take pictures you can buy.  Somewhere in our collection is one with the top of my head just over the side and Sue calmly leaning forward on the very front tip of the raft.

At least I hadn’t tossed my cookies.

That experience led me to wonder about people who live for HRR.  Last week I read about four people dying in an aborted attempt to reach Mt. Everest’s summit.  Saturday I read an article that described a record breaking, successful climb of that same mountain by a seventy-three year old woman.  Go figger.  I sure can’t.  I couldn’t even read Into Thin Air.  Hell, I still keep my eyes on my feet when I walk up stairs.  Different strokes.

Even though Mt. Everest is one hell of a spit from a guided helicopter tour, you couldn’t tell it by my inability to speak as we approached the take-off point.  And I really hoped that nobody in our party saw my good hand shake (they let me wear my sling) when they strapped a flotation device around my waist before we boarded.

But once inside I immediately felt my anxiety dissipate.  I had expected five-point restraints with our backs up against the chopper’s sides, but instead found plush leather seats with normal car seatbelts (though we had to wear earphones with a speaker in order to talk to each other).  I had also expected to be buffeted about by the wind but nada.  No whitewater rafting here.  Even when the pilot banked, it was smooth and comfortable.  And the magnificence of the city was overwhelming.  Seeing New York’s skyline from above was stunning–even the new Yankee Stadium looked sweet–and I’m from Boston.

When we touched down, I actually felt sad.  Wished it had lasted much, much longer.  I woulda even been happy to fly over New Jersey.

But our tour was finished and, as we lined up to march between the lines back into the tour building, I was struck by the truth that we really only have one life to live and, where good judgment is necessary, it should never be dictated by fear.

“At the heart of the matter is a battle between wish and fear. Fear generally proves stronger than a wish, but it leaves a taste of disappointment on the tongue.”  George Packer

(A special thanks to Sherri Frank Mazzotta who stepped up last week while I stepped away.  Very much appreciated.)