Thursday, March 9, 2017

'The Devil's Pipeline' resumes post election

   POINT  RICHMOND, Calif. - The idea that characters control novels - and least my novels - has been written about before on this page. Several times, I think.
     So it's not that surprising that every time in recent weeks when I sat down to see what they were up to, they remained as elusive as copies of Donald Trump's income taxes.
     But today when I opened the draft of the novel The Devil's Pipeline, I had to referee a near brawl in progress among three characters (all newspaper editors).
     Tempers were flaring as the editors - one month before the November 2016 election that catapulted Trump into the White House - debated his chances of winning.

Photo of the May 4, 1970 Kent State shooting
   It all seems like such old news now, of course.
     The characters' debate this morning got at the heart of how he slipped into office. The theory they came across (and were debating) doesn't bode well for future elections of presidents or anyone else in the nation for that matter.
     And it's a theory most people haven't heard yet. (No Russians involved, by the way.)
     That bit of skullduggery aside, the characters are still racing towards the novel's finish line tying up the loose ends of pipeline construction, corporate corruption, government malfeasance, law enforcement overreach (and brutality), a wrongful death lawsuit, and even the cause a ghastly fire.
     And, of course, then there is the Devil's Pipeline corporate connection to the 1970 shooting of students at Kent State.

    If Jack Stafford, et al, continue to be cooperative, The Devil's Pipeline will continue construction until the first draft is ready for editing sometime before I head east late this spring.
     Another piece of in-process writing, The Pre-Trump, Interstate 80, Cross-Country Boogie, is officially on the back burner - as of today - but ready for quick revival if the characters decide they need to slow down again.

Who died in this Devil's Pipeline-related blaze - and who lit it?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The flow starts up again in 'The Devil's Pipeline'

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - After several fits and starts (more fits than starts) today I banged out a chapter in The Devil's Pipeline, chapter 3 in the final segment of the book.

The title of the last segment has been changed  from The Big Short to Standing Rock - quite appropriate, all things considered. And tomorrow another chapter should follow as a wrongful death lawsuit unfolds in the book, under the steady eye of an Iowa judge named Roy Bean. (Who can makes this stuff up? Oh, yeah. OK...)

As the late Norman Mailer once opined, writing fiction can be heavy lifting given the incredible weirdness of real life. If any novelist had fictionalized a novel containing details like those we witnessed in the last year of presidential politics, he or she would have been summarily thrown out of their publisher's office with strict instructions to never, ever return.

And so it was that when it was time to complete the balance of The Devil's Pipeline in mid to late September, I had just returned from my cross-county driving sojourn, from New York City to San Francisco.

Writing (at least novel writing) was out of the question.

My trip was rife with evidence that Trump might win the presidential election. I didn't meet a Democratic voter - or anyone who would admit to being a Democratic voter - anywhere west of the Hudson River until I came into California. I barely whispered to anyone what I had seen and heard from Bloomsburg, PA,  and all across the country. I stopped often and talked with local folks in restaurants, stores, gas stations and a few bars. Maybe not enough bars.

And Standing Rock? My God! Sworn law enforcement officers spraying water cannons, firing tear gas and percussion grenades - and dousing defenseless water protectors with pepper spray, all so a vast array of energy companies and banks could push a pipeline under a lake.

What in the name-of-God has the country come to?

But out of all that - Trump, the brave Native American water protectors, Standing Rock - the fictional characters in The Devil's Pipeline were all waiting for me when I picked up their storyline this morning with a smoking' hot column by Jack Stafford.

Tomorrow, (I'm told) the head of the energy conglomerate building The Devil's Pipeline will put his extremely tiny foot in a pile of shit up right up to his ankle. Yes, he has tiny feet. You will have to wait until the book comes out next year to find out about how big his hands might be.

You already guessed, I bet.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

'Fracking War' - energy company required reading

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - The Fracking War might not have made the NY Times best seller list yet. (Yet! Yet!)

But this week a note from a friend - who was purchasing a signed copy of Fracking Justice - indicates The Fracking War is clearly hitting some of its target audience.

How many copies of The Fracking War are inside?
She mentioned that her son said The Fracking War is considered to be "required reading" at the east coast energy company where he works.

Perhaps that bears repeating: "required reading" at the east coast energy company where he works. 

That's high praise, whether the book is reviled or revered. Oh, and by the way, he doesn't work at the energy company in the photo to the right. But I wonder how many copies of The Fracking War  might be lurking in the hundreds of offices of that energy company office, too?

When The Fracking War was first published, one hope was that it would help educate (and inflame) people about the ills of hydrofracking, using the fictional tale about the work of investigative/columnist Jack Stafford and The Horseheads Clarion newspaper staff.

It worked to a large degree, at least based on reactions from people in the Northeast including many who were protesting (and continue to protest) the proposed loony liquid propane gas storage project at Seneca Lake proposed by Crestwood Midstream of Houston, Texas.

As part of the marketing of the book, copies were sent to energy company executives and some of the more prominent public relations hacks in the employ of the industry.

Apparently not all of them pitched their copies of The Fracking War into their desk-side round files.

The news that this energy company is paying attention came at just the right moment. In the coming weeks I hope to tackle the final section of the next novel, The Devil's Pipeline. Good God but there's so much material going on in real time, in the real world, it's hard to predict what will happen in the final chapters of this third book.

But you can be pretty sure it will end with a bang, like The Fracking War and Fracking Justice. And maybe even on a Native American reservation, somewhere on the Northern Plains of the U.S.

Results of a natural gas pipeline explosion

Friday, August 19, 2016

'Travels with Charley' in the 21st Century

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - My apologies for the long delay in updating. Until today, about the only regular writing for me since April has been my weekly column for the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, NY. If you want to scan those columns, here is the link: WRITE ON.

This non-vacation/vacation from the keyboard was prompted by my moving my base of operations from upstate NY to California. This coast-to-coast shift was about as taxing as anything I have ever done.

But it's completed. Done. Over. Finished.

Y gracias Dios.

And the draft of The Devil's Pipeline? Pardon the pun but it is still in the pipeline. The plan is to get the completed manuscript off to a New York publisher this fall for an agreed-upon look-see. But in the meantime, I have another potential writing project in mind, a la a well-known, well-loved John Steinbeck book, Travels with Charley.

If you haven't read this short tome, pick it up. I read snippets years ago. Now I am rereading it in its entirety as I plan a cross-country trip of my own beginning in early September.

I don't have dog named Charley, or any dog actually. But I do have a pickup truck and time. Lots of time.

My Travels will start in New York City, from the same spot I left in 1970 driving a blue, 1964 VW van. That two-month cross-country tour ended in Napa, Calif.

I will retrace many of the steps I took along that route. But this time I will be solo piloting a 1990 Nissan pickup truck with a camper shell. And my journey will be viewed through the eyes of novelist & journalist, not a brand-new dad with his wife, three-month-old son and a coal black cat named Mr. Kitter aboard.

I have no idea what will come out of this trip:  A handful of daily blogs (Posted on The Captain's Blog), a magazine article or two - or even a book about the America I find. I won't know until I head out and return.

Steinbeck explains this far better on the first page of Travels with Charley.

"We all find after years of struggle, that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us."

Thursday, April 7, 2016

'The Devil's Pipeline' - four of five sections done!

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - The draft of The Devil's Pipeline hit a milestone today. Four of the five sections in the novel are done. In draft form at least. Whew...

And that bit of news comes just in time for me to head back to my Watkins Glen, NY office in two weeks where I have plans to lock myself in to finish the novel. I have a box of extra strength Irish breakfast tea on the way to keep my caffeine level up.

The drafting of this book has been as challenging as building a pipeline. It started out as a five-chapter book sample, destined to send to an agent. It morphed into the need for a full manuscript when a New York city publisher agreed to take a peek - but only at the final completed draft product. Then in between, two bouts of illness slowed things way down.

Plus, the characters themselves have taken me on a few detours.

One menacing, unpredictable and all-around despicable character (who for the record is NOT based on any NY politicians) forced himself into the book in the second section. I tried to keep him out, honest. But he's been wreaking havoc for 10,000 words. I hate bullies. He's got trouble ahead.

The Devil's Pipeline will consist of five sections - similar to formats of The Fracking War and Fracking Justice. Here are the draft titles for each:

Welcome to Mars
Drums Along the Ogallala
Wrongful Deaths
The Big Short

And just like the other two books, this draft novel has been battered in various directions by real-news events that impact the public, the energy industry and proposed pipelines. Like the impact of the Dimock, PA water pollution case - $4.2 million awarded to two families. The Dimock decision has the characters in The Devil's Pipeline chattering like magpies.

For readers who wonder whatever happened to Jack's Boat - the novel I worked on last summer -, well it did not sink out of sight.

It's next in line for a rewrite when The Devil's Pipeline is off to the publisher.

Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Finally climbing back on the novel-writing 'horse'

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - When I left New York in November, my plan was to give a pulpit-pounding speech at the Green Festival and Expo at the San Francisco Cow Palace. After that, the plan was to settle in here in California and continue work on the draft of my next novel, The Devil's Pipeline.

As some of you know I never gave that speech. And it was just today that the characters in The Devil's Pipeline - Jack Stafford, his son Noah, sisters-in-law Cass and Anne and a long cast of others introduced in The Fracking War and/or Fracking Justice - came out of a two-month, author-induced slumber.

In November, a head cold & severe laryngitis turned quickly into pneumonia and eventually transmogrified into just a nasty, nasty bronchitis, hacking cough and aching bones.

And so it was that novel writing went by the boards. I was able to keep up with my Finger Lakes Times column. And I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction - about pipelines among other things. But work on the novel? Not a chance.

My usual mode of fiction writing is to start a story and  run with it - just as fast as I can think and type. There are no long hiatuses or thumb sucking. I just keep the story moving.

It's like real life. You get up, do your day, repeat. So taking two months off created a panic over lost momentum.

Panic? Yup.

Suppose I couldn't pick up the thread and get the plot moving again? Suppose, suppose, suppose?

Excuse the overused phrase but, "No worries, mate."

What helped was actually sending a note to an aspiring writer just a few days ago who wants to get  started on a book. She was worried by the daunting prospect of pounding out 70,000-100,000 words.

My advice was to think of writing as stacking paragraphs. Build a paragraph, then stack it. Build another one, stack. And another.

So after re-reading the roughly 20,000 words I had penned months before being gripped by the grippe, this morning I stacked for a couple of hours. When I was done, Jack and Cass were arguing on a bucking airplane, Calvin Boviné had reappeared from Fracking Justice and Horseheads Clarion Editor Eli Gupta discovered. ... Well, I don't really want to say more about that. Eli and I are still trying to figure out what he found really means.

The incentive to get writing again got a huge boost several weeks ago from Kirkus Reviews when the magazine named Fracking Justice as one of the top 100 indie books of 2015. It's drawing more attention to The Fracking War also.

I'm honored and very thankful for the notice.

No matter though, it's just good to be back at this keyboard.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A 'Kirkus Reviews' thumbs up, a book stop in Pennsylvania - and where is 'Jack's Boat'?

BURLINGTON, Pennsylvania - After a swing through the western U.S., with speaking stops in Flagstaff, AZ and Los Angeles, I flew back to New York to start the draft of the next Jack Stafford book tentatively titled The Devil's Pipeline.

Speaking at the Green Festival Expo in Los Angeles
Sandwiched among hours of research on oil and gas pipelines, the droughts in western states and actually writing (13 chapters in the draft so far), I traveled to Burlington, Pennsylvania, which by last count had fewer than 200 people living in the community.

No exactly the kind of place to draw a big crowd.

Even so, my presentation at the Bradford County Public Library was well received by a group of people who have been fracked by the fracking companies - up, down and sideways.

Their tales were as fascinating as they were depressing. They validated nearly everything I've written already in The Fracking War and Fracking Justice. They also passed along some interesting new slants on the problems hydrofracking is causing in their community.

My God it's ugly.

Grrrr... says Dick Cheney
Next up in the speaking gig category for me is another Green Festival Expo appearance. This time in early November in San Francisco.

The slide show that accompanies my talk has been refined and elicits laughs, tears and gasps.

The gasps come from showing photos of Dick Cheney, the evil prince upon whom you can really heap a lot of blame for the spreading of hydrofracking (and its problems) across the U.S.


Both The Fracking War and Fracking Justice had received nothing but excellent reviews when Kirkus Reviews was set to publish its take on Fracking Justice.

I was holding my breathe - really! - when I first started to read what the publication said. Kirkus Reviews is a major player in the publishing industry and noted for taking no prisoners in reviews of books.

So if you heard a loud, whooping sound last month, that was likely me, when Kirkus published its lengthy glowing review. It was sooooooooo favorable, I doubt I could have written one more favorable myself.

Here's a line from the Review that kind of sums it up:

"Reads like an emergency manual for activists battling environmental despoliation."


Jack London
The beta readers for the draft of my novel Jack's Boat did yeoman service, getting their criticisms and suggestions back to me muy rapido. I have been pondering changes in the draft, even as I labor daily on the draft of The Devil's Pipeline.

The best news is all three said, yes! - publish this book.

Jack's Boat is on my writing docket, scheduled for a revamp and final tuneup before it gets another readthru.

Even at that, I think Jack's Boat  and The Devil's Pipeline will both make their debuts in spring/summer 2016.

Which means I better get back to tapping those keys if I want to meet that timeframe...