top of 10 gracie sq

Blue Fire, Part 5: 10 Gracie Square

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which is NOW available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents through April 15th)

 

And now, for my final post about my new book, I’d like to reveal the real inspiration for it – a building.

As I was finishing Dark Sky, the first book in my Max Bowman series, I became obsessed with a structure I would see across the East River from Roosevelt Island, where I live. It’s an old apartment building, fifteen stories tall, and built in the late 1920’s, right as the epic Wall Street crash that triggered the Great Depression was happening.

10 Gracie square

What I was most fascinated by was the rooftop, which had a series of posts and pillars that resembled some sort of ancient temple structure. Okay, what it really looked like was the rooftop from the climax of the original Ghostbusters. Which made sense, since that building, located at 55 Central Park West, was built the same year and with the same Art Deco sensibility.

rooftop

Anyway, when I did more research on the building, I found out I wasn’t the only one who admired it. Tom Wolfe, famed white-suited New Yorker and author of Bonfire of the Vanities, named it one of only 42 “good buildings” in the Manhattan area. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, former First Lady of China, lived there until her death in 2003 at the age of 105. Gloria Vanderbilt also lived there with her son Anderson Cooper – and, sadly, in 1988, her other son, Carter Cooper, committed suicide by falling to his death from the terrace of her apartment (which they movingly discuss in their new book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes).

Another fun fact about the place? It was originally built right on the waterfront, where there was a private club of sorts at the foot of the building. Unfortunately, a few years later, the FDR expressway was constructed right outside its front door – so the club was demolished and waterfront access blocked off; the bottom two floors ended up being walled off from the highway (and the East River) and are now only accessible from the sidewalk by two flights of stairs leading down to the first floor, where the windows have bars on them and the only things on the narrow walkway in front of them are trash cans. Those creepy below-street-level floors inspired even more creepiness in my novel.

A lot of bad things happen in this building in my book – both at the top and the bottom of it. Actually, some weird stuff happens in the middle floors as well. All in all, in Blue Fire…you want to avoid the place at all costs.

Oh, and stay out of the park across the street from it at 3 a.m. as well…

Oh yeah, the book…as it says on the top of this post, the “official” release starts today, Friday, April 8th – and the eBook will be on sale for $.99 for the next week.  I hope you’ll check it out.

 

gay switch

Blue Fire, Part 4: There Is No “Off” Switch

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents starting tomorrow and continuing through April 15th)

 

I have two gay sons. I’m neither bragging nor complaining about that fact – I’m just communicating it as a fact.

Now, some would still to this day, despite an overwhelming amount of scientific study to the contrary, insist that homosexuality is not a “fact.” No, they believe it’s an individual’s choice. In other words, gay people decide their sexuality much as they might choose what to have for breakfast.

And that ridiculous notion is how gay conversion therapy came into being.

The thinking behind this kind of treatment is, if you can choose to be gay…well, then you can choose not to be gay. You just have to “get your mind right,” as the warden said in Cool Hand Luke. And gay conversion therapy is designed to do just that, “cure” patients of their “disease.”

It would be nice to be able to say, here in the 21st Century, that gay conversion therapy is no longer regarded as a desirable or credible practice, but I can’t. Yes, the American Psychiatric Association condemns the practice, but, from a legal standpoint, I live in the only state in the U.S.A. (New York) that currently intends to ban it through regulatory law.

The history of gay conversion therapy is more than a little horrific. Here are some of the kinds of methods licensed physicians have used over the years to try and “cure” patients of their homosexuality:

  • Ice-pick lobotomies
  • Chemical castration with hormonal treatment
  • The application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals
  • Nausea-inducing drugs administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli

Fortunately, the above barbaric practices aren’t commonplace anymore, at least here in America, but there are still hundreds of gay conversion therapy organizations in existence in this country. It’s still a thing.

And it’s hard to imagine all the psychic damage it’s doing to those who are forced to undergo it.

So what does this have to do with my new mystery novel, Blue Fire? Well, it goes back to that psychic damage that I just mentioned. When so-called professionals attempt to rewire someone’s fundamental biological programming, it has to cause some level of trauma to those involved. And if the trauma were deep enough, it would create more than a few tragedies in these victims’ lives.

In Blue Fire, those tragedies have already happened. And now everyone involved with those personal calamities has to deal with the resulting fallout.

Hopefully, we live in more enlightened times now. Hopefully, gay conversion therapy will someday be an extinct practice that no sane doctor would advocate. But we’re not there yet. And we have to keep fighting against less enlightened thinking that wants to forcibly remove gay people from the planet.

ditko book

Blue Fire, Part 3: The Dirty Business of Comics

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents from April 8th through April 15th)

 

As a kid, I never knew comic book heroes would end up as the hub of a multibillion-dollar business. Unfortunately, neither did the guys who created them.

When I was growing up, comics were mostly for very young children. That was because, in the early 1950s, comic books were vilified by “experts” as morally suspect, much like early rock music would be a few years later, and sales began to plummet. In response, the industry formed the Comics Code Authority to police their own content. Sex, drugs and extreme violence were suddenly a no-no, and respect for government and parental authority was emphasized (you can read more about the Code here).

So the comics survived, but barely. DC, the company with Superman and Batman, still prospered, but many of the other comic lines either severely slashed the number of titles they released or went out of business altogether. And that was the state of the business when I started reading comics – mostly Superman and such kids’ stuff as Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost and the like.

Then one day, my older brother brought home the third issue of a new comic, The Avengers.  I remember vividly staring at its cover, which featured all these strange-looking colorful freaks threatening each other, freaks who immediately intrigued me, even though I had no idea who the hell they were. Yes, I went on to find out these freaks’ names were the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Giant Man and Thor and I would end up reading their adventures for years to come, but, at the time, all I could think was…

“These guys are different. These guys aren’t like anybody else.”

Marvel’s heroes frequently had bad attitudes and nasty tempers. They fought each other as much as they fought their villains of the month. It was a whole different vibe, more grown-up, self-aware, with a unique balancing act of hilarious irreverence and ever-more-cosmic epic storylines.

Soon, Marvels were my comics of choice. We had just moved from a small town, where everybody knew everybody else’s business, to a new suburban development, where no one had any connection to anyone else. I felt isolated and alone, so I threw myself further into comic books. I made scrapbooks, I drew my own and I had collected hundreds of them by the time I hit Junior High. And the artists and writers of my favorite comics were superstars in my mind. Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, Curt Swan, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams…to me and other kids like me, they were creative legends (and they continue to be to this day).

To the comic book publishers, however? They were the hired help and expendable if they got uppity about it.

I never thought about the business behind these comic books when I read them. What kid would? But a few years ago, when I was living in New Zealand, I picked up a British book entitled Men of Tomorrow. And that’s when I learned the ugly truth about how horribly these guys were treated, even though they made their employers millions.

For example, take Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the guys who came up with Superman, the original superstar superhero and one of the few to bring in big bucks in the early days of comics. They sold the rights to the character for all of $130 – but, in those days of the Great Depression, they were glad to get paid anything for an idea. Then, when Superman was suddenly being made into movie serials, cartoons and, later on, a TV series, they thought maybe they deserved a piece of the action. They thought the management would see the fairness of their request and negotiate with them. Instead, after the duo’s repeated attempts to claim part of the copyright all failed, they were shown the door. For years, they struggled to survive while their creation prospered in almost every medium available.

This set a pattern of artist abuse that continued on through the early days of comics, right through to the period when I read them. For example, Jack Kirby, who co-created many of Marvel’s most popular heroes and Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man, also saw no rewards for their efforts when those characters became huge successes. They both left the company after promises of profit participation never came through. Of course, Kirby had been through these soul-crushing circumstances before – he and Joe Simon, his partner at the time, had created Captain America in the 1940s and also had received nothing for their efforts, except a token payment.

I often think of those guys – and the overwhelming majority of them were guys – drawing as fast as they could just to scratch out a living, while the publishers became rich off of their efforts – and I knew I wanted to use one of them as the lynchpin for Blue Fire, the second book in my Max Bowman mystery series. Not a real one, of course, but one of my own creation, a comic book artist who had disappeared into near-obscurity (much as Ditko did) after being treated shabbily by the comics industry.

Why was using this kind of character important to me? Because the best of the comic book creators were geniuses in their own right – but completely unrecognized at the time by anyone over twenty, because they worked in a business that had no prestige or standing, a business that was frankly looked down on by most adults until the Baby Boomer generation grew up. But now, miraculously enough, their creations are at the center of our most popular movies and television shows. In a sense, they brought to life today’s equivalent of the ancient Greek and Roman mythical gods, represented in Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and all the rest of those super-powered heroes running around in their long underwear.

Sound pretentious? Maybe. But it’s also the truth.

So Blue Fire is, in part, my salute to those artists and writers. Thanks to recent court cases, they’re finally receiving their financial due – well, at least their surviving family members are, since many of them passed away years ago. But then again, it was never really about the money for them – or they certainly wouldn’t have picked the comics field to work in.

No, for them, it was all about having the ability and freedom to create. And that’s a feeling I can understand.

mindcontrol3

Blue Fire, Part 2: CIA Mind Control

(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents from April 8th through April 15th -see first part of this series here )

 

When you write a mystery-thriller, you obviously have to concoct stories that are a little bit bigger than life. But what’s interesting is that I keep discovering real life is a lot scarier than anything I can think up.

For example, in Dark Sky, the first book in my Max Bowman series, the back story was based around a series of savage raids by Americans in the Afghanistan war. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t know if this level of unrestrained violence had really occurred. After some research, I found that it had; after our military surge in Iraq seemed to have met with some success, we then took off the brakes in Afghanistan and let our troops loose with a vengeance, so much so that the Afghani government asked us to tone it down – too many civilians were getting killed.

Not only that, but I found out some of the Special Ops troops were conducting night raids…with tomahawks. Yes, tomahawks, just like those used by Native Americans back in the day. And these were not ordinary tomahawks, but Hollywood tomahawks, because these particular weapons were hand-crafted by the same guy who made them for the 1992 movie version of Last of the Mohicans.

So that was weird.

When it came time to start thinking of plotlines for Blue Fire, the sequel to Dark Sky, I knew there was some kind of secret mind control project that had been conducted by the CIA back in the 1950s and 60s. For some reason, I at first thought it probably didn’t amount to much, but again, my research proved otherwise. The CIA program was called MK-Ultra and its aim was to create brainwashing techniques to persuade enemies to talk – and also to create zombie assassins who could be programmed to carry out whatever lethal orders the agency decided to give them.

Fun stuff. And it gets better – because the CIA started the mind-control ball rolling with the help of some former Nazi scientists who were anxious to continue the loathsome experimentation they had begun in the Third Reich. We even brought these lovely gentlemen and their families into the country through another secret initiative called Operation Paperclip.

The more I read about MK-Ultra, the more twisted the whole effort seemed. The CIA secretly dosed hundreds of people with LSD – just to see what would happen to them. Friends, family, other CIA agents…everyone was fair game. The agency even set up a drug rehab program in the South where they gave out free heroin to junkies if they would agree to participate in their LSD experiments, and attracted some very famous contemporary jazz musicians in the process. The CIA director even covertly gave his son LSD on multiple occasions and the kid ended up being committed for a time to an institution.

There are more wild and weird facts about MK-Ultra in the book, almost all of them true, including the tragic story of Dr. Frank Olson, another associate who was surreptitiously dosed with LSD and ended up mysteriously falling out a window from a New York skyscraper – oh, while a CIA agent just happened to be in the room.

All of the dirty details about MK-Ultra were, of course, meant to stay secret. As a matter of fact, the CIA tried to get rid of any evidence that the program ever existed. In 1973, when Watergate fever ravaged Washington D.C. and government mistrust was at an all-time high, the CIA frantically destroyed all of the MK-Ultra files in case Congress came after them. And Congress did – holding hearings on the program in 1975, where direct participants testified. In 1977, 20,000 MK-Ultra documents were found to have survived the CIA purge, but only a small portion of those have been declassified.

Despite all the damage done, MK-Ultra is still an almost-forgotten footnote in our country’s history, even though a top secret agency was running amok and messing with innocent people’s brain chemistry at will.

As they say, you can’t make this shit up – and fortunately, I didn’t have to.

Tomorrow…the dirty truth about comic books!

back cover top

The Secret History of Blue Fire, Part 1

(The first in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents – from April 8th through April 15th)

As I write these words, it hasn’t even been a year since I decided to write my first novel. That happened on Memorial Day weekend, 2015 (for more details on that epiphany, read this post from last year).

Now, I’m releasing my second one. I hadn’t anticipated completing another one so soon – especially one that’s about a hundred pages longer than the first. But when you’re inspired…

And boy, was I inspired.

In the next few days, I’m going to be writing more about that inspiration. About the ideas and the history that made me have to write this damn book…in spite of my regular ghostwriting work and my lovely wife telling me I was crazy to try and do a second novel so soon after the first one. The problem was, as with the first book, Dark Sky, I couldn’t help it. I was flooded with characters, plot complications and the overwhelming desire to do a bigger, deeper and richer book than the first – and I had to get it all out on paper. Well, on the computer anyway.

This isn’t to say that I was unhappy with Dark Sky.  Far from it. The feedback from friends and family was fantastic and so were most of the reviews posted on Amazon. But still, it was the first novel I had attempted in thirty years or so and the first time I had really attempted the mystery-thriller genre. I knew I could do even better with the second one.

Of course, whether I did or not is up to the ultimate judgment of readers. And there’s some controversial stuff in this one. And there’s a different tone, particularly in the closing chapters. This time around, I took more chances – and I hope they paid off.

In any event, I hope you’ll come back to this here blog space over the next four days to find out just what went into Blue Fire – and why I’m a little bit nervous about how people will react to it.