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.

 

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.

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.

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!

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.

 

 

 

How I Accidentally Wrote a Novel

DARK SKY 1 (1)

Joel Canfield here.

So, it was a sunny Sunday, May 24th of this year, and my lovely wife Lisa and I were having lunch here on Roosevelt Island with a couple of writer pals, David Muhlfelder and Robert Thielke.  All four of us had ordered burgers and, as we wolfed them down, some other guy showed up at out table, a guy I didn’t know, and he immediately lambasted our diets. Which was fair.

Anyway, I found out his name was Joshua James and he lived over the river from us in Queens – Robert had invited him over to meet up with us. I also found out that Josh was a talented playwright, screenwriter – and, as it happens, novelist (he writes thrillers under a pseudonym, but check out his published plays by clicking here).  Even though a film of one of his scripts had just been released, he was the most excited about self-publishing his books. He told us excitedly that was where the future was at – and how he was racking up some great sales, as well as getting hundreds of amazing reviews. And if you guessed that his spiel set me on fire…

…well, you’d be wrong.

Lisa was the one hanging on his every word who suddenly wanted to get into the self-publishing game – I was the one in the corner rolling my eyes. I had no intention of writing a novel. A novel takes a lot of time and a lot of energy, and at this point in my life, I don’t have a lot of either to spare. Not only that, but I never got anywhere with the ones I did finish, back when I was in my twenties and thirties. The closest I got to getting published was to finally have a book agent read my stuff, love it and promise to get it in print. He died of a heart attack on a tennis court a couple of weeks later. Okay, it was a bigger tragedy for him than me, but still…

But then I fell asleep and everything changed.

Not during the lunch – that would have been rude. But after Lisa and I got home, I took a quick nap (our dog gets us up way too early) and suddenly the whole first chapter of a new book came to me while I slept, as well as the main character and the basic plot. I woke up on fire – and Lisa was looking at me as though I was nuts, which isn’t that unusual, I’ll grant you.

That week, I started writing DARK SKY and, two and a half months later, it was done. And sleep continued to be my biggest writing helper. I kept waking up in the middle of the night with the idea for the next chapter and then lay there in bed for a couple of hours working out the mechanics. But it was worth the ongoing exhaustion.

When I was done, Lisa went through the manuscript and helped me make some significant improvements, and then my talented son A.J. did the book cover design. In this house, everything’s a family affair.

The result was DARK SKY.  I’m excited about this book and I hope everyone reading this will give it a read. I’d love to write a whole series of these books with the same main character and I already have a plot for the next one. But people have to like this one first before I get crazy involved with another one.

That’s why, for now, I’m sleeping on it.

Anyway, DARK SKY is NOW on sale on Amazon in paperback and Kindle ebook editions…check it out here if you want.

Crime and Penmanship

A ghostwriting career can bring you into contact with some interesting people.  Like gangsters.

We’ve actually had three come our way.

Gangster #1 was the co-founder of a notorious Miami street gang — which was also a local hip hop crew that played venues with the likes of L’il Wayne and WuTang Clan.  The gang split up for good when his partner was gunned down and he was afraid of following suit. When we interviewed him for the book, he would come to our place packing heat, until Lisa, not exactly the poster girl for the NRA, asked him to leave his gun in the car. He agreed, but, the next time he showed up, I had a feeling…and I asked him what he had on him. He sheepishly showed me a much smaller handgun sticking out of his pants pocket. We never got to finish that book because…well, we’re not sure why. Except maybe he thought a tell-all would be further injurious to his ongoing existence.

Gangster #2 was involved in the notorious Whitey Bulger gang in South Boston. He had already had a bestselling book about his exploits (written by a different ghostwriter) and was looking to do some kind of follow-up. Specifically, he wanted to do a self-help book from the perspective of a guy who bashed a few heads in, sort of an “I’m OK – You’re Bleeding Heavily” thing. We never got to finish that one, because there’s a movie about him that might get made, which would up the price for a book sale substantially. Hopefully, we’ll get back into that one.

Third time’s the charm. A little over a year ago, while we still lived in Miami, we met Gangster #3, Christian Valdes, a Cuban-American who managed several of the notorious South Florida “pill mills” a few years ago. We liked Christian and his wife Crystal immediately – and we thought his story was awesome.  It ended up being a lot of fun writing it – and the best part was, we actually got to finish it.

That’s Christian below. Don’t worry, the bullet holes are only tattoos.

cropped christian backcropped christian

 

The final result, Pill Mill, is coming out on Amazon soon…here’s what we wrote for Chris to help market it:

For 5 years, Christian Valdes was at the center of the biggest drug operation in America.  

It was an operation that became internationally notorious, insanely violent and nonstop freaky.  It made its kingpins millions and millions of dollars, and it made Valdes as much money as he could possibly make in a day — because there were endless numbers of people lining up for what he had the power to give them. 

Those people were willing to do just about anything to get it.  With the men, that generally meant money.  With the women, that meant money – and almost any kind of sexual arrangement Valdes proposed.    

And the interesting part about this operation? It was completely legal.    

From 2000 to 2009, Florida’s incredibly lax prescription drug laws fueled a huge spike in so-called pain management clinics, especially in the Fort Lauderdale-Miami area. CNN and other national news media outlets tagged these clinics as “Pill Mills” — and with good reason.  When Valdes managed them, they gave out heavy-hitter drugs like Xanax, Percocet, Oxycontin, Roxicodone and Methadone just like they were candy.  And because the Sunshine State kept everybody in the dark about who was prescribing what, somebody could easily go into one clinic and get some Oxy and then head over to a different clinic for some more a few minutes later. 

Valdes helped a whole lot of people do just that – including a posse of strippers he sponsored – because he was running his own operation within the operation.

Pill Mill is his no-holds-barred memoir of life in the center of the action as the whole pain clinic scam spiraled out of control.  In this book, you’ll hear this full-blooded Cuban’s whole story – from the rough-and-tumble childhood and high school years that shaped him; to how he started dealing weed and eventually began growing it himself; to how he quickly learned how to work the pill mill scam and how he recruited friends and family to help him make the most money in the fastest amount possible; to how Hurricane Wilma almost put him behind bars for who knows how many years. 

Valdes also reveals the major players behind the pill mill scandals, talks about his frightening and sometimes hilarious conflicts with psychotic junkie patients and takes the reader inside one of the most notorious “Jungle Houses” of the time – a sad excuse for a clinic where junkies zoned out at a backyard barbeque, dozens of drug deals went down, and the owner, the infamous “Pill Mill” Vinny, sat behind a desk with over 200 grand in cash piled on top of it.

For the first time, this book offers an insider’s look at what happened when Florida became ground zero for pain pill abuse.  At one point, the country’s top 50 prescription pain pill sellers were ALL in Florida – and 33 of those 50 were in Broward County, where Valdes got involved in the racket.  There were more than 150 storefront pain clinics in Broward at the height of the madness.

This is a story that has yet to be told in movies, TV shows or even in another book.  This is a story that could only happen in South Florida.  Just like Christian Valdes is a guy you would only find in South Florida.