Location Scouting After the Fact

28378878_2118480761715835_7165442581970501822_n
The Sutro Baths ruins near Ocean Beach along the Great Highway in San Francisco.

As much as I like to say that it is not a substitute for actual research, Google is a wonderful thing for all kinds of things. Maps, satellite and street view have been especially helpful to me as I embark on this new vocation as a novelist. However, there is no substitute for good old-fashioned location scouting.

Several people who have read my debut novel, The Dark Truth, have asked about my settings and locations. The story is set in modern-day San Francisco and many of the sites are real. I have used Google maps extensively as I have plotted my characters movements. In truth, I have made up very few establishments and businesses. I think in two dimensions. This has always limited my graphic and artistic endeavors. I could never be a 3D animator. I’m not sure if I could ever be a world builder either.  My favorite Stephen King stories take place in fictional towns, with fictional streets and houses, and such. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write fiction. This seems to require too much planning.

I make up businesses and whatnot when the plot or the story demands. The Dark Truth in The Dark Truth is a fictional dance club that I conjured on O’Farrell Street in San Francisco. However, 98 percent of the story takes place in the real, actual, physical world you can visit today.

Numerous places in the story were inspired by a photo gallery I found on the official web site for the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com. It was a gallery of images of abandoned places in Northern California and numerous images spoke to me as great hiding places for a vampire. I wrote about the inspiration for the title of The Dark Truth in a post on my official web site not that long ago.

28279928_2118480598382518_8021853406258392247_n
No spoilers! Those of you who have read The Dark Truth know what happens here.

In the SFGate photo gallery, I came across Sutro Baths. The photos were stunning and I decided to use this as the location for the climax of the story. If you can call looking at photos and Google satellite and street view “sight unseen,” I wrote the scene without actually visiting Sutro Baths.

This past weekend, I had the occasion to check it out and to be honest, I did pretty well in my descriptions and I was further convinced that I made the right choice for the scene. Now, I did miss some key details you can only observe by visiting. I may have to bring the story back to this spot. A hike along the Coastal Trail has me thinking about all kinds of delicious possibilities for the third book in the series, The Dark Terror.

A similar location scout, albeit ahead of time or in the middle of, helped me write several scenes in the second book, The Dark Descent. I did not plan on making Golden Gate Park a major location, but after a site visit, I couldn’t help but expand the park’s significance in the story. The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood also features prominently in The Dark Descent, and a location scout really helped me capture the flavor and claustrophobia of the area.

Bram Stoker wrote the Transylvania scenes for Dracula without visiting the region, rather relying on the equivalent of the venerable Fodor’s Travel Guide and travelers’ descriptions of the Carpathian Mountains and rural Romania for background material. By all accounts, Stoker did a pretty good job of describing his vampire’s ancestral home.

As good as modern tools are for research and inspiration, there is no substitute for actual location scouting and I will endeavor to do as much as possible as my career as a novelist continues.

Those of you who have read The Dark Truth can now see where the climax takes place and hopefully visualize and understand that scene, and hopefully agree with my choice.

Advertisements

Erotic Podcast

As the 50 Shades trilogy wraps up in theaters with the recently released third film, I chat with prolific erotic fantasy romance author Marie Tuhart about the genre, her new book – Master Cole – and her career as a novelist. Find Marie online at www.marietuhart.com

Another Step in the Writing Journey

TheDarkDescent2_850I will never get tired of the milestones in my journey as a novelist. From first deciding to attempt a novel-length story, the query process, the editing and cover design to cover unveil, pre-sale and publication day – every announcement carries with it the same measure of excitement. Every time I check off a task or post that accomplishment to social media, I do so with the same fervor.

I finished the principle writing for The Dark Descent the first week of December 2017. After a few weeks of reading it over and editing, I submitted it to my publisher, Trifecta Publishing House, on deadline. The next steps include cover design. Last night, I approved the final cover design for The Dark Descent, the sequel to my debut novel, The Dark Truth. The Dark Descent is Book Two – The Dark Passage Series. I am under contract for three books in this series, and there just might be a fourth.

The Dark Truth went on sale Nov. 20, 2017, and The Dark Descent is due out in April 2018. The third in the series, The Dark Terror is due out February 2019.

I do hope you like the cover, and I hope you buy and enjoy the books as much I enjoy writing them. I have a lot more stories to tell.

 

 

B-Boy Running Adventures 2017 – Goal Accomplished

IMG_1851

In 2015, I set a goal. I set out to run in every city I visited as I traveled for work. I usually make 10 trips a year, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less, and I thought this would be a great way to see the cities I visit and also keep me from getting bored with running. In 2015, I missed one run – Detroit – because I had the flu. In 2016, I made nine trips, and missed one run – Denver – because I had the flu. But I was able to add Mexico City to the list. This past year, I made 11 trips, including Mexico City again, and I nailed all 11. I was able to add a few to the list as well.

IMG_1971

The last two were polar opposites. I ran in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve, and near LAX in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. Philly was fun and interesting, except for the young lady who wouldn’t yield to me on the sidewalk and thought it would be better to mean-mug me instead. The City of Brotherly Love was less than friendly as the streets were packed with last-second Christmas shoppers. Most were oblivious to runners and pedestrians as they skylarked their way out of the shops along the busy byways of this historic city.

I got to see some of the historic sites and old neighborhoods. There is such a stark contrast between east coast and west coast architecture. I grew up in western New York so I am used to the rude behavior, the cold weather (it was a balmy 39 degrees) and the austerity of the buildings. I ran 3.61 miles in 38:08. I would have gone further, but the pedestrians and traffic lights get to be a bit bothersome after awhile.

IMG_1850My route took me past Independence Hall, Independence Historical National Park and the Liberty Bell. There’s something to be said engaging in such a modern activity like running, with state-of-the-art Bluetooth headphones connected to an iPhone and a GPS capable mobile app, through iconic, historic neighborhoods. What exactly I don’t know, but there is something.

I only spent approximately 30 hours in Los Angeles and I was determined to get a run in. I met up with my buddy Sal and we headed out toward LAX. I really would have liked to run Santa Monica Pier, but there just wasn’t enough time. It was just a bit too far from where I stayed.

IMG_1972The neighborhood was unremarkable. I think I did this one just to get it done. We ran a full 5K and my time came in at 33:26, not quite race speed. It was a cloudy 51 degrees in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve.

I am quite happy with the fact that I finally nailed every city. I even ran in Lima, Ohio, on vacation over the summer.

Here is the complete list of the cities I’ve claimed with a run the past three years:

In no particular order

Philadelphia – 1
Pittsburgh – 1
Buffalo – 1
Chicago – 1
San Diego – 2
Nashville – 4
Los Angeles – 1
Miami – 1
Jacksonville – 1
Tampa – 1
New Orleans – 1
Seattle – 1
Houston – 1
Dallas – 1
Kansas City – 2
IMG_1855Overland Park, Kansas – 1
Denver – 2
Minneapolis – 1
Phoenix – 1
Mexico City – 2
Washington, D.C. – 1
Baltimore – 1
Cleveland – 1
Lima, Ohio – 3 (one trip)

I’ll even throw in Pennyhill/Bagshot, England, in 2014 here because that is where I got this idea to run in the different places I visit. That’s 25 cities, two continents and three countries.

I must admit, I haven’t run in a month, and frankly, I have fallen out of love with it for the moment. Don’t worry, I’m starting to get the itch again. In 2018, I’ll be able to check off a few new cities and return to some old haunts.

“City to city, I’ma runnin’ my rhyme.”

B-Boy Running Adventures: Another Crack at Mexico City and A Pleasant Surprise

IMG_1772
The view from my room in Overland Park, Kansas, shows part of my running route along Lamar Ave. to the left.

Kansas City has become one of my favorite cities in the United States. The barbecue, the people, the aesthetic. It’s more cosmopolitan than you think it would be. I get to visit KC once a year and I have my usual haunts. I have made a couple of good friends there and we usually see a few sights and indulge in the local fare.

IMG_1830This year I stayed in Overland Park, Kansas, not too far from Kansas City proper, but far enough to be inconvenient. I wasn’t sure where I would be able to get a run in. Since I started this little project of mine, Kansas City runs have been a disappointment for some reason, I usually stay at Crown Center and I have never been able to find a good route. When you think of Kansas, you think flat and boring. You would be wrong.

I made sure I was ready for the weather this time after the Buffalo debacle.

A quick map check showed two parks, Nall Park and Roe Park,  not too far away. The heart of one was 1.3 miles from my hotel. I figured I would run to that spot and see what I could find. I headed out and took note that the first 3/4 of a mile were downhill. Just before I got to the park, I saw a paved trail to the right and I broke for it. Little did I know I had just discovered the Indian Creek Bike Trail.

What a pleasant surprise this was.

The trail led east with Indian Creek on my left. There were plenty of challenging hills and rises that left my quads burning in short order. The trail took me to the Overland Park Bike and Hike Trail into the other park and I made a bit of a loop after crossing Nall Ave. and ran back on the other side of the creek after making my way through Roe Park. The trail featured wooded areas and wooden pedestrian bridges. I got 4 1/2 miles in. That 3/4 mile uphill finish was a bitch or I would have gotten 5 miles done. My thighs and calves did their best Roberto Duran impression.

IMG_1831The run previous to this took place in Mexico City. I ran this amazing city the year before and did not have great results. The altitude was a killer and I had to stop every 1/2 mile to catch my breath. I am in better shape this year, and after a blistering fast run (for me) in Denver, I thought I could handle it.

After running into Chapultapec Park last year, my buddy Sal and I decided to run the main drag along the park instead. We ran to a traffic circle that featured a beautiful statue in the middle of the round-about. We took a photo break before resuming our run. This was the only break we took and we managed to get 4 miles done.

The statue is was none other than the Angel of Independence, or El Ángel and is officially known as Monumento a la Independencia.

It was a slow 4 miles for me, but I ran farther and longer non-stop at that altitude than I did the year before so I’ll consider it a win. All Sal did was complain about how I ruined his average per mile pace.

IMG_1624
The Angel of Independence, or El Ángel.

The street was blocked off for a 5K that had taken place earlier in the day as Mexico City celebrated the Mexican Revolution, which began Nov. 20, 1910, and lasted for more than a decade.

I have fallen in love with Mexico City and I hope to visit again someday when I have more time to see the sights and sites.

My last two road runs have been in two of my favorite places, and frankly I am glad I stayed in Overland Park. That was the best run I have had in the Kansas City area since I started my B-Boy Running Adventures.

Now I get to conquer the City of Brotherly Love, another city in which I haven’t run. I’ll have to do my best Rocky Balboa impression.

City to city, I’m running my rhyme.

Childhood Thanksgiving Memories

Norman-Rockwell_Freedom-from-Want

I wrote this two years ago and I thought that it bears repeating.

I get nostalgic this time of year. I may live in Northern California where we barely have seasons – I think we may have two or three – but I grew up in western New York where we had all four in abundance. This year, 2017, seemed to feature the never-ending summer. Fall didn’t arrive until damn near Halloween.

Christmas creep, as much as I despise it and as bad at it has gotten, has me thinking about how things used to be.

I grew up thinking my Aunt Carole’s (my father’s only sibling) house was out in the country. The drive out to Scottsville, N.Y., seemed to take forever. It was picturesque as we drove past the horse farms that lined the road along the scenic route. For some reason I always took note of the rambling white fences that paralleled the road. As mom, dad and I approached the turn off, empty fields and barns dotted the landscape. The topography, architecture and open spaces cried country.

The house had once belonged to my grandparents, whom I never knew. My father’s father died in 1959, and my grandmother passed away in 1966, three years before I was born. My grandmother bequeathed the house to her two children – my father and his sister. I don’t know the whole story but Dad didn’t want to live in the house, my aunt ended up with it and lived in it with her husband, my Uncle Freddy, for the better part of her life.

The driveway wasn’t paved. A basketball hoop that hadn’t felt the touch of a net in years was loosely attached to the front of the rickety detached garage. There was well water. Eventually a pack of the meanest shepherd mix dogs I’ve ever known took up residence in that garage and adjacent fenced-in yard. You had to walk up a small embankment to get to the well-worn path to the house. I say path because the sidewalk that led away from the house went straight out to the road and had nothing for you if you were coming from the driveway.

This was my Aunt's house. It was built in 1906 and belonged to my grandparents. I spent many Thanksgivings in this house.
This was my Aunt’s house. It was built in 1906 and belonged to my grandparents. I spent many Thanksgivings in this house. This photo is a Google Maps street view from 2012.

My parents and I would carry our dishes to pass, mostly my parents carried them, and I was a lazy ass who couldn’t be bothered with such things as a child. Aside from pies, the only dish I remember Mom making was a sweet dressing made with prunes and apples. Mom made a great pie crust, however, her apple pie filling left a little to be desired. Apple pie filling isn’t supposed to be gray, is it? Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it just could have been better. My aunt made a great apple pie filling that looked the part, golden honey. One year Mom and Aunt Carole combined forces…oh, man, was that a pie. I am partial to apple pie. I hate pumpkin pie, absolutely hate it.

More on pie later.

We had a rather old-fashioned, misogynistic (almost chauvinistic) kind of Thanksgiving, my four first cousins and I. My aunt and her three daughters – Tammy, Debbie and Shari – toiled in the kitchen with a little help from Mom, as we menfolk settled in for a day of feasting and football watching. Aunt Carole would tend to the bird, which I am sure routinely tipped the scales at 22 pounds or more. I don’t remember much of what the oldest, David, did while all of this was going on, I just remember what it was like when he was of working age. School friends, later boyfriends and girlfriends, then husbands/wives, and kids would join us for dinner.

My father, my uncle, my cousin David, my mom and I (and later other invited guests), eagerly awaited the feasting while watching the Detroit Lions in their annual Thanksgiving match-up. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade had already been watched at one house or the other. For whatever reason, I always seemed to root for the Lions no matter who they played. I still do.

I was a finicky eater as a child. And to this day, there are certain Thanksgiving staples I don’t like. I won’t touch cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (yams) or squash. Just give me turkey, mashed potatoes with butter, salad, soft fresh rolls, and mom’s sweet dressing and I was a happy boy. David would pile his plate a mile high at least three times. The army of cats would benefit from the leftovers.

Then there was pie. Apple. Mincemeat. Lemon meringue. Key Lime. Pumpkin. Oh boy, was there pie.

Eventually, we’d settle down and watch the Lions, and maybe we’d catch some of the Dallas Cowboys game, have more turkey or pie. I never knew the Cowboys game was much of a Thanksgiving tradition – I would learn later that this was a mistaken belief. My cousins and I sometimes ended the day with board games. If I was feeling adventurous, and the ground was covered with snow, I’d go sledding in the dark and careen through the scrub brush.

We’d have as few as eight or nine, and as many damn near 20 for Thanksgiving dinner. As I got older, many of us took up smoking as a habit and we’d crowd on the enclosed porch (healthy) if it was too cold to go smoke outside.

The house itself had a distinct aroma, it was charming in some parts, dilapidated in others. It always seemed to be organized chaos. It certainly had something after the wood-burning stove was installed in the living room. Sometimes it felt like a sauna, even in the dead of winter. If it got cold, my uncle would just throw another piece of wood in.

All four parents are gone now. All that’s left of those Thanksgivings are memories. We didn’t take many photos of those events, despite my father’s shutterbug tendencies. I couldn’t find any pictures of Thanksgivings past. There could be slides somewhere, I’m still a little bit of a lazy ass. Maybe my cousins have some.

We weren’t rich people – far from it. We certainly were not the embodiment of the Norman Rockwell painting. But we did it this way every year with very few exceptions. I was in the Navy for 10 years, so I missed some. But when I did get back and attend, it was like I had never left.

Say what you want about what we did or how we did it. These were our Thanksgivings. We enjoyed them and each other.

The Expressway exit off 390 South.
The Expressway exit off 390 South.

I reset the trip-o-meter on a drive from my parents’ last house to my aunt’s house once. I had to know. I had driven out there a few times on my own as an adult. I still thought of it as the “country.” As I got older, it became less and less rural and more and more suburban. To me, that’s the saddest part aside from the dissolution of the get-togethers altogether.

Nine miles. An online driving directions site says just over 13. Not quite over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

You know what? I’ll always remember it as a drive in the country to Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house. Those fences and those horse farms will always line Route 31, that barn a few hundred yards from the corner of Scottsville Road and Chili Wheatland Town Line Road, will always signal the turn.

These were our Thanksgivings and I wouldn’t have traded them for anything.

I miss them.

Zombies and Vampires and Authors, Oh My!

Fellow Trifecta Publishing House label mate Mark London Williams joins me on the latest edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. We discuss all manner of undead creatures, his new book, Max Random and the Zombie 500, and my new book, The Dark Truth. And we let you know how to attend our Facebook book release party. Both books drop Monday, and our party is Monday too. You can order both on Amazon.