out of the ashes

Saturday, April 19, 2014


In 1998 I sat down at the computer one morning, inspired. I wanted to write a book. I was 49 years-old.

It's true that I'd written two books many years prior to that day, one in which a man winds up in Hell for no apparent reason, and tries to get out (he did). I wrote most of it longhand, and still have portions of it stuffed away in a box. It wasn't really gripping, and so I went on to other things as the years passed by.

My next venture in writing took me to a street in downtown Denver where a man happens upon a gangland car chase/shoot-out/terrible crash. Conveniently, all the bad guys die. This man, an early morning jogger, nervously walks to the scene, rather confused, as any of us might be. In the back seat is a briefcase which he retrieves and takes home. Hmm...

There is another witness. An indigent by the name of Marvin Fuster, a thoroughly disreputable character. He follows the jogger home, very curious about what is in that briefcase. Cash, of course. Lots of it he discovers as he spies through a window. Marvin's quest is to get into that house and steal that money.

I killed off the jogger; had him run over by, of all things, a city bus one day. I didn't need him any longer. Smiley face. I needed Marvin the bum and the guy's wife. To make a long story short, Marvin follows her everywhere because she has hidden the money. One day in frustration he corners her--in her car, in a lonely place--and he makes his move. Being old, but not immune to a seriously strong testosterone attack, he tries to assault her in the back seat. Screw the money for a moment or two. The woman has a pistol, and, well, Marvin loses his pride and joy. I mean at the time it sounded like a great plot device.

Moving forward many pages, Marvin redeems himself when he saves the woman's new boyfriend  one dark and stormy night. The marriage between her and the jogger evidently wasn't very happy. That was the end of Marvin in the book. I didn't need him any longer, either. The woman and boyfriend simply take the money and move out to, naturally, Southern California where they encounter a whole new set of problems. The mob doesn't give up easily.

I finished the novel--actually closer in length to a novelette--became disinterested in writing, and so stuffed the manuscript pages into the box with the earlier one.

More years flew by until I had that vision to create a new, world-class novel. The main character was clear as crystal (yes, I know that's cliche) in my mind. Very old, thoroughly disreputable, but lovable. I resurrected Marvin and threw him back onto the streets of downtown Denver...

I went back to school in 2005. Seven years had passed since I wrote that opening scene. I was stuck, and so I took a class on "Writing the Novel." I learned a lot. An outline? I need one of those? Story arc? What's that? Rise and fall of tension?

I completed the first draft within two semesters, and knew, just KNEW it was brilliant. It wasn't. Another smiley face. Still, I had Marvin, and I also had a young woman named Maribeth Harris, who except for her age was very much like dear Marvin the dreamer. I shelved the manuscript after about a hundred, "Thanks, but not for us..." answers to my horribly-written query letters. I was disgusted, and so began my next book to alleviate the pain of rejection.

I finished that next book--"One Year On Meade Street"; went through the whole "Thanks, but not for us..." routine again. It was brilliant, too. No, it was.

Several more years passed, and I pulled Marvin out of mothballs, determined to replot, re-characterize the secondary cast, tone down the language somewhat (Thanks, Trish). In 2012 I completed the new Marvin and said, "Screw agents. I'm going to self-pub," something I SWORE I'd never do as I wrote that first draft many years earlier.

Last year, 2013, I entered it into the ABNA contest. Big money for the winner(s). The breakthrough I'd been waiting for. I had to write a pitch, though, first off. Oh, God help me. Blurbs and query letters are the twin demons from hell! I didn't make the first cut.

2014 comes rolling around and I retitle the book, enter it into the Romance category. It IS a romance, essentially. Just a Fantasy/Romance. I made the cut with a new, splendid pitch. How on earth did I manage THAT? I was stoked. Prayed that the one thing I'm not very good at would be good enough to get me to the PW reviewers in the quarter finals. That one thing is opening chapters--getting the ball rolling effectively. It's so damned hard for me. I stated publicly that whichever way the Vine reviews went regarding the first 5,000 words, I'd be fine--secretly praying I would squeak through.

Monday the announcement was posted, listing those authors and their books that made it to the next round. I knew something was wrong when I returned home from work, and Pammy wasn't beaming with joy. I wasn't on the list. I fell into a deep funk and crawled up into a ball for a few days. I'd failed. All those years, the hundred first chapter drafts. Everything, including me as a writer, into the toilet. A serious case of self-pity. Smiling more there. We're all allowed to do that for a short while.

Still, reviews of the opening couple of chapters would be posted at Createspace, and I was curious. Yesterday they came up. I was ready to say, "Yeah, and what do you know, anyway?" I had my mental hatchet in hand...

Maybe there is some truth in what these two Vine Reviewers had to offer. Unlike my friends and relatives, they don't know me from Adam, and evidently they read and review lots of books. I'm okay now, but I won't rewrite the novel. I don't have the money to get it professionally edited, and so it's a done deal I guess. When I wrote THE END in 2012, I meant it. The only thing that confuses me is the statement concerning punctuation and grammar. I worked very hard at both.

Oh God, I don't think I could rewrite that book!

Here are the reviews, at any rate.

I'm kind of laughing (humbly). Walter Brennan? I saw Robin Williams, lol! Marvin is crazy, for God's sake! But okay. What do I know?

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The basic concept is great here, the idea of an old and thoroughly undesirable guy infatuated with a young beauty and being guided by an angelic being...

What aspect needs the most work?

The trouble that I find is that somehow Marvin just is not emerging as the character he is: old, alcoholic, delusional. True, he must have a paradoxical charm about him and that is being somewhat portrayed. I see him as a character who would be portrayed by the classic character actor, Walter Brennan who was able to combine age and shabbiness with a sympathetic aura.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

It does need work, but it also has, in my mind, a truly great potential. Good luck.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

There are a couple of very strong elements in this excerpt.

First: the author does a great job of evoking a dream-like state. While Marvin is 'in between' life and death he takes a journey that is quite magical. The picture the author creates is much like a Dali painting-- very stream of consciousness and meandering. Wonderful stuff.

Second: the author has a way with descriptive phrases. Several times in the excerpt the writing is amazing. The words and phrases the author puts together are neither trite or boring. I was frequently stopped in my tracks by some of the sentences I encountered.

What aspect needs the most work?

There are some parts that are not very clear-- and not because they take place in the dreamlike portion of the excerpt.

For example, the opening sequence is just plain confusing-- what the heck is Marvin doing? He's crawling out of dumpster? Into a dumpster? What?

The writing actually becomes more clear when he enters the strange netherworld while in the hospital.

This excerpt needs a great deal of proofreading to work out the kinks. While it's great to put the reader into a fugue state when you are intending to do so, it's not so great when you do it inadvertently.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Great creativity and writing that is almost transcendent in places.

This author can clearly write and has a very particular and engaging style. However, they need to take care of some detail work and tighten up the grammar and punctuation in places.


  1. I found your blog! I just now noticed on your profile how many books you have written! Prolific!

    An interesting post for someone first being exposed to "The Redemption of Marvin Fuster.". And the comments...to have made it that far, I can only imagine your frustration.

    I would love to read it. As with everything else, there never seems to be enough time, esp. while caring for my father. But it's on my list of things to do.

    Hope you and your family had a wonderful Easter!

  2. Thank you, Petra.
    We move on:)
    Easter was amazing! Restful. I was able to write a little, too!