Hyperventilated Underwater Blues

My second novel, Hyperventilated Underwater Blues, just went up on Amazon and Smashwords. From Smashwords, it will go to Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, Aldiko, etc. Right now the novel is available as ebook but CreateSpace will publish the paperback soon.

Below is a short excerpt, the Prologue. The Prologue is in third person but the rest of the story is told in first person. Hyperventilated Underwater Blues is an action-adventure murder mystery.




Bernadine Kutzenov’s killer walked slowly across the concrete deck of the Dunbar University swimming pool. Bernadine treaded water about five feet from the edge of the big 50-meter pool, her head visible in the narrow space between two of the floating tarpaulins.

Her eyes, heavy and sleepy, stung from the chlorine as she paddled her arms and legs in big, slow bicycling circles, squeezing water comfortably between her thighs and past her biceps, feeling like she was dancing underwater. And she was naked. Naked? She remembered dancing naked. She remembered learning to tread water. But she did not remember how she came to be in the pool. It must be a dream, and not a good dream either. Her mind felt disconnected from her body, like it was off to the side observing. Something irritating and scratchy kept scraping her neck and face. Pool covers. Why was she swimming in a pool with pool covers? Why dream about pool covers? And her head felt cold. With sudden awareness, she heard the howling wind in little sonic bursts as her ears bobbed in and out of the water. But it was dark and cold. And loud. It must be a dream. She struggled with dream thoughts.

Relieved, she recognized the man walking to the edge of the pool and stretched out one arm so he could help her. He bent and his hand slid past hers pushing the top of her head under the water just as she started to take a breath. When her mouth, nose and throat filled with water, her larynx suddenly constricted. Her throat locked up, though she could still cough. She coughed. Bubbles burst out her mouth but her breathing response remained locked. She wanted to breathe but couldn’t so she grabbed the tile pool edge with her outstretched hand and braced her feet against the side of the pool. But the hand grasped her hair and held her under the water. She couldn’t pull away. Kicking her legs hard and turning her head in a vain attempt to escape the hand wrapped in her hair, she tried to pull herself up with her other hand still on the concrete pool deck. Something smashed her fingers. Under the water, she shrieked, a few more bubbles sputtering from her mouth, surprising because she thought she’d already coughed everything out of her lungs. Now she panicked, muscles churning arms, legs and torso wildly, burning the remaining oxygen in her blood. But the hand held her under. Her last jumbled thought as awareness faded was the utter conviction that she was having a nightmare. Pushed by the hand on her head, she slid into cold darkness.

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The New Beginning

Here’s standalone short story that has nothing to do with Purple Sunshine or the murder mystery I’m working on.


I can get up if I want. Just hafta break these chains around my wrists and ankles. Anyways, they feel like chains. Can’t see ‘em. Can feel somethin’ like a strap across my forehead and another on my chest. I could break ‘em easy by sittin’ up. But I don’t wanna to reveal my superpowers yet cuz they’re secret. Gonna wait for the right time. Anyways, this table is comfy and I been busy.

I almost let the cat out of the bag when that Father Ciaran come to talk to me.

Hey, that’s funny, the cat out of the bag, ha, ha!

Anyways, I don’t like that horrible little priest, and his black robes, and that stupid hood always draped over his head like he’s cold or somethin’. I think he don’t want nobody seein’ his evil face. Bet he’s one of them priests that hurt the alter boys. Mother told me about ‘em. Said they’re all goin’ to hell and I believe her. She oughta know cuz she’s probably already there. Anyways, he keeps saying that it ain’t too late for me to make a new beginnin’. A new beginnin’? Ha! I told him to “go to hell!” So his head snaps back like he’s scared of me and he says real slow like, one word at a time: “That is ironic.”

I don’t know that word. Never heard it before.

I been stuck inside this great big castle with clankin’ doors and blinkin’ lights where it’s noisy all the time. And it smells like the boys room at school when the janitor mops the floor. I miss my big white dog Kippo more than anythin’. Kippo’s out there somewheres killin’ cats. I know it. I want to help Kippo even though he don’t need no help on account he’s a superdog.

I ain’t seen Kippo for a long time, but that pretty lady, Miss Tami, brung my cat Streaky to visit. Sure was nice. I know Streaky’s a plain orange striped cat. He ain’t too smart, but he’s one of the good cats. There ain’t many of ‘em around. I know, cuz Streaky’s the only cat Kippo never went after. So Streaky’s real special and when Miss Tami brung him, it was the first time since comin’ to this awful place that I felt real good. Sure was nice just sittin’ there pettin’ Streaky’s warm fur. It’s so soft and smooth, and I sure liked hearin’ his quiet purr that sounds like a little electric motor. Then it hit me that Kippo musta sent Streaky with superpowers for me. See, superdogs can do that. Seen it on the TV. And I knowed it was true cuz I could feel the superpowers comin’ in through my fingers, spreadin’ through my body. Superdogs are smart, but Kippo might be the smartest one. Maybe smarter than Krypto, the first superdog.

Whenever the worst bad people in this castle talks to me, Miss Tami is right there. You know, she might be a princess and keepin’ it secret just like I’m keepin’ my superpowers secret. She’s smart.

When she smiles, I think she might like me some, which is really somethin’ cuz nobody likes me. A lot of the terrible men, especially the ones wearing the uniforms swear at me. They use lots worse words than anythin’ I ever said to that priest. Sometimes they hit me even though I’m big. But they never do it around Miss Tami. They’re afraid of her. And she’s so little and pretty, just like a princess. She’s kind of regal and upright, with shiny blonde hair and royal blue eyes. She wears fine clothes that has lotsa different colors, but she always has this gold chain around her neck right there in the cleft of her bosom where mother told me it’s not polite to look. But I still sneak looks. Miss Tami caught me lookin’ once and she started turnin’ pink. Anyways, the chain has this tiny sparkly figure of a blindfolded lady in a fancy bathrobe. She’s holdin’ up this sword in one hand there’s these two saucers danglin’ from a stick in the other one.

Day before yesterday, Miss Tami brought these three men to gimme some tests. She told me the tests were real important but she couldn’t stay for ‘em. I wasn’t worried cuz I’m real good at tests. First I thought these three guys was gonna hurt me. But they was all smaller than me. All three was wearin’ these fancy white jackets, but I still knowed they were bad guys. Don’t know what Miss Tami was so worried about. They didn’t even try and hurt me. They just asked me a bunch stupid questions. I know what bad guys do and what good guys do. But next day Miss Tami was so sad when she told me I passed the tests. I was real proud I passed though it wasn’t a hard test. Just after that, she brung Streaky with my superpowers. Now I’m not afraid of nothin’ or nobody.

Long time ago, me and Kippo and Streaky used to watch cartoons on the TV every day. I love cartoons more than anythin’, especially Krypto the Superdog. Almost every night, when it was dark and cool, Kippo and me’d go out and hunt for cats. Kippo likes to eat cats. He don’t much care for dog food. He’s better than me at catchin’ ‘em, but I help cut ‘em up so’s he can eat ‘em easier.

One day I caught this gray and black striped kitten belongin’ to Maria and Becky. They’re supposed to be eight-year-old twins who lived next door. I used to warn them all the time about evil cats. They’d just laugh at me and kept gettin’ new kittens. I’d feed their kittens to Kippo, especially early on before we started huntin’ every night. Anyways, when they got that gray striped one, I felt it was time they learned what happens to evil cats.

I let ‘em watch me feed the kitten to Kippo. Kittens are small, so I didn’t have to cut this one up. Maria and Becky started screamin’ and tried to stop Kippo. He gets real upset if anyone gets between him and his dinner so I had to help Kippo with my magic sword. It’s just an old machete, but I keep it real sharp. See, right then, I figured out that Maria and Becky weren’t little girls at all. They was very clever cyborgs sent by the evil Mechanikat, who’s Krypto the Superdog’s worst enemy. That’s why they looked exactly like each other.

And their mother was a wicked witch too. I’d been thinkin’ on that for some time. She always wore black clothes and had this broom for sweepin’ the walk. She must ride around on it when I’m not lookin’. And she’d hit Kippo with the broom. Anyways, when she heard all the screamin’ she comes runnin’ and I had to use my magic sword on her. Served the witch right. Then I had to use it again on my mother when she come out. She was always tellin’ me I was stupid. More and more, she’d been tryin’ to hurt Kippo and me. Just that morning, she told she was gonna have Kippo “put down.” Long as I can remember, she’s been hittin’ me with her old leather belt that has a big brass buckle, and it hurts bad when that buckle cuts into you. Didn’t she know I was too old to be spanked like a little kid? And I weren’t little no more.

So I used the sword on her.

Surprisin’ how messy the whole thing was. Not like cartoons. But all that happened a long time ago and I don’t think about it much now.

Now I’m lying on my back in this terrible stone castle somewheres in a room deep inside. There’s mirrors on the walls and I’m pretty sure I’m bein’ watched. That nasty priest tried to talkin’ to me again but I told him the same thing as before. Miss Tami visited a few minutes ago and she was cryin’ so I smiled and told her not to worry. I am now one hundred percent sure that she is a true princess and that necklace must be her queen.

“You may proceed warden.” It sounded like a voice coming from a TV somewheres.

Anyways, I’m feelin’ real tired, so tired that I’m gonna take a short nap. Soon as I wake up, I am gonna unleash my superpowers. I’m gonna rescue Princess Tami and fly out of this castle. I’m gonna find Kippo and help him in his war against the evil cats.

That stupid priest is right. It’s time for a new beginnin’.

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Yeah Yeah Yeah

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 brought a flood of memories, not the least of which is that it didn’t start with Ed Sullivan.

The Beatles were already hugely popular in America before they appeared on Ed Sullivan. I Want to Hold Your Hand had been released by Capitol Records in December and by the middle of January had sold a million copies in this country, a huge number of sales in a very short period of time.

Early in 1963, Capitol Records had refused to release any Beatles recordings. So a Chicago label, Vee-Jay, secured a contract to release several songs. But the first Vee-Jay single, Please Please Me backed by Ask Me Why, tanked. Some radio stations played the record, but the best it could do was rise to number 35 on WLS in Chicago.

Later, in September, another label, Swan, tried the same thing with She Loves You. Swan even succeeded in getting the record played on American Bandstand’s rate-a-record segment. The teenage panel decided the song was a loser and a photo of the mop top Beatles drew giggles from the audience. Host Dick Clark concluded the group was going nowhere.

However, if you lived along the Canadian border as I did, you had been hearing the Beatles on the radio for a year before their Ed Sullivan appearance. Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You was released by Capitol Canada early in February 1963. By the summer, Please Please Me / Ask Me Why and From Me to You / Thank You Girl were out. In the fall came She Loves You / I’ll Get You.

Then at the beginning of December, Capitol Canada released an entire Beatles album, “With the Beatles,” which contained It Won’t Be Long; All I’ve Got to Do; All My Loving; Don’t Bother Me; Little Child; Till There Was You; Please Mister Postman; Roll Over Beethoven; Hold Me Tight; You Really Gotta Hold On Me; I Wanna Be Your Man; Devil in Her Heart; Not a Second Time; Money.

Stripped across the top of the album was the word “Beatlemania” and I thought that was its title. While this was the first Beatles album released in Canada, it was their second U.K. album.

About the time of the Ed Sullivan Beatles appearance, Capitol Canada issued a second album titled “Twist and Shout.” It contained Anna (Go To Him); Chains; Boys; Ask Me Why; Please Please Me; Love Me Do; From Me To You; P.S. I Love You; Baby It’s You; Do You Want To Know A Secret; A Taste Of Honey; There’s A Place; Twist And Shout; She Loves You.

The Canadian issued Beatles songs played on Canadian radio stations that millions of American kids like me could hear, and we did listen. As 1963 passed, a few DJ’s in American radio stations acquired Canadian and British releases and also began playing them. It was, in fact, an Iowa radio station’s unauthorized (by Capitol) playing of I Want to Hold Your Hand that caused Capitol to move up the release date of the single by a month.

By the fall of 1963, American media had begun to take note of the Beatles phenomenon unfolding in Britain. Publications like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, and many others, did major stories. On November 18, NBC-TV’s evening newscast, the Huntley-Brinkley Report, presented a four-minute story on the Beatles, which is a very long TV news piece. Four days later, CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace did a Beatles story. The network had planned to run the same story again on the evening news that night, but the assassination of President John F. Kennedy occurred the same day. The piece, also four minutes, finally aired on December 10.

The Beatles first appearance on American television was not on Ed Sullivan but on NBC’s late night Jack Paar Show, which ran a filmed performance of She Loves You on January 3, 1964.

About the same time, Vee-Jay tried again and released Please Please Me as a single. This time the B-side was From Me to You and this time, the record hit, quickly selling more a million copies. By the time the Beatles showed up in America, they had already sold more than two million singles. Between January and March of 1964, they would account for 60 percent of all record sales in America.

I remember gathering with my friends that cold Sunday night in February to see the Beatles on a show most of us normally didn’t watch. We knew their names and the instruments they played. We knew the words to the songs but we couldn’t hear very well because of the screaming. Seventy million people tuned in with us and Ed didn’t quite understand what was going on.

But we did.

The adults had finally noticed a raucous generation, and we were already changing the world.

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This post is adapted and expanded from an oped piece that I wrote for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner about 25 years ago. The Herald Examiner ceased publishing in 1989.


Looking through the grove of trees between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument that crisp autumn morning in 1983, I shivered.  There it was.  Two long tapering slabs pushed into the earth at their obtuse intersection, gleaming in the sunlight, black and fearful, with more than 58,000 souls lurking within.

The Wall.

Standing at the center, I could see wreaths, medals, vases of flowers and American flags placed in front of the panels that stretched away from me in either direction.

But it was the names I came to see.  I had 14 to look for, 14 friends who died in Vietnam. All but two had been comrades in the 187th Assault Helicopter Company.

James G. Brady is on panel 38W.  He was a crew chief/doorgunner blown apart by a rocket-propelled grenade. I had just gotten to know him a few days before he died when we had a beer together in our company’s tiny enlisted men’s club. On the same panel, because they died that same terrible November day in 1968, incinerated in the white-hot magnesium inferno of in a helicopter full of 100-pound parachute flares and jet fuel, are Jerome D. Chandler, David D. Creel, Allen E. Duneman, Frederick H. Frazer and August K. Ritzau. I was supposed to be on that helicopter. I was supposed to throw the flares but at the last minute, Jerry Chandler, who was a sergeant, and who put the volunteer crew together bumped me.  He decided he would throw the flares instead.

Two more panels down on 36W are Stephen C. Ponty and Gerald D. Markland, who were shot down and killed while laying a smokescreen around the edge of a landing zone that turned out to be “hot.” I didn’t know either of them well, but I knew Ponty lived in the hootch next door a little better than Markland was a pilot.

And it’s not far to 34W where I find John N. Cottrell. Johnny Cottrell and I went through two years of college together at Michigan Technological University-Sault Branch, which is now Lake Superior State University.  We also did two months of basic training in the same platoon in Fort Campbell Kentucky where we became good friends. I was platoon guide – the highest ranking boot – and Cottrell was one of the squad leaders. About a week before the end of boot camp, I screwed up and got busted. He became platoon guide. He was a good soldier and a natural leader. I was neither. Halfway through my Vietnam tour I spotted his name on a killed-in-action list in Stars and Stripes.  It was years before I found out that he died when a helicopter gunship missed its target and hit Johnny’s squad instead.

Ricardo I. Romero and Michael G. Porter are on 27W. They were killed by an incoming rocket that hit their hootch.  Romero was standing in the doorway talking to his best friend and died instantly. His friend wasn’t hurt, at least not physically.  Porter, who was inside the hootch, died in a field hospital the next day, just before the Red Cross straightened out a mixup that had kept his family’s letters from reaching him. Years later, I corresponded with one of Romero’s younger brothers and know the profound effect his death had on their family.

Clyde S. Evans was a crew chief who loved leaning out the door of his Huey gunship with one foot on the skid is on panel 24W.  He died in the crash that occurred when the tail rotor of his ship was shot away. Clyde was a casual acquaintance, and I liked him a lot.

Donald L. Kilpatrick, a helicopter pilot and platoon leader whose name is on panel 18W was hit in the head by a 51-caliber bullet and died in the hospital. It seemed like freaky bad luck as no other ship was even hit by fire that day. But that was Vietnam. Coincidentally, on his first combat flight in our company, Kilpatrick’s aircraft commander, Willard Suggs, was shot in the head and Kilpatrick flew Suggs to a hospital. Suggs was severely disabled and died last year (2012). He is not on The Wall.

The last name I’m looking for is on panel 6W, Richard W. Salmond. He lived next door to me in Shaw Hall at Michigan State University for two years.  He was not in my company, but went to Vietnam as a captain and pilot after I’d come home.  After getting his men out of a helicopter that had crashed, he was struck in the head and killed by the rotor blade.

All of them had been dead for 14 to 15 years then before I stood in front of the polished black granite of The Wall staring at the evenly etched names. But that’s when it finally sank in, and I cried. I’ve been back to The Wall several times since, and always moves me to tears.

I visited the Vietnam Memorial that first time to do a story for the Detroit News Sunday magazine.  For that story, I tracked down as many of my friends’ families as I could.

Some mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters were still wracked by grief.  At least one divorce seemed to have been triggered by the death of a son and there were several children who knew their fathers only from pictures.The pain did not seem to have receded very far.

My friends all died very young – the oldest was 25 – and of course, none planned on dying. Back then, all of us believed we were bulletproof.

They are only 14 of the names on The Wall.  Now, there are more than 58,000 names.  And they are only a fraction of the toll we remember on Memorial Day.

The World Almanac & Book of Facts lists 54,246 dead in the Korean War; 407,317 in World War II; 116,708 in World War I; 2,446 in the Spanish-American War; 364,511 in the Union forces in our Civil War (the book gives no figures for the Confederate side but most historians put the Civil War total for both sides at about 600,000.); 13,328 in the Mexican War; 4,210 in the War of 1812 and 25,324 in the Revolutionary War.

My friends died fighting for our country’s most basic ideals, and in an unsuccessful attempt to establish those ideals in another land. Their sacrifice touches me on a more personal level.

I tend to think of them in times of trouble. My problems pale in comparison with the finality of their deaths and priorities become more clearly perceived. I’m grateful for all of the happiness I’ve enjoyed. They missed out on that happiness. Their lives ended and of course that is a terrible waste. But I find comfort in their sacrifice and in the fact that there are men and women who are still willing to put their lives on the line for their belief in those same ideals.

I love them all, and their passing should not be taken lightly.

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The Helicopter War

Vietnam was a helicopter war. While Purple Sunshine is only partly a Vietnam War story, helicopters play a major role in the story.

Approximately 12,000 helicopters saw service in the Vietnam War, the majority of them UH-1 Hueys. Bell Helicopter built 10,000 Hueys between 1957 and 1975, almost all of them for the U.S. Army. The Huey was the Army’s first turbine-powered aircraft and some of them are still flying today. Bell Helicopter continues to manufacture helicopters for the military and civilian markets.

The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association estimates that Army Hueys flew 7,531,955 flight hours in the war between October 1966 and the end of 1975. Hueys may have logged more combat flight time than any other aircraft in the history of warfare.

In Vietnam, the Army developed its doctrine for air-mobile warfare still being used today. The helicopter changed the way the war was fought. Without the mobility provided by helicopters, it would have taken vastly more troops to secure the Republic of Vietnam’s borders with Communist North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Arguably, the helicopter made the war more intense. The average World War II infantryman in the South Pacific spent 40 days in combat. In Vietnam, grunts averaged 240 days in combat and most were only there for a year. World War II heavy bombers spent many hours flying to and from targets, but in most cases they were only exposed to fire for 10 or 20 minutes. In Vietnam, helicopters rarely flew higher than 1500 feet and were always within range of ground fire. And they flew out of base camps subjected to rocket and mortar attacks. Helicopters were, in fact, a high priority target of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army.

According to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, a total 2,202 helicopter pilots died in the war and another 2,704 air crew were killed. That’s a substantial portion of the 58,000+ Americans who died in the war.

Every once in awhile, I hear the “whop, whop, whop” made by a Huey’s main rotor. It is a completely unique sound and it still makes me shiver.

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Detroit Rock and Roll

I grew up in northern Ontario and northern Michigan and Detroit rock and roll saved my soul.

In July 1967 when Purple Sunshine begins, Detroit was the fifth largest U.S. city but it arguably had a greater influence on the nation’s culture than that rank suggests. Part of it was the automobile industry because cars were a bigger part of our culture in the 1960s than they are now. But Detroit rock and roll was another reason.

Berry Gordy, an auto plant worker, founded Tamla Records and then Motown – another name for Detroit – in 1960. Its energetic pop soul sound was soon captivating both black and white audiences.  While Michigan factories churned out the cars, Motown was soon churning out the hits.  Motown hitmakers included Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr, the Contours, the Spinners and Little Willie John.

However, Little Willie John actually began his career with Fortune Records, which was another successful Detroit music enterprise predating Motown.  One of my favorite Fortune hits was Andre Williams’ “Bacon Fat” in 1956.

Aretha Franklin honed her chops at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit and Del Shannon had one of the top selling records of 1961 with “Runaway.” The Capitols hit the charts in 1966 with “Cool Jerk” and Detroit’s Hank Ballard and the Midnighters did the original version of the “Twist.” Question Mark and the Mysterians, a band from Flint, had a hit, “96 Tears” that seemed to hang around forever. It was Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels that really grabbed me with a string of hits in 1965 and 1966.  A few years later, it was Bob Seger and the Last Heard who knocked me out.  One Christmas vacation, a friend and I persuaded the Woolies, a Detroit blues-rock band with a regional hit, Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love,” to travel about 400 miles from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to play a dance for the local college students home for the holidays.

In the mid 1960s, Detroit teen clubs featured bands like the Underdogs, the Fugitives, Unrelated Segments, the Rationals, Terry Knight and the Pack (which evolved into Grand Funk Railroad), the Lords (with Ted Nugent) and the Pleasure Seekers (with Suzi Quatro).

A couple of great AM radio stations fed the rock and roll fever.  WKNR – Keener 13 – was the number one radio station in Detroit for a long time.  You can still find lists of the station’s top songs for the mid 1960s on its website.  The number one song for the week ending July 24, 1967 when Purple Sunshine begins was “I Wanna Testify” by the Parliaments, which featured Detroit’s George Clinton who would go on to major funk fame.  “Some Kind of Wonderful,” the song to which Gloria and Jimmy were listening in the story was number six.  Some of the other songs in the top 10 that week were “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles, “Light My Fire” by the Doors, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by the Monkees, “More Love” by the Miracles and “Society’s Child” by Janis Ian.

Sometime that summer of 1967, CKLW, a big 50,000 watt clear channel station across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, overtook WKNR as the top station. That station had a music director, Rosalie Trombley, with a golden ear for picking out future hits. You could pick up CKLW’s signal over most of southern Michigan, and in Toledo and Cleveland in Ohio. In Detroit, if you liked rock and roll, you just kept punching the buttons on your radio to go back and forth between these two great stations.

Detroit rock and roll in the 1960s was truly something special.

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Writing from an Outline

A friend asked me if I used an outline when I wrote story. Some writers work from an outline, and others don’t. I didn’t have outline when I wrote Purple Sunshine.


Several years ago, I heard Elmore Leonard, one of my favorite authors, at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books say that he never knew what his characters were going to do at the start of a story.  I didn’t believe him, but I do now because that’s mainly the way it worked for me.


I created characters – hopefully interesting ones – and they largely drove my story. Sure, I had some vague ideas about a plot, but for the most part, the characters determined what happened.


Doing it that way meant a lot of rewriting, and a lot of rearranging. The original beginning of the book got shoved back to the middle. I added an epilogue to tie up loose ends. I didn’t do the prologue until the story was almost done. It’s mainly there to make sure you know the main villain is truly evil.


I looked closely at books I liked and tried to figure out why I liked them. I love those Ken Follett novels like Eye of the Needle and The Key to Rebecca where he layers a love story and a spy story over a big historical event like D Day and El Alamein. I tried to do that with Vietnam and the Tet Offensive.


Vietnam was a media war, and I have worked in the media, so I already knew something about that aspect. In Vietnam, spies weren’t important, so I turned to crime. As in Leonard’s crime novels, there’s no mystery in Purple Sunshine. Police or other characters may be puzzled over who murdered someone, but not readers.


I liked Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the two sequels. It was encouraging because he was a journalist like had been and not a literary writer. In fact, some critics have panned his writing skills. But his Lizbeth Salander is one of the most compelling characters in recent fiction and I admire the fact that a male writer could make such a damaged and resourceful female character so realistic.


I had no idea that my unruly mob of characters would do all the things they did in Purple Sunshine. Sometimes I felt like a referee trying to keep control of a particularly nasty hockey game.  However, an author has far more power than a referee. You can always dispatch someone if he gets too out of hand, and only your imagination limits how bad their end will be. Ian Fleming smothered the infamous Dr. No under a huge mound of guano.


Bet it wasn’t in any outline.

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’60s Clichés


Purple Sunshine has a few clichés in it. But in the period when this story takes place – July, 1967 to February, 1968 – most of them weren’t clichés.  There really were hippie chicks with names like Sunshine, or Rainbow, or Peace.  And as in the book, LSD was often marketed with a name, just like medical marijuana is today.

Read the story and you learn that Jimmy Hayes’ nickname – Purple Hayes – only became an embarrassing cliché after Hendrix song came along.  He was already Purple Hayes and wearing purple before the song came out. Later, the name becomes something he doesn’t like.

At least I didn’t have him setting his guitar on fire.

This was certainly a rich period for rock and roll. Adults were listening to big bands, or maybe jazz. But with the rapidly evolving technology, three or four individuals could make just as much music as those big orchestras.  And they did. Bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones cranked out three albums some years and still had time to tour. As much as anything, music forged the generation gap. Note that the Beatles made two movies, each with an entire album of songs, many of which have become classics, but they were never even nominated for an Oscar for best song.

During the ‘60s, the war in Vietnam was heating up and by the time this story takes place, the war was on the television news almost every night. That was something new and it had a profound effect. Every young man growing up faced the draft, and the prospect of going to Vietnam.

The sexual revolution was underway. The pill was very new and most young women weren’t on it. Condoms were still kept in the back of the drugstore and you had to ask for them. The Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade wasn’t until 1973, so abortion was illegal.  But that didn’t mean that there weren’t abortions.

Racism was more pervasive and the N word was often heard in casual conversation. “Negro,” which the Census Bureau recently announced they are going to stop using, was not supplanted by “black” in most the media, and by most people, until the 1970s. Young people were more likely to use it because they heard singing “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

I tried to capture the flavor of the ‘60s in Purple Sunshine. It’s been 45 years but I remember it well. Don’t believe that clichéd statement that if you can remember the ‘60s, you must not have lived them. Maybe I remember because I didn’t do all  that stuff I wrote about. Well, not that I’m going to admit to here.

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