The Dennis & Randon Interview

(As our two novels both are coming out at about the same time, fellow Writing Lad Lennox Randon and I interviewed each other about our projects. Joined by Rob Cline, the three Writing Lads will read from our latest work Sept. 3 at Next Page Books in the New Bo neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, at 7pm.

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DENNIS:  Let’s start by getting the elephant in the room out of the way. Your stomach cancer has returned. How are you feeling?

RANDON:  First of all, thanks to you and Rob Cline for visiting me in the hospital after my last surgery.  Sadly, that nasty scar puts an end to my childhood dream of being a Speedo model, so I hope this writing thing works out.  Fingers crossed.

Joking aside, the second-line chemotherapy for treatment of GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumors), Sutent, is harsher than the first-line chemo.  My oncologist has been tweaking the dosage to find the sweet spot where the tumors remain suppressed but my quality of life is reasonable.  I’ve lost a substantial amount of weight and my stamina is greatly diminished, among other problems, but that’s all due to the chemo as opposed to the cancer itself.

Since I didn’t even expect to be alive in 2015, I won’t complain too much.

RANDON: How would you describe your latest novel, Prisoner?

DENNIS: Prisoner takes place about a year after the events of Traveler. True to the promise he made to himself at the end of the first book, Trav Becker has settled into a normal life, or as normal as a policeman’s life can be. But he’s left all the parallel reality-jumping behind. Everything is fine, until dead and dying Trav Beckers start showing up everywhere Trav turns.

Pursued by an FBI profiler who believes (with some justification) that Trav is hiding something, the detective races to save two kidnapped girls while also trying to sort out why he keeps turning up dead. Desperate to preserve his home timeline, Trav is thrust into a hidden war that threatens to destroy the very fabric of reality itself.

DENNIS:  Memoirs is a very different book than Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers. Where did the idea come from?

RANDON:  In 1991 or 1992, I was courting my wife, trying to convince that her I had a modicum of class.  We went to a museum called The Menil Collection in Houston and saw an art exhibit of Jacob Lawrence paintings from 1939 and 1940 that focused on the lives of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.  Each painting had a caption below it.  One caption mentioned that after suffering a head injury as a slave, Tubman, for the rest of her life, had a condition that caused her to fall asleep with no warning.

I was blown away that, despite her medical condition, she risked her life repeatedly to free slaves. Tubman’s story and courage inspired me to begin writing Memoirs of a Dead White Chick.  A large portion of the story concept came to me almost instantly.  As I did more and more research, though, I began to wonder whether the Civil War was the best way or the only way to end slavery, and that question informed much of the rest of the story.

RANDON: Prisoner is the second book in your Traveler trilogy.  Compare the experience of writing this book to the first.  Was it easier, equally as difficult, or harder?

DENNIS: In music, they say a band has ten years to make their first album and ten months to make their second. If you think about it, you can pretty much count on the fingers of one hand the number of follow-ups that even match, let alone exceed, debuts. So you definitely feel like you’re under some pressure to prove the first book wasn’t a fluke. On top of that, Traveler was intended to be a one-shot. I wanted to leave it a little open-ended, but didn’t intend for it to become a series. Then, toward the end of writing Traveler, I had this idea for a scene where a bleeding and dying version of Trav shows up on “our” Trav’s doorstep. After that, I had to write a sequel. Only problem was, I then had to figure out the rest of the story!

RANDON: What did writing your first book teach you that applied to the second one?

DENNIS: Like you, I’ve never taken any classes or had formal training in writing novels. At its most basic, I learned how to structure a novel. It’s pretty easy to think of the idea of a story, and maybe even to write a scene or two, but understanding the ebb and flow of a narrative, where to leave the little clues your protagonist (and reader) need, while playing fair, takes a lot more skill and patience than you might think.

DENNIS:  And I’ll ask you the same question to wrap up. What did writing your first book teach you that applied to the second one?

RANDON:  The biggest thing I learned was that I can actually write a book.  Doubt was my biggest enemy for years.

Secondly, I learned that the book doesn’t have to be written perfectly in the first draft nor does it have to be written in perfect chronological order.  By that, I mean, if I had an idea for the ending, I could write it early on and then write toward that ending.  If I got stuck in the middle, I could skip over that part and fill it in later.

Lastly, I learned how much I enjoyed meeting readers when we spoke at bookstores, book clubs, Rotary Clubs, and Optimist Clubs.  Their enthusiasm and support gave me the confidence to keep writing, and their questions helped me better understand my own process and the process of our writing group.

Takes No Prisoners!

The Gazette’s review of “Prisoner” is up, along with a Writing Lads feature and reviews of Rob and Randon’s latest.

Read the article on the Lads here.

Randon’s “Memoirs of a Dead White Chick review is

Rob Cline’s “Slices” review is here.

Thanks to Mary Sharp for the kind words!

Trav's Favorites Volume I- "The Hidden Man"

The use of music in the Traveler Chronicles has sparked a lot of conversation. This is the first in an occasional series of posts that talk about the music mentioned in the Traveler books, and why each song or artist was included.

Poco is one of the most fascinating groups in all of pop music. Originally formed by Richie Furay, Jim Messina, and Rusty Young from the ashes of Furay and Messina’s first group, the Buffalo Springfield (which also launched the careers of Neil Young and Stephen Stills), Poco originated  the style of Country Rock that The Eagles would eventually make famous. I would even argue all of today’s Country is descended from these two groups, but that’s a discussion for another time.

In fact, The Eagles would reach into Poco not once, but twice, to hire a bass player who could sing high harmonies. Randy Meissner and Timothy B. Schmit would both start out with Poco and graduate to The Eagles.

The band personnel shifted throughout the Seventies. Founder Furay left early on, as did Messina, to begin his association with Kenny Loggins. Pedal Steel player Rusty Young would be the sole original member to continue, finally hitting it big with the hit singles “Crazy Love” and “Heart of the Night” in the Eighties.

But it’s the early and mid-career Poco that has always fascinated me, and no song more than “Too Many Nights Too Long,” from 1976’s Rose of Cimarron.

The tune is a 6:45 tour de force of pedal steel, mandolin and lyrics en español, written and sung by Paul Cotton, who took over as lead singer after Messina’s departure.

When I settled on the concept of Trav using music as a visualization tool to move between the different streams of reality, “Too Many Nights Too Long,” came immediately to mind. Even before the plot for the first Traveler book totally jelled, I knew that Trav would be hunting another version of himself, and El Hombre Escondido, The Hidden Man, of Cotton’s tune was perfect. After all, who is more hidden than another version of yourself?

In fact, the original title of Traveler was “The Hidden Man!”

Later, I decided the one word title “Traveler,” was a better choice. But Trav’s hunt for El Hombre Escondido is still conducted to the soundtrack provided by the seminal group that invented the Cournty Rock sound.

Listen to the complete Trav’s Favorites playlist on YouTube at this link.

Prisoner Bonus Scene!

This post originally ran in Second Run Reviews, the excellent book blog run by the creative and erudite Terri LeBlanc. Traveler was the very first book she reviewed on her site, and she has been a tireless fan and supporter of my work ever since. Visit her site for great recommendations for your next read.

Lagniappe

As a guy whose day job is about jazz music, “Lagniappe” is a word I’ve come across many times. It’s of Creole origin and means “bonus,” or “a little something extra.”

Here’s a little lagniappe from the Traveler-verse.

It’s based on my original concept of the ending of Traveler. However, it was pretty bleak, and eventually I decided I preferred ending with something slightly more upbeat.

But the Traveler saga is about parallel realities, and as I worked on the sequel, it occurred to me that this scene could still fit into the tale.

Or maybe I’m just too lazy to ever let a scene go to waste.

You can enjoy this vignette either as an alternate ending for Traveler or as a scene (non-spoilery) which is referenced, but takes place offstage in Prisoner.


“Sorry about Sam,” Adam said.

I nodded, staring into my coffee cup.

“How did he get get hooked up with Kaaro anyway?”

“I don’t know. Making meth would be elementary for someone of his background, but I never would have believed it of him. Amazing what people will do for money.”

“The fire chief says he doubts they’ll be able to recover much in the way of remains.”

Of course, the explosion and fire in the warehouse meth lab was just a convenient way to cover Sam’s disappearance. Wherever he had gone, he had left no trace behind.

Adam looked at me with concern. “You know, you didn’t have to come out for breakfast today if you didn’t feel like it.”

“No, it’s fine. After staying up most of the night doing paperwork, one of Dinah’s breakfasts is just what I need.”

I used my new ability once again to scan for Sam, but he was nowhere in the dozens of blue-tinged images I could perceive. But then, in that mysterious way I did not understand but was slowly getting used to, my attention was directed to one particular representation of my former friend. As the image swam before my eyes, I knew that without some gentle intervention, this Sam would go down the same destructive path as the one I had lost.

With cold clarity, I realized it was up to me to keep this from happening again.

And again, and again.

Suddenly, the visions of Sam were washed away by a different set of scenes. I smiled as a dozen versions of the next fifteen seconds sprang into my view.

Caffeine and carbs were only part of the reason I needed to be here today.

Like thumbing through a deck of cards, I quickly sorted each branch of probability, happy to be using my talent for something other than to prevent disaster. No…no…

Yes.

Kim the waitress, who was the real reason this was Adam’s favorite place, threaded her way artfully through the narrow confines of the diner, both arms full of plates piled high with Dinah’s shipwrecks. But as she looked to her right to avoid a customer headed toward the cash register, a man in a postal uniform swung off the barstool to her left, his beefy arm knocking her off balance just as she reached our booth.

“Look out!” I cried, just a second too late.

Three plates full of eggs, hash browns, and sausages landed in Adam’s lap, followed an instant later by Kim herself. Adam reached up just in time to keep her from landing in the gravy.

“Oh, no!” the lovely coed moaned, looking at the mess.

“Are you all right?” Adam asked.

“Yes… Oh, look at this! It’s all over the booth, and all over…” Her voice trailed off as she became aware of Adam’s arms around her. Blushing, she straightened up.

“I am so sorry.” She looked Adam up and down, an appraisal much bolder than she had ever hinted at before. “Let’s take you in the back and get you cleaned up.”

She stretched out her hand. Adam took it. As she pulled him to his feet, their eyes met.

“I’ll, um… be back in a minute to clean up the booth,” she said, suddenly remembering I was there.

“Take your time.”

Adam let himself be led down the narrow aisle, never letting go of Kim’s hand.

With my partner’s future taken care of, I pondered mine.

The array of Sams with their possible futures sprang into my view again, and I contemplated each permutation. Keeping Sam from accidentally destroying the barriers between realities would be a full time job.

And no police force, not even a partner would be able to help me.

Absorbed in the enormity of my task, I was not aware someone else had entered the diner until I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“No,” a soft voice said. “You won’t be alone.”

 

First Review of Prisoner

It’s Release Day!

Book Two of The Traveler Chronicles, Prisoner, is now available. Of course, I’ve been blathering on and on for months about the book, so let’s hear from someone else for a change.

Terri LeBlanc, book blogger at Second Run Reviews, has the (dubious perhaps) honor of posting the first Prisoner review to Goodreads. Here’s a taste:

For those of you have read Traveler, you are in for another wild ride when you pick up Prisoner. Trav Becker and all his doubles are back at it shifting through parallel realities and trying to save the universe. Prisoner moved at a faster pace than Traveler; gone are the interludes. The reader isn’t “forced” to take a break from the action. You are able to read as fast as your eyes and mind can process the words on the page.

While Prisoner‘s plot moves at break neck speed, the writing has a more relaxed feel. Trav is in even more trouble with the FBI looking over his shoulder and the stakes are higher. Despite the tension, I found myself laughing out loud at several points.

The only down side, she is STILL busting my chops about the ending. 

I am never going to live that down.

Prisoner is available right now on amazon.com.