Part 2 of Donkey Sense and of Life

What could symbolically represent the second leg of one’s life better than a brief, medically induced coma out of which you awake reborn, in some way better put back together? I don’t want to bore you with personal details but for me it was hip surgery and weeks later I am walking without great pain and sans a limp.

I believe in both God AND Science and the two are not mutually exclusive here. This recovery represents my second life… my second chance at a happier life.

Sometimes our brains sell us on the objective of becoming something we are not. I used to want to outshock the leading horror novelists of yesterday and today by taking it up a notch. I was good at it, but my mind was in the wrong place. It’s not about disturbing people, even in horror. It’s about inviting them to care, hold their breaths in suspense, and finally smile and share the story with their children or friends. Now I try to make my readers’ already challenging lives a bit more inspired through tales that lead readers to empathize and find joy.

This spiritual change in me began pre-surgery, when I drafted a tale for my mother who wouldn’t live long enough to read it. She’d always wanted me to write a sweet tale that anyone could read, not horror or bleak science fiction that shocked and disturbed in an, albeit, cautionary way.

Perhaps inspired subliminally by Davey and Goliath and Mister Ed, and definitely by Mark Twain and Bugs Bunny, I researched and wrote Donkey Sense quickly in 2012 and into 2013, receiving months of multi-peer feedback. Fellow novelist and friend Susan Finlay read Donkey Sense online and pointed me toward a small traditional publisher now doing business as Clean Reads Books. My submitted manuscript was sweet enough to be warmly accepted by this publisher whose authors’ material sometimes feeds G-rated Hallmark Channel movies.

Davey-and-Goliath-1

Davey and Goliath

This physical and spiritual reawakening was just the break I needed toward channeling a healthier voice long hidden inside of me and toward telling professional tales in a new genre: Middle grade / tween fiction, or if you prefer tales for children of wonder who are near adulthood.

The remaining big challenge in this second life of mine is to continue to write charming books my mom would be proud of, tales that have realistic conflict and villains, but that still leave us with hope. Because hope should be the focus, balanced with healthy respect for any realistic future threats. I for one have shed that dark and hopeless past of horrors in a metaphysical exorcism disposal bag full of surgical detritus and my extracted bogus hip. Let’s forget it. Let it go. It’s gone. I’ve re-found myself as someone who tells stories that inspire.

I humbly invite you and your family to try Donkey Sense in paperback or e-book. Along with another inspirational animal tale I’m working on, Clean Reads Books and I will have a sequel for your enjoyment in early 2018: It’s called Donkey Sense 2: Saving the Farm.

Donkey Sense, the E-book: Try it for just 99 cents.

Donkey Sense, in Paperback. Own the beautiful paperback edition from Astraea Press, now Clean Reads Books.

Even the Writer Needs a Vacation: Reading, Sunning and Shooting Gators With a Camera

Need a vacation? I surely did. Yet even as I write this, it’s nearly over.

But first, let’s flash back. I was researching and writing my tail off seven days a week, nonfiction mostly Monday through Friday, and fiction predominantly Friday night through Sunday.

It’s a lonely, indoor activity. Minus any vital sun on my skin, it was getting to the point where I was subconsciously consuming huge amounts of vitamin D (mostly Jarlsberg cheese) just to stay healthy. My back and hip ached to the extent that I could barely walk or even sit comfortably. I needed to get out of the writing chair or standing desk and onto a beach, into the ocean, or find myself a whirlpool. I needed to do so without any guilt. You see, Americans working for international companies often catch grief for trying to take a week or less while their European counterparts are entitled to weeks and even months at a time, regardless of deadline schedules.

So, in the spirit of not writing during my writing break, I promised myself during my R&R in South Carolina to check work email only once in a while, move work-related projects forward when I could, draft this lousy blog, and read a lot, because all the top writers say that reading is one of the best methods for training for the craft. Already during this mini-vacation I’ve completed Preston and Child’s “Thunderhead,” and now, I’m getting a kick out of my damp, sandy copy of J.A. Konrath’s “Whiskey Sour,” which my son buried in the beach bag under his sand-caked pair of flip flops.

I was expecting to have some exciting details in this blog about the sequel to my third novel, “Donkey Sense,” but the communication lines are staticky and slow, so at this time I can just say that “Donkey Sense 2: Saving the Farm” has been accepted for publishing by Clean Reads Books. I can provide more information about that in future blogs.

Now, here are some pictures from my vacation. Hehehe.

 

Reading on the job.

Beach Chair Reading

Big alligator sighting/ Sneaky Gator (8 to 10 feet long).

Sneaky Gator

Here he/she comes! I better give her some room.

Here he comes

A close-up! Little fella (5 and ½ feet) crosses the trail to get to the other side.

Gator Crossing

And that concludes our vacation pictorial. If you’re looking for a good beach read yourself, check out my books.

Donkey Sense eBook: https://www.amazon.com/Donkey-Sense-Dean-Lombardo-ebook/dp/B00PRLVBKA/

Donkey Sense paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Donkey-Sense-Dean-Lombardo/dp/1507629052/

Princess Plume eBook: https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Plume-Dean-Lombardo-ebook/dp/B01HG55DJ4/

Princess Plume paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Plume-Dean-Lombardo/dp/162135556X/

Vespa eBook: https://www.amazon.com/Vespa-Dean-Lombardo-ebook/dp/B001U89AES/

These books are available on Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.

 

It’s All Relative—In Defense of Olive Garden

You may have recently encountered a series of memes on social media, each featuring a scene from the movie Goodfellas where a laughing Ray Liotta is dubbed as saying something like, “And he insisted that Olive Garden was a real Italian restaurant.” Hahahaha.

This has been a running joke among us Italian Americans for at least a year, as best as I can tell, but I have to make a confession I sincerely hope won’t have me fitted with cement overshoes and dumped at the bottom of the Brooklyn Bay.

I actually like Olive Garden.

Wait! Before you come after me, listen, please!

IMG_1843

The Sporkie, from Bertucci’s

I grew up in Norwalk, CT, about 40 miles outside New York City, and every Sunday my dad would take me over to Grandma and Grandpa Lombardo’s in the nearby town of Darien for Grandma’s outstanding pasta and meatballs covered in scrumptious marinara sauce. And the salads—if you could stand the copious amounts of vinegar Grandma doused the lettuce with—were, well, mouth-wateringly delicious. These Sunday feasts, in addition to my living in the world’s best pizza region stretching from New York City all the way to New Haven, CT, have made me qualified to judge what’s good and what isn’t.

But at the age of forty I somewhat reluctantly left the northeastern United States, so teeming with Italian Americans and their culinary talents, and, as part of a job transfer, landed in Loudoun County, Virginia, where Italians are as rare as polar bears in the Sahara desert. It’s all about U.S. migration patterns, you see. Here, in rural Northern Virginia, the land was predominantly settled by Germans, Scots, and Irish, and other non-Olive-green-skinned Europeans. Here, they do barbecued pulled pork, hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries. Here, should an authentic Italian American open a ristorante or pizzeria the locals are just as likely to choose Domino’s or Chef Boyardee. They wouldn’t know a good slice of pizza or bowl of pasta if it bit them on the lips. One year, I won a free Domino’s pizza which I couldn’t even get the dog to eat, and the dog was a Labrador who once even ate a full diaper. Bleurgghh! Later, when I was a Little League coach down here, we threw the kids a “pizza” party when the season was over. The moms ordered Domino’s because it was the cheapest. I politely abstained.

IMG_1845

The wife, she rise to the occasion. Make me the cavatelli and meatballs.

Yeah, there are exceptions such as Teddy’s Pizza in Middleburg, VA, and 900 Degrees in Purcellville, each owned and operated by authentic Italians and cooking up delicious pizza, pasta and more. Teddy’s is a long drive for my family and me, and 900 Degrees has to cater to the local “tastes” or risk going out of business like so many Italian restaurants in the area, so I can’t exactly get cavatelli or spumoni there. However, for the most part, the Italian food south of the Mason-Dixon Line is a perversion of the traditional ingredients and flavor. As a general rule, the farther you get from the cities where Italian immigrants settled, the scarcer and more unappetizing the Italian cuisine gets. My cousin in Connecticut felt so sorry for me she shipped a family-sized portion of cavatelli, meatballs and sauce to me, courtesy of John The Baker in Stamford, Connecticut.

So, for all you Italian Americans scorning Olive Garden, why don’t move down here and see how long you can go looking for the ingredients you need to whip up your own traditional Italian food? See how long you can go without a sweet cousin shipping you cavatelli and meatballs from the northeast? See how long you can go before waiting in line at Olive Garden or Bertucci’s for something different than pulled pork and better than fast food abominations such as Domino’s?

Ciao.

 

My Memorable and Humiliating Tug-of-War With an Elephant

Most of us have an unusual animal encounter story – maybe one not so exotic and dangerous that it’ll be featured on the former Fox TV show “When Animals Attack” – but something peculiar or cute enough that it’s worthy of sharing. I recently met author and blogger L.L. Reynolds who is a chiroptophobic. In layman’s terms, L.L. is frightened of bats, those winged rodentlike creatures that do a lot of good but also carry deadly diseases such as rabies. And if you read about L.L.’s encounters with bats and talk to others you’ll see her fear is not so uncommon or irrational. She’s actually been bitten by a bat in a place I’ll let her tell you about. Now, I’m not saying go out and kill every bat you see. Bats have enough problems as it is. They accidentally fly into your college dorm one evening and some knucklehead gets out his tennis racquet and starts playing “bat-minton” with the poor thing. And in addition to the human threat, some species of bats are on the verge of being wiped out by a fungus. So let’s take it easy on these little flying mice and move on to something bigger: my elephant story!

Let’s call it 1976. I was just a wee little boy on a school field trip to either the Bronx or Beardsley Zoo. Hey, it was a long time ago, what do you want total recall? At the elephant exhibit, I wanted to get closer to the African elephant so I leaned over the first of two fences and stared in wonder at the massive pachyderm. It was a hot day, probably late May, and I’d taken off my windbreaker and was holding it in my arms. Try to get inside the mind of that eight-year-old boy that day: Uh, oh, the elephant is staring back, and, oh no, here comes the trunk and it’s seized my favorite windbreaker with all the Major League Baseball team logos on it. No way! Pull! The elephant pulled back. Pull! And the little muscles in my eight-year-old arms pulled. The elephant tugged back steadily and was perhaps more determined that the jacket was hers than I was that it was mine.

That's my on the left, with my MLB windbreaker.

That’s me on the left, with my MLB windbreaker.

“Let go!” a man shouted.

Still gripping the arm of my jacket, I saw a guy in safari type clothing hurrying toward me and the elephant. Oh, no. I’m in trouble now.

I released my beloved jacket and the elephant curled its trunk toward its mouth and stuffed my jacket inside … and chewed.

The zoo worker got inside the elephant’s pen and after some careful manipulation removed the soggy bolus that was my jacket and unwrapped it for inspection. The thing was shredded and pocked, like a big piece of slimy, nylon, navy-blue Swiss cheese.

“You don’t want this anymore, do you?” the elephant handler said.

I stared at the masticated jacket covered in elephant spit and shook my head.

He tossed it into a nearby trash can and walked away shaking his head as if little boys were the world’s greatest evil. Shocked I turned around and for the first time noticed that some of my fellow students had watched the spectacle and were now laughing at me. I think I cried then, and years later, I might be walking down some street in Norwalk, Connecticut, and I’d hear my name called and some kid would ask me if I remembered when the elephant ate my jacket. I’d remember and shake my head with a polite grin, recalling another absurd and humiliating experience in a sad and unremarkable life.

Nowadays, I am one of the few people who remember the incident. I’ve asked a few Fox Run Elementary School alumni if they remember the elephant encounter and none of them seem to. My mom, who received calls from the school about the incident, has now moved on to the spirit world so I no longer have her to help me verify the incident. But it happened. It really did. I had a tug-of-war with some poor imprisoned behemoth and while I lost my jacket that day, I learned a valuable lesson: Hyper-curious, hyperactive boys need to stay behind the fence. To quote from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park: “Be thankful that fence is there, senhor.”

Tuning Out the Noise and Turning on the Productivity

Gratuitous Robin Tunney photo

Gratuitous Robin Tunney photo

I’m old enough to remember the days when you sat down at a typewriter with a cigar in your mouth and just wrote. Back in the mid-eighties (or earlier), when there weren’t handy feature-rich laptops, DVD players, palm-sized phones with Internet access, social media time-wasters such as Facebook and Twitter, and countless online games and other distractions.

Despite today’s technological advancements, it’s arguably more difficult for a writer to write. Many of you know the story. You get pulled into the nonsense, into the crusade, the war, the hatred of your country, the shaming, the persecution, the need to trade insults. It’s wrong to stereotype this group but okay to brand this one. They gang up and bully you with, “This is the right way of thinking (my way) and yours is the wrong way,” or “I can say this or whatever I want, but you need to keep quiet.” There was a time when you would read about something in the newspaper and react by phoning your elected officials. Now, we try and solve all our problems over the Internet as if we could actually change someone else’s mind (or the WORLD) with a post or create momentum that would have such a Mothra butterfly effect that, for instance, all the pirates off the coast of Somalia would stop attacking merchant vessels. Yeah, like that’ll work. So insecure are we that we need to reaffirm our security or insecurities by getting likes, shares or, conversely, by being ignored. We whine about our poor persecuted selves, try to give it back, try to win the winless argument, and all of this is costly. Costly in terms of time, money and our mental health.

There was a time when I worried about getting likes for my posts, about having many real or virtual friends to like, share or comment on my posts. But now? Now, I don’t care because I realize the people who I want to care are too intelligent to be taking it up on Facebook. They’re out there doing it. Getting the job done.

The Internet (and television) offers a great start when it comes to research, making connections, doing business, and forging friendships. The Net is also a fun place to hang with those friends and share ideas–to a point.

It’s just not where I want to live my life or waste time arguing with people who’ve already made up their mind about my gender, my country, my ethnicity, and my moderate political views.

I’ve got books to write … and, oh … if you haven’t figured it out already, I’m not looking for likes of this blog post. It’s not about YOU. 

My Writing Process

I don’t blog a heck of a lot because usually I’m writing for my day job, spending time with my family, or working on one or more new novels. But when author Deb. E. Howell tagged me to participate in the Writing Process blog hop I recognized it as an opportunity to self-analyze which factors put me at the top of my game when I am fortunate enough to be in the “writing zone,” productive and effective as a novelist. You see, when writing an author is often pressing because he or she isn’t always inspired to write. It’s easy when you’re inspired and the keyboard seems to disappear and you’re banging out scene after scene as if your thoughts are populating the manuscript wirelessly. But those times when you don’t feel like writing can be extremely difficult. And in such situations, I recite what the late great Michael Crichton once shared in a USA Today feature article:

Ass2Chair.

Repeat after me:

Ass2Chair.

What Crichton meant was if you want to be a professional writer, you better sit down, turn the computer on, and write your story—no buts (or butts) about it.

Now, obviously, I don’t just sit down and write when I’m starting a new story. I draft a synopsis first, then I research/research/research (including on-location exploration) and compose a longer outline. Then I flesh out all characters in character sketches. Once all of this is complete, I follow the outline and sketches pretty faithfully, detouring only when I discover a problem with the plot or a character’s motivations. Then, as Hemingway said, I keep on writing and writing until the end.

Wait, I’m not done yet. I take stock of what I’ve got. I ask, Is this novel of the quality I’d pick up at a bookstore? Does the dialogue sound genuine? When I read through the manuscript usually there are some parts that need strengthening or tightening and some additional things to integrate seamlessly into the story. So is the novel ready to submit yet?

Heck no! I rewrite it again and get it to wail and sing like a David Gilmour guitar solo.

Dean descends into the Man-Cave to write.

Dean descends into the Man-Cave to write.

Yeah, now it’s done.

The End.

Why such a short blog post? Well, I try to remain true to myself. My former publisher, Samantha Smith, an Englishwoman, once praised me (sort of) for my economical style in “Space Games,” (2013, Kristell Ink). She was right about the economical part. I emphasize pacing and eliminate waste. I don’t try to dazzle people with language, vocabulary or length. I tell a high-stakes story and it’s the story … not all the pretty words in between … that is most important to me as a novelist (and I hope most meaningful to my audience as well). I respect poets, but I don’t try to be one. I’m just trying to tell a good joke, spin a good yarn, make people’s hearts race, make’em see and feel it, and write a good ole American novel along the way.

I tag Evelinn Enoksen and Crash Froelich to join this writing blog hop, if they haven’t already participated.