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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Unionizing college athletes the right step for this multi-billion-dollar business

The recent ruling that Northwestern University football players can form a union has pierced the farce that this multi-billion-dollar industry is all about amateur student athletes.

While there is great value in the scholarships the student athletes receive, that’s nothing compared to the $18 billion in TV rights for football bowl games and the basketball tournament, not to mention all the merchandise, sponsorships and ticket sales. The players make people want to attend the games and buy the jerseys, yet they don’t benefit from the business side of their success, their long days practicing and putting their bodies at risk of crippling injuries and concussions. The people in suits, the coaches and the athletic directors, reap the rewards.

Don’t forget the TV networks and other media that sell advertising off the blood and sweat of these supposedly amateur competitors. 

How is it that coaches and athletic directors are allowed to receive bonuses for reaching bowl games, winning conferences or athletes winning individual national titles but the athletes aren’t? How come their contracts can include a car and phone allowance, expenses the athletes often cover out of pocket? 

These players face considerable dangers by competing. Concussions, nerve damage, joint injuries that can linger for years – these aren’t just issues for professional leagues like the NFL. The same brain injuries that debilitated former NFL greats happened to former college players, even if they don’t attract as much attention because they aren’t as famous. At least the NFL has agreed to compensate retired players for their health problems – thanks in great part to unions. 

The Northwestern players want the university to guarantee medical coverage for them once their playing days are done, and to put them on four-year scholarships so they can’t be released any year on the basis of injury. The players also proposed receiving aid for graduate degrees.

They aren’t asking for cash. I don’t think paying them should be off the table, but it shouldn’t be a huge windfall. They deserve an allowance to cover their expenses, something that would be equal at every university based on cost-of-living adjustments for the region and equal across sports as well. Plus, players should share bonuses for reaching milestones like bowl games and championships.

Perhaps if the players got some gas and jeans money they wouldn’t be so vulnerable to accepting handouts from boosters. 

The counter argument to paying players is that the small school won’t be able to compete with the big schools. That’s correct, but there’s a way around it. Handle it like a tax, with all universities paying in and a central authority, perhaps a vastly reformed NCAA, doling out the money equally, reviewing the milestone bonuses and overseeing retired player benefits. 

Let’s make sure our college athletes get taken care of long after the spotlights fade.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My 2014 plans: Book signing, new novel release, big sequel brewing

After reaching so many milestones last year both professionally and personally, I have more groundbreaking writing planned for 2014.

First up, I’m doing a book signing at the renowned Books & Books in Coral Gables on Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. I’ll read a chapter from Mute – I have one in mind but I’m open to suggestions – and then talk about how the story of my novel is a metaphor for my life. The discussion really moved the people who heard it at the Miami Book Fair so I suggest you hear it live.

If you can’t be there in person, Books & Books will stream it online. Go here for more information about the free event.

This fall Silver Leaf Books will release my second novel, Famous After Death, in print and e-book. My publisher already posted a landing page for my novel. How do you like the cover photo? It’s by the same photographer from Mute, El Cesana in Australia. The font for the title will probably change, but I feel the photo captures the shocking nature of the story.

I’m glad there weren't camera phones and YouTube when I was a teenager because a lot of the stupid things I did probably would have been shared, to maximum embarrassment. I’m lucky some of those stunts didn’t go so bad that people got hurt. But what if…

In Famous After Death, three Miami teenagers figure: Everything else has gone viral so why not murder?

This is fast-paced thriller set in South Florida (mostly Miami). The teenagers do terrible things for attention as the trials of their childhoods drove them to dehumanize their victims, and make them famous by posting their deaths online.

Most teenagers who glamorize their violence online are too stupid to hide their identities, but this trio is clever, and they have help from a mysterious hacker with an ax to grind against the police officer tracking them down.

Besides all this, what else could I possibly have cooking? Well, another novel of course. Mute is just itching for a sequel and I’m hard at work on the first draft. I can’t say how long it will take to finish and, especially, to edit. That’s the hard part.

I’ll say this, though. It’ll have more science fiction than the first novel, and more romance. Yet, other parts are pure horror. 

I call it…


Sunday, November 17, 2013

All set for my Miami Book Fair presentation

One week away from my presentation at the Miami Book Fair International and I’m itching to go.

This speech will be more emotional than anything I’ve ever done. Yes, I’ve spoken to large groups before. Usually the focus is journalism, social media or tips on writing. This time it’ll be personal.

It’s been difficult to talk openly about why I chose the themes in my novel Mute. There are things in my life that I couldn’t talk about for many years. I couldn’t bear even thinking about them. Yet, they fueled the emotions in my writing. 

No more secrets. I’m telling my story. 

Join me at the Miami Book Fair and I’ll tell you how this science fiction murder mystery is a metaphor for my life. Why was the mute girl who needs saving? What is the symbolism behind animals infected with purple tumors? 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Guess who’s speaking at the Miami Book Fair this year…Me!

I’m thrilled to be one of the authors the Miami Book FairInternational has invited to speak this year.
If you haven’t attended the fair, it’s a must-see event for book lovers. Thousands of people pack the Miami Dade College campus downtown, where there are hundreds of street vendors and presentations from notable authors from around the world.
The headliner this year is Dan Brown, as he will kick it off on Nov. 17. I’m perhaps a little further down the lineup card, but I’ve still got a nice spot.
It’s amazing. Years ago I was in the audience at the Book Fair, an aspiring author trying to gleam a nugget of wisdom from the professionals. Now I’m going to be behind the microphone.
I’ll be presenting on Sunday, Nov. 24. The exact time and place haven’t been determined, as the fair hasn’t released its final schedule yet. I believe I will be grouped with other Florida authors and, of course, I will talk about my novel Mute.
I’d also like to mention the other projects I’m working on. There will be a Miami-set thriller coming out next year with my name on it. More on that to come...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Raising a Golem, and other fun features of Jewish mysticism

Is raising a golem – turning a mound of dirt into a super powerful humanoid – folklore or is it a part of Jewish history? The more I read into it, the more I found a case for the latter.
A friend from Chabad lent me The Golem of Prague by Gershon Winkler, which recalls the stories of a golem raised in the late 1500s to fend off attacks on the Jews, and then cites examples in Jewish texts that show such a thing happened several times before.
A golem is indestructible and incredibly strong. Unable to talk, it follows the directors of its creator, although it does so robotically without using common sense. Ask it to fill a bucket with water and it'll keep going until the house is flooded.
Convinced, I went to my back yard and started crafting a new left tackle for the Miami Dolphins. 

From the 1920 film "The Golem of Prague", before CGI

Turns out I’m probably not qualified for such a task. It takes a Torah sage who understands the process of creation and can use G-d’s true name and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet to infuse a spark of life into inanimate objects. The secrets are part of the ancient Book of Formation, although only a master of Kabbalah could understand how to carry them out.
The stories in The Golem of Prague were translated from the writings of Yitzchak ben Shimshon HaKohen Katz, the son-in-law of the sage who summoned the golem, Rabbi Moreynu HaRav Loevy, widely known as the Maharal. His statue still stands today in front of Prague’s City Hall.
At the time the Jews were being unjustly accused of drinking Christian blood before Passover. Of course this made no sense because the Torah specifically forbids drinking blood, human or animal. The Maharal asked G-d through a “dream quest” (contemplating a question, sleeping with a blank piece of paper under your pillow, and waking up to read a message). He was told to create a golem, so he drew a figure of a man in the mud along the Vlatava River and performed a ceremony that involved three people circling the figure while reciting the Divine Names.
No, he didn’t use a lightning strike. But some scholars believe the golem stories inspired the original Frankenstein novel by Mary Shelley.
So what super powers did the golem have besides beating up people who attempted to plant corpses on Jewish property? The Maharal gave the golem an “amulet of invisibility” so he could rescue prisoners and deliver notes. I’m looking at the Judaica store catalog for one of those…
The golem also had the power to see spirits, including angels and demons. In one instance the golem walks through a cemetery and identifies the fresh grave that had a body removed because there wasn’t a spirit hovering over it. Actually, Jewish texts say that animals can see spirits as well. If you’re dog is up all night barking at shadows, or you cat jumps at nothing, maybe they see a mean spirit.
Spirits aren’t always quiet. The book has two instances were spirits of the dead communicate directly with the Maharal, once in a dream and once with a spirit speaking to an entire courtroom during trial. See, there is something they haven’t tried yet on Law & Order.
One of the chapters later in the book explains that Kabbalah isn’t black magic or witchcraft. It is the legitimate way to create miracles with G-d’s will, as opposed to bending the rules of nature to do evil.
Read more about creating Golems here. And if you succeed, please find something more interesting for him to do than yard work.