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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novels "Mute" - "Silence the Living" and "Famous After Death" are available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Strikes and strings: Five ways to spice up Marlins games with musical instruments

The Miami Marlins are desperate, and not just for wins. The team is last in MLB in attendance after beginning yet another roster rebuild.
Ownership’s solution? Bring on the drums!
Derek Jeter’s team will turn a section of the outfield stands next year into “Comunidad 305”, where musical instruments and flags will be encouraged.
Marlins Park, photograph by D Ramey Logan via Wikimedia

Yes, this is thinly-veiled pandering to Latin fans, who showed their infectious enthusiasm for baseball at the World Baseball Cup games in the very same Miami Park by bringing flags and noisemakers. For some reasons, fans aren’t quite as excited to root for a Marlins team with zero star power that’s headed for 90-plus losses.
When next season rolls around, I’m sure there will be much more excitement in the stands. No, not because of the team. The musical instrument section could tremendous fun for the fans.
Imagine during a slow-paced, quiet game, fans become their own entertainment by performing music. On most nights, Marlins Park is quiet enough that you could hear a band in the outfield from behind center plate. Forget the action on the field, why not show the baseball world Miami’s musical talents?
Here are my Top 5 ideas for using musical instruments at Marlins games next season:

  • Battle of the Bands: Bring your guitars, drums, fiddles, banjos, or whatever you play, and jam out with your band members. Each band gets a half inning to show their stuff. Clearly, the best innings to pick are when the Marlins are pitching, because those will probably last longer.
  • Opera: Seat a full orchestra (plus conductor) together in the stands along with a few opera singers with booming voices. Wouldn’t you like to hear “La bohème” while a pitcher is on the mound scratching himself?
  • Elvis vs Celia Cruz night: Pick your favorite icon and join the musical duel. Americana vs Cuban-American. At the top of the inning, Elvis impersonators strum their guitars and croon. At the bottom of the inning, Celia impersonators sing their salsa and rumba with a percussion section. Whichever group wins gets to de-wig the losers.
  • Slide whistle hell: One slide whistle is cute. A second slide whistle is amusing. A third slide whistle, I want to rip that damn thing from your hands and throw it in the garbage. Imagine a whole outfield section of fans randomly, constantly tooting the slide whistle. Instead of “accidentally” throwing at opposing hitters, Marlins pitches might zing a few fastballs into the crowd.
  • Gong show: Say the fans actually wanted to help the team. Everyone bring a gong. When the opposing team is batting, ring the gong in unison the instant after the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. When the Marlins are batting, bang those gongs as the opposing pitcher is winding up. Mind games.

Have any better ideas? Let me hear them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

South Florida book signings set as Silence the Living makes Kindle debut

I’ve been booked at four events in South Florida this fall as my novel “Silence the Living” rolls out.

For over four years, I’ve been imagining the world of his scary science fiction novel and painstakingly crafting it word-by-word. I’m excited to share those words, and to see the thrills, fright and shock of readers as they experience this story.

My novel can currently be downloaded on Kindle from Amazon. It’s available for e-book purchase or for free for KindleUnlimited members ($9.99 a month after a 30-day free trial). The print version is available for pre-order now and will be released on Sept. 10.

After you read the book, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads and share it on social media.

My favorite part of releasing a new novel is reading part of the story to an audience and discussing it with them. There are some questions I can anticipate, like “How long did it take you to write this?” and there are always some people who took something from the story that I didn’t even realize.

Here are my upcoming signings for "Silence the Living.”

Oct. 9, 6:30 pm, Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, free, (305) 442-4408. This well-known store will soon have "Silence the Living" available for sale.

Oct. 11, 7 pm, Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 N.E. 2nd Ave., Delray Beach, free, (561) 279-7790.

Oct. 24, 11:30 am, Rotary Club of Fort Lauderdale at ArtServe, 1350 E. Sunrise Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, Non-members must pay $25 and first please contact Jaybe Abbate jayea@artserve.org  (954) 462-8190.

Nov. 18, Miami Book Fair, Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus (time and room TBD)

I’m opening to adding more book signings. I’ll update this blog if I schedule more.

Is there a certain passage in “Silence the Living” you’d like to hear me read? Let me know and maybe I’ll read it at a signing, or on a video blog.

Monday, June 4, 2018

My novel to be published in September, featured at Miami Book Fair

Silver Leaf Books will publish my third novel “Silence the Living” on September 10. I’m excited to finally share this heart-pounding story with  everyone.

Want a taste of what’s in store? My publisher’s landing page for my book has the first chapter, where you learn what it’s like for Moni living with an infectious alien life form inside her body. It’s not easy being in a relationship with someone when touching one drop of their bodily fluid might kill you.

I’m super appreciative for the support from the Miami Book Fair, the country’s best literary event and an amazing platform for authors. This will be the third year I’ve spoken there.

The Book Fair hasn’t finalized the schedule yet, but I will likely speak on Sunday, November 18. Now I just have to work on my “act”. Okay, maybe calling it an act is a stretch. I’ll select a thrilling - and not too long - passage of “Silence the Living” to read and then explain my motivation for the book.

There are plenty of other great reasons, besides me, to attend the 2018 Miami Book Fair. See their website for information about other authors participating and to sign up for alerts. The street fair has fun activities for kids and plenty of opportunities for readers looking to unearth literary gems at a good price.

Finally, I have one more update. I’ve written the first draft of my fourth novel. It revolves around a fictional Miami bank that failed during the Great Recession and the mystery of who killed the CEO.

The tentative title: “Save the Bankers."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Cover revealed: Silence the Living

This book release is feeling more real every day. Here’s the cover for "Silence the Living".

My idea was to show our cursed hero Moni Williams in the New Mexico desert at night, staring at an army of glowing purple eyes from beasts that are threatening her.

Initially, I tried to find a photographer with great shots of the New Mexico desert at night. I was really impressed by some photographers in the Southwest, but they didn’t have book cover experience. It was clear that it would take a skilled graphic artist to add the purple-eyed beasts to the cover. Landscape photography and book cover design are different things.

The covers for my first two novels were fantastic photographs, with some design work added. I felt this idea would work better as an illustration.

Taking suggestion of my publisher, I looked over the cover art used by other writers from Silver Leaf Books. I loved the cover for “Day of Vengeance” by Martin Berman-Gorvine. The author recommended that I contact the cover artist, Christian Bentulan.

I was blown away by the dozens of amazing covers on his website, coversbychristian.com. A resident of the Philippines, Christian was persistent in designing the cover just how I wanted it. Yeah, Moni's in a tough spot.

Look for “Silence the Living” to be released by Silver Leaf Books this summer. If it doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you don’t have a pulse.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My new novel is in my publisher’s inbox

I’ve been over every word at least five times, more than 130,000 of them. I’ve reviewed over 150 writing samples from other authors in exchange for feedback. I’ve walked around my neighborhood imaging a creature mutated by aliens that lurks in Florida’s underground waterways.

And still, I needed a deep breath before I hit “send.”

A few days ago, I sent my new novel “Silence the Living” to my publisher Silver Leaf Books. This will be my third published book.

This is a science fiction thriller, and the sequel to “Mute.” I’ve written it in a way where you don’t have to read the first novel to understand “Silence the Living”, but the plot of the second book will of course be a spoiler to the first book. So if you have not yet experienced “Mute”, now is a good time.

“Mute” started as a murder mystery and became more scifi as the story went on while a relationship between Monique “Moni” Williams and Aaron Hughes developed. In “Silence the Living”, the mystery has been unlocked and the characters must deal with moral dilemmas and grave danger.

The last active trace of the alien microorganisms that invaded Earth lives within Moni’s body. A drop of her bodily fluid will contaminate any human or animal, turning it into an alien-controlled beast with the goal of transforming part of our planet into an alien habitat. The aliens in her bloodstream are rapidly altering Moni’s body. She’s lost her voice, but gained telepathic powers to overhear thoughts from nearby minds and to plant her thoughts into the heads of both humans and animals.

The changes are also physical. She chugs gasoline like beer. Her saliva is so acid that she can suck a bar of iron like a popsicle.

Despite the obvious dangers of Moni staying near people with such a highly infectious condition, Aaron refuses to leave her side. The marine science student wants to help her evade the government’s efforts to capture her and he’s looking for some way to restore her humanity so they can be together. Moni and Aaron’s love grows stronger, but he risks his life every time he touches her.

Moni and Aaron flee their native Florida for the southern New Mexico desert because there’s few people and virtually no water. Yet, they can’t run forever.

A pivotal scene in "Silence the Living" is set in the Kilbourne Hole volcanic maar in New Mexico. Credit: Dicklyon
Brevard County Sheriff Officer Nina Skillings was just discharged from the hospital after suffering facial injures she blames on Moni. She teams up with FBI Agent Cam Carter to chase Moni across the country, and she won’t bother for a pair of handcuffs.

Meanwhile in Florida, a sadistic mutant lurks in the underground waterways hunting people. Offbeat environmental scientist Harry “Lagoon Watcher” Trainer believes it’s connected to the alien invasion and he’s determined to pursue it through the watery depths beneath the state’s limestone surface. In this dark maze of underwater caves, the air is far away, but terror is always near.

The pursuit of the mutant in "Silence the Living" takes place in North Florida's Peacock Springs. Credit: Barbara am Ende.

“Silence the Living” is a creature thriller wrapped around a tortured romance.

Side note: I drew inspiration for this novel from the metal band In This Moment, in particular, the album “A Star-Crossed Wasteland.”

Silver Leaf Books should publish “Silence the Living” sometime in 2018. My publisher is currently working to release over a dozen books this year, so that is why I need to wait.

In the meantime, I am considering book cover ideas - possibly involving snakes - and a marketing plan that doesn’t suck.

Oh, and I’m also working on yet another novel. I just can’t stop writing.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Eight ways the iPhone has changed society in 10 years

On June 29, 2007, the day the iPhone first went on sale, it would have been hard for anyone to imagine the monumental impact the device has had on society, even now-late Apple CEO Steven Jobs.

Ushering in the smart phone era has changed the way people interact, and perhaps even re-wired the brain. It has played a part in everything from love to war to politics to crime.

This won’t be the only blog today list on the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone, so I’ll keep with the theme of my latest novel and focus on the way these pocket-sized computers have transformed social interaction. Why am I listing eight ways instead of 10? Because in the age of mobile news, who has the patience to scroll down a 10-point list?

No more privacy in public

I hear a lot of prior generation athletes talk about the wild times they had on the road, partying and drinking and saying outrageous things in bars. Rarely did any of the details come to light, and when they did, it was based on memories, not proof.

Now, anytime something remotely controversial happens, it’s often captured on a camera phone. If there’s a pro athlete or celebrity involved, that’s almost a certainty. So people can’t simply mouth off without consequences.

The language of emojis

The emoji was created in 1998, but it didn’t take off as an common part of language until the smart phone. Text messaging, Facebook and Twitter are arts of the written word. Emojis says things that words can’t quite say, or they emphasize the meaning of sentences.

Unlike words, emojis can’t be translated into vocal language. There’s also unregulated and unlimited. No 26 characters here.

I’m still waiting for the first all emoji novel.

Constantly plugged in

People used to access the internet mostly at home or in the workplace on a desktop computer, or on a bulky laptop at a rare WiFi hot spot. Now the vast majority of the country has wireless internet access through a cellular network, and websites have been configured for mobile views, which is the fastest growing segment of traffic.

The good news is people can work and stay plugged into information remotely. No more sneaking out of the wedding to check the score on the TV at the bar. There’s no reason to drive around looking for a restaurant or a gas station.

The bad news is work has become inescapable. No matter where you go, people can email you and text you. People with important responsibilities are expected to respond no matter what. So it’s harder to truly unplug.

Instant information

I started journalism in college, writing for the Miami Hurricane student newspaper and then as an intern at the St. Augustine Record in 1999. There’s been a huge change in the expectations for news delivery over the years, especially since the smart phone era began.

People used to receive a brief overview of the day’s news during the evening telecast, and then a more detailed analysis in the next morning’s paper. Now, not only is the morning paper full of old news, so is the evening telecast. First people expected websites with stories updated regularly, hopefully within an hour of breaking news. That’s no longer good enough. With mobile phones in hand, people scroll Twitter and Facebook for instance news - reports within seconds of events, or even live streaming video.

Social media works so fast that some traditional news sites simply embed a social media feed about an event instead of writing a story (which I find highly annoying).

The drawback here is accuracy. The faster a reporter works, the easier it is to make mistakes. It can take time to verify information, but the pressure of instant news doesn’t allow for any delays.

Forever documenting the moment

Having a camera phone at all times allows people to capture every moment of their lives, but is capturing the moment the same as living in the moment?

At concerts and sporting events, especially in Miami, a huge amount of people are on their phones. Are they truly engaged in the action? Or are they trying to create a video to shows off to their jealous friends? A football games, some people are so distracted by their fantasy football league that they aren’t into the game in front of them.

Entertainment is personal

A decade ago, most home entertainment was spent in front of the TV screen or video game console. A family might be watching the same show on one set so they could share their experiences, or some family members might segment into different rooms to view their favorite programs.

Now, the TV is no longer king. Nielsen says that TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds has declined 39 percent since 2011. It also fell sharply in the 25-34 age group. That’s because millennials are spending more times on smartphones than watching TV.

So now family members can sit in the same room, and all be occupied by their individual devices - watching shows, playing games, surfing the web. They are together physically, not socially.

Shopping assistant

The smart phone has made it easier than ever to buy things no matter where you are. That’s great for the sake of convenience, no more trips to the store for one thing - as long as you can wait a day or two.

For compulsive shoppers, that means there’s no escape.

Redefining intelligence

In my high school and college years, certain classes focused on memorization. If you could memorize historical or scientific facts, etc, then you were smart. Even today, many game shows center around memorizing and repeating facts.

Under that definition of intelligence, anyone with a working smart phone is a genius. They can pull up any historical information, scientific fact, pop culture reference, spell perfectly, master geography, and solve the most common math problems. What’s the point of memorizing all of that when the information is one second away in a pocket-sized device? And why are many classes still structured as if smart phones were never invented?

So what’s it mean now to be smart. Perhaps the new intelligence means the ability to separate real information from fake news.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How many people need to die on Facebook Live until tech giant pulls the plug?

Sadly, people are murdered and committee suicide every day. Few of these incidents attract the global spotlight. That’s where Facebook Live and other instantaneous social media platforms come in.

Steve Stephens gained his 15 minutes of fame by fatally shooting complete stranger Robert Godwin, 74, in Cleveland live on Facebook. In Thailand, Wuttisan Wongtalay hung his 11-month-old daughter on Facebook Live before killing himself on the same platform.

Would these crimes, and many before them, have occurred without a global platform to broadcast these murders? These videos were viewed hundreds of thousands of times before Facebook pulled them. It appears that Stephens wanted to draw attention to himself as he dealt with personal problems. Shooting someone in anonymity would be another murder among hundreds every day. But a murder on Facebook Live, that put Stephens’ face all over the world.

That’s why live social media has become more frequently used by young people to broadcast suicide. Drawing more attention to their deaths has a greater impact on the people they blame for their suffering.

I anticipated this trend in my novel Famous After Death, where Miami teenagers commit murders in creative ways and post them online. In my story, most of these murders were recorded and posted soon after without the teens identifying themselves, but several of the crimes occur online in real time - similar to Facebook Live.

The question for Facebook, one of the 10 most valuable companies in the world, is what it’s prepared to do about it. After Godwin was murdered, CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to improve the monitoring of videos on Facebook Live. Right now the company depends on users reporting questionable content. It’s working on artificial intelligence, but that could be years away.

Until a better system is in place and Facebook Live can’t be effectively policed, Zuckerberg should consider taking it down. The world will survive without Facebook Live, and so will the company. It’s a nice feature, but it’s not a crucial part of the website.

What can’t be replaced is the lives of people like Godwin.

Of course, Facebook makes plenty of money off these videos. There are more than 8 billion daily views of Facebook videos. Mobile video advertising is a multi-billion dollar market. So there are financial incentives for Facebook not to back down.

This isn’t only a Facebook problem. Platforms like YouTube, Periscope and Snapchat have been used to promote violence. In some cases, terrorist groups have posted propaganda videos on social media that went unchecked for months. This issue has caused YouTube to pull paid advertising from certain categories of videos, since advertisers didn’t want to run the risk that their ads would run alongside offensive videos.

Facebook Live has the potential to be a great platform. I wish politicians would broadcast all their meetings live on social media instead of striking backroom deals.

But until Zuckerberg and Co. can police it, one murder is too many.