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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Posting assault on victim's Facebook page backfires for these two

Most Facebook users have probably had the experience of a person something on their page they'd rather not share with the world - a drinking face, bad hair day, the ex you were supposed to be done with. Delete! A video of you curled up in the fetal position getting beaten would be a most unwelcome addition to your Facebook page.

That's exactly what two (alleged) assailants did to Frankie Santana, a Detroit resident with cerebral palsy, which restricts his movements. The two 20-year-olds stole his phone, recorded his beating on it and then posted it all over Facebook, including on the victim's page.

See a snippet of what they did from this report via Fox 2 in Detroit.

 It certainly wasn't hard to catch them and prosecutors should have no problem finding enough evidence.

As I've highlighted in my novel Famous After Death, it's not enough for bullies and killers to hurt their victims physically, they want to shame them emotionally. Social media has become their weapon of choice.

Hopefully next time someone tags Mr. Santana on Facebook, the message will be more uplifting.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Six Can’t Miss Events at the Miami Book Fair

There are more reasons than I can count to catch the Miami Book Fair during its Nov. 15 to 22 run. I’ll list six here, and maybe I’ll see you there during my presentation.

I’m honored to be one of more than 450 authors participating in the Miami Book Fair this year with the event in its 32nd edition. It’s the largest book fair in the United States and it has something for everybody, including kids, readers of Spanish and Creole, and comic book fans. For avid book shoppers, the street fair at Miami Dade College’s downtown campus on Nov. 20 to 22 is a fantastic opportunity to buy books at a discount.

There will be author presentations both during the street fair and in the week leading up to it. Here are some recommended picks.

An insider’s take on the economy

Robert B. Reich, the secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, will discuss his new novel Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. There’s an argument between centrist Democrats and Democratic Socialists like Bernie Sanders whether capitalism is out of control and working to the advantage of the wealthy.

The news man ditches the teleprompter

I used to watch the evening news all the time. I rarely catch it now, but when I do and I see all the ads for medication, well, that reveals the demographic of who’s still tuned in. Tom Brokaw anchored the NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004, during a time when it was the main source of news for many people. Not only will he discuss his broadcast journalism career, he’ll reflect on his battle with blood cancer as told in A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope.

The architect of Obama’s Hope

David Axelrod was the chief campaign adviser to President Obama in 2008 and 2012, so you either love him or you hate him. Either way, it’s interesting to hear what he things of the current presidential campaign and whether the Super PACs and their unlimited donations have changed the playbook needed to win. His new book is Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Women of Science

Three women who wrote science-themed books will share the spotlight. I’m particularly interested in Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk, who started forward-thinking companies like Tesla and SpaceX. Margaret Lazarus Dean wrote Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight - a subject that’s depressing for me as an author of science fiction. How did we fall so far behind in space travel and, really, aerospace. Maybe it’s because we need more women involved in hard sciences, as Eileen Pollack tackles that subject in The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boy’s Club.

A Journey to the Dark and Supernatural

Tananarive Due writes novels that are both creepy and touching so I’m eager to hear what she’s crafted in her story collection Ghost Summer.  I saw her at the Book Fair a few years ago and she was amazing. She’ll be joined by Benjamin Percy, author of The Dead Lands, and Jennifer McMahon, author of The Night Sister.

Authors in the Line of Fire

A group of brave authors will take questions before a live audience from New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul. Among my favorite, thriller writer Brad Meltzer. I’ve interviewed him several times and he has a great sense of humor, so this should be fun.

While you’re at the Book Fair be sure to check out my presentation “Murder Most Viral” on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 10 a.m. I’m humbled that they’ve selected me to speak in a solo gig and that’ll be cool because I have a lot to say about how social media is promoting violence. If you haven't heard me read from Famous After Death, you are in for a shock.

Grab your coffee and hit the fair early to beat the traffic.

Friday, September 18, 2015

New Wynwood could price out hipsters who made it thrive

In Miami real estate, you either sprint or fall on your face. There's no such thing as steady growth. So goes the case with Wynwood.

Creative planning by artists and local investors transformed the neighborhood from empty warehouses into a district with stunning street art, popular restaurants and bars and emerging retail.

It's expected that property values would grow to reflect the promise. Instead, many recent deals have given Wynwood higher valuations than established retail markets in wealthy areas, such as Coral Gables and Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale.

My print edition centerpiece in the South Florida Business Journal explores where the neighborhood is heading.

The fear of many is the higher property valuations will lead to expensive rents that will price out the artists and local businesses that made Wynwood so successful. I interviewed several property owners that said they would keep key local groups like Panther Coffee and artists, but they're investing tens of millions of dollars because they expect a substantial return from new tenants. Will those big money tenants change the hipster character of Wynwood? Can they sell enough goods to justify $80 per square foot in rent?

Certainly, the new zoning that Miami could finalize for Wynwood will increase the ability of developers to build apartments, condos and hotels there. They're targeted the young, creative professional class. However, it's important that homes in Wynwood are priced below those in areas such as downtown, Brickell and Edgewater. Construction costs aren't going to differ much between those neighborhoods so Wynwood developers will need to find a way to be less expensive for residents.

I'll tell you this about Wynwood, bring it up to any real estate professional in Miami and they're either all in or they won't touch it. There's no such thing as middle ground, or a steady pace, in Miami.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Murder on the Beach gets Famous After Death

I just delivered copies of my novel Famous After Death to the delightful Murder on the Beach independent bookstore in Delray Beach. It's in the Pineapple Grove neighborhood just north of downtown, an area that's always a blast to visit for its restaurants, bars and shops.

Come see me at Murder on the Beach on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. for a reading and signing of Famous After Death. Just ask the people who saw me at Books & Books this month, you need to hear the way I voice the characters in this story about murder gone viral.

Murder on the Beach, located at 273 Pineapple Grove Way (N.E. 2nd Ave.), is a bookstore that specializes in mystery, thrillers, true crime and horror. It also has games, and creepy decorations.

And since it's in downtown Delray Beach, once my event's finished you can go out and have a drink.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

My radio interview: What drives teenagers to murder?

Cyrus Webb interviewed me for his ConversationsLIVE show on Blog Talk Radio this week. After reading my novel Famous After Death and writing a glowing review of the book, he asked me in-depth questions where the story came from.

Here’s a sample of what went down on the air:

When did you first have the seed planted that this was a book that you wanted to write?

I started working on it in 2010. I had the initial idea that I wanted to write about teenagers who were putting their crimes on the internet to get attention for it. I knew this was beginning to happen and I wanted to understand. These were teenagers who were smart enough to do it anonymously. And real life sort of beat be to the punch. You had a freshman at Rutgers jump to his death after his roommate filmed him making out with another man and his roommate put it on his Facebook page to bully him. There was a column by Leonard Pitts in the Miami Herald who wrote about how people are using the internet to bully people and to trash them here and the internet can bring out the ugliness with us. And that stuck with me. That was the point of my novel to show how people are using social media in the wrong way.

There was something that I was not expecting that came up in this book and that was the family element. Did you know going in that you wanted to make these young people more than just savage, that you wanted to show us the human side of them by letting us see their family?

I felt it was important to understand all of them got into a situation where they were juvenile delinquents, where they wanted to play pranks on people online, not really caring if the people got hurt. This doesn’t happen randomly. There’s a reason. The lead character Jorge, he’s very much a loner. He’s trying to make friends. He wears big black trench coats in Miami and doesn’t fit in. His mother is sort of OCD and so he is trying to get attention from the other boys. He wants to use his intelligence only to act like he’s cool and fit in.

Kelso is from a wealthy family where his dad is a motocross star and his younger brother is really the big guy in the family because he’s a great skater. He’s a better skater than Kelso. His brother always finishes first and Kelso is finishes distance. So he’s trying to show that he’s the man, that he can get a lot of hits from his videos. He feels like he’s passed over for his brother.

And Chris, who acts in a mean way toward everybody, he’s from a broken home where his father left his mother and started a modeling agency, and he’s with all the models. So he’s feels that angry inside that his family was broken and he’s angry at both parents and wants to take it out on everyone else.

Go here to listen to the full interview with Cyrus Webb.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book it! I've lined up two great author events

I'm excited to announce two upcoming author events in support of my second novel "Famous After Death."

Come see me at Books and Books - Publishers Weekly's Bookstore of the Year in 2015. I'll be speaking at the 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables store on Monday August 17 at 8 p.m. I've been practicing an animated read of an explosive chapter from "Famous After Death."

Here are the details of the event. You can also purchase the novel directly from Books and Books now. Wouldn't you rather shop with a local businessman like Mitchell Kaplan than Jeff Bezos?


The Miami Book Fair International has confirmed me as a speaker on Sunday November 22 at Miami-Dade College's downtown campus. Details will be worked out later. This will be my second speaking engagement at the country's largest book fair. It's a must-go festival for book lovers.

Finally, if you want a preview of what I will likely discuss at events, check out my guest post on Criminal Element about "The Top 8 Crimes That Went Viral." Can you believe that people promote their crimes on social media? It's not just fiction.

If you comment on my Criminal Element story before July 30, you are entered in a sweepstakes to win a free copy of "Famous After Death". So let me hear you!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

What could inspire me to write something so outrageous?

Now that “Famous After Death” is finally out and people can actually read it (without hacking into my computer) I’m sure people who know me and race through the first chapter will wonder what inspired me to write this.

The thriller starts with three Miami teenagers dangling a blowup doll over a highway overpass at night and waiting to see what happens when a car smashes it. WTF are they thinking? It’s an adrenalin burst amid their mundane lives and a way to seek glory on social media. See, the camera is out.

They’re sitting on the edge, bubbling with laughter but deep down terrified at what could happen. It’s a rush, until the police car rolls under the street light.

You might think I couldn’t be more different from those teenage delinquents. Truth is, I know what they were feeling. I took part in some “pranks” as a teenager that could have ended badly but didn’t.

One time I hid behind a fence and threw apples at cars driving by. Did I consider what could happen if the flying fruit distracted the driver and led to an accident? No. I wanted to see something go splat. I nailed a convertible good. Then it stopped and the driver got out. It was a huge guy, with arms as wide as my head.

At 14, I was just as short as I am today. My friend ran but I stood there paralyzed as the hulking guy scaled the fence and stormed towards me. He hoisted me over his head with his arms fully extended. This is it, I thought, he’s going to power bomb me on the pavement Undertaker style.

The man set me down and walked away, his point proven. One would think I’d have learned my lesson. Not even close. I wanted to top it.

What can I say? I was an asshole. Ok, I’m still an asshole, but at least I’m not a stupid asshole.

The fortunate thing for me is there weren’t cell phone cameras and social media sites when I was a teen in the ‘90s. By the time those came about, I came to the revelation that destroying stuff for no reason wasn’t so funny…unless it has a New York Jets logo on it.

Teenage delinquents today don’t have it so easy. Everything in their lives is chronicled on social media, so why not their pranks? It’s not hard to find clips of teens lighting things on fire, fighting, and humiliating people. Most of these jerks haven’t figured out that immortalizing their faces online will make them unemployable, unless they want a part in the next Jackass movie. 

What if they were smarter than that? What if one of the teenage delinquents was computer savvy and posted the videos anonymously? That’s what happens in “Famous After Death” and praise from the sadistic fringe online inspires them to go bold for their next deadly pranks.

There’s this stage some teenagers have where they feel invincible yet they can’t comprehend the damage they can cause. Looking back, I’m relieved that no one got hurt because of me.

If I was a teenager today, I’m afraid how it would go. I might become famous for the wrong reason.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dropping lines from my sizzling new novel, which will be released one day, I promise

I wish I could share my entire novel Famous After Death with you today as I intended, although I have some feisty snippets to whet your appetite.

Yeah, I’m sort of eating crow after previously announcing its release by June. I got a call from a balling , book-starved Oprah, but I calmed her down and promised it would be out soon.

What’s the hold up? The novel has been edited. We need to put the finishing touches on a few things, including the layout of the cover. My publisher Silver Leaf Books is determined to release multiple books this summer and into the early fall, so I must be patient as all of them are prepared. At this point, I don’t have a hard release date from my publisher but I’m sure it’s close.

I’m sorry, Oprah, I can’t tell you exactly how close. To make sure you get Famous After Death on your doorstep at the earliest date possible, you can pre-order it from Silver Leaf Books here.

What I can do is share some of my favorite lines from Famous After Death with you. Like any good movie, a book should have plenty of one-liners and, what they call in the wrestling business, verbal pipe bombs.

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in Famous After Death.

Better to live on a roller coaster than treading water.
Clyde’s physique was perfectly sculpted for a desk and chair. Occasionally, he met a paper clip that needed a firm twisting.
“Just imagine how it’ll feel when we make him lay belly-down on the pavement after he took Viagra. Raging hard-on, meet unforgiving concrete.”
As Uncle Alberto had told him in his last letter from jail, a man owns his transgressions. Just don’t let them catch you owning them.
“You’re the man of the family now, Jorge. Are you gonna be another faceless teenager? Or are you gonna be a roaming panther?”
“You don’t trust seedy men, but that’s the only kind you’ll attract acting all fakakta.”
“Don’t look at me like that,” his mom said. “You don’t scare me.” (Response): “Then you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”
“Sorry I didn’t dress the part. It seems that my clothes were soaked with blood tonight. A woman’s blood. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?”
“It’s so easy to hide behind a computer and laugh at the horrors of the innocent. But you’re not passive. They’re killing on your behalf.”
“Get on your knees and put your hands behind your head.” (Response): “Your momma can get on her knees.”
You think you know what it’s like to lose everything you love? No you don’t. Not yet.
There’s plenty more where that came from. When Famous After Death is out, I urge you to share your favorite lines from the book with me via video. Silver Leaf Books will post the best fan-read lines from the book on its website.

More information on this special video coming soon. After all, what’s a book about murder gone viral without viral reader interaction?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April Fool’s and Viral Pranks Rule - my novel’s coming soon

I’ll be straight up with you this April Fool’s Day, I love a good prank.

I’m not saying that I dupe my co-workers or friends. That ceases being cute at a certain age and strays into jerk territory. I love viral pranks, the endless reel of YouTube slapstick featuring such classics as shackling the sleeping drunk, the shove into the pool, and the paintball gun ambush.

While enjoying all this hilarity I wonder, what is possessing these kids (and immature adults) to universally declare themselves assholes by starting in these prank videos? Would any decent employer hire them after this?

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Not to them. Posting their pranks online is their validation. All the clicks, likes, retweets and comments fill the void that seeks acceptance. When I was a kid, I did stupid things to get attention in class because I didn't know how to socialize like a normal person. This was before everyone had an outlet to reach billions of eyeballs.

That leads me to my new book, which - and this is no joke - is coming out soon. Famous After Death will be released by Silver Leaf Books by June 1.

What happens when a viral prank goes too far? In Famous After Death, three Miami teenagers hang a blowup doll off an overpass hoping to film cars slamming into it. They didn’t think a police office would fall for their trap with disastrous results. The opportunity to post the video online is too tantalizing for them to pass up.

Famous After Death explores what motives the teenagers to seek viral fame with increasingly violent pranks. The difference between these teens and most online pranksters is they are clever enough to stay off camera and post anonymously.

You can see the Famous After Death page at Silver Leaf Books now. The cover isn’t quite finalized, but the image you see there is the one I’m going with, thanks to El Cesana.

I’m shifting into publicity mode, so stay tuned for some articles, events and, just maybe, another offering on YouTube. I’ll try not to hurt anyone.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brian Williams shouldn’t return to NBC News

Did I ever tell you about the time I broke out of Saddam Hussein’s prison with a nail filer, stormed his palace single-handedly and escaped seconds before the entire complex exploded? No?

Good, because it didn’t happen. If only Brian Williams could separate fact from fantasy.

The six month suspension NBC News slapped evening news anchor and managing editor Williams with today isn’t enough. The breach of trust he created with the public is too deep to fully repair.

That’s not to say Williams can’t continue his career. There’s simply no way he can be the face of a news organization, an institution that must command credibility, when his credibility is shot.

It’s one thing to make a mistake in a story or to misspeak. All journalists, me included, can admit to the occasional error as long as it’s promptly corrected.

However, Williams’ repeated yarns about being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq weren’t a mere mistake. His fictional account of events provided for some entertaining banter as he sat on the couch across from David Letterman. It made him seem brave. Williams forgot that the news is about world events and the public, not him.

That wasn’t a slip up. That wasn’t the fog of war clouding his memory. I don’t see how any civilian who is rarely in dangerous situations could mistake a life-and-death event like that.

The six month suspension, which will cost him about $5 million, will allow time for the controversy to cool off. Still, I don’t see how the public can accept Williams being the mouthpiece for NBC News or its managing editor. He could return to NBC, or elsewhere, as a correspondent with someone fact-checking his work. But he can’t be the person with the ultimate responsibility for the entire broadcast.

An honest reputation takes a second to destroy and a lifetime to rebuild.

Now if Williams wants some pointers on writing fiction, I can volunteer. Ever hear about the time right after Hurricane Katrina when Williams’ boat was attacked by a mutant, purple eyed gator?