This is my 3rd Place Short Story from the 2016 NETWO Spring Writers Conference Short Story Contest

Click this link to read my short story: Regi Vitam Short Story



Review of “The Martian” by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t given a book I’ve read 5 stars in a long time. It’s been even longer since I had time to write a book review. The fact that I am doing both should be a good indication of what I thought of “The Martian” by Andy Weir.

The basic premise of The Martian is actually an old one-a castaway on an island (think Robinson Crusoe)-except instead of an island, the castaway is on Mars! In The Martian, the “castaway” is Mark Watney who is part of a manned mission to Mars.

Watney and his fellow astronauts are on Mar’s surface when a horrific dust storm strikes. In the confusion, Watney is struck by flying debris and carried off by the storm. Evacuating Mars, Watney is left behind by the other astronauts who presume him to be dead, killed by the storm…but in fact, he is very much alive!

The bulk of the novel is then devoted to Watney, an engineer by training, on how he uses his MacGyver-like ingenuity to use the technology and facilities left behind by the current and previous manned missions to survive. The science is solid, the writing superb, and the storyline fabulous. This book is the real deal and a page-turner you will find hard to put down.

A VERY enthusiastic 5 stars for The Martian!!!

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The Longest RideThe Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Longest Ride was an enjoyable read. It is what I would describe as a “comfortable” read. It is not going to knock you off your feet as say, The Notebook or Message in a Bottle, but if you are a Nicholas Sparks fan, it contains all the characteristics one comes to expect from his books. The Longest Ride has excellent character development, a great story line, and of course, the plot twist or “jolt” at the end. Perhaps the greatest strength of The Longest Ride, is that Sparks spends a great deal of time shaping and developing the relationship between the two main characters, Luke and Sophia. That’s why I like Nicholas Sparks. He has a way of connecting two totally disparate individuals who despite their differences, fall in love. Here we have Luke, a bull riding Cowboy, and Sophia, a sorority girl majoring in Art at Wake Forest, who meet and fall in love. Their journey, and how they fall in love is, of course, the meat of The Longest Ride. If your looking for a Fifty Shades of Grey type book, steer clear of The Longest Ride…as well as all of the books Sparks has written.

The Longest Ride is actually two stories which are intertwined. On the one hand, you have Ira and Ruth, and on the other, Luke and Sophia. Their stories, one of a past relationship, the other of a current and developing relationship, form the bulk of The Longest Ride. Sparks does an excellent job of unspooling each story in a more or less parallel fashion until the climatic ending. At that point, the paths of Ira and Ruth, Luke and Sophia, finally intersect. I found this ending to be a pleasant, if not a somewhat milquetoast conclusion.

A major source of disappointment and irritation to me is Sparks’ insistence on tragic endings in most of his novels. Thankfully, his “formula” in The Longest Ride is not typical, nor does Sparks resort to a ham-handed, cheesy metaphysical presence as he did in The Best of Me. With that said, I would have liked to give The Longest Ride at least four stars, but I could only muster three. There just wasn’t the “pop” that many of his previous books have. Kinda like a soft drink that still tastes good, but the carbonation is somewhat flat.

The Longest Ride is a solid three stars and I recommend it to any fan of Nicholas Sparks.

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a href=”” style=”float: left; padding-right: 20px”>The Last ManThe Last Man by Vince Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Last Man was another great thriller by Vince Flynn. So far, I have read every book written by Flynn, and I have yet to read a bad novel. They are all fast-moving, fast-paced action thrillers.

In The Last Man, the CIA’s top-counterespionage agent in Afghanistan has mysteriously disappeared in an apparent bloody kidnapping. Because this particular agent has intimate knowledge of among other things, the names of covert agents in Muslin countries such as Pakistan, Mitch Rapp is called in to determine what happened to the agent and track him down before he is forced to reveal the names and locations of the CIA’s covert assets.

As is usual with Flynn’s story-lines, Rapp’s efforts are hampered by power-hungry U.S. officials, corrupt foreign agents, sadistic government officials, and religious fanatics…and of course, the clock is ticking! Rapp must solve the mystery of the disappearance of the counterespionage agent before he reveals the identities of U.S agents and they are killed!

Also as usual, Rapp’s methods are straight forward and violent, and the body count rises with each turn of the page. The Last Man builds to a heart-pounding climax, and it includes a “twist” which I found very satisfying.

I liked The Last Man, and if you are a Vince Flynn fan, you will not be disappointed. Four Stars for The Last Man!

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The Black BoxThe Black Box by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Black Box was a great book! In this latest Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly, Bosch is back on the trail of a twenty-year old cold case in which a young female foreign war correspondent is murdered during the height of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Bosch had originally been assigned the case as a young detective twenty years earlier, but because of the riots and the numerous deaths and murders that occurred at that time, he had not been able to do a thorough investigation…something that has haunted him during that entire 20 year period.

Thinking that the cold case was hopeless, Bosch learns that a murder weapon in the course of another investigation is, in fact, the same gun which killed the young woman those twenty years before. As Bosch digs deeper, he begins to uncover a conspiracy which began the night the woman was murdered.

As Bosch closes in on solving the twenty-year old cold case, he finds his direct supervisor as well as the Chief of Police both putting obstacles in his way. Both want his investigation stopped and stopped immediately. Refusing to back down, Bosch incurs their wrath and soon finds himself the object of an internal investigation.

One of the things that I really like about Michael Connelly’s books is that he always keeps me guessing until the end. The Black Box is no exception, and he has another great climax and fantastic finish.

Four Stars for The Black Box!

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Book Review For The Help

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Help was a delightful, thought provoking book. Set in early 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi, it is actually the story (told in first person), of three different characters; Skeeter-a twenty-something white female whose parents are well-to-do cotton farmers; Aibileen-a black maid and nanny for a white family; and Minny-a tart-tongued black maid with five children and an abusive, alcoholic husband.

The Help chronicles the lives of these three people through the turbulent times of the segregated south and the birth of the civil rights movement. Their paths cross, and inexplicably, despite the wall of segregation, all three women find themselves collaborating on a book which records the stories of black maids and nannies and what it is like to work for rich, white families.

The Help is at times touching, as Skeeter recounts the close, loving relationship she had with her own maid, Constantine; at times heart-rending as Aibileen tries to instill a sense of self worth and esteem in Mae Mobley, the toddler she is nanny to because her mother, Elizabeth, thinks she is too fat and ugly and therefore shows her little love; and finally, The Help can be cruel, as Minny loses not only her job but her ability to find a new job based on a lie spread by the manipulative and vindictive character Hilly Holbrook. It has been quite awhile since I have come across a character in a book that is as vile and distasteful as Hilly.

Kathryn Stockett does a masterful job of describing the south that existed in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963. The “verbage” used by Aibileen, Minny, and the other maids, the attitudes about race and race relations, and the documented and sometimes violent history of civil rights, all were weaved together in The Help.

Three things stand out for me in The Help. The first was how Stockett was able to essentially tell three different individual’s stories and integrate them seamlessly into one novel. That was no easy task. The second was balancing an authentic and accurate portrayal of the period that The Help was based upon, such as the vernacular used by poor blacks in the south and the attitudes toward race that existed at this time. It was a fine balancing act, and could have easily come across as patronizing on the one hand, or too “preachy” on the other. Finally, Stockett gave what all good writers do…a human feel to her characters and to their story. Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, despite their differences in class, status, and race, still shared many of the same wants, desires, hopes, and dreams.

And that really is the point of The Help. When you boil it down to the basic complexities of life, race becomes irrelevant, and there really isn’t that many differences between us.

Four very solid stars for The Help!

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KETK Interview

Click the link below to watch my interview with KETK.  I was honored to be interviewed and am excited to have it posted online for you to enjoy.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Have you ever come across a story which chronicles the lives of people who suddenly become rich? For example, someone who wins the lottery and becomes a millionaire overnight? Or how about someone who suddenly comes into a large inheritance? What happens to these people once they are wealthy beyond their wildest dreams? In our society, we often associate happiness with material possessions, yet time and again, how many times do we read of the misery, the unhappiness, and the downright bizarre that happen to those who come into sudden wealth.

Lottery winners are perhaps the best examples of individuals who become overnight millionaires.  While many have benefited from their sudden wealth and gone on to live solid, productive lives, there are some glaring exceptions.  Reflect if you will on the following unfortunate lottery winners:

Consider Andrew Jackson Whittaker.  Until 2012, Whittaker was the single largest lottery winner in US history when in December, 2002, he won a $314.9 million dollar jackpot.   Robbed several times, including once when he was robbed of over $500,000, Whittaker  started drinking heavily, wrote hot checks to Atlantic City casinos, and even had a granddaughter (whom he supported with a weekly $2,000 stipend) die of a drug overdose.  Hardly the circumstances Whittaker could have imagined when he won his huge jackpot.

Other examples include:

(1) William “Bud” Post who won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1988.  His own brother tried to hire a hit man to kill him for his inheritance, a former girlfriend successfully sued him for a share of his winnings, and ultimately, he was forced to file for bankruptcy.  Today he lives off food stamps and Social Security

(2) Winning the $31 million Texas Lottery in 1997, Billie Bob  Harrell Jr. committed suicide two years later.

(3) Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey Lottery not once but twice in 1985 and 1986.  Gambling and high living caused her to spend all of her winnings, and today, she lives in a trailer.

(4) Jeffery Dampier won $20 million in the Illinois Lottery in 1996.  Seven years later, he was kidnapped by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend who demanded money from him.  He was found in the back of a van dead after being shot through the head, and his sister-in-law and her boyfriend were charged with his murder.

Now these are extreme examples, but you cannot pass a magazine rack in the supermarket or a newspaper stand that doesn’t chronicle the dysfunctional and often, sad lives of numerous movie stars, celebrities, or otherwise famous and successful people.  By all accounts, they should be happy; they have wealth, fame, and success.  So why are they often so desperately unhappy?

I attempt to answer this question in my novel, The Treasure Hunt Club.  You see, I believe that many times, our values are misplaced, and that what we ought to place a high value on, we often take for granted.  As Thomas Paine once said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly”.  Those intangibles that make life worth living such as family, friends, love and acceptance ought to take precedence in our lives.  But money, fame, and material possessions are routinely how we measure happiness and success.  So this begs the question; what value would you place on such things?

As the saying goes…be careful what you ask for.

Short Story – “The Good Son”

“How are you doing son?” Paul Stephens asked.

Cold, gray light filtered in from partially opened blinds, and a dim illumination filled the hospital room.   Stirring, Paul’s son, Jacob turned in his bed and looked at his father.

“That depends, Daddy.” Jacob said in a voice made dry and raspy by the various medications he was taking.  “For a person with terminal liver disease, I guess I’m doing pretty well.  Compared to the ninety-nine percent of the population with normal, healthy livers…maybe not so good.”

A tear slid down Paul’s cheek, and he quickly turned away.  His son needed his support, not an emotional display.

Jacob, seeing his father’s discomfort, punched the controls on his bed and raised the back to an upright position.  Struggling, he sat up, the effort leaving him breathless.  A morphine drip fed into a tube which trailed from the needle taped to the vein in his arm.  Leads from a heart and blood pressure monitor trailed from a cuff on his finger, the monitor issuing a muted beep, beep, beep in time with his heart.  Absently, he brushed the tube and leads aside and looked at his father.

“Sorry, Daddy…just feeling a little bitter.  That’s all.”

Paul forced a smile on his face and patted Jacob on the arm.

“No need to apologize, son.  I understand.”

Rubbing his eyes, Jacob looked around the hospital room.  He didn’t see his mother or sisters…which was just as well.  Sooner or later his mother would start crying, which in turn would cause both of his sisters to start crying, and that, of course, always ended up making Jacob feel even more morose and depressed.

Flowers, potted plants, and dozens of “Get Well Soon” cards, and were scattered throughout his modest hospital room.  Most were from the members of Oak Hill Baptist Church where his father was pastor, and Jacob supposed they were there in an attempt to cheer him up.  The air should have been filled with the sweet aroma of the numerous flowers, but all Jacob smelled now was a scent faintly akin to cinnamon…his sense of smell apparently a casualty of the various meds he was taking.

Taking another glance at the flowers and cards, Jacob shook his head.  His father’s parishioners were well meaning, and many had even dropped by to visit him.  But, they were either misguided or misinformed.  You got over a cold.  You recovered from an appendectomy.  You didn’t “get well” from liver failure.

What you did was die.

But…that was alright.  Jacob had come to terms with his impending death.  All the doctors , all the tests, all the medications, even the false sense of hope when he had been placed on a donor list, all they had served to do was take him on an emotional roller coaster that left him more completely wrung out than his disease.  The effect on his family had been the worst to take.  He would die only once.  His mother, his father, and his two sisters; they died every time his doctors broke the latest bad news to them about his condition.

Jacob closed his eyes.  He was so tired…so fatigued.  The fact of the matter was that he was ready to go, ready to pass.  He had screwed up his life, brought pain to his family, his friends, and pretty much anyone who had tried to get close to him.  His ultimate foolishness, his crowning “I Did It My Way” act had been when his drug use had degenerated into intravenous shooting up.

One dirty needle had been all it took to destroy his liver.

That he would pay the final price—that of his lifefor his selfish and short-sighted debauchery, seemed just to Jacob.  The penalty, as they say, fit the crime, and Jacob had no one to blame but himself.  He had accepted this and should have achieved some balance, some serenity, but overwhelming guilt would not let him.  His family had suffered because of himwere still sufferingand they were the real victims, not Jacob Stephens.

While his entire family had gone through hell because of him, Jacob realized there was one person who had suffered disproportionately; one family member whose pain was far more acute.

His father.

They had been inseparable almost from birth, fishing, hunting, playing pick-up basketball in the driveway until it was too dark to see, and his daddy had coached him at every level of baseball from pee wee to majors.  Not once during that entire time he was growing up did he remember his father ever raising a cross word to him in anger.  His father had also lived the faith he professed from the pulpit, not because it was expected of him, but because he actually believed in God’s power and God’s love.  In short, he was a model father and parent in a world with precious few of either.

And yet, Jacob had rebelled.

He couldn’t put his finger on the exact time or place, but he figured he started pulling back from his parents at some point during his freshman year in high school.  Why?  Who could say?  When you’re fifteen, everything seems magnified, and everything seems take on life and death importance!  All he knew was that once he had started down that path, there had been no turning back.  It was like he had fallen into a deep, black pit.

And he had just kept falling.

“I’m sorry, Daddy.  So, so sorry,” Jacob whispered.

Paul looked up in surprise.  He thought Jacob had fallen back asleep.  He was like that now…falling asleep suddenly.  The doctors had warned them that as Jacob weakened and his pain medication was increased, these sudden bouts of sleep would come more frequently.

Paul reached out and tenderly took Jacob’s hand in his own.

“Sorry?  Jacob, you have absolutely nothing to be sorry about.  You know that.”

Jacob squeezed his father’s hand.  “You don’t have to say that, Daddy.  I know what I’ve done, what I put you and Mama through.”

Jacob looked past his father, as if he was looking at something far away and distant.  Finally, he said, “I wish I could have been a good son, Daddy.  I wish I could have been the son you deserve.”

Paul felt his heart breaking.  What was he to say?  What was he to do?  Jacob’s pale and shrunken features wore a mask of shame, misery, and defeat.  Abruptly, he realized what he should have known all along.  It wasn’t just liver failure that was causing Jacob to waste away.

It was a disease of the heart; of the soul.

How could he have missed it?  How could he have been so blind?  How could he of all people not see the obvious signs?  What his son needed wasn’t anything his doctor’s could supply.

He needed peace.

Listen, he admonished himself.  Listen to what your son has to say!

Scooting his chair closer to Jacob’s bed, Paul gripped Jacob’s frail hand more firmly and held it tightly to his chest.  “Why do you say that, Jacob?  Why do you believe you haven’t been a good son?”

The question was straight forward and direct, even disingenuous, and Paul knew the answer was obvious to Jacob, but that wasn’t the point.  Jacob had a boil, a pus-filled infection of the soul that needed lancing, and it needed to be drained before he could start the process of healing, and before he could obtain the peace he was so desperately seeking.

“Because I hurt you, Daddy.  Because I lived a life that was a direct contradiction to your own.  I always knew you loved me.  Always knew that no matter what, you and Mama would bail me out and try to fix things for me.”

Jacob stopped, his eyes brimming with tears.

”But you know,” he finally managed to say, “All that seemed to do was make me worse, like I had a blank check to do whatever I pleased!”

Jacob looked over at his father, his eyes pleading.  “You have to understand, Daddy!  When you’re a preacher’s kid, it’s like you’re under a microscope!  Everybody’s looking at you, everybody’s expects you to act in a certain way, and everybody is just waiting for you to make a mistake and to mess up!  It’s like you’re life is not your own!”

The words came faster and faster now, boiling up and out of Jacob like an erupting volcano.

“I knew better, Daddy!  I knew I was making wrong choices!  But once I got started drinking and doing drugs, it just got easier and easier until one day…” Jacob’s voice tailed off, his voice co constricted with emotion he couldn’t speak.

The hospital room fell silent, the only sound the ticking of the clock on the wall.

“Until one day, I didn’t feel anything at all,” Jacob finally whispered.

The moment of truth had arrived.  The clarity of it rang out in Paul’s mind like a bell, and he gripped his son’s hand tighter.

“I forgive you, son…and if you’ll let Him, God will forgive you too.”

Hope flashed in Jacob’s eyes like that of a drowning man thrown a life preserver.

“But, why, Daddy?  Why would you forgive me?  Why would God even want to forgive me?  I can’t even forgive myself!”

A smile slowly grew across Paul’s face as he considered Jacob’s words.

“You already answered that questions yourself, son.  Remember, you said you knew that I loved you.  That’s what forgiveness is all about.  It has no limitations and it has no expiration date.”

“Listen to me,” Paul continued as he leaned forward toward Jacob.  “You are my son, and I’ve loved you since the day you were born.  I will always love you, and nothing, absolutely nothing will ever change that!  And here’s the best part of all.  As much as I love you; as much as your mother and sisters love you; it pales in comparison to how much God loves you!”

Jacob looked at his father.  Like clouds parting after a storm, his face brightened and he visibly relaxed.  A glow, a bloom of vigor seemed to appear on his cheeks.

Closing his eyes, Jacob fell asleep.

Paul awoke with a start.  He was sprawled in a chair near the window next to Jacob’s bed.  Pushing the chair back, he stood stiffly and tried to work out the kinks in his back and neck.  Looking around, he didn’t see his wife or daughters.  No telling where they were although he thought there was a good chance they went out for a bite to eat.  They probably left sometime after he had dozed off.

Suddenly, Paul stopped.  Something…something was amiss.  Abruptly, he realized what it was.  Jacob’s heart monitor was silent!  It wasn’t beeping!

Rushing to Jacob’s bed, he saw Jacob sitting up with his eyes closed, the back of the bed still in the upright position.  Desperately, Paul searched for a pulse, and finding none, he collapsed on the bed and began sobbing.

After a few moments, Paul managed to push himself up.  Through eyes rimmed red with tears, he looked up at Jacob.  The stress lines, the pinched expression that seemed permanently etched on his face…they were gone!  Instead, he wore a visage that Paul instantly recognized.

It was the face of his son, Jacob…before the drinking, before the drugs, and before his life began its downward spiral.

Gently, Paul reached out and touched Jacob’s cheek.  In death, it had grown cold, and Paul felt fresh tears spring to his eyes.  Looking down, he saw that Jacob had something clutched in his hands.  Reaching down, he pulled a pocket-sized notepad from Jacob’s hand.  There was writing on the first page.  Rubbing his eyes to clear them of tears, he saw that the writing was by Jacob’s hand.  It read:


It’s funny how some things can be so simple and yet they are not clear at all.  With me, that was associating love with forgiveness.  I should have known all along that because you loved me, you would always forgive me.  I don’t know why I ever thought otherwise.  Knowing you forgive me means more to me, Daddy, than anything in this life.  And like you said, God loves me too.  Because I know this, I can look forward to seeing you, Mama, and the whole family again someday.  You don’t know how happy that makes me feel.  On that day, I promise, I will always and forever be…your good son.

Short Story – “Tattoo Me, Tatto You”

Click here to Read this Short Story