Monday, November 10, 2014

Tyranny or Bust....

I've been a little bored as of late. Nothing too serious, and certainly nothing which would offend the sensibilities. But nonetheless, I could use a pick me up. I was thinking the other day about which I'd rather be: a tyrant, a dictator, or just a plain old despot. Tyrant won out.

Imagine the sunny possibilities and you'll be as giddy inside as am I.

Listening to critics would be a concept of the past. In fact, I'd have the power to do so many despicable things to my foes at the slightest hint of back talk or constructive criticism. I will say what I want, when I want, to whom I want, and dare anyone to raise a single disgruntled syllable in defiance. (Hmmm...this could actually work.)

Rich beyond traditional measure, your money would suddenly - and until death do US part - become my money. A palace would be in order, don't you think? And a yacht. And a fleet of cars. And if history is any guide, I'll require a large and very gaudy military-inspired wardrobe in various tans and shades of green with dark sunglasses and epilates made from the tusks of adolescent elephants. I would need a trove of servants with a low threshold for pain and an insane need to please me in every way I could imagine. I wouldn't be that difficult to please, but just in case, they shouldn't be too attached to their limbs. Or their mothers. It's hard to find good help these days. Am I right, or am I right?

I'd certainly have to do something about the international community, though, as world leaders of democracies and those who ally with them tend to look down upon those of us who rule with a keen eye, and a wide albeit ferocious iron hand. I'll print my own money, plastering my face across our national currency, so the sanctions which will be inevitably dumped on me four or five or twenty years in (depending on what I can do for those world leaders of democracies and those who ally with them so they'll look the other way, or if I can get a printing press from the CIA, I'm just sayin')...either way, it won't matter much. I'll have an army and maybe a navy if I'm by the sea...oh how I love the sea...and I can use those forces to protect myself until an upstart makes a play for my power. But wait. As the leader of the military, several well-timed'training opportunities' should be all that's required to keep my people in line and cherishing me until either they die of strikingly unnatural causes or until I no longer need them.

What I sat and wondered, though, was where my mentors in tyranny went wrong. Saloth Sar (aka Pol Pot) had a tiny addiction to killing people, murdering what is believed to be about 25 percent of the Cambodian population during his reign, using the brutal policies of the Khmer Rouge. He clearly needed a friend. Although the numbers of tortured and murdered were much lower - somewhere around half a million - the crazy but amazingly influential Idi Amin amassed a ginormous pile of both cash and never-ending titles (e.g., His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshall Alhaji Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, and CBE). At some point, he was very politley asked to leave Uganda. I'll bet even he didn't know what DSO stood for. And that's the real shame here, isn't it? And who could forget about everyone's current favorite, Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584). Famous for his abolute fits of rage, and the whispered mental illness that probably contributed to Ivan's less than cordial disposition, he is credited with transforming Mother Russia, in part, into the countries of the former Soviet Union that we all so love today. Last on this list, but absolutely positively not last in our hearts, let's talk about that crazy kid from North Korea. Don't get me spun up about this guy. He's playing the game like a true champion, folks. He inherited a country from his dying father and dead grandfather (technically, in that order), he magically made a woman appear (not like Kelly what's her name from 'Weird Science') who may or may not have been married to someone else at the time of her discovery, he has routinely taught his underlings lessons in loyalty and marksmanship by murdering and exiling those who challenge him, or anybody caught watching South Korea's version of Univision - there's a joke in there. And let's not ignore the funny way he likes to test the world's mental and military resolve by gleefully launching rockets and playing hide-and-seek with a mysterious stash of enriched uranium. Genius, really.

Okay, I've got the trappings. I have the mentors (and I know what to do and what not to do...a nod to you, Messers Stalin and Hitler). I know how to thwart reproach from the international community and profit mightily from the labor and natural resources of the country which I will rule by murder and maim...shout out that dastardly desert Wiley Coyote, Saddam Hussein. But I don't know how to actually become a tyrant. I'm 42 and it's probably too late to instill a deep and biting hatred of my parents at this stage in my life. I don't have the intestinal fortitude to begin torturing animals or attempt to take someone's life for sport. I'm not really all that good at stealing things, and I'd probably look rather foolish attempting to take over a bank and claim everything within for myself, including the sub-prime mortgages and HR nightmares. I am not an insignificant military wannabe, and I don't plan to enlist what with my bum shoulder, intermittent tennis elbow, and my severe disdain for anything that requires rolling under barbed wire or eating ready-made dehydrated food out of a bag. I haven't quite developed a taste for blood, or the ability to influence others to do anything short of let me into traffic - even when I've decided to throw caution to the wind and use my blinker. And I can only assume that I wouldn't look good in epilates. Although I do rock burnt sienna and most oranges. My color wheel runneth over.

All is however not lost. Propped up by the current net neutrality John Oliver told me about, the amazing and ever-flowering Internet has come to my rescue disguised as In its cavernous bosom I have found a book - an actual paper copy book - on how to be a successul tyrant (the only books I advertise for free are 'The Brotherhood' and 'Chief of Staff' by Mark Vertreese...go to if you want to see the dictator book for yourself). The shock and awe has yet to abate. As soon as I figure out how to skim somebody's credit card, or hook up with one of those crazy Russian gangs who ripped off Target or The Home Depot for one of the extra cards they have on file, I'm going grab that thing using somebody else's Amazon Prime because I have some reading to do.

Go ahead and start hiding your women and children and money. But not too well because I don't want this to resemble work. And like David Banner said (if you have to look that up, you are no longer my friend), you probably won't like me when I'm angry. Even though I look particularly good in green, as well.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Accident of Birth

I don't know yet if this post is going to win me any friends, if it is going to alienate the ones that I have, or keep those who are brave enough to call me friend right where they belong - next to me and supporting me, even if/when they don't agree with everything I'm saying.  That goes for family, too.  I'm amazed often at how impactful words can be - and I'm in the business of words!  I laugh when people say that a word is just a word, and it is only ascribed meaning when someone wants to make something out of nothing (e.g., backing up the use of retarded or cracker or the famed N-word).  It is asinine to me that someone should very much deliberately and painfully dismiss the feelings of another person when they are saying to you that words used against them maliciously are hurtful; waiving off the interpretation as biased or colored by unfair historical significance, or just the willful 'Fuck You' that so many people use to respond these days when they're cornered and are unwilling to apologize for something so nonsensical.

I found myself thinking today as I scrolled through Facebook, landing on a post wherein it would be argued that Bill O'Reilly is out of touch with the reality swirling around him, the object of Jon Stewart's prejudicial and well-planned trapping of the uber conservative.  Two little words fueled Stewart and befuddled O'Reilly: White Privilege.

The argument Stewart put forth, and the one which the FOX News golden boy tried to answer was this: White privilege not only exists, but it is the basis upon which the subjugation and continuous discrimination and oppression of blacks (and other minority groups) rests today.  I thought I was going to witness the world's first self-decapitation, waiting with baited breath for Bill O'Reilly to say something completely stupid. I didn't have to wait long.

He claimed that with the non-existence of slavery and the dismantling of Jim Crow, the very fact that Stewart dared mention the concept, the misnomer, even, of white privilege was offensive to his core.  He intimated that there is equal footing in this country, that the most powerful man in the world is black, and that the most powerful woman in the world is also black.

I had to chuckle at that one for a minute.  Okay, so the most powerful man in the world, President Barack Obama, is black.  Hmm...biracial, yes.  The most powerful man in the world?  Certainly not.  The dilution of the Office of the President of the United States is another topic, completely.

Do you know whom Bill O'Reilly counts as the most powerful woman in the world?  Oprah Winfrey.  I know.  I should have told you to sit down for that one.

Stewart and O'Reilly traded facts and pseudo-facts and tidbits about where O'Reilly grew up in the 50s and 60s (finally acquiescing to Stewart's point that blacks weren't even ALLOWED to live in the same area during the same period).  Stewart argued that a history of oppression dealt to the black community, by the hand of the white majority, has created a systemic and defiled existence, particularly in the inner city, which has trapped and theoretically enslaved generation after generation of black Americans, relegating them to substandard existences with little to no hope of breaking the cycle that is all they've ever known.

Part of that makes complete and total sense to me.  It is with rare exception (at least exception that is covered by the national news media) that individuals - let alone families - have been able to successfully navigate the pitfalls and stratospheric dangers of growing up in the hood or the ghetto or whatever you choose to call it, however it is most comfortably labeled.  And then there's part of the O'Reilly argument to which I also subscribe, which I found to be embarrassingly true, and a response which I know won't win me any friends in my own community.  Distilled to a fine point, O'Reilly said that everybody has the opportunity now to make something of their lives, to find what it is that makes them successful, work hard to follow that path before them, and escape whatever cycle in which they feel they are unjustly trapped.

Dammit, I thought to myself.  That son of a bitch has a point.  My very best friend in the world and his family survived a similar fate, and I'm thankful for it.  And then I thought about the universe's most cruel and perverse action: the accident of birth.

As I sit and type this, I'm doing so at the granite bar in the kitchen of a home more expensive than that of either of my parents.  I am 42, black, and I've never been part of anything other than the Middle Class.  I am listening to Horowitz's crisp and emotional "Prelude for Piano No. 16 in G Major, Op. 32/5.  My only child who wants for nothing sits upstairs on his i-Whatever, and my wife is tucked away in our master bedroom relaxing away her workday, preparing for a Saturday morning of distance running and camaraderie with her running buddies.  I am quite sure that I exist somewhere as a statistic, but I'm not wholly sure on who's list, or why.

I have fraternity brothers and friends of both races who are millionaires, or whom will become millionaires thanks in part to family inheritances and trusts.  I have friends of both races, both past and present, who lived in the worst parts of town, never imagining they could have what I have; their fight for survival may have included seeing their friends get killed, or watching helplessly as their families disintegrated under the stress of racial and/or economic bias, not to mention the stench and disharmony that drug abuse brought into their lives.

What if everyone was born into a condition completely alien to the world in which they now inhabit?  I'm wondering what Bill O'Reilly's appreciation of the FOX News superstar's response to white privilege would have been had he watched the same footage buried deep somewhere in the hood, white or black.  Would my own response have been different were I born into a family of millionaires, separated conveniently and quite dramatically, from those who were born into less?

I agree with Bill O'Reilly that there exists now an opportunity for anyone to achieve.  I do not agree with Bill O'Reilly that it is as easy as he thinks it is to escape a horrid and self-abusive cycle from which there is often no reasonable unassisted escape.  I agree with Bill O'Reilly in that hard work is the driver which seeks to separate men from their less-focused brethren.  I do not agree with Bill O'Reilly when he says that it is only through hard work that he, and other successful white men of his age and whom believe the same political ideology, have prospered.

We can do as little about the accident of our birth, as we can about changing the sun into the moon.  What we can control, or at the very least seek to improve upon, though, is this idea of the Human Condition.  I shake my head when I read an article about President Obama, and the comments at the bottom descend quite predictably from the eloquence of the point argued in the article, to the imaginary fact that our president is a Muslim-loving foreigner who got elected under false pretense and is systematically ruining the nation, laying it bare for terrorists and similar jhading miscreants.  Or when an article about overturning discriminatory same-sex marriage  laws turns into a battle of Christians and 'the unwashed' as to the nature and meaning of what Jesus would do, or how Jesus hates gays, and that the 'Gay Agenda', along with the shined up, dressed up simian in the Oval Office, are the first steps to Revelation and the damning of the earth to hell, calling on Doomsday Preppers to stockpile arms and for bigots who protest outside the funerals of America's servicemen and women to scream bull-horned obscenities louder and louder.

Where in that is the Human Condition?  Would your personal beliefs be what they are had not the accident of birth deposited you into a home in the Appalachians in the 50s as opposed to Myers Park or Beverly Hills in the 80s or Bedford-Stuyvesant in the 40s?

I agree with both Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart, separately, for different points they made.  Stewart was dogged in his determination to force his television nemesis to agree, even if for only a moment, that white privilege is, in fact, still a 'thing'.  Bill O'Reilly, hell bent on making it a socio-economic issue as opposed to a racial issue, insisted on getting his point across that nothing is out of reach, for any race, gender, or economically-challenged person given the right amount of courage and hard work to step outside the confines of what they believe to be their assigned position in the universe; their lot in life, if you will.

But what neither of them said - at least in the space of time Facebook allowed me into their worlds, and to dine on their argument - was that both the Human Condition and the accident of birth are at play here, fully conspiring to benefit or damn those of us walking across the planet either from immaculate conception or lack of contraceptives.  It is the Human Condition which can negate the accident of birth, to help in small ways level the playing field - to give true and honest depth to O'Reilly's claim that barriers no longer exist and that absolutely anybody can achieve the level of success about which they dream.

I wonder if the most powerful man and the most powerful woman in the world would agree.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ramble On: Group Therapy #2

Most of the time, I have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm serious.  I start out with the best of intentions, and then either my adult ADD catches up to me, or I get pen-shy (totally just made that up), and lose my focus for fear that what I"m going to write will suck.  I wonder if that happens to other people.  Not to be a shit, but I really hope it does.

I say I don't know what I'm doing, but I think that might be code for being lazy or unfocused.  Both of those sound really bad, but it's true.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure when I've really ever truly been focused on one thing for a long period of time.  I love to write, but when the juices aren't flowing, you all get nothing.  Jesus, look at this blog as an example.  I was sitting here at my kitchen island going through material (some in my head, some on my computer) for my current project, The Jewel Box.  It's the follow up to my second novel, Chief of Staff, and I think it's going to be a hit..if I can ever fucking get motivated to turn out some serious pages.

If I had to bet, I'd say that I'm scared of not writing something as great as COS.  People absolutely LOVED that book, and although it made me feel great, it also scares the shit out of me.  The damn thing is written in my head, and ready to be trans-whatevered to my computer, but something is holding me back.  I shake my head, but I know what it is.  Failure.  It's something everybody goes through on one level or another, and it's something that everybody deals with - or maybe they don't and those are the people who end up shooting their co-workers and fellow students.  Those are the crazy motherfuckers.  And then there are the rest of us.

What do WE do when we have no idea what to do next, avoiding failure?  And don't tell me that to just get back up on the horse.  I'm laughing my ass on that one.  Why?  Because it's true.  It's so true.  Nope, I have no idea what I'm doing.  None at all.  I don't know what I'm going to focus on next.  I don't even know how to make the decision.  But what is gratifying to me, and hopefully other writers out there in the odd world we occupy, is this: who gives a shit?  Write.  Just write and see what happens.  Not everybody is going to love what you do.  Not everybody is going to praise you.  Look at all of the people who THINK they can write, but haven't been able to get a book deal.  Include me in those numbers.  I think my new philosophy is going to be 'Keep Calm, Fuck It & Just Write'.  God, that's awful - and long.  LOL.  Who cares?

It's daunting to release your literary babies out into the world.  I'm sure I've written that on this blog in the past.  It's daunting to be judged.  But it's worse to keep everything you imagine in your brain and NOT release it to the public.  Talk about insane!  So, even though I have no idea what I'm going to do next, I pledge that it won't be empty space.  I Will Never Write Beyond My Passion.  Not sure why I got that fucking tattoo (and it's AWESOME by the way!) if I'm not going to write.  If my wife reads this entry, I'm sure that will make her chuckle.  :-)

Well, I've got a novel to get back to.  And I've got a brain load of made up shit I need to get into my computer.  What are you going to do today?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Brave New World

So I had this idea last night, that it's finally time to start novel number 3.  I'd gone back and forth in my mind over what I should do.  I could write the second part of The Brotherhood series, or I could write the next installment in the Eric Julian series (a la Chief of Staff'), or I could write something completely different altogether.  I have three or four novels waiting to exit my fragile brain.  Dilemma.

I was in the shower the other night - and why the hell ideas hit me in weird places like that, I'll never know - when it hit me.  I've had more success with Chief of Staff' than with The Brotherhood.  The books clubs I was lucky enough to attend showed me how damn passionate people can become over imaginary people, and their imaginary lives.  I never knew that you could get sucked so headlong into someone else's world like that.  Watching people argue with each other about what the characters in the books I'd invented, and listening to them giving drawn out explanations of their behaviors, and the hidden meanings behind them, was crazy.  Sometimes I sat there and thought, "Damn, that's pretty good.  I should have thought of that."  Seriously.  Whether or not they were hallucinating or really wanting to be part of the lives of the people I pulled out of my head, the end result was that I was flattered.  I'd entertained them.  I'd made them think about topics even I hadn't considered while I was writing.  And they wanted more.

In all, I was the guest at three book clubs, each discussing Chief of Staff.  That's 3 more than I was invited to for The Brotherhood.  And part of me is actually glad about that.  I wrote that first novel so long ago.  I'm different now, but not by a lot.  Even so, I believe that the experience of writing both novels, and the way I've accepted the fate of an author (and a self-published, self-marketed author at that), has changed me and I've grown, as well.  

It probably isn't a good idea to speak for all writers, so I'll just give you my point of view.  When I first started, I was convinced that I was going to be a millionaire all from the royalties from my books sold all over the globe, and the gross sales from the blockbuster movies featuring the line, '...from the novel by Mark Vertreese.'  Then I realized how crazy difficult that was going to be.  Grisham and Sparks and Connolly and blah blah blah, I'm not.  What I am, though, is a guy with a passion for writing, a bit of a lazy streak which of late has won out over hitting the keyboard, and a life that seems to be going 100 mph at various times.  I wrote Chief of Staff because the literary agent who liked The Brotherhood asked me if I had anything else to give her.  I sent the finished product to her eight months later (it took me 3 years to write The Brotherhood), and never heard from her again.  Compare that with the throngs of readers (yes, I said throngs, and you won't change my mind) who've not only read Chief of Staff, but have absolutely LOVED IT, I shake my head at that no-show literary agent, and the universe.  And I understand that writing isn't about getting rich.  I'll take the money in a hot second, but I don't create to get paid.  And if you look at the odds, I probably never will.  Part of me says that sucks.  But the realistic part of me has come to terms with that.  At 41, I'm grounded enough to know the difference...but I'm still a bit of a dreamer.

I went to lunch some weeks back with a guy whose opinion I trust a great deal.  We'd actually gotten together for a work-related reason, but as he listened to me complain about my job and express my love for writing that I'd let languish for far too long, his advice was crisp and truthful.  "You need to get out of your own way."  Prophetic and biting and honest and just damn plain right.  My talent is writing.  I create to make people laugh and cry and think and feel.  That's what I do well.  And that's what I haven't done consistently for too long.  That made me sad.  I felt sad that I was denying the people who like what I write the opportunity to read the things that fall out of my head, pass through the laptop, and force them to contemplate life, and maybe crack a smile or try to stifle a gut laugh.  And I was depriving myself of the joy I feel in providing that for them.  Trust me, the absolute WORST feeling I ever have is the moment right after I've released a project to the public or to my editor at Charlatan Magazine.  But I get a total thrill out of people letting me know my book or short story or article hit home for them, or that they tweeted it to a friend or shared it on Facebook.  That's what I add to life on this Earth.  As I drank in my friend's words, I felt that spark again.  And I loved it.

I'm sitting in the office of my new house (moving here and not writing was part of the lazy side, the atrophying of my skill), I am listening to my wife guide our son in the steps required to make banana bread.  I love banana bread and I can't wait to see how it comes out.  For me, that's kind of like writing, but I don't have a recipe to follow.  She's telling him what to add and how to mix it.  I'll start with the title to a novel, maybe have the beginning and ending in my head, and I come up with the bits in between.  And still, it's a mystery to me the whole way.  Just like their banana bread, when I write, I can't wait to see how it comes out.

A long time has passed between finishing Chief of Staff.  Short stories and articles aren't quite the same in scope and don't require nearly the concentration or imagination as are required to keep several plots and character development strong for 400 pages.  I'm pretty damn good at making shit up, but I'm super nervous about how this next project is going to turn out.  I got the idea from one of my book clubs - in Raleigh - and I'm anxious about putting thought to laptop.  I'm not giving myself a deadline yet, but I'm committing to you...all 11 followers, and anybody on FB who hasn't gotten tired yet of reading this entry...that The Jewel Box is on its way.  Life will be breathed into it just as life was breathed into me at that fateful lunch.  Even though I've been in this position before, it's a brave new world in many respects.  I hope you love it. Ah...smell that banana bread!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Do I Put Myself Through This?

So....I've decide to start this again.  No, not blogging, which I have clearly neglected for a very long time. And shame on me for doing so.  I love to write.  I don't so much love to release what I've written to the masses, but that's part & parcel with writing; somebody's got to read it.  If that weren't the case, all writers would probably end up alone in their New York City apartments dreaming about life beyond the gates.  Haha.  Whatever.

No, it isn't blogging that I'm talking about.  I sat down at my computer desk, blew the dust off of my laptop, and started looking for a literary agent.  Jesus Christ in a handbag, what am I doing?  I got the wild, bright idea as I was driving home this afternoon.  That's actually a lie.  It just sounds better than, 'I've been thinking about doing this for about a year, but I've been too scared and lazy to do it.'  Agreed?  Agreed.

Writers are some of the most masochistic people on the planet.  I love to write, but I don't want anybody to read it, but I want them to tell me how great I am, but I can't take rejection.  Gosh, maybe we're more bi-polar than sadistic.  I don't know.  Tonight, though, we're going to go with the latter.  As I sat in my lovely new home office, reading about how easy it is to get a literary agent using this one particular website, I thought about Nicholas Sparks.  I saw a 60 Minutes special on him years ago, and I still hate him to this day.  Former drug rep turned best-selling author.  Drivel.  That story was drivel, and that's what he writes.  But people lap it up, and they turn his novels into movies.  Maybe I should write some drivel, too.

Or maybe I can just pick my chin up, realize that this isn't something everyone can do, put in some genuine effort and time to reach out to literary agents...and beg them to sign me.  I am going to have to play the odds.  I am going to have to bet on that ONE person who wants to read my manuscript (I'll be sending queries for Chief of Staff).  I am going to have to have some faith that that one person who reads Chief of Staff and loves it wants to sign me, or at least have some further exculpatory conversations about how I see myself down the road.  Clearly, I see myself standing on the back of an enormous yacht, looking lovingly off into the distance as the sun sets over the horizon, tucked neatly between the hills of some tropical destination.  I'd hope the literary agent sees me there, too.

Until then, I'm back to blogging.  I'm back to searching through the Internet to find somebody who believes in my talent as much as I do, but is much more willing to expose me to the masses.  I'll continue to write short stories and put them on my website (  And I'll continue to write only for the love of doing so.  I'm old enough and wise enough now to realize that's what really makes you rich....writing for people who WANT to read what you're giving them.

Come to think of it, maybe that's why I put myself through this.  And maybe that's okay.