Saturday, August 7, 2010

Malibu Sunrise And Mr. Slug

By Pat Browning

The first Malibu sunrise of 2010 was captured on film by author Tom Sawyer and e-mailed with this note:

“Let's hope this is a sign...
May the year be at least half this glorious for all of us!”

So now we’ve passed the halfway mark and are hard-charging toward fall and end-of-year holidays. Don’t know about you, but my tongue is hanging out. What a year – one disaster after another, and that’s just the weather.

Then along comes author Peter E. Abresch with “Mr. Slug,” one of his weekly Burnt Offerings. Its upbeat message seems to go right along with Tom’s photo. I may print and frame them together and hang them behind my computer to remind me of a year that – isn’t finished. Keep a positive outlook, I remind myself a dozen times a day.

Here’s Peter’s poem.

On my own/I am a slug in the muck/
happy perhaps/yet certainly limited in view./
But lift your child, Lord/upon Your shoulders/
and I see over trees,/hills, mountains,/
out past the stars/to all the kingdoms/
in your realm,/a foretaste of things to come./
Today I remain/a slug in the muck/
but tomorrow,/in my Father's house/
I shall become/little less than a god.
----------Peter E. Abresch -- June 28, 2010

I reviewed Peter’s first mystery, BLOODY BONSAI (Write Way Publishing 1998), when I worked for The Hanford (California) Sentinel, and we’ve kept in touch.

Among other things, Peter writes the James Dandy Elderhostel mysteries. One of my favorite books of all time is PAINTED LADY (Intrigue Press 2003). His latest, NAME GAMES, he published himself through Amazon’s Create Space.

For me, PAINTED LADY is the pause that refreshes. James P. Dandy, a retired physical therapist, and his ladylove, artist Dodee Swisher, join their Elderhostel group for a tour of the old Santa Fe Trail. History of the Old West is woven throughout. There's a legendary Mayan falcon with diamond eyes, a kidnapping, a hilarious bus-car chase, and an otherworldly shootout at the St. James (aka Ghost Hotel) in Cimarron. There's also a true story about dandelions, which may give you pause the next time you start to dig one out of your lawn.

You can read the first 65 pages free at Google Books:

As for Peter’s bio, “been there, done that” just about covers it. He’s been a professional dancer, an international geodesist for the U.S. Government and a systems computer programmer with the National Weather Service. At age 75 he started taking banjo lessons and now plays with the folk choir at church. He’s built three sailboats, and with his wife and five young sons he hammered and nailed together the 3400-square foot house they lived in for 20 years. Meanwhile, he just keeps writing and has several web sites with info about his books.

On one of his web sites he says:

“Fiction writing is addictive. You laugh, but once I started building worlds on paper, I could never turn off that seductive siren-call that still whispers to me in the middle of the night. Rejection slips -- and I've had more than my share -- never stilled it.

“Nor did frustration. I remember once during lean times, way back in the days of typewriters, when my 'Q' key got stuck. I kept on writing using the '+' key for a substitute. Then another key got stuck and I substituted a '@' key. Then one day I hit the return bar and the platen didn't advance. I picked up the typewriter and smashed it against the floor. Picked it up and smashed it again. And smashed it again. When I looked up my wide-eyed wife, Annemarie, was staring at me from the doorway. I said I needed a new typewriter. She didn't argue.”

Catch up with Peter at:

Though we haven’t met, Tom Sawyer has been a part of my life since 2001, back in the dear dead days of the iUniverse chat room. Print on demand (POD) was just coming on the scene and causing conniption fits everywhere. Bookstores wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot-pole because POD books couldn’t be returned. The CEO of Barnes & Noble announced that B&N would have POD kiosks within a year and almost immediately began backpedaling.

Caught in the furor was Thomas B. Sawyer, a veteran writer and TV showrunner who had agreed to be the poster boy for iUniverse because of the promised bookstore connections. His novel was THE SIXTEENTH MAN, one of the best books I ever read. With the assassination of President Kennedy as a hook, Tom wrote parallel stories 30 years apart and brought them together in a heart-stopping ending.

2001 was a time of new beginnings. I had almost finished writing my first mystery and $99 seemed like a reasonable price to get it into print. I haunted the iUniverse chat room because of its knowledgeable guests. On May 15, 2001, the guest was Tom Sawyer who had been through the mill, gathering 22 agent rejections for THE SIXTEENTH MAN. I still have my transcript of his chat room appearance.

About his rejections, he said:

“They ranged from ‘Your book doesn’t work’ … to the capper from a major agent whose name will remain anonymous, who said, ‘I have yet to see a screenwriter who can write a novel, but you do show promise, so if you’re willing to work with me, I’ll teach you to write.’ Fortunately, that’s when I saw the ad for iUniverse.

“I also realize, having gone through this, if I hadn’t been a professional of many years, didn’t have a bullet proof ego, this stuff could destroy you. It makes me feel very sorry for the people who were vulnerable to it. You really have to believe in your work.”
My review of THE SIXTEENTH MAN is still up at Quoting from it:

“First story, set in 1963: Tracking an errant wife whose husband wants evidence for divorce, a private eye accidentally photographs a small group of men with rifles, one of whom is a dead ringer for Lee Harvey Oswald.

“Second story, set in present time: A dirt bike accident dumps an archaeologist near a rock fissure that leads him to a pile of skulls and bones. Fifteen sets of bones appear to be thousands of years old. The sixteenth skull still has some hair attached, and there are silver fillings in the teeth.

“Sawyer weaves these stories together so smoothly that hair on the back of my neck stands up when the story threads cross. The ending is a knockout. … I think: It's fiction. That didn't happen. But what if? What if?”

Tom’s professional bio is impressive. From his web site:
“Novelist, screenwriter, playwright Thomas B. Sawyer was Head Writer/Showrunner of the classic hit series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. Tom has written 9 network TV pilots, 100 episodes, and has been Head Writer/Showrunner or Story Editor on 15 network TV series. He wrote, directed and produced the cult film comedy, Alice Goodbody, is co-librettist/lyricist of Jack, an opera about John F. Kennedy that has been performed to acclaim in the US and Europe.

“The best-selling mystery/thriller, The Sixteenth Man, is his first novel. Both his book, Fiction Writing Demystified, and Storybase are Writer's Digest Book Club Selections. He is publisher of Storybase 2.0 writer's software. Tom's latest thriller - and Number One Bestseller: No Place to Run. He's taught writing at UCLA, at other colleges and universities, teaches at numerous major writers conferences, and online at Writers University where he currently teaches STORYTELLING: How to Write Stories That Will Grab and Hold Your Audience. Tom has been nominated for an Edgar and an Emmy.”

NO PLACE TO RUN (Sterling & Ross Publishers 2009) was voted Best Novel of 2009 by the American Book Readers Association. A political conspiracy thriller, it’s the first novel to make the case that the 9/11 hijackers received serious help from high up within the U.S.

FICTION WRITING DEMYSTIFIED (Ashleywilde, Inc. 2003) is one of a half dozen writing books I wouldn’t be without. Tom based it on what he learned as a screenwriter as it relates to writing novels, and what he teaches at conferences. It changed the way I look at dialogue.

You can read the first 34 pages, including the table of contents, free at Google Books:
Tom’s web site is

I haven’t met either Tom or Peter in person but we’ve been virtual friends for years. This is my tip of the hat to two authors whose friendship I cherish and whose work I admire.

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