Under A Neapolitan Sky

I am super-excited about the release of my new novella, “Neapolitan Sky”.  Right now, it’s going through a second round of test readers and the plan is to have a final edit done prior to publishing, which as it stands now appears to be in early spring.

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I’d like to use these next few articles to share with you more details about the book that will hopefully pique your interest. First, I should mention that a novella is about half the size of your traditional novel. Some of the all-time great novellas include “Animal Farm,” “Of Mice And Men,” “The Old Man And The Sea” and “A Christmas Carol”.  I’m in no way putting my book in the company of those classics, but if you’ve read any of them as part of your high school English class, or even for your own enjoyment, you’ll have an idea as to length of my story, which right now is 155 pages.

“Neapolitan Sky” is a thriller about a girl named Nica Mitchell; a college student with dreams of becoming a professional writer. Nica is forced to return home when her ailing father is hospitalized after suffering a near-death experience while receiving cancer treatment. While there, Nica learns about what happened to her father during those precious moments in between life and death. It’s a haunting secret that will change her world forever.

Interested? Please, read on!

The next thing I’d like to discuss is what actually inspired “Neapolitan Sky”. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of artists, musicians and actors over the last five years, and the idea for writing this story actually came about as a result of an interview I’d done with the amazing actress, Fiona Dourif, in the Summer of 2017.

For those who aren’t aware, Fiona’s father is Brad Dourif, whose film credits include “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Eyes of Laura Mars” and “The Lord of The Rings” among many others. He’s perhaps best known for being the voice of Chucky in the “Child’s Play” films, which has also featured Fiona in the last two installments.

Since Brad only plays the voice of the doll, Fiona hasn’t really had a chance to work face to face with her father on screen. So, one of my questions was to ask if she’d ever be interested in working with him in a role outside of “Chucky”, even if it was in a short film.

I remember her exact words to me were, “Absolutely! You write it. Let’s do it!”

Although I realized such a thing would most likely never happen, it nonetheless led me to write a story about a father and his daughter, using Fiona and Brad as inspiration for the main characters–and with that, “Neapolitan Sky” was born.

I hope you’ll stick around to learn more about the story in the days and weeks ahead. For me as a writer, it doesn’t get much better than this!

FionaBradFiona Dourif photo by Ryan West

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Remembering High School- 30 Years Later

“How can it be thirty years?” I said as I was cleaning out the basement.

Looking into the gray, Stocker Brothers dairy milk crate, its frame still sturdy even after decades of sitting in dark silence, is actually what made me pose the question.

I had just spent the better part of the morning organizing the crawl space of my two-story colonial, a home I’ve been making mortgage payments on for as long as I can remember. During my tenure at this location, the basement had become a breeding ground for large, cardboard boxes of clothes, holiday items and various knick knacks, as well as six large boxes of comic books I’d collected as a kid along with my feeble attempts at Bob Ross paintings. The latter two categories being things I can’t seem to let go of — even after all of this time.

Time.

The thing inside the milk crate behind the wall of canvases is where I found it. There, along with the curious smell of old books and dust was a folded, paper program; kind of like something you’d get handed to you from an usher at a Sunday church service or a Broadway show as you entered the theater. It had obtained a dull, off-white color over the years but its red lettered appearance was still clearly visible:

Easton Area High School’s 131st Commencement: June 11, 1987 6:00 o’clock.

It can’t be, can it? Thirty years already? I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was roaming the halls of high school? Dreaming about being the next Bon Jovi? Longing for Friday night visits to the mall so that I could get the new Def Leppard album, read the latest Gross Jokes book in Waldenbooks, drink gallons of Orange Julius and then try to impress the girls by beating the high score on Pac Man and Galaga?

I slowly ran my fingers through the pages of the slightly weathered program and saw all of the people who stood by me that day. “Did they know where they would wind up?” I thought. “Would they remember and realize it’s been thirty years?”

Me, June 11, 1987

I remember that commencement. I remember wearing my class ring on my right ring finger and sitting in my cap and gown on an uncomfortable metal chair waiting for my name to be called, peeved once again at the alphabetical order of things and the fact that my last name started with a “W”. I still remember congratulating and hugging every classmate I met, whether I knew them on a “friend” basis or not. I can still feel the leafy stem of the flower against my bare hand after I accepted my diploma, and the sense of urgency I had for the final notes of the Alma Mater to ring so that I could toss my tasseled, red cap high into the air. It was the end game. The “so long”. The final, “see-ya-later” salute to thirteen years of education.

Who am I kidding? When I look back now it didn’t really seem like goodbye. Instead, walking out of Kirby Field House that night was just like any other night. It would soon be the start of summer, camping at the lake, amusement park visits and graduation/backyard parties. Heck, I even had one at my house where me and my buddy (and fellow graduate), Nathan Brown, played our guitars and drums as entertainment. Before long, September would roll around again and we’d all be right back together again in class, right? Just like it had always been for thirteen years in a row.

No.

Several friends went off to college to follow their dream. Others enlisted in the military, started families or immediately entered the work force. As for me, my own dream of becoming a rock star officially began June 11, 1987.

But that’s a story for another time.

As I continued to page through the program, I tried to see how many classmates I could remember and was thankful to discover I could still put faces to the names of most. Then I thought of Nathan, who’s own name I didn’t see listed in the graduating class and yet had attended graduation and received his diploma along with the rest of us. Had it have been another time, I probably would have called him up to ask him why he wasn’t mentioned in the list of graduates, but he died in 2014.

A lot can happen in thirty years.

‘Love Set Run’: Andre and Sierra Mercier Discuss Inspiring New Project

Sierra was a competitive figure skater. Andre, an animation expert and filmmaker. Both had their own dreams of making a mark in the world. But it wasn’t until a chance encounter in the heart of Los Angeles led them to begin a journey together. One of love, inspiration, hope and a desire to do something for the greater good.

Although known for volunteering their time to various causes, their passion project, Love Set Run is more like a way of living. It stands for taking action to spread a message of love, unity, and the interconnectedness of everything.

This summer, Andre and Sierra Mercier will continue that mission. Traveling around the globe volunteering and giving back everywhere that they go. Along the way, they’ll be documenting their travels for a web series they hope will inspire others.

The couple’s five-month journey will take them to eight countries on five different continents. From volunteering at an organic farm in Costa Rica, visiting a monkey sanctuary and partaking in a spiritual ritual in Peru and even working with locals in Bandipur, Nepal. Each destination chosen to make a positive impact in some way.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of Sierra and Andre’s story isn’t so much the beautiful places in the world they’ll be visiting, but the selfless love and compassion they have for each other and the world. Their drive to do something for the greater good proves that offering something as simple as your time can be the greatest reward in giving back.

I recently spoke with Sierra and Andre about Love Set Run and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did the two of you meet?

Sierra:  We both moved to L.A. for the entertainment industry. I was a competitive figure skater and trained in California and Salt Lake City but had an injury that ended my skating career. I began doing other things that interested me and found a new passion with acting. So I moved back home to save money to move to L.A. I had met a family while I was visiting L.A. and planned to live in their guest home temporarily until I found a place to live but there was a miscommunication and on the day I drove in, I found out that I could only stay a few weeks. So I frantically started looking for a place and saw an ad for a room that piqued my interest. I called the number and left a message— it was Andre. I went to see the place and we both hit it off. We became friends and few weeks later I moved in as a roommate. We spent some time getting to know each other but it was pretty clear that there was something other than “friends” flying through the air.

What else can you tell me about your love story?

Andre: About a week after Sierra moved in I asked her to be my girlfriend and a month after that we decided that we were going to get married. Shortly after I proposed, Sierra’s mom suggested that we apply to a few online contests where they were giving away honeymoon packages. Sierra found out that TheKnot.com was having a contest for a dream wedding in New York. The idea was to create a video on why your love story was unique and romantic. I was skeptical at first but Sierra encouraged me to use my video making skills to make a video. A few weeks later we found out that we had been selected as one of the finalists. Fan voting determined the winner and we wound up getting the most votes. The wedding was at Bryant Park in the winter and we flew in a bunch of friends and family. Everything about the wedding was voted on by the public—from the dress to the cake to the decor and rings.

Our vows were aimed towards creating a positive impact to the world and giving back more than we receive. We knew that we weren’t able to give a lot monetarily, but we could give a lot with our time and spread our message. So on our honeymoon we did tsunami cleanup relief in Japan, visited an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and worked with an orphanage in Bali. That was the first of our charity travel ideas. That’s when we said let’s see more of the world and do more volunteer work, because it feels good to give back.

Was there a defining moment on that trip? 

Sierra: Sometimes, volunteer opportunities are unexpected. I remember we were traveling in Japan after a major typhoon. We were walking along a path where waters had flooded and local people were there trying to block the flood and transporting sandbags. We just stepped in and helped them. Then a little while later it started to rain and we noticed a local business shoveling mud and rocks out of their business and moving sandbags to keep it from flooding. We just went in, picked up some shovels and started hauling out debris. We were hot and sweaty and wet but it felt so good to help people. The most amazing part of that whole experience was that while were doing it, other tourists that were walking by saw what we were doing and offered to help as well. As two people, we can only make so much of an impact, but it’s the ripple effect it can cause that makes it so special. If what we do can inspire four people to make a positive difference, then maybe those four people will inspire four more people. It made me realize that’s what Love Set Run is all about. 

How do you plan to document your journey for Love Set Run?

Andre: Throughout our travels we’ll be posting vignettes and snippets to Instagram and Facebook. We’ve also got a blog going on our website that we’ll be posting to regularly. Once we get back, we’ll start editing the full web series, most likely one episode per country. We’re also considering doing a full feature out of it.

What satisfies you the most about giving back?

Sierra: It’s engrained in my soul that my duty here in this lifetime is to help others. To light a lantern and be a light to the world. It’s just feels so natural for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

Andre: It’s gratifying to give back and help others. It’s a selfless act that rewards you. It also feels good to inspire other people. We’ve heard from people who tell us that our love story has inspired them to not settle for anything less. So if we can inspire friends and family through our work, then maybe the next time they go on a trip they’ll be inspired to volunteer. What’s satisfying is that you can create a ripple effect of positive energy and impact. The world needs more of that. 

Is there a message you’d like people to take away from the journey you’re about to undertake?

Sierra: A message I really want people to feel is realizing that the more love you give, the more you’ll receive.

Stryper Celebrates 30 Years of ‘To Hell With The Devil’ With Music, Memories in Stone Pony Performance

thwtdFirst, a little bit of perspective.

It was my senior year of high school in March of 1987 when rumors surfaced that Christian rockers, Stryper were coming to town. The band, which had already been generating a healthy buzz in both the Christian and secular/MTV worlds with the songs “Calling On You,” “Free,” “Honestly” and the title-track from their ‘To Hell With The Devil’ album, was out on tour supporting the release and would soon be rolling into The State Theatre in Easton, Pennsylvania.

My hometown.

Easton is a small town that borders the western end of New Jersey and lies somewhere in between the metropolitan cities of New York and Philadelphia. With a population of 26,000, the highlight of a night in Easton in 1987 consisted of listening to the freight trains rumble through the downtown or hanging out at the local McDonald’s on South Third Street.

Needless to say, when word got out that Stryper was coming to town it was a pretty big deal. And for a seventeen-year-old punk who had his own visions of rock stardom, it was also a dream come true. I had already worn out my cassette copy of THWTD learning it at guitar lesson, and now I had the chance of seeing the band perform it at a place within walking distance from my home. I immediately scrounged up every last dollar of lawn mowing money and the loose change from the sofa cushions and camped out in front of the venue. My reward? A single, front-row ticket to the show!

Stryper - Easton, PA 1987
Stryper – Easton, PA 1987

I remember the band’s performance that night was amazing. Stryper– Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox and Tim Gaines—wore their classic yellow and black uniforms, threw bibles into the audience and sang songs about positivity with soaring vocals and an infectious dual guitar attack. That show and tour remain one of the biggest highlights of my teenage years.

Fast-forward thirty years. I am now a middle-aged man, but still a punk-kid at heart. Dreams of rock stardom have been replaced by coffee, deadlines and a word processor. I may be a little thick in the middle now and my hairline may have receded, but my love of guitar and all things metal is still overflowing. So much so that last night I drove two hours outside the safe confines of Easton to catch Stryper performing the 30th anniversary of ‘To Hell With The Devil’ at The Stone Pony in Asbury, NJ.

Photo courtesy: Dale Wilson
Stryper – Asbury, NJ 2016. Photo courtesy: Dale Wilson

Oh sure, I’ve heard the band perform many of the songs from ‘To Hell With The Devil’ over the years –including most recently last April at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles, but never in a celebration-style format of the entire album being performed in its entirety from front to back by those same original members, and I was not disappointed.

From the opening sounds of The Abyss (which kicks off ‘To Hell With Devil’) to the title-track, “Calling On You,” “Free” and “Honestly”, it was a time capsule of youth and music. Some of my other favorites from the album included “Holding On,” “More Than A Man” and the always emotional, “All of Me”.

As if seeing the band perform their biggest album in its entirely wasn’t enough, Stryper also went into an additional set of songs from their 33-year musical arsenal. Tracks like “Yahweh,” “God,” “Soldiers Under Command” and “Caught In the Middle” were fist pumping and magical, while the band’s infectious versions of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” and KISS’ “Shout it Out Loud” were met with equally enthusiastic response.

The band ended their two-hour performance with the dual encore of “Reach Out” and “Makes Me Wanna Sing”, both from their ‘Soldiers Under Command’ album and capping off a celebration that included a little bit of everything.

In fact, about the only thing missing from Stryper’s Stone Pony set was their monster hit, “Always There For You” from their 1988 album, ‘In God We Trust’. But after experiencing the band many times over these last thirty years –both from small towns to the big cities–I can honestly say that it made no difference.

For me, Stryper will always be there.

Stryper Set List (Asbury Park, NJ)

Abyss (To Hell With The Devil)
To Hell With the Devil
Calling on You
Free
Honestly
The Way
Sing Along Song
Holding On
Rocking The World
All Of Me
More Than A Man
Battle Hymn of the Republic (pre-recorded)
Yahweh
In God We Trust
Heaven and Hell 
(Black Sabbath cover)
Shout It Out Loud 
(KISS cover)
God
Revelation
Caught in the Middle
Surrender
Soldiers Under Command

Encore:
Reach Out
Makes Me Wanna Sing

There’s One Born Every Minute

BugsBunnyWhen I was young, I used to watch a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons. I enjoyed sitting by the television on Saturday mornings gorging on Cap’n Crunch and indulging in the antics of that waskaly wabbit and his friends.

One of the shorts that always stood out to me was the one where Bugs cons an unsuspecting old man into buying The Brooklyn Bridge. He does this by telling the man a fictional story of how a New York City bridge-jumper named Steve Brody allegedly leaped off of it. The short ends with the old man believing Bugs’ story and giving him money.

Of course in real-life, even a kid in a Cap’n Crunch coma knows you can’t actually buy The Brooklyn Bridge.

Oddly, I was reminded of this cartoon this Saturday morning as I was perusing my Facebook timeline and saw no less than seven copies of this same picture from people on their own pages:

ScamThe picture (and attached link) goes on to say how two of this week’s Powerball winners were giving away some of their newfound fortune to random people. All you have to do to get in on your chance at a free ten grand was to click on the link provided and share the post with your friends.

Of course, what the link fails to mention is that it is part of a phishing scam. Designed to trick unsuspecting people into giving up personal information (like Facebook and bank passwords and social security numbers) in exchange for…. well, absolutely nothing at all.

You might remember a similar occurrence of this FREE money scam shortly after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg publicly stated on major news outlets that he was giving away much of his fortune to charity. And it wasn’t long before scam artists took to social media and posted a link of Zuckerburg along with a note saying that poor, random souls (like us) could also get in on the action simply by clicking on a link. At that time, I saw no less than a dozen of these posts/links on my timeline from people who apparently had fallen for the scam.

It’s one thing when horrible people prey on the elderly by dressing up like a representative from the gas company and trick them into letting them into their homes only to steal their money and jewelry. Or when representatives from “Microsoft” call non-tech savvy people at home and tell them their computer is corrupt and can only be fixed by providing valid credit card information.

But the fact that so many people quickly fall for these “Get Rich Quick” schemes on social media really scares me.

Think about it: Why would complete and total strangers who’ve just won part of a $1.5 billion dollar jackpot want to give away $1,000,000 to people they’ve never met – even before they’ve collected it? And worse, why would these same people set-up a questionable website and then have it promoted on Facebook? Don’t you think that if this were really true, MAJOR news outlets all over the world would be running the story?

What’s that old saying? — “If it sounds too good to be true….”

But if all that doesn’t raise a red flag then consider this: Saying you don’t need all of the money and then only offering to give away $1,000,000 is pretty cheap. Especially when you consider you’ve just pocketed $300 million in winnings.

So the next time you see any of these posts offering free money from the rich and famous, delete them. Because there’s only one real way to get legitimate money my friends, and that’s by doing it the old-fashioned way.

Earning it.

Birthday Reflections at 48

BirthdayCakeOctober 5th, 2017. My 48th birthday.

Hey! Wait a minute…. You mean to say that I’m 48-years old young today? Impossible. I’m a Count Chocula connoisseur. An Ultraman geek. A comic book nerd. A PS4 dork. I couldn’t possibly be someone with the big Five-Oh on the horizon.

And yet, I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning and the inevitable gray or missing hairs I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.

Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teenager driving my beat-up, old Toyota to the mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the Listening Booth record store?

Wasn’t I the one who could go to rock concerts and then stay up to the wee hours of the morning talking to his friends about what would happen when we took on the world and made our dreams came true?

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it.

As we’ve seen with the hurricanes and Las Vegas tragedy along with the untimely death of one of my idols, Tom Petty, we’re only given a certain amount of time on this bouncing ball. My goal now is to try to make every moment count.

But I’m not here to bum you out on my birthday. Because in addition to being the one who drove to the mall and went to rock concerts, I was also the one who consistently laughed at his parents for being in their 40’s while I reveled in teenage glory.

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.

What was it they said about karma?

A Tribute To Gary Richrath

Photo by: Ross Marino
Gary Richrath (1949-2015) – Photo by: Ross Marino

I’d like to share with you my thoughts on the passing of guitarist, Gary Richrath….

When I took my first guitar lesson back in the spring of 1985, one of the things I told my guitar teacher was that I wanted to learn as many songs as I could from REO Speedwagon’s album, “Hi Infidelity”.

My teacher, a musical genius as well as an astute professor in the art of all things Hendrix, Zeppelin and Sabbath, took one look at my long blond hair and started scratching his head.

“Uhm, you mean you don’t want me to teach you how to play ‘Purple Haze,’ ‘Stairway To Heaven’ or ‘Paranoid’?” he asked.

“Nope.” I replied. “I want to learn how to play ‘Take It On The Run,’ ‘Keep On Loving You’ and ‘Shakin’ It Loose’.” I then presented him with my copy of the Hi-Infidelity album to prove my intentions were valid.

Little did my instructor know was that just prior to that first guitar lesson I saw REO Speedwagon perform in a college gymnasium on the south side of Bethlehem, PA. Getting to witness a guitarist at the top of his game was a spiritual awakening. It became one of the main reasons I decided to pick up the guitar and start playing.

And so for the next few weeks, in addition to learning chord basics and scales, my teacher and I dissected songs written by Kevin Cronin and Gary Richrath. Immersing ourselves in the sweet sound of a Les Paul guitar while studying every nuance of the power ballad.

Gary Richrath was an inspiration to me as a guitarist and writer. His tasty songs not only included “Take It On The Run,” and “Shakin’ It Loose” but a plethora of others the band still regularly includes in their set. “Golden Country,” “Like You Do,” “Only The Strong Survive,” “Son of A Poor Man” and of course, “Ridin’ The Storm Out”. A track the band closes their show out with each night and one that will now have extra meaning.

Although Gary left REO Speedwagon more than 25 years ago, he joined the band in 2013 for a surprise performance to help raise money for tornado victims in the Midwest.

This is how I choose to remember Gary Richrath. As an artist who used his time and talent to help others and in the process, left an invaluable mark on the music world as well as a teenage guitarist who first learned his songs thirty years ago.

Oh, and in case you don’t believe my story, I did keep all of my material from those early years of guitar lessons….

REO Lesson

Godspeed, Gary.