“Dreams of becoming a professional writer are abruptly put on hold for college student Nica Mitchell following the unexpected death of her mother and her father’s cancer diagnosis.
Forced to return home when he’s hospitalized after encountering a near death experience, Nica learns her father has been keeping a dark secret. Something in between the stages of life and death that, when revealed, will change her life forever.”
The synopsis is just a small taste of my brand new novella, Neapolitan Sky, which I’m excited to announce will be released on Tuesday, May 8th!
Over the course of my writing career, I’ve interviewed hundreds of artists, musicians and authors; co-authored three children’s books and have written more than 2,000 articles for this blog, Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! I can honestly say that this was the most challenging and creatively satisfying thing I’ve ever done.
It was exciting to see this story go from a blank document to template to final draft. In between, there were more than a dozen test readers who provided feedback and input; multiple late night re-writes and edits to enhance the flow of the story and the final review from the publisher.
Now, I’m super-excited to share with you the book trailer for Neapolitan Sky:
This short trailer gives more clues into the story. Each photo and video has something deeper to say. The trailer also includes a little cameo by yours truly.
Neapolitan Sky will be available online at all of the major outlets. You can even call your favorite bookstore and have them order it for you.
“Put out the spotlights one and all. And let the feeling get down to your soul. The music’s so loud you can hear the sound. Reaching for the sky, churning up the ground.It’s all part of my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. It’s all part of my rock ‘n’ roll dream.”
~ Paul Rodgers (Bad Company)
I don’t think there’s a better set of words to describe my experience these last four days. A surreality from day one that culminated in a euphoric explosion of emotion when our band performed on stage at the legendary Whisky A Go Go.
My last day at Rock Camp was similar to the three previous days. Upon our arrival, Bobby, Craig, Tom, Rik and I immediately dove in and polished up our Night Ranger song, “When You Close Your Eyes”. After three or four passes, including a few without vocals, I was confident we were ready. That is, until we entered the jam room with Jack Blades, Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy.
As the sound tech is hooking up my guitar, I see Brad walk over and point me out.
“Who’s doing the guitar solo — you?”
A tidal wave of fear swept over me, and at that moment I was extremely grateful to have used the bathroom before we walked into the rehearsal room. Our plan was always to let Brad do the solo. None of us had even bothered to learn it. Thankfully, Brad obliged.
As a guitarist, it’s one thing to hear Brad perform on the records, but when he’s standing right next to you — on stage — and you can fully immerse yourself in his savage virtuosity, it’s mind blowing.
Shortly after our final rehearsal, the buses arrived and took us all over to The Whisky.
To try to put into words the feeling of walking into that venue with a guitar in your hand is nearly impossible. I found myself thinking about all the other bands who did the exact same thing — Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Van-Halen, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses. Then to stand on those hallowed steps as the time came to have your name introduced over the PA — MAGIC.
Our performance was incredible and I credit it all to our amazing counselor, Craig Goldy, and his confidence in us. We had an opportunity to get a keyboard player perform with us at the last minute and Craig nixed it. He wanted Tom and I to be able to transpose those keyboard parts on guitar, and we did.
One of the things Craig kept saying to us during our short time together, and something I’ll take with me always, was this:
“You’re better than you think you are.”
To get to share the stage with Craig during our final performance was just as good as standing there with the guys from Night Ranger.
Finally, the time had come for our performance with Jack, Brad and Kelly. As a fan of this band since their days as Rubicon, and getting to double the guitar intro to “When You Close Your Eyes” with Brad was life changing.
After our performance, I stood upstairs just soaking in the vibe. It was a roller coaster ride of musical emotion. Of course there were flubs, and for a moment, I thought about what it might have been like if we had an entire week to rehearse. But in the end, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We were five strangers who had to learn three songs in four days and bring them to performance level– and we DID it!
As the time came to say goodbye, I embraced Bobby and Rik. As an East Coast dude, I already knew our chances of performing together again was nil. But this band and experience will stay with me long after the music ends.
Sadly, in the confusion of the evening, I didn’t have the chance to properly say goodbye to Tom and Craig, who had slipped out of sight and into the cool Hollywood night.
“Maybe that’s the way it was always meant to be,” I thought to myself as I stood on the corner of Sunset Blvd outside of The Whisky.
“Someday, I hope to feel as happy as I did as a kid when the teacher wheeled in the big TV during class,” was something I always used to say.
What’s been happening this weekend has surpassed that feeling a hundredfold.
Yesterday, our band, “Foreo-Speed Ranger” (Get it? Foreigner–Reo Speedwagon–Nigh… ah, never mind). The name’s not really important. What is important is the music. It always has and it always will.
Let’s try this again.
Yesterday, our band spent much of the morning going over songs for our performance with Foreigner’s Jeff Pilson and Bruce Watson, and in preparation for our first live show at The Lucky Strike in Hollywood, CA.
“No pressure,” a voice inside of me says. “You may have taken a break, but you’ve been performing in bands for years. Including a 30-minute set in front of 6,500 people at one of America’s biggest music festivals.”
As the five of us were polishing each one of our Foreigner and Night Ranger songs, we suddenly realized we needed to have a third song in our back pocket. That was when the familiar question all new bandmates ask each other when they first get together:
“What song do you want to do?”
There were watery suggestions to do something from AC/DC, The Black Eyed Peas, The Doors and Bob Seger, but none of them seemed to fit.
Then our guitarist, Tom, started noodling around on something that parted the sea. It was this amazing riff I knew I’d heard before. But there was something else about it that seemed oddly familiar. It was the way that he was playing it.
“What is THAT?” someone asked.
“It’s a Bob Seger song. One that Thin Lizzy covered.”
Be still my heart.
The song fit the band like a glove.
Next up, was our performance of “Dirty White Boy” with Foreigner. Another surreal moment for me as a musician, because Jeff Pilson (who’s also been with Dokken and Dio) is one of the all-time greats. Not only is he a killer bassist, but the guy can play guitar, keyboards and a bunch of other instruments. He’s also an incredible vocalist.
I thought if I could just stand next to him, maybe some of that mojo would rub off on me.
As if all that wasn’t surreal enough, this day was still not over. Before we knew it, we were loading up the van to take us back to the hotel. Only a short time to get something to eat before our ride over to Lucky Strike.
As I entered the venue and strolled down the ramp toward the stage, the childhood memory reappeared. And in my mind, a teacher is rolling into class the most beautiful, state of the art television you’ve ever seen. This would be the first chance to stand on a stage in front of strangers and perform with four guys I met only a few days ago.
Butterflies began to build when I considered what was going to happen, but I brushed them all away. I’ve been down this road before.
I am sitting in my hotel room high above Universal City at 10:45 p.m. pondering the events of the day.
For those who many not know, REO Speedwagon is my all-time favorite band, and today, my band got to perform the song “Tough Guys” on stage with Kevin Cronin and Dave Amato.
We chose “Tough Guys” from the list of songs to perform with REO simply because it wasn’t the typical “Roll With The Changes” or “Ridin’ The Storm Out” that we assumed most other bands would be doing. It was upbeat and rocking, with some cool little guitar harmony part that our counselor, Craig Goldy (Dio) had taught us.
One of the sticking points in “Tough Guys” is an unusual chord progression that happens really quickly after the guitar solo. It’s a musical break where the guitar plays an Em – C progression. If you’re not careful, you’ll fly right by and miss perhaps the most important part of the song.
As a band that had formed less than 24 hours ago, we butchered that progression more than a dozen times before we were finally able to play the song straight through without a hitch.
Prior to jamming the song, Kevin and Dave did an hour long Q&A session where people from the audience could ask them about their music and career. One of the campers asked Kevin how the band keeps things fresh after playing their catalog of hits hundreds of times.
Here’s where fate stepped in.
Kevin said that the band always tries to change things up a little every night, and that one of the things he always looks forward to was performing “Tough Guys”, because there’s a quick little section in the song ( Em – C ) that breaks up the monotony.
At this point, I turned around to my fellow bandmates with a sly smile. They all nodded in agreement.
An hour later, our band stood side by side with Kevin and Dave on stage and watched as their eyes lit up when we told them we were doing “Tough Guys”.
There simply aren’t enough words to describe the feeling I had standing on that stage playing with those guys. It was a moment that was gone before it even started, but as a kid who spent hours locked in his room learning every song from their “Hi Infidelity” and “Wheels Are Turnin'” albums, it was a dream come true. Then afterwards, to have Kevin give us kudos for remembering the Em-C chord progression was something even more special.
In the end, we were the only band out of fifteen that performed “Tough Guys” with REO Speedwagon.
Although still high from our triumphant performance, we knew there as no time to rest. We still had a Foreigner and Night Ranger song to learn.
The Foreigner song would be a no brainer.
And then came the hardest decision of the entire camp. Which Night Ranger song to do? Our decision would be the song that we’d perform with the band on The Whisky A Go Go stage in just two days.
The list of songs to choose from included Night Ranger hits like “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “Sing Me Away,” “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and “Sister Christian” as well as a few cover songs by Damn Yankees and AC/DC.
For me, there was really only one song I wanted to do — and I was beyond excited when the band all agreed as well.
For those of you who can’t make our show Sunday night, here is the song we’ll be performing with Night Ranger at The Whisky on Sunday night.
Saturday is going to be another busy day. We’re starting off with rehearsal, followed by a visit from Jeff Pilson and Bruce Watson of Foreigner for a Q&A and jam session. We’ll then be playing our very first show at The Lucky Strike on Hollywood Boulevard.
“Hello. My name is James Wood. It’s nice to meet you,” I said, extending my hand to the three other guys in the room. It was the first time I’d met Bobby, Tom and Rik. The three guys who would form a band with me to perform at The Lucky Strike and world-renowned Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood this weekend.
If my middle-aged brain remembers correctly, it was thirty years ago next month when I formed my very first band. This after many years of guitar lessons, months of starts and stops, and high school dreams fueled by teenage angst and worldwide musical domination.
Back then, bands like Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Whitesnake and Dio were on constant repeat on my boom box. And now, in just a few short days, not only would I be jamming with the guys in REO and Foreigner, but I’d also be taking the stage with Night Ranger to perform at one of music’s most famous venues in front of a massive crowd. The same stage that regularly housed legendary bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Van-Halen and countless others.
By the time I arrived at the camp’s studios at 1:30 p.m., our as of yet unnamed band was already behind the eight ball. We’d learned last week that we wouldn’t have a keyboard player (a pretty big deal if you had “Roll With The Changes,” “Keep on Loving You” or “Sister Christian” on your “let’s try” list), and our original counselor, Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Foreigner) had to drop out of camp at the last minute due to illness.
But it wasn’t until I made my way through the registration line and into Studio D (which would be our home for the next four days), that reality really struck.
Inside the room, already jamming, were counselors Michael Staertow (guitarist for Lou Gramm), Chris Wyse (bassist for Ace Frehley, The Cult) and Steve Ferlazzo (keyboards for Avril Lavigne and now Richie Sambora and Orianthi).
Before long, our new counselor, Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria) made his way into the studio to join them. I was fortunate that I had to wait a bit for my tech (yes, you get one of those here at camp) to set up my guitar. I used that time to subconsciously absorb these guys wailing.
After the open jam formalities had ended, everyone made their way off to begin rehearsal in their own studios. That’s when Rik, Bobby, Tom, Craig and I started talking about which songs we wanted to do.
Since the guys from REO Speedwagon would be coming to jam with us on Friday, we looked at our list of songs to do —and unanimously decided on this one:
After about four passes at the song — where I must say I held my own– it was time to break for camp introductions.
David Fishof (executive producer) welcomed campers to the event and then introduced the all-star array of counselors, which also included Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Whitesnake), Tony Frankin (The Firm, Blue Murder), Matt Starr (Mr. Big), Tanya O’Callaghan (Dee Snider, Ronnie Wood), Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper) and Monte Pittman (Madonna).
We then returned to our studio for some more rehearsal time, where Craig gave us some cool little solo ideas to use that would help bring the song to life. I’m thinking by now we’re around 85-90% of having a song nearly ready to go — and it was only Day One!
There were several master classes to choose from this night, and I decided to attend the one called “Stories From The Road”, where a group of counselors talked about their careers with some of the all-time greats.
The final event of the evening was a welcome dinner followed by an open jam with the counselors. Song performances included everything from The Cars, Eddie Money and AC/DC to Aldo Nova, Ozzy, The Beatles and Loverboy.
As the van took us back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but think about that 15-year-old me sitting up in his bedroom practicing all of these songs. And I think that’s when the true impact of what was about to occur over these next few days finally began to sink in.
Not gonna lie. I thought about getting up on that stage on Sunday night and f#cking up. But you know what? I don’t care. I came all this way to learn from and jam with the best, and here I am.
The streets of Hollywood are where it all began. The music I grew up with. The music that made me want to pick up a guitar and play. The music I love.
And in just a short time, I’m going to claim a small piece of those streets for myself.
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.
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!
“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.
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?”
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.
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.