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Friday, July 24, 2015

He Was Fairly Certain No One Had Ever Seen a Man Die Like That.

An Excerpt from The 25th Hour (Book One in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

The tremor shook Mackenzie from his reverie. He gazed up to see the space ahead of him billow and fold, as if he were viewing it through a smoky haze. A figure hurtled toward him, seemingly coming from nowhere, and landed at his feet.

Mackenzie dropped the broomstick in surprise. “Are you all right, mister?”

A wrinkled, liver-spotted hand pushed against the pavement, propelling the figure to his feet. He stood, studying Mackenzie’s face. The man’s voice was raspy and he spoke in gasps. “This is the right date, the right place. It’s got to be you. Tell me your name.”

“Mackenzie Mortimer.” He stared at the ancient man, who appeared to grow even older as they spoke, fascinated and repulsed at the same time. “But everyone calls me Mac. Except my mother. She calls me Mackenzie, especially when she’s mad at me.” He knew he was rambling, but he didn’t know what else to say. He considered running away, but the man was too old to be a threat to him and looked like he needed help.

“Your mother,” the man repeated. “She mustn’t find out about the watch. If she does, the consequences will be tragic. I’ve seen it. In the future. I couldn’t bear to watch her die again.”

Mackenzie backed away. “I think I should be going.” He noticed the man tremble. “Do you want me to call 9-1-1 to send an ambulance? You don’t look too good.”

The old man pulled a key from his pocket and thrust it into Mackenzie’s palm. “I’m out of time. You’ll know when to use it.”

Mackenzie studied the ornate metal key. He had never seen one quite like it. The iron key was black and heavy, with an intricate design forged into the key head. “Look, mister…”

The man trembled again. His body shook, vibrating for several seconds before crumbling into dust.

Mackenzie stared in horror at the empty clothes strewn at his feet where the old man had stood. His hand squeezed the sturdy key until his fingers turned white. He ran past the old man’s remains, down Warehouse Row, not looking back. He ran faster than if Tucker Bryant were chasing him. Mackenzie would have preferred being chased by the bully. He was afraid of Tucker, but that was a different kind of fear. Mackenzie had never seen a man die before. And he was fairly certain no one had ever seen a man die like that.

Available in paperback or Kindle exclusively on Amazon.com


Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Interview with the Author

Q: What is your latest book about?

A: The 25th Hour is the first book in a Young Adult science fiction trilogy. It’s a very exciting project. The protagonist is a 13-year-old boy who finds a pocket watch that allows him to freeze time. It’s a coming-of-age story told over three books, each with a different cast of supporting characters and different settings.

Q: What was your inspiration for the series?

A: If you think about young adult literature, one of the great creators would have to be Stan Lee. Stan didn’t invent comic books but he did revolutionize the medium in 1962 with Spider-Man. Before then, comic book superheroes were adults and the epitome of perfection. Spider-Man was a high school student, just like many comic book readers themselves. And Spider-Man was far from perfect. Beneath the mask, he was bespectacled teenager Peter Parker — penniless, the foil of bully Flash Thompson, and invisible to the attractive girls he dreamed of dating. Stan Lee capitalized on teenage angst, creating a character to whom teenage readers could relate. I think fans of the early Spider-Man comic will immediately recognize Stan’s influence in The 25th Hour.

In many ways, 13-year-old Mackenzie Mortimer is Peter Parker, just as bully Tucker Bryant has his roots in Flash Thompson. But the characterizations go much deeper and recall another comics legend. The redheaded teenager Archie has been one of the most successful comic book characters, appealing to kids and teenagers for the past 75 years. Just as Archie juggled plain-Jane Betty and socialite Veronica, Mackenzie Mortimer is infatuated with rich girl Vanessa Carlyle while oblivious to the crush his best friend, tomboy Marlene Prentice, has on him. In The 25th Hour there’s plenty of teenage angst to go around.

Q: The 25th Hour is hardly an Archie comic book. Some of the topics…

A: It’s meant to be relevant to today’s teenagers and young adults. The 25th Hour includes subjects like school shootings, alcoholism, drug abuse, bullying, depression, suicide, date rape, peer pressure, friendship, love, divorce, puberty, dating, and simply growing up. After all, it’s a coming-of-age story.


Q: Growing up, what was your favorite Young Adult science fiction novel?

A: Well, we didn’t really have a separate category for Young Adult science fiction back then. I read tons of science fiction as a kid, beginning with Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov. When I’d read all their books, I moved on to sampling Arthur C. Clarke, Piers Anthony, Joe Haldeman, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, and Jack Williamson. Of course, in school we studied H. G. Wells, George Orwell, Karel Capek, Aldous Huxley, Pat Frank, and Kurt Vonnegut. In high school, I became a huge fan of Harlan Ellison and continue to be to this day. In college, I was fortunate enough to interview many of the great science fiction and fantasy authors such as Leigh Brackett, Lin Carter, L. Sprague deCamp, Alan Dean Foster, R.A. Lafferty, Gene Roddenberry, and Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz. That was a thrill. I was in awe of them. I was in awe of all writers, but especially science fiction authors because that was the genre that most captivated me as a child. But if I had to pick one childhood science fiction book it would be Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.

Q: So science fiction was a big part of your childhood. Did that extend to movies?

A: There weren’t as many science fiction films when I was a kid. Hollywood was under the mistaken impression that science fiction wouldn’t sell. But I did enjoy The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, Planet of the Apes, The Andromeda Strain, and the Flash Gordon serials. However, television was where I got my science fiction fix: Star Trek; all the Irwin Allen shows –  Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; The Immortal; The Starlost; The Twilight Zone; The Outer Limits; The Invaders; The Fantastic Journey; and even the Planet of the Apes TV show.

Q: When did you begin writing science fiction?

A: I wrote science fiction stories as a kid, influenced by everything I was reading and viewing. Very, very bad stories, as I suppose all kids write. Fortunately, I don’t think any of them have survived. But I believe children should be encouraged to write and to stretch their imaginations. By the time I hit college I was writing award-winning nonfiction and I discussed an idea for a fiction story with my writing mentor, someone whose opinion I respected immensely. She thought it was awful and told me to stick to nonfiction, which I did for several years until my career and other pursuits took me away from writing. Two decades passed before I would write another piece of fiction.

Q: Wow. You gave up writing because of her comments?

A: Just writing fiction. I continued writing news stories and earned my degree in journalism. But journalism is a completely different kind of writing from fiction writing. Journalism is about reporting, and in some cases interpreting, facts and events. To write fiction well, one must be able to draw on diverse life experience and knowledge. At its heart, fiction is about the human condition and it takes years for a writer to be able to understand that and to express it. Fiction writing is not merely coming up with a plot and sticking some fungible characters into it. Characterization is essential, as is verisimilitude. The characters need to be well formed to the extent that they will act a certain way based on their fictionalized life experiences. If the same dialogue could come out of either character’s mouth in a scene, then the writer has not done a good job of defining each character. The characters also have to be unique individuals and not merely reflections of the writer. The author has to understand human nature and what life is like beyond his or her backyard. It helps to have traveled throughout the world and to have learned about different cultures to gain a broad enough perspective. My mentor was right; at 17, I wasn’t mature enough to write fiction.

Q: Getting back to The 25th Hour, why a trilogy?

A: Growing up doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an evolution: events and circumstances force the character to evolve from immaturity to responsibility. Each of the three books in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer takes Mackenzie outside of his comfort zone and challenges him to accept the great responsibility that comes with great power, and ultimately to determine the moral parameters of that responsibility. A lot of so-called coming-of-age stories really don’t change the protagonist, but I think readers will be shocked when they reach the third book.

Q: You’re referring to All the Time in the World?

A: Right. The 25th Hour is followed by The Tomorrow Paradox and then All the Time in the World. One of the things I loved as a kid was the cliffhanger endings of Flash Gordon and Lost in Space. The trilogy allows me to do a complete story arc yet incorporate some exciting cliffhangers. All of the books are packed with action and adventure, but the tone and mood of the third book is much darker, similar to the final Harry Potter book in that series. It was most difficult book I’ve ever written but I think readers will find it to be a powerful story.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Special Guest Blog by Mackenzie Mortimer!

Hi, my name’s Mackenzie Mortimer and I’m writing this to tell you about Mr. Darrell’s new book because, honestly, if I wait for him to tell you he’ll never get around to it. He’s a nice guy but, well, you know what grownups are like. See, it all started when I cut through an alley on my way home after school to avoid a bully. This really old guy appeared out of nowhere. I mean, he was ancient and growing older by the minute. He handed me a weird key and… I know you’re not going to believe this, but I swear it’s the truth – he aged so much that he turned to dust right in front of me.

Days later, when Marlene and I were cleaning out my garage, I found an old trunk that belonged to my missing grandfather. Marlene suggested the key might open it, which didn’t make any sense to me, but I tried it anyway, and she was right. Marlene’s really smart. She’s thirteen like me and she’s been my best friend since third grade. You’d like Marlene; she’s just like one of the guys, especially when she tucks her hair under her baseball cap. Anyway, the trunk was filled with a bunch of notes and journals describing my grandfather’s kooky inventions. And then I saw it: a bronze pocket watch. I was planning to put it on eBay; I was sure I’d get at least ten bucks for it. But I discovered it was actually one of my grandfather’s inventions and the pocket watch not only told time… It controlled it.

Anyone holding the watch can freeze time – or at least slow it down to a crawl – for up to an hour a day. At first, I used it for some harmless pranks. Marlene said I should use it responsibly, but hey, I’m a kid – I’m not supposed to be responsible. I don’t even do my chores when I should. But then, things started happening. I’ll let Mr. Darrell tell you about that. To make it short, I had to start growing up and accept responsibility. I tried not to. I even tried to get rid of the watch. I just wanted to go back to being a normal kid. But I couldn’t, because now people depended on me… Even if they didn’t know it. I learned if you have the power to make a difference when no one else can, then you have a moral obligation to do so.

Mr. Darrell calls it a coming-of-age, young adult science fiction story. Marlene says coming-of-age means I grew up and stopped acting like a kid, but I think it means I realized Marlene’s actually a girl underneath the baseball cap and sweatshirts. Who knew?

The 25th Hour – Book One in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer – goes on sale July 7, 2015 on Amazon.com.

Monday, July 6, 2015

An Ordinary Boy Becomes a Reluctant Hero.

     Growing up is easy; becoming grown-up is a lot harder. The 25th Hour, coming this summer!
The 25th Hour

Sometimes a Pocket Watch

   can do more than tell time. The 25th Hour, coming this summer!
The 25th Hour

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Time is Running Out...

  Fortunately Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else.
The 25th Hour

Mackenzie Mortimer is an Ordinary Boy...

  about to embark on an extraordinary adventure. The 25th Hour, coming this summer!
The 25th Hour

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Boy. A Girl. A Pocket Watch.

   Coming-of-Age meets Science Fiction. The 25th Hour, coming this summer!
The 25th Hour

Friday, July 3, 2015

Can You Stop a Bullet in Its Tracks? He Can.

  Meet 13-year-old Mackenzie Mortimer in The 25th Hour. Coming this summer!
The 25th Hour

What Would You Do If You Could Freeze Time Around You?

   Mackenzie Mortimer is about to find out. The 25th Hour, coming this summer!
The 25th Hour

Serenity Valley...

   Nothing ever happens in this sleepy town. Until The 25th Hour. Coming this summer!
The 25th Hour

Born in the USA

I recently attended a naturalization ceremony. The last time anyone in my family became a naturalized American citizen was four generations ago, back at the turn of the nineteenth century, so this was a unique experience for me. It took place in a government building, in a large room filled with prospective citizens and their guests. A little boy, whose mother was becoming an American citizen, sat next to me in the guest section. Two television monitors were positioned on either side of the stage at the front of the room. A Statue of Liberty replica stared out at us from its perch on the table beside the monitor closest to me, surrounded by dozens of miniature American flags. I smiled at the little boy. “I think you’ll get to bring one of those home with you.” Sure enough, a woman came by, passing out flags to the children.

Music played through the speakers, as we waited for the ceremony to begin. A black man sung an odd rendition of America the Beautiful, off-key and adding his own improvisations. But the strangest song on the playlist was Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, perhaps both the most unlikely and inappropriate tune for the occasion. The video monitors displayed an articulate welcoming message from President Barack Obama, followed by an inspiring message from former UN Ambassador and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She described how she had fled her native Czechoslovakia as a child to escape the Nazis, and returned to her homeland later, only to have to flee again as a teenager when the communists took over. She became an American citizen, earned a PhD, and rose to be one of our country’s most distinguished diplomats.

Her visage was replaced on the monitors by a slideshow while the Star-Spangled Banner played in the background. It was a song filled with great meaning, but as with many songs, people often repeat the words without truly appreciating what they mean. As the crowd around me blindly mouthed the words, I looked down at the little boy next to me. I wanted to explain to him what it was we were hearing. I wanted to tell him how Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner, inspired as he sat aboard a ship in the harbor watching the bombs bursting in the air. It was during the War of 1812. He was aboard the British warship HMS Tonnant to negotiate the release of American prisoners. While they were on board, the British attacked Baltimore, bombarding Fort McHenry. When dawn came, Key saw the resilient American flag waving above the fort. He wrote a poem later set to music that became the Star-Spangled Banner, America’s national anthem.

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It means something. It’s not just a bunch of words or a catchy tune. Our young nation was at war, invaded by the mightiest army in the world. A month earlier, in August 1814, the British had set fire to the White House, forcing President James Madison and his wife Dolley to flee the presidential residence, never to return. The capitol had also been set afire, and for the first time since the American Revolution, a foreign power had captured and occupied Washington, DC, the American capital. The Battle of Baltimore could have signaled the end of the American Experience… But “by the dawn's early light” the “broad stripes and bright stars” of an oversized American flag were “gallantly streaming” over Fort McHenry, having replaced the smaller, tattered storm flag that had waved defiantly through the 25-hour “perilous fight”. I wanted the little boy next to me to know that.

The slideshow sped past an image of the plaque on the Statue of Liberty. The neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor representing the Roman goddess of freedom was a gift from France. It was a magnificent gift, but it was quite large and needed a pedestal on which to be placed. A fundraising effort was started to procure money to construct a pedestal. Jewish poet Emma Lazarus donated a sonnet entitled “The New Colossus” to be auctioned off. In 1903, her poem was inscribed on a bronze plaque on the pedestal’s inner wall. This child of immigrants described the statue: “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome…”

The most famous words of Lazarus’ sonnet are: “"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…” Could any words be more meaningful and significant to a room full of immigrants moments away from being granted full citizenship? I wanted to pause the slideshow on that image of the plaque and read the entire sonnet so the little boy next to me, and everyone else, could appreciate the enormity of the sentiment expressed so eloquently by Emma Lazarus.


But the image passed in a fleeting moment, having appeared on the screen before us for only the briefest of instances, in keeping with modern America’s impatient, fast food, finger-on-the-remote-control, limited attention span culture. Each year, Americans celebrate their freedom on the Fourth of July with fireworks and barbecues, seldom pausing to reflect on the origins and meaning of the iconic symbols representing the holiday. Perhaps this year, all Americans, new or as Bruce put it, “Born in the USA”, might ruminate on their significance.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Tomboy. A Geek. A Hot Rich Girl.

    A Love Triangle at Serenity Valley Junior High. The 25th Hour, coming this summer!