I got lucky with my first book, Are You Lonesome Tonight and managed to hit the best seller charts around the world, including the all-important New York Times list. (Gotta give Elvis most of the credit.)
One of my biggest thrills was walking into a bookstore and seeing the
paperback version sharing a display with James Michener's latest. I'm sure
Mr. Michener wasn't quite as overwhelmed.
Are You Lonesome Tonight? even had its own displays in many stores.
An author, probably more than any other career, is a product of
his upbringing and environment. When you write, you find yourself reaching
into the past for inspiration, characters, emotion, and sometimes even
tragedy. My father was a foreign service officer with the Voice of America
-- the official American government radio service that broadcasts from
stations around the world. By the time I was 19, I had lived in New York,
Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Thailand, the Philippine Islands, back to
Washington, D.C., then down to the middle of the Florida Keys. Although I
hated having to move so much, in retrospect, I was fortunate to have grown
up in such diverse places.
With that background, it's no surprise that I've continued roaming
as an adult, spending years in Miami, Florida, Lake Worth, Florida, Emmaus,
Pennsylvania, and back to Miami. Then, while chasing celebrities and
UFOs across the country for one of the entertainment magazines, I
discovered the desert. What a revelation to find that I could be warm, but
not wet! Goodbye Florida, the Philippines, Thailand, North Carolina,
Washington and New York humidity. Hello Arizona!
Yeah, those 115 degree summer days can be a drag, but as the saying
goes, "it's a dry heat." At least my hair looks great as I dehydrate.
One of my favorite photos from my early childhood in
Greenville, N.C. Hanging down by my beloved creek with my sister Mariane
and my dog Cinder around 1962. I captured the spirit of this part of my
life in the novel A Message to Jared, setting the story at my mother's even
smaller North Carolina hometown, Lake Waccamaw.
I was happy and content playing Little League baseball,
hunting, fishing and generally being a good ol' boy in the making. Then, my
father came home one day and said we were moving. Some move. From the
sticks of Greenville to bamboo reeds of Bangkok, Thailand. I was devastated
-- but as children so easily do, I soon adapted to my strange new home.
There were still lots of sports to play at my melting pot junior high
school -- The International School of Bangkok -- and I became best friends
with Danny Unger, the son of the American ambassador. I used to spend the
night at the Ambassador's mansion in Bangkok almost every weekend. Those
were the days!
In Grand Slam, the opening manuscript of The Chandler Chronicles
series, I set the first segment of the story in Bangkok. It's a part of my
life I intend to explore in greater literary detail down the road.
The photo, circa 1967, shows me standing in front of a "spirit
house," the small, ornate mini-buildings Thais place in front of their
homes to provide shelter for good spirits. I was 12 and in very good
After junior high, it was on the road again, this time to
the Philippines. I was pretty bummed, as always, because I was really
adapting to Thailand. Aside from hanging with the Ambassador's son, riding
klong boat taxis, and flying fighter kites with strings coated with powdered
glass, I was scheduled to compete in a track and field meet in Laos and was
looking forward to the exotic trip.
When not strapping on the pads, I found time for baseball, basketball, soccer...
No go. My pop came home in late 1969
and made one of his now famous announcements. Goodbye Bangkok, hello
Angeles City. I recovered even faster from this move because we lived just
outside Clark Air Force Base -- a sea of Americana in the middle of the
Pacific. There were even more sports to play on this massive military
installation, including, to my delight, organized football! As Thailand
faded in my memory, I quarterbacked my high school team to the 1971 base
championship. Glory Days indeed.
...and a bit of romance on the side.
I mentally returned to my Philippine experiences to provide the
depth and color for the novel The Island of Passion and Rage, the fifth
installment of The Chandler Chronicles.
My father was stationed next in Rhodes, Greece, but I
missed that one. Unfortunately, I'd grown up and had to go off to college
-- first to a small junior college in Wingate, North Carolina near by
mother's hometown, then to the University of Maryland after my parents
returned to the D.C. area. By my junior year, I was off again to finish my
education at the University of Miami. My dad was transferred to Marathon
Key, and I sure as heck wasn't going to allow him to enjoy another tropical
island paradise while I froze in Maryland!
Handling a promotion gig for then University of Miami football coach Howard Schnellen- berger during my brief public relations career.
Filming a television ad with then University of Miami and
future Dallas Cowboys/Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson.
I polished my writing skills working for "The Hurricane," the
University of Miami newspaper. The last semester of my senior year, I
interned at The Miami News, giving them a full 40-hour work week instead
of the mere six that were required. I was hired immediately upon graduation.
I snagged a prime reporter's position right out of the gate because I'd
volunteered to cover a graveyard shift by myself (when all the good blood
and guts news happened), and the Cox newspaper essentially had no choice
but to hold me over.
Meeting "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali while on assignment in Los
Angeles. I was so excited I forgot to take the pen out of my hand when we
shook for the photo.
College grads take note -- this is the best way to get
a jump start on one's career. Work for free and make them need you.
The intensive internship kicked off my wide and varied "have pen
will travel" career as a writer. Highlights during this time: An
unscheduled stop in Cuba, where I was stuck for eight days during the
infamous Mariel Freedom Flotilla; a week-long stint as a high school
football player for an undercover assignment; and a whole lot of dead
bodies that littered the city during the height of the Cocaine Cowboy wars.
This Miami sojourn (1975-1989) provided the setting for Saw, the
third installment of The Chandler Chronicles.
Another primo assignment during my PR career -- escorting
"Dynasty" star Linda Evans around her celebrity tennis tournament at the
Bonaventure Hotel near Fort Lauderdale. My ever-present pen decorates my
With the gang from Spector/Anker Associates (PR firm) at the
grand opening of the first Bloomingdale's in South Florida.
Playing an extra at the Orange Bowl on the set of the movie
"Black Sunday." It was a journalism assignment for the University of Miami
At The Miami News, I always finagled a way to write the
annual story about the Orange Bowl Queen. Here I am cozying up to the 1981
and 1982 editions.
Another goofy Miami News assignment -- an audition to become a
Ringling Brothers Circus clown. However, little did my editors know that I
had my own circus story -- a University of Maryland era girlfriend who left
me to go to Ringling's clown college in Venice, Florida. I contrasted my
pseudo "try-out" with my memories of, and reunion with my ex-squeeze, and
produced a tear-jerker that was picked up by the wire services and ran in
newspapers around the country. (She told me that I was part of the "outside
world." I took one look around that cramped circus train -- overflowing
with dwarfs, midgets, clowns, surly animal keepers, Russian Cossack riders,
etc. -- and was darn happy for it!)
Playing around at the office with Spector/Anker glamour girl
account executive M.J. Taylor.
Two shots of my niece, the budding stage actress ReNina
Hoblitz. ReNina grew up in South Africa, studied theater in London, and has
a real neat English accent. I dropped in her photos here because she needs
the plug and the pub.
Decked out for a night on the town during the Miami Vice era.
My Florida adventure was broken up in the mid-`80s by a year in
Emmaus, Pennsylvania cranking out health and fitness books for Rodale
Press, the publishers of Prevention magazine. I'm squeezed in here among
some of Rodale's finest. I think it was Halloween, but with this crew, it
could have been just a regular day. (All those bean sprouts do strange
things to one's noggin.)
I harkened back to this period of my life to create the
Pennsylvania Dutch background for the troubled movie star Rebecca Lynn
Sheridan in the novel Grand Slam.
The Arizona Years
As mentioned, I fell in love with the dry, dry West while chasing
UFOs in Arizona. Packed the covered wagon (actually a 1983 Mercury Cougar)
and blazed the trail in 1989.
An Italian gangster from back East was brought to
Arizona to play an Italian gangster from back East in an undercover sting
targeting crooked politicians. We hooked up after the dimes were dropped
(21 indictments) and collaborated on my third book, What's In It For Me?
I'm seen here promoting it at -- you guessed it -- a political function.
My new desert home also figured in the setting of the multi-faceted
novel Grand Slam, and even more extensively in The Grand Escape, the fourth
installment of The Chandler Chronicles.
Visiting the Grand Canyon to research The Grand Escape.
Loving how good my hair looks in the drier climate.
Dry weather, good hair days and convertibles all go
together in Phoenix...
...with glorious sunsets to boot. This one was shot
from my balcony. Not a bad way to end a day.
The Reunion Years
In 1988, I wrote a bittersweet short story, "MacArthur's Children,"
about being an overseas brat and losing touch with my past and all my
friends. Three years later, Mt. Pinatubo erupted and destroyed Clark Air
Force Base -- along with Wagner High School. That removed all hope of ever
recapturing that part of my life again.
Or so I thought. The advent of the Internet inspired some fellow
Wagner alums to try and reunite us all on the information super highway.
They worked on the "Field of Dreams" theory, i.e. "if we build it, they'll
come." The web page, www.whoa.org, has been a resounding success! We have
definitely come -- 4,000 strong and counting. The creators, Gary McClellan
and John Prunier, tapped into the exact emptiness I was feeling when I
wrote "MacArthur's Children" (www.whoa.org/73/Macchild.html) and discovered
that there were thousands of us "overseas brats" who felt the same "where
is everybody?" melancholia. What the military and volcano took from us,
we've gotten back via the web.
It's been one of the great joys of my life to reunite and
rediscover my lost friends -- not only those who shared my precise time,
1969-1973, but all those who ever attended Wagner High during its existence
from 1948-1991. We have become a close virtual family. Attending reunions
has become almost an obsession with me, as they tend to be some of the best
weekends of my life.
Trading memories of our unique high school years with my old pals
in chat rooms and bulletin boards helped inspire me to write The Island of
Passion and Rage. In the year 2000, a couple of 747 loads of us are
planning to return to the Philippines for a week of reminiscing -- Mt.
Pinatubo and Thomas Wolfe be damned. Think there might be a book in that?
Winter Park, Colorado, 1990, hanging with the class of 1973 during the pre-Internet years. We could only find a handful of us.
San Francisco, 1995. The Internet is
awakening and more lost "Wagner Falcons" are found.
Austin, 1998. We had a full-fledged, re-prom as
the Internet started cooking. I wore the same tux that I sported during the
1972 and 1973 proms in the Philippines. (Those bean sprouts really work!)
Phoenix, 1998 -- www.whoa.org started really
jumping. The reunions have become larger and more frequent. We had a blast
staying in the historic San Carlos Hotel, which was haunted with more than
just ol' high school chums.
Being an Italian Aries, I have a genetic aversion to
ladies in cold cream and curlers. My re-discovered friends decided to
surround me with my worst nightmare.
Lompoc 1999. Breaking in the new generation of
Falcons and reuniting with more old friends.
Okay, I promise that once I get over this regression to my long
lost tropical high school, I will get back to the business of writing
Thanks for making it all the way through this brief journey through
my dazed and confused life. Now, when you read a passage in one of my books
about a gecko falling from the ceiling and splatting down on a formal
dining room table, sending a host of terrified young ladies running,
you'll know where it came from.