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Outlaws Provoke Thought

Smiling, I’m holding a full wine glass, leaning on the copper counter at the Center City Wine Cellar ready to sign, sell and talk about my book. Manager and wine expert Kalie offered us a perfect spot in a hip venue that’s accessible to shoppers at the Marketplace at Steamtown in downtown Scranton. It’s Friday night, “First Friday,” as promoters call it – a monthly blast of art and commerce designed to attract shoppers and aficionados to center city.

A woman approaches the book display we set up with an avant-garde poster and free matching bookmarks. She stares at the colorful eyeball imprinted on the “Blood Red Syrah” promotional sign.

“You a reader?” I ask.

Scrunches up nose.

“What do you like?” I ask.


I feel like a cop trying to elicit a murder confession.

She doesn’t like thrillers. She doesn’t like violence. She doesn’t like this, doesn’t like that, doesn’t like thinking too hard about buying a book she doesn’t buy.

Talking about books should be easier.

I’m ready, willing and able to discuss my writing with anybody who’s interested. This is my first novel after re-inventing myself, as they saying goes. Like an ex-fighter or an ex-convict, I’m an ex-journalist. I call myself an “outlaw novelist,” a characterization some people find confusing.

It’s simple, I say.

Outlaws defy convention. Outlaws break laws written and/or unwritten. Outlaws don’t necessarily care what you think about their behavior. Outlaws provoke thought.

A little more than two months have passed since we unleashed “Blood Red Syrah,” a “gruesome California wine country thriller” that invites readers to face themselves and some of the burning issues that threaten sanity and civilization. Bigotry plays a significant role in the novel I describe as “pure California,” an instant cult classic with hints of severe noir and bitter neon finish.

Horror happens everywhere in the book. But you don’t have to live and survive in California to get the moral of the story. These issues live and breathe in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton where similar venom carries a violent, extensive history that breeds new generations of mayhem. My novel carries dangerous implications for East Coast readers as well as those living on the raw western edge of America.

 When I wrote the book I realized how our most severe obstacles must be faced long before they’re fixed. Graphic portrayals of domestic abuse, substance abuse, animal cruelty, murder, misogyny, classism, racism and other forms of drastic injustice are required reading for people who want bad to turn good.

Defying fear validates conscience. We must face the dragon if we ever hope to slay the dragon. To be aware is to be alive.

I’m learning a lot about how people perceive books – particularly fiction – in Northeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere. We ran a successful two week tour on the California Central Coast. We held a grand reading in the State College Barnes & Noble. On Saturday, Dec. 15, at 12:30 pm, I’m headed to the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre where reading is the main attraction. The South Franklin Street library is my old neighborhood library where I often wandered the stacks in search of bound struggle – a training ground for the battle of wits required to free the mind, resolve conflict and make life better.

Libraries are munitions factories for the brain.

Selling books is nice but not a priority for me. When Stephanie and I decided to take the book show on the road we agreed to, first and foremost, have a good time.

We’re having a good time.

We’re financially secure enough to pick up our own tab as we head from coast to coast spreading art and energy in the pure spirit of creativity. We’re brave enough to lose, which is one powerful secret of living a good life. As a result, we never lose.

We’ve already scheduled a spot in April at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the largest book fair in the country. Although this mass gathering is an elite celebration for the biggest and best in the publishing industry, we connected with the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society which accepted me as a member and graciously opened their tent to vagabonds like us.

Above all, festival-goers are readers.  

We’re kindred spirits because I am, too.

In the meantime, I’m around. You can find me on this website, on the Blood Red Syrah Facebook page or on the occasional podcast that rises to the challenge of talking about art, culture and madness.

The TwentyFiveEight Studios podcast with Markie Dennebaum and Stacey Toy is as good as social media gets. Check them out and spend a few hours with me on their production that debuts Monday, Dec. 10 at 4:20 pm and will be available in their archives for your listening and viewing pleasure.

I make no apologies for my liberty – literary or otherwise.

Outlaws never apologize for their independence.

Freedom means more than remorse.