"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

AEI Client Kerry Valderrama Finalist in the Filmmakers Int'l Screenwriting Awards

Kerry Valderrama's "Memories of a Hundred" has made it into the finals of the FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards

The winners will be announced April 28th. Kerry's screenplay was selected from thousands of entries down to the final 17 scripts in his category.


Guest Post: How Turning Off Your Cell Phone For One Week Can Change Your Life


Ring! Ring! Ring! We’ve all heard it far too many times. Cell phones. It seems some would have to surgically get theirs removed from their ears in order to live without them. They take them to work, home, to dinners, even to the bathroom. God forbid they miss a call. Irritating, and someone would say mildly entertaining, to watch. But what if we were that type of person?

Yes, messages, calls, meetings and even alarms are a few things that we manage through our cell phone. There are some moments when we feel that without cell phones our lives would have been handicapped, but is it really so?

Are you someone who goes to sleep with your Blackberry tucked under the pillow? You know you have a problem but you just can’t help yourself? Well, consider this. We wonder sometimes what our lives would be like without them. But consider this, ten, twenty years ago people didn’t have cell phones and yet they lived life just fine.

Sometimes our fear is that we’ll miss an important call, or that some emergency will happen. I had a friend that always worried about that but he knew he had a problem. He was missing out in life and it was irritating his friends and family. So, he gave himself a challenge to spend one week without a cell phone. Yes, he left it at home. He knew most phone calls could wait until he got home to return them and if his family was to call him with an emergency what could he do anyway? They lived thousands of miles away.

Do you know what happened? One week turned into two weeks. Two weeks turned into three weeks and today, he doesn’t even use one. Yes, life does go on. See what a difference it makes in your life.

Visit The Thrillionaires website: thethrillionaires.com

AEI Client Dennis Palumbo interviewed on NPR

A Male Therapist on Screen? Odds Are, He's a Heel


Commentator Dennis Palumbo is a psychotherapist but he used to be a screenwriter. And that makes him uniquely qualified to make an observation about how therapists are portrayed in the movies now as oppose to decades past.

DENNIS PALUMBO: In "Now, Voyager," kindly therapist Claude Rains is paternal and insightful and he obviously knows what's good for his patient.

(Soundbite of movie, "Now, Voyager")

Unidentified Woman: Tell me, how is Charlotte?

Mr. CLAUDE RAINS (Actor): (As Dr. Jaquith) Better every week. In fact, she's almost well but she doesn't believe it. (Unintelligible) still looks (unintelligible). You'll find her feeling depressed today because under this morning, I told her she's a fledgling (unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman: A fledgling?

Mr. RAINS: (As Dr. Jaquith) Well, it's time, better to get out of the nest and try her own wings.

PALUMBO: He's a lot like Lee J. Cobb in "Three Faces of Eve," helping Joanne Woodward parse out the three distinct personalities tormenting her. Like Claude Rains before him, he's a model of the patriarchal culture, a therapist of unquestionable motives, and unimpeachable authority. One of the good guys, which begs the question how did we get from there to Hannibal Lecter. Because with rare exceptions, that's where we are.

Look at how male therapists are currently depicted on film and television. Instead of being caretakers, they're troubled, predatory, even psychotic. Richard Gere in "Final Analysis," Bruce Willis in the "Color of Night," Robert de Niro in last year's "Hide and Seek." On TV shows, like "Law and Order" and "CSI," a male psychologist or psychiatrist is as liable to be the bad guy as any garden-variety contract killer or spurned lover.

Now, I know enough to be skeptical about Hollywood's notion of any profession. But I can't help wondering what's going on? How did the onscreen image of male therapists go from father figure to the most likely suspect?

Maybe this change simply reflects one that's occurred in the culture at large. After all, the past 40 years has seen a challenge to the whole idea of male authority. In terms of image, professors, doctors, and scientists of the male persuasion have suddenly gone from being saint to sinners. Same with therapists.

No wonder today's TV and film writers find them irresistible as villains. All that education, respectability and power turned to the dark side. But it wasn't just society's growing mistrust of male authority that turned Lee J. Cobbs' gray suit and pipe into Anthony Hopkins face muscle and leather restraints.

There was also a trend starting in the '50s, a popular film that threw cold water on the whole idea of psychological treatment as a positive tool to alleviate suffering. Films, like the "Manchurian Candidate," "The Snake Pit," and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," suggested a nefarious way psychology could be exploited or used for evil.

Let's face it. The world's a pretty treacherous, confusing place, nowadays. Our most sturdy institutions - government, the Church, education - traditionally headed by men seemed to be letting us down. It's no different with therapy. Nowadays, much like priests, male therapists suffer from the failed expectations of a disillusioned public. Our distrust and suspicion buffed to a stereotypic finish by the narrative demands of TV and film.

So now, to the hallowed images of tough private eye, brilliant physician and ruthless attorney, we can add the unethical, manipulative, and frequently, homicidal male therapist, coming to a theater or TV screen near you.

Hmm. Sounds like we could use a walk like Claude Rains right about now.


Guest Post: My new friend: Nik Halik the Thrillionaire - Wellsphere.com

by Jothy Rosenberg

Had a nice call last night with Nik Halik whom I want to tell you about. Nik is a self-made millionaire and coined a new term--Thrillionaire--to describe what he aspires to be and to help other people be as well. He has a very active web site dedicated to this called http://www.thethrillionaires.com. I find that attitudinally Nik and I have a lot in common. The course of our lives however has been about as different as you can imagine but in the end many of our messages and what we have learned in our lives is so much in common.

Nik is a 41-year old Greek Australian who originally had the name Nikos Halikopoulos until his family shortened it to less of a mouthful that non-Greeks could spell. He was born and raised in Melbourne Australia and still has the nice accent from down under we Americans all seem to like. When Nik was a child he had very bad chronic asthma that confined him to his bedroom where he read in Encyclopedia Britannica about places it seemed he might never see. This time was clearly very formative for him. He began to dream and scheme of what he would do if and when he could break out of his confinement. He wrote a bucket-list of ten things that contained things like "eat lunch on the deck of the Titanic 5 miles under the ocean" and "climb Mt. Everest" both of which he has done as well as "walk on the surface of the moon" which is one of the few items that remains un-checked on his list.

Nik got busy once he out grew his restricting childhood ailment and made his millions by investing. He got good enough at investing and making money that he formed an institute to teach others what he had learned. His current email still is from his
Financial Freedom Institute which he founded when he was just 29. His goal was not just to accumulate wealth for its own sake but to use wealth as a way to achieve one's goals. He says "the difference between being a millionaire and a 'thrillionaire' is not about balance sheets it’s about living life to the fullest dreaming big and using money as the tool to achieve those dreams." Short and sweet his motto is"find your dream and fund it!"

Nik's big dream as an 8 year-old like many kids was to be an astronaut. But unlike most kids for him it was not some ethereal unrealistic dream. He focused on it did what he had to do to make it become reality and indeed succeeded. At 41 Nik is currently again focused on his astronaut persona and is an alternate to go to the international space station. He actually paid $3 million to the Russians to secure that spot.

Nik and I spent most of our conversation talking about philosophies and I can confidently say he not only strongly subscribes to the Who Says I Can't that I espouse but he really lives it every day. He talks about no limits and no excuses which I articulate as don't hit me with any of that "pretty good…considering" crap. As I see it we both found the world trying to hold us back and we would have none of that. We both ended up being entrepreneurs and risk-takers. We believe our extreme physical adventures blend with and enable our business adventures and we go back and forth between them smoothly and constantly. Most would say we are both driven (some would say too driven). And we are both trying to teach and assist others based on what we learned through practical experience. Like me Nik has also written a book aptly named "I am glad Nik's team discovered my blog and reached out to connect us. Nik and I have plans to meet when we are both in California at the same time. He is clearly quite a guy and I know I will enjoy spending time with him immensely. Until then I will wish him well and watch his continuing exploits through his various Web sites and the news media as everyone else does.

I am glad Nik's team discovered my blog and reached out to connect us. Nik and I have plans to meet when we are both in California at the same time. He is clearly quite a guy and I know I will enjoy spending time with him immensely. Until then I will wish him well and watch his continuing exploits through his various Web sites and the news media as everyone else does.

Wellsphere’s mission is to help millions of people live healthier, happier lives by connecting them with the knowledge, people and tools they need to manage and improve their health. http://www.wellsphere.com/

Guest Post: AEI Client Nik Halik interview with Greg Rodgers - Vagabonding Life.com

Here's is part two of my interview with Nik Halik, a vagabonding legend with a very purpose-driven life and an inspiration to many.


I was able to chat with Nik on the phone for about an hour about his travels to 112 countries as well as some of his adventures like going to space, flying in a Russian fighter jet, and sleeping overnight inside the Great Pyramid.

Nik advocates making a “bucket list” of dreams and adventures that you hope to experience and then making them come true by attracting positive things to your life with the right mindset.

No matter how difficult the goals may seem, start making small systematic steps toward making each come true, then move on to the next one. Nik is mostly through the list he made as a kid…..imagine the skepticism he met with when he said that he wanted to become a rock star or go to space?

Just for fun, here are some highlights from our conversation:

Where are some of the favorite places that you have traveled?

Nik answered that he loves Morocco, the Middle East, and South America because you are “forced to assimilate” yourself.

After traveling so many places, where would you most like to live?

Nik currently has homes all over, including Australia, Greece, and the US. I asked him where he preferred to live and his answer was that he “still hasn’t found where he wants to live….and would live in space when the option becomes available.”

Since you’ve been a rock star, what are you playing on your IPOD right now?

Not surprising, Nik was listening to some hair bands (I like the guy already) as well as Radiohead, Enya, and even Yanni!

Talk about some of the places that you’ve been:

Nik loves Antarctica and has been there 5 times already. The Titanic (of course) and he was one of a very small handful of people to sleep overnight in the Great Pyramid (inside the sarcophagus, mind you!)

Did you get any sleep inside of the Great Pyramid?

Nik answered, “not much….a little”. He was kept too busy with a strange vision and supernatural experience that changed him.

Do the Russians think you are mad?

He answered “yes”. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he has deep dived to the Titanic with them, trained as a cosmonaut with them, and experienced zero gravity and MACH 3 with them! Why the Russians? Well, you won’t exactly find the ability to do all those things at Disney World.

In 112 countries, have you ever had any “close calls”?

Nik was nearly kidnapped in Bogota, Colombia a few years ago and suggested that I “dress like a backpacker” rather than a businessman to not draw attention to myself. He told me this the week that I was on my way to Bogota…!

What did you think about running with the bulls in Pamplona?

“I ran twice. The first time I fell on my face in about 8 seconds. Try running with the locals who know to start further down the path rather than where all the tourists begin.”

After getting banged up on the street with some not-so-happy bulls close behind, I applaud him for getting back up and doing it again the next day! The most difficult part…? Surviving the party!

What advice can you give to people in university?

“Travel a couple of years before you jump into the workforce. Get to know yourself first….you will come back far more mature.”

Nik’s book The Thrillionare details some of his adventures (like mountaineering and tornado chasing) and gives a very motivational insight into his way of thinking. I am reading it for the second time and will be writing a review.

Nik recommends that we list our goals and then share them with others to be held accountable; set specific dates for when you will take that big trip rather than just talking about it and do research to “internalize” that goal.

Visit The Thrillionaires website: thethrillionaires.com

Guest Post: AEI Client Nik Halik interview with Greg Rodgers - Vagabonding Life.com

One great interview deserves another. Before heading off to South America, I had the opportunity to spend an extraordinary hour with Nik Halik on the phone and my life paradigms haven’t been the same since.

Rock star, adventurer, mountaineer, and now millionaire, he has 112 countries worth of experience and is an inspiration to everyone, traveler or not. He has even been to a couple of places that you won’t find covered in Lonely Planet - the Titanic and space!

Nik made his dreams come true by taking control of his thinking and by not wasting life trying to collect material things. He subscribes completely to the idea that we attract good things to happen with the right attitude and puts his money back into life experiences.

One great interview deserves another. Before heading off to South America, I had the opportunity to spend an extraordinary hour with Nik Halik on the phone and my life paradigms haven’t been the same since.

Rock star, adventurer, mountaineer, and now millionaire, he has 112 countries worth of experience and is an inspiration to everyone, traveler or not. He has even been to a couple of places that you won’t find covered in Lonely Planet - the Titanic and space!

Nik made his dreams come true by taking control of his thinking and by not wasting life trying to collect material things. He subscribes completely to the idea that we attract good things to happen with the right attitude and puts his money back into life experiences.

I’m going to split this interview into two posts - one with Nik’s background and one with the more personal dialogue and his advice.

Nik is a vagabonding hero and his way of thinking is highly contagious - you’ve been warned!

Growing Up

At first glance, it would be easy to discount Nik Halik as another Richard Branson type that has the money to tackle whatever adventure he fancies.

The truth is that Nik wasn’t born into privilege. He was born in Australia to hard working Greek immigrants (his father was a truck driver) and actually spent the first ten years of his life in bed with debilitating asthma.

No one would have suspected that this fatigued little boy would go on to climb the highest peaks of four continents and is soon to make a bid on Everest!

Despite not having the money, his parents invested in an Encyclopedia Britannica for him which he literally wore out his eyesight reading day and night while stuck in bed.

At age 8 and with a head full of dreams from so much reading, he wrote down a list of 10 seemingly impossible goals that aren’t too far off from our dreams of that age: “Become a rock star”, “become an astronaut”, “climb mount Everest”.

Nik is different because he never caved into society’s pressure to give up those dreams and “grow up” by joining the masses of middle-waged and miserable tax payers. Now at age 39 he is well on the way to completing nearly all of his original goals!

Making it Happen

Rather than go to university and get dumped into the mainstream workforce, Nik turned to music and started learning guitar. As a teenager he became good enough to teach lessons and rather than blow the money as most guys his age would, he saved.

By the age of 17, he had managed to save $30K and left his home country for Los Angeles to embrace his dreams of becoming a rock star. He later ended up in the band Big Deal and playing with Bon Jovi and Deep Purple. Dream #1 accomplished.


Nik’s beliefs about money are in line with Rolf Potts and vagabonds (like myself) around the world. Life experiences and wisdom which appreciate and will enhance your life over time are much more important than material things which depreciate and actually become a liability.

Even being a millionaire now, Nik doesn’t invest in “anything that moves” such as boats, cars, and the other things that the rich rush out to buy. He instead reinvests the money into himself and into “multiple pillars of wealth” - automated ways to make income that don’t require your constant time and attention.

Nik calls himself a “Thrillionaire” because money or no money, he is rich in life experiences and wants to leave a positive legacy. He told me that his number one ambition is to “walk with a smile on my face.”

According to Nik, “Capitalism is designed to entrench us in debt” and he goes further by pointing out how people physically become ill just to get out of going into jobs that they hate. Its a trap which people fall into early in life when they are young and should be traveling, learning, and getting to know themselves.

“Money is the servant and we are the masters, not the other way around.”

He also points out in his book The Thrillionaire that our current educational system doesn’t provide young people with any practical financial education such as how to save money, how to invest, or how to use credit cards properly.

It is literally a system designed to crank out tax payers that are stuck in debt and unable to travel or pursue happiness. Sound familiar?

Travel and Vagabonding

Nik could have kept earning money and living the same rock star lifestyle but instead he left music at around age 28 and went vagabonding for several years.

He recommends that we do serious traveling at least every 5 years because we change so much and it is necessary to know yourself again. His first advice to university students is to travel and take 2 or 3 years to get to know yourself before jumping into the workforce.

Niks agrees that “travel is the best education ever” and his passport reflects that. He has been to Antarctica five times, explored the dangerous crystal caverns of Mexico, ran with the bulls in Pamplona (once wasn’t enough), and lived with Bedouins in Egypt among other things.

Even more impressive, he was the first Australian citizen to go to space (he went with the Russians) and has dived in a submersible to the Titanic wreck. He was also the first person to spend the night inside the Great Pyramid in more than 100 years and had strange supernatural experiences. Why? Why not!

I’m going to write up our conversation for the second part of this interview. Until then, I will leave you with some great advice Nik gave me over the phone:

“Live a purpose built life. We are unique but relinquish control….as adults we need to think like kids again.”

Visit The Thrillionaires website: thethrillionaires.com


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GUEST POST: Dennis Palumbo, writer, therapist, blogger

"From Crime To Crime: Mind Boggling Tales of Mystery and Murder" (Tallfellow Press)

Practicing Therapy Without A License

In the recent book about writing creative nonfiction, Keep It Real (Norton; edited by Lee Gutkind and Harriet Fletcher), I provided an essay about the new prevalence among nonfiction writers and biographers to "play therapist" when describing their real-life subjects' inner thoughts and motivations. I don't believe that a writer can't do this, but only that he or she needs to be extremely careful.

For those of you who might be interested in this topic, here's a slightly revised version of that essay. As always, I'd love to have your thoughts.


In his nonfiction best-seller The Devil in the White City, Eric Larson delves deeply and convincingly into the mind of the serial killer H.H. Holmes. In fact, making use of newspaper accounts, trial transcripts and other source material, he goes so far as to refute aspects of Holmes' own autobiography, written in prison before his execution. Larsen even challenges many of the killer's descriptions of his feelings and motivations, inserting his own analysis of Holmes' state of mind.

In his notes at book's end, Larson makes a pretty compelling case for his justification in doing this. But this technique does raise a fascinating question for creative nonfiction writers. What are the dangers of such "psychoanalyzing" when depicting the inner workings of a real person's mind? Is this not practicing therapy without a license?

It's a charge frequently leveled at nonfiction writers, especially those like Bob Woodward and Doris Kearns Goodwin, who specialize in "re-creating" the thoughts and feelings of historical figures. In the past two decades, biographers of famous individuals have been even more liberal—-some would say audacious--in their attempts at psychoanalytic interpretation of their subjects. Hence, we've seen speculation that Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt were gay, famed child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim was a pathological liar, and Adolf Hitler was sexually abused.

The point is, today's nonfiction writers delve more intimately than ever into the lives and subjective experiences of the real people they depict. And while this approach has always been a crucial component of the fiction writer's art, there's a specific danger involved when the people depicted actually exist: namely, that much of the authority behind the nonfiction writer's voice (and

opinion) derives from the reader's belief that what's being described is "true."

Does this mean there are never circumstances when the thoughts, feelings and motivations of people you're writing about can't be creatively imagined? Not necessarily. Narrative requires that people do things, and, in life as well as in fiction, people do things for a reason. Even if it's only a reason that makes sense to them. To be deprived of the opportunity to extrapolate what these reasons might be is to sacrifice much of what makes reading about these people interesting and compelling in the first place.

The danger emerges when the nonfiction writer assumes a false sense of objective distance from the inner world of the person being depicted. Whether reading the person's journal, scouring contemporary accounts of the person's actions, or talking with family members and intimate friends about the person's character and habits, it's important that the writer remember that he or she also brings something to the table; i.e., a wealth of personal experiences, prejudices and intentions of one's own.

For example, if you're interviewing someone about the details of his failed marriage, your own relationship experiences create a filter through which you see, hear and draw conclusions about what the subject is saying.

In other words, whether doing research about events that happened before you were born, or as a result of spending the past two weeks living in almost continual contact with your subject, you're bringing so much of your own history and beliefs into the mix that it's presumptuous to assume you're "seeing" things in a completely objective way.

(To take an extreme example, it could be argued that Richard Pollack's biography of Bruno Bettelheim, mentioned above, is undeniably influenced by the fact that Pollack's younger brother was a patient who died in Bettelheim's care under suspicious circumstances!)

Is there a way for nonfiction writers to explore the possible feelings and motives of their characters that makes narrative sense, is psychologically astute and persuasive, yet still respects the limitations of what the writer can truly know? The answer is yes, if done with skill and a real awareness of these limitations.

Among recent examples, perhaps the best is Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm. Without much real information about the ship captain's decision-making process, nor the manner in which the ship was lost, nor even a clue about one single event that actually transpired during the fishing trip, Junger managed to convey his understanding

of the physical and psychological rigors of sword-fishing, as well as the various navigational choices available to the crew as the storm approached. He also presented a moving and vivid depiction of what the experience of drowning might have felt like. This was all accomplished by clearly stating that what he was describing was based on conjecture, the experiences of other fishermen he'd interviewed, and the utilization of his own imagination.

This presentation invites the reader to go on a journey into Junger's created impression of what might have happened. What results has the ring of truth, rather than the solidity of fact, and is perhaps the more powerful because of it.

In other words, rather than practicing therapy without a license, the task for the creative nonfiction writer becomes, as always, about simply practicing the art of good writing.

Thrillionaires Ridgely Goldsborough with founder Nik Halik In the studio.

Visit The Thrillionaires website: thethrillionaires.com

Galley Cat Interviews Ken Atchity

Lit Manager, Ken Atchity: Tougher for Male Novelist than Female

Dr. Kenneth Atchity of AEI is a Yale graduate and Intellectual Property brand manager and producer of such films as the forthcoming Jim Carrey film, Ripley's Believe It or Not.

In this interview, he shares with us why his company has shifted focus to building brands rather than individual titles and why he's looking for the next Ann Rice.

What have you done to brace yourself for the economic changes to the industry?

I've moved my intellectual property management company, AEI, into brand launching (see www.thethrillionaires.com, as our first official example of a brand we've launched) and motion picture financing (currently in casting with "Boobytrap").

What can authors do to avoid eating Ramen noodles and counting pennies?

Somehow focus and diversify at the same time. And never give up.

What do you think about all these technological changes happening? How have they changed the marketplace?

They've put the marketplace, in both LA (film and television) and NY (publishing) on edge and in a tailspin, if you can imagine that mixed metaphor. Coupled with the Recession, we're dealing with the toughest marketplace I've ever seen in my long career. Everyone's afraid to be stuck holding the wrong goods, when the delivery vehicles for stories are changing at an exponential pace. Not surprisingly, this skittishness on the part of the established companies will accelerate their decline. Instead of meeting the situation head on and being aggressive about maintaining their way of life while also adapting (ebooks still account for less than 5% of the market), they are hiding their heads in the sand for the most part, afraid to introduce new authors, afraid to spend money and, in the end, afraid to lose their jobs.

Of course the public's desire for stories has grown instead of diminished, creating a fertile field for the new media that will deliver them. Today's author must be a media entrepreneur and use all the tools at his or her command, especially the Internet to get the attention of a readership. Thinking outside the box is the only way to succeed in a world where all the boxes are collapsing around us.

What's hot now, what are editors looking for? And what type of manuscripts and proposals are you currently looking for that you never seem to get?

Editors are looking for thrillers, romance, action, and compelling storytelling of all kinds. That hasn't changed. That's what we're looking for. Especially in the Young Adult arena, especially stories written by women for women. It's such a tough market for male novelists I urge nearly every unpublished male author to publish through an entrepreneurial publisher until the majors beat a door in his path.

Most of all what I'm looking for is a new BRAND to launch the next Sue Grafton, the next Ann Rice, the next Chicken Soup.

What's the best way for writers to approach you?

By email, at kenatchity@aeionline.com Keep it under 4 lines in the original query. If I'm interested, I'll ask to see more. If you're a nonfiction writer, add another 4 lines about your platform and how you know you can sell your book.

What's one of your pet peeves when writers query you?

Emails that begin, "Dear Agent." For one thing, I'm a literary manager, not an agent. For another, it shows that the writer hasn't bothered to do his homework and is just spamming the universe hoping for a positive response from ANYONE.

And finally, what is something about you that very few people know?

Very few people know that I'd rather be a gumbo chef!

AEI Client Lisa Cerasoli's On The Brink Of Bliss And Insanity:Finalist in the 2009 Book of the Year Awards

2009 Book of the Year Award Finalists Announced

ForeWord Reviews is pleased to announce the finalists in the 2009 Book of the Year Awards. The finalists, representing 360 publishers, were selected from 1,400 entries in 60 categories. These books are examples of independent publishing at its best.

The winners will be determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers selected from our readership. Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, as well as Editor's Choice Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced at a special program at BookExpo America in New York City on May 25. The winners of the two Editor's Choice Prizes will be awarded $1,500 each. The ceremony is open to all BEA attendees.

ForeWord's Book of the Year Awards program was designed to discover distinctive books from independent publishers across a number of genres. The Awards program often serves to provide these worthy projects with a second wind of publicity.

Winners to be announced at Book Expo America on May 25th in New York City.

Guest Post: Through a Glass Darkly: Crime Fiction as a Window on American Culture

Dennis Palumbo
Posted: March 10, 2010 06:00 PM

The author Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities) once said that the purpose of fiction was, among other things, to chronicle a society's "status details." In other words, to give the reader a felt sense of the social, cultural and political realities of the world the novel portrays.

Usually, this task has been seen as primarily the province of the "literary" novel, such as Wharton's The Age of Innocence, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, or Updike's "Rabbit" novels. But I believe that, in a similar manner, the best crime fiction has been exploring and illuminating the contours of American society for years.

For example, to get a sense of how Los Angeles worked in the 30's and 40's -- how money and power actually operated in the lives of both the powerful and the desperate -- you need only read Raymond Chandler. The "mean streets" that private eye Phillip Marlowe walked took the reader from the monied mansions of robber barons to the back alleys of two-bit hustlers and the chumps they made their prey.

Just as, fifty years later, nobody provides a clearer view of contemporary L.A. than Michael Connelly, particularly with his Harry Bosch novels. From the O.J. trial to the Ramparts police scandal, from the self-inflicted woes of the wealthy and influential to the municipal response to torrential rains, Connelly uses his dogged police detective to dissect life in the City of Angels.

For a wry, amused and knowledgeable look at Boston society, high and low, you'll find few better guides than the late Robert B. Parker's character Spenser. Or equally few authors who capture the self-delusions and broken-hearted dreams of petty criminals as well as Elmore Leonard. And I can't think of a writer who better reveals the dark, noirish heart of the ostensibly laid-back surfer scene than Kem Nunn.

My point is, great crime fiction offers what no sociology text can provide. To feel the living, breathing essence of New Orleans, both pre- and post-Katrina, check out the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke. In similar fashion, Tony Hillerman brought the Native Americans of the modern Southwest to life in his novels about Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. Just as Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski gave fictional heft to the idea of a strong female protagonist, and Walter Mosley's "Easy" Rawlins gave us perhaps our most well-known African-American one. Since its inception as a genre, crime fiction has both mirrored and commented on society's often-tumultuous change. In short, it told the truth about it.

So forget FrontLine. If you want to get the straight dope about the thriving gun trade going on along the border between the US and Mexico, look no further than T. Jefferson Parker's thriller, Iron River.

If you want to know what it's really like to be a cop, read Joseph Wambaugh. If you want to hear the authentic street rhythms of New York's Lower East Side, read Richard Price.

What all these fine crime novelists have in common is their use of suspense and intricate plots to underscore the conflict among vivid, fully-realized characters; and, moreover, how that conflict is inevitably intensified by the social context these fictional men and women find themselves in. Utilizing the high stakes and narrative drive of crime fiction, these writers demonstrate how issues of class and status, and the yearning to re-invent oneself, continue to define the American character.

In my view, no genre of fiction illuminates the "status details" of our evolving, conflicted society better than crime fiction. Where and how that conflict is played out, and how realistically it's depicted, determines how powerfully the novel affects us.

In a line stretching from Dashiel Hammett to Dennis Lehane, from James M. Cain to George Pellicanos, from Ed McBain to Sue Grafton, the best crime fiction -- like all great fiction, period -- shows us who we are.


Dr. Jin Kyu (Suh) Robertson started out as a factory girl at a Korean wig factory, and immigrated to America as a housemaid at the age of 22 speaking little English and with only $100 to her name. Overcoming incredible odds, she became an officer in the U.S. Army, retiring as a Major with a Masters degree from Harvard University, and later received Ph.D. degree also from Harvard. Not only major Korean television broadcasting companies made documentaries of her life, but the Korean government even recognized her as one of the most influential overseas Koreans in 2008. Jin is a bestselling author (over a half million copies sold) and a most-sought-after motivational speaker (over 500 keynote speeches delivered) in Korea. She is also a radio talk show host of Voice America/World Talk Radio in the U.S. (www.voiceamerica.com/worldtalkradio). She is committed to reaching out to the world to inspire and motivate billions of people also reach their dreams. Jin is currently preparing for her book to get published and ready to deliver inspirational keynote speeches in English throughout the world.

Major Jasmin Sung-ah Cho grew up under a single mom as an Army Brat. She had many challenges from moving practically every year throughout the world. Yet, she was selected as a Presidential Scholar (an honor given to only 141 of 2.5 million high school graduating seniors), graduated from Harvard University, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 2000 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program. She is fluent in English, Korean and Japanese and now is studying Chinese. Jasmin is currently pursuing her master’s degree in international relations at Princeton University, and is training to be a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer for Northeast Asia. She will serve in Japan upon graduation from Princeton.


"Nine months after I died, my daughter gave birth to me." On February 22, 1997, the world was shocked with the announcement that a lamb named Dolly had been born, the first mammal cloned from adult cells. The reaction was overwhelmingly one of fear and anger - an emotional response that had little to do with the generic-looking lamb serenely staring back at us from our television screens. Everyone realized that if we could do it with sheep, then eventually we'd be able to do it with a human being. The Book of Adam opens with the night of his birth, his mother cradling his small body as she ignores the protests outside her hospital window, determined to give the clone of her late father, the child she thought she'd never have, a normal and happy life. A wish made impossible by people both outside their hospital room and within it. Adam's autobiography encompasses more than a century of human experience, from the birth of his clone-father in the early 1970s and extending into the 2080s, his book exploring the social, religious, scientific, and highly personal ramifications of a time when it has become commonplace to have your genetic twin born after you've died. His intimate memoir draws us into this intriguing world through his unique perspective - the bigotry he faces as a youth, the haunting dreams of the man from whom he was cloned, and Adam-2's private battle for his soul. It's a battle fought within an intergenerational family drama in which, like the House of Atreus, the players seem fated to struggle with the sins of the father. In the end, it's a story of one man's fear of death.

About the Author

Robert M. Hopper grew up in San Diego, but has also enjoyed living in many cities in California as well as NYC and Prescott, Arizona. He received his BA in History from SDSU, and has had the pleasure of working as a small-town newspaper publisher, theatre reviewer, technical writer, and bookstore clerk. Rob is the founder of the National Youth Theatre of America and reviews theatre for nationalyouththeatre.com and sandiegoplaybill.com. But his first passion was the world of fiction. This is his debut novel. He thanks his family, friends, teachers, and the theatre world for all they've done for him. This one's for Grandpa. I love you and miss you. www.robhopper.com

General rules for giving a story a "true story" label.

90% True = A True Story
50% True = Based on a True Story
20% True = Inspired By a True Story
"Based on True Events" means only a true event or events happened. Characters are fictional.

GUEST POST: Dennis Palumbo, writer, therapist, blogger

"From Crime To Crime: Mind Boggling Tales of Mystery and Murder" (Tallfellow Press)

Envy: The Worst-kept Secret In Writing

Today I want to talk about envy. As I've found in my work with writers, it's probably the worst-kept secret in the writing life.

For those who are new to this blog, here's my one-line bio: Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (the film My Favorite Year; the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter, among others), I'm now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in working with creative people.

But I also still write. My work has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and just last year a collection of my stories, From Crime to Crime, was published. My first mystery novel, Mirror Image, will be out in August from Poisoned Pen Press.

The point is, whatever creative concern you're struggling with, I guarantee I've been there, done that. I've been stymied by writers' block, grappled with procrastination and been brought low by rejection. As well as most other thorny issues writers deal with on a daily basis.

Take, as mentioned above, envy. I'm thinking about a patient of mine, a novelist, that I've been seeing for some months. Despite the gains he'd made in therapy, he felt his work was continually undermined by his envy of other writers.

He told me he had to stop reading his Author's Guild bulletin, as well as publishing websites, because seeing the deals being made by other writers angered and deflated him. He'd grown increasingly self-critical about his work habits--normally a source of pride and satisfaction--since hearing rumors about a best-selling author's penchant for "knocking out a new thriller" every six months. It had reached a point where learning of a friend's having lunch with a potential new agent could trigger a depression.

None of these feelings were unfamiliar to me. During my former career as a screenwriter, it seemed as though envy was the unspoken constant in almost every conversation with other writers. The dirty little secret of the writing life. And, as I said, the worst kept.

For some, of course, hearing of another's success can be a spur to greater efforts. For others, the result can be a crippling paralysis.

It took me a long time to understand, and to accept, that envy is a natural by-product of the achieving life. Throughout our childhood experiences in our families, and then our schools, and ultimately in the adult world, we strive to achieve in a matrix of others who strive to achieve--such that comparison is not only inevitable, but often the only standard by which to measure that achievement.

With time and maturity, we hopefully develop the self-awareness (and self-acceptance) to measure ourselves by more internal monitors; to enjoy the expression of our creative talents for their own sake.

But we also live in the real world and need the validation of that world. For a writer in a commercial marketplace, that means enduring intense competition and the almost daily spectacle of others enjoying extravagant rewards in fame and money, all while negotiating the often gut-wrenching peaks and valleys of one's own career.

In other words, that means living with envy.

The key to surviving envy, as is the case with all feelings, is to acknowledge it. By that, I'm not referring merely to the fact that you're envious, but also the meaning that you give to it.

For example, if a writer sees envy as a sign of some kind of moral weakness or character failing--a view possibly engendered and reinforced in childhood--the effect on his or her work can be quite debilitating.

Equally harmful is seeing your envy as a disparaging comment on your work, a confirmation of a lack of faith in your own writing. "If I let myself feel envy," one patient told me, "it means I don't believe in the possibility of my own success."

Another patient bravely insisted that "envy is counter-productive." So terrified of anything that might derail his firmly held belief in "positive thinking," the meaning he gave to envy--as well as any other "negative" emotion--was of an insidious obstacle on the tracks of his forward momentum.

Only by investigating what envy means to us can we risk acknowledging it. The plain fact is, it's just a feeling, like other feelings---which means it's simply information, data about what's going on inside of us.

If nothing else, envy informs us of how important our goals are. It reminds us of the reasons we undertook the creative life in the first place, and challenges us to commit once more to its rigors and rewards.

Moreover, in my own case, I find that I'm rarely troubled by envy if I'm writing well, if I'm truly engaged with my current project. When I'm fully "caught" by what I'm working on, intrusive thoughts about the creative and/or career triumphs of others usually don't enter my mind. Usually.

So the choice is yours. You can deny your envy, or use it to re-double your efforts. You can talk it to death among your friends (also a great procrastination ploy, by the way), or you can suffer in silence. Or, hopefully, you can accept it with humor and self-acknowledgment, and perhaps explore what its meaning is for you.

But one thing I know. For a writer, to coin a phrase, nothing's certain except death and taxes. And envy.

Then again, that's just my opinion. I'd love to hear yours.

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