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

New From Story Merchant Books: Piece of Cake: My Wild Ride from Banking to Baking by Melissa Bunnen Jernigan

We take the cake. Anywhere.

“Let’s bake and deliver cakes!” That was their big, moneymaking idea, though neither Melissa nor Helen, two fresh-faced twenty-somethings, had ever baked a cake. Next up, they picked the location—Melissa’s rinky-dink condo kitchen. Then, they swiped three recipes from family and friends, put $250 into the company kitty, and made their first investment: 250 plastic cake knives with Piece of Cake stamped on them.

That was 1986.

A decade later, POC, The Ward, World Headquarters, or the Pokey—whichever moniker you prefer—was pulling in seven figures annually. Over three decades later, they have locations all over Atlanta, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

I was a liberal-arts major. You won’t find my business philosophy being taught at Harvard Business School, onlineMBA.com, or any institution in between. But you will find it here.

This is a story of starting a company on pocket change, of working twenty-hour days with no days off in sight, of losing my home to sacks of sugar and flour and ovens galore. It’s a story about cakes cooling atop lampshades, about nervous breakdowns, wandering pot dealers, babies, puppies, Cakers and bakers. It’s a story about the original housewives of Atlanta (they were working for me!) and the homeless, too; it’s about a car called The Bomb, and a location called Pamland. Piece of Cake is a place where autonomy ruled and that was the only rule.

From Corporate America to cake batter, Piece of Cake: My Recipe for Success is a career manual for folks who know little about business, a cookbook for those who’d never thought about baking, and a what-are-you-waiting-for guide to pursuing your dreams.

Seriously, what are you waiting for?

This is the story of doing it my way

In Memoriam Chris Kühne


Chris Kühne


What can you say about a man who died too young? He was ruggedly handsome, brilliantly analytical, smoothly diplomatic with clients, immensely talented as a screenwriter, relentless on the tennis court, and patiently aggressive as a story merchant carrying stories to buyers and broadcasters. He was ambitious and determined, sensitive and humanly vulnerable. His future was bright and glorious. He leaves behind grieving family and friends and grateful associates. He is a loss to his native and adopted countries. May he find his peace in that undiscovered country. He will be missed!

Born and raised in Mexico City, Chris turned to film and writing following a near-death experience. He moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to study film and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, as well as Business and Management of the Entertainment and Film and TV Development at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2015, he co-wrote the Goya-nominated feature film Yerma: Barren (Spain/UK), and served as a script consultant on the Spanish feature film El Violín de Piedraboth directed by renowned Spanish director Emilio Ruiz Barrachina.


 Head Wounds book review

HEAD WOUNDS is the most recent entry in the action-filled Dr. Daniel Rinaldi thriller series by Dennis Palumbo. Dr. Rinaldi is a Pittsburgh-based psychologist and police consultant with a few rough edges and a remorseless, deranged enemy.

The combination is an absolute page-turner.


Dan Rinaldi lost his wife Barbara 12 years ago in an unsolved mugging gone bad. As he reads a recently obtained dossier on the crime, a bullet smashes his living room window.

Outside, a gun-toting neighbor is angry and drunk. When the police arrive, the wife admits to having told her husband in a fit of pique that she’s having an affair with Dan.

She’s found dead not long after.

Other seemingly random incidents touch Dan’s life. In a shocking twist, Barbara’s killer is responsible.


Brilliant but unstable, Sebastian Maddox was obsessed with Barbara in college. Just released from prison for an unrelated crime, he wants to punish Dan for “stealing” Barbara by torturing Dan’s nearest and dearest before finally killing Dan in Hannibal Lector-worthy fashion.

A terrifying villain with an easily understood motive who had more than a decade to grow progressively more delusional and macabre, Maddox taps into Dan’s phone, laptop, and car GPS. Remote access to Dan’s digital devices gives Maddox personal details about his victims, which he puts to cunning and horrific use.

The two men play a heart-pounding scavenger hunt across Pittsburgh. Maddox meters out clues as to who the next victim will be and Dan races against time to try and save them. Warned by Maddox that more innocents will die if the police are involved, Dan is aided only by a female FBI agent (and soon-to-be love interest) and a retired FBI profiler. On the run from Maddox’s surveillance and exhausted from the endless tension, the trio nonetheless manage to dig up pivotal background material on the killer.

The entire book is written from Dan’s point of view and we’re in this with him every step of the way. We like his grit and the fact that he’s not some academic lightweight you can knock over with a feather. A former boxer with a bad temper and mean right hook, Rinaldi is a true son of Pittsburgh. A medical professional but not too polished, not too far from his blue collar roots.


The last half of the book is a speeding train. The non-stop pace, brash characters, and roller coaster events have a cinematic quality. I was reminded of the Lethal Weapon movies as well as SpeedThe Silence of the Lambs and Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive.

It’s no surprise, then, to find out that author Dennis Palumbo is not only a practicing psychotherapist, but also a former screenwriter. His credits include the feature film My Favorite Year, which starred Peter O’Toole and has been one of my Top 10 favorite movies since forever.

The next Dr. Daniel Rinaldi book, PANIC ATTACK, is out next month.

Your heartrate will have slowed by then.

Highly recommended.

Find HEAD WOUNDS on Amazon.

R.I.P. Christopher Kühne

This is an interview Chris did with VoyageLA in March.

Hi Christopher, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?

Born and raised in Mexico City, I grew a strong interest in ancient texts, History, and the classics early on. At 18 years old, I adopted fitness training as a discipline, which I have kept ever since. I have successfully dabbled in several passions throughout my life (from being a professional magician to fitness coach to video editor), but deep inside I always knew I was born to become a storyteller. To tell you how I grew aware of my call, I’ll tell you a true story. In 2009, I was taken on a group tour to a rural community in Mexico to mentor children on writing over the course of two weeks. I was assigned to mentor a shy little girl wearing cotton gloves despite the 92-degree weather who was bullied by other kids. After catching a glimpse of a notable mole on the back of one of her hands before she hastily put the glove back on, I understood why. Despite futile attempts at trying to make the girl speak to begin the mentorship, I paused and set the agents of the power of story in motion. Inspired by the mythology of Eros or Cupid, I came up with a story of the time Eros felt sad after his victims, whom he would strike with pointy arrows infused with love, complained of the pain these caused. So people began disliking falling in love. Mocked by everyone and feeling purposeless, Eros quit his job and retired to a remote forest, and the world became loveless. But as Eros endlessly sobbed, he felt the warm touch of a hand on his back. He turned and saw the most beautiful girl he had ever seen: so beautiful, he wished he could be mortal. After Eros explained to her the reason of his calamity, the girl smiled, reached for his face, and gently wiped his tears off. “Love should always feel like that.” The little girl began. “Gentle.”

In an instant, Eros took her hand and kissed it, causing a blinding source of light to sprout from the back of the girl’s hand. “Little girl,” Eros began, “From now on, everything you touch will be filled with the power of love. Use your power wisely!” Once the bright light on the back of the girl’s hand faded, she glanced down and saw a heart-shaped mark on it. The End. When I had finished telling the story, the girl’s eyes were wide with astonishment. She took her right-hand glove off (secretly-not-so-secretly, like children do) and stared at the mole on the back of her hand, which was shaped like a heart. Two weeks after the mentorship ended, I learned from one of the community’s leaders that the girl wasn’t wearing gloves anymore. She was now one of the most outgoing and social kids in the community, and the kids who once laughed at her were now her friends. They invited her to play with them and even asked her to teach them how to write stories. She excelled at it. So it was that the transcendental power of storytelling worked its magic once more, changing two lives forever and igniting the spark of what was to become my path as a storyteller. A year later, in 2010, I went on a family summer trip to Los Angeles, where I visited the backlot at Universal Studios, home to iconic films. As our studio tour tram drove by a real ongoing production, something deep inside me clicked and encouraged me to imagine a life working there, in the middle of the entertainment industry. In 2012, shortly after having earned my BA in Communications and Mass Media, I suffered an accident while wakeboarding in Mexico, which left me out of commission for about four months. This was the catalyst that forced me to turn my life 180º and set on my hero’s journey. I knew since an early age that my life wasn’t in Mexico, so I took this as a wake up call to pursue my aspirations.

Three months later, in January 2013, I was shooting a project at the Universal Studios backlot: I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a degree in filmmaking and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy. When I caught sight of a studio tour tram full of people touring the backlot, I saw myself from three years before on it, now looking at me actually shooting a project there, where legendary films have been shot. I was looking at myself from the other side. It was a very strange and incredible experience, almost like peering at oneself from the past and future simultaneously. When the epiphany concluded and I came back to the present, I knew the feeling I had back in 2010 was now manifesting in front of my eyes, coming to a full circle. In 2016, shortly after graduating from NYFA, I had the opportunity to work on my first major project, serving as a story consultant on acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Emilio Ruiz Barrachina’s award-winning film, El Violín de Piedra (The Stone Violin). In the spring, I began working with Hollywood producer and literary manager Ken Atchity (Joe Somebody, The Kennedy Detail, The Meg) on story and film development, establishing a professional relationship that continues to grow to this day. Shortly after that, I teamed up with Mr. Barrachina once more, this time coming onboard as a co-writer on his romance drama feature film Yerma: Barren, a modern adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca´s play Yerma, set in 21st century London.

In 2017, I divided my time and enrolled at UCLA to pursue two certificates: Film and TV Development and Business and Management of Entertainment, graduating in 2019. Today, my efforts to spread and share the power of story continue with Storyan, my psychoanalytical story development company, which focuses on helping writers find the story behind their stories to improve their craft and keep transforming the world through authentic storytelling. Storyan is a development company which offers writers specialized story development services with a psychoanalytical approach. Digging deeper and beyond screenwriting, I works with writers to shed light on the foundations behind their stories: from logic and psychology to marketability, content, and form. While academia primarily teaches writers how to write screenplays, Storyan helps them understand how to compose authentic stories to improve their craft and write better stories (and scripts) that resonate on both commercial and artistic levels. I’m also currently working as an Associate Manager on a project by Steve Alten (best-selling author of The Meg, on which the 2018 Warner Bros. blockbuster film is based) and serving as a co-executive producer on an upcoming animated series with Kevin Smith attached.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

The biggest challenge has been being an immigrant. You first manage to come here, and then you realize you’re sort of an outcast competing not only against people born here but also against other outsiders like you. There’s so much stuff going on and so many people doing the same thing, it’s easy to disappear within the pile. But once you discover your voice and the elements that make you stand out from the rest, it only takes believing, patience, and perseverance. Discover your personal mark or brand before you go out there. You have it deep within you.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?

I’m a recognized screenwriter working part-time as an associate manager and story consultant in the industry. My writing is characterized by a fusion of high concept and deep storytelling aimed at resonating with audiences of all backgrounds and beliefs through sound entertainment. Most high concept films nowadays rely solely on content to reach audiences; Form has been mostly relegated to projects dealing with social trends and issues — a good thing, given that it helps delivering the message to the audience efficiently. But we’re also witnessing a split of the craft into factory-made, cookie-cutter products. Content makes money, but content alone fails to deliver a good story. Enter Form. You have to think of Content as the King and of Form as the Queen, and the kingdom of story can’t thrive without both of them. I’m religious about this philosophy every time I write and mentor. But knowing this alone is not enough to understand storytelling (and writing). Reading and understanding the very foundations of storytelling, spanning from the beginning of mankind, has shaped most of my writing and perspective, and studying classic film has given me the cinematic vision to apply my views, ideas, and beliefs to my craft. You’ve got to read the classics, and you’ve got to watch classic cinema. You’ve got to know works like Aristotle’s Poetics by heart. You don’t build a strong house without building strong foundations first, no matter what you build on top of it. It applies to story, it applies to everything.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?

Just like your outer world in a dream reflects your inner world (i.e., the elements in your unconscious), so the outer world of the character reflects his or her inner world in the dream, which makes up the story. And this also applies to real life. Here’s why. The human psyche has been, is, and will always be the same, everywhere, independently from location, culture, race, era, laws, customs, etc. It’s universal and eternal. Therefore the same mental symbols will always be present. They only change in appearance but preserve the same function. There’s a magnificent quote by Schopenhauer that illustrates this meaning perfectly when he said, “The Universe is a dream dreamed by a single dreamer where all the dream characters dream too.” Thus we see that life is a story, and a story is life; two manifestations of the same creating power, mirroring and complementing one another.

As we read in the Vedas, “Truth is one. The sages speak of it by many names,” so the universal story is one. Writers tell of it by many ways. That’s why we are all storyans, we’re all born storytellers because we are walking stories ourselves just as everything around us is a story — namely, a manifestation of the one story. But now, what distinguishes “awakened” or conscious storytellers is the act of telling the story of the unconscious, consciously. It’s about knowing, recognizing, embracing, and telling the universal symbols of the psyche while remaining conscious throughout the process. In other words, you have to be a conscious creator of the unconscious. That’s what art is. Which perfectly mirrors the deed of the true hero who comes back from the journey transformed to heal and restore the world, kingdom, tribe, society, etc. Only the hero who remains conscious through the unconscious trials and ordeals of initiation into life will attain the wisdom and knowledge to heal the world.

In practical terms, what writers need to keep in mind is that that such transformation of the character doesn’t take place at the end of the story or journey. As Karl Graf Dürckheim said, “When you are on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey.” In other words, we see the transformation of the character grow and develop throughout the story journey. It is only the realization and recognition of such transformation that we see at the end of the journey, given that the character learned to apply the attained wisdom and knowledge. Many writers confuse this and make the character change only at the very end of the story. But the changes in the character take place through the trials and ordeals along the journey, just as we attain growth from the trials and ordeals of our lives. It’s the infinite pattern of death and rebirth. So, as we follow the journey into the unconscious while remaining conscious throughout, we become aware of the elements of the psyche that make us human and resonate with us universally, which are responsible for making up the story, whether you are writing about living toys, talking cars, suffragettes in Victorian England, or hyper smart computers. The story is always human and universal.

Dennis Palumbo on the Cover of Suspense Magazine’s Summer 2021 Issue

Check out Dennis' essay  in the magazine about how writers address the reality of COVID in their works-in-progress: Pre or Post Covid That is the question...  Here


In Memoriam - Alex Cord

Alex Cord
May 3, 1933 - August 9, 2021

With the exception of a couple of frustrating phone calls, I began losing touch with Alex Cord after he pulled himself by the bootstraps out of his North Hollywood life and moved to his dream-ranch in East Texas. We spent nearly twenty years writing and chatting together, producing a number of yet-unmade screenplays, including Feather in the Rain, Dead South, Blood Witness, and Puppet on a String. Our martini-studded evenings with Bill Shatner, discussing Bill’s proposed directing of Dead South, were unforgettable.

We’d get together at Alex’s home, an island of macho tranquility unlike my bustling Park La Brea apartment where, he commented, I always sounded like I “was being pursued by a starving pack of Rottweilers.” There he would calmly and methodically whip up an excellent pasta while we free-wheeled convoluted chats about our mutual love of Italy (he was born Alexander Viespi), the serendipitous vagaries of life, the tragic disconnect between him and his son Wayne, the deteriorated state of male/female relationships--reciting Shakespearian monologues back and forth until it was time to settle down to our writing sessions.

Imperially slim, Alex was indeed a gentleman from head to crown, a spinner of tales, and an endless reservoir of priceless jokes that he delivered with the intensity of the veteran thespian. One of the highlights of our artistic friendship was the trip we made together to my native south Louisiana where he met and mesmerized my Cajun uncles, aunts, and cousins—and rebuilt the front steps of Uncle Wib’s front porch because he noticed they weren’t symmetrical and sturdy enough. Then we rounded out the trip to the deep rural of the countryside with the decadent urban oblivion of New Orleans, to visit Romanian novelist Andrei Codrescu and raconteur extraordinaire Laurie Stieber in a non-stop Creole weekend of storytelling and hijinks. Alex was truly a man for all seasons, whose mere presence was riveting and inspiring. After a youth wrangling his anger at the stupidity of the world, Alex Cord was a man at peace with himself with a black and white view of things that lit up every room he entered.

Ken Atchity Joins the Jury on the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival 2021 - International Competition Section

Ken will also be available for be available for a discussion during the festival onf creative writing. 

BISFF was conceived on an ambitious dream-fuelled evening, and the strength provided by multi-award winner Prakash Belawadi it came to fruition, Prakash who continues to be the festival mentor. 

The idea of BISFF was to create a platform for young and amateur filmmakers, where they could screen their shorts to discerning audiences and, more importantly, find constructive and critical feedback from experts in the field. In the very first edition of the festival in 2010, there were only a total of 40 short films submitted. This number rose to 3500+ shorts in 2019, where we saw an eclectic mix of Indian and foreign language films. The journey has been a struggle, but a very thrilling and fulfilling one. Today BISFF has the distinction of being one of the largest Short Film Festivals in India.

Read the first chapter of the new Daniel Rinaldi thriller, PANIC ATTACK by Dennis Palumbo

 READ EXCERPT: Panic Attack by Dennis Palumbo  

It was 26 years ago this month that the seed that would become the MEG franchise took root in Steve Alten's mind!


I was thirty-five at the time and living in West Boca Raton, Florida in a rented townhouse with my second (and present) wife, Kim, her daughter Amanda (age 10), son Chad (age nine), and our six month old daughter, Kelsey. I had moved down to South Florida four years earlier to open a Water Resources distributorship, hiring and training sales reps to sell whole house water treatment systems. We struggled to break even and I eventually closed up the office, running reps out of the townhouse. After a year I was the only one left and began searching for a new career. I tried several MLMs but never made a dime. And then, in August of 1995, I read the cover story of this issue of TIME magazine which introduced me to hydrothermal vents and the Mariana Trench, the deepest most unexplored location on Earth. I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if that prehistoric Great White shark I read about when I was a teen was still alive down there… hell, I’d read that book! Better yet…” I drove to the library in West Boca and found the picture of six nerdy scientists seated in a giant shark jaw. Researching Megalodon produced very little other than the fact that they were not like the marine reptiles that went extinct 65 million years ago, these sharks were super predators that only disappeared 2 million years ago or less…

As a sales manager and (before that) a basketball coach, I believed in the power of setting a goal (read THINK & GROW RICH by Napoleon Hill). Convinced I had a great story to tell, I set the goal to become a best-selling author. I would complete a week of extensive research at my local library (no internet back then), create an outline, and then begin writing the manuscript to “White Death.” Water treatment home demos ran from 4pm to 10 pm on weeknights and all day Saturdays, so the only time I could write was in the morning when I watched my daughter (Kim worked in a doctor’s office from 9am to 4pm) and late at night. Every morning I’d feed Kelsey breakfast, then pop on Barney while I wrote, editing the previous day’s 2-4 pages before working on new pages. At the time I did not own a p/c, the original 450 page (single space) manuscript was written on a word processor that could only save 3,000 words per file… ugh. Kim got home around 4pm and I’d head out to try and sell water systems door to door to pay the bills. Each night upon returning home, I’d say goodnight to my wife and worked from 11pm to about 3 am – often falling asleep on my keyboard.

QUESTION: How do you eat an elephant? ANSWER: One bite at a time. Same for writing a novel – you write a 400+ page manuscript a page at a time. By January I had completed the first phase of my goal (the manuscript); phase-2 was to get it to a publisher. With no connections or a clue, I purchased a book: How To Get Published which said I needed a literary agent.

Following the instructions, I wrote a 2-page query letter and sent it to every literary agent in the book that handled fiction. Of the 60 to 70 letters sent, I received about 30 rejection letters. The only interested agent was Ken Atchity at AEI in Los Angles. Ken believed my story had the potential to be a great book and movie – only it needed a ton of editing. He would assign an editor to work with me and teach me and then Ken would represent my manuscript to publishers, but his fee ($6,000) had to be paid up front. I didn’t have the money, but I did own a 1971 Chevy Malibu convertible my Dad had bought for me when I was eighteen. So I sold my car and borrowed the rest from a side job I had been working on and under the tutelage of my agent and editor, rewrote the book.

Meanwhile, I kept on writing every night and every weekend, and the new manuscript was amazing. In May, Ken and a producer associate (Warren Zide) optioned the first 100 pages of MEG and a treatment for the rest of the book on a first-look deal to Disney’s Hollywood Pics. And then, on Friday the 13th in September 1996 I went to work -- and was fired. Seems the Boys no longer needed me to babysit them. I drove home with no job and $45 in the bank. Kim was upset, but I said, “Don’t worry, hon – this is the best thing that could have happened - now I have more time to work on my next book!” 

Steve with Ken Atchity and Joel McKuin signing his million dollar deal.

Four days later Ken started a bidding war between the top publishing houses in the U.S. for the pub rights to MEG and a treatment for a Mayan Doomsday story. We went with the second highest offer from Bantam-Doubleday, the pub who had published JAWS (a 2 book, $2.1 million deal) and the rollercoaster that has been my career over the last 25 years started up a steep slope.

In October, MEG was named book of the Frankfurt Book Fair, BDD optioning the pub rights to over 20 countries. In July of 1997 the hardback of MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror hit bookstores and in August the NY Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-seller list, buoyed by this interview:

What to read more?  Subscribe to Steve's Newsletter at: https://www.stevealten.com/

Alan Gibson's Rendezvous in Budapest!

With one of our Atchity Productions, Gibson Global and Vanishing Frame's The Seeding Budapest team, producer and award winning director Vandad Kashefi, waiting for our table at Menza.