Author of 'Sendero' and 'Who Sings to the Dead?'


Two Faces of January – Dead Bodies and Love Triangles – Book Review

Patricia Highsmith’s wonderfully deviant, amoral characters set her books apart in a genre where sociopaths are the norm and just about essential for any psychological thriller worth its salt. No other suspense author drills down into the inner workings of their players quite like Highsmith did. Much of the reason is that she took her time to build her characters, letting small details work their tension, blending the mundane with the immoral so that we as readers identify with some fairly reprehensible people before we can be repelled by them. A saved letter about an unattended funeral speaks volumes about a young man’s feelings towards his father, allowing us to comprehend his later actions. A man’s love for his young wife makes us overlook a good deal of his criminal behavior. In Highsmith’s novels it’s not easy to discern the hero from the villain and often, as in her popular Ripley books, it’s the criminal (usually murderer) we end up rooting for. The same forces are at work in The Two Faces of January but to a subtler degree. You won’t find a truly good person in these pages but it doesn’t matter. In this story of three expat Americans who cross paths in early 1960s Athens, you’ll want at least one of them to get away with breaking the law.

Dead bodies and love triangles tend not to go together well. (Photo from the motion picture adaptation of Two Faces of January.)

Rydel is a wandering Peter Pan living off his grandmother’s money, putting off the inevitable trip back to the US to face responsibility and tedium, when he encounters Chester, a crooked stockbroker on the run, who accidentally kills a Greek policeman who is onto him. For no other reason than Chester reminds Rydel of his father, Rydel helps Chester hide the body and acquires forged passports for him and his comely wife, Colette. Chester then invites Rydel to accompany him and Colette to Crete to help the couple navigate their way out of Greece, beyond the reach of the authorities (Rydel speaks Greek and has shady connections). But Colette’s infatuation for Rydel upsets the applecart, and Chester sees red. No one seems to think twice about the death of a policeman, let alone marital vows. It may even feel like love–for two of the three anyway–but it doesn’t end well.

Rydel is one of Highsmith’s better creations, quite affable as he keeps veering away from doing the right thing. He just can’t seem to. The reader understands. Chester is a perfect villain, because he knows who he is. Colette is a well-nuanced temptress, made of real flesh and blood, with a heart and soul. The secondary characters in this novel are all Highsmith quality as well.

I’m not sure why this book is trending towards three stars in the ratings—it’s one of Highsmith’s better ones, with its simple tale of three people who think they can do no wrong but end up doing an awful lot of it.

My only minor disappointment came in the final few pages, where I was hoping for one final twist that didn’t come. The ending I envisioned seemed glaringly obvious to me but Patricia Highsmith clearly wasn’t thinking what I was thinking when she penned this book—or maybe she didn’t want to be predictable. But it works, and redeems one of the characters.

Regardless, by the time Two Faces is rolling, the plot feels inevitable. And that’s the mark of a master.

Looking for the Dead Boys: Now on a Kindle near you

Dredge thought Spider said they were going to buy the kilo from the Mexicans. 

Not pull a fast one…

Looking for the Dead Boys Web

It’s 1977, California. Once blissed-out hippies have taken a liking to crystal meth. Punk rock is on the turntable.

More than anything, misfit Dredge wants to be one of the Dead Boys, a motorcycle gang bent on controlling Santa Cruz’ growing methamphetamine market. But first he has to impress Spider.

Spider isn’t going to let anyone take over his lucrative dealing action. A drug deal with a Latino gang trying to move into Dead Boys’ turf turns into a killing spree.

With long red hair, an oil-burner dope habit and a pair of earrings that look like little silver birds, Eva Braun—not her real name, of course—is Spider’s old lady. Her self-destructive streak leads her to tell the cops about the murder of four Latin gang members. Dredge would love to save Eva, but maybe he better find a way to save himself.

Colleen Hayes did ten years in prison for killing her ex. With a gun in her pocket, she’s heading to Santa Cruz on a mission: to rescue her glassy-eyed daughter from the Dead Boys.

Nobody crosses Spider. Not the Latinos. Not the Chinese Tong waiting to make their move. Not Dredge. Or Eva. Or Colleen. And not the little girl who lives next to the Dead Boys’ house and watches everything, especially the pretty lady with the red hair and bird earrings.

Their lives are on a collision course and time is running out.

Looking for the Dead Boys: Peace, love and vengeance.


Take equal parts Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith and Cormac McCarthy, add a dash of Quentin Tarantino and stir in a stolen kilo of methamphetamine. Blend it with what Henning Mankell calls “my own language” and you have LOOKING FOR THE DEAD BOYS.

Do you want to order Dead Boys? Of course you do! –> Order Dead Boys <–

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Don’t read Sendero

That’s correct. Don’t read Sendero, an edgy thriller set in Peru, a country still haunted by the dirty war of twenty years ago.

Listen to it!

Sendero is now available as an audio book.

Downloadable from Audible or iTunes,  you can listen to the book that Kirkus rated as one of the top 100 Indie novels of 2012, as narrated by the incomparable Sarah Van Sweden. Sarah is a terrific reader and a woman of many voices. I found myself caught up in her rendition of Sendero and believe me, I’ve read this book myself more than a few times. I know what happens. The lady can read the phone book and make it suspenseful. Check out the audio sample and see if you don’t agree.

Sendero Audio Book

Click the image to check out the Audible audio sample

If you’re new to Audible and sign up, you can get the audio book for free. If you’re more of an iTunes type, you may click here,

Ten books that made me want to be a writer

Who doesn’t read ‘top ten’ lists? There’s one going round at the moment where people rate their ten favorite books, and I was inspired to list the ones that influenced me as a writer. Here are ten by authors at the top of their game, whose stories reverberated, whose voices made me want to find one of my own. Books that made me say ‘I want to do that.’

10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson) – Many a true word written in jest. Wins the opening line award: ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’


the_postman_always_rings_twice-cover9 The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain) – Cain was master of the breakneck-paced novel with scummy characters you love to root for.

8. The Stranger (Albert Camus) – Another terrific opener: ‘Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday.’ Who says you can’t tell vs. show? Fun Fact: Camus was influenced by James M. Cain.

7. The Dancer Upstairs (Nicholas Shakespeare) – The story of a South American detective trying to do the right thing in a country beset by corruption and civil war. And then he falls in love.

6. Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith) – Anything Highsmith wrote is steeped in psychological turmoil. This was her first. Hitchcock was compelled to make it into an equally excellent film.

"My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people." - Patricia Highsmith

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.” – Patricia Highsmith

5. God’s Pocket (Peter Dexter) – An orgy of wonderfully low rent characters, including one who drives around with a body in the back of a refrigeration truck and you just hope he gets away with it.

4 Killshot (Elmore Leonard) – Leonard pioneered the modern crime novel. This is his darkest and most powerful.Unknown

3. Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham) – 50,000 words too long but what words. Daring stuff for its time about a lost soul who falls for a woman of questionable morals. There’s a reason Maugham was one of the most popular writers of his era.

2. The Road (Cormac McCarthy) – I dare you not to be moved by this haunting tale of love between father and son during the apocalypse.

1. The Ginger Man (JP Donleavy) – One man’s battle against sobriety, decency and sanity. Hysterically funny and tragic at the same time. A masterpiece.


Those are my ten. Did I miss a must-read gem? Feel free to let me know.

Viven los escritores!

Sendero – an international thriller – 0 cents for a limited time

“A vividly described journey through Peru’s underbelly as the narrative gains momentum, hurtling toward a dramatic climax.”

Read the book that Kirkus listed as one of the top 100 Indie novels of 2012 – for 0 cents. Free. Nothing. How can I do it, you ask? Volume, that’s how. So avail yourself to the wonder of the world wide internet and download Sendero from Amazon,  Smashwords, iTunes, B&N. For Free.


[Click image for more …]

Watch the trailer. Read a sample.

Out by the Trees – Short Dark Fiction – Free

My short story collection is now free from most online retailers …
OutByTheTrees min 100

Red Badge of Courage – the ultimate anti-war novel? (#BookReview)


I finally read this classic and was immediately swept away by the tale of young Henry Fleming (often referred to as ‘the youth’ in Red Badge of Courage), who itches to go to war, despite his mother’s wishes.

Stephen Crane’s writing has aged gracefully since the novel was first published in 1893. The forbidding atmosphere of war is ideally suited to a style that might be considered florid by today’s standards. The potent tone fits the story but the writing still feels current, authentic and devoid of sentimentality.

Henry’s character is laid bare as he experiences both cowardice and bravery in battle. Both emotions are seen as almost uncontrollable responses in times of war and the author doesn’t pass judgment, letting subtle ironies prevail instead. Red Badge of Courage is as much a psychological novel as a war story. And faced with what Henry and many of his comrades confronted, the reader might well have turned and headed for the trees as well.

Images of war are lightly rendered in comparison to modern novels but just as jarring. In one scene the wounded trudge to their impending deaths (as anyone injured in battle during the Civil War frequently had mere hours to live), and young Henry describes a soldier he encounters who has two wounds, ‘one in the head, bound with a blood-soaked rag, and the other in the arm, making that member dangle like a broken bough.’

Hemingway said that Red Badge of Courage was ‘one of the finest books of American literature.’ Reading Crane’s prose, it’s easy to see precursors of Hemingway’s own style:

‘It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled train, despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort in a trough of liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky.’

Stephen Crane modestly stated that he wanted to write a war story reminiscent of the books he read as a boy, and ended up penning an adventure story that doubles as fine literature and perhaps the ultimate anti-war novel.

The Literary Chain Letter – aka ‘My Writing Process’

I’ve been tagged to tell you how I do what I do when it comes to doing what I love best to do: writing. Specifically, my writing process – or lack of one. But I’m happy to make something up. Well, I am a fiction writer.


My writing process (high level view)

For the trail of this writing process request chain see Mark Miller, who referred me, and whose entry you may read by clicking said link. You will discover that Mark can really write, not only because he’s good, but also because he writes non-fiction, which requires sticking to the facts.

I truly admire anyone who can turn the truth into something readable as I find it a little – er – restrictive. I’m like the Irishman who had such a respect for the truth that he was known to use it in emergencies. Anyway, I digress. Which is part of my writing process actually: digression. Call it exploration. Research. But, back to the truth – briefly – to quote my old writing teacher, the stalwart Jim Frey. (No, not that Jim Frey, who committed a disgracia on Oprah. Talk about not sticking to the truth.) I mean the Jim Frey of ‘How to Write a Damn Good Novel’, who said ‘if your story needs a BART station in Golden Gate Park, then there’s a BART station in Golden Gate Park.’ (There isn’t, by the way, for those of you who don’t live in the People’s Republic of San Francisco.) The point is, it’s FICTION. It doesn’t have to be true, just believable. And sometimes, the more outlandish, the more believable.


There are many approaches to effective writing.

I’m work-shopping a Noir novel at the moment, channeling the demons of Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Graham Greene and Patricia Highsmith and corralling them into a ’70s biker novel with a woman bent on revenge, and I can’t believe my fellow work-shoppers are buying some of the things Colleen Hayes, who gets out of prison and goes hunting for her wayward teenage daughter, gets up to. They don’t seem to have issue with the ‘fact’ that a bascially nice person goes nuts with a shotgun, but more with the very basic aspects of character – motivation, capacity, growth – that affect all characters in all novels under development. Like they say, if you can make a reader (or viewer) believe a man can fly, they must want to believe it.

But I digress.

Like the man said, who wants to read about people who never really existed, doing things that never really happened? I do. And so do a lot of you. And I want to write about it, too. What an arrogant thought, really, thinking that someone wants to read something you just made up. But they do. If it connects. And, to do that, it has to connect with the author. So that’s part of the reason my writing process might seem so fluid. Because looking for inspiration, that little nugget, requires a lot of wild casting and hoping the line doesn’t get snagged in a tree. Or around your neck. But if it does – so what? Print is cheap. You’re not shooting a movie. Go big.


In my other life, the one where I make money, I’m a computer programmer, and one of the tenets of modern software development is to iterate. Start with something and keep refactoring it, until it works. Don’t shoot for perfection right off. To me, writing fiction and code have much in common that way. All programmers write code their own way too.


I like to write women protagonists. Why? I find them a great contrast to most of my bad guys (who tend to be guys) and I think that women characters can have a wider emotional range. They get away with a lot of things men can’t. I admire writers who can write dark sympathetic male characters. Case in point: Stephen King. In ‘The Shining’ his protagonist breaks his five-year-old son’s arm and the reader still identifies with him.

Some rules I follow but not always:

1. Don’t keep going back to the beginning of your draft every time you sit down in front of your computer (or pen and paper). Push ahead.

2. But do sit down at your computer (or pen and paper) as much as possible. Some people say every day but if you work for a living this may not be doable. But half an hour writing is better than half an hour not writing.

3. Be prepared to throw away most of what you write. Keith Richards jammed for hours – months, in many cases – to come up with a riff for one of those three minute gems. It was worth it. Segovia practiced for five hours per day. Write a lot and be prepared to write a lot of sh*t. It’s good enough for Henning Mankell.


One of the tamer Sasquatch Erotica titles out there.

4. Read as much as you can. Read what you want to write. For me, those are my heroes (Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith) but I also read the odd classic and I even read some junk. I’m an American author and popular fiction (and culture) is ingrained in me. I draw the line at Sasquatch erotica however.

5. Work-shop your work. If you don’t, you’re an amateur. Listen to the critiques. If more than two critiquers make the same comment, they’re right. Sorry, Hemingway, you got to kill your darlings.

6. There is no rule six.

7. I like to write early in the morning, mostly because that’s when I have time but also because my mind isn’t clogged with mundane garbage yet. I don’t check my stocks before I write, read email, or do anything that pulls me out of the ‘fictive dream.’

8. I read my work out loud.

9. I listen to all the critique but in the end it’s my story. I need to decide what happens. This is so hard but for me was the breakthrough that made my work better (IMHO). Trust your instincts. ‘Write from the fingertips’ Jim Frey says.

10. I write thrillers and mysteries. It’s important to stay within the genre, whatever genre you choose. Literary fiction is a genre, by the way. But by the same token, you need to break the genre, just a little, to make your story fresh.

11. I try to have fun and remember why I write. I get disappointed and frustrated just like everyone else but if the entire world isn’t in love with my books, that’s their problem. And it’s a first world problem to be wallowing in writer’s angst.

"My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people." - Patricia Highsmith

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.” – Patricia Highsmith

12. I do quite a lot of research (hasn’t Google made research easier, everyone?) For my biker Noir novel, I read more than I wanted on the history of Meth in this country and all I can tell you is that fiction ain’t got nothin’ on the truth. I’m still trying to get some of those images out of my mind. Much of my research is on the page in early drafts but eliminated as I rewrite. Tip of the iceberg is what I aim for. Elmore Leonard is a master at including that one detail that brings a scene or character to life.

13. There is no such thing as writer’s block. As Jim Frey said, what would you say to a plumber who said that he (or she) had ‘plumber’s block?’ You’re a plumber. Get to work. If you can’t be wonderfully creative today, do some low-level self-editing. There’s always something to do to make your novel better.

So there you have it.

I want to call out three fellow authors I think are innovative and pass the baton, and hope they follow suit and tell us how they write. (It’s a chain letter. If we all do this the entire world will be inundated with blog posts about writing. And then what? A few million authors at the end of the chain will be stuck and the internet will probably break. But if my three chosen authors wish to participate I look forward to their secrets for success.)

Tess Collins – author of Appalachian fiction and more
Anne-Rae Vasquez – paranormal, fantasy, dystopian (and more)
Jill Nojack – queen of the fae (and more!)

If you write, I hope my humble thoughts have encouraged you in some way. We all do it differently but we all do a lot of it the same. What an arrogant thing to think that someone will want to read something you made up.

But I digress.

¡vivan los escritores!

The Glass Cell – Move Over Ripley (Book Review)

If you read suspense and have not read Patricia Highsmith, first of all, shame on you and second, you have some weird and wonderful (and terrifying) books ahead. No one wrote like Highsmith. Her novels deliver in the classic thriller/mystery/suspense department for those simply looking for an edgy ride but they’re also literate and truly unique. Her characters are odd, not in the quirky sense, but disturbed and wretched. And real.


Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith wasn’t afraid to take time to get a story rolling, as many authors are (especially nowadays) and although that may fail her from time to time, the reader has time to soak in the world she creates with those deviant but everyday characters. She’s written a dog or two (IMHO) but every great author has. It’s part of reaching for the kind of stories that, more often than not, leave a mark.

About a third of the way through The Glass Cell, I thought I was reading one of Highsmith’s dogs. I’ve already read all her well-known work (Strangers on a Train is a must-read. If you don’t believe me, believe Hitchcock who made Highsmith’s first novel into an excellent movie) and thought I was scraping the bottom of the Highsmith barrel.

There are real flaws with the first third of Glass Cell, the story of a man who goes to prison for six years on a fraudulent charge. Key events happen off camera, important characters are not physically described, and Highsmith’s slow-burn prose feels like it’s meandering.

But then Philip Carter, our ill-fated anti-hero, gets out of prison, physically and mentally damaged, craving morphine, and learns that his beautiful wife has most likely been having a six-year-long affair with his lawyer. Then the people who set Carter up come back into the picture. It seems inevitable that Carter does some of the things he does.

And the reader ends up rooting for a milquetoast turned drug-addled psychopath. I was never a huge fan of Ripley, one of Highsmith’s more fantastic characters, but Carter had my complete sympathy no matter what he did to those who treated him so poorly. Highsmith is famous for her Ripley books (and the first one should be on everyone’s to-read list) but whereas Ripley is prickly and frightening, Carter is your unstable friend who just can’t catch a break.

Stay inside The Glass Cell and you won’t be disappointed.

Behind the Page – Author Tom Garrison

¿Quién es más macho?

Tom and Dave the Wonder Cat - 2011

Author Tom Garrison and Dave the Wonder Cat

Fans of the original Saturday Night Live may remember a skit in which contestants were asked by Bill Murray, speaking Semester II Spanish, to select the most macho of actors: David Janssen, Lloyd Bridges or Jack (‘Yack’) Lord.

Although this month’s guest is a writer, he is definitely a contender. Not because he wore cool suits and uttered such iconic phrases as ‘Book ‘em, Dano.’ But because he has honed a writing style that is both analytical and provocative, regardless of your politics.

And also because he used to water-ski on agricultural canals.

Tom Garrison, welcome to Behind the Page.

Q:  Water-skiing on agricultural canals? Hemingway would surely be envious.

While not quite the 10,000 degree temperature of the sun’s photosphere, summer in California’s southern Central Valley was hot. You and your teenage buddies needed a break.

The Central Valley is crisscrossed by several major irrigation canals. The canals run 20 to 25 feet across, up to ten feet deep, and, best of all, have dirt roads on each bank. Upon someone getting their driver’s license, we would all pile into the wreck of a car they finagled from their parents and go canal water-skiing.

Here is how it goes: position the skier on the far side of the canal, tie a tow line to the car bumper, throw the line to the skier, yell at the idiot, excuse me-skier-to get ready, then take off and drive as fast as possible on a narrow dirt road that has a four feet embankment on one side and a canal full of water on the other. Note that every mile or so a large standpipe juts a few feet above the water line.


Add alcohol and now you have true water-skiing, not some sissy sport on a peaceful lake.

To begin with, it’s not legal.

Possible outcomes: the car veers off the dirt road, or the skier falls, or the skier weaves back and forth, kicking up huge rooster tails before smashing into a standpipe.

OR the skier completes the run, releases the tow line, cruises to the dirt bank, and steps out of the skis onto dry land without anything other than their lower legs getting wet.

That is a “ten” run.

Canal water-skiing was a rite of passage.

Q:  “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.” Thoughts?

I use a similar quote in my book Why We Left the Left: Personal Stories by Leftists/Liberals Who Evolved to Embrace Libertarianism.

Youth is a time of rebellion, when actions are often dictated by emotions. Action and slogans take precedent over reasoned analysis. Young people generally have little at stake in “the system” and a lot of free time. I saw this repeatedly when I was an active socialist in Santa Barbara. Younger “fellow travelers” would drop into our Socialist Party group, hang around for a few months then drop out when the emotional high receded.

As people age, many begin to question their former views, especially when they see concomitant big government solutions (e.g. Obamacare or crony capitalism) become complex and fraught with unanticipated consequences. This realization tends to make one more cautious in advocating radical solutions. (And who, besides Warren Buffet, advocates “taxing the hell out of the rich” when they have a job that may put them in the “rich” category?)

I believe this saying applies primarily to “normal” people. Political ideologues, Right or Left, seldom change their stripes. For an intense political person to change politically later in life takes self-confidence, introspection, and guts. And most of your former “comrades” will disown you. I know.

Q: Beatles or Stones? Or …?

I turned 18 in 1970. My teens were dominated by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. The early work for both groups was simple rock and roll. However, the Beatles evolved a slicker, “prettier” sound while the Stones wallowed in the energy of unadulterated rock.

Listening to the Beatles after the mid-60s was like taking a hike in a coastal wooded area—lots of green, eroded smooth mountains, cool temperatures, little danger. Listening to the Stones belt out “Sympathy for the Devil” was like a desert hike—jagged mountains, the earth sans the makeup of vegetation, potential danger from flash floods in slot canyons (which I love to explore), poisonous critters, and raw vistas.

The Stones at Altamont

The Stones at Altamont

Since I prefer desert hiking my obvious choice is the Stones. As I write this and silently sing the lyrics to “Street Fighting Man,” the hairs on my arms stand to attention. That song was important in my prepping for speeches in the mid-1980s.

But since the end of the New Wave era (Devo, Talking Heads, B-52s, Clash, Eurythmics, and others) I haven’t paid much attention to music. I mean, who the hell is Miley Cyrus?

Q: What made you realize you were a writer? When?

From 1982 to 2000 I was editor, managing editor, and finally, editorial director of a political science journal based in Santa Barbara. Professors of the social sciences, in particular political science, tend to be fairly inept writers. (Try reading the American Political Science Review.) I ended up not just editing, but often rewriting many scholarly articles. I also had essays and letters published in leftist/progressive newsletters, local newspapers, and journals.

Was I writer? Not yet.

In December 2010 I had two political essays published: one in the Salt Lake Tribune, another in The Spectrum (the St. George Utah daily newspaper). A beginning.

My wife Deb and I love to hike. My first paid hiking story was published in The Spectrum in May 2011. Since then my stories have appeared every month. That made me consider myself a writer.

The author and his wife on the left (politically and photographically), 1985

Since then I have had political and humorous essays published, have entered and won several writing contests, and published two books.

But being an author/writer is only one facet of my identity. Being retired I am fortunate that I do not have to depend upon writing for income. If I did, I would  be living in a cardboard box under a bridge with Dave the Wonder Cat.

Q:  Author(s) who inspire you? 

I read just about anything: books, cereal boxes, the more interesting stuff on paper place mats at diners. The author I try to emulate the most is Hunter S. Thompson. I’d like to think at least some of my writing is similar to gonzo journalism. Gonzo journalism, according to Wikipedia  “…has been defined in academic literature as an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and which draws its power from a combination of both social critique and self-satire.”


I write in the first person, love social critique, and have plenty of foibles of which to make fun.

And so far I have been successful in avoiding the drunken, lunatic nature of Thompson’s last couple of decades. And I have no plans to go out by shooting myself in the head.

Q: What makes it worth eleven and a half US dollars to sit in a theater behind someone who shouts at the screen? 

Hey, don’t be too hard on the screen shouters. I was one of the original audience participants for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “There’s a light…” (film dialogue) was followed by the entire audience flicking their Bics. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has be the best science fiction/horror/musical film ever produced.

But that was decades ago. I don’t mind someone making a quiet, clever comment about a film in a theater but unfortunately, that is seldom the case anymore.

We very much enjoy a few series on TV. Who doesn’t love Dexter, the likeable and troubled serial killer? Or The Walking Dead? What is better than smashing a few zombies all the while dealing with some moral dilemma in your survivor group? Or watching Billy Bob Thorton do his weird thing in Fargo?

Q:. The hardest part of writing a book is …

Getting started. Once I’ve opened the correct file, the keyboard beg for a pounding. (My typing style is more touch pounding than touch typing.) I quickly enter a sort of Zen state and the words flow.

Unfortunately none of this happens until all other potential work is completed—dishes washed, Amazon Author Central checked for the eight time, every weed pulled from our garden, research completed on the most minor point in the story/chapter, and so on.

Q: ‘Writing is a mental disorder’. What say you?

Not at all. Reading what I write may be a sign of an unbalanced individual. But nonfiction writing is simply communicating something the writer believes is important to an audience.

I put a lot of myself into each story and book. I know sometimes it will be slammed for political reasons. Perhaps that’s a sign of some mental disorder.

On the other hand, this helps develop a thick skin and I’m pleased to say the majority of comments about my work have been positive.

Q:  How do you prevent from becoming old and decrepit like the rest of us?

I can’t do much about the old part, but I refuse to be decrepit.

Think of all the interesting looking places you pass on the road while traveling. The world’s best checker-playing chicken (there’s more than one, apparently). A national park you don’t have the time to explore. Deb and I used to say, “someday we will check out the chicken.” Well, with retirement, “someday” has arrived. No more passing up checker-playing chickens.

Deb and I love to play in the dirt and have become gardeners extraordinaire. Desert gardening is a challenge. Another outdoor activity is occasional target shooting. Gotta keep those self-defense skills sharp.

I love cats and dogs (we currently have two animal companions, Dave the Wonder Cat and Molly the cat) and regularly volunteer at PAWS (Providing Animals With Support)—a non-governmental rescue/shelter organization.

I devour books, especially mystery/thrillers and science fiction. I currently serve as the vice president of my local writers group.

I also still consider myself politically active.

And most days I find time to write.

Q:  ‘Why We Left the Left’? Why did you leave the Left?

I was a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party (SP) for more than a dozen years. Deb and I helped found the Santa Barbara SP Chapter in 1983. From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s I was intensely active in leftist causes. I was arrested for civil disobedience, a board member of the local tenants union, twice ran openly as a socialist for Santa Barbara City Council, revitalized a moribund Santa Barbara County Peace and Freedom Party, worked closely with the local Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, gave dozens of speeches promoting socialism, and organized public events, all while holding down a full-time job editing a political science journal.

Why We Left the Left cover, version 2 - USE
But by the mid-90s I became disenchanted with the Left.

Basically there are four characteristics of the Left that made it impossible to continue my affiliation:  (1) a lack of respect for and understanding of the concept of personal responsibility for one’s own actions, (2) habitual dishonesty, which undermines the democratic process, (3) a slavish adherence to “affirmative action” preferences, identity politics, and multicultural “diversity”, (4) and a strong intolerance for real diversity of ideas.

Lying about one’s principal political affiliation has a long tradition on the Left. There may have been justification for underground political work in Czarist Russia or 1980s El Salvador. But in 1980s America?

In the late 80s I twice ran for Santa Barbara City Council as a socialist. Keep in mind that this was the apogee of the Reagan-Bush years and I was running in Ronald Reagan’s adopted home town. As a member of the California Peace and Freedom Party and the Socialist Party, USA, I never had a hassle from the public for promoting socialism. I think my campaigns and other political work in our local socialist group greatly benefited from our directness about what we represented. I was treated with respect by moderates and conservatives and the local media. And I had many intense (yet civil) discussions with capitalists and other “running dogs”. The only real problem came from liberals who wanted me to say I was simply another “progressive” Democrat. I was not a Democrat and was not about to lie concerning my basic political affiliations, even though I surely would have received more votes if I did.  It would have been a betrayal of the public trust and my own values.

How can voters make an informed choice without all relevant knowledge?

Bottom line: any decent Marxist should also be some sort of libertarian. Marx’s vision included a withering away of the state and voluntary cooperation among free acting individuals and groups. What is more libertarian than that?

Q:  What can you tell us about your recent memoir?

I am part of a vast group known as the Baby Boomers (estimated at 75 million) who became politically active in the 1960s and 1970s. The sheer size of this human tsunami rolled through American society, fueling the Civil Rights, Gay Rights, and Women’s movements. We fought against war. The Baby Boomers also coincided with (caused?) loosening social mores, the sexual revolution, widespread recreational drug use, political correctness, identity politics, diminished personal responsibility, and excesses in many areas.

The 1960s mantra of “Challenge Authority” was the basis of my political activism and the title of my memoir. What exactly does “challenge authority” mean? More than disobeying your parents as a kid. Or calling the police “pigs.” Those are juvenile acts of rebellion. A key component is resisting the temptation to act impulsively. It’s okay to break certain rules. But know why the rule exists, and have a good reason for breaking them.

Challenge Authority ebook cover - 40%

I firmly believe challenging authority should involve nonviolent direct action.

Actively challenging the status quo has always been the first step in important societal change.

My life has been punctuated by episodes of challenging authority. In the early 1970s I battled The Draft. I was a conscientious objector willing to do non-military service. The Selective Service System disagreed.

Challenging the authority of my first wife’s parents by marrying their daughter was not such a good idea. They, and others, said it would not work. Damn, they were right!

There are many other aspects of this topic that I cover in my book. I hope that readers will check it out and am excited to hear their comments.

Q: Latest work in progress?

The local daily newspaper, The Spectrum, has published a hiking story of mine every month since May 2011. I’m compiling these stories together into a hiking book tentatively titled Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas.

Q: On one of your hikes, you find a crumpled paper bag with a million dollars in it. You try to return it but no one will take it. Now what?

Since I don’t do drugs anymore (nothing is worse that the downside of a Bolivian marching powder binge), one can only play so much casino video poker, and Deb and I don’t need any expensive material goodies.

First, use a chunk of the money for a new facility for PAWS (Providing Animal With Support) where I volunteer.

Secondly, give some healthy donations to non-governmental organizations I support such as The Nature Conservancy and The Wildlife Federation.

Finally, provide the maximum legal contribution to two or three libertarian candidates who have a chance of winning.

Q:  Sorry, there was only a five dollar bill and some crumpled ones. Now what happens?

To hell with philanthropy. I’m off to Vegas!

Q: “Why We Left the Right?” Any plans for a follow-up to your collection of personal essays?

Nope. I came from the New Left and understand leftists pretty well.  Few leftists become libertarians, so a book on why they did so has value. Conservative/rightists becoming libertarians is pretty common. Once they understand that the state has no business in who marries whom, what you put in your body, and give up crony capitalism, they often make the shift.

Q: If you could only do one thing, what would it be?

Sounds like a question for a beauty pageant: “Max, if I could only do one thing I would bring about world pizza. Tee, hee, I mean world peace.”

But if I could do one thing I would magically (I am a very amateur magician) make everyone pay heed to Oliver Cromwell’s 1650 warning to the Church of Scotland:

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Cromwell’s advice might go a long way in creating world pizza/peace.

Tom, I want to thank you for taking this time to let us get to know you. And for being so dang macho.

Want to get into contact with Tom Garrison?

You can email him at: ‘tomgarrison98 at yahoo dot com’ (replace ‘at’ with ‘@’ and ‘dot’ with ‘.’ and strip spaces e.g. – this is to prevent spam engines)

OR check out Tom’s Facebook page.