Here’s the backstory on the first chapters of novels posted on this site:
My literary agent sold STASH to Random House in a two-book contract, the second book turning out to be CLEAN BREAK. After years of writing and rejection, I had made it as a novelist with a major publishing house.
Everyone was excited about STASH. The publisher at the novel’s imprint, Broadway Books, said it was exciting and full of moral complications.
And then things got complicated for me. Within a week of signing the contract with me, the publisher and my editor at Broadway Books both were fired. I don’t think it was because they signed me, but I’ll never know–I never spoke to either of them again.
I’d lost my main advocates at the publishing house, but other editors took over. As part of the two-book deal, the Random House retained “right of first refusal” on a third novel. That means they had first dibs on anything I wrote next.
Turned out for a number of reasons that STASH and CLEAN BREAK weren’t bestsellers, but most readers who discovered the books gave positive reviews. In publishing, like most businesses, sales results drive a lot of decision making, and my publisher exercised its right to refuse my third novel, THE FINISH LINE. I’m pretty sure almost anything I would have written they would have rejected. Why would they want to lose more money on me?
I had a lot of passion for THE FINISH LINE, which continued the story of two minor characters from STASH who had stayed with me after I finished writing that novel. Their story still fascinated me–Aaron and Dana–and I had to keep writing it. My agent loved THE FINISH LINE. She tried to sell the novel to other publishers, without success.
So I went back to work. I wrote A SERIOUS LAPSE. That novel didn’t sell either, despite my agent’s efforts and enthusiasm, and her support for me as a writer. Our relationship began to show strain. She probably wished I wrote a different book; I wished she had better connections in the publishing world. At this time, I might have entered a fugue state, as had Robert, the main character in the unsold novel.
Following these publishing setbacks, I veered in a new direction with my writing. No doubt inspired by the state of the world around me and my personal world, I wrote a dystopian speculative thriller, THE CULLING, the most commercial, page-turning idea my brain could conjure. The novel is a cross between Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Ridley Scott’s “Bladerunner,” about a woman on the run from an unjust death sentence and the mercenary assigned to hunt her. I really enjoyed writing it.
My agent, who strongly preferred upmarket and literary fiction, read THE CULLING and parted ways with me. Not for her. I need a new agent now.
But writing. I’m always writing. A story is always being conceived, mulled over, worked on, discarded or continued. There’s always a light peeking through the clouds, like in the photo I took at the top of this page.
This is almost an afterthought: I wrote STILL LIFE (and other novels) before I wrote STASH. It began as a short story, “The Painter’s Son,” that was published in Storyquarterly, a respected literary journal. It is another example of characters and story I wasn’t finished with yet, and so I expanded the story into a novel, adding an essential character into the protagonist’s life. STILL LIFE has a very secure place in my heart.
That’s the backstory on the First Chapters. Here are introductions to those novels:
A barbaric constitutional amendment has resulted in a Lottery that culls a percentage of the population each year—all in the name of ensuring equality. The algorithm draws your number, you report. No exceptions, unless you have immunity. Maren, a director at a charitable organization founded by the country’s first lady, still has immunity from when her husband volunteered for the Lottery. To battle her loneliness and despair, she regularly runs all 76 flights of stairs in her apartment tower.
During a special news event, the first lady volunteers to be culled in the ultimate show of support for her husband, the president general. She lies in state during a national broadcast. Yet that same night Maren spots the first lady in disguise with two guards—and in turn is spotted by them. Quickly, Maren is notified to report by the Lottery Commission, and her immunity credentials are invalidated.
Ven Nowak, a mercenary who hunts citizens that refuse to comply with a Lottery notification, is working to earn permanent freedom for his disabled brother and himself. He’s running out of time because his license is about to expire and he’ll never pass the recertification test. Not with his arthritic shoulder and debilitating asthma.
Ven is awarded the assignment to hunt Maren, which can earn him enough points to retire. But when he discovers she is the woman he recently met and has been fantasizing about, he hesitates capturing her, misses his deadline, and is himself now eligible for the Lottery. Instead of hunting Maren, Ven forges an alliance with her, against his brother’s warnings.
Maren and Ven attempt to escape to Canada together where they can join the resistance. The long and dangerous journey requires them to get past checkpoints and navigate the violent upcountry, while being relentlessly pursued by other mercenaries and federal troopers. Relying on skills, wits, and luck, they’ll make their escape together—or be destroyed in the process.
Successful, happily married man and devoted father Robert Besch is traveling for business when he survives a deadly plane crash. He manages to rescue fellow passengers from the burning plane, but he lapses into a fugue state, forgetting who or where he is.
Several days later he wakes up in a hotel room with a woman beside him. He has no idea what happened. No way to explain. Returning home, he must put his life back together while enduring the stigma of his psychological collapse and the pain he’s caused his family.
As a series of unwanted memories from the fugue state slowly return, Robert begins to question his motives in the crash’s aftermath. Is he is really the man he believed himself to be? Or have unconscious desires taken control of his life?
When Aaron, a damaged young veteran just released from prison attempts to apologize to Dana, the collegiate athlete he’d once sexually assaulted, she recoils in fear and rejects him, but soon an uneasy bond develops between them when she discovers he might hold the clue to her father’s unsolved murder.
A painter on the verge of success loses his creative spark and alienates the woman he loves when his estranged father forces him to confront their damaged relationship.