Friday, August 27, 2010

The Paranoia Club by Dorian Tenore, Chapter One: "Burning"

For those who've been nice enough to ask for a taste of my comedy-thriller novel The Paranoia Club (Ghost Editor Nicole Bokat and I are polishing each chapter even as you read this), here's a brief blurb; feedback is always welcome, be it constructive criticism or lavish praise. Thanks for your attention!:

The Paranoia Club 
by Dorian Tenore
Surviving a fire at New York’s most celebrated therapeutic preschool as a child, Sean Wilder hasn’t let the odd recurring nightmare keep him from growing up a capable young man in a family of eccentrics.  Now two decades later, Sean is overjoyed by the return of his childhood sweetheart Claire, but horrified to learn that people connected to that long-ago fire are turning up dead.  Coincidence?  Are Sean and Claire next?  His fugitive brother Gordie might have the answers, but can their detective sister Cori pin him down long enough to ask the questions? The Paranoia Club is a character-driven, New York-set thriller with an undercurrent of humor. Think of it as Donald E. Westlake meets Andrew Klavan. 

The Paranoia Club by Dorian Tenore

Chapter One: Burning (2,937 words)

Sean Wilder realized he wasn’t having a nightmare. He was having a memory dressed up like one. Either way, it hurled him twenty years into the past. The twenty-five-year-old Sean remembering the past wanted to yell something to the poor scared kid living it, to tell him to get the hell out of there. So why couldn’t he? Sean felt powerless to stop it or look away; like it or not, he was reliving the whole ordeal through the eyes of the five-year-old he’d been when the fire had happened.

He looked over at Claire Dennerlaine, who had just turned five herself. Beautiful Claire with the Long Blonde Hair. That had been his nickname for her ever since they’d met at the Building Blocks Preschool. In the dream, he and Claire were back at Building Blocks, but this wasn’t the classic I’m-back-in-school nightmare. Their voices almost gone from screaming for help, he and Claire were caught in the fire that had destroyed the school.

Orange tongues of flame licked greedily at cotton candy spun from dark gray smoke. The classroom toys looked like melting candles. All that safe, soft, kid-friendly plastic and rubber wasn’t made to be fireproof. The hand puppet family’s heat-swollen faces scared him more than anything else. A bubble formed on the daddy puppet’s rubber face like a giant pimple. The brown Magic Marker coating that Sean’s best friend Johnny Melendes had put on the boy puppet’s face simmered like the brown sugar glaze Sean’s mother always used on the Easter ham.

As Sean and Claire lurched toward the door, a figure materialized, like that magician who’d stepped out of a cloud of smoke at Johnny’s fifth birthday party. It was a man. He looked familiar, but Sean couldn’t remember his name. Claire didn’t seem to know him, either. But the way the strange man glared at them, Sean knew he wasn’t there to help. He reminded Sean of those gargoyles on that big, spooky-looking building near Central Park.

The door vanished behind the gargoyle man as he lunged toward them. “What did you see?” As the man came closer, he kept asking that same question, his voice scarier each time. Blinking back the tears and sweat rolling down their faces, Sean and Claire clung to each other as if that would protect them. “Safety in numbers,” like Da always used to say. They tried to yell for help one more time, but the sounds were locked in their sore, burning throats.

Frantically searching for another escape route, all they saw was a seething, pulsing wall of orange and gold, gray and black. The man kept coming, like the fire couldn’t hurt him. Maybe it can’t hurt him, Sean thought. Maybe he’s the Devil.He didn’t know what felt worse, the terror, the awful heat, or Claire’s slim little body going limp against his. “No, Claire, no, please don’t close your eyes, please.” That headband slipped off her hair again, for good this time.

“C’mon, wake up, Claire. Wake up!” Sean shook her as hard as he could, grabbing her shoulders so tight it should’ve hurt her like crazy. But all that did was make Claire’s head loll back and forth, her hair hanging in her face. He might as well have been shaking one of her rag dolls. Now he felt his own knees buckling even though he didn’t want them to, his head swimming no matter how hard he tried to stay awake. Still, he held Claire’s limp, sleeping—please, God, please, only sleeping—body as tight as he could, as long as he could, so she wouldn’t fall and get hurt. Well, more hurt.

Sneering, the man swooped down on them, his rigid arms trapping them like a net. Sean couldn’t squirm out of the man’s tight grip. At least it helped him keep his arms around Claire.

As the man clutched them, his hideous gargoyle face began to change. Sean didn’t know why; he didn’t know how. All he knew was that a lady now stood where the awful man had been. A tall blonde lady who was beautiful, like a movie star. But now hate—maybe even a trace of fear—had twisted the lady’s features until she looked as scary as the man. This time Sean knew who it was: Claire’s mother. But how come she’s just standing there? How come she’s not helping us?Her sharp, angry voice hurt his ears: “I should leave you here. It’s your own fault!”

In his head, Sean whimpered, Please, please let me wake up. But he couldn’t even open his eyes. Slowly, Sean felt the heat of the fire and the confusion of the childhood nightmare fading, replaced in bits and pieces by bitter cold and adult reality.

But he still couldn’t open his eyes.

* * * * * *

As he finally awakened, Sean felt a damp, insistent chill slicing through his entire body. Another dream? No. He didn’t say that out loud, if only because he didn’t have the energy to open his mouth.

He grew dimly aware that he was in an unaccustomed position. Uncomfortable, too; his leg muscles felt as if a giant had been twanging them like rubber bands. It didn’t take long to figure out why, even without opening his eyes. Instead of being in bed, he was seated—more like slumped—at a table.

Either this table was outdoors, or there was one hell of a draft in the room. Ideas and memories were still coming in random fits and starts. He tried to force a coherent thought out of his jigsaw brain: Patio table? Don’t remember goin’ to a barbecue. Too damn cold for barbecues. His mouth tasted like vomit for the first time since Da’s death; that was when he and his sister Cori had agreed once and for all to cut back on their drinking and throw out their cigarettes, hoping to head cancer off at the pass.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m awake.” Sean hadn’t thought out loud in years, but this was an odd enough experience that he considered it warranted. Besides, the sound of his own voice was somewhat soothing, even if moving his lips made his cheek sting a little.

He wasn’t ready to lift his head yet, so he tried to move his legs a little, if only to shake out those damn cramps. They wouldn’t move more than a fraction of an inch. Just a little stiff, he thought. He tried again once—twice—three times. Nope. A little tied up. Somehow, the extra-long shoelaces of his artificial-snakeskin sneakers had gotten tied around the bench legs, as if to hold his legs in place. Real funny, smart-ass, whoever you are. He vowed to get mad at whoever had pulled this stunt, as soon as he was fully conscious. While he was at it, he might even untie the laces.

Even as consciousness returned, the dream’s most horrifying images wouldn’t leave Sean’s mind. Figuring he had nothing to lose but what little dignity he had, he tried one of those goofy mind exercises Dr. George Greenlee had taught him back at Building Blocks. An imaginary animated janitor, looking like the one in those old Peabody’s Improbable History cartoons, forcefully swept the scary thoughts away.

Judging from that Freezer Burn from Hell searing his left cheek, Sean figured out that the table his face rested upon was some kind of metal, probably aluminum. At least he could actually feel his cheek. His numb arms rested in front of him, his coat sleeves making them feel like blocks of ice. Between that and his current state of exhaustion—screw the idea of lifting his arms.

Sean considered lifting his head and taking stock of this situation, but another part of his brain was hell-bent on sinking back into blissful unconsciousness. Fine with me, long as I don’t dream about fires again. He sighed. Fire…a fireplace would be nice right now. Especially if Claire was beside him, the flames’ reflected light bronzing her hair, making her eyes shimmer like kaleidoscopes.

But Claire wasn’t here, and the chill was. Jesus, it’s freezing out here. Then it occurred to him: If it’s cold out and you’re drowsy, doesn’t that mean you’re freezing to death? Gordie would have known. Good ol’ Gordie, The Great Doctor. Is there a doctor in the house? An ancient family joke, but Sean snickered anyway. Then it all started coming back to him: what the hell had happened to Gordie?

Maybe it was his mind’s way of escaping the cold, but Sean’s thoughts kept backtracking to the Building Blocks fire. One minute, little Sean had been in the burning playroom with Claire and the scary grownups. The next thing he knew, he’d been waking up outside in the sunshine, with a sick feeling in his stomach and his fifteen-year-old brother Gordie’s face hovering above his. What’s Gordie doing here? Sean wondered if Gordie knew he and Claire had run back into the burning school to find her lost headband. Was Gordie mad at him? Would he tell Mommy?

But Gordie hadn’t looked angry; instead, he’d looked as scared as Sean had felt during the fire, and a little dirty and smudgy. Sean’s eyes focused on Gordie while his ears homed in on that increasingly loud, annoying whine, like a cat whose tail was being stepped on. No, wait, not a whine—a siren.

“Gordie?” Sean hadn’t been able to talk above a whisper, his throat burned so much. “Ambulance?”

Relief melted Gordie’s terrified look. “Yeah, little guy. An ambulance. You’ll be okay.”

He was there. Gordie was there. But where was…. “Claire! Gordie, where’s Claire? She’s not dead, is she?” He felt tears springing into his eyes. Please, God, don’t let Claire be dead, please!“Don’t be scared, little guy.” Gordie’s voice was gentle. “Claire’s gonna be okay, too. She’s on her way to the hospital, the same one you’re going to.” Big brother’s hand tightened around little brother’s. “I’m going in the ambulance with you.”

Sean was puzzled. “How come? Are you sick?”

As the ambulance guys put him on one of those cool stretchers with the wheels on them, he’d wondered why Gordie was kind of laughing and crying at the same time.

Sean was pulled back into the here-and-now by an icy wind biting into his now-exposed ankles, not that he was entirely sure where or when this “here and now” was. Gotta get some new socks soon. First, maybe I’d better untie myself and go inside.Before he could do that, he’d have to do something really tough—like open his eyes. But his eyelids wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t just drowsiness, either. Sean tried hard, but he couldn’t get his eyelids to move. What the hell? He gritted his teeth and did his damndest to force his eyes open. But his eyelashes seemed to be glued together, like he had a major case of pinkeye. Sean tried moving his arms again, hoping to rub his eyes back into functioning. But no, his arms had decided to stay anchored to the table. Paralyzed, blind, and hobbled. Great, just fucking great!

“Relax, little guy. Let me give you a hand.”

There was only one person who’d still call a six-foot-three beanpole like him “little guy.” No mistaking that raspy baritone voice and the efficient yet vaguely surly attitude.

“Gordie?” Sean’s surprised voice was hoarse; but he was glad he could at least get his mouth open, with a little effort. And a little unexpected pain.

Sean started lifting his head in earnest, but decided against it once the searing pain struck. He waited a moment. Tried again. Same results. “Uh, Gordie? I think I’m stuck.” Talking hurt, so everything else on the tip of his tongue became an internal monologue: Oh, great. My goddamn face and arms are frozen to this goddamn table. Goddamn New York winters!

Another childhood memory made a guest appearance: the time he’d gotten his wet fingers stuck to the bottom of the recently-defrosted, newly-cold freezer. With a mighty surge of panic-induced strength, he’d torn his fingers off the metal surface. Yeah, that was a good month for the gauze industry.

“Sean, quit fidgeting. I’ll help you out in a second.” Gordie sounded annoyed now. More than that, Sean noticed, he sounded tired and defeated.

Sean felt the table move, as if someone had gotten up from sitting there. That made sense. If he remembered correctly, Gordie’s patio table, a sentimental hand-me-down from their parents, had its four curved benches attached to the table itself, with spaces between each bench for happy barbecuers to slip in and out. He wondered how long he and Gordie had been sitting there, and why.

He heard an odd sound above his head—“shlurp.” It made him think of a dragon smacking its lips, anticipating a tasty treat, like maybe a knight. A moment later, Gordie said, “Hold your breath or you’ll get water up your nose.” Splashes of cold, brackish water assaulted Sean’s face. Gordie’s hands briskly yet gently wiped the clammy slime from Sean’s eyes. “It’s not the most sanitary stuff in the world, but it’ll help unstick you.”

Blinking, Sean lifted his head. “Thanks—ow!” His cheek stung like crazy. Global warming, my ass.The first thing Sean saw was Gordie’s face, peppered with stubble as copper-red as his hair, black smudges, dried blood, and bruises, especially around his swollen nose and eyes. It looked like Gordie’s nose had bled on his long gray Burberry coat, too. “Shit, Gordie, what happened to you?”

Gordie snickered, then winced; with that beat-up face, any movement had to hurt. “Long story, little guy. Wait for the movie.”

“Whatever.” A slow scan up and around helped Sean confirm that he was in the secluded backyard of Gordie and Rachel’s secluded house in Montauk: four bedrooms, five baths, and six miles away from the nearest neighbor. Sean remembered Mom’s worry that if they got hurt or sick, they wouldn’t be discovered for days. But Sean had liked the way the yard rolled down an incline, stopping at the edge of a cliff with a breathtaking view of the ocean. Rachel always said that should Gordie “lift the ban,” as she put it, on having kids, a fence would go up the minute she knew she was pregnant.

With the sight of the backyard, the last piece of the puzzle snapped into place. Sean remembered now. He had driven out to see Gordie and…and…. Okay, maybe it’s the next-to-last piece. Gordie’s here, but…. Then it hit him. “Gordie, where’s Rachel?” His normally husky voice now sounded like gravel, and not just from the cold weather.

“Why the hell did you come here?” Gordie’s green eyes drilled into Sean’s. “I thought if anyone would pull the old ‘just passing by’ gag, it’d be Cori.”

“She and James took Greer to Disney World to do the family fun bit.”

“Then who sent you? Mom?”

“No, coming here was my own brilliant idea.” To get his bearings and buy time to think, Sean looked around some more. Over his head, the umbrella was open, one of those heavy, weatherproof vinyl-and-canvas monsters made for outdoor tables like this one. Once an eye-burning acid yellow, time and the elements had faded the umbrella to the color of straw. The material between its spokes sagged under the weight of Wednesday night’s half-melted wintry mix. He figured that was where the water had come from.

Except for one reddish-orange patch of clouds, the sky surrounding the umbrella was charcoal gray. Or as Claire would tell Sean when she was in one of her romantic Bronte moods, “Storm-cloud gray, like your eyes.” Yeah, storm-cloud gray like that glare Gordie’s giving me right now.

What time did I get here? Almost midnight, right?
“Jeez, Gordie, is it dawn?”

Gordie’s eyes stopped their silent interrogation long enough to check his watch. Sean noticed Gordie’s hands were as bruised and dirty as his face, plus his knuckles were skinned. “Six twenty-four a.m., to be exact.” Back to business: “So why are you here, Sean?”

“Can’t a guy surprise his brother with a birthday visit? Especially since you’ve been doing such a good hermit imitation the past few months.” As his brain awakened more fully, so did his memories of last night. “I even had a present for you.”

“Was that the broken bottle at the bottom of the stairs?” As Sean nodded, Gordie looked puzzled. “What was it?”

“Tullamore Dew.”

“Shit, really?” Gordie sounded genuinely impressed.

“Yeah, really.”

“Jeez, even I’ve been having trouble finding Tully.”

“I, uh, took it out of my private stock.”

“Private stock.” Gordie couldn’t hold back a smirk, which slowly evolved into a grin, then a laugh. “My little brother, the great whiskey connoisseur.” His expression softened. “That had to be your last bottle. After the way I’ve been acting, you’d give me your last bottle of Tully?”

“I was gonna, but I dropped it. Sorry.”

Gordie shook his head in amazement. “Hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?”

“Why do I suddenly feel like I’m in an old Guinness ad?” Despite Sean’s attempts at flippancy, an icy lump of dread was hardening in his stomach. Until now, he’d hoped those images clamoring for attention in his head had only been part of another nightmare, the kind that happens when you’re asleep. But when he gazed straight ahead, past Gordie’s right shoulder, Sean saw the house in the distance.

Correction, he thought, swallowing his horror, what’s left of the house.

Next time: A disappointing movie that could be remade into a good one!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Critical Criteria and Query Copy for THE PARANOIA CLUB

One of the things I'd like to accomplish with "Tales of the Easily Distracted" is to get some feedback on my fiction, with your kind indulgence. I'm currently going over my first novel, The Paranoia Club, with ghost editor Nicole Bokat in order to make sure that when we're done, PClub will be as high-quality as possible before I start marketing the manuscript to real live editors. Susan Shapiro's "Secrets of Selling Your First Book" seminar was a big help in crafting my query letter copy. Here it is, for your consideration:

Surviving a fire at New York's most celebrated therapeutic preschool as a child, Sean Wilder hasn't let the odd recurring nightmare keep him from growing up a capable young man in a family of eccentrics. Now two decades later, Sean is overjoyed by the return of his childhood sweetheart Claire, but horrified to learn that people connected to that long-ago fire are turning up dead. Coincidence? Are Sean and Claire next? His fugitive brother Gordie might have the answers, but can their detective sister Cori pin him down long enough to ask the questions?
The Paranoia Club is a character-driven New York-set thriller with an undercurrent of humor. The story unfolds from the third-person limited viewpoint of protagonist Sean Wilder. Think of it as Donald E. Westlake meets Andrew Klavan.
I also have a list of critical criteria which I started just to keep me focused (I am, after all, easily distracted :-)), though my friends and fellow writers in LinkOnline and First Draft Online, among others, have also found it helpful. Here it is, in case y'all find it helpful, too:

Dorian’s Critical Criteria

1) Does the story hang together well?

2) Are the characters engaging and/or realistic? Do you care what happens to them one way or another?

3) Are the characterizations consistent without the characters being one-note? Is their behavior in keeping with their established personalities?

4) Is the dialogue bright and snappy — or powerful — without sounding phony or stilted?

5) Does the story have a good pace?

6) Does it accomplish what it sets out to do; e.g., did the comedy make you laugh, was the thriller suspenseful, etc.?

7) Is it unpredictable without being uneven?

8) Is it holding your interest?

9) If something comes up in a chapter that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything else, just take it for granted that it will be important later.  Having said that, if I’ve introduced the new element in question awkwardly, feel free to suggest more graceful ways to work it in.

Next time: Chapter One of the most-polished-to-date draft of The Paranoia Club, just so you can see what I'm blathering about! :-)

(Photo taken in New York City by Isarda Sorensen, August 2010)

Monday, August 23, 2010

"If I Let You Change Me, Will That Do It?" New Spins on Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO

(CAUTION! Big-Time Vertigo Spoilers Ahead!)

Make no mistake, I adore Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo just the way it is; I wouldn’t change a frame of it, from the powerful performances to Bernard Herrmann’s swooning, poignant score. That said, since I’m a sucker for a happy or at least hopeful (if not necessarily plausible) ending, I’ve sometimes toyed with alternate ways that Vertigo’s plot could have gone, purely for my own private amusement. It’s just that I’ve come to care so much about protagonists John “Scottie” Ferguson and Madeleine Elster, a.k.a. Judy Barton, that I can’t help wondering how Vertigo’s plot would have unfolded with just a few little behavioral tweaks in these characters. Goshdarnit, where are screenwriters Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor and source authors Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac when you really need them?

Cool, tantalizing Madeleine
The most obvious change, of course, would have been for Judy not to go along with Gavin Elster’s wife-killing scheme in the first place, but then we’d have no movie. So let’s say Judy goes along with the San Juan Bautista murder plot up until the fateful moment when, in Madeleine mode, she skedaddles up to the mission tower—where poor acrophobic Scottie can’t follow her—and screams when Scottie can no longer see her, cuing Elster to give his real wife’s body the big sendoff, making it look like poor possessed Madeleine leapt to her death.

Tawdry yet tender Judy
Remember how, before Judy/Madeleine breaks free from Scottie’s embrace to dash for the tower, he gives her that heartfelt speech about how the past should be forgotten, they’re together now, and hugging and kissing ensue? What if Judy took a moment to think it over (by now it’s obvious that she loves Scottie more than Elster anyway) and said, “You’re right, Scottie my love, we were meant for each other. Let’s blow this clambake and start a new life together,” or some Madeleine-appropriate equivalent? I can see it now: Scottie and his beloved drive away while that murdering bastard Elster is left holding the bag, no pun intended. If nuns or tourists should happen upon Elster getting ready to toss the real Madeleine’s corpse over the side, he might try to squirm out of it by claiming she slipped and hit her head, breaking her neck. Elster might even try to sue the mission for damages—unless, of course, an autopsy proved foul play. How sophisticated were autopsies in 1958, anyway?

What a love scene! It's like From Here to Eternity
without the bathing suits!

Considering Scottie is still calling our heroine “Madeleine” at this point, I’m imagining her snuggling up to him as they drive away, cooing, “You can call me Judy. All my friends do.” Hey, if Scottie can go by his nickname, so can Judy!

Oh, to be torn 'twixt love and Judy!
Of course, presuming our lovebirds don’t head off at once for someplace where a suspicious San Francisco death might not be news, Judy would probably have some explaining to do when Scottie got wind of Mrs. Elster’s untimely demise. Would Judy tell Scottie the truth, taking a chance on him becoming disillusioned with her and leaving? Would she try to make it look like Elster had backed her into a corner, leaving her no choice but to go along with his plan until the last minute?

"C'mon, Johnny-O, where's your sense of humor? And you wonder why we broke off our engagement!"
Poor Judy; her guilty self is behind that chair,
and she has no power to stop the smooching
and 'fess up about Madeleine!
(Apologies to Forbidden Planet)
Then again, if Elster were arrested for murder, Judy would surely either be arrested as an accomplice or be required to testify in court. (In 1958, would Raymond Burr have been cast as Judy’s attorney?) Would Scottie decide that, regardless, he loves Judy so much (especially in her Madeleine garb) he’d lie for her, or run off with her to Rio or some other place where extradition is more trouble than it’s worth? And what about his faithful, long-suffering gal pal, Midge Wood? What if she gets tired of being Scottie’s soft place to fall, finds out about Scottie trading her in for Judy/Madeleine, and decides to make trouble for the lovebirds? Sounds like a heck of a film noir to me!

With Scottie's eye for fashion, loving the new, improved Judy
is even more fun than What Not to Wear!
On the other hand, Midge might decide her “Johnny-O” isn’t “the only man for (her)” after all. Come to think of it, we never did find out why Scottie and Midge broke off their college engagement. What was the real story behind that, I wonder? Anyway, I want to see Midge find a nice fella on her wavelength who’d give her his undivided attention. She could stop worrying about Scottie and concentrate on her career. She could join forces with that engineer who came up with the cantilevered bra Midge was working on when we first met her. They could design the lingerie and the factory!

Let’s say love conquers all plot devices, and Scottie and Judy make a life together. What about his obsession with “Madeleine”? Would Judy decide blondes really do have more fun, and stick with the Madeleine look on her own terms and not just because Scottie’s dotty about it? I can hear the lovebirds now:

“Scottie, sweetie, I’ll wear my hair Madeleine style Monday through Friday and wear it loose on weekends, okay?”

“Aw, Judy, honey, if the style’s too much work, I’ll learn how to make that little chignon ’do for ya.”

There was a little girl who had a little curl...
Would Judy gradually bring in more Judyish attire? V-e-r-y gradually, since Scottie has apparently become more of an expert on feminine fashions and grooming than most “red-blooded” men of that era would dare admit. Scottie Ferguson, World’s Earliest Metrosexual! So would Judy sport a tacky bracelet here, a schmear of fire-engine-red lipstick there, until she’s more like her old pleasantly trashy self? She could even come home from the beauty salon one evening with more of a strawberry blonde tinge to her tresses. If Scottie ever complained that “You’re not the girl I fell in love with,” he’d be right!

Feel free to check out my IMDb review of Vertigo:

"Dames! They always put a guy in a spin!"

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci, or: Foreword Into The Past (& Present)

Hi, folks, my name's Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci, though I write fiction and articles as "Dorian Tenore" to give the world’s typesetters a break. :-)  As friends, family, and Twitter/Facebook correspondents can attest, writing is what I enjoy most, but I have a wide variety of interests, as you'll soon see.

I was born in New York City on June 8th, 1963, the daughter of Jacqueline Kehoe (then Tenore, née Cherry), a vivacious model-turned-medical/legal secretary, and Peter James Tenore, a bookie-turned-restaurant manager, both now deceased. My main growing-up was done in the North and West Bronx, with frequent stops in Manhattan, where I lived throughout most of my teen years.

I’ve been married to the love of my life, Vinnie Bartilucci (whom I met in 1985 in appropriately wacky style at an improvisational comedy class, but that’s a story in itself), since July 14th, 1989. Vinnie introduced me to the wonderful world of the Internet, and Amateur Press Associations (APAs) before that. While most APAs have long since transformed into Web sites, I’m still a member of one good old traditional paper APA, the long-running CAPrA, short for Cinematic Amateur Press Association. That said, I'm active in two writers' workshops: LinkOnline, run by my friend Ann Chiappetta ( and First Draft Online, founded by yours truly, though my friend Avery Cohen took over when life got too busy for me to run it (;

On October 30th, 1996, Vinnie and I became the proud—and busy! —parents of Siobhan Maggie Bartilucci. As a toddler, she was diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, but to our relief and joy, Siobhan has become a smart, funny, high-functioning, high-spirited young lady with an affectionate nature, a love of animation, and excellent grades in her Inclusion classes, in a mainstream school with lots of resources for Aspies and other kids with special needs.

In addition to writing, my other interests include my hometown of NYC (especially Manhattan and the Bronx, where I did most of my growing up), animation, music (especially film scores and music from the 1960s to 1980s) and movies, especially the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Adrien Brody. I also collect goofy postcards and rubber stamps. I’ve dabbled in careers in fields ranging from home video to public relations to low-budget filmmaking to comic book publishing, but all of them allowed me to do some form of writing, with the usual amount of grunt work thrown in. :-)

Writing has been my big love since I was a kid, with articles published in my various school newspapers (including a regular movie review column at my alma mater, Fordham University) and short stories and nonfiction articles published in local and trade publications (including The Hollywood Reporter) and small-press magazines. In fact, my dear Mom had been one of First Draft’s founding members, working on-and-off on a comic novel based on her colorful life with my dad; shades of Jenny Fields and T.S. Garp!

I cut my writing and editing teeth as a contributor and founding member of Fordham University’s literary magazine Alternative Motifs during my years as an undergraduate. Over the years, I've contributed my writing and editing skills to such companies as Crain Communications, Bankers Life, Burson-Marsteller, and A&E. In the early 1990s, I also had the pleasure of working at legendary comic book creator Jim Shooter’s publishing company DEFIANT, where I wrote weekly trade newsletters as well as editing letter columns for DEFIANT Publications and creating character profiles for their dark urban fantasy comic Dark Dominion.

In August 1992, I began working on and off on a labor of love, The Paranoia Club, conceived as a witty, character-driven romantic thriller and novel of manners—in short, the kind of novel I like to read! When Siobhan was born, I promised myself I’d finish PClub (as we call it) before she reached puberty, or at least before I became old enough to be the mother of PClub’s twentysomething protagonists, Sean Wilder and Claire Dennerlaine. Happily, I hunkered down and made my self-imposed deadline, completing an entire draft of the novel in March 2006! After friend and favorite columnist Amy Alkon recommended author/teacher Susan Shapiro's excellent seminar "The Secrets of Selling Your First Book" this past January, to encouraging feedback, I began working with ghost editor Nicole Bokat, who's been helping me trim the fat off my behemoth of a manuscript ever since. I'm also losing weight on Weight Watchers. It'll be interesting to see which slims down quickest, me or my manuscript! :-)

In recent years, I've worked with renowned author and longtime friend David Hajdu as an editorial assistant and researcher on his articles and nonfiction books, particularly on his acclaimed books Positively 4th Street (2001) and The Ten-Cent Plague (2008), both published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Over the years, my own articles and fiction have appeared in Sensations Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Review, CAPrA, and Shock Cinema, among others.

Three years ago, my cousin Paul Cherry needed a ghostwriter to write articles for his sales training and leadership development firm Performance Based Results ( The PBR job has been a perfect fit for me because Paul and I work well together, and my job allows me to work from home and tailor my schedule to Siobhan's school schedule. Besides, any job where I get to write about things that interest me is a good one!

My own tastes in literature and movies tend to run towards humor and suspense, or any writing that combines the two. In addition to my talented writer pals, my favorite authors include Donald Westlake, Peter Stone, Richard Prather, S.J. Perelman, Robert Benchley, Dorothy B. Hughes, Merrill Markoe, Judith Martin, Dorothy Parker, Roald Dahl, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Andrew Klavan (in fact, one of my favorite novels is The Scarred Man, a romantic thriller Klavan wrote under his occasional pseudonym, Keith Peterson), and Jon Scieszka. Scieszka (pronounced SHEZ-kah) usually writes books for young people such as The Math Curse, The Stinky Cheese Man, and the Time Warp Trio series, but trust me, his work is witty and sharp enough for adults to enjoy, too. His books are usually illustrated by the equally talented Lane Smith, who designed the look of the characters in the animated movie version of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, among other things.

Well, that should be more than you ever wanted or needed to know about me—for now… :-)

Next time: a few words on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.