The Three-letter Word That I Will Never Forget

Posted by:

Years ago, after an unexpected surgery, I became manic. At the peak of mania I experienced life like a child living it for the first time.  Back then, I frequently felt goosebumps, chills and wonder despite the fact that I was confined in a high-security psych ward.

Eventually, court-ordered medication “cured” me by thrusting me into an emotionally flat state I referred to as “the verge of tears.” Under the drug’s influence, my world lost its former vibrancy. Adrift and dispirited, I longed to feel goosebumps, chills and wonder once more.

Desperate to escape my passionless prison, I sought passage back to those manic pleasures. I read books, watched videos and browsed the internet to find a pathway. Was it the touch of God? A spiritual awakening? What contemplative sages had sought for millennia? Months passed without an answer and I eventually accepted my numb life—until my heart began to fail.

Without warning, I found myself in an ambulance with sirens wailing and lights flashing rushing toward an emergency room. Upon arrival, the medical staff whisked me away as if I were at death’s door. Tests revealed that my heart rate was a mere thirty beats per minute—when it beat at all. In no time, a doctor delivered the diagnosis: the atrium of my heart had ceased functioning.

With defibrillator pads affixed to my chest and side and a plethora of electrodes tethered to the lifesaving equipment surrounding me, I gravely awaited the root cause. When the answer came, I was not surprised: the medication I had grown to hate was killing me. A cardiologist abruptly discontinued it and admitted me to a telemetry ward where nurses monitored me for three days while my body detoxified.

Once freed of the medication, my mind soared once more and I relived the feelings I had so obsessively sought. I told no one for fear of being committed again or forced to endure yet another poison. When I finally stabilized, I described my temporary ecstasy to my wife as “a state of grace.”

No longer numbed by drugs, I subsequently felt the feelings regularly. As I basked in their glory, I wondered: could meditation take me increasingly heavenward? Or would I, like countless addicts, wind up chasing an unsustainable high? Reluctantly, I eschewed temptation.

Over time, I noticed what triggered them: seeing a beautiful photograph; reading a moving story; watching an inspiring movie; riding a motorcycle through snow-capped mountains; standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon; witnessing the splendor of the Taj Mahal.

Recently, I read an article in which people described similar feelings: being unaware of day-to-day worries; a deepening of the senses; a feeling of oneness with life; goosebumps; chills; tears of joy… The word that they universally used to describe their experiences jumped from the page and I knew that my search was over. I could not believe that three simple letters could embody what I felt: awe.

An Engaging and Thought Provoking Listen

Posted by:

Roughly fifteen years ago, my daughters landed their first acting roles at the Ahwatukee Children’s Theater (ACT) in a “Muppets” version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Talented stage actor Michael Rubino, a co-founder of the theater, played Scrooge in that production. Michael took on other challenging roles during the years that my daughters performed there, always bringing passion, professionalism, and vitality to each.

Months before I finished writing the final manuscript of The Road to Amistad, I invited Michael to narrate the audio book. He had never narrated before, but with a long acting history and a penchant for challenging roles, the offer intrigued him. That brief conversation sparked a fire and in short order, he began producing audio books for Audio Creation Exchange (ACX), an Amazon affiliate. By the time I published The Road to Amistad, he had narrated five books and set his sights on becoming a Platinum Producer, which requires having published twenty-five.

When I first approached Michael, I had no idea his sixth audio book would be so remarkable. Michael brought each character to life with unique quirks, accents, softness, or gruffness, and consistently reproduced those characters chapter after chapter. In addition, he occasionally included unexpected sound effects that always brought a smile.

I’ve read The Road to Amistad countless times, but Michael’s wonderful narration made me laugh, cry, and beg for more. Because I know him personally, he allowed me to listen to each chapter as he finished it. I waited patiently at my computer each night for the next amazing installment, sometimes until well after midnight.

Thank you, Michael, for your incredible creativity, talent, and dedication to producing a quality audio book second to none. It has been an honor working with you and I wish you the best of luck on your journey to becoming a Platinum Producer.

To learn more about The Road to Amistad audio book and to listen to a sample, click here.

The Power of Dreams

Posted by:

Dreams have tremendous impact on our lives. Have you ever had a dream that frightened or inspired you? Recently, a kidnapper took my youngest daughter at gun point into a Lifetime Fitness. I desperately wished to rescue her, but I was afraid that she’d be shot if I tried. I reached for my cell phone to call 9-1-1, but it wasn’t in my pocket. I located another phone, but had no idea where I was. Once I found the address, I tried dialing 9-1-1, but there was no dial tone. In a panic, I woke up. I was thankful that it was just a dream, but it tormented me for hours. Why do we dream such things? That thought led me to investigate dreams further and here is what I found…

She lived on a remote farm, owned a pet pig and hoarded books from her favorite author. She was his biggest fan and when she finally met him, she told him so: “I’m your number one fan!” She said bizarre things like “He didn’t get out of the cock-a-doody car!” Her name was Annie Wilkes from a book entitled “Misery,” by Steven King. I’ll never forget when the movie came out. There’s a scene in it where Annie hobbles Paul with a heavy sledge-hammer. It shocked me! I saw the movie a second time just to watch the audience’s reaction to that scene. I sat on the right side of the theater and as Annie raised the sledgehammer, I glanced over my left shoulder just in time to see the entire audience jump in unison as it struck home. After falling asleep in an airplane, Steven King dreamed of a fan kidnapping her favorite author and holding him hostage. When he reached his destination, he remained at the airport and wrote the first 50 pages of Misery.

While suffering from a high fever, James Cameron dreamed fitfully. In his dream, a gleaming figure of doom dragged its broken body from a fire using kitchen knives. It was a skeletal, metallic monster with a rictus smile and glowing, ember eyes. That dream led to the unforgettable character—the Terminator.

The year was 1892. Albert Einstein lay sleeping in his bed dreaming of sledding down a snow-covered mountain. As he accelerated, he soon approached the speed of light. At that moment he looked toward the sky. The appearance of the stars astonished him. He spent much of his career trying to understand that dream. Thirteen years later, it resulted in the theory of relativity.

Nikola Tesla was once an employee of Thomas Edison but left to follow his own ambitions. Years later, he found himself competing with Edison for the first major power project in the United States: the massive hydroelectric power plant at Niagra Falls. He won the contract and because of that, his invention, AC power, impacts our lives every day. Why did Tesla win that contract? What advantage did he have over Edison? Tesla was passionate about dreams. He taught himself how to dream lucidly, and used that ability to create a dream laboratory in which he experimented with his ideas while fully awake.

As I read about Misery, the Terminator, Einstein and Tesla, I wondered how dreams impacted my life. It amazed me to discover that almost every story, poem, or invention I’d ever conceived originated in a dream. Dreams play a big role in my novels Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad. Each novel has several dream sequences based upon real dreams. In some cases, they foreshadowed events that I hadn’t even written about yet, and I didn’t realize that until I read the entire manuscripts for the first time.

My troubling dream about my daughter being kidnapped drove me to learn more about dreams. What I found is that whether they frighten or inspire us, it is difficult to deny the power of dreams.

(Image courtesy of Paul v2.0, Flikr Commons)

Together or Alone?

Posted by:

This morning, I pondered the differences between my two novels: Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad. Joined at the hip in many regards, these novels are nonetheless as different as night and day in a certain respect: one is about being alone and the other is about being together.

In Detour from Normal, I was thrust from normalcy into a life of cold, heartless professionals and the tragically mentally ill. A normal person in my place would feel frightened and alone, and many of the experiences I described are from a solitary perspective. Instead of feeling terrified, I felt at peace, and at times, blissful. A mysterious process had freed me from judgment, expectations, worry and fear.

That mindset allowed me to befriend people who were toothless, foul-smelling, crippled, rude or unable to communicate—people I would never associate with before. My best friend was a drug addict recovering from his eighth relapse who had lost his job, savings, car, home, wife and family because of addiction. Through different eyes, I found these people funny and interesting, and for those among them who felt frightened and alone, I became their guardian angel. It was an immensely freeing experience and I could not help but imagine what the world would be like if everyone could live life as I did then.

The Road to Amistad explores just such a scenario. People from all walks of life were spontaneously freed from their mental prisons and introduced to my world overnight. Unfortunately, their changed mindset more often than not led to heartache as family and friends demanded the return of their absconded loved ones.

A few managed to avoid that struggle and find a unity of spirit with others like themselves. Friendship and trust thrived regardless of former walls that separated them. They were magnets to each other, formed strong friendships and accomplished great feats together. None among them ever felt separate or alone.

Nowadays, it is difficult for me to tread the line between alone and together. I have a wife, children, friends and a full-time job. There are many rules and walls that impede me and I have limited time and resources.  It would be easier to abandon my vision and rejoin my former world, but I don’t want to close doors—I want to open them. I don’t want to be alone—I want to be together. I want to be part of something big.

I hope that you will read both Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad and open your mind to possibilities that are ours for the taking. If my message rings true, press the button; twist the throttle; swing; jump; do whatever it takes to begin your own journey, and as you go forth, spread the word so that you may do it together instead of alone.