I’d always been an obsessive reader, cereal boxes and warning labels, comic books (bought or stolen), then short stories and novels, but I didn’t write much (except, countless repetitions of “I will not talk in class.”) After high school (and a brief stint in the shipping department of the Peter Pan Swimwear Company in Newark, New Jersey), I joined the Navy. In the service, I enjoyed penning letters to family, buddies, and girlfriends. I liked riffing off my environment, the setting and people around me, using some detail I hoped would surprise or amuse my correspondents, perhaps make them laugh. I liked making stuff up. Honorably discharged from the military, I decided to advance my education, took the SATs and did okay, which I attribute to my obsessive reading. I enrolled in a local college, where it was suggested I major in history. Sure. In one of the required English courses, I wrote a character sketch the instructor liked so much he suggested I submit it to the college literary magazine. I did, and it was promptly rejected, but with faint praise—enough to raise some hope. A year later, I moved to California and attended UCLA, where I would get a BA in history, but by then my interests had turned to less academic writing. So, while I was reading Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages, I peddled satire to alternative weeklies. I also took a few creative writing classes and worked at legitimate short fiction. After many, many rejections, a little/literary magazine accepted a story. Hooked.
Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?
If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?
It’s a toss-up between the flush toilet and the nearly extinct writing program XyWrite. That Webb Telescope is pretty cool.
About End Man
His book is hiding a deeper and slightly terrifying concept and he’s managed to bring it to life with an amazing story and compelling characters. The whole idea behind a company harvesting our online presence and saving all of our information is not bizarre and there’s most certainly some of that going on in the real world, but the extent to which Norval Portals operates is completely horrifying.
Once your life is diluted to ones and zeroes on the End Man’s desk, it’s over. Or is it?
Afflicted with dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, 26-year-old Raphael Lennon must live out his life within the four thoroughfares that border his Los Angeles neighborhood. Luckily, he found a fulfilling job within his space as an End Man at Norval Portals where Raphael is the best possum hunter in the company. He hunts the dead who live, people hiding under the guise of death. He doesn’t want to bring these “possums” to justice but to keep them out of his firm’s necrology database so their presence doesn’t crash the whole system.
When the company founder assigns Raphael a fresh case, he sets aside all other work to investigate Jason Klaes, a maverick physicist with boundary-pushing theories that may have attracted unwanted and sinister attention. Raphael soon discovers messages sent by Klaes after his supposed death—threats to people who have subsequently died. As he digs deeper, he receives his own message from Klaes, a baffling command to pursue the truth.
As he unravels the mystery, he unearths the secrets of his own phobia-plagued life and the inner workings of Norval, whose corporate ambitions include a nightmarish spin-off of its product. Raphael must stop them or he’ll never be free and neither will anyone else.
Raphael is such a unique character. And the whole search he’s going through in the book to find truth brings out his personality in the best kind of way. How did you come up with the story for End Man?
The idea for End Man came from an online experience. I’d been trading pages with a fellow writer. We’d been in this relationship for months, and we thought the swapping beneficial. I emailed her some new chapters and asked her to send her material. She didn’t get back to me acknowledging my new chapters or sending hers. I sent several messages, which also got no response. In her story, her main character was battling an incurable disease. Had she fictionalized her own ailment? Could she be hospitalized—or worse? I checked her Facebook and Goodreads pages, but I found nothing to explain her silence. As I reviewed more of her online haunts, I realized if she had succumbed to an illness, everything she had posted online would remain intact. She would still get likes; people would continue to comment on her posts, friend her, spam her. As if her life went on. How many internet users was this already true of? Was the online world occupied by ghosts? This seemed to be the stuff of a speculative novel. As I developed the plot, I recalled Gogol’s novel Dead Souls in which the main character figures out how to profit off of dead serfs (Gogol gets a shout-out in End Man). Now I had to come up with a contemporary (2030s) business plan to match the Russian author’s slick scam. Over many drafts, I recognized I had to provide details sufficient to raise venture capital if I were pitching Norval Corporation in the real world. As to my missing writer, I discovered that—ironically—she was “ghosting” me, a term that came into play while I was writing the novel. To that point, yesterday, Linkedin invited me to congratulate a former colleague on his work anniversary. The man is five years dead.
In early drafts, I had two POV characters: Raphael Lennon and Clark Ramfree. Clark was a middle-aged former journalist who lived the good life abroad; Raphael was a 26-year-old IT worker with a lifelong phobia that made it impossible for him to leave his Los Angeles neighborhood. Clark was free, and Raphael unfree. I wanted to explore how Raphael’s phobic prison affected every aspect of his life to produce a shy, self-conscious person whose boundaries were always on his mind. With Clark, I wanted to see what would happen if his freedom proved illusory.
Unable to weave the two character threads, I extracted Clark from the novel, leaving Raphael alone to explore the notions of freedom and imprisonment. (I have known people with phobias, and what struck me was the thing feared is usually commonplace, but the intensity of the fear is unlimited. I knew a student who was afraid of cheese. If he even heard or saw the word, he would fall to his knees in tears. Raphael suffers from dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, but he has a rare form. It’s only four streets that he can’t cross, but the four intersect to form a rectangle of about one square mile. Each of the four streets holds its own terror. Because his phobia is so unrelatable to others, he has hidden it, making far-fetched excuses why he can’t go to the beach at Malibu or the class trip to Magic Mountain. In his own eyes, he is weird, and believes others view him similarly (crank up Radiohead). Saddling Raphael with this heavy load, I lightened it a bit by making him a talented skateboarder, which provides physical exhilaration.
I also gave him a love of music, which I view as transcendent. Guided by his mother, a museum curator who died young, Raphy also loves art and is a painter himself. He works on a canvas that stretches across his living room ceiling, and may be the key to his freedom. He resembles David Bowie, but his name is Raphael Winston Lennon, and there are parallels with both artists in his character. John Lennon’s mother, Julia, was killed by a car at age 44. Her death devastated Lennon, and he wrote several songs about her, reflecting his grief. In End Man, Raphael’s mother, at about the same age as Julia, dies of a horrible disease that turns her to stone; Her memory and suffering haunt Raphael. End Man is a dystopia in the making. Winston is the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984. It’s also John Lennon’s middle name. David Bowie’s favorite book? 1984. David Bowie created his last album around the theme of death.
If you’d have Raphael’s phobia. What four streets would you rather be trapped inside?
Raphael is trapped in a choice neighborhood. It was once called The Miracle Mile of Los Angeles by real estate developers. Within Raphael’s four streets are the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (with its parklike grounds and Tar Pits), the Farmers Market and the Grove, an outdoor shopping and entertainment complex. There is also now The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in the former May Company Building, which I turned into the headquarters of the Norval Corporation in End Man. What it’s missing is water. If I could squeeze the Pacific Ocean in the center of those four streets, I’d take them. If my map skill weren’t so limited, I could probably pick an alternative four streets in Paris.
Do any of the characters resemble anyone from real life? Are any of them a bit like you?
Addy is modeled on a restaurant server and talented singer I know. She is also a passionate reader. Raphael combines aspects of two close relatives. I’ve used myself plenty in fiction, but not in End Man.
Do you have a favourite scene from the book? Something you enjoyed writing the most or think came together well?
At the top of the list would be the scene in which Geo Maglio, the CEO of the Norval Corporation, reveals the company’s new product to his employees. An outraged Raphael tries to elicit the truth, but Maglio responds with shameless, euphemistic answers. Any material from that chapter would be a spoiler.
What is one of the most interesting things you have researched while writing a book?
Japanese culture for Nakamura Reality. The nature of consciousness and the scientific/philosophic debate about the possibility of consciousness existing in a machine for End Man.
What were your expectations for writing and publishing the book?
I’ve self-published and traditionally published. I thought the themes and concepts of End Man, including a main character with an unusual and unsettling phobia like Raphael’s, would make it attractive to literary agents and publishers. Early on in the game, I had interest from some heavyweight agents, but they thought elements were missing (action, mostly). I revised several times, but the agents weren’t satisfied. I eventually got agent representation. She loved the story, and even brought CAA onboard to sell the TV/Film rights. Still no sell. I kept revising, getting feedback from beta readers and editors. I never gave up on End Man because I thought I had a compelling main character and a story that explored timely and provocative themes. After making changes I never thought I’d make, I sold it to Cursed Dragon Ship, a small independent. I still believe with a little luck, End Man will make a dent.
What are you currently working on?
The publisher has asked me to write a sequel. I’ve been mulling ideas for the plot. In End Man, I set up a new pantheon of minor gods, influencers, and I’m sure they’ve been up to mischief. I’m also finishing a rewrite on a realistic novel called Blood Marriage about a young woman who escapes an arranged marriage in Pakistan. The novel has been up on Radish and attracted plenty of readers, but its second half was a mess. The beat goes on.
Do you have any tips to share for starting writers?
“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” is a short story by Alan Sillitoe, later made into a film. I view that title as an apt description of the novelist. Writing a novel can take years, and many writers give up during the process. Can you endure? You’ll piss off many people who can’t understand that your story is almost always in your head, grabbing your attention when they want it. You’ll piss off people who think your story is about them, and you were unkind. Every rejection delivers a wound that doesn’t heal. You end up a bloody mess. And the rewards are none too certain. But if you’re bound to do it, then read. Read everything. Know words. You may never use all of them, but you’ll have them at your disposal for that metaphor. Write your first story or novel in the first person and keep it close to your own experience. Swap stories with everyone you can. Learn to take criticism.
You are transported to a world without technology. What’s the first thing you’ll do?
See if I could pull off that trick of starting a fire with two sticks.