It’s the Little Things

I just made the first of many small improvements on my RV’s interior décor, let’s call it the busy 90’s look in teal (see picture below). By removing the refrigerator door panel (six screws and it easily slid out), I was able to use the old one as a template to make a replacement panel out of plywood, add chalkboard paint, and you have a cool looking multipurpose surface. I’m definitely not the first person to come up with this idea, but isn’t that what writers do, steal good ideas from others and make it their own? I mean, other than Shakespeare, which of us has really come up with something new lately.

Working on my busy, crowded RV brought my thoughts back around to the first review of my forth coming novel, Control (August 28, 2017). Don’t get me wrong, making the Kirkus Reviews Best Books list as a Recommendation for the third time in a row is an awesome honor. It just sticks in my craw that they used the word ‘crowded’ in the one sentence review:

A fast-paced, crowded tale that’s sure to spark another sequel. —Kirkus Reviews

One of the great ironies of this review is the word sequel. I fully intended to end The Betty Chronicles on the third book, a trilogy able to stand on it’s own. I had already moved on to my next project while waiting for the manuscript to come back from my editor when she asked me to cut the last chapter and the epilogue. The final chapter was just that, the end of the

Chalkboard panel with a hint of teal.

story and the trilogy. The epilogue was an after thought that gave an opening for continuing the story if there was enough demand, but to be honest, at that moment I was ready to let go of Betty and move on to the stand alone novels in my pile of to do work. Having to adhere to and blend in previously salient plot points of the earlier volumes as the characters evolved was arduous, mind bending, yet rewarding work. Sort of like the self flagellation of training for a triathlon. Why was I putting myself through that?

So, here is this awesome review with two points only I deeply care about. Why did they call it crowded, and really? Sparking a sequel? I suppose I’ll feel better about this after my next book is in the hands of my editor. Now, back to erasing the massive wave of teal tinged, bilious patterns from my RV.

With a Critical Eye

I’m doing an Internet binge, the name of the show isn’t important, but my reaction to a plot pivot is—because it makes me think about my own writing in a constructive, critical way. Readers have no idea where the plot is going in The Betty Chronicles, in large part because I chose to not plan it out in advance and had no idea what the twists would be until the words formed on the page. The show I’m watching just lost me, the writers took a sharp turn that didn’t feel true to the character’s previous actions. Usually, I just stop for a random period of time and watch the rest of the episode with fresh eyes. I’ve also completely abandoned shows because of these awkward devices, even when the overall story and acting is stellar.

So, back to me. Have I done the same thing? Have I been guilty of using an ill fitting plot device? Ultimately, that is for the critics and readers to decide. I’m too close to the subject matter. My editors never hesitated to mark in red ink poor writing or ill advised angles and I only declared STET when it really mattered to me, so if there is such a stopping point in my books, it will be because of the individual reader’s tastes. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m looking too closely at the show’s writing and not just enjoying the entertainment, which would be ironic since I tend to live in the moment. The people behind this series are smart and extremely talented. Maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental. What do you think?

Ah, the RV Life

After months of research and several forays to test drive RVs for sale, I finally pulled the trigger and bought—the only decent used twenty-nine-foot Class C RV for sale within two hundred miles. We still had to drive an hour and a half each way to pick it up, which was the actually the second visit to a small town south of Fairfield, Iowa. Thankfully we made it to my safe harbor, the back driveway of my house that is for sale, because the next time I drove it around town to test things out, the fan belt snapped and I lost electrical power. A seventy-two-dollar tow call later, which was just a jump start pack hooked up to my battery so I could drive the six blocks to the auto parts store, I was squared away and headed home.

Ah, the adventurous life of RV dwelling.

It has been about six weeks since I took ownership of this Jayco Eagle 296DB (Double Bathroom) and about a month since I started living in it full time. I do have the luxury of using the hot shower in the house and the washer/dryer to do my laundry while the house is for sale. I also have city water and electricity, so it’s basically a tiny house on wheels.

The hardest part of this whole conversion was shedding all of my accumulated stuff. Five garage sales later and I’m nearly there. Except for a few tools and some household items I want when I get my next house, everything fits into my 29’x8’x7’ space—including Kali, my dog. She is going to be ten this summer, so she is pretty much content with guarding our home as long as she gets outside a couple of times a day to chase her tennis ball. I will say this, my days of collecting Craigslist Free items is behind me, but that is a whole other post on overcoming addictions.

There are still some challenges, the engine misses a beat every once in a while, toothpicks and wood glue are needed to fix screws here and there, and teal just isn’t my color. With time, these things will all be ironed out, some of which will happen when I am on the road promoting my novels.

Click on the link and email me if you want me to come to your town for an event. I will be sticking to the Midwest for most of the summer, but after Control is released in August, I’ll be going nationwide.

Ego Stroking

I just got this email from Kirkus Reviews about my novel. If only this wasn’t a marketing pitch. #FeetOnTheGround

Hi A. J.,
As the new year takes off, we’re looking back at some of our most successful and positive Indie Reviews…that’s YOU! Because Power received our coveted Recommended Review, I wanted to let you know that we have extended our exclusive New Year, New Life special to help breath new life back into your marketing promotions in 2017! Congrats!!

Looking forward to hearing back from you,

Client Promotions & Advertising Manager

I Was Physically Assaulted Today

I was physically and verbally assaulted today. It’s OK, other than a stiff neck, I’m fine. A 6’ 2”, 225 pound guy in his twenties, apparently autistic, was having a violent episode at a convenience store I happened to stop at to check the air in my tires. He left the side of his caretaker and called me a rude name as he walked past my car. I could tell he had some sort of handicap, and chose to ignore the insult and turned my body away from the individual to reduce the possibility of conflict. What I didn’t expect was to be hit in the back of the neck while I was bent over filling my tire.

As I tried to make sense of what had just happened, the caretaker appeared at my side and explained the autism and violent episode. I said no problem, I understood, but was thinking, guy—your skills need some work. While he was trying to make sure I wasn’t upset, his charge tore the mirror off of an old SUV parked at the farthest pump from me. I was thinking the caretaker was being way too passive in handling his charge. Why didn’t he yell out to me that I was about to be attacked? Why was he trying to make sure I wasn’t going to do something in retaliation instead of preventing his guy from destroying other people’s property. It made me think of a body man for a powerful politician trying to contain the damage he had no control over stopping.

This was all relevant to me because my nephew is autistic. While I’m aware that some autistics can act out in rage, I have never experienced it with my nephew. I cannot say enough about the care he received after being born and he is engaged with the world around him because of that care. He still doesn’t know when I’m pulling his leg, but by god, he went from a diagnosis of not being able to walk or talk to being one hell of a guy. He swims with the Mission Viejo Nadadors, is a musician, finishing high school, has a great sense of humor, and an active intellect. My sister Carrie and her husband Zach have fought all these years to get him the help he needs and it shows.

I don’t know the story behind the guy who attacked me today. I hold no ill will or hard feelings toward him. I understood before it happened that he was leading a challenging life. I hope he gets the help he needs to deal with his anger, to become a more engaged member of society. In the meantime, I hope the caretaker learns from this incident and seeks better tools for handling his charge. The next victim might not be so understanding.

The ironic part? I watched Fight Club last night. I should have seen it coming. The good news is that someday you’ll find this incident in a future story I’ll write. I’m not one to waste a scene.

To learn more about Autism, go here:

Suffering is Strength

I am truly blessed. If you had suffered the past year with me, you’d be saying WTF? But at the end of the day, the people who matter most were with me and laughing. That makes all the pain and suffering worth it. I’ll be honest, I nearly died twice this year from medical issues. Deal with that. At the lows, well, if you have to ask, you have never come close to death. Tasting the possibility as a solution.

In the last year I nearly died, wrote a novel, created amazing poems that maybe two people have read, healed the pain of an animal, sustained the life of plants that should have died, and created visual pleasure with my landscaping. I rocked hitting bottom.

Why? Because each and every step kept me alive and moving forward. Most every one I came in contact with either accepted the idiosyncrasies, or shrugged their shoulders and moved on. You can do this too.

Rock hitting bottom. Accept that life hits you below the belt. Do your best work when the world says you are finished. Accept that you are doing your best even at your worst.

Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and protect you—or just go out in a blaze of glory.

Whatever you do, don’t sit still, accept mediocrity, or just give up. Let go, but don’t give up. The entirety of the world is waiting for someone like you to grab a hold and not let go. Are you the one?

Where’s My Flocking Coffee?

I was sitting on my couch, looking out into the woods across the street enjoying the snow flocked view and contemplating the bottom of my mug and the need to refill it, but Kali was curled up next to me with her head and paw on my lap. I really didn’t need another cup of coffee and decided that I would give up caffeine once again. Eventually I start anew because of a long trip or what else would you order while writing in a Starbucks while on the road?

Eventually, I forced the leaden pooch off my lap and back to the floor so I could rise up and fill my mug one last time and start my chores. After fifteen minutes of staging materials for retiling the upstairs shower/tub, I thought, where did I leave my coffee? I wandered through the house searching everywhere I’d been, but no cup. Of course, it was in the microwave and I had ignored the multiple reminder beeps. About a month ago I found two mugs in my office microwave. It sits lower than my line of sight, so the first went unnoticed when I placed the second one in days later.

This happens because I make a primitive form of espresso using a French press, then add cold water to make an Americano. If I do not stand in front of the microwave for the minute it takes to warm the mixture, there is a good chance I’ll end up playing the game “Where’s My Coffee?” in about ten or fifteen minutes.

It isn’t so much that I am absent minded, but rather in the moment most of my day. Laying something down and moving on to the next thing is an invitation to forget about the object because it is no longer useful for what I am doing—now, be it a physical chore or writing the next chapter of my novel.

Clarity of mind and purpose can be enhanced by coffee, but I don’t need it to get there, so I might as well let it go. Again. For now.

Special Offers

Betty’s third adventure is going to the editor soon. The first two books, MONEY & POWER both received high praise from Kirkus Reviews (Best Books and Recommendations list). This is your chance to get one of the first edition, first printing, numbered 1-100, signed by the author copies of CONTROL. Purchase the complete set for $50 and you will receive MONEY and POWER right away, and your signed, numbered copy of CONTROL hot off the press when it is released.

This will be your only chance to get these special copies of my third novel, destined to be another critically acclaimed thriller. Will Betty finally get her revenge for the murder of her fiancee, José? Do she and Tom find a way to be together, at last? Will the World Order Cabal be destroyed? These questions, and more, are answered in the thrilling third installment of The Betty Chronicles.

Do you belong to a Book Club? Have you ever had the author of the book you read join you for the get together? Now you can! Purchase a mixed case of MONEY & POWER (15 copies of each) for $450 delivered (lower 48 states) and A. J. Mahler will coordinate with your group to appear at your book club. A special bonus is available to the first twenty clubs who order—fifteen Advanced Reader Copies of CONTROL at no additional cost.

Go directly to the online store

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These novels are also available through traditional booksellers such as Prairie Lights, Iowa Book, Barnes & Noble—any bookstore actually.

Nearing the Finish Line

I am so close to finishing the first draft of CONTROL, I can taste the sweet nectar of completion, and not just the end of a single book, but the culmination of a trilogy. But, I am also burned out having written nearly half of the novel in the past month. I have been enjoying the marvelous spring weather in downtown Iowa City, sitting on the benches, people watching, as I simultaneously people watch my characters. Unfortunately, today is the start of a heat wave and I am relegated to my writer’s desk and the A/C is on standby for the onslaught. I only have a short way to go and it feels a lot like running a marathon when you get past twenty-four miles and your legs are cramping up. The best part is almost at hand and you just want to sit down and not run.

So, I am going to suck it up and finish this awesome story with a verve and sinew it deserves. Anything short of that will get fixed in the edit process. I promise.