Published: Fifty-Third and Dorchester

I’ve been writing stories for a long time and composing them in my head even longer. This week, I released Fifty-Third and Dorchester on Amazon in paperback and Kindle eBook.

Reggie and Lupaster

Fifty-Third and Dorchester is a dark master detective mystery set on the South Side of Chicago near the University of Chicago. The eccentric mastermind, Chanco Lupaster, is blind. His assistant, Reggie Haskell, is the story’s ironic narrator and Lupaster’s eyes and hands. Reggie wise-cracks about doing all the work, but he stumbles without Lupaster.

It’s August, ninety degrees and humid on the South Side. The air conditioner is dying and Lupaster Investigations LLC is nearly broke. A beautiful black woman, Antika, comes to Lupaster Investigations headquarters at Fifty-Third and Dorchester with a dubious story of blackmail and a vaguely described New Peace Temple in a decaying suburb. Lupaster tries to put her off, but the prospect of a fee and Antika’s attractions capture Reggie, who blunders and is forced to save Lupaster by taking a bullet in his own leg from the phony blackmailer. Then a thug with an AK-47 sends Lupaster into a coma and Reggie is on his own. Two bombings and a dip in the fetid Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal lead to a final confrontation that reveals criminal activity that reaches far beyond Antika and her temple and anything Reggie had imagined. Although contemporary, the story evokes the era of classic noir detective fiction.

The characters in this novel have lived in my head for many years, occupying a setting that I first experienced when I went to the University of Chicago straight from a rural high school and stayed for two degrees and seven years. While I studied on the South Side, I was introduced to the Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe detective stories by my mentor, eventual PhD. advisor, and idol, Herrlee Creel. Herrlee, who probably would have punched me for the familiarity of calling him by his first name, was a great writer of clear and unpretentious prose. He wrote a New York Times bestseller on Chinese philosophy and is still remembered for the depth and clarity of his scholarship on early China. I wrote a senior thesis that he read and approved, but he took me aside and told me that I would never get anywhere if I did not learn how to write. His advice: read Rex Stout, write like Rex Stout. I read Rex Stout, and have tried ever since to write like Rex Stout.

My career has taken several turns since those great days on the South Side, but I have never stopped trying to write as Herrlee demanded. Prior to Fifty-Third and Dorchester, I published three books on computer software engineering and architecture, but with this book, I have returned to what I always have wanted to write. Lupaster, Reggie, Fellman, Sam, Theresa, Knuckles, and Diana are still in my head. I’m in the middle of writing another mystery in which they appear, and I have several short stories in various stages of completion that further document their lives. Rex Stout wrote over seventy Nero Wolfe novels and stories. I have a long way to go to meet that challenge, but who knows?

Free Short Story

To encourage you to take the plunge and purchase Fifty-Third and Dorchester, you can get a taste of the gang with The Interrupted Lunch by signing up with the Vine Maple Studio Friends in the  upper right corner of the page. The short story is an appetizer to the full course meal. Vine Maple Studio Friends will get occasional emails from the studio, announcing new publications and more free stuff.

I am also working on a Lupaster and Haskell iron-on t-shirt transfer for download. I am not a great graphic artist, but I am, I’ve been told, stubbornly original. I’ll make the t-shirt transfer available to Vine Maple Studio Friend when I’ve got something to be stubborn about.

I promise never, ever, to intentionally share your email address with anyone without your express consent. I stuck in a weasel word, “intentionally”, because nothing in this world is certain. I make every effort to run a secure site and I know a lot about cybersecurity, but I don’t have absolute control over the software and services I use on the site. Even the most secure and meticulously maintained site can be broken into by a determined and lucky miscreant. Anyone who tells you different is not informed, or is trying to mislead you.

The Ask

In 2017, the success of books depends on reviews. If you like Fifty-Third and Dorchester, write a review on Amazon, Goodreads, Bibliocommons, practically anywhere. I’m begging for reviews. Be kind, but honest. If you don’t like something, say it. I’m stubborn, but I listen and I know that my work has improved by listening. I love compliments, but I listen to criticism.

Inflection Point

The first derivative of a function at an inflection point is zero. Visually, an inflection point is a flat line tangent, a point where the value of the function is going neither up nor down. The forces of increase and decrease are balanced and for a moment, the function is unchanging. The Yijing calls it the balance of yin and yang. Some functions are always at an inflection point. These functions are constant, like the gravitational constant throughout the universe, or step-wise, like the amount of postage on an old-fashioned letter that is 49 cents or 70 cents, never in between.

Functions that are always at an inflection point are oddballs. In nature, in life, things change gradually, always going up or down. In most lives, inflection points are rare: the instant when a potential addict decides to take or not to take that hit of heroine, the moment when a college student decides to study classics instead of chemistry, when an employee decides to tell the bosses they are wrong. The Yijing calls it the balance of yin and yang. But we have all experienced inflection points, sometimes realizing what they are at the time, sometimes not. They are easy to spot in the rearview mirror, but hard to see through the windshield.

If your life is not at an inflection point, it will continue to go sour, or get better and better, but, most often, you eventually run into an inflection point and fortunes change. If you don’t like the direction and don’t accept free will, all you can do is wait for the next inflection point and hope it goes your way.

Some of us accept free will and look for ways to induce inflection points. How can you induce an inflection point in your life? Or recognize one when it arrives?

If I could tell you, I would control your destiny. But life is far too complex for me, or anyone else, to control anyone else’s future. But I do believe we all have the power to look at ourselves. In fact, try as we might, we can’t avoid knowing what we feel, what is happening around us. There may be forces we don’t comprehend or detect, but we still know something about what we feel in our surroundings and we can use that knowledge to change our direction.

Inducing an inflection point in our life is possible but hard. You must use every faculty as intensely as you can, and when you do, you do not know what will happen. You don’t know what the new direction will be, only that it will be different. But there have been times in my life when I have known that I had to make my life change, and I changed it. Sometimes I liked the results, sometimes not. That’s life in the vine maples.

Applying

At the moment, I am working an scene in which my fictional character, Reggie Haskell, applies to the University of Chicago. It is based on my own experience 50 years ago. Reggie’s experience is more interesting, but I thought someone might like to hear my version.

I got fairly high scores on the achievement tests kids were encouraged to take in the 60s. In my junior year of high school, a guidance counselor handed me a brochure from the University of Chicago. For some reason only known to the UC, they were recruiting students from small places like Ferndale High School. The UC offered to waive its application fee for Ferndale applicants. The waived fee got the attention of someone from a family that lived off a small milk check from Darigold, the cooperative that sold our farm’s milk.

No one from either my mother or my father’s families had been to college. The closest thing was an aunt who went to nursing school. My grandfathers stopped going to school at the third grade, the 3 Rs were all a farmer needed at the turn of the century and my struggling great-grandparents could spare no more for them. Eight or nine years was not too young to put in a full day on the farm. I heard stories of great uncles who quietly disappeared, never to be heard of again. My father was the third generation to struggle to clear enough land to raise crops that could keep a family alive. He and my grandfather finished clearing before I started grade school.

That I was going to college was by no means a given. I would be the first generation that did not have to fight the woods for crop land. My uncles and aunts graduated from high school, as did my parents. High school was all I could expect. My parents had no money for college and my father could use help on the farm.

My father was a small farmer whose security was owning his land. Cash had to be managed carefully to assure there was gasoline for the tractor, the cattle and equipment were maintained, and electricity flowed to run the milking machines and cool the milk. Income was uncertain. Sick cattle, ruined hay, a dip in milk prices all spelled a drop in the milk check.

It is easy to be nostalgic about the small farmer, but my father nearly bled out from a perforated stomach ulcer that he kept hidden by secretly vomiting blood into the manure pile behind the barn. Eventually, he could no longer stand and he was too weak to milk the cows. Then he admitted to my mother that he was sick. They went to the doctor the next day. The emergency room was for people who were really sick. The doctor wanted to put him in the hospital, but he refused because he had cows to milk. That was early spring. He was out plowing within the week. He got the crops planted but by summer he was institutionalized with severe depression. He convinced the psychiatrists to let him out for harvest. I was thirteen. It was a tough year. He had a lot of tough years. He called his two months in a locked ward in a mental hospital his vacation. He put no guile in the statement and he never left the farm.

I applied to the University of Chicago and was accepted. Chicago offered me full tuition and room and board. My parents wanted me to go to college but they were not sure what it would mean. It turned out that I didn’t either, although I thought I did. College did not take very well on me. I may have done better if I had not done so well. I graduated with honors and a prestigious fellowship to go on to graduate school, but for some reason, this did not make me a college graduate. I had slipped through without the university leaving a mark. The university had not convinced me that I could use my diplomas and honors to get the kind of job or take the kind of place in the world that college graduates are expected to take. I was lost. I did not know what to do. I was still a farmer for whom education beyond the 3 Rs was a poor excuse for not cleaning barns on the farm.