Ever since I was a fourth grade nothing–and despite my disdain in book report writing during grammar school–my goal was to break into news reporting. Specifically, feature writing, soft-news reporting, or 1st POV investigative journalism. Thank the current events segment of school lessons, two National Geographic and Time magazine issues, and falling asleep to the opening 10 O’Clock news segments–after the announcer’s ask if parents knew where their children were?–of the usual Middle Eastern countries fighting. I’d be amiss if I didn’t give a nod of gratitude to the inimitable Paul Harvey for enriching my love of journalism until his still-missed narrative on said news. The dream became reality in features reporting for two college newsrags, an online site when the Interwebs was young, a stint with a New Orleans Pennysaver, a church tabloid, and scattered articles in First Draft, and in a Brooklyn, a Queens, and a small-town Texas outlets. But even with present-day current events growing scarier, stranger, and noticeably darker with each passing hour as news outlets are also noticeably more crowded and pointy-elbow competitive, I still follow them steadfast.
Much as I love words and what REM sleep-dreams surprise me with, it never occurred I’d write one book, let alone be earlobes-deep into projects spanning three separate series, this platform, newsletter-planning, and shoehorning in working flash fiction pieces and haikus. The universe and the Designer behind it had adventures in mind not involving conventional journalism. As one not believing in coincidences, I’m body-surfing this space-time wave unapologetically.
My now-deceased mother devoured anything medicine-related for a career in nursing, but my joyous arrival detoured those plans. My being born with albinism likely pushed her into the genetics end of biology of medicine, from the sneaks I saw of her Queensborough College class notes, and with her help during high school biology and organic chemistry, I aced the classes; to this day, I still remember most of the components. On her days off from working as a phlebotomist lab tech since early childhood, she watched every medical or crime mystery on TV. Perry Mason. Quincy, M.D. Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries. Hart to Hart. Ironside. Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I Spy. The Saint. Mannix. Barnaby Jones. Kojak. Nero Wolff. More often than not, she cracked the case before the show’s penultimate commercial block. She also read Sidney Sheldon, Michael Crichton–The Andromeda Strain stands out alongside Robin Cook’s Coma and another title with “Ophelia” in it, but I’m unsure which this is–Jackie Collins, and back copies of Ellery Queen. She’d offer these when I read everything in our area library or at home, but I did so lacklusterly (yes, I made up a word! 🙂 )–no kids were in it. Leastwise, no cute guys I could imagine as my book boyfriends. Sherlock Holmes was easier to listen to than to read, but even then, that story captured me as long as a rainbow lasts; ADHD much? Same with Nancy Drews (what WAS it with every 👏🏻 story 👏🏻ending 👏🏻 with 👏🏻 an 👏🏻 ice 👏🏻 cream 👏🏻 sundae 👏🏻 celebration?!? Who can even eat that much ice cream–NOT looking at you, Joey Chestnut! 🙂 Yikes!). The Hardy Boys were more fun than Nancy, as were a handful of classic Scooby-Doo episodes, but not for lack of trying. Aside from the aforementioned, there wasn’t much for kids to believably play in, and case-crack, good whodunnits. Sci-fi, sure. Judy Blume, Richard Peck, Heidi, Charlotte’s Web, Peter and the Wolf, Beverly Cleary, and Paula Danziger ruled the kid-lit scene as Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid, The Dork Diaries, and the Percy Jackson reads do today, but the After-School Specials in book form tackled fitting in, boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl or boy-claims-girl-again, bravery and honesty in friendships, humility, and standing up for oneself Cleary handled. Danziger and Blume took on heavier topics like divorce, drugs, puberty, sexuality, dysfunctional families, or weight struggles. So who’d believe a kid crime-fighter or a pint-sized spy in the same playing field genre as Sherlock, Nero, Bond, or Mike Hammer, let alone one grown-ups would take seriously? Heck, even teenagers Frank, Joe, and Nancy were grown-up technically, but they probably still did kid-stuff like ball games, pillow fights, sock-hops, and pajama parties offstage!
Aghast and disgusted with American journalism’s willful descent into madness during college, post graduation and zero job prospects, I pondered what I’d next write, where I’d next go. Diary-keeping–meh. Blogging wasn’t a thing. I loved emailing, but didn’t know a soul I couldn’t easily talk to in person or on the phone. And most family members had passed away or weren’t on speaking terms with me to engage in letter-writing. My imagination? Then, like now, is too friggin’ big to contain in a short story if I tried. Still reading though–Harry Potter, in this case–while cleaning my kids’ bedroom one afternoon, a teenage boy on his bed in his messy room, looseleaf open on his knees as he dozed, flashed to mind like C.S. Lewis’s lit lamppost in a snowstorm-shrouded forest popped in his. This fully formed Wyoming high school sophomore, oldest of three siblings and sans girlfriend, was Jay Vincent. Upon hearing stock car racers Tony and Cruz Pedregon’s surnames later that evening, I stole this to tag as J.V.’s. Add in Keenan Alexander, the name Keenan influenced by the Wayans brothers on a youngish FOX network, and Casper McGuinness from another false-start novel, I had my central cast in need of a story. A few turns of the imaginative Phillips head, Keenan became Casper’s street-smart, smart-ass, and lady-killer cousin Logan.
2005 was pivotal for news and personal events. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer made headlines in regular trysts with a prostitute and for it, shamed out of office. Not long after, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey lost his post for hiring a PI to track his gay boyfriend’s affair at taxpayers’ expense. Iconic comedian Richard Pryor, and R & B artists Luther Vandross and Rick “Superfreak” James died, but Pryor made ink with his birth allegations the result of a hooker-john union. In that year, I happened into a long-forgotten neighbor around the corner from my then-residence who remembered my being a non-conformist curiosity preschooler, and a ball of near nonstop energy. A ten minute exchange of hellos and are you so-and-so’s daughter turned into a year of visits, teas, desserts and hushed conversations I deserved to know, including confirmations behind our 1980 cross-country move, how my maternal grandmother had been an alleycat, and my dad’s acidic bigotry to Caucasians were explained.
Even with my questions and suspicions acknowledged, a deeper why thickened the current events and history soup I mentally and emotionally digested: What if two high school kids learn they’re sons of prostitutes, set to be slain to keep them from discovering why they are? From that, I the composer to sleuth-to-be Jay Vincent Pedregon and cousins Casper and Logan McGuinness, the players of the music in pouring out my heart in anger, shock, astonishment, rage, and sadness in my experiences-backstory-explained on paper, mixed with current events in the novel’s plot, found a story home. In the storm and its cleansing, JERSEY DOGS was born.
Was that to shamelessly plug my inaugural mystery? Nope. It’s to illustrate why I’m an author in the first place, and how my ancestry’s sordid and unapologetic past drop-kicked me here. My mother’s love for this genre, and learning she used to write before her vocation in peripheral medicine? Partly. But it’s broader and more intense than having messy creative fun in streaking watercolors to blend word forms, characters, scenes, plots, and settings. If I’m gonna be ugly-crying honest with myself and with you, I need to be constantly okay with my father’s homicide in 1991, that I may never uncover why that now Pluto-cold case ever happened, or that his putrid ethnic views might’ve factored in his death. I’m also good with not knowing my mother’s deepest fears in having daughters with albinism, or her fright behind her uprooting my 14yo self and its bustling, never-sleepy Metropolis life to a podunk northern Arizona town with one traffic light and one post office. Forensically, though, albeit fictionally, my curiosity Qs and As are a little more sated with each story crafted, crime solved or gotten away with, and growth steps my characters take. That, too, is okay. If there isn’t enough time to read all the books I’d like to, then in a world where the 5Ws and an H are often plain, aspects of how my author life came to pass is a sweet enough mystery for me.