The Story Behind the Novel ‘Hell City’

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was my debut thriller, “Hell City.” The Rap Sheet just published the story behind the novel. It’s all about how a boy with a car made of kitchen chairs drove around the world in his mind, then took his imagination on the road of life, steering it through stints as a poet, a newspaper reporter, a musician and, finally, a novelist.

“…half cows, men with blood-smeared aprons…”

Let’s go back to the era when this author was 5 years old, standing on a rooftop in West Harlem, marveling at the hard dark and light of the Meatpacking District while on a trip to my father’s bookkeeping office–trucks with half cows, men with blood-smeared aprons, crows wheeling under the vaulted girders of the West Side Highway viaduct. Then came the poems, during my college days and beyond. Poems that refracted the chiaroscuro of the city’s façades, the dolor of her teeming but lonely streets. Poems that found their way into many a small-press magazine, into chapbooks. Poems that caused Library Journal to cite my work for its “startling imagery.”

Along the way, I worked in the city’s warehouses, drove her cabs, wrote for her newspapers, and sang in her nightclubs. Her underbelly was my beat, forging a gritty, cinematic prose style.

Note: as part of a special promotion, my novel, “Hell City” can be downloaded free from the Kindle Store on Nov. 14 and 15 only.

My Novel Will Be Free for a Day — Oct. 17

Hell City” is part of a special Amazon Kindle program that allows me to offer some free days, when you can go to the thriller’s Kindle page and download it free of charge. You heard right. Should I say: “an offer you can’t refuse.”

The date is Oct. 17. Just visit the page anytime that day and click. And if you don’t have a Kindle, no problemo. Amazon offers a free reader app you can download for your PC or Mac. You can also read it on an iPad, an iPhone or a Droid.

In “Hell City,” you’ll encounter unforgettable characters, an unlikely love affair and a race against devastation. “I was mesmerized,” writes one Amazon reviewer, who goes on:

I couldn’t put this down. I totally got into the characters, Jack and Annette. If this is his first novel, definitely can’t wait for his second.

Has Al-Qaida Been Reinvigorated?

In the lead story in today’s New York Times, senior terrorism correspondent Eric Schmitt — who recently wished me luck with my 9/11-launched novel “Hell City” — writes:

The attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens has set off a new debate here and across the Middle East about whether Al Qaeda has been reinvigorated amid the chaos of the Arab Spring or instead merely lives on as a kind of useful boogeyman, scapegoat or foil.

There’s a great debate going on in Washington and the Middle East over whether al-Qaida (I use the AP-style spelling) is operational or whether newer insurgent groups are simply deploying its terrifying brand. That’s kind of where the term al-Qaida 2.0 comes from.

One thing is certain: there is no shortage of entrenched, sophisticated insurgent groups, the Haqqani clan in the Af-Pak region being one of the most dangerous. They have been responsible for most of the attacks on embassies in the region and many attacks on our troupes. It’s possible they are behind the recent deadly bombing in Kabul, another protestation over the Youtube-posted film under the name of “Innocence of Muslims,” although so far a branch of the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami has claimed responsibility.

Consider this: it was the Kabul bombing, taken together with the other attacks across some 40 cities in the Middle East and North Africa, that led the U.S-led coalition to curtail operations with Afghan security forces, the very core of what remains of our mission in Afghanistan. Talk about decimation. Man, what do we have left?

Image

So, the idea that organized, sophisticated insurgency, jihad, has somehow been defanged in the Middle East and beyond is simply nuts. The entire region is on fire and is coming apart at the seams.

Which brings me to the plot of “Hell City.” As the protagonist, counterterrorism commander Jack Oldham, believes: “Al-Qaida isn’t dead — yet!” What Jack believes is that we can’t go to sleep on the “new gen” al-Qaida as he and his comrades call it, which is why they track American-born insurgents and their connections to various groups in Af-Pak and Yemen. Among them, by the way, is a fictionalized version of the Haqqani tribe. Can the reconstituted Qaida pull off another “big one” in New York? Well, that’s what reading (click for Kindle page) is all about.

New Terrorist Group at Center of Thriller

A fictionalized version of the Haqqani tribe, a Pakistan-based organization the U.S. State Department just added to its list of terrorist groups, is at the center my thriller, “Hell City.”

The novel casts the group as part of a metastasizing al-Qaida that is bent on pulling off another “big one” in New York.

Fiction aside, the thriller is a wake-up call on the true threat of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the post-bin Laden world.

A Haqqani fighter.
Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for the Guardian

Think organized crime. You cripple the New York Mafia and the Russians, the Jheri Curls (Dominican), the Latin Kings and other, fiercer groups, take over the town.

The Haqqanis are entrenched, widespread, connected and virulent. They’ve been behind many of the recent attacks on our troops and diplomats in the Af-Pak region.

Let’s face it. The guy on the subway figures al-Qaida is broken, and he can’t keep up with the parade of threats and new groups. So he turns off, goes to sleep.

To Jack Oldham, the protagonist of “Hell City,” sleep is the enemy. The vigilant commander on New York’s Joint Terrorism Task Force never forgot how the country went into hibernation soon after the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993.

The novel’s narrator makes the case:

But the city had come a long way. In her own rugged fashion, she had gone from Trade Center trauma to annoyed indifference, her alligator skin shielded against the seemingly endless terror alerts and aborted plots of the new-gen jihad of the day. The first attack on the towers rocked the city to its core, but it was soon seen as a botched plot by militants who couldn’t shoot straight. They were viewed through the short-range, next-quarter glasses of the West — What? A blind cleric operating out of some storefront mosque in Jersey? Boneheads with names so long they blurred comprehension. What’s this? The Three Stooges? You gotta be kidding me.

Now, with bin-Laden — and other al-Qaida leaders — dead, our country is lulled into thinking that all the insurgents can manage stateside is the one-off, the lone-wolf attack. The airline bomber over Detroit. The Times Square bomber.

But they’re not looking deeper into the landscape of insurgency. Yemen and other African nations have become hotbeds of development for insurgent groups. And then there are the Haqqanis. They’ve been operating with impunity, deep and wide and under the radar — for a generation.

The War Wages on in the Media Biz

If there’s any doubt about the disarray and desperation afoot in the music business, just check out the Internet’s affect on the media business – music, print and broadcast – overall over the past decade. A recent article in the New York Times covers the waterfront on this issue quite well.

While the devastation of digital democracy vis-à-vis the Web made its first blitz through the belly of the music biz, the print media was next in line, and the battlefield there rivals Antietam.

As a journalist and PR man – in addition to my music career – I’ve felt the devastation first hand. I’m intimately involved in the newspaper field and have seen dozens of friends and colleagues tossed out on the street as media chains have filed Chapter 11 and newspapers large and small have folded. Some first class writers and photographers I know can’t get arrested in their field right now. Personally, it makes me sad. Professionally, it brings home the realities of what us music artists face as we search for a viable business model.

And it brings to mind post on Music Think Tank by Derek Sivers entitled “Unlearning.” In it, he claims everyone who says they know what the future music model is is simply “full of shit.” What’s significant about his colorful observation isn’t so much its tude as its truth.

Sivers has been around enough to know (even what he doesn’t). And his recent read on our industry resonates through the Times article cited above, from Rupert Murdoch’s shaky search-engine trial to the uncertain, even timid efforts of Time Inc. and the New York Times itself.

With the new decade upon us, we can only hope that a less bloody battlefield lies ahead.
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What Would the New Iran Look Like?

Excitement spills from the font of freedom fighting in Iran. But so do questions.

How different, for example, would a Moussavi regime be, from Ahmadinejad? And, even if it’s much better, would his policies be reformist enough for the people. Would the clerics still be supreme? Would they still control the militias? Would women be given the freedoms they seek? Would the regime be friendly to the West? Would it recognize Israel? Would a second movement, revolution even, be implemented?

Certainly, none of these questions should deter support for the people of Iran. Certainly, Iranians cannot answer these questions right now. What we do know is that freedom is forming in Iran. But we can’t know for sure what a new regime would look like.

That may explain President Obama’s careful approach. At first blush, his cool hand feels disappointing. Isn’t this the moment to step up to the plate, like McCain and many others are saying?

Perhaps Maureen Dowd’s Sunday column provides perspective on this “cool hand”:

…some Americans fear that President Obama is too prone to negotiation, comity and splitting the difference, that he could have been tougher on avaricious banks and vicious Iranian dictators.

While Dowd’s piece takes off, so to speak, on the “fly” incident (president kills fly on camera; comics kill audiences on late night tv), she divulges how half the president’s aides:

…are more caught up in the myth and magic, feeling that Mr. Obama summons the three-point swishes when he needs them; that his popularity is not so fragile; that the president’s unparalleled vision and buzzer-beating will shape fate.

If half of Obama’s aides are 100 percent right, the president may prove to be ahead of many of us on Iran versus behind us.
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Moon Landing in Iran

The riveting events in Iran could be compared to the moon landing in 1969. Perhaps because they are world changing, keeping the planet on the edge of its seat, so to speak, wondering what will be?

They are very different, yet they are also similar. The moon landing had nothing but upside, launching the imagination of mankind, exciting us with what could be.

Yet the same could be said for the circumstances in Iran. After all, the Iranian people have harnessed the power of technology, brought it to a new level, caused us to feel the world will never be the same again.

In Iran, dictators may fall at the hands of the people. And, in this case, their hands are nothing more than their voices. Perhaps never again will strongmen be able to suppress the voice of a willful people. It sets the mind and heart to reeling.

It’s 1969 all over again. Isn’t it?

Excerpt:
The riveting events in Iran compare to those of the moon landing in 1969: world changing, exhilarating, setting the mind and heart to reeling.
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