Edited & Reviewed Works of Fiction
Novels and Short Stories by Respected Authors
Novels and Other Works by Peter Stekel
Over the years, I have edited a number of literary works by the Seattle-based, nationally acclaimed author and journalist Peter Stekel.
In addition to having written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics for dozens of newspapers and magazines, Stekel has written numerous short stories and novels, a number of which I have had the pleasure of copy-editing, proofreading, and/or critiquing, including:
- The Flower Lover, a detective novel: Journalist Richard Garcia investigates the disappearance of a rare cultivated orchid. Garcia’s queries lead him to uncover a clandestine group that is illegally selling munitions and stolen Soviet nukes on the black market.
- Collateral Damage, a detective novel: This erotic thriller examines the themes of innocence lost and redemption. It does so against a backdrop of incest and corruption with a protagonist (Richard Garcia, in his first novel) disillusioned enough to survive in a modern world but still capable of believing in, and acting on, a traditional concept of honor.
- Growing Up White in the Sixties, a fictional memoir: Paralleling the turbulent civil rights era, Growing Up White in the Sixties is the coming-of-age story of Steven Abrams as he learns how prejudice affects the people he loves.
- Inland, a short story: Inspired by Stekel’s having observed children as a teacher and later a school administrator, this is the story of Frank and Joe, two boys who explore a strange underground world in search of their cat, Bougainvillaea. Along the way they encounter a different culture: one that thrives upon onions. The people of “Inland” are rewarded by their society with verbal praise, which makes them grow in stature. Seeing this as a way to rule over his fellow Inlanders, the “Big Cheese” encourages his friends to give him praise until he is of big enough stature that he takes over. Frank and Joe save the day when they are able to cut the Big Cheese down to size.
Since then, Stekel has written and had published Best Hikes Near Seattle, A Falcon Guide, featuring more than 40 of the best hikes in the greater Seattle metro area and pointing locals and visitors alike to trailheads within an hour’s drive of the city.
Peter Stekel has also researched, written, and had published with Wilderness Press the non-fiction book Final Flight, about the mysterious events leading up to and the military and personal ramifications resulting from the crash of a World War II airplane. An avid hiker, Stekel made national news when he discovered the remains of one of the airmen in a melting glacier, high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in 2007.
A Novel by André Coleman
In 2005, I had the pleasure of reviewing A Liar’s Tale, a new novel by local journalist André Coleman.
André was not only my fellow NewsRap and Left Field colleague but also an accomplished investigative reporter for the Pasadena Weekly. Coleman has worked as a professional and freelance reporter for some 20 years. His work has appeared in Black Voice News, the Daily News, the Burbank Leader, LA CityBeat, LA ValleyBeat, Out Front Magazine, and the Pasadena Star-News.
But André’s skills as a writer extend into fiction as well, his creation of characters made all the more realistic by his years of reporting on the human condition. In 1998 Coleman optioned his first screenplay. He is currently at work on his five-part novel on the black experience in America; his first offering in this epic story, Blackbirds: Volume I, received rave reviews. And why not? It drew in part upon André’s own experiences as a child, one of the first on the bus during the forced integration of the Pasadena Unified School District, the first west of the Mississippi, his family the first black family in an upscale Altadena neighborhood.
In A Liar’s Tale, Coleman examines in fictional format the intriguing question, what if all your lies came true? As Coleman puts it, the central character’s “way back to the light is a haunting journey through spirituality and pain.” Below is my review, as it appeared on December 10, 2005 in the Arts section of OpEdNews.com (with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per month).
Note: A Liar’s Tale, Blackbirds: Volume I, and Seize the Day Job: The humor book al-Qaeda almost kept you from reading (by Carl Kozlowski and Tim Joyce) are published by Andre Coleman’s own publishing company, Razor 7.
Truth, Suffering, & Growth: “A Liar’s Tale,” by André Coleman (Book Review)
By Douglas Drenkow
OpEdNews.com, December 10, 2005
What if every lie you ever told became a reality, as long as someone believed it? Money, sex, love, you name it — all is yours if you simply master the skill of deceit. No longer would you have to bother with the truth and the sacrifices it entails; then again, from suffering can come growth. And a world built upon lies, like a house of cards, inevitably comes crashing down upon itself.
Those are the central themes in “A Liar’s Tale,” the wonderfully inventive, thought-provoking first novel by André Coleman, who, as a journalist (the city reporter for the Pasadena Weekly), has dedicated his life to a search for the truth (one of many delicious ironies infusing this story).
The setting is modern-day America, whose rhythms of life and speech — from the forbidding back alleys of homelessness and the claustrophobic confines of prison to the working class apartments of New York City and the oak-paneled courtrooms of justice — Coleman apparently effortlessly captures with veracity and immediacy.
The central character is Scott Hampton, a young black man originally from an upper-middle-class family. His father is as hard and cold as the marble floors in their spacious home. His mother is warm and supportive, yet in the shadow of the father. His older brother, Kevin, is the apple of his parents’ eye, successful in all he does. And Scott, the chronic underachiever, has become a habitual liar (although there is more to the genesis of his prevarication, as we will learn).
One evening, Scott sneaks out of the house and into the park, where he chances upon a mysterious, cold-eyed figure, the Rastafarian, in the first of several appearances throughout the story. He appreciates Scott’s sense of suffocation in his real life and appeals to his overly developed sense of fantasy: With the gift of some very exotic sticks of incense (“truth and lies”), the Rasta man offers to make all of Scott’s dreams come true. Fearing perhaps a Faustian bargain — which indeed will be the case — Scott runs back to his dysfunctional home; after watching his hero Batman on TV, hidden from the world by his mask as Scott is by his lies, he lights the incense (or, rather, it lights itself) and he falls back in bed.
Over the years, his father became a judge; his mother, a published professor; his brother, a professional football player; and Scott, an artist who didn’t want to suffer for his art. Living in New York City, as far away from his family as possible, Scott becomes a technician in a hospital (where there has been a series of “mercy killings” of elderly patients). Living in an apartment, he shares brotherly banter, laughs, and thought with “his boys,” Darius and Rich, and love with his long-suffering girlfriend, Dorene, who never knows when to believe her boyfriend: Scott is as uncommitted to the truth as he is to her.
At this point it is worth mentioning that Coleman has said: “I don’t write heroes and villains. Instead I try and write flawed people.” As with everything else in “A Liar’s Tale,” Coleman has created characters whose imperfections only heighten their reality.
Which only heightens the believability and, thus, the impact of the unreality that is about to come.
Scott has tempted fate far too long, his words in effect playing God, by creating false, new identities and histories for people in his life every time he has gotten someone to believe that he couldn’t be at work because his brother was in the hospital, or he was worth sleeping with because he owned a Porsche, or he couldn’t turn in his school report because his dog ate his homework. The day of reckoning finally arrives.
In the course of a day, because of his lies, Scott loses his job, his girl, and almost everything he owns. “I was suffering, and I hated the suffering,” Scott laments, “It’s fate’s joke, and once fate finds a sucker it doesn’t let up and it keeps laughing at you even after you’ve been defeated.”
Digging through what is left of his belongings, searching for his emergency cash to make his way, tail between his legs, back home, Scott comes across the mysterious incense. “Truth and lies,” he thinks to himself, as the incense ignites itself and fills the room with colorful smoke.
Scott arrives at the train station, but you can’t go home again. Rather, from this point onward, Scott embarks on a Kafkaesque adventure in a world turned upside-down, where every lie he has ever told that anyone has ever believed has come true, with profound, often disastrous consequences for all concerned. (“It’s like throwing a rock in a pond and watching the ripples it creates.”)
Far be it from this reviewer to reveal the intrigues that threaten to overwhelm our increasingly enlightened and repentant central character; but suffice it to say that Coleman has crafted a marvelously creative, modern-day morality tale, involving the gain and loss of all the wealth and love one could hope to enjoy, solving a murder mystery created (appropriately enough) by deception within deception, and utterly dripping with irony (For example, at one point Scott is hooked up to a lie detector to prove that he truly believes that his lies have become true).
Ultimately, “A Liar’s Tale” is a classically heroic tale, of growth through adversity; indeed, it examines that very premise by standing it on its head! Again, Mr. Coleman has written a decidedly intelligent, wondrously inventive novel, whose elements of fantasy as well as reality work only because he describes every scene and portrays every character — most especially his or her very individual manner of speech — with a clarity and attention to detail that place you right there with them (a quite shocking realization in the very first scene).
But at the core of the book is the conscience of Scott, asking questions of others or simply of the fates that each of us asks, often in the most trying times of our lives, but rarely have answered — especially “Why does God let people suffer?” In the end, Scott concludes: “Suffering is the road to revelation. We travel on it to realize our dreams. When we lie to make the journey easier, we veer off the road.”
“A Liar’s Tale” is a road well worth traveling.