It's the beginning of the July Fourth weekend. That means fireworks, BBQs, and patriotic memorials to the fallen.
I've given my own tribute to the fallen, specifically to people who meant a lot to me, in the dedication page of three of my novels.
I dedicated my second book, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, to Jad Duwaik, who I had met through a mutual friend. I sensed that Jad had gone through a lot but didn't ask. He lived in the basement of my friend's mom's house, and he didn't have a job or money. No car. But he was smart and social and a lot of fun to hang with. At the time, I wasn't yet published, and he and I would talk a bit about writing. Then, in a flurry, he decided to go to China and teach English for a six month assignment that lasted more than three years. In January 2006, I received word that he had died of a brain aneurysm in Shenyang, China. He was 35. It was in the preparation of his eulogy that I learned much about Jad, and how much we had in common. I felt that I'd lost more than a friend but a brother. He had made a bundle during the first dot com boom, only to lose it all during the subsequent bust. Many of the people he had helped on the way up turned their backs to him. Jad struggled to cope with his misfortune and to his credit, he never was anything but optimistic and cheery when around me. His trip to China was another effort to remake himself. He lived on the economy and immersed himself in their culture, cuisine, and language. His goal was to become as fluent as an educated Chinese national and then work as a translator. By that time, my first book was within a month of being published and I looked forward to his return to Denver for a mutual celebration. But that celebration instead became his funeral.
Not long after I was offered a contract by HarperCollins, the moment became bittersweet with news that my youngest sister, Laura, had been diagnosed as terminal with breast cancer, the final chapter in a hard life. When she was 19 months old, she fell victim to an epidemic of meningitis that claimed seventeen infants in our county and had left my sister mentally disabled. Laura had difficulty with motor coordination and never could learn how to write or read. But she loved to dance and was a wizard with the calendar. She'd ask you for your birth date, reflect a moment, and then say, "You were born on a Tuesday (or whatever)." And she was always right. Laura passed away on Christmas Eve, 2004 at the age of 41. I dedicated my third book, The Undead Kama Sutra, to her and my parents.
Then after I was published, I received a request from Kensington asking if I would blurb a manuscript. Sure, I replied. Turns out it was the kinetic and over-the-top mystery thriller, The Devil's Mambo, from Jerry Rodriguez. Beside the requiste hard-boiled snark and bloodshed, the hero of the book is put in his place with a strap-on by the femme fatale. Fun stuff. Jerry and I began an email correspondence, and I looked forward to meeting him at the Debut Author's Breakfast at the 2006 ThrillerFest in NYC. I was disappointed that he didn't show up and learned he was in the hospital. Turns out, his cancer had relapsed. Jerry Rodriguez passed away at the age of 46 in 2oo8.
That same year, I lost another hero. The amazing artist, John Berkey (1932-2008), whose work many of you will recognize. I never had the honor of meeting him but his passing was deeply felt. I dedicated my fourth book, Jailbait Zombie, to both him and Jerry.
And now on to the the affairs of the living. I have an essay, "Cowboy Up," in a collection of works about writing in the West, An Elevated View. The other authors include Kathy Brandt, Margaret Cole, Laurie Wagner Buyer, Dan Guenther. Edited by W.C. Jameson. We have a signing, 7:30PM, Wednesday, July 6, at the Colfax Tattered Cover. You are all invited.