August 25

Why Domino Theory?

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Most of my books explore in some way the topics of spirituality and peace work. Domino Theory is different. It tells the story of a drug addict named Danny McCabe who’s been framed for murder. And it explores the workings of the brain of an addict in frightening, first-person honesty. I know this, because I was there.

I don’t want to use.  I really don’t.  For one thing, heroin and alcohol is a bad mix.  You never know when you’ve done too much.  You’d suddenly pass out and quit breathing, and if there isn’t someone around to wake you up again, you’re dead.

I remember the first time it happened.  I came to and my buddy Pete was slapping me in the face.  I was like, “What the f***?”

“You weren’t breathing,” he said.

I thought about that for a sec.  Then I told him the truth.

“So what?  I don’t care.”

I think that’s what scared me the most when I woke up the next day.  I almost died and I didn’t care.

What does it matter if I do some while I’m drinking?  Even if I died, it would just end the misery.

But the misery isn’t as bad now as it was when I kicked.  I’ve been off the sh*t for three weeks.  Well, almost three weeks.  Two and a half, anyway.  My body doesn’t ache any more.  I’m starting to be able to sleep at night, if I drink enough.  Yeah, I drink more, but I’m off the dope.  I’m clean, and that’s something to be proud of.

So what am I doing with a bag full of dope in my room?  I don’t want to use it.  Really, I don’t.  It was too hard to get off of it.

But the sh*t is calling to me.  That goddamn heroin is calling my name.

I drain the third Moosehead and reach for the fourth.  Two thirds gone now.  I’m pretty drunk, but not drunk enough to ignore the dope calling me.  I suck down half the bottle in one swallow.

Damn it, I hate that shit!  F***ing heroin.  For months I couldn’t not do it.  Now I’m clean, and it still wants me back.  It’s like an evil woman that won’t let go of me, and I can’t say no. 

That’s the thing.  I know I can’t say no.  I always go back to it.  I always have, and I always will.  Yeah, I’m clean right now, but that’s temporary.  I know it.  You know it.  The dope knows it.  It’s calling my name.  It knows that sooner or later I’m going to give in.

I drain the fourth bottle and reach for the fifth.  Only one left after this, and I’m still not drunk enough.  I light another cig.

The heroin calls.  I hate being dope sick.  I f***ing hate it.  I don’t want to go back.

But we all know I’m going to.  I can’t say no.

I chug the fifth beer and open the last one, desperate to block out the Siren’s call.  That’s exactly what it is, calling me to jump back in the dark, cold water.  Calling me to die. 

I can’t say no.

I reach under the mattress and pull out my works.  I thought about throwing it out, but I couldn’t.  I knew, even then, that I would come back.  The dope is too strong.

I could throw it away now.  I could open the window and throw the spoon and the syringe out into the alley with the rats.

But I won’t.  I can’t.  No matter how much I try to deny it, I’m a junkie.  Once you cross that line, there’s no going back.

I drain the last beer, slide the empty back into the six-pack, and reach for my knapsack.  I pull out the zip lock bag and look at it.  I feel my soul drain out of me.  Once again I am hooked.  I haven’t even opened that bag yet, but I’m going to. 

I don’t have a choice.

Why did I write such a seemingly uncharacteristic novel? The answer is simple. All my books seek to overcome misunderstanding. They seek to reconcile. For many people, a drug addict is unpredictable, incomprehensible, and not worth spending time on. I sought to show the interior workings of the addict mind in the hope of helping people understand why we do what we do.

I tried to do this without glorifying the addict lifestyle. Danny’s life is miserable. He has nothing to live for but his next fix, and the vague hope that someday things will be different. But, at least in his mind, he has no choice. Regardless of the consequences, and even though he knows it will make him more miserable, he continues to use. The lies addiction tells him are so deeply ingrained that he believes them without question.

Despite Danny’s hopelessness, I also tried to write a novel that provides hope, because there is hope. I’ve been clean over thirty years. There are millions of people like me who finally got clean and sober, and who are now productive members of society. A lot of people don’t believe an addict can change. Even Danny doesn’t believe it at the beginning. And admittedly, it usually takes a huge upheaval, usually a terrible loss, for an addict to take the chance of really trying to get clean. Sure, they make promises. There was a period when I made such promises every day, but I almost always broke them before the day was over.

But once in a while, something changes. Something gets in through the lies, and we hear hope.

Up jumps the cute girl who read Chapter Five.  She’s way too perky.  I listen to see if her name is Teresa or Shawna.

“I’m Jamie and I’m an alcoholic,” she says.  I wasn’t even close.  Anyway, she’s way to pretty to have anything good to say.  She probably sipped wine after class at the university, maybe got a DUI or something.  I don’t care what she has to say, I just like the way she looks so clean.  I bet she smells nice.

“Sixty-four days ago I was lying on the floor of a jail cell down the street here,” she says, gesturing.  “I was puking my guts out, dope-sick, and wishing I could die.  They arrested me for writing bad checks, but I don’t remember doing it,” she says.  “All I know is, I was driving down PCH, and I was driving too fast because I needed to get loaded.  This cop pulls me over and takes me in.  My car got impounded, I lost my job, and my family wouldn’t bail me out.

“At the time, I thought it was the worst day of my life.  But it wasn’t.  It got worse for a couple more days.  And I finally came to laying on the floor of that jail cell, covered in my own puke.  That was the worst day of my life.

“When the cop came to let me out, I was crying,” she says.  “I told him I didn’t know how I got that bad, and I asked him, ‘What can I do?’  He gave me some change and told me to call Alcoholics Anonymous.  He even looked up the number for me.  So I called.  They told me there was a meeting here.  I walked over from the jail.  I looked like sh*t, and I was still shaking pretty bad, and I know I must have stunk.  Clint was sitting in that chair right there,” she gestures toward the front row.  “When he saw me come in, he came over to me and shook my hand and welcomed me.  And he told me it was going to be alright.

“I didn’t believe him.  But he was telling me the truth.  Because, you know, my family doesn’t want to have anything to do with me now, and I still don’t have a job, and I can’t afford to get my car out of the impound yard yet, and that costs more every day.  But I haven’t had to drink or use since I got out of jail.  For someone like me, that’s a big deal.  I haven’t had to sleep with anyone for drugs or alcohol.  I haven’t woken up in a place I didn’t know, with a person whose name I couldn’t remember.  That used to happen a lot.  Not every day, but a lot of days.

“That cop saved my life.  I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I believe it’s going to work out.  Preston, you mentioned hope, and that’s become an important word to me.  I know some of you guys were a lot worse than me, and this worked for you.  So I know it can work for me, too.  But I have to be the one who does it.  No one is going to do it for me.

“Thank you,” she finishes.

The room applauds, as they always do.  I find that my mouth is hanging open.  I close it, and I clap too.

Somehow, I believe her.  I know she didn’t just say all that for my benefit.  She’s real.

But Danny doesn’t get struck sober. He struggles with his demons. Despite the mess he’s in, he’s terrified to give up the only thing that ever made him feel better. He knows he needs to get clean. But he hasn’t yet gotten to the point where he’s more afraid of using than he is of being clean.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when it comes to drug addicts, except one: in the absence of some kind of spiritual intervention, they will continue to do what they’ve been doing, and it will get worse. The disease of addiction is deadly, and most addicts die from it.

But there is also hope. A lot of addicts do get clean. I’m one of them.

If you want to know whether Danny is one of them, too, read the book!

September 9

Domino Theory Began as Something Else

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Danny had seen a run of bad luck lately.  Two years ago, he’d been gainfully employed, with an apartment and a decent car.  Yeah, he had a little drug problem, but he paid his dealer in cash with the money he earned from his job.  He’d never hurt anyone, never robbed or stolen.  He just liked to get high after work. Then he’d gotten a DUI one night on the way home from a bar.  They had to be kidding!  He’d only stopped in for a couple of drinks, get a little loose, try to pick up on a chick.  He hadn’t even done any drugs!  But the cops claimed he’d failed the field sobriety test.  Hell, he couldn’t walk a straight line dead sober.  Then he’d blown a .24 on the breathalyzer, well over the legal limit of .08.  So not only had he struck out with the woman, he’d gone to jail instead of home to bed. That had been a Friday night.  By the time he’d been arraigned on Tuesday he’d lost two days pay and his job.  Then, just like dominoes, one thing after another had fallen away. 

My second book, Domino Theory, began as something else.  In 1980, I began my first novel, a murder mystery featuring Danny McCabe, a drug addict who’d been clean and sober a few years.  Danny gets called for jury duty, and inadvertently gets involved with trying to clear the defendant, a drug addict who’s been framed.  That book is as yet unfinished, though I hope to finish it this year.

I started Domino Theory around 1990.  As usual, it began with a question: “What would happen if I was drunk and woke up next to a murder victim?”  The result was a mystery about a guy who’s been framed.  He has to dodge the cops and two hit men while finding out who set him up.

I originally planned for the main character to be the defendant from the first Danny McCabe book.  Over the next eight years, I got it plotted and about three quarters written.  Then I stopped.  After all, how can you publish a sequel to a book that isn’t finished?

Domino Theory languished for ten years.  I wasn’t very motivated to work on it because I wasn’t having much luck in the publishing department.

Then came Ordinary World, which sold over 3,000 copies and got great reviews.  That modest success encouraged me to look at my unfinished novels with new eyes.  I thought Domino Theory had a great plot, but it was missing something.  Then it occurred to me to make it the prequel to my Dannny McCabe story.  After all, Danny is a recovering addict.  Why not tell the story of how he got into recovery?

As I began my rewrite, I was strongly influenced by Lawrence Block’s A Ticket to the Boneyard, which I consider the best of the (generally excellent) Matt Scudder series.  It portrays Scudder trying to get sober while facing a brutal opponent.  Despite his need to stay off the booze, Scudder gets drunk again several times.  As a recovering alcoholic and addict, I’ve always though Block portrays Scudder’s struggle well.

I wanted Domino Theory to convey the reality of the insanity a drug addict lives with in his addiction, the constant need, and the ridiculous justifications he believes.  The scenes where Danny struggles with his addiction are as real as I can make them, based on my own ten-year experience.

The misery isn’t as bad now as it was when I kicked.  I’ve been off the sh*t for three weeks.  Well, almost three weeks.  Two and a half, anyway.  My body doesn’t ache any more.  I’m starting to be able to sleep at night, if I drink enough.  Yeah, I drink more, but I’m off the dope.  I’m clean, and that’s something to be proud of. So what am I doing with a bag full of dope in my room?  I don’t want to use it.  Really, I don’t.  It was too hard to get off of it. But the sh*t is calling to me.  That goddamn heroin is calling my name. I drain the third Moosehead and reach for the fourth.  Two thirds gone now.  I’m pretty drunk, but not drunk enough to ignore the dope calling me.  I suck down half the bottle in one swallow. Damn it, I hate that sh*t!  F***ing heroin.  For months I couldn’t not do it.  Now I’m clean, and it still wants me back.  It’s like an evil woman that won’t let go of me, and I can’t say no. That’s the thing: I know I can’t say no.  I always go back to it.  I always have, and I always will.  Yeah, I’m clean right now, but that’s temporary.  I know it.  You know it.  The dope knows it.  It’s calling my name; it knows that sooner or later I’m going to give in.

I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been there can really understand what goes on in the mind of an addict.  I know some whose friends and loved ones are addicts have stopped trying, and I don’t blame them.  Our actions are as incomprehensible as they are heartbreaking.

Domino Theory is an attempt to bridge that gap, while telling what I hope is an entertaining story.  Danny has no clue who framed him or why.  He knows he he has to get off the drugs to have any chance of staying alive.  With the help of some new friends in AA, he begins to unravel the mystery.  He stakes out drug dealers, tracks a mysterious woman to her home, and identifies several of the people involved.  But who is the mastermind blaming Danny for a string of murdered dealers, and can Danny stay clean long enough to find him before the hit men or the cops catch up with him?

If the internal dialog is too raw, if you can’t understand how anyone could be so crazy, at least take this from your reading experience: People like Danny and me, crazy as we are, do find recovery.  I’ve been clean and sober more than thirty years!  Domino Theory is a mystery, and a look deep into the frightening mind of an addict.  But it’s also a story of hope.

AA, Danny thought, not for the first time, really didn’t apply to him.  He might as well go out and get loaded, because AA wasn’t going to work.  What the heck?  He had plenty of dope.  He could hole up in a motel and stay stoned until they found him.  With enough heroin in his system, he wouldn’t even feel the bullet that killed him. “F***ing AA,” he muttered.  “It’s for pussies, not for people with real problems.”  He took a last hit off his cig and ground the butt into the pavement with his shoe. Then he remembered the guy from Newark who had stolen money from the mob and had to make amends for it.  And the girl, Jamie, who had come to puking her guts out on the floor of a jail cell. “Okay,” he acknowledged.  “They had problems.  So maybe AA does work.  But what am I supposed to do?” The answer came.  It was in Alicia’s voice, almost like she was there in his head responding to his question. “That’s freaky,” Danny said.  Because what the voice told him to do was pick up the phone and call someone in AA and ask them what he should do.

Domino Theory is available in paperback and eBook on Amazon and Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and from other online retailers.

March 27

Domino Theory is now available on Amazon!

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Danny McCabe comes to sitting in a car parked in the desert. The man in the passenger seat is someone Danny doesn’t know – and he’s dead. Danny has no recollection of the previous three days. He knows he has a problem with alcohol and drugs, but he’s not a bad guy. He’s pretty sure he’s not a murderer. Soon, Danny learns that the dead man was a drug dealer. Now he has the police and two hit men chasing him. He’ll need to keep his wits if he hopes to survive. More dealers die, and evidence at the scene points to Danny. Now he knows he’s been framed. He turns for help to Alicia, who has been clean for two years. She and two sober friends try to help Danny stay clean, and to figure out the conspiracy that threatens his life. But staying clean isn’t easy, and Danny’s frequent relapses won’t help him stay alive. As the body count rises, he begins to wonder why Alicia is so nice to him. Women are never nice to guys like Danny. Could she be part of the conspiracy? With no one left to trust, Danny must identify the conspirators on his own. And his worst enemy just might be his own mind.

Domino Theory is now available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle editions.  I’ll have copies next week for anyone who wants a signed copy.