Group Think, Fraternities and the New Book

People act differently alone than as part of a group. Sometimes this can be a good thing. If you are among a group of law abiding citizens you are less likely to engage in bad behavior. It would be socially unacceptable to steal or use drugs in a public gathering where you are being observed. It is rare to see someone light up a joint in church or steal a box of girl scout cookies in front of a busy grocery store.

Yet, group behavior can also encourage people to act badly. Lately the news has had a number of cases concerning bad behaviors on campuses. One example is the Oklahoma fraternity caught chanting racial slurs. Another is the Penn State University fraternity that was suspended for a year for posting naked photographs of woman passed out at one of their parties.

Throughout time people have acted badly in the safety of groups. The Nazi’s and the KKK relied upon this type of group think to get otherwise law abiding citizens to act in an evil manner. Mob action is a crime in the State of Illinois. As a society we understand that groups acting in concert can be dangerous. Acting as a part of a group is not an excuse for bad behavior. It is the ultimate act of cowardice to defend personal evil behavior based on the argument “everyone else was doing it”.

I am of course not comparing fraternities and sororities to evil organizations like the KKK. Fraternities provide a home away from home for their members. They raise money for charities. They help their members with school and social adjustment.

Yet, what would happen if a fraternity were to use the secrecy of the fraternal system to hide a horrible secret. What if a fraternity were sacrificing co-ed’s to Ancient Egyptian God’s. The answer to that question is provided in my new novel The Fraternity of the Soul Eater.

A part of the fraternal system involves rituals. There are initiation ceremonies, secret hand shakes and memorizing rules and historic facts. There are of course rituals involving hazing. Some of these rituals are harmless fun and others involve dangerous practices. Alcohol abuse is not uncommon. Yet, the fictional rituals in The Fraternity of the Soul Eater takes maters much too far. The rituals in the book involve human sacrifice. Murder is necessary to prove your loyalty and gain admission into the fraternity from hell.

Membership in this fraternity does have its privileges as well. It turns out that the alumni are among the richest people in the world. Is the money the members receive payment from ancient deities in exchange for human souls? Is the money simply the result of former members supporting graduates when they complete their education?

We think of our colleges and universities as safe places where we can entrust our children. What better place to hide the evil defined with in the pages of this book. What better place to reshape the world.




What is offensive?

Times change and so does our sensibilities when it comes to what is offensive. Using the “N” word is frowned upon in polite society. Yet, some of the novels most famous for striking a blow against racism use the word repeatedly. These include but are certainly not limited to: The Invisible Man (The Ralph Ellison version), To Kill a Mocking Bird and Huckleberry Finn. Many classic books are filled with anti antisemitism, sexism and racism.

George Carlin’s stand up comedy sketch about the seven words you can’t say on television is a great example of words people find offensive. I should note, at least on cable television and Netflix, that there are few words left from that list that have not been uttered on television.

I believe that books should be given far greater latitude than television when it comes to being offensive. First of all children rarely seem to read novels anymore. If my children where willing pick up a book, I would put up with all of the words on George Carlin’s list within its covers. Children should be encouraged to read more.

Second, novels may be about entertainment but many also have something to say about society. Sure, some television shows rise to that level but most do not. Television tends to address problems that can be solved in less than thirty minutes minus commercials. Novels, are more likely to address the human condition.

The person uses an offensive word may have an impact on how bothersome it is. To hear the “N” word used in a rap song may not be as offensive as if it were used by a member of the KKK in a speech. In addition, what I find offensive, you may not and vice versa. A person could have been in an abusive relationship where the perpetrator referred to him or her using a distasteful word. As a result hearing the word used again may be even more bothersome. An individuals history impacts what they find offensive.

Some words we generally consider offensive may not be offensive depending on their context. As Mr. Carlin pointed out, “ass” and “bitch” are not dirty words when referring to animals. Unless you are calling your cat a “bitch” or your dog an “ass”. That being said who knows what a cat or dog finds offensive.

My feelings are that nothing should be off limits when it comes to writing. That is provided the purpose of what is being written is not simply to shock the audience but to convey something to the reader. Some characters are racist, sexist and sacrilegious. The language they use and their general attitude should reflect that. Ordinary people use swear words. A person shot with a gun is unlikely to say, “shucks that smarts” when the bullet goes in. Books that are trying to be realistic should have realistic dialog.

In addition violence and gore are also part of our society and are reflected in my books. In part my intent is to show how horrible violence is. Novels are not television. If you are shot you normally don’t get up. If you are repeatedly punched or thrown down the stairs there is a likelihood you will die. Real violence is not pretty and I don’t want to portray it as such.

An obvious point that you, my faithful readers, may bring out, is why am I not using the actual swear words in this blog? The answer is, that I want to show respect for those who don’t share my views. People may not like my books and  prefer Cozy Mysteries instead. My blog is for everyone to enjoy, or dislike. My books are for people who choose a book that may not be “G” rated in all regards.

My goal as  a fiction writer is not to intentionally offend people. My goal is primarily to entertain. That being said my books do tend to be a bit gritty and swear words do slip in from time to time for the sake of realism.

Books need to reflect the time they take place in. I would expect more crass language in a modern book than a book from the Victorian era. That being said books going way back to the times of Shakespeare and Chaucer had more than there fair share of material that some people would find offensive today. Sex, violence and fowl language go back to the times of the caveman. Assuming cavemen could talk (they could in those insurance commercials).

In some contexts offending people can be a good thing. The First Amendment was created to protect offensive speech. All political change starts with dialog someone finds offensive.Many of the great books that called for social change were controversial. Many of those same great books are banned and censored by schools.

What brought much of the topic of this blog to mind is that Champaign Central High School is performing the play To Kill  A Mocking Bird from February 19-22, 2015, They have two separate casts one, as it is traditionally done, the other where the lead white characters are played by African American actors and the African American characters are played by white actors. It is a play where the “N” word is used. It is also a play about race. I am looking forward to a great performance.



The Senate report on CIA torture has been a part of the nation’s conversation. I expected people to take the position that the acts complained of in the report took place soon after 9/11 and were brought on by fear. I expected people to take the position that these acts of torture would never take place to prisoners in American custody by Americans again. I expected people to claim that this was after a terrorist attack, and as such was an unusual circumstance, unlikely to reoccur.

Yet, my expectations were wrong. Shockingly I have heard two arguments both made by former vice president Dick Cheney but repeated by others. Both arguments are morally reprehensible. The first was that these acts did not amount to torture. This is truly a bizarre statement. Anally inserting food, water boarding, forcing people to remain in a coffin size box or in one position for hours or days at time can only be described as torture.

The Humane Society has fought against such inhuman tortures for years. They have stood against force feeding geese to fatten up their livers. They have stood against gestation pens for pigs and battery cages for chickens. Animals should have enough space to turn around. My position is that any conditions the Humane Society considers too inhumane for animals if applied to a humans is torture. I guess I am a radical.

The argument that this is not torture is simply ridiculous. The argument that they didn’t know at the time it was torture is equally without merit. There was a reason this torture was done outside of the United States and in secret. There is a reason the Commander and Chief was not fully informed about what was happening. That reason is that CIA Officials knew it was torture.

The real issue is when if ever is torture acceptable. I understand that people act out of fear with presumably good motives. Placing Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War II was morally wrong but I presume the motivation of the government was not evil. They acted out of fear and to the detriment of the nation but not for the purpose of being evil. I could make a similar statement about Joseph R. McCarthy and the red scare of the 1950’s. I believe the CIA acted with the desire to save lives. Their actions not their motivation was bad.

If you have seen enough action movies you might ask, “If your child was being held in a giant fish tank, with one hour’s worth of air, and you had the perpetrator in front of you wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to get the information to free your child?”. The answer to this silly question is, of course. The question is silly for a number of reasons. Number one, as an individual of course I would do anything to save my child. Yet, there is a difference between the actions of an individual and that of the government.  Number two, the question presupposes that I know this is the perpetrator, the CIA had no such knowledge admitting that some of the people subject to this treatment were innocent. Number three the question describes an urgent and immediate necessity not a circumstance where people are held for years. Finally there is a fundamental flaw in the thinking of anyone who supports torture. Torture does not work. When subjected to torture people will say what the interrogator wants them to say not the truth.

The United State’s is a civilized country. We don’t target civilians and we don’t cut innocent people’s throats and video record it. Like all civilized countries confessions based on torture are not admissible in court. Such actions would violate the rights of due process guaranteed in the United State’s Constitution. The Geneva Conventions signed by the United States tried to end the use of torture of prisoners of war that we saw in WWII. We know as individuals not just as a nation that  torture is wrong.

Torture not only harms the victims of the torture but the perpetrators. How can a person torture another without loosing a part of their humanity. Often in abuse and neglect cases children are taken away from both parents because they witness violence between their parents. Even though that violence does not extend to the children. Children who observe such violence grow up to be victims or abusers. Witnessing abuse is damaging by itself. Participating in violence is worse. You can’t torture a person without thinking of them as less than human. Once a person believes that others are less than human than they are surrendering their own humanity.

How do you get people willing to blow up the Twin Towers, a bus or a restaurant? How did Hitler get people to murder millions of innocent men, woman and children? You convince people that the victims are less than human. You work to dehumanize people through education, propaganda and hate. You support acts of torture because the people we are harming aren’t worthy of the basic dignity provided to the animals we intend to eat.

How does this type of behavior reflect on the United States? I am not talking about our reputation before the United Nations. The U.N. is an organization that has shown itself to be of little value. I am talking about our reputation with individual nations. We need moral standing when we come into a country and try to help them form a democracy. We need moral standing to act as peace keepers and policeman. We need to lead through example.

I am not so naive as to believe any example we set will have any influence on terrorists. Yet, it might have an impact on nations that allow terrorists within their borders. It might encourage other nations to take their own stand for what is right. It might convince them to join us in coalitions to spread and encourage justice.

This is not an issue that demands debate. It is common sense. There is a simple and obvious line that divides right and wrong. I am also not trying to convince people that my argument is the right one. I have no magic wand that will change a person’s fundamental nature. I am writing this simply to vent and to show my disappointment that there are intelligent people willing to sacrifice their humanity for little or no benefit.

Coal in our stockings and hate in our hearts, is no way to go through the Holidays.

‘Tis the season to find reasons to look for differences between people. We are clearly and significantly divided as a nation. This is evidenced by the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York. We are not just divided by race but by sex, religion and class. We look for reasons and excuses to hate one another.

One reason maybe to protect our psyche. If people were of equal value how could we justify allowing so many people to be poor. How could we justify spending ten bucks for a movie when a child doesn’t have enough to eat.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater talks about DNA and genetics. There are few differences between us. We share 50% of our genetic make-up with a banana. We share well in excess of 90% of our genes with a chimpanzee and well over 99% with each other. At a cellular level we are not that different.

We look for differences between us. We intentionally seek evidence to support the position that we are special. Is the color of our skin significant? What about religion? Christianity incorporates Judaism.  Islam incorporates Jesus and Moses within the construct of their religion. Is it all that different? Are we special because of who our parents are or what country we live in.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be special. In fact we are all individuals and we are all special. It is alright  to celebrate individuality and acknowledge differences between us. Yet, not at the expense of others. Being special does not make someone else less special.

It is alright to hate an individual. If a person is awful no matter the season feel free to hate them. It is not alright to extrapolate based on an individual’s behavior hatred of a group. Perhaps the need to judge a person quickly is instinctual. Our ancestors would need to determine if a person or animal was dangerous in a split second. When safety and life and death are on the line you didn’t have the luxury of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Yet, the times have changed. We are no longer cavemen living in groups and tribes.Today we can take the time to get to know one another.

So this holiday season why not aim for peace on earth and goodwill to everyone. Let’s put our differences aside. After all we are a lot more alike than different. Also, a book by Scott A. Lerner makes a great holiday gift.

D.C. vs. Marvel

When I was a kid people actually read comic books. They were not so much collected as enjoined. They did not cost $3.99 a piece either. That is an amount equal to the cost of downloading a novel on kindle. There was no Comic Con and most of the movies were not expensively produced. All in all the movies were not much better than a television show in production quality.

The big debate at the time was D.C. vs. Marvel. Mind you a marvel comic was twenty-five cents when a Detective Comics (That is what DC stands for) were only twenty. I was one of those people willing to pay an extra nickle for Marvel. D.C. was more my father’s comic book.

Now with zillions of dollars invested in superhero movies the debate continues, Marvel or D.C., who is better? Marvel was bought out by Disney. Thus, Marvel has an endless supply of money for movie production. That being said D.C. has not produced cheap movies either.

The two best comic movies from recent times have been Iron Man (Marvel) and Batman Begins (D.C.). Both dark, well acted and well directed. Both companies have made some dreadful decisions as well, Green Lantern (D.C.) and the Fantastic Four (Marvel) are both awful movies. Both companies have the potential to make good and bad movies.

Who will win the war of the movies? The answer is Marvel. They will make more movies overall and as a result will wind up with some bad flicks. Yet, they have more to work with overall.

The principal horse in the D.C. stable is Superman. Superman is great, he saved America from the Japanese, the Nazi’s and Lex Luther. Yet, his time has come and gone. He is simply too powerful. I never fear for his safety no matter what the circumstance. I cant’t empathize with perfection. He is too clean cut too all American. Not to mention his America is not my America. I world of newspaper reporters

In addition what kind of Superhero fights Lex Luther? A villain with no super powers? Not to mention Superman III was painful to watch. The idea of going back in time to undo any problems made me wonder why I watched the beginning of the movie (although time travel worked in X-men -Days of Future Past).

Superman just does not work as a central character. He is simply too perfect. Thus I am not very hopeful for Batman v.s. Superman. Wonder Woman also suffers from the same flaws as Superman. She is from another time. Her powers are too “super”.

Marvel on the other hand has a larger stable with more interesting characters because they are flawed. After all, Iron Man is just a man with a heart condition. His moral character is not perfect. Dr. Strange has some potential. There was a Dr. Strange movie in 1978 that was actually interesting if not poorly made (It was the 70’s before CGI). Marvel has also done well without their biggest characters. Sure X-men and the Avengers are big but they have also succeeded with Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor.

Daredevil, is another great flawed character. Sure the 2003 movie wasn’t good. Perhaps
Ben Affleck was not the best choice. The movie was missing something. Yet, the idea should work. Daredevil has his own vendetta. His father, a boxer, was killed by a mobster for not taking a dive. He is a blind lawyer. Hell that alone would make you bitter.

Spider-man also is a good character. It is great to see a teenager as a hero and not a side kick. Yes, they have made some bad spider-man movies. I wonder why we need to reload his origin every few years when there are plenty of comic plots to choose from. If I was Marvel I would put Peter Parker on the back burner for at least ten years. He will come back stronger.

D.C. has made some gritty movies. Batman was great. Green Arrow’s ward Speedy was addicted to heroin (in the comic not the movie) that is gritty. The Watchman is very dark and their 2009 movie was interesting. Yet, overall Marvel has more of the feel of desperation and darkness that fits with our modern society. Marvel is a better match for today.

That being said there is room in this world for both. It is my hope that D.C. will produce some great movies in the future. Yet, looking at some of the D.C. movies scheduled for the future is disappointing: Aqua-man, Wonder Woman, The Justice League, Shazam and another Green Lantern. Yet, I disagree with SNL that Marvel can do no wrong. We will have to see.

Tusk (Movie Review)

This is a movie with the unlikely premise that an insane killer is trying to turn a man into a Walrus. The main character, Wallace Bryton, is an obnoxious co-host of a blog radio program. The program is referred to as the “Not-See” show (to sound like Nazi) since you can “not see” a radio show. The title should give you an idea of how low the humor is for this fictional blog radio show. The show is intended to be shocking and filled with adolescent humor.

The main character is a flawed man. He cheats on his girlfriend and makes fun of people for entertainment. He is indeed obnoxious. Although, not nearly hate-able enough to go through what he has to in this movie. He is childish and immature but not evil.

He meets an old man in Northern Canada, Mr. Howe, who claims to have interesting stories to tell. The best part of this movie are the interesting tales he tells. It would have been a better movie if he spent more time telling these stories. One story he tells is about being rescued by a walrus.

Wallace is drugged by Mr. Howe and his body is mutilated to closer resemble that of a walrus. Yes, I would normally say,”spoiler alert” but this movie is not one for surprises. This portion of the movie is disturbing but not overly graphic.

At one point Mr. Howe lies and tells Wallace that he removed one of his legs because of a spider bite. He also claims a doctor came to visit. These lies makes the viewer question if he had lied about other things. Did he lie about being abused as a child or being rescued by a walrus to begin with?

I didn’t realize until after the film that Johnny Depp played the out of work detective,Guy Lapointe. He was unrecognizable in the roll. This character was almost as mentally disturbed as, Howard Howe, the madman who tried to turn Wallace into a Walrus.

This movie is a mix between, Fargo, Misery, and  Freaks. Yet, it does not rise to that level of excellence. Well, maybe it was on par with Freaks. It was disturbing and funny at times. It had good moments but was not great.

The acting as a whole was generally compelling and the premise was somewhat funny and scary at the same time. If you have seen the trailer then this movie does not provided a lot of surprises. All in all it was not a terrible flick. The Halloween movie season is slow in getting started so it might not be a bad bet.

Conflict and Hate

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater concerns the concept of the rebirth of an Ancient Egyptian society within America. What led to the fall of the great Ancient Egyptian society? There are some who attribute the fall to changing climate conditions that caused droughts in much of the area. War ultimately caused the fall of Ancient Egypt.

Certainly global warming is likely to impact weather conditions throughout the world. There are plenty of wars in the world. The turmoil in Africa and the Middle East as well as drug wars within North America war. Russian is no longer a sleeping giant but is awake and willing to have an impact on world politics even if the result is war in Eastern Europe. On top of that given that Israel is a nuclear power and Iran is actively arming Hamas it is conceivable that World War III could start in our lifetime.

When we add to that Ebola and bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics it is conceivable that the world could end without the help of war. I am further disturbed by mutations within nature. The unexpected increase in populations of some creatures and the disappearance of others. It seems every few weeks a strange colored mutant lobster is pulled from the sea.

There are other signs of course, “Pulp Fiction” did not win  an Oscar for best picture. They make cappuccino flavored potato chips and chocolate flavored toothpaste. Bob Dylan’s music has been used to sell soft drinks, cars and lingerie.

Yes, the idea of a New Dynasty does not seem so far fetched. I don’t think it will be like Ancient Egypt as envisioned in the Fraternity of the Soul Eater. Yet, I don’t think it will look the same as it does today or did after the second world war. Certainly China and India will have a bigger role to play. I would suspect things in the Middle East will get worse before they get better.

Will the changes be a result of fighting over limited resources or fighting over nothing in the form of some type of modern holy war? I don’t know what is next but I suspect there will be more turmoil in the next twenty years than in the last twenty years.

I have always assumed people are people and want the same things. That all people want their children to live in a safe place and have the resources they need to meet their potential. If this proposition is not true than the prospects for the future are bleak.

When I see people filming a man being beheaded on the internet it does make me questions that theory. It is possible I don’t understand people at all. That people who have any love for humanity can’t commit such an atrocity and fit under my general belief that people are essentially the same. If some people are evil than the likelihood of a world at peace is greatly diminished.

It is hard to write fiction because sometimes the truth of the world around me slips into my pages. The world needs healing but it wont come from governments. It must come from individuals. Until we love our children more than we hate our enemies the world will never know peace.

That being said as long as we have good books, decent movies and plenty of snacks in the pantry our lives wont be a total loss. We may not be able to stop global warming or end war but we can be kind to one another.









Summer Horror Flicks 2014

In the winter we have the movies trying to appeal to the award shows. We have the summer superhero and action star blockbusters. It seems like a long wait for the  horror movies of the fall. So lets look at some of the summer horror movies with some potential.

The first is a movie called “Squirrels”.  The teaser trailer (see: looks great. The concept of killer squirrels certainly has my attention. The warning on the poster, “Hold on to your nuts” seems ominous. It is certainly on my list of movies I want to see.

The Purge 2 is also on my list. The concept of twelve hours of lawlessness seemed interesting and caused me to see the original movie. The Purge was good but not great. To expand the idea beyond a single house and family has real potential. It is a good concept. I would like to see where it goes. This is another movie for my list (see:

“Deliver Us From Evil” looks like another potential must see. It centers around a big city cop investigating, demon possession and the occult. As you can tell if you read “Cocaine Zombies” voodoo and the occult are fun for big cites as well as small towns. I like the almost claustrophobic feel of a big city like New York hiding the intimate danger of the supernatural. I have high hopes. It sounds like it might be similar to “The Believers”.

“The Green Inferno” is also on my list. It is directed by Eli Roth who brought us “Hostel” and is apparently loosely based on an Italian film called “Cannibal Holocaust” (I never saw it). The Amazon seems like a great backdrop for horror.The idea is that a group of Americans go to the Amazon to save the rain forests and are captured by a dangerous and sadistic tribe. The tag line, “No good deed goes unpunished” is also compelling.

The final movie is “The Sacrament”. It appears there is some type of religious cult with something to hide. A news team goes to visit the cult and discovers there is more than it would at first appear. I am on the fence with this one but it does have some potential.

I have not seen any of these movies yet. If they are awful please don’t blame me. That being said I have high hopes at least one of them will be great. I must admit the squirrel movie has me the most intrigued. I did not see a release date posted on line so I hope it really does come out this summer. I have spent enough time watching the bird feeder to be afraid. I decided to forgo the spinning squirrel proof feeders just in-case they are plotting vengeance. Based on numbers I believe we are more likely to see squirrels take over the world than apes. That being said the new Planet of the Apes movie looks good as well. I believe if you tap on the word teaser trailer it should give you the trailer for Squirrels if not google it, you wont be disapointed.  Teaser Trailer




John James Audubon – Naturalist, Murder or Both

I knew who Audubon was. He lived from 1785-1851 and wrote the definitive book on American Birds, The Birds of America (Published in 1827). First editions often sell in the millions of dollars. What I did not know was that he killed the birds he painted. He would go bird watching with a shotgun by his side.

This absolutely fascinates me because it fits in so well with the themes of death and Ancient Egypt in my newest book, Fraternity of the Soul Eater. It is the idea that destroying something beautiful to create a more lasting beauty is alright. It is the idea that death can trump life.

This is an idea that I am struggling with. In the middle ages people were starving. Yet, the church spent money creating art rather then using the money to feed people. Was that the right thing to do? The paintings and sculptures exist to this day. Is that not choosing art over life? Is that a reasonable trade off?

If the answer is “no” then take a look at your life. When was the last time you bought a car? You could have bought a less expensive one or kept the old one longer. Instead of buying a car you could have provided money to a charity to feed the poor. You could have saved lives. Every day we spend money that could be donated. If you went to McDonald’s instead of out for Sushi you could have used the money you saved to feed the poor. Is that being overly harsh? Should we live in poverty for the sake of others?

How do we value life? If someone dies in a third world country does their life have less value than someone in Europe or America. Is there a greater or lessor potential for their life to make a difference.

I am not a philosopher. I don’t have the answers. Yet, either directly or indirectly we are making life or death decisions by our action or our inaction. We do so on a daily basis.

Audubon preserved the image of a number of birds that are extinct at this time. There is lasting value to doing so. I should note one of the birds was the passenger pigeon. I mentioned in an earlier blog that they are trying to bring back the passenger pigeon from extinction using old DNA see I know nothing about the charity. Yet the idea seems cool.

I am not trying to bring people down or take away from their enjoyment. I am only pointing out that everything we do or don’t do could have an impact on others. I have little doubt Audubon’s efforts have saved far more birds than the number he shot to make his book. It is just food for thought. Speaking of food I wouldn’t mind some fried chicken.


What can be more exciting than a book about drugs, black magic and murder? The same book for free. You can get Cocaine Zombies free on Kindle March 17-19. Yes, you can enjoy all the same blood , humor and dismemberment others paid for but only for a few days.

This seems like an offer that is too good to be true. Yet, it is true. I can’t image the lines if McDonald’s gave away Big Macs for free. You can get food for the mind for nothing.

Ok, I am done channeling Billy Mays or that Australian dude. Yet, if you were considering reading Cocaine Zombies but just were not sure if you should, this is a risk free opportunity. Also, if you are reading Ruler of Demons why not take a look at where the whole thing began.