Saturday, April 23, 2011

St. Louis Tornado - 4/22/11

We just got back from checking out the devastation left in the wake of the F4 tornado that touched down minutes from our apartment last night. I'm sure many of you have seen the images on TV - but after witnessing it firsthand, I can tell you that television doesn't do it justice.

It's one thing to see smashed homes and fallen trees on television. There's still a bit of psychological separation from the situation because so much television programming is larger than life. We see it, but we don't completely comprehend the weight of it. We feel bad, then we flip the channel over to Seinfeld or Family Guy and move on with our night.

Driving through it brings the weight of it crashing home. Hard.

Just to be clear, Laura and I are safe. So are her parents. Our apartment and their home were spared. Laura's uncle wasn't so lucky. His roof and front door were torn off, windows blown out, and his puppy was killed when the fridge fell on it.

St. Charles Rock Road, the highway were we do most of our usual shopping, was hit hard. The tornado must have run alongside it for quite a distance before cutting through the town of Bridgeton. Alongside the big name places like Home Depot and iHop, there are a lot of smaller mom-and-pop independently own businesses lining the highway. We pass them daily - sometimes more than once. So when we saw buildings crumbled, missing walls, smashed windows, mangled signs, crumpled trees, twisted power lines, and various debris littering the street, it sent my heart to the soles of my feet and put a lump in my throat the size of a melon.

There's a pub called The Penalty Box that was mangled. A mom-and-pop glass repair shop that was pretty much leveled. A mechanics shop decimated. A brown building - I don't even remember what it was - was half-collapsed, the inside exposed like an open autopsy. And everywhere, people stood in helpless awe, staring at the broken pieces of their lives.

Further down, the trail of destruction moved onto highway 70. I described the scene to my mother like this: Imagine a long highway with trees lining either side. Now imagine that a dinosaur marches up and down each side and chomps off the top halves of each tree before moving on to the next. Or, if you prefer, imagine a giant baseball player walking up and down the highway smashing the tops of every tree apart with a huge bat. Trunks shatter, branches crumble, limbs fly, leaves fall.

The aftermath is what highway 70 looks like now.

Then it was on to Bridgeton. Laura and I were trying to get to a local Italian restaurant this afternoon when detours led us into the heart of town. It was once a nice little rural area. Lots of trees on every street, quaint little one-floor homes, flags and chimes hanging from their front porches, and mailboxes of varying design at the end of every driveway. Anytown, USA, for the most part.

Now, you can barely see the pavement beneath the leaves and crushed branches. Most homes had at least one fallen tree, some in their front yard, and others right through their homes. There were people everywhere trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. On one front lawn, I saw a little old lady just standing and staring. Her house seemed to have been spared, but her neighbor wasn't so lucky. And I can tell you from my own experience that you didn't have to be affected by the damage directly to have been hurt by this storm.

Of course, there's our airport, not ten minutes from us. It suffered millions of dollars of damage. A bus was thrown on TOP of concourse C. A plane was moved from one terminal to another. Tons of windows blown, lines of seats from inside were found outside, clumps of insulation everywhere, crumpled signs - the list goes on and on.

The news is saying this is the worst St. Louis has seen since 1967. The trail stretched for miles through nine municipalities, damaging over 750 homes. It was an F4 tornado with winds up to about 160 mph.

Our sense of security has been taken away. Although this city is in "Tornado Alley," St. Louis itself rarely has real tornadoes within city limits. For the most part, they go north or south. Before tonight, a Youtube search for St. Louis tornado would've brought up little in the way of results. Some claimed there was a tornado near a local mall last year, but there was no visible tornado in the videos posted. This kind of thing just didn't happen in the city. But now that it has, I'm sure many others will feel the same spike of panic that I now feel when seeing a forecast for more thunderstorms (we're supposed to get more tonight and tomorrow).

The silver lining? No deaths and few injuries. None severe.

As a Christian, I've been surrounded by people telling me that there's no God for the majority of my life. But after driving through the devastation I saw today, the news that none were killed only confirmed my belief that God was watching over us.

And this was just one tornado. There were more elsewhere, but I believe our area suffered the most damage this time.

After seeing the destruction, first on TV and then in reality, I can't help but wonder just how much MORE devastating the Japanese tsunami was for those who experienced it in person. Things are far worse in person than they are on TV.

So pray for our city. Pray for our people. I don't care if you're not religious or don't believe in God. We need all the prayers we can get. Pray for Japan. Pray for the Japanese people. They need all the prayers they can get.

Thanks for reading. Should you be interested in helping with the relief efforts, I've provided a few links below.

God bless,
Kevin

St. Louis Red Cross Relief Efforts: http://www.redcrossstl.org/2011SpringStorms.aspx

Japan Red Cross Relief Efforts (Bottom Choice): http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main

By Telephone: 800-RED-CROSS

Monday, April 18, 2011

Author Interview: Jerry Hanel


I recently posted my review of Jerry Hanel's book, Death Has A Name, a story I found to be quite enjoyable and unique. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Hanel, and here's what he had to say.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Jerry Hanel. I've been writing for many years, but this is my first published work. I spend most of my days writing computer programs for a local engineering firm. However, at night I put on my writer's hat and spin the world into chaos just so that I can bring in a hero to save the day.

I live in Oklahoma, but I enjoy long walks on the beaches of Nova Scotia, Canada. I also love candle-lit... Oh, wait. Those are the answers for a different type of interview. Sorry.

2. You mentioned that you've been writing for several years. When did you start?

About twelve years ago. I wrote a "compelling" short story in the eighth grade about a hiker trapped in an arctic cave with a bobcat. I know... I know... bobcats are not native to either the North or South Pole. But I was eight. Give me a break. My teacher wanted me to do more with writing, but I was reluctant. I was already a 'nerd'. No need to be a book-nerd. Those were even lower on the food chain.

I didn't do much more with writing until I was in college. Even though I was studying Computer Science, I would go home and write short-stories to pass the time and entertain myself. I was too broke to afford things like gaming consoles, and the idea of creating a new universe still really did excite me. Fast-forward to today, and I am a computer programmer by day, and a writer by night, just like the 'good old days'.

3. How did you come up with the plot for Death Has A Name?

I started the original story off by having a rough-and-tough detective having to solve a bizzare murder where the Angel of Death was having a hard time killing one particular victim because God had other ideas for him. In a fit of rage, the Angel actually beheaded the man in a locked vehicle, causing a conundrum for the detective to solve: Who could do such a brutal murder and not leave one single clue behind? That was, originally, the only "paranormal" part of the plot. The rest was supposed to be grounded in the modern world as a murder mystery that the detective had to solve.

But as I came to write an "explanation" scene with this weird paranormal guy named Brodie Wade, I realized that I liked Brodie. Alot. He was odd and quirky. Like me. I liked the character so much that I went back to the beginning and rewrote the stoy with him as the main character. I think it was time well spent because I'm very happy with the way it all turned out.

4. What inspired you to write it?

Truthfully, my father. I know, it sounds odd that I would write a book about the Angel of Death regarding my dad. My dad is the kindest man I've ever known. But bear with me. You see, my father is a long-haul truck driver. In the original concept of the book, the guy that was so hard to kill was a truck driver. I guess, in my mind, I viewed that character as my father, knowing all of the things that he's gone through and survived. From truck accidents to a tractor running over his legs, to a bulldozer incident (he's fine, now, by the way). God definately had something much bigger for him.

5. Did you have any specific goals when writing Death Has A Name? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

The main theme of Death Has a Name is "What is 'normal'?" Brodie has to fight to maintain even the basics of sanity. He's constantly riding a line that is between quirky and insane. In our own lives, we have our own lines that we ride. Some of us ride the line between geeky and normal. That would be me. Other people ride the line between bossy and normal. You get the idea. We all are riding our own personal lines, but when we come to view the world through someone else's eyes we can redefine 'normal' and see people for who they are, not for what they do or don't do in life.

At least, that was my goal. If you'll give Brodie a chance to be quirky and see past that, a whole new person comes into view. Once we get past this first layer of humanity, the next book will look a bit deeper into the next layer, Love. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

6. Tell us about Brodie Wade. I found him to be one of the more unique and interesting characters I've come across in a long time. Where did he come from? What inspired his creation?

Well, he was originally a bit-character. You know, the guy who comes onto the scene, describes how something so odd could actually happen, and then walks off the scene, writing in his clipboard, or "I gotta get this phone call. Excuse me." You know the drill. But he was so compelling. A guy that can see things that no one is supposed to see.

I'm not sure who the inspiration of Brodie is in real life. I guess, a mixture of all of the best parts of so many of my friends and family. Phil, the detective, is more like me. Caring and honest, and analytical to a fault. I guess Brodie is the damaged part of each one of us. He's been abused and abandoned so many times in his life that although this odd thing happens to him and he hates it, it's all he knows. It is his 'normal'.

7. Did you encounter any cases of writer's block while working on Death Has A Name? How did you get through it?

More than I care to admit. And the only thing I can think of that helped me in the writing was time. I would put down that story and walk away, and go work on some other idea or theme. I have about six stories brewing currently. And as a new idea would come to me about the story, I would return to it, and I would be able to write so much more than if I'd sat and forced my way through.

8. What do you feel sets Death Has A Name apart from others of the same genre?

Death Has a Name is odd in its own right. As a murder-mystery, it has the paranormal aspect of the theme of The Truth. So, it's not really a murder-mystery. But it is, at the core. There is a bad-guy, a set of clues that we see all the way through, a final confrontation, and the big reveal. It's just a murder-mystery with a huge twist.

As a paranormal book, it doesn't contain vampires, warewolves, demons or witches. Those are the mainstay for the current trend in paranormal books. But, in my opinion, those topics have been overdone and are really starting to drive me nuts. There is so much more in the unexplainable world that if we just focus on those, we're missing a bigger picture.

What about guys that can walk through walls? Or gals that can change forms into inanimate objects? Or people that connect with some unknown Fourth Dimension (* smiles at Kevin *). You get the idea? You used technology and a bit of magic to explain it, but what if you leave it unexplained and still acknowledge such odd things can exist? If you can do that, then you open yourself up to so much more than just the four staples of the current paranormal world, and can have so many more wild adventures.

9. Are there any characters in Death Has A Name that you directly relate to?

While I can relate to the "wounded" side of Brodie, I'm alot like Phil. I'm sometimes overly analytical. So much so that I may come off as cold and heartless to some people. Not that I don't like people, but I'm a very black-and-white person. I love everyone, I really do. But I know that there is an answer to every question, and sometimes you just have to look at the evidence from a new angle to find that answer. That's what The Truth is all about. It's too bad that Phil can't see that realm, or he'd be the world's greatest detective. He'd also be nuts, like Brodie, but that's another story.

10. As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links or other websites you'd like to share?

Yep. I'm on facebook and twitter. I mainly stay with facebook lately. It's just easier to stay connected to people that way. If anyone wants to connect with me there, feel free to do so. I do my best to respond to everyone. http://www.facebook.com/jerry-hanel-author

11. What is most important piece of advice you can give to the other up-and-coming authors out there?

For those wanting to self-publish, advertising and marketing become the biggest hurdles. You can write the world's greatest book, but if no one knows it's there, they won't read it. Guys like us don't have multi-million-dollar book agencies pushing our work for us, so we have to find ways to let people know we exist without being slimy used-car salesmen in the process. It's a tough balancing act.

The best advice I can give is this: Be real, and just spend time connecting with each person, one at a time. Don't worry about big sales and huge numbers. Those will come in time if the work is sincere. The more you focus on the numbers instead of the fans, the more slimy you become, so just relax and enjoy the time you get to connect with so many people that you would have never met otherwise. They really are nice people.

12. Do you have any new writing projects currently in the works?

Yep. Several. My next book, which is falling dreadfully behind schedule, is the sequal to Death Has a Name. It's called Thaloc Has a Body. Brodie is back on the case, and may even find a love interest, if he can save his friend from Thaloc's evil plan. But that's probably more than I should have said to begin with.

I have two other books in the works unrelated to Brodie. Both are paranormal in nature and are related to each other, but not "sequels" per-se. They are independent stories with a common plot device that connects them across time and space. But again, I've probably said too much. Look for the character Harrison Kass in an e-book coming soon. =)

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. Best of luck to you in the future!

Thanks for having me, and I wish you the best of luck!


Death Has A Name on Amazon.com
Death Has A Name at Smashwords
Death Has A Name at Barnes & Noble
Death Has A Name at the Reader Store

Key to the Stars: FREE!

I've given it a lot of thought, and I've decided that my last sale was far too complicated. So, in an effort to simplify things, I eliminated the coupons and adjusted the discounts.

Key to the Stars, Volume I of The Fourth Dimension, is now FREE on Smashwords.com. No coupons required, no membership required, no strings attached!

And, in the words of the late Billy Mays: BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!!

Volumes II and III have been reduced in price to just $0.99 each! And while these sales do require a Smashwords account, you can sign up for one absolutely FREE!

Just click on the links below to be directed to each ebook.

Key to the Stars on Smashwords
Alliance of Serpents on Smashwords
Eye of the Tornado on Smashwords

This offer will not last forever, so get yours while you can!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Death Has A Name

Jerry Hanel's Death Has A Name is a captivating novel that seamlessly blends fantasy elements with a real world setting to create a story that is both intriguing and compelling. It follows the plight of Brodie Wade, a man with psychic abilities driven by a force simply known as The Truth.

What I enjoyed the most about Mr. Hanel's book was the descriptions of Brodie's interaction with The Truth. Sometimes sudden, sometimes gradual, sometimes creepy, sometimes funny, The Truth made itself known in a variety of ways. I particularly enjoyed a scene involving a flashback to Brodie's youth.

While I don't usually enjoy murder-mysteries, this book drew me in quickly and held me right through to the final page. A great read for anyone!

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Monday, April 4, 2011

Introduction to Building Blocks

This is the introduction to the Christian novel I'm writing at the moment. I wanted to share a piece of it to try to get some opinions. I hope you enjoy it!

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"If this keeps up, I'm going to blow my brains out."

It wasn't until I actually said those words that I realized I'd hit rock bottom. I didn't just say them. I meant them. My mind was already working out how I would do it. Dad's old hunting rifle was still in my closet. He'd shown me how to use it on multiple occasions when I was a teenager. I sometimes worried that he might have another one of his episodes and turn the thing on me. It wouldn't have been too out of character for him, but given our history, I can't say I would've blamed him, either.

Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I don't know how or why you've come across this journal. But if my shrink's predictions are any indication, the tales that follow will probably sound like the rambling delusions of a madman. And maybe that description will be accurate. Maybe not. In a few days, I should have a better idea of what I will be facing.

Regardless, I'm a bit leery of this new treatment. According to my shrink, scientists have allegedly cracked the secrets of time travel. Go ahead and read that again. Yeah, I know. That's what I thought too. It's got to be a scam of some kind, right? I mean, I know technology has progressed a lot over the past fifty years. Glass-screened televisions were replaced by interactive holograms, ground-based cars finally gave way to the aeromobile. Even the military's standard assortment of assault rifles and body armor have been tossed aside in favor of invisibility cloaks and science-fiction style laser weapons.

But time travel? Come on, that's gotta be a hoax.

That's what I believed, anyway, until I called my health insurance company. Get this—they agreed to cover the expenses. It's hard enough to get any kind of money out of an insurance company. I can't imagine they'd agree to cover a procedure that isn't authentic, tested, and reliable. I wonder how much it would cost me without health insurance. Ugh, just thinking about it makes me angry. But that's another topic for another time.

Anyway, my first of these time-travel sessions is scheduled for Monday morning. I suppose some people would jump at the chance to go back and relive their childhood experiences. But not me. I'm dreading it. Doc hopes that the experiences will help me come to terms with the painful memories that have scarred me so deeply as well as give me a better understanding of my role in God's plan.

God's plan. Yeah. I used to believe all that stuff the pastors said on television about how God only wanted the best for His children and that we were not put here to suffer but to prosper. Faith in Jesus Christ was something I'd clung to when I was younger because He was all I had. I used to sneak downstairs early on Sunday mornings to listen to Fred Hoskins speak about Jesus, and I'd pray so hard that something would change in Mom and Dad so that they'd one day be completely different people. I wanted them to be normal parents. I wanted them to stop fighting all the time. I wanted my mother to quit drinking. I wanted Dad to stop yelling at of us and just love us. I wanted the kind of relationship with my parents that the other kids in school seemed to have with theirs. And for years, I prayed and prayed for it to happen. Pastor Hopkins used to say that miracles happened every day. So I figured that eventually one would have to happen in my house. One day I'd have the family I’d always wanted.

It never happened, of course. I don't really know why. I probably didn't deserve it for one reason or another. Whatever the case, as I got older, I stopped relying on God's protection. It felt like I was holding up a shield that wasn't there. And even though I still believe He exists today, I’ve learned to stop expecting Him to help me when I struggle. I was destined to be on my own, and I’ve tried to cope with that.

Then again, I guess the fact that I'm in therapy means I haven’t coped as much as I’d hoped. I guess I'll find out Monday.

Anyway, Doc suggested that I write in this journal after each session to try to sort out my feelings about the things I see and hear. It doesn't matter if it makes sense when I write it, he says. In time, he hopes it will. I have doubts about that, of course. I know what happened in my life. I vividly remember the events that left me so jaded and bitter about the world around me and the society that plagues it. Everything from my first fight to Mom's death lurks within my memory and torments me each and every waking hour of the day. If I could've forgotten these images, if there was a way to abandon all memory of the pain, I'd have done it long ago. I don't know what Doc hopes to prove. But I guess there's no harm in finding out.

After all, Dad's rifle will still be there when it's all over.

My name is Herbert. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. Everyone else does.
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Comments? Suggestions? Send me an email using the link on the right sidebar or leave me a comment here! :)

God bless,
Kevin

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Interviewed by Jerry Hanel

I was recently interviewed by Jerry Hanel, author of Death Has A Name. Here's a snippet:

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Q: I found the space scenes just as full-fledged and believable as the village scenes. Were any real-life settings the inspiration behind any of the scenes in the book?

A: Until just a few years ago, we had a beach house at Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey. I used to go there every summer, and the thunderstorms there were amazing because you get such a clear view of the sky. I always felt that would be a cool backdrop for an epic battle scene. So at the end of Eye of the Tornado, I used that setting to start out the final battle.

Oh, and for the record, what you see on TV is NOT an accurate representation of the Jersey shore.
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To read the interview in its entirety, head over to Jerry's Writing Corner!

Thanks again to Mr. Hanel for taking the time to interview me. It was a pleasure!

God bless,
Kevin