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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Great HARD CASE Review!

On the writing front, I passed 60,000 words Friday on the sequel to DEMON (the title will be DEMON INC.), so you better believe I’ll be making progress on my three days off. HARD CASE is crawling its way up the Amazon list, thanks to my partner RJ Parker. We garnered another terrific review from outside our demographic – HERE. Please give the reviewer a YES it was helpful if you get a chance. Her first comments are pure gold – “I loved this story! John Harding makes Jack Reacher look like a Sunday school teacher.”   Oh Yeah!

I had to research who Jack Reacher was. He’s a tough guy character in a series by author Lee Child. That our reviewer thinks my hard case, John Harding makes him look like a Sunday school teacher was a real thrill for me. I wonder what she’d think of Nick from COLD BLOODED.

I’m not forgetting this is Memorial Day weekend. Get your flags up. Remember who it is that sacrificed everything so that we can play on keyboards across this great nation, read books, play computer games, watch TV, vote in free elections, and the plethora of other freedoms we take for granted. God bless our troops!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

PO491 Code, 2005 Chrysler Sebring plus HARD CASE Review

In writing news, I’m heading quickly up to the 60,000 word mark for my DEMON sequel, so I’m thinking it may be completed before the end of June, which is four months faster than I had anticipated. Not Nora Roberts output, but pretty decent speed for me. After our weekend promo, we garnered the first review on HARD CASE by a young woman. Her review hit all the high points in the novel including the humor. The exceptionally good part being she is far outside my target audience, which I’ve always hoped I could reach. As reviews show up, it will be interesting to note if I’m reaching a larger demographic of readers. If you can spare a moment to give my reviewer a yes the REVIEW was helpful, I’d appreciate it. She's buying COLD BLOODED next.
My friend and partner RJ Parker has a great promotion coming on May 23 & 24. Take a look at it on his blog HERE.

On the automotive repair front, I had a humorous encounter, involving my age to a degree. Yesterday, I was working on an old 1993 Pontiac Bonneville service when a late model Chrysler drove up in my shop. When I began walking around to greet the customer, a young teen girl popped out of the driver’s seat as if she were a jack-in-the-box with a strong spring. Blonde streaked hair, about five and a half feet tall, wearing those below the belly-button jeans, sandals, and a lime green halter top, she was the picture postcard of a cool summer breeze. Her car was a 2005 Chrysler Sebring, so she’ll be Summer Sebring for the blog today.
“Hi, may I help you?”
“My name’s Summer… and you’re Bernie?” She sticks out her hand and gazes at my nametag that is not smudged into Bennie. “My grandfather recommended you. He says you’ve worked on all his cars since the seventies.”
Summer tells me her Pa’s name and he is indeed an old customer. I didn’t think he had any family in the area. I shake her hand, noting she doesn’t give me one of those cold, dead flounder handshakes. “I know him very well. How can I help you?”
Summer hesitates for a moment before going around to the passenger side and reaching in for a sheaf of receipts. She walks back and hands them to me. “I have to get my car’s smog check done and nobody can get rid of the check engine light so I can do it.”
I look them over. The first one’s for a failed smog check with a code PO491 listed as the cause, meaning insufficient secondary air injection flow. The rest were parts changed to correct the code: electric air injection pump and tube, injection pump relay, and even a diverter valve. I went to the driver’s side, popped the hood, and opened it up. With my handy dandy Mag-lite, I looked over the new stuff. I noticed the replaced plastic tube near the injection pump was showing signs it was beginning to melt again. Since I’ve known Summer’s Pa for over thirty years, I quickly pulled off the one way check valve and blew through it. I could blow through it easily in both directions. Since they call it a one way check valve for a reason I knew it was the problem.
Here’s the thing. I go way back from the time air injection smog pumps were first installed on cars. They inject air into the exhaust in order to help burn off polluting gases. We used to regularly get bad check valves in where they were allowing raw exhaust gas to pass the wrong way into the system, melting hoses, and frying the inside of the pump. I held it up for Summer to see. I explained about why the valve was bad.
“This is what’s causing the code. I’ll have to order it from the dealer. Can you leave it with me for a while?”
Summer is skeptical. “How come those other guys didn’t know that? I mean… are you sure that’s really it?”
“I think they were thrown off track by the code. It means insufficient secondary air flow. They probably saw the melted connector and figured the pump had gone bad. It may have, but what melted the connector and caused insufficient flow was the check valve allowing hot exhaust gas into the system. Plus… I’m ancient.”
She laughed at that. “My grandfather said you were even older than he is.”
“Yeah, I think I have him by a year. Tell him I said he’s still a ‘geezer’.”
“I will.” Summer nodded with another laugh. “I’ll walk over to his house. Will it be done today?”
“Let me call you on that. I’ll make sure they have the check valve in stock and whether the delivery will make it here by this afternoon. One other thing, how soon does the check engine light pop back on after a repair?”
“It lit up the moment I started on the freeway for home.”
Yep, that computes. We filled out her paperwork and Summer breezed out to her Pa’s house. The dealer had more than one in stock so I’m figuring it must be a regularly replaced item on this 2.4L engine. It arrives. I get it on, erase the code, and quickly go do some freeway time in the Sebring. No light. Summer arrives to pick up her car with Pa.
We shake hands. “Summer tells me you pulled the ‘Geezer’ card on me.”
I’ve already been joking with him ever since I went on the Reno trip with St. Joyce and invented the ‘Geezer Card’. He was one of my first customers when I got back. He enjoyed my Reno train trip story. “Yep, I figured that would get her a ride over here with you.”
“He pulls the ‘Geezer Card’ all the time whenever he doesn’t want to do something,” Summer added. “It drives my grandma nuts. Now I know where it came from.”
I laughed at that one because I know her grandma too. “Guilty as charged.”

That concludes the automotive portion of the blog. Remember, air injection flow codes and melted parts mean bad one way check valve, no matter how old or new the vehicle is. Geezers Rule!  :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

HARD CASE Release!

Well, here it is. HARD CASE has finally made it into the reader’s domain. Produced by my partner, RJ Parker Publishing, with cover illustration from contributor, William Cook, HARD CASE was released to Amazon today. It’s a great story with all the ingredients I enjoy mixing together: humor, violence, romance, and a crew of characters you don’t ever want mad at you. John Harding is perhaps my favorite character so far. He’s a blend of loyalty, cynicism, violent skills, and romantic touch I’m hoping readers will find irresistible.

Here's the book trailer on You Tube for HARD CASE

Hit #3 in Amazon's Men's Adventure during our promo!
Hit #5 in Amazon in the United States!  

An E-mailer with an automotive problem bought a book and gave me a great blog review on my car advice. Thank you, Kimberly. I appreciate your kind words.  :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

New Idea

I made it up over 52,000 words in my DEMON sequel. I’ve e-mailed the agent that asked for a full look at DEMON twice now, because it had been over two months since I sent the manuscript. She never acknowledged receiving it, so I was getting worried. She’s not answering at all, so that situation is unresolved.
Since my finished manuscripts are piling up, I’ve decided to try a different deal. RJ Parker, Author of the true crime series I mentioned when he reviewed my books, has agreed to try a joint enterprise with me. He’s going to handle all marketing on self-publishing my novel HARDCASE, the first person POV book I’ve queried over fifty agents on. It’s a good one, and I think it could be a big seller, but I’m not a marketeer. RJ has proven he knows the marketing end. We’re going to split everything down the middle on profits from the sales. I’m pretty fed up with mainstream publishing. RJ loved reading HARDCASE, and so did his friend who will be doing the cover for it, William Cook. I think it’s time to try something new. If it’s a success, I will certainly let everyone know. Here’s one of the blurbs for HARDCASE.
A young teen boy in Leavittsburg, Ohio grew up mean. He ran away from his alcoholic father at the age of fourteen. An old man in Texas takes an interest in him, helping the runaway get a new identity. The boy becomes John Harding. He joins the Marine Corps with his new identity, looking for a chance to get an education and start over. While in special ops overseas, he’s recruited by a CIA agent who sees something in Harding besides his knack for languages and combat skill. Denny Strobert knows he’s found a killer. HARDCASE begins in a back alley warehouse in East Oakland, CA, where Harding fights for money, and to keep his skills honed, coupled with the fact he likes it. Harding does odd jobs with the only guy he trusts implicitly, his handler and manager, Tommy Sands. They bodyguard, escort tourists around the Bay Area, and do bail bond, skip trace work for a lawyer named Tess Connagher.
Two events throw Harding’s seamy life in the shadows out into the light. Strobert is ordered to enlist Tess Connagher’s law firm to act as an intermediary with Harding in order to protect an outspoken Afghani woman whose family Harding protected long ago. The woman’s father requested him, and the state department realizes they’ll be off the hook if anything happens to Samira Karim while under Harding’s care. Secondly, Harding fights a particularly brutal fight with a Russian mob backed fighter named Van Rankin who hates Harding. They’d had words. The YouTube video of Harding’s subsequent beat-down of Rankin goes viral along with many of his prior fights. When Rankin’s Russian mobster backer, Alexi Fiialkov pushes for a rematch on the UFC circuit, CIA Agent Strobert sees infinite possibilities since the United Arab Emirates has part ownership in the UFC. Some matches would be taking place in Dubai, where the CIA knows targets of opportunity show up from time to time.
Tess Connagher, both fascinated and repulsed by Harding, cannot stay away from him. She rapidly finds out Harding is not some East Oakland leg-breaker, and being around him can be very dangerous, whether you’re his friend or his enemy. She makes a couple of serious errors in judgment - Tess thinks she can control Harding, and she uses him to help Lora, her older sister.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fighting The Demon

I’m in the middle of a real life incident I’ve seen before in my industry. It’s really not something to illustrate a ‘holier than thou’ attitude about toward the rest of humanity, but only a slice of observing human nature. Mentioning the way it happens stirs me as a writer, because I pick up on everything when I interact with people. I have to. I use everything I see, hear, touch, and feel in my novels – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Writers are a combination of Vampire and Succubus. We feed off the living, without having to sink our fangs into their necks or suck so much from them we leave only an empty husk. We’re much more subtle. Ever wonder why when you read a fictional story you’ll run across a character so like you in either thoughts or deeds that you feel like someone has plagiarized your life in some manner? Yep, that’s us, the vampire/succubus/writer. We’ve fed on you or someone very much like you. It’s a startling reminder that we human animals are not as unique as we’d like to think. There will be no names, pointing fingers, or judgmental renderings in the following Gatekeeper’s saga – only a wistful recital of awkward humanity, fed on by the parasitical beast within me.
As the Gatekeeper in my small world of automotive repair, the version of what took place will of course be my own, and subjective to reflect my own inner visions. The story starts in a usual mundane way: a phone call. A long time customer who hadn’t been in for years called me up to make an appointment for her daughter’s Mitsubishi SUV. It wouldn’t start and the battery was drained. I said sure, have it towed in. The daughter arrives with the tow truck, but when I motion for the driver to put it in my shop, he tells me it will run, and he’ll set it down and jump it with his portable battery booster unit. It’s not unusual for the tow truck drivers to resist backing vehicles into my shop. The real pros back them in without any hesitation. I figured this young guy didn’t want to take any chances so it’s okay with me, just so I don’t have to push it in. I don’t do that anymore. He drops it in front, and pops open the hood as I’m watching. This is where things go horribly wrong.
The tow truck driver puts his portable booster up next to the battery, hooks it up, and lets the hood rest on it. The Mitsubishi starts and he drives it up my short ramp into the shop. Propping the hood open, I notice steam coming out and coolant pouring onto my shop floor as the driver unhooks his booster. It’s then I see he rested the rather heavy portable booster unit directly on the radiator inlet and busted it off from the radiator.
“Oh man,” the young guy I will refer to as Tony Unfortunate for my blog exclaims. “Looks like she has a coolant leak too. Maybe the upper hose blew. That’s an easy fix.”
I held up the upper radiator hose with the busted radiator inlet clamped inside of it. I look at the kid. “It’s broken off.”
Tony peers at the piece and the radiator, shaking his head. “I guess she’ll need a new radiator.”
The daughter is standing there listening to all this. “How… how much will that cost?”
I gazed at Tony, seeing the moral conundrum flitting around in his brain. He’s young, and I’ve been right where he is. We all have. We make mistakes. Cover ups and lies are part of human nature just like Dr. House repeatedly claims on TV. Tony has that beseeching look. He knows what the right thing to say is, but he can’t do it yet.
“It’s pretty rotted,” Tony says, glancing at the broken piece.
Sure, I admit the impulse to go along with this occurs to me, because I’ve been around long enough to know this is going to be a big hassle. I’ve fought that demon before. He’s easier to beat with practice. “It’s made of plastic. It’s not rotten, kid. You put the booster directly on it, lowered the hood to rest on your booster, and drove it up over the bump into my shop, snapping the inlet off. Look, we all make mistakes. Stuff happens. I wish I’d seen where you were setting the booster down. Hell, I’d have run out and stopped you. It’s done now. What are you going to do about it?”
Words form, but nothing comes out for a moment. Tony’s fighting the demon. His shoulders slump a little as he takes out a card and hands it to the daughter. “I’ll call my boss. Sorry about that. You’d better call the number on the card too.”
The daughter nods. I see in her face she knows this will be a big hassle too.
Later, a huge guy arrives in another tow truck after I’ve put the SUV in the corner and cleaned up the coolant mess. Although about my height, this guy is over three hundred and fifty pounds easy. I shake hands with him, and the funny stuff starts. I’ll name him Rollo for the blog.
“I just need to take some pictures and figure out what happened,” Rollo states, showing me his camera.
“Sure thing.” I see no reason to get defensive before I know how Rollo deals with the demon.
Rollo starts taking pictures of the spot I’d already cleaned that’s still visible before taking others of the droplets leading up to it I hadn’t cleaned yet. He goes outside where the SUV had been let off the tow truck and investigates the area as if he were on CSI. Unfortunately for Rollo, I already know where he’s going with this. He doesn’t disappoint. The demon has him.
“Looks like it may have been leaking when it was dropped off,” Rollo tells me.
I’m a little short on time so I decide to make the situation plain. I walk outside. “Okay, show me the droplets you’ve seen out here you think it leaked before going up into my shop.”
Rollo’s eyes narrow and he does a cursory dance outside. “I did see them, they’re-”
“There’s no droplets. The driver put his booster on the upper hose inlet, rested the hood on the booster, bumped up into my shop, and snapped off the inlet. That’s why there are only droplets at the inside of my shop. Come with me.” I lead him back to the SUV where I had extracted the broken piece from the hose.
“Wow, that looks pretty rotted,” Rollo says, still in the demon’s grasp.
“It’s plastic.” I hold it up so Rollo can see it real clear. “If plastic wears, it gets very thin. This is just as thick as it was when it came out of the factory. Your driver knows what happened. You know what happened. It was an accident, but there is someone at fault here and it’s not our customer. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve fixed them.”
I can see the demon’s losing its grip on Rollo. He takes some more pictures of the radiator and broken piece. “Yeah, I know. I’ll have to go back and talk to my boss.”
“If you want me to fix it, I’ll only charge you my cost on the radiator, clamps, and coolant plus labor. If your boss wants to do it, I’ll let you know when I have what my customer originally wanted done fixed, and you can tow it back to your shop.”
Rollo nods. “I’ll let the boss know.”
We’re in the middle of it now, but the details are the boring stuff of hassle and runaround. They are admitting to it because they don’t have a choice, but the solution is of course a major project.
It’s a process. Anyway, I’ve satiated my inner beast, having fed on the living, and now rendered my Vampire/Succubus account of the feeding.  :)

Oh yeah, I'm reaching the 50,000 word mark in my DEMON sequel by the weekend.  :)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Code PO401, 2005 Chevy Malibu 3.5L Engine

I was working away on a Ford Explorer maintenance check when someone drove in the shop and gave me a blast with the horn on my birthday, Monday. Oh boy, my favorite summons – nothing I like better than being beeped to the front. I slid out from under the Explorer only to get a second blast. Bounding off a creeper at 62 is not the same as 22… or even 52, so I ended up getting a third call of duty before I could get on my feet. Of course this endeared the potential customer to me. I was all business when I reached the driver’s 2005 Chevy Malibu window like I was back at the Exxon station in Baton Rouge, LA pumping gas in 1973.
I swallowed the ‘we know your horn works, want to check your lights’ greeting, and stuck to the old standard ‘may I help you’ although at the moment I didn’t know how helpful I cared to be. A forty something woman in jeans and a red blouse smiled up at me, tipping her sunglasses forward while trying to shove a parts box in my hand. She will be known as Red Malibu for the blog today. I accepted the box which contained an Exhaust Gas Recirculation valve (EGR Valve).
“My husband had our Chevy checked at AutoZone. They hooked up their scanner to it and got a PO401 code. They said this is what causes it.” She pointed at the valve I had in my hand. “He wants to know how much you’d charge to put it on.”
Wow, I got blasted to the front so I can be an AutoZone parts changer. I don’t think so, Red. See, I happen to know something about these PO401 codes for insufficient EGR flow through hard diagnostic experience. They’re never the valve, at least on this year model.
“It’s not the valve that causes the PO401 code, Ma’am, it’s-”
“AutoZone says it’s the valve and my husband agrees,” Red cuts me off. That’s okay. I’m just glad she didn’t do it with the horn. “I just need a price for replacing the valve.”
“Excuse me for a second.” I handed her part back and walked over to the office where I retrieved one of my business cards. I’d just done two of these a couple months ago so I knew what the ballpark price was for the real fix. I wrote it on the back of the card and gave it to her. “When you get someone to replace the valve and you still have the code, call me. That price on the back is for taking off the intake manifold and cleaning the EGR passages which harden up with carbon on these Chevy 3.5L engines.”
Red gasps, not so much at the price, but because I was sending her down the road. “You’re refusing to put the valve on? They read the code!”
“I don’t put on any parts but the ones from my suppliers which I warranty, but that’s not the reason. I’m sure your husband will not like my fix for your car, but it’s the only one that will work. The code is right. There is insufficient EGR flow, but it’s not the valve. The cause is the plugged passages that feed the valve.”
Red threw my card at me. “Thanks a lot!”
I picked up my card as she backed the Chevy out. I didn’t expect to see her again so I was mildly pleased at being able to politely kick her horn blasting butt out of the shop without actually doing it myself. Red did all the work. Wrongo, Bennie. Tuesday morning I get a call from Ms. Malibu. She paid the money to get the valve replaced and the code cleared. It came right back on before she got home.
“My husband thinks it’s a faulty new valve. What do you think?”
Yes, I considered all the sarcastic responses the Dark Lord whisks up into my evil brain at every set up like this. I did not give in to temptation. “Do you still have the old valve?”
“You already know the price for what I need to do in order to repair your car. I’d like to put the original valve back on when I do the job rather than an aftermarket replacement. That is if you want it fixed here.”
Red Malibu hesitated for a moment. “I do have the old valve. Can I bring it in now?”
“No, but I can get you in tomorrow morning. Leave it off with me at 8AM.”
“Put me on the schedule. I’ll call you back if my husband says no.”
Your wish is my command. Shut up, devil. “I’ll put you down for eight. See you then.”
Red brought it in yesterday morning. I removed the intake manifold, took pictures of the carbon plugged passages in the intake and block, cleaned them all up and reassembled. I cleared the code and called her to pick it up after a test drive. She arrived but had a demand that I only allow for special exceptions. Red wasn’t one of them.
“My husband would like you to release the car so I can drive it around until we’re sure the code doesn’t come back on before we pay you.”
“I’m afraid not. I do guarantee my work. If you have any problem relating to the PO401 code I will take care of it under warranty. I’m not releasing your car until I’m paid. You’ve seen the pictures and I’ve already test driven it with my scanner hooked up longer than you did when you had the valve replaced. It’s fixed. I would have called you for a ride along if I’d known you wanted to test it yourself.
Red’s aghast. “You don’t trust me?”
“As much as you appear to trust me.” Yeah, I’m only human. Not everything is easy-peasy in Automotive Repair customer relations.
“Fine!” Red gives me her credit card and driver’s license.
I run the card, give her the receipt, copy of the invoice, and finally her keys. “Your replacement EGR valve is on the passenger side floor mat. Maybe you can get your money back for the valve.”
“Yeah, if what you did fixed it,” Red gives me a quick parting shot before leaving.
She called me this morning. Red and her husband traveled to Sacramento and came back Wednesday evening and the check engine light stayed off. And no, I did not tack on an hour’s labor for the horn blasts… although I was tempted.  :)