Putting A Pin (Or Hypodermic Needle) In A “False” Meme…

Blog Post By Earl Merkel

February 17, 2015

There’s a fabricated “quote” —i.e., the “it never happened” sort— STILL making the rounds on social media… despite being debunked as a publication’s (un-labled as) “satire.” I’ve posted it below as the an illustration at the end of this blog.

<chuckle> In fairness, it might be the time to put a pin (or, more fittingly, a hypodermic needle) in the “common knowledge” that the anti-vaccination crowd consists of politically-conservative stereotypes, no?

I’ll quote Seth Mnookin —whom I’ve interviewed in the past and who is by no means a right-winger… but who IS the author of “The Panic Virus: A True Story Of Medicine, Science And Fear,” which focuses on the vaccine-and-autism phenom:

Q: There’s a perception that vaccine refusal is especially common among affluent, well-educated, politically liberal parents—is there any truth to that?

Mnookin: “It’s dangerous to make broad generalizations about a group, but anecdotally and from the overall data that’s been collected it seems to be people who are very actively involved in every possible decision regarding their children’s lives…”

Q: But why liberals?

Mnookin: “I think it taps into the organic natural movement in a lot of ways.

“I talked to a public health official and asked him what’s the best way to anticipate where there might be higher than normal rates of vaccine noncompliance, and he said take a map and put a pin wherever there’s a Whole Foods. I sort of laughed, and he said, ‘No, really, I’m not joking.’ It’s those communities with the Prius driving, composting, organic food-eating people.”

• • •

Okay, I’m sure there are ignorant people from BOTH sides of our gaping-wide political spectrum who have bought into this autism/vaccine stupidity. But let’s admit—honestly and fairly, and particularly on this issue of public health & safety— that using fraudulent Internet “memes” to stoke political division is both inane and rather childish, eh?

If you re-published this particular one without question—or knee-jerk’d a vitriolic comment in response— you should be ashamed… and should apologize, in public.

For the “debunking” of this Raging Rumor, see: http://www.mediaite.com/online/no-joni-ernst-didnt-claim-vaccines-turn-people-liberal/

— Earl Merkel

This is the fake— repeat, FAKE— meme mentioned in the above blog. ‚ EM

This is the fake— repeat, FAKE— meme mentioned in the above blog. ‚ EM

(CLICK!) Don’t Move– You’re In A Literary Minefield!

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

Okay, fellow thriller-writers– having just seen this literary device in yet-another “would you look this over for me” m/s (and having once used it myself in a first draft, mercifully short-circuited by several military folks who stopped me before it was too late), let me suggest an early re-write:

That scene of yours? The one where the guy steps on a buried mine, hears the “click!” and freezes? Cuz if he lifts his foot, it explodes?

My sources inform me that there is not, nor has been, any such mine used by the military.

“Why the &@*% would we?” one of ’em told me. “Step on it, it blows. We’re not using minefields for a &@*%-ing ‘practical joke,’ for $#/^‘s sake…”

I cannot, personally& thankfully, testify to the accuracy of his statement. But he DID seem pretty emphatic about it.

I removed the scene. You might want to do the same. — EM

Spring Cleaning Tips, From The Male Perspective…

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

My smartphone informs me that I just “missed” three calls.

Sorry, callers. I was doing a bit of light cleaning around my humble abode… and the noise of the leaf-blower drowned your ringtones. I will now close the front door, out through which some quite interesting detritus has just blown, and return your calls.

And no– this is not a fiction-based tale. Ask my neighbors.

— Earl Merkel

(POSTSCRIPT: NOTE TO ‘DEAR HELOISE’: “Yes, it works. Quite well.

“The trick is to keep the hurricane-speed blast aimed low as one walks thru the home… and, upon successful conclusion of the initial sweep-thru, to continue to direct the jet of air toward (and thru) the propped-open front door.

“Continue until the clouds of dust, dust-bunnies, and Unwanted Possessions have been removed from mid-air suspension, ‘else you’ll have to dust the freakin’ furniture too.”

(Author’s Note: Such innovative genius is likely why my tenure as a newspaper advice columnist was somewhat abbreviated. Jealousy is a terrible thing.*** — EM)

(POST-POSTSCRIPT: I am now in (temporary) possession of what the label says is a “Dirt Devil/Royal Pressure-Flex 1600,” the owner of which assures me that it will deliver 1,600 PSI of water.

Look out, kitchen & bathroom: I’m comin’ for YOU—EM)

(POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: In response to a surprising outpouring of concern from Faithful Readers, let me reassure you: all this careful cleaning is not the result of my Annual Spring Breakdown… but rather, t’is that fine catch-all excuse for Unwise Behavior used by writers since Oog chiseled out his first freelance spec-piece: to wit, “Article Research.”

I’m checking the viability of a freelance magazine pitch with the working-title of “Spring Cleaning For The Homebound Male” –and without first-hand experience in the perils & pitfalls of same… well, it might be a pretty unenlightening article, no?

(<sigh> I know: I should have submitted the proposal months ago. But I did clean the place in November, thus rendering the research-timeline both useless & needless. ‘Sides, there’s always next year, eh?)

So rest easy, Faithful Readers. All is –more or less, anyway– well.

Now– where did I put that pneumatic paint-sprayer? It’s time to fire up the compressor, mix up the bleach, ammonia and hydrochloric acid… and get to work on that toilet… — EM)


RESEARCH NOTE UPDATE- My now-regrettable experiment in home-made toilet-cleaning solutions was, at least, a learning experience– and no doubt will be valuable to male reader-cleaners, should I live to write the article.

On another subject, appropros to nothing in particular, a few lines of poetry seem oddly fixed in my mind:

“The green little chemist

On a green little day

Mixed some green little chemicals

In a green little way.

The green little grasses

Now tenderly wave

O’er the green little chemist’s

Green little grave.”


• • • • • • •

APRIL 6: More Comments From Faithful Readers…

• Comment, from Faithful Reader Marilyn (via Facebook): “hmmmm!”

• EM Response: Thank heavens; you hear it too.


• Comment, from Faithful Reader Morgan (via Facebook): “You didn’t really mix those three chemicals together did you?”

• EM Response: Yesterday is a vague blur. But the parakeet is dead, so maybe.


• Comment, from Faithful Reader Marilyn (via Facebook): “A leaf blower in the house? Come on now!”

• EM Response: That part, I remember. And swear it is true.

Moreover, it is actually effective –on wood floors, even more so than a vacuum– and raises a most satisfying cloud from rugs & carpeting.

I hope to try the power washer next week, but have high hopes for it, at least in the (fully tiled) bathroom.

Still, with the aforementioned vague blur, I may imitate the color of my little chemist… henceforth, eschewing chemicals and going fully “green.” As Morgan said-without-saying-it, the combination would create what is legally a Weapon Of Mass Destruction.

Nobody wants the UN involved in my article, or in my housecleaning.

Will update all Faithful Readers, as events unfold. — EM

You’ve Seen Your Marketing Plan, Right? Right???

Let’s start with a premise: “Nobody buys a book of which they’ve not heard.”

Let’s follow with a question: “How many writers —under contract to a publisher large, medium, or small— have seen a written marketing/public relations plan from their publisher?”

And now, let’s (me, actually) request a favor: answers to the above question is what I’d like to reap from the many authors out there, as part of the research into what I consider THE single most important part of our business— arguably, given the marketplace evidence, even more important than the oft-cited phrase “First, write a good book.”

Ideally, this research would be incorporated into an article aimed at the those-who-write audience. I’d like also to include details of how professional and complete the publisher’s marketing plan was— for instance, did it provide quantifiable milestones (“within the first XX days of book publication, we will have scheduled X media interviews, guest-blog appearances, online author ‘events’ etc.”)? Was there a timeline of when specific activities were to occur? Were targeted audiences identified in a practical set of demographics and interests? What specific actions was the author asked to do, and what actions—again, emphasis on “specific”—were to be done (not “attempted”) on the part of the publisher’s marketing & publicity staff?

I’d like to limit input to that of publisher-published authors (tho I’ve found many now-independent authors formerly had publisher-contracts, even if they now self-publish themselves; feel free to participate in such cases) because I suspect technology has made the “traditional” advantages of publishing companies —typesetting & printing, design & art, “physical” production-warehousing-shipping activities… but also creating e-books) largely superfluous…

… with the largest exception being the access and resources publishers may have to venues of marketing and publicity.

If you’ve have NOT seen your book’s/books’ marketing & PR plan(s)—laid out and in written form— I’d also like to get your own on-the-record answer(s) to a question I plan to include in my article: “Why not?”

Please share this input-request on your pages and among your writer-friends. A ‘comment’ posting here to Earl Merkel would probably work best, but I’ll arrange an e-mail exchange or voice-phone contact as needed. Visit my website —www.earlmerkel.com— and click on the “Contact Earl’ link for the appropriate e-mail address.

Rebel Against The Hated Synopsis— Join Us!

As with so many of my fellow authors, I HATE writing a synopsis. If a novel could be
adequately encapsulated in a few pages –usually (at least, if based on the synopsis
“examples” offered by “how-to” books on writing) excrutiatingly stripped of style and
liveliness… well, then why did the writer go to the trouble of writing the flippin’ story over
several hundred m/s pages?
But, willy-nilly, a-synopsizin’ we must go: publishers (prospective as well as alreadyacquire’d)
demand ’em; foreign-rights marketers insist a synopsis is an essential overseas
sales tool.
So what if a synopsis tends to give away the twists we incorporated to startle and entice a
page-turn from the reader, they say– and so we provide what is, in effect, a spoiler-digest
for the kind of people who prefer to flip to the closing chapter “to see how it comes out.”
Alas. And alack, even.
So, right-here-and-now, I’m advocating that we start a Movement: “TSIE,” a hard-topronounce
(“Tissie”?) acronym for “The Synopsis In Excerpts.” It comes to three pages,
not atypical for the “traditional” synopsis; if one’s book is in fact readable, this signals
competence in voice, dialogue, and narrative. It’s likely also less boring than the cookbook listing-
of-ingredients a synopsis otherwise tends to offer.
Feel free to join in what I consider a liberating rebellion.
There is even precedent you can cite: the example below, from my latest: Fire Of The
Prophet, acquired in a three-book deal by Diversion Books (New York), for release this
spring. (2014)
— Earl Merkel
BLOGS & RANDOM MUSINGS” -page: Return To Blog-Site (click below)
SYNOPSIS: Fire Of The Prophet
In the world of espionage and terrorism,
nothing is ever quite what you’d expect.
It’s always worse.

Such is the core theme of Fire Of The Prophet, a character-driven suspense-thriller set in an
international medley of locales widely considered to be the most dangerous places in the
world. Main characters include:
Beck Casey, an academic cum former intelligence operative and analyst reactivated to
“contract” status;
Jeffrey Connor, a rising star at the FBI’s Counter-Terror Division (CTD);
Katie Casey, Beck’s daughter, who is romantically —and unexpectedly— linked with
Connor; and
Fatíma Huntsman –the daughter of a Palestinean activist and an American woman–
now radicalized as a terrorist and armed with a nuclear device in a mission aimed against her
erstwhile American homeland.
In addition to a looming nuclear Armageddon, the following excerpted passages from Fire Of
The Prophet illustrate some of the difficulties faced by this cast of characters, including:
1. Father-Boyfriend Interaction Can Be Awkward.
…Had Katie known what had transpired after she climbed the steps the night before, she
might have revised her opinion, if not in a favorable way.
“I’ve been alive too long to believe in coincidences, Connor,” Beck had said, softly, though his
voice was like brass.
“Who are you?” the younger man had demanded, and his voice was just as cold. “You’re not
some semi-retired academic, like Katie says.”
“I’m the father of a young woman I love,” Beck murmured, and his low tone was one of a
man who has killed other men. “How do you know my daughter?”
“CIA? NSA? I can make a telephone call, and I’ll know if you have fillings in your teeth.”
“Do it. You may enjoy your new posting in Missoula, Montana.”
For long seconds, the pair glared at each other; had they hackles, they would have been
This gets us nowhere, Beck told himself, finally.
“Let’s try this, Agent Connor,” he said. “One question from me, one answer from you. Is your
interest in my daughter personal or professional? In any way, professional?”
Connor’s eyes lost none of their intensity.
“Personal. My turn. Is Katie aware that you show up at top secret meetings in the White
House, or did she intentionally lie to me about who her father is?”
“Katie is not a liar.”
“Mislead, then. Did she deliberately mislead me about you?”
Despite himself, despite the suspicious anger that still raged inside him, Beck was shocked to
feel a minute hint of amusement begin to tug at his mind.
These were not the questions of a professional whose operation, whatever it might be, could
be blown. These were the questions of a young man who was afraid; who feared that a
woman –in fact, a woman about whom he cared, possibly deeply– had somehow betrayed his
Beck’s next thought, hard on the heels of the first, startled him to his core.
These are the questions of a young man… in love? Sweet Lord, this kid loves Katie…
2. Family Reunions Can Be Problematic.

“Yes. To give birth to you and…” Marilyn’s voice trailed off, and her eyes closed.
“You can say his name, Mom,” Fatima murmured. “Sa’id. Me and Sa’id.”
It hurts, the voice in Marilyn’s mind screamed at her. It still hurts so badly.
She willed herself to say it.
“Yes. Sa’id. Your brother, who was too young to know better, who went to a land where
thirteen-year-old boys die senselessly.” Her voice rose. “A bulldozer! Crushed by a machine,
for no good reason! Just because his father told him to stand there and–“
“Sa’id had a reason, Mom. We both did. Father did, too.”
“Politics.” She spat the word as if it tasted of filth. “Macho, bullshit politics. For a patch of
land no sane person would want, let alone fight over! But no– it was Ahmad’s ‘homeland,’
whatever that outdated concept means, so he takes his children there to–“
Her voice broke abruptly; she was suddenly aware of tears on her cheeks.
“I don’t want to fight, Teema.”
Fatíma smiled at the use of her childhood nickname. “Then we won’t, Mom.”
Marilyn felt a sense of relief, even as her tears continued to trickle.
One child, at least, was back in her home; the fact that mother and daughter had been able to
breach the dark wall that had divided her from this only remaining offspring –that has to
mean something, Marilyn told herself. Teema, after all, is flesh of my flesh… and it’s obvious
that she’s become a strong woman. That had to come from me; it’s certainly not something
she’d pick up among her father’s people. At least maybe I’ve given that to her…
“Penny for your thoughts, Mom?”
Marilyn smiled. “I’m just thinking that… well, I hope I’ve given you something –something
valuable– in your life.”
Fatíma smiled at her again, and this time it was the full-strength version.
“Of course you have,” she said. “I have your last name, don’t I? And my American passport,
thanks to you.”
She reached out and touched her mother’s arm.
“And Mom,” Fatíma said, “believe me. I’m very glad to have both.”
Marilyn was relieved– enough so to risk a small attempt at humor.
“How about your blue eyes? You used to be very upset that you inherited those. You wanted
to look more like your father.”
This time, a laugh like a bell tinkling accompanied Fatíma’s grin.
“Oh, I changed my mind about all that,” she said. “Now I’m glad I look so much like you,
Mom. It’s been very good for me…”
• • •
“Need anything from the kitchen, Mom?” Fatíma’s voice was slightly muffled by the sound of
Like when she was fourteen. Marilyn smiled. Before everything got crazy.
“I’m fine. Come back and let’s talk some more.”
She picked up the remote; no need to watch TV tonight.
Before she could press the red power button, her eye caught the image on the screen.
There, red-flagged and in stenciled font, were the words “Heroine Or Murderer?“
Superimposed was a gray-scaled image of a face.
The eyes were wrong, but it was unmistakably that of her daughter.
“Mind if we don’t watch television tonight?” Marilyn heard from behind her.
She turned, and for a brief moment saw her daughter, arm upraised and holding what
looked to Marilyn incongruously like an Apache tomahawk.
Marilyn’s mind had only an instant to process this absurdity before the heavy
meat-tenderizing mallet her daughter held smashed hard against her temple. A white-hot
flash crossed her vision, and a sound like a bell dopplered down along the range of her
Marilyn fell to the carpeted floor, on the way her head bouncing against the coffee table and
sending the laptop crashing beside her.
On her back, she tried to fight the mad spinning of the room, squeezing her eyes tight. When
she opened them again, Fatíma was standing above her, filling her field of view — not one,
but two Fatímas, the double-vision of the concussion superimposing one crazily over the
“Sorry, Mom,” she heard her daughter say, almost tenderly, as the younger woman again
raised her arm high.
This time Marilyn felt the impact as if from a distance, and slipped without weight into a
bottomless black void…
3. Unexpected On-The-Job Problems Can Arise.
“We’ve got something!” one of the agents called to Connor. He pointed at his computer
screen. “Dulles Airport, one of the outlying parking lots. Radiation hit of some kind. Low
intensity, may be shielded. But damn it– it shouldn’t be there at all.”
“Scramble DAS,” Connor ordered, and felt his heart start to race. “Get a NEST team in a
helicopter, and get them out there. Move!”
There was already a live line to one of the on-call detachments of the Nuclear Emergency
Support Team at Reagan National Airport.
They were airborne in forty-three seconds– as it turned out, eighteen seconds too late…
• • •
“He knows,” Rani said, and Fatíma heard the panic in his voice. “Start the car, woman,
“Are you then a coward too?” she murmured, her gaze still locked on the vehicle outside. “Do
you also fail in this–“ her voice became scornful, cruel as a lash– “my poor, pitiful eunuch of
a husband?”
Rani stared at her. His lips moved, but made no sound.
“Run then, Rani. Open your door, and run very fast.”
• • •
Justin was still fumbling for his radio mic when the figure on the passenger side suddenly
wrenched open his door and stumbled out, then sprinted away from the bright corona of the
His eyes caught movement in the car: the remaining occupant shifted higher in the seat,
twisted herself almost casually toward the rear of the Prius, then turned back to face him.
Justin had just enough time to glance at the driver, an attractive young woman. Her eyes
were open, and her lips seemed to be moving as if in prayer. She was smiling–
And a light brighter than the sun ignited inside the Prius, instantly transforming night into
noon for much of Northern Virginia and nearby states.

A nanosecond later, Justin –and, a micro-second after him, much of the surrounding
two-mile radius– was incinerated, obliterated.
And a half-second after that, the disembodied atoms of carbon, cesium, strontium and other
matter that had been Justin Beaver, or Fatíma Huntsman, or Rani Yashir were nothing more
than highly radioactive isotopes of lethal ash and dust. At a speed outstripping a hurricane’s
gale, they joined countless tons of other debris sucked high into the rising, roiling,
mushrooming tower of cloud and flame —the fire of the prophet— that now clawed its way
into the Virginia sky…
4. Imminent Death Can Complicate Relationships.
…Now Connor was a block away, and already his head was snapping on a pivot to scan the
faces that surged past. Occasionally, he braced his hands on a startled stranger’s shoulders,
using them as a foundation to boost himself higher to survey up the street.
Damn, damn damn, he mentally raged, though in reality it was a silent, fervent prayer.
Please be here, Katie.
Then he was at the intersection. He skidded to a halt, whirled in a frantic desperation, seeing
only strangers in the faces around him…
A hand seized his sleeve, immediately followed by the embrace of familiar arms.
• • •
Even as fear-crazed as they were, a remarkable sense of social propriety remained in the
fleeing crowds on the sidewalk.
As if by some common agreement, they parted to form an eddy as they flowed around a
young couple, both of them crying openly now, who clung tightly to each other in their

—All excerpts from Fire Of The Prophet
Fire Of The Prophet, In Brief

Fire Of The Prophet is the first of a multi-novel arc, though it is written in a manner that
allows it to stand alone independently. The second book –working title: FALLOUT
picks up where Fire Of The Prophet concludes; leading characters from Fire (that is, those
who survive) are again featured in this subsequent work.

The storyline of Fire Of The Prophet builds from an opening that is set along the
U.S.-Mexican border –itself, a realistically chilling portrayal of the violence that is routine in
this human-smuggling trade, though in Fire Of The Prophet it culminates in a particularly
startling manner– through the battlefields of the Middle East, and ultimately takes the
reader to a looming disaster in the capital of the United States. Each new revelation
establishes the foundation of the next; while in no way a “police procedural” novel, the
actions of both law enforcement and the intelligence communities also are accurately and/or
plausibly depicted.

Fire Of The Prophet is the product of the author’s intensive research and original interviews,
the latter with some of the nation’s leading experts on terrorism, national intelligence, law
enforcement and the military. The storyline and characters are entirely fictional, except in
rare instances where the use of actual names bolster the realism of the narrative or are
historical in nature.

The second installment of this series, FALLOUT, further carries the story into the
aftermath of the actions and events presented in Fire Of The Prophet. — EM


From “Character” Flows Plot, Story, Narrative…And No Small Measure Of Arrogance…

(sigh) After my admittedly arrogant, preaching-to-the-choir, 2015 First WordPress Musing earlier today of “Just WRITE It, Dammit!” Faithful Reader & Screenwriter Friend Charles Plath justifiably demands a “so how do YOU write, A-Hole?” explanation from me.

So here it is, and I know—I just know!—my additionally arrogant words will come back someday to haunt me…

** Charles Plath: Lord Merkel, a question, sir. When you’re putting together a story, do you tend to do more of the King approach and just start typing what comes out and following it or do you do more of a structured scenes and notecards type approach before digging through? Your humble servant, Charles of Plath

** Earl Merkel: Prithee, Lord Charles—I’ve never been able to discipline myself to do an outline. I tend to focus on creating what’s usually a still-shadowy (to me, at that point) outline of a Main Character, mentally develop her or him to where I feel I “know” him/her, and then decide on a locale, setting, and initial situation that “feels” interesting.

Often, I find myself writing the opening chapter (or prologue) wherein the Main Character doesn’t even appear—but which, at least in my own mind, creates and foreshadows the situation into which I’ll parachute him/her…allowing me the chance to create other characters who’ll help structure the narrative along the storyline.

If I “know” the Main Character well enough (and early on, I’m like the Intended Reader: I’m still getting acquainted), I trust her/him to act in accord with the personality and instincts I’m envisioning, and “respond” to the situation I’ve inflicted on the guy/gal in the way that character would.

(grin) Mirroring “real” life, she/he doesn’t know what happens “next;” nor do I, which I hope means the Reader similarly can’t guess who’dun’it too early in the book.

But it allows a logical narrative progression based on character(s) responding “the way they must” to an unfolding series of events… and, to date, that mysterious process has helped ensure I’ve never experienced the dreaded “writer’s block.”

Better still, I’ve found that at some point in the writing, inevitably, the Main Character goes rogue on me: does something completely unexpected (to me) that illuminates a deeper complexity inside him/her that previously I had not realized existed.

Oddly, it’s only at that point that I begin to get an inkling of the book’s ending…and the various plot points twist together to speed the story to that newfound conclusion.

But I suspect this “process”—ugh: I hate writers talking about their “process”—would not work had I wasted (my opinion) time with outlines or notecards; compared to actually writing, I find pre-planned structuring too bloodless an exercise to evoke the requisite, in-progress Voyage Of Discovery each writing-day.

I hasten to add that outlining, etc. works for other writers; if it does for you… well, Good Lord! Don’t think I’m trying to discourage you from using it. In fact, my good friend Mike Black (he of the Doc Atlas series), insists that I am unconsciously outlining-in-advance anyway, and just don’t realize it. He’s a martial arts expert and ex-cop, so I just shrug noncommittally and keep my bones unbroken in my differing opinion.

IMHO, my way is more fun. For me, and I hope for my Reader.

Go now, my son Chaz, and sin no more…

— EM