Powerball Story

Palm Island

Treasure comes at great cost: hard work, mental exhaustion, love, vision, and never giving up. Such was the life of John Caldwell, author of the sailing classic Desperate Voyage, about his sailing alone from Panama after WW2 into bad weather to get to his bride in Australia. He then had given up the normal, quiet life in LA, and set off on sailing advertures, his heart with the ocean tides. It was never an easy life, but he was never mesmerized by other dreams: money, cars, or a gold watch after a long stint at the factory or in a cubical. His dream was travel on the open ocean, in small boats, his hand on the wheel. No flash in the pan, his life was about force of will, fitness of spirit—a life spent fighting storms, invaders, his dogs at his side, his sons and wife Mary sharing his vision. Digging for treasure? No. Planting palm trees. On his island, a mosquito infested place which he bought for a song and transformed into a paradise. Over decades. Still at it, he died at 80, walking his “Highway 90,” which he told me meant “I hope for 90 years, and the devil take the rest.” The island is now an upscale resort, one of the best in the Caribbean. They say every paradise has a backstory, whoever “they” are. And not just in the Grenadines. Now imagine a Powerball winner who disappears, then discovers he has a son, and hires the tabloid writer who finds him, to fight off pirates just as John did. To buy an island. Palm Island. The Powerball winner in the shadows, out of danger, paying others to risk everything, so he can emerge rich and famous, not JUST for 15 minutes. Fame Island. Based on John’s true story. Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean was partly filmed nearby. Both books DESPERATE VOYAGE and LOTTERY  ISLAND links HERE. Audible HERE.


Great Party! Sorry About the Murder

Great Party
Great Party! Sorry About the Murder. Synopsis:
Former cop (now private detective) Milo Rathkey has been scraping by since his divorce ten years ago. Most of his work involves following cheating spouses and finding missing people. He considers it unexciting. When Milo was eight his cop father was shot and killed, and his mother went to work as a cook for John McKnight on an estate called Lakesong. Milo lived at Lakesong for the next ten years.  When John died he left Milo fifteen million dollars and half of the Lakesong estate to be shared with John’s son Sutherland. Milo is dragged into the world of the wealthy, specifically to a New Year’s Eve party hosted by the beautiful Mary Alice Bonner, whose husband James is a bully and all around nasty character. After the party, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, James in shot in his home office. His friend police Lieutenant Ernie Gramm asks Milo to assist in the investigation. The suspects include the wife, the son, two low life thugs, the brother, and two business associates, one of whom is having an affair with Mary Alice. As Milo attempts to find the murderer, he is introduced to Sutherland’s world, and Sutherland to Milo’s. The victim, James Bonner is in both worlds, as Milo comes to find out. The solution has a twist but if the reader catches the clues, it is right in front of them. On audio, the novel is narrated by Tom Lennon. Interview with D.B. Elrogg below.

Alyce and Harvey Elrogg
Q) What is your background, and what influenced you to write a novel?

A) My career centered around television, first for local stations (including WCCO in the Twin Cities) and then CBS News and ABC News. I’ve written one or two guest pieces for magazines, but never as a staff member. All my writing was the quick, get to the point, let the visual tell the story of television. Alyce on the other hand, has been a talented and gifted English teacher for almost thirty years. Her writing is much more formal, so every time I write the word “very” I get an electric shock! English teachers have an aversion to the word “very.” I do get to use it in dialog because people say it all the time.

Q) Trump especially. Why not non-fiction, like many journalists?

A) We never did have much interest in writing nonfiction books. I think the process would be mind numbing and I have great respect for those that do it. Writing fiction, especially fiction with a little humor, is far more fun, and we’re retired. Fiction does sell better but we’re not writing to become fabulously wealthy. We wanted to do something together and to have fun. We did, however, blow our first royalty check at Baskin Robbins. We each got double scoops!

Q) Al Roker writes fiction too; and now Bill Clinton. Generally, fiction sells better unless the person is famous or in the news spotlight. Did any of the events in your novel actually happen?

A)  I have a relative who said there is no way the ending of Great Party could occur in real life.  I assured her—not only could it occur, but it did. Of course the story lines are changed and embellished to fit our plots! I tend to write, and Alyce tends to fix, until we come to writing scenes involving women. Then she writes and I keep my mouth shut. There is an occasional “Oh come on, how long can she be mad about this?” To which the response is “More than four pages.” Alyce is also the stickler on not using poetic license. “How did he get out on the lawn? There’s no door there!’ I have to admit ninety nine percent of the time she’s right.

Q) Of corpse. Fav authors or influence? 

A) We are fans of Agatha Christie, especially for how she crafts a mystery. Her readers get a chance to solve the crime, if they avoid the red hearings. We hope our books do the same although rising to Christie’s level would be next to impossible. I also appreciate writers who create interesting characters.  Lynn Florkiewicz, Faith Martin, and P.B. Kolleri are among my favorites, although I wish Kolleri would quit traveling and get back to England.

Q) What news stories influenced your writing? Any anecdotes to share?

A) In my time as a television reporter and producer I covered a multitude of crimes, many of which will appear in our books. The scam being run by James Bonner in Great Party actually happened in Duluth in the seventies. Likewise our second book mirrors a real life murder. Our third book will probably have a fictional account of a double murder which occurred in St. Paul in the eighties. In that case I was allowed to read the police file and realized how conflicting the various witnesses were in their accounts. Even people’s perceptions of the victims were wildly different. 

Q) What’s next for you? Sequel?

A) We have just finished the first draft of book two. We will rewrite it two more times before publishing it. Hopefully it will be out in October. We write for the fun of it, and are pleasantly surprised by the number of great reviews by people who seem to enjoy it as much as we do. 

Going Postal in the News


Postmarked for Death now at Audible. A postal clerk in Tucson targets government offices and mail processing equipment supporting food stamps and Mexican immigrants near the border fence/wall. He is hunted by a rookie postal inspector while police search for the wrong man. (Calvin continues to work and mail letter bombs, with a patsy/fellow postal worker framed and tied up in an abandoned Titan missile base in the desert just north of Nogales.) A psychological suspense told from two viewpoints, with a look into the mind of the bomber (who realizes that shooters are committing suicide!) Based on actual postal shootings, like the one in Edmond Oklahoma that killed 14, and the Unabomber. New to audio, read by Len Cassamas. “A class performance, powerful and accomplished. Mystery at its best.” –Clive Cussler  

USA Today

Ready Player One

Ready Player One is a visually intensive “blast.” Stephen Spielberg pulled off many amazing stunts and scenes, utilizing the latest special effects technology. The look of the film, which seems to have an unlimited budget, is designed to capture gamers and video game lovers attention. Lots of virtual reality weapons, car and truck racing, explosions, and many movies playing a part like a Disney theme park come to life. (The Shining was particularly effective and fun.) My favorite scene was when Chucky and a emoji attack players. Their real world is broken, and depressing. Slum trailer parks and mansions, little in between. Based on the novel by Ernest Cline (narrated on audio by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame), it features a USPS van driven at the climax by the heroes, who are being attacked by corporate killers. The message of the film is that “VR is not reality, only reality is real.” So in a way it takes the path of Avatar, drama and romance and war, ending with food for thought. The switch from first person shooters to adventure games with puzzles may get some fans to switch from thinking “Reality is Broken” as an escape to thinking “Reality can be fixed. Let’s do it.” 

The Quest for the Deepest Place on Earth


Don Leslie reads BLIND DESCENT by James M. Tabor, a fascinating true story about a team of adventurers who race to find the deepest place on Earth, in a cave in the Republic of Georgia. The expedition took weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the author.  Tabor is author of FOREVER ON THE MOUNTAIN, narrated by Scott Brick, and also FROZEN SOLID. Here’s my interview with him:

Tower Review)  After being an Army brat and having so many unusual jobs, before and after grad school at Johns Hopkins, what brought you to writing about caving?

James M. Tabor)  I had visited touristic caves, such as Luray Caverns, in Virginia as a very young child.  My parents liked caves and my father grew up down there.  Some about them grabbed me hard right off the bat.  I’m still not sure how that capture happens, but I’ve heard many serious cavers say the same thing: first time they went into a cave, bam, they were hooked. After Hopkins, I ended up writing nonfiction features for a number of national magazines such as TIME, Smithsonian, Outside, and Readers Digest on a wide variety of subjects. When one gave me an assignment to profile an internationally famous caver, I jumped at it.  Then a subsequent assignment took me on an extreme cave expedition. I did it actively for awhile but, to do anything like that at a high level is expensive, dangerous, and time consuming.  Starting a second family eased me out of active caving.  I never lost the fascination with caves, though, and ended up co-creating and executive-producing a History Channel Special about caving—the one you saw.  During the production, I learned about Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk and their race to find the deepest cave, and that produced Blind Descent.

Q)   There are quite a few touristy caves like Carlsbad, Mammoth, and Colossal.  Kartchner Caverns in southern Arizona is oppressively paranoid about preservation, which makes visiting it an ordeal, like having a nanny hold your hand.   What caving experience was most fun for you, and how accessible are the wild caves for teams like those you wrote about?

A)  The most fun I had was accompanying a team into a wild cave in TAG–Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia–called Run To The Mill.  RTTM is now closed because of its hazards.  It had all the challenges that make caving exciting: exhalation squeezes, chin-deep sumps, 250-foot vertical drops, and a tunnel, called a borehole because it was bored by an underground watercourse, a mile long, 65 feet wide, and 35 feet high.  You could have driven two freight trains side by side down that borehole.  The purpose of this particular penetration was to put a diver into a sump at the cave’s then-terminus, to extend the cave’s length.  I was basically a Sherpa, hauling gear to support the dive.  It was grueling work, but the cave was ample reward.  Accessibility of wild caves varies, well, wildly.  Many are on privately owned land, and access is entirely dependent on owners’ good will.  A great challenge for all cavers is creating and maintaining positive relationships with landowners.  Access to caves on public land–in national parks and forests–also varies, but at least the entry requirements are standardized, whereas every cave on private land presents a unique challenge.

Q)  What most surprised you in research for this book?

A)  Unquestionably the scale of supercave expeditions. As a climber, I was very familiar with the immense logistics of big Himalayan expeditions.  But supercave expeditions dwarfed even those. I learned that they involved scores of people who remain on-site in base camps for months.  They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the most extreme teams can stay underground, working on dangerous, technical terrain, for three weeks and more.

Q)  What is the most beautiful cave in the world, the deepest, and the most dangerous?

A)  The deepest cave on earth is Krubera, located in Abkhazia in the Republic of Georgia.  Roughly 7,200 feet.  I didn’t do in-depth research on the great European supercaves in my book, but I think that, all things considered, Krubera would also qualify as the most dangerous.  That’s a highly subjective judgment, of course, but here are some number.  The cave is easily the deepest on earth, and 90% of its terrain is vertical. Air temperature in summer varies from 35-40F.  Water temperature is just above freezing, around 32F so that frigid water, plus the air that’s always moving through caves, makes lethal hypothermia a constant threat.  After a point, judging beauty of supercaves is like trying to figure out whether Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor was more beautiful.  Each one is fantastically beautiful in its own ways.  So that’s the best sidestep I can do on that one!

Q)  You produced a History channel special, which I just saw on video.  What surprised me is hearing that drill bits melt at a certain depth due to heat.  The frozen methane pocket that the Deepwater Horizon supposedly met…can oil drilling accidents really be prevented with current technology?

A)  Honestly, I’m not an expert on oil drilling but I will say this. Several decades ago, an engineer named Charles Perrow wrote a book, which has since become a classic, called NORMAL ACCIDENTS: Living with High Risk Technologies.  Its central thesis is that once any technology achieves a certain degree of complexity, accidents become not less likely but more so—inevitable, in fact.  He supports that theory convincingly by examining in great detail Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Bhopal Chemical Plant accident, and the Challenger space shuttle explosion.  The Deepwater Horizon debacle is only the most recent example.  So I think the answer, from my perspective, is that accidents like that will never be entirely preventable.  The question then becomes what level of frequency we are willing to accept and live with.

Q)   Do you listen to audiobooks?

A)  Constantly!  Where I live in Vermont, it’s a good long drive to get anywhere.  I love NPR, but one needs variety, and audiobooks save my sanity on long trips.  I’ve just finished listening to Simon Winchester’s book on Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded.  Charles Frazier’s Civil War novel, Cold Mountain, is next in the player.  I’ve listened to it once already, but Frazier’s writing is so miraculous that I’ll probably listen five or six times.

Q)  What’s next for you?

A)  I was originally trained as a fiction writer in the MFA program at Johns Hopkins.  My first published short story won an O. Henry Award.  I quickly learned that it was much easier to make a living writing nonfiction, however, so did that for along time, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I decided to go back to fiction after Blind Descent.  The Deep Zone was published in early 2012.  You probably aren’t surprised to learn that a supercave figures prominently in the action.  A follow-up novel featuring the same heroine, Hallie Leland, was called Frozen Solid.  It takes place at the South Pole, an environment equally fascinating for its many extremities.