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Slips of Yew: A Dez Duchiene Mystery, Book 1

New book! New series! New main character who is commandeering my laptop and making me write all the books …

I’m excited to announce publication of Slips of Yew, A Dez Duchiene Mystery.

“Where were you last Tuesday?”

Dez Duchiene moved to New York City two years ago, married Stevie Langford, the man of his dreams, and buried his upper Midwest roots. When a homicide detective appears at his door, that past resurfaces quickly.

Whitney Travers, a conservative politician in liberal Madison, Wisconsin, and also a friend and mentor, dies unexpectedly. While Dez struggles with the man’s political stance, he goes home for the funeral. Kelsey Travers asks Dez to investigate her father’s death using his connections from his activist days. He can’t say no to his childhood friend.

After the funeral, Stevie, mortified by what he sees as a red state, returns to New York. As Dez delves into interviews with colleagues, friends, rivals, and an attractive distraction he met at the funeral, he worries Stevie may have left him for good. Dez’s journey takes him back to the Madison he loved, and uncovers changes that break his heart.

Can he solve the murder and save his marriage before he loses everything?

I’m still not certain exactly where Desmond Dayton Duchiene came from, but I’ve had a blast the last couple of years seeing the world through his eyes. While LGBTQ representation in media has been increasing, characters are still mostly supporting roles or comic relief, and in literature their existence is expressed in tragedy and self-loathing.

Dez does not fall into any of those categories. He’s the main character, a hero, with passions and flaws (he has a bit of an ego and doesn’t always play well with others). He’s an out-of-work hospitality professional, an extrovert, and a newlywed working through the learning curve with his husband on how to be a good spouse and how to function in a world that’s still strongly entrenched in heterosexual norms.

He came of age during the Act 10 protests in Madison and tries to bridge the gap between conservative and liberal thought, though that’s becoming more and more difficult. When I first started writing this story a little over two years ago, I thought some of my political narrative was on the extreme side – and then 2020 happened. Some of it is positively tame, now.

I still have faith in a unified reality, and want to mainstream Dez and his stories as much as possible. I think he’s a vital voice in a world that needs more diversity and I’m doing my best to serve him well.

Slips of Yew is available via special order through your favorite local bookstore, and on in both print and Kindle editions. The best way to support an indie author is by leaving a review on Amazon – thank you! Click here to purchase:

On Writing Well

I’m excited to announce the release of my second novel, The Ghost of Heffron College, a supernatural mystery set at a small liberal arts college somewhere in the upper Midwest. I am a little anxious about reviews, though, because my first novel, Asperger Sunset, featured a character with autism, and this book does not.


Will people be angry there isn’t an autistic character? A lot of people follow me because I post information and articles about autism, and Asperger Sunset was unique, especially when it was published, because so little fiction has been written around autistic characters. That’s changing, with the Rosie books and TVs “The Good Doctor,” and that’s terrific – but my new book isn’t about autism.

And yet … one of the things Asperger Sunset did was speak in a clear, concise voice. No small talk, no read-between-the-lines events, nothing that would make it difficult for a person with autism to read and (I hope) enjoy the story.

Ghost of Heffron College is similar. My goal as a writer IS to be clear and concise. My characters rarely engage in small talk, and the plot trucks along pretty quickly.

Writers are often asked about the authors they look up to, the ones who inspire them. I write mainstream mystery, but my favorite writers are those who have a straightforward style, not necessarily in my genre. For example, Stephen King corners the market with his effortless style. I read Christine before I was even old enough to see the R-rated movie, and you knew exactly what was going on. The car loved her owner and was going to kill anyone who came between them.

I’m fond of Dennis Lehane, who can get verbose with his description at times, but the plot always moves forward and he keeps you guessing, not because the characters are being coy but because there are strong arguments to be made for either side of their decisions.

Randy Wayne White started out writing men’s fiction, what he called “duck and f**k” novels – lots of action and plot twists. His Doc Ford novels settle down a bit, letting him fill the story with setting and character, all with clear purpose.

There are best selling authors I dread reading because their books are full of overdramatized situations signifying nothing. Relationships, trying to figure out what the other character means when they won’t come out and say it, that’s not fun for me to read, so I don’t write that way.

It’s a myth that people with autism don’t like to read. Plenty of people with autism enjoy reading – especially girls, who are woefully undiagnosed. They just  don’t want to play the same stupid social games when they are reading that they have to navigate in day-to-day life.

So. Even though Ghost of Heffron College does not feature a character with autism, it does have the same author’s voice as Asperger Sunset. My voice. No social games, no weird reader manipulation, just a fun, straightforward mystery with a few twists and turns, and things that go bump in the night.

What more could you ask for?

The Ghost of Heffron College is available as a paperback or Kindle here.

Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt – and Someone Finally Noticed!

I just finished reading Steve Silberman’s hefty hardcover, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. I started the autism journey over 15 years ago and a lot of the stories parallel my own.

When I first encountered the word autism, it was as if I had been handed a death sentence. The room got quiet, the social worker placed his hand on my shoulder and said “I’m sorry.” I was confused. I had seen the movie Rain Man and my kid wasn’t like that. What the hell?

One administrator, in a throw-away line that became a lifeline, said “Look into something called Asperger’s Syndrome.”

And we were off. Symptoms fit, therapy was set up to teach social skills and executive skills and now I have a senior in college. We’ve come a long way, baby!

NeuroTribes is a look at the history of autism. From Hans Asperger’s initial studies in pre-World War II Vienna, to Leo Kanner’s work in America, all the way up to groups and organizations hard at work today. Silberman isn’t kind to Kanner, suggesting he wrote a lot to advance his own career and he refused to acknowledge the lesser affected children until many years later. Asperger, on the other hand, may have painted too positive a picture when describing his charges, as the Nazis were seeking to eliminate imperfect people. In time, gas chambers were actually installed in hospitals and over 200,000 mentally afflicted people – many of them children – were murdered.

Throughout the book, stories of parents who refused to institutionalize their children echo over and over. It’s these parents who refused to believe the professionals who pushed forward to get education rights and therapy programs that fit and helped their children. Finally, in the mid-2000s, people with autism themselves got involved, fighting back when NYU’s Child Study Center posted billboards to recruit new study subjects: “We have your son. We will make sure he will not be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning. Signed: Autism.” The billboards were soon removed. Autistics had found their voice. And it was strong.

I was caught up in this sea of confusion. My son was never as difficult as other kids I had read about. Yes, he was prone to tantrums and craved routine and was deeply absorbed in clipping out the MasterCard and Visa logos from the phone book and taping them in a long line on the wall throughout our house when he was three years old. We knew he was different and had challenges but finding help was difficult. Six different diagnoses from six different professionals. Then we, too, like so many parents described in this book, found the Autism/Asperger’s trail. We got away from the stereotypes and found the real people underneath.

We’re still fighting stereotypes. Though Rain Man was wonderful at the time in that it introduced the word “autism” to the general public, it was hard for us because we weren’t dealing with issues that severe. We said “autism” and people refused to believe us. We heard all the hurtful comments, from “I’m sorry,” to “kids with autism are better off dead.” I became estranged from some family members because they refused to support us when we were struggling and later marked off my son’s success to “maturity.” Being early in the autism “epidemic,” I had to introduce the concept of non-Rain Man challenges to each and every Special Ed teacher along the way.

We’re winning, though. The biggest discovery over the years is that kids with autism, no matter how severe, can LEARN. They improve. They grow. What they need most is love and understanding.

Silberman talks about this in his book. He explains that neurodiversity has always been around and it should be treasured and celebrated and accommodated as needed.

Finally. Someone understands.