Location, Location, Location–Peter Ralph & The CEO

CEO coverIt gives me great pleasure to push the boundaries of this series to include, not only a stunning journey thorough the business district of Melbourne, Australia, but to also take readers into the twisted corridors of the corporate boardroom. I’m not sure how I discovered Peter Ralph’s novel, The CEO, but the moment I finished reading it, I knew I wanted Peter to write a piece for this series.

So, without further ado, take it away, Peter.

Francis, the offer to appear on your blog is extremely kind. Many thanks.

Real life business events are the inspiration for my novels. I change the characters, embellish the facts, add a degree of violence and suspense and voila . . . a story.

I have a heavy background in business. Eons ago I was a chartered accountant specializing in corporate reconstructions and recoveries. Part of this job involved spending literally hundreds of hours in the Supreme and Federal Courts as a ‘supposed’ expert witness. Sounds exciting, huh? It wasn’t as I was rarely ever called as the vast majority of these cases were settled or determined by deals worked out by the respective barristers. What was great though, was that I got to listen to the great legal minds of that time. I spent hours in their chambers mainly listening but in some cases advising them on particular issues and drafting affidavits. There are very few lawyers who would’ve been exposed to the same level of expertise and naturally I learnt a little on the way.

I then became CEO of a large private company. (and no, I wasn’t ‘The CEO’) With this background it’s very easy for me to write business related novels including those about white collar crime.

Crooked businessman 8

The CEO, is a conglomeration of every bad CEO that I have ever known or met. Douglas Aspine is 45 and desperate to attain a CEO’s position when death deals him a lucky card and he is appointed to run an underperforming, staid, asset rich company. He has one driving ambition and that is to massively enrich himself, and he has absolutely no scruples about how he is going to do it. This a man who doesn’t have second thoughts or any compassion about sacking twenty-per cent of the company’s workforce, cheating on his wife and children, defrauding his employer, lying to the stock exchange and his co-directors, reneging on promises, and hitting on any female employees that take his fancy. Each chapter of this novel is written in such a way as to pique the reader’s interest as to whether Aspine can get any worse and in each ensuing chapter he doesn’t disappoint, going from being totally unlikeable to unbelievably despicable. He wields enormous power and it is hard to see him ever getting his just desserts.

The CEO and Dirty Fracking Business, were published by Melbourne Books. The owner has become a good friend of mine and he is a fine publisher. That having been said, I will never again use a publisher. Not because I dislike them or bear them any ill-well. It’s just that I can earn far more self-publishing with Amazon. The CEO and Collins Street Whores were never published in e-book form so I took it upon myself to do so. What a revelation. I never imagined or guessed the complexities and benefits of the Amazon website or for that matter how lucrative it could be. I’m still learning and have been exposed to so many great books via e-book marketing.

My Five –Star Review of The CEO

A totally captivating read – I couldn’t put it down.

I literally held my breath through a good third of, The CEO. The author plunged me into a world I know next to nothing about (the boardroom and backroom goings on off corporate finance) and inside the mind of a man who could well have been the devil’s incarnate, wearing an expensive three-piece suit and racing around the streets of Melbourne in a red Ferreira.

Though I am uneducated when it comes to the wheeling and dealing of the upper echelon of corporate executive officers, Ralph made the going a breeze with his wealth of detail put forth in clear, easy prose. Now, if that wasn’t challenge enough, he manages the feat while never losing sight of the fact that he’s telling a story and the humanity he endows his characters with is never lacking.

We watch Ralph’s main character, Douglas Aspine, wrack havoc in the lives of most everyone he encounters. He amasses huge sums of money and moves it effortlessly around the globe from one highly sheltered account to another. Nothing fazes this guy, no amount of pressure or short-term stumbling block gets in his way. His single-mindedness and confidence in his own ability to pull off just about anything becomes totally enthralling. It is like watching a train headed full-speed towards the end of the tracks that just happen to hang over a deep ravine while the engineer drinks a cup of coffee and causally reads a newspaper. You simply can’t drag your eyes away.

Though self-centered and self-serving to the core, Ralph does let us see ever-so-slight glimpses of what’s left of Aspine’s conscience and in this way saves his main character from becoming a complete caricature of evil. He warns his son to be careful travelling in South-East Asia, the drug laws and penalties imposed for breaking those laws are not to be taken lightly. Aspine feels remorse and guilt for his baser sexual behaviour.

What I found most fascinating was the ways in which the weaknesses of the people around Aspine were so easily manipulated. This isn’t a simple morality tale or story of black and white, good and bad, though upon first glimpse it may seem so. Aspine turns out to be just one marker on a whole continuum of greed and amorality.

The ending, which after a certain point begins to seem inevitable, and may in fact satisfy many readers, left me unwilling to think that all was well. Perhaps the obligation to do the right thing should not rest on how deserving or undeserving the recipient of that action might be.

The CEO is a totally captivating book and I suspect most readers will bite the hook, be drawn in and not be able to put the book down until the final page has been turned.

So, there you have it – the corporate boardroom, a dramatic setting every bit as gripping as any landscape location. Visit Peter over at his website: Corporate Thrillers. Check out his Facebook Author Page. And do pop over to Amazon and read the reviews for The CEO.

A Funny Harvest Story

Mama bear and cubs - Guenette photo

I’ve written before about bears roaming freely along the paths around our cabin. We generally see the first of our visitors sometime in April and then, depending on the year (and I imagine this has to do with a complex number of factors) we may see them wandering around right through early October. Usually visitations increase in late August and September when the salal berries are at their best. The pictures (above and just below) were our 2011 visitors. These little guys were hilarious. They got up in that tree a few times.

Cubs - Bruce Witzel photo

This year we were absolutely bear free. Not one sighting, not one speck of bear evidence to be found. So, wouldn’t you know it . . . the day before my daughter and granddaughters were to arrive, in the third week of August, I found a small pile of bear scat on one of the trails right behind the cabin. That raised a red flag and I filed the information away, telling myself to pay attention when the kids arrived.

About three days into our visit, my daughter and I, with the granddaughters, Emma and Brit running ahead, strolled into the back garden where Bruce was sitting at a table tinkering with watering timers. (That subject could be the basis of several blogs all entitled our ongoing trials and tribulations with automated watering.) The kids took off for the little slide set up on the edge of the garden. We recently found this discarded piece of back yard fun at the recycling depot. Emma had just come down and Brit was at the top, when I heard an odd sound – something like a loud flapping – almost as if a huge bird had flown right over my head.

I turned to my daughter and said, “Did you hear that?”

She looked up and jumped out of her chair telling me, “There’s a bear cub climbing up the alder tree.”

Well, the alder tree is almost directly behind the slide. She grabbed Emma, I grabbed Brit right off the steps of the slide and we all made our way into the house as fast as possible. A bear cub means a mother bear somewhere close by and no one with any sense wants to end up accidently stuck between the two.

Baby Bear - Bruce Witzel Photo

The next half an hour was spent watching the cub in the branches of the alder tree right outside the living room windows. The mom finally appeared and coaxed it out. The next day, Emma and I were on the kitchen deck getting ready to go down to swim when I heard the distinctively loud rustling of salal bushes – sure enough – mama bear and baby bear right out front, leisurely grazing along and blocking the stairs to the beach. No swim for us. That evening we were sitting at the kitchen table getting ready to play cards and Emma heard a noise. She glanced out the window and jumped back a foot, “Grandma . . . the bear.” Sure enough, mama bear is on the grass directly below the window.

Mama Bear - Bruce Witzel photo

Things peaked the next day when baby bear climbed one of our smaller apple trees and mama headed for the big one. Bruce said, “Enough is enough.” He grabbed a few rocks and from the safety of the deck near the back door began pitching rocks toward mama bear. She wasn’t keen on that and quickly trotted away with baby in tow.

Bruce spent the next half-an-hour picking all the apples – not a huge harvest – maybe fifteen pounds – but we are fiercely committed to anything we grow ourselves. No sooner was he in the house, apples in hand, than the kids started jumping up and down and pointing. Both bears were back again and mama was making for the emptied tree. A few more rocks drove them away and we haven’t seen them since.

Brit - Bruce Witzel photo


Three-year-old Brit is convinced that the baby bear came around when she was here because he wanted to play on the slide with her. None of us can believe that the only time we saw bears this whole summer was when the kids were here.


Bruce and I got busy yesterday and peeled all those apples so I could can a few jars of applesauce. Nothing says domestic diva like the popping sound of sealed lids.

Applesauce - Guenette photo

Do you have a funny harvest story? I’d love to hear it.

Words to Melt an Author’s Heart


My twenty-two-year-old niece, Chelsea, recently visited us at the lake and she left with copies of Disappearing in Plain Sight and The Light Never Lies tucked under her arm.

We then began a wonderful exchange (via text messaging on Facebook) as she worked her way through both novels and shared her impressions. I love nothing more than getting down to the nitty-gritty of discussing the characters with a reader and finding out how the story makes that reader feel. As the texting continued, I had to have Chelsea adopt the shorthand that my editor and I use. DPS = Disappearing in Plain Sight. LNL = The Light Never Lies and LM = Lisa-Marie.

It’s a real treat for me to share (with permission from my beautiful niece) our texting conversation from last night.

Chelsea: Well I have finished LNL and I LOVED it!! My favourite . . . so far. I found myself getting teary eyed at the good-byes and hoping that Justin would change his mind and go back to LM and so happy that Beulah and Bethany are getting married!! Seriously I need that third book soon!! LOL.

Me: Wow – you are one of my fastest readers. I’m so glad you enjoyed DPS & LNL. I think both books are totally suited to your age group. But, then again, older women love them, too, though they tend to identify more with Izzy than LM. Did you start to get a better impression of Izzy after LNL? I remember you said you didn’t like her too much after DPS.

Chelsea: I had a hard time with Izzy in the first book but after the second one I caught myself wishing I could be like her. She’s so wise and gentle and really cares about people. I wasn’t very happy with Liam for a bit there – LOL. I love how you write – the way you tell one side of the story then go to someone else’s view. I felt like I was watching a TV show because of how you were able to switch things up like that.

Me: You’ve really gotten to the core of what matters to me about my writing – showing both sides of things – trying to get people to understand that life isn’t black or white – right or wrong. Circumstances matter.

Chelsea: It’s funny . . . because I’ve been to the lake I feel a connection to the story. It’s like I know what you mean and how the people feel . . . I actually felt like I was part of the story. I got so into it. It got me thinking of how I want my life to be and how I want it to end up. I can’t wait for the third one! What’s the title do you have an idea yet? I think it’s so awesome that you are writing books. I tell everyone that my Grama June and my Auntie Fran are writers! It makes me happy.

Me: That is one of the great benefits I have as a writer – living here. I was able to use this place as a basic template for all the places in the book and then just embellish my heart out. I didn’t have to start from scratch or create a world to put my people in. Micah Camp started in my mind as a dream that there could be something more for kids who didn’t have all the advantages – something that could help them get a jump start on adult life. I feel like crying because you enjoyed the books so much. It means a lot to me. All I really want to do with my writing is make people feel things and think. The third book is called Chasing Down the Night. I am well into the first draft, which means lots of work to go. The whole story is in my head, though. I feel pretty stuffed with all these people and their issues some days.

Chelsea: Awesome. I can hardly wait.

Me: I know I’ve won over a reader for sure with you. Thanks also for spreading the word about the books. Feel free to lend them out to others. If you don’t get them back, I can always get you another set. Love you. Bye for now.

Chelsea: Sounds good. Yep, I will spread the word! Love you too. Bye

A fan like this makes all the agony of bringing a full-length novel (or two or three or four) to life well-worth the effort. And when she is also a beautiful, talented and funny niece who I’ve been close to since the day she was born – well, I better end this post before I dissolve into a pool of tears.

The pensive writer - Bruce Witzel photo

Fall is in the Air–Oh, Say it Isn’t So

Fall is in the air - Bruce Witzel photo

Labour Day has come and gone. It’s time to pack away the wardrobe of white and dust off some warmer clothes for the coming fall. Eek – I’m not ready to let summer go. We had more than a few days of dullish weather last week but the upcoming one promises to be sunny. The garden is geared up for its last push – pepper and tomato plants are bowed over with bounty and the green beans are in a daily race to see if they can produce more than we can eat.

Evaluation - google imagesBruce and I are working on something we do every couple of years. We call it our lifestyle evaluation. We check in on the various things we’re doing as individuals and as a couple along a number of dimensions to see where we want to tweak or change direction. We congratulate ourselves where we’ve met goals and faced up to challenges. It’s a good exercise for the upcoming fall.

I saw my doctor the other day and she put me on to a great internet tool – My Fitness Pal. Have you heard of this site? Participation can be as private or as social as one likes. I go in and track food intake and activity and all these great calculating tools tell me how I’ll end up in a month if I stick with my current pattern. Enlightening, shocking and sometimes terrifying. But mostly it’s a fun tool – definitely a step up from a handwritten food log or activity journal. Basically the same idea, though. Research shows that people who actively keep track of food intake or activity have double the chance of sticking to their goals. Good old research – always there to bolster one claim or another.

The Orenda by Joseph BoydenI managed to find the time to sit down and thoroughly devour Joseph Boyden’s novel, The Orenda – 2014’s Canada Reads Winner. I received the hardcover as a Christmas gift and I have put off the read, like someone delaying the gratification to be had from the first sip of a fine wine. The book is absolutely exquisite – word by word so finely written it will break your heart. I wondered if he could top my experience of reading, Three Day Road. He could and he did. I’m in awe of the man’s writing talent.

Guenette - Inspiration for Chasing Down the NightThe first fifteen chapters of Chasing Down the Night have gone to a trusted reader. Targeted feedback at this stage of the writing is very helpful. I’ve asked questions such as – what grabs you, what leaves you cold, what makes you laugh, what makes you squirm, is someone getting too much exposure, is someone not getting enough, are you intrigued, do you want to read more?

I’ve been taking the time to reorganize my computer files before the next writing push. I generally start a work-in-progress with a number of word documents saved by date. These can be anything from character sketches, to timelines, to outlines, to blocked out scenes in various stages of writing polish. At some point, I have to go back through every one of those dated documents, pull out each scene and resave with the proper name. The process is time consuming and I’m always afraid I’ll lose something but the way I work is the way I work. I haven’t been able to change that and I’m not sure I want to. So, I’m willing to live with what is.

Storyboard - Guenette photo

An additional layer of paper needed to be added to the storyboard so that I could go into greater scene by scene detail with my coloured post-it-notes. The next section is coming together.  

I’ve been struggling to write the arrival of a new character – Liam’s sister, Fiona. I’ve walked around and around and around all my notes like an old dog taking the plunge to settle down on her bed. What I discovered was that I wasn’t quite ready – I couldn’t hear her voice clearly enough to cover something so important as how she arrives at Crater Lake. I didn’t know (yet) whose point-of-view to allow sway as she arrived. Who has the most at stake?

The solution has been to work on dramatic scenes that Fiona appears in further along the way. The other characters who surround her are letting me know in no uncertain terms what having her around means. With each day of writing I get closer to understanding how Fiona impacts the story. I begin to hear her voice. There is nothing like some high drama to reveal a character’s true colours.

Green Party Sunflower - Guenette & Witzel photo

So, fall is in the air – though some of us would like to deny it when the sun shines as warm as it does today. I’m wishing all of you the best with the last of the garden harvest, writing projects, lifestyle changes and anything else the coming autumn season brings your way. Though I’ve been away from the rhythms of the school system for a few years now, I always think of September as a time for new beginnings. I have the urge to run out and buy school supplies.

Before I sign-off – last month, I blogged a post entitled, Should Indie Authors Pay for Promotion. The post generated a great discussion. The comment stream has become far more useful than the post itself. I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already and please do take the time to join your voice to the interaction.