Meeting Dennis Wilson (serialized novel, 2013)

All seven books - bestMeeting Dennis Wilson was my first published novel and is the third book in my story timeline. It’s available as seven serialized volumes and in an omnibus edition. Here’s how you can order copies.

PDF e-book editions (readable or printable on any device without loss of formatting) are available from my store at Selz.com. Click here for more information on the  PDF e-books.

Print editions are available from any online or brick-and-mortar bookshop. Here are the ISBNs to order. Books 1-4 each contain a “bonus track” extra story.

Book One (ISBN 978-1484950029)
Book Two  (ISBN 978-1490303116)
Book Three (ISBN 978-1490581859)
Book Four (ISBN 978-1490904733)
Book Five (ISBN 978-1491241332)
Book Six (ISBN 978-1492243137)
Book Seven (ISBN 978-1493520206)
Omnibus edition (contains all seven books minus bonus stories)(ISBN 978-1494325695)

Kindle Editions are available directly from the Kindle store at Amazon.com.

“LOOKS new…”

Through the first six books of my serialized novel Meeting Dennis Wilson, sixteen-year-old Beach Boys fan Margo LeDoux keeps hoping and waiting in vain for new music from her favorite group. Finally, toward the end of book seven, spring 1976, she and her best friend (and narrator) Brian Pressley make a Tuesday after-school visit to Murphy’s in their hometown of Quaker Valley, PA (“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here”), and then…


Murphy's 1

As I held the door open for Margo, she swished past me smartly in her red sundress and sandals, and I followed her into the icily air-conditioned store, past the registers and down the aisle past the three-tiered display of candy. Margo almost stopped to examine a big box of Topps 1976 rack pack baseball cards, and then, a few steps later, at the bins of Brach’s penny candy (“Come on… you know you wanna snag a butterscotchy!”), but kept her forward momentum, through the stationery and office supplies, then the men’s socks and underwear.

“You know,” Margo said, eying a display of plastic-wrapped men’s white briefs, “I don’t think I ever heard Christy laugh as hard as she did when we came through here that one time and I saw that display and said ‘Fruit of the Loom JEEE-zus!’ She pretty much almost wet herself. And I said, ‘Woman, it wasn’t that funny,’ and she goes, ‘I know, I know… I’m goin’ to hell.’ And I said, ‘You’re laughing because you’re goin’ to hell?’”  She shook her head. “I just don’t get religion.” She took  a breath. “O.K…

O.K. = We’d made it: back corner of the store, Murphy’s small but serviceable record department: a double-sided row of two-tiered album bins, with a big crate of shrink-wrapped 3-for-$1.00 (39 cents each) cut-out 45s against the rack at the far end, and, at the near end, a tall rack of current 45s…

1487291_432971060164832_1546003961_n“Hey!” Margo said…

…and there, at her eye level, in front of a divider card in the B section of new 45s, were ten copies of what looked like a new Beach Boys single: Brother/Reprise #1354, “Rock and Roll Music” backed with “The TM Song.”

I could tell Margo was excited and trying not to look that way. “’Rock and Roll Music,’” she said, as nonchalantly as she could, but she fumbled a little pulling a copy of the record from the rack. She read the label, her sandaled right foot swinging back and forth over her left. “Looks new…”

Looks new… but…

Margo’d simply been burned too many times by reissued singles of songs she already had. So any time a “new” Beach Boys record appeared, it was the same drill. Two Christmases before, when “Child Of Winter” appeared in the racks (“Why are they releasing a Christmas song after Christmas? Makes no sense”) –ironically,  also at Murphy’s and no other store– Margo took five minutes before deciding it was worth risking a dollar (six percent Pennsylvania sales tax included) on the disc.

Her hesitance?

“This other song–” the b-side of the single, “Susie Cincinnati” “–was definitely on another single. I have it with some other song on the other side, but I can’t remember what the other side was. But it’s definitely a few years old.”

She was right: “Susie Cincinnati” had been released on the flip side of the single “Add Some Music To Your Day” more than four years earlier. But “Child Of Winter” wasn’t familiar to her, so, she said, “I’ll take a chance… I have a feeling…” and so she slapped a dollar down (94 cents plus tax) and bought it, and it turned out that not only was “Child Of Winter” a new song, but “Susie Cincinnati” was a remix, issued only on that single, which reportedly only sold a few thousand copies nationally, so, to this day, it’s one of the rarest singles in her collection.

“Not that I care about any of that rarity stuff,” she insists. “I just like the music.” But it taught her to trust her instincts.

Margo was holding “Rock and Roll Music,” checking the a-side credits, then the b-side credits… then back to the a-side again.

“1976,” she said, reading the copyright date.

O.K.

So far, so good…

Margo’s eyes darted over the fine print on the cream colored label. “Chuck Berry wrote ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ Bri,” she said at last.

“I know,” I said. “The Beatles did it.” I had it on Beatles ’65.

Margo raised her eyebrows. “Really? So it’s a Beatles song?” Her face got a little sour. “An oldie?” She studied the label. “But see… I heard that some of the new album was oldies. But does that mean new versions of other peoples’ songs or remakes of theirs? See, if Carl’d come to Tara’s picnic

Everything Beach Boys the last few weeks had come down to either If Carl had come to Tara’s picnic or If Denny’d write back. Never mind that there’s no way that either of them would have been able to answer questions that Margo hadn’t known to ask…

Margo flipped the record back over and read from the b‑side label. ‘The TM Song,'” she said. “What’s TM again?”

“Transcendental meditation.”

“That’s what I thought,” Margo said. “Which is the name of one of their old songs.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But this is called ‘The T.M. Song.’”

“Yeah, but… you know…” She was studying the label. “TM,” she said.Maybe I should try that…”

I laughed lightly and Margo tittered as she said “What?” but she knew exactly what. “O.K…. maybe not.”

(Margo’s chosen form of stress management was more Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale than Maharishi. “And I accept that.”)

She flipped the record back over and brushed her hair back again. “‘Produced by Brian Wilson,'” she read from the label. “You know…” She was tapping her red fingernails against the record: tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. “…there was this ad… in one of those magazines Kathy gets… Rolling Stone or Crawldaddy or one of those… anyway, it just said ‘Brian’s back.’ And we were, like, ‘Brian who?’ I thought maybe it was Brian Wilson because it had the Brother Records thingy at the bottom. So…” She flipped the record back over, biting her lip. “See, but I know they have a song on one of their albums called ‘Transcendental Meditation.’ An old song…”

“Mmmmhmmmm…”

I was distracted, drifting away, flipping through the Es. There was one remaining copy of “Strange Magic” by Electric Light Orchestra… and it had a picture sleeve…

…but dammit: I’d already bought “Strange Magic” without a picture sleeve.

Also, though…

…Christy’d told me how much she liked this song (funny how that wasn’t technically a hint, and yet…).

Maybe…

No… that wouldn’t be right…

Would it?

“–What do you think, Bri? You think this is new?”

I looked over at the record in Margo’s hand, snapping myself back to reality.

I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s only a buck,” I said.

Margo’s shoulders drooped slightly but dramatically. “I knowwwww,” she semi-whined, “it’s just…” She sighed and then looked up and over to our right, toward the electronics section, and then back at me, and you know… I don’t know why, the other times we’d played this scene out, this simple solution never occurred to us before, but this time, we both were thinking the same thing, and even though Margo hooked me by my t-shirt sleeve, she didn’t even need to pull me, because I was already stepping in the same direction that she was: over toward a Panasonic All In One AM FM Stereo Receiver With Three-Speed Record Changer and Built In 8 Track Tape Player And Recorder (MAKE YOUR OWN TAPE’S FOR THE CAR!).

“I’ll know as soon as I hear it,” Margo said, and she flipped off the radio (“Welcome Back” by John Sebastian) and lifted the hinged, smoke-colored plastic lid to reveal the turntable.

Unfortunately, when Margo turned off the radio, it sent up an aural flare: out of the corner of my eye, I could see Our Favorite Murphy’s Salesman eying us through his thick, black-framed glasses (“Look, Bri! Joe Paterno sells stereos!”), but Margo was oblivious. She carefully removed the staple from the top corner of the cream-colored WARNER/REPRISE paper sleeve and held the shiny black vinyl disc in her hand, thumb in the center hole and fingers along the edge (“None of my records have any fingerprints. Christy’s, on the other hand…”) and then set it down on the turntable platter.

Meanwhile, the salesman was starting over toward us –I could see him out of the corner of my eye– but Margo was gently pushing the tonearm in toward the record; the turntable started spinning automatically.

“Nice,” she said of the auto-play action, and she set the needle down on the record…

…but I could smell the faint smell of Stale Tobacco Breath behind us, and just as soon as the needle touched the disc’s surface, an adult male hand reached around in front of us and lifted the needle up off the record.

“You can’t play records on this equipment, Miss,” he said, and he pushed the tonearm back so that the turntable stopped spinning, exhaling like even that was too much effort.

I was standing between him and Margo, and my face suddenly felt hot.

Now what?


Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

All seven books - best.jpg“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around. Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.” (The Literary Connoisseur)

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

Click here for ordering information. 

To read other excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

Origins of a novel…

My serialized novel Meeting Dennis Wilson had its origins in a long, couldn’t-quite-get-it-right-no-matter-how-many-times-I-revised-it story entitled (I think) “Bad Vibrations,” in which the book’s protagonist, Margo, bought a copy of the then-new Beach Boys album Fifteen Big Ones and had to repeatedly return it to the record store because it wouldn’t play, only to discover, thanks to her best friend (and our narrator) Brian’s help, that she had her stereo speakers too close to her turntable, and THAT, not a defective pressing, was making her record skip.

When I sent a draft of the story to a friend to critique, he said “What’s this story about, anyway? Speaker placement?”

Well, KIND of… but one thing it WAS about was how music and records permeated our lives as teenagers (and, for many of us, still does).

To me and a lot of people, pop music is more than “just a song on the radio” or “background noise,” and records are more than just vehicles for that noise. The songs say what we feel and think in words we couldn’t think of; the records are relics that remind us of a time and a place.

I realized that “Bad Vibrations,” whatever it wasn’t, WAS an idea which could probably be part of a bigger and better whole… a novel of some kind, although, clearly, it couldn’t be “about speaker placement.” I wanted the records and the music to occupy a place in the novel akin to the place that they occupy in many peoples’ lives.

So while the plot of Meeting Dennis Wilson is “teenaged girl has a crush on the Beach Boys’ drummer and decides she’s going to meet him,” and all the subplots spinning around it, one of the devices I use in telling that story is old records and music.

Most of the chapters in Meeting Dennis Wilson are set up by records and songs that would have been on the radio, on the jukebox, and in these kids’ bedrooms and hearts and souls back in spring of 1976. Many of the chapters are “set up” with actual pictures of record labels or covers, as “prompts” for the action that follows. In some cases, the records make direct appearances; in others, their presence is more covert.

So, in many ways, Meeting Dennis Wilson is a novel that has evolved from a failed short story about speaker placement to a novel “about” music and records and its importance to those of us who love them… among other themes and subplots.

Here is an excerpt from Book Seven of Meeting Dennis Wilson: the vignette that evolved from the “Bad Vibrations” short story.  –Max


 

We heard from all of our disparate sources (Rolling Stone, Creem, Circus, Crawdaddy, and whatever magazines Margo read that boys wouldn’t be caught dead looking at) that the new album would be in stores before July 4th, 1976. “15 Big Ones,” Margo explained, “because it has fifteen songs on it and it’s also their fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen new songs.”

New records hit the stores on Tuesdays, and the morning that the album was slated for release, Margo and I biked side by side downtown to the record store so we could get a copy as soon as they opened. “I am so ready,” she said as we pedaled. “Not only did I clean my room, but I rearranged my stereo and stuff. Put the speakers so that if I lie on my bed, I’m right between them and I can hear everything.”

1623206_448212195307385_353206712_nWe were waiting in front of the record store at 9:59 when the aging hippie manager unlocked the door, and Margo walked in quick steps ahead of me, right to the rack of new releases. There it was: 15 Big Ones… a blue cover with the group’s name in gold neon, and their individual portraits framed by five multicolored neon Olympic rings (not only was it the Bicentennial; it was also an Olympic summer).

“Here it is!” Margo tittered, and she examined the pictures on the front cover. “God… is that Brian Wilson? He’s all fat… and look how greasy his hair is! He still has a cute smile, though…” Her voice got hushed. “…and Denny has a beard!

She looked at the price code sticker and then up at the price list on the wall. “D… five-forty-nine,” she said, looking down into her purse to make sure she had enough money, and then she flipped over the album and counted the songs.

“Fifteen songs,” she said, nodding her head, “and only three that I already have.”

“Those are all new,” the manager said from behind the counter, and Margo took some money from her purse.

“Well, not all new,” Margo said as she stepped up to the register. “I have three of them on singles already…” She set the album on the counter. “…but that still leaves 12 out of 15.”

Margo bought a copy of the album and I bought two (“Awwww… you bought one for Christy? See, this is why I like you, Bri. She’s not even here and you’re buying her presents. You can wrap it and put it in the fort!”), and instead of going to one or the other of our rooms to listen, we decided to split up and listen separately.

“Meet me in an hour,” Margo said, “and we can talk about it…”

That sounded like a good idea to me. Seriously, I wasn’t expeccting much, There seemed to be a reason that they hadn’t done a new album in over three years: Endless Summer, a double album greatest hits collection from a couple summers before, was not only a gigantic seller (talk about Beach Boys all over the radio), but to the group, it was both a blessing and a curse: it sold a lot of albums and drew a lot of fans to their concerts, but most of those fans wanted to hear the oldies, so the group stopped doing adventurous new music…

That was how Fifteen Big Ones struck me at first listen: unadventurous. Like John Lennon’s Rock and Roll a year before, it was a new album, and new Beach Boys or Lennon was better than no Beach Boys or Lennon (as we unfortunately found out a few years later with John), but it was nothing to really get all that excited about.

Half covers, half new songs, and there was just something about it that sounded half-baked.

Like they weren’t trying.

I wondered, as I tracked through side one, if Margo felt that way. She was a fan, but she never hesitated to say if she didn’t like something–

“–Briiiiian? Phone! Margo!”

Mom. From downstairs. I hadn’t even heard the phone ring.

I went down the hall to my parents’ room and picked up the other line. “Yeah?”

“Brian,” Margo said, her voice serious and deep. “We have to go trade my album in downtown. There’s something wrong with it. ”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Every song skips.”

That was weird. “Is it scratched?” I said.

Tsk! “Brian, it’s brand new. It’s not scratched. I looked at it under the light. Both sides. And my needle’s fine.” Sigh! “There’s something wrong with it. I need a new one.”

I met Margo at the foot of our joined back yards a few minutes later. “And you said yours plays?” she said.

I nodded my head. “All the way through.”

“Do you like it?” she asked, and before I could think up a way of saying “Well, you’ll like it,” she said “Don’t tell me! I want to hear it for myself.” She sighed. “And just watch him try to tell me it’s my needle. That’s always the first thing they try and sell you…”

We biked back down to the record store, her with the defective copy of the album in the bag, where Margo explained that, no, she didn’t need a new needle (“Didn’t I tell you, Bri?”), she’d just replaced it a couple weeks before… all this while the aging hippie put on his reading glasses and examined the surfaces of the vinyl.

“Looks fine,” he said, slipping the disc back into the sleeve, “but if it doesn’t play…” He looked at Margo. “Go get another one. Sorry about that.”

“Thanks,” Margo said, and she flipped past the front copy and snagged the second copy of the album from the rack and we rode our bikes back home so she could play it.

I would have gone up with her to make sure it played, but I had work to do. I’d barely gotten out of the house twice before I got questioned about the lawn: the first time, Dad asked me if I was going to do the lawn, and the second time, he asked me when I was going to do the lawn. I wanted to listen to the record with Margo, but I wasn’t going to let Dad ask a third time. I dropped my bike in the garage… rolled the mower out onto the driveway… filled the tank with gas… punched the black rubber button a few times to prime the engine (loved those old Lawn Boys)… yank! yank! yank! the cord and the engine sputtered to life, spitting out acrid blue smoke. I took off my shirt and pushed the puttering mower out onto the grass, and I barely got ten yards down my first swath before I saw Margo standing in my path, brown record store bag in her raised right hand. I cut off the mower and wiped the sweat from my brow.

This one skips too, Bri,” she said. “Every song.”

We rode back down to the record store, and the whole time Margo was fretting. “He’s gonna give me a hard time, I just know it,” Margo said, but I said why would he give you a hard time, you just had bad luck, if it doesn’t play it doesn’t play, you have the receipt, it’s more of a hassle to you than to him…

“Wait out here,” she said, no idea why, but I did, and she went into the shop and, two minutes later, was back out with her third copy of Fifteen Big Ones.

“He said if this one doesn’t play, call him,” Margo muttered as she climbed on her bike. “Yeah, I’ll call him all right…”


Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

All seven books - best.jpg“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around. Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.” (The Literary Connoisseur)

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

Click here for ordering information. 

To read other excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

“You feel so OLD when you’re in high school…”

Cover 6x9 book 3 color corrected001This is an excerpt from chapter 28 (book three) of my serialized novel Meeting Dennis Wilson. After a snafu-filled schoolday in which 16-year-old narrator Brian is convinced that his girlfriend Christy is mad at him for telling one of his friends her bra size, Brian sits out on the patio at his best friend Margo’s house and writes in his journal while they “study.”

Meeting Dennis Wilson is a serialized YA novel in seven books. For more information, scroll down or click here.


Book_Three_-_Createspace044

You feel so old when you’re in high school. Relatively speaking, of course… compared to what precedes it. I remember when I was a high school sophomore, junior, senior –16, 17, 18 years old– and thinking, feeling, like I was mature, or at least not a kid. Yet now I look at kids that age and I think Now that’s young! I wonder if they feel “old” or “mature” the way I used to, just because I wasn’t a grade schooler or middle schooler or (Egads!) a freshman.

But then, they probably are alternately blind to and painfully aware of the same thing that I was: they might not be kids, but they’re not adults, either. The learner’s permit is the perfect metaphor for that age: You can take the car out, but make sure there’s an adult with you, and if you fuck up, man, are you (or, more likely, are your parents) gonna pay!

At that age, there were so many old habits dying hard and vying for time and energy and attention with new interests, typified by baseball cards. In 1975 –a baseball card year considered by many collectors and card geeks to have produced the sine qua non of modern baseball card design: the Topps 1975 series, with its groovy two-tone full-color borders– I only bought four packs of baseball cards: three wax packs (when they first appeared in the stores in April) and then a rack pack which I might not have even bothered with, had Margo not snagged it for me. We were at Murphy’s in downtown Quaker Valley, and I was browsing the three-for-a-dollar bin of cut-out 45 rpm singles, and Margo, who’d been digging through the boxes of rack packs (plastic-wrapped strips of baseball cards with three clear panels, through which you could preview six different cards: three fronts and three backs), came up and tossed the pack in front of me and said, “Here, Bri. You won’t do any better than this.”

brooks-robinson-1975t141647And she was right: among the six visible cards were Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, and Greg Luzinski.  My favorite player of all-time (Brooks) along with my then-favorite Phillie (Schmitty) and then-second-favorite Phillie (Luzinski) all in the same pack… and when I opened it, sandwiched between those cards were Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, and Boog Powell.

No, I wouldn’t do any better than that, and really, I stopped trying. What a difference four years made: back in 1971, that haul of players would have thrilled me for a couple 71-233Frweeks. The 1971 Topps baseball cards might be my favorite set of all time. Talk about a great baseball card design, first of all: austere black borders with the team’s name big and bold at the top (so that you could stand a double on its end and use it as a divider in your filing system)… plus the cards had pictures on both the fronts and the backs.

More than the design, though, the ‘71s are my favorites because they’re relics of the last year that I bought and enjoyed –loved– baseball cards like a little kid. By 1971 (age 11), I was already finding other interests: music, mainly… playing drums and spending my allowance on records. Of course, I’d heard the Beatles before the summer of 1971 (I would have had to have spent the previous seven years in a coma to have not heard them), but summer of 1971 was the first time I remember really being aware of them… not just as music, but as voices and as people whom I felt really spoke to me.

That summer, I bought a 45 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” at the college the-beatles-strawberry-fields-forever-1967-73bookstore, Capitol Records catalog number 5810, and (on another design note) for as sleek and cool as that summer’s baseball cards looked, this record was UGLY: a red and orange “target” label with awkward, big rounded title print (crooked, no less), and a blurry Capitol “C” logo stylized to look like a record. It wasn’t the first record I ever bought; nor was it even the first Beatles record I ever bought. But somehow, it felt different. Even though I’d bought records before, and I’d buy baseball cards again, that copy of “Strawberry Fields Forever” signified the start of a shift in my spending priorities.

The next summer, age 12 (1972), I kept up my usual baseball card-buying pace in the springtime, but lost momentum toward the end of the summer and didn’t get most of the cards in the high series; same thing the following season (1973); at age 14 (1974), the cards weren’t even released in series, but came out all at once, with many of the traded players still pictured on their old teams, as if Topps couldn’t even bother to wait to get new pictures, and, well, truthfully, I couldn’t either (meanwhile, my record collection was growing, thanks to an increased allowance and the discovery of two flea market dealers who had a regularly replenishing stock of cheap used albums); at age 15 (1975, the multicolored year), I bought just those four packs; and finally, at age 16, learner’s permit in my wallet and girlfriend on my mind and Penthouse magazines hidden in my bedroom, I sat there on Margo’s patio watching her open six wax packs of 1976 baseball cards, and just as I found myself wondering You know, why does she even bother? she sighed and answered my unspoken question, as she so often did.

“I know I’m a little too old to be buying these things,” she said, “but it just doesn’t seem like spring without baseball cards.” She took the narrow pink slab of bubble gum from a pack and pondered it. “Plus, in May, the gum’s still fresh.” She SNAPPED! it in two (no bend). “Kind of,” she added, and she popped it in her mouth and crunched it two or three times before her spit softened it and reconstituted it back to Fresh, chewing it big, mouth opened and head bobbing, like a dog would work a chunk of rawhide.

I laughed at her shtick, like I always did (another old habit, except one that was reinforced and refreshed by new experiences), and then looked back down at my journal, or diary, or notebook, or whatever it was that I was trying to write in…

Book_Three_-_Createspace047

“Whatcha writin’, Bri?”

I looked up from my notebook, a little self-conscious, and I started to flip the cover shut, but then thought Nahhhhh… it’s just Margo.

“Ohhhh, just… trying to figure out stuff.”

“Oh.” Margo leaned back in her chair, teetering a little on the back legs. “So is that a diary?”

No.

Girls use diaries. Writers use journals.

“No, it’s just my notebook,” I said.

“Thought so,” Margo said. She had a copy of the 1976 Who’s Who In Baseball in her lap, pages opened to the position players, and every few seconds, she’d flip backward or forward a few pages to find whatever player (“Or pitcher”) had crossed her free-ranging mind. She looked down at the pages as she flipped. “So what’s the difference, anyway? Between a journal and a diary.”

“I think a journal is what you write in a diary,” I said. “Like… a diary is a kind of book you can write a journal in, but you can basically write a journal in anything.”

I don’t know where I got that, but it sounded better than Well, girls use diaries…

Margo nodded, satisfied with my explanation. “So then that’s a journal, right? Or a notebook with a journal in it.” She flipped back a few pages. “I just always thought diaries were for girls and that writers used journals.” She scanned whomever’s stats were staring up from the pages in front of her, biting her lower lip. “Christy has a diary,” she said after a short pause. “With a lock on the cover. Bet you’d like to unlock that tonight.” She huffed a dark laugh. “Or maybe not.” She shut the Who’s Who and tossed it onto the tabletop in front of her. The spine of the book hit her short stack of cards and scattered a few of them across the table…

brooks3…including the ’76 Brooks Robinson, which, lying on the table in front of me, suddenly looked tempting.

“Margo,” I said, oddly interested, “is that a double?”

“What? Which one?” She looked down at the cards. “Brooksy? Nahhh… they’re all singles. These are the only ones I’ve gotten so far this year.” She looked at me, and her question spoke volumes about her level of interest (or maybe disinterest) in those cards: “You want it?”

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Really? Who said? The quiz (European History) wasn’t until Monday. There was a ballgame on the radio (Sox vs. Orioles, Gossage vs. Palmer). I had my journal; Margo had baseball cards and a copy of Who’s Who. Clearly we wanted distractions from the task at hand… or maybe from something else. After all, I’d just shot my own foot off by hiding from a distressed, probably-not-angry (“Oh, she was angry, Bri… just not at you”) Christy; Margo, meanwhile, had the triple whammy of Scott (“‘She’s made her choice,’ huh? Well, he has, too. Eff him.”), Christy (“‘Mui’ meant she was mad at moi”), and softball (“Maybe if Gettysburg also lost tonight we can back into Districts. I’m not holding my breath, though”), along with whatever else was going on with her (“Let me just say: I know that guys have wet dreams, but maybe you’d like to swap your next one in exchange for a period some month. Yeesh.”) that we wouldn’t be talking about if we were Studying.

Studying. Yeah.

Book_Three_-_Createspace049b

“What, Bri?”

“Well…” I set my pencil flat on my notebook, but was still touching it with my fingertips, like I wanted to remember it was there. “You’re sure Christy wasn’t mad at me?”

“Positive, Bri. Positive.” On the radio, Pat Kelly singled off Jim Palmer to start out the game. “Crap,” Margo said, slapping the Who’s Who on her thigh once. “True,” she continued, settling back into her seat, “that Christy did say what Karen said she heard: ‘I could kill you two.’ But she meant me and P.A., not you. The only time you got mentioned was when she kept asking me why I told you her size, and I said, ‘He’s your boyfriend. Don’t you want him to know?’ I just figured she wanted you to know. I mean, she told you her old size. Right?” She blinked. “Or did I do that?”

You told me, but she said she didn’t mind.”

Margo nodded. “Right. Right.” Inhale… exhale. “Any-way,” she continued, “I don’t see why she was all upset about you knowing. Besides, as I kept telling her–”

“–I don’t count. Right?”

I didn’t think that I said that in a wounded way, but given everything else on my mind, it must have carried that overtone, because Margo’s eyes widened and softened a little bit with sympathy.

“Brian…” She sighed quietly. “I didn’t… you know I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant… you know. You’re you. My best friend… her boyfriend. In the loop, you know? It’s not like you telling Marty… which,” she added quickly, “I did not so much as hint at.” I was looking down, but I could feel her looking at me, like she was picking up hurt that I wasn’t even aware of. “I’m sorry, Bri,” she said, and just when I thought she was being a little too sympathetic, she held out a wax wrapper from one of the packs of cards that she’d opened. “Here,” she said. “Have some gum!”


Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

All seven books - best.jpg“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around.Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.”
(The Literary Connoisseur)

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

Click here for ordering information. 

To read other excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

“I am kind of cute, but I could probably kick your butt, or at least Mike’s or Al’s, ha ha.”

Cover_1_v2001My novel Meeting Dennis Wilson is driven by 15-year-old Beach Boys fan Margo LeDoux’s crush on the group’s drummer, Dennis Wilson. When Margo gets the idea that she could actually maybe MEET her heartthrob, she composes a letter to him, which she presents to her best friends Brian (the book’s narrator) and Christy (Brian’s girlfriend)… and to her boyfriend Scott, who, naturally, opposes the idea (“I don’t want you runnin’ off and bein’ some GROUPIE!”). She sends the letter, which brings on problems of its own, and that, among other things, spurs the convoluted, interconnected plotlines of Meeting Dennis Wilson.

Here’s the rough draft of Margo’s letter to Denny.

Note: the break after “I’m kind of shy” is due to a narrative insertion in the book that I don’t want to spoil by including here.

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About Meeting Dennis Wilson…

“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around.Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.”
(The Literary Connoisseur)

All seven books - best.jpg

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

To read more excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

Click here for ordering information. 

The Vice-Principal

Cover bk 5 frontExcerpt from Chapter 51 (Book Five) of the novel Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

Setting: Quaker Valley High School, spring 1976

“Waiting for someone, Mr. Pressley?”

I heard the words at the same time that I felt the heavy hand on my shoulder. Dick Smiley, one of the assistant principals: tall, thin, sunken eyes, black hair, combover, narrow black necktie from the Ralph Nader Collection at your Adams County Goodwill. If Mr. Drake, the principal, looked like Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes (“You’re right! He does. I wish General Burkholder would send him to the Russian Front!”), then Dick Smiley looked like Colonel Klink (without the monocle), or maybe even Adolf Eichmann. Someone who was less concerned with learning or teaching than he was with discipline: the cold, efficient operation of a system.

KlinkI always figured, if Mr. Drake moved on (as Dick Smiley had, from the junior high, where he’d been principal when Margo and Christy and I were in seventh and eighth grades) and Dick Smiley got promoted, the first thing he’d do (or one of them) is knock out the second floor walls into the lobby and destroy the skylight and the frescoes of learning (did I mention that those frescoes depicted Famous Thinkers Through History, including Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Beethoven, Madame Curie, Edison, Franklin, and– one I didn’t recognize at the time, but spotted when I came back for our reunion– Krishnamurti!), and put in scaffolding or a rope bridge or something to join the two open hallways, so we could, all of us, move efficiently from second floor east to second floor west without a distracting, time-wasting (23 seconds, on average) trip up and down two flights of stairs, through the lobby, where Kids Might Get Into Trouble.

I realize that I keep calling him “Dick Smiley” and not “Mr. Smiley.” We always called him “Dick Smiley,” because (a) it was a funny name that we liked to make fun of (any excuse to say the word “Dick”); and, besides, (b) we didn’t feel like he deserved our respect.

Margo, in particular, hated him. “I think it’s that whole Eichmann thing you said once,” she said one afternoon on the way home from school. “It’s genetic with me. Grandma Trudeau barely got back to Quebec from France during the occupation. All you ever have to do is mention anything about Germany and she’ll launch into a tirade about ‘da Hun.’ Not the Hunsthe Hun. Singular… like there’s one Hun someplace, controlling everything. Cripes… the last time she was here I was talkin’ to Mom about what kind of car I’d maybe like when I finally get my license, and how cute Kathy’s VW is, and oops-yyy! ‘Oh, Volkswagens! Da Hunmobile! Car of da tousand year reich! Hitler’s beach buggy!’ Et cetera, et cetera. Two… uninterrupted… minutes, Bri. I shit you not. We just waited till she was done and then Mom said, ‘Well, maybe we can get you dat Dodge Rambler at Harris Chrysler.’ Yeesh!

“So yeah: Grandma would love Dick Smiley.”

Well, I was glad Grandma Trudeau would.

Anyway, there he stood, above me, hand on my shoulder– heavy but not gripping… not clamped on like Mr. Drake did. (I never got The Clamp, but Margo did once, “and I almost spun around and slapped him out of instinct. Hand clamped right on my bra strap. You’re a guy, Brian… you don’t know!”) –and as I turned my head to look up at him, I tried not to look or act tense, but I was totally tense, and also further annoyed… like, did I really need this one more thing?

I swallowed and took a breath, and as I did, I wondered if this guy ever got tired of kids swallowing and taking a breath and getting tense around (under) him, or if he somehow liked it? In his eyes I couldn’t read anything; that was the scary part. He was less like a person than he was a vulture, just looking for something to swoop down in on and start picking apart, rending. And there I was, fresh prey: in the lobby, on the bench, outside the girls’ (not boys’) room, disrupting flow and efficiency and logic in my own little annoying way. I started to answer his question (remember his question? About seven paragraphs of asides and exposition back? “Waiting for someone, Mr. Pressley?” One of those stupid, answer’s-in-the-question questions that peppered our school days, like Do you want to share that with the whole class? or Going somewhere?… questions that always made me want to scream What the fuck do YOU think??!!)

(I subbed one day in a high school. That was enough.)

(But again, I digress. Never mind “staying together”; how do novels get written? I started to answer him…)

…but before I could get a word out, he said, “Do you have a hall pass?”

Of course I didn’t. And he knew it too. I was at lunch; why would I need a hall pass?

Well… because if I was “at lunch,” that was in the caf, not outside the caf. Just because I didn’t like him didn’t mean I couldn’t think like him. That was part of the problem.

“No,” I said, wondering why, if I was so annoyed, my voice sounded so scared. “I’m at lunch.”

“Well,” he said, just as I predicted, “then shouldn’t you be in the cafeteria?”

See, this is what I hated about being in school, about being a kid. I knew what the school’s rules were, or at least I think I did– now, was there a specific rule against sitting in the lobby on one of these benches and waiting for someone while they were in the bathroom? Or was that covered under some Students must remain in the cafeteria until the end of the lunch period unless they need to use the rest room or visit the nurse or another office with a hall pass bullshit clause?

Sitting on that bench with him standing above me and Christy in the girls’ room behind me, I didn’t even know.

But there was another rule, definitely unwritten: Christy was upset and had run off. It wasn’t really my fault (not directly), but I felt like she was my responsibility. I loved her, and if I’d just stayed seated in the caf eating my lunch like a good little student while she ran out to the bathroom and cried, how would that look to her when she came out? How would I feel?

Never mind the ancillary argument it would spark:

Why didn’t you come out after me?

Oh, so it’s more important for you to finish your lunch than to see if I’m O.K.?

Well, that’s what it looks like…

I couldn’t cite a specific rule for Christy and me, either… but I could feel it. And at that moment, I felt like I knew which set of rules was more important.

I took a breath and looked up at Dick Vulture, and… you know, I don’t know what came over me, but all that annoyance and not liking him and not wanting to be on that bench or in the caf or in the lobby or the building or anyplace just coalesced…

I turned my face front and sighed. “You’re right,” I said. “I should be in the caf.” And I didn’t move or look at him.

Silence as Dick Smiley stood there, processing this, trying to make sense of the contradictory and circular illogic in my words and actions, like he was one of Harry Mudd’s androids (If Brian knows he should be in the cafeteria, then why would he be sitting out here? Therefore, he must not know that he should be in the cafeteria. But he says he knows he should be in there, and yet he is out here; therefore he must not know…) and just as I wondered if I’d start smelling smoke from the overloading circuitry in his neural net, the girls’ room door opened to my right and Christy stepped out, dabbing a tissue to her cheeks. As the door hit her butt, she saw me and Dick Smiley and stopped– “Oh!”– like she was not only surprised to see me sitting there, but, at the same time, since I was sitting there, not surprised to see him standing there. She barely missed a beat. “Thanks for keeping watch, Bri,” she said, a little bit awkwardly, like it was the best thing she could come up with at a moment’s notice, but it was enough: when she reached down and touched my right shoulder, it felt like the same spot where the angel stood in opposition to the devil during their Flea Market Debates, and I stood up without so much as glancing at Dick Smiley, and turned with Christy to walk back into the caf, her hand loosely resting on my right shoulder.

Phew!

…I think.


About Meeting Dennis Wilson

“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Townsor An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around.Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.”
(The Literary Connoisseur)

All seven books - best.jpg

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

To read excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

Click here to order these books in print or kindle edition from Amazon. 

“Bad soundtrack for a Democrat…”

An excerpt from the novel Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

Summer WindFifty years ago this week, Frank Sinatra’s single “Summer Wind” was released. One of Frank’s best records ever, with a sweet Nelson Riddle arrangement as perfect as… well, a summer wind.

I mentioned the song in my coming-of-age novel Meeting Dennis Wilson although, perhaps predictably, the teen characters in 1976 Quaker Valley weren’t quite as fond of the song or the singer as I am.

In this excerpt, Kathy Kelly (Christy’s big sister), who is attending her dad’s (Senator Tom Kelly) campaign picnic wearing a tight black BESERKELEY: HOME OF THE HITS t-shirt, lectures her mom (Katie) about the music that her mom and dad have chosen to pipe over the PA system at his official campaign function…


…Katie looked surprised and a little hurt. “You like Sinatra-”

“–his MUSIC, Mom.” Kathy caught me out of the corner of her eye. “SOME of it. Kind of,” she appended, and she looked back at her mom. “He’s part of that whole Nixon crowd–”

“–Kathleen,” Katie bristled, “no one who was around in 1960 associates Frank Sinatra with Richard Nixon.”

“Well, think about the voters who WEREN’T around in 1960, Mom,” Kathy replied, but her mom was already five steps away from the table, making her way back up to the front. Kathy shook her head. “Doesn’t listen,” she said. “I mean, Brian… they act like they’re so worried about Dad’s image… Mom says how they want him to keep his appeal with young voters. And then a young voter gives them feedback, and what do they play at the picnic?” She sighed. “And I know Mom loves Frank… but…”

“Summer Wind” had started playing. Not my favorite of his by a long shot, but still…

“I like Frank,” I said. (Had I ever really admitted that to anyone?)

“Well, I do too, Brian… sometimes… as a singer. But politically? He broke up with the Kennedys ten years ago. He’s in with Nixon, Reagan, that whole… bunch. Bad soundtrack for a Democrat.” Kathy sighed. “Plus… this song?” She sang in a deep, wavery, funereal voice –“‘The summer winnnnnnd…'”– and then mimed sticking her finger down her throat. “It’s like… roller rink music. I ask you, Brian: am I right?”

I was laughing at her whole presentation. “You’re right.”

“THANK you!”


About Meeting Dennis Wilson

“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Townsor An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around.Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.”
(The Literary Connoisseur)

All seven books - best.jpg

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

To read excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

Click here for ordering information.

Excerpts from “Meeting Dennis Wilson”

All seven books - bestHere are links to excerpts from my novel Meeting Dennis Wilson. 

Click on the titles and the links will open in a new window. 

For ordering info, click on the picture OR click here!

Wildflowers

“WHAT’D she say, little girl?” (Chapter 58)

“These things make the BEST water balloons!”

“He can meet all the girls!”

“Margo’s Guide To Bra Sizes”

“Dear Denny…”

 

 

Cover by cover…

All seven books - bestThe seven book covers for my serialized coming-of-age novel Meeting Dennis Wilson are all deliberately based on the cover designs of classic Beach Boys album covers.

In doing the designs (and yes, I did all of the cover design myself; like everything else in this process, it was a learning experience!), I wanted to emulate those album covers without directly ripping them off.

Designing each one of them was fun in its own way, from the time-consuming “fill in the blank boxes on the graph paper with color” for Book Six to taking the pictures for the mock-up postcards that I created for Book Four. As on the group’s early Capitol album covers, I even included the “file under” tabs at the top of the covers (for consistency with the whole series, I used those tabs in all the book designs, even those where the original albums didn’t have the tabs).

The only quirk of the design process that I couldn’t correct or control was that two of the books (one and three) were too slender to have spine type. Perhaps I should include a Sharpie with each of those books.

Like the story itself, the Meeting Dennis Wilson cover designs are not directly “about” the Beach Boys, but inspired by them… and people who like the group, I hope, will get it.

For those who don’t, though, this photo album shows you the book covers alongside the album covers on which the designs were based.

For more about Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

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