Things I Haven’t Had Time to Think About

It depends on the person, ultimately.

library-centerImagine every book you’ve ever seen, and now think about before they were books. Before they were volumes on a shelf, most of the time sitting mutely, collecting dust, they were ideas. They were ideas that became a labor of love at the hands of hundreds of thousands, millions even, I suppose, whatever the number, they were crafted by the hands of authors. Well, and heads, I suppose. And in the cases of the best ones, heart. Or so one would hope.

And when engaged so deeply in creating anything, a level of focus is required, a level of commitment is demanded.

Around the writer, there might be a world in chaos, or at a more microcosmic level of magnification, it might just be his world that is deconstructing. Maybe all these things are happening. The writer doesn’t care.

Because for the duration of his life spent working on that particular book, the one you’re holding right now, the world around him didn’t matter. There was only one place, one world with which he was concerned, and that is the world of his making. The places, the people, the sounds, the smells of his world are all he knows.

And as you can imagine there are a great many things which he must consciously set aside for the time being.

But in the period between finishing the final draft and the book’s release, there’s still plenty of work to do with regard to the next steps of its commute. What there isn’t, anymore, is his total consumption. He’s no longer imprisoned in his creation, one in which he’d been the jailer as well as the convict.

And so he can think about other things.

NewYorkYankees_caplogo.svg_It’s Spring, and that means baseball. And in my family, that means Yankee Baseball. I can think about the game now, as Spring Training is in full swing and things are beginning to come together for Opening Day.

I can think about making a list of music to listen to while I’m working. I have Apple Music, and as such have access to a good chunk of every sound ever recorded, going back to Thomas Edison’s recital of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” [citation needed]

00bandsThe problem is when I’m working I can’t think of a damn thing I want to listen to, even though I know I want to listen to something. So I spend way too much time staring at iTunes, doing nothing.

So a list.

spring-cleaning-tips-homeownersI can think about spring cleaning too, although I don’t particularly want to. But it’s a necessary evil, and thinking about it earns me back some of the goodwill that was lost during the writing. “Hey, ya know what? I gotta get cleaning this place, top to bottom!” When I talk like this, my wife smiles at me, like she used to when she thought I was sexy. I think when I think about spring cleaning it might just make me sexy again. At least to the only girl that matters.

I can think about upcoming road trips, (which also seems to make me sexy), and plan fun things that we can do when our world can enmesh to that level, at least for a while.

writerBut I have a confession to make. Even in the midst of all this freedom to reconsider the other splinters of light and sound that make up my existence, several times a day I think about The Beauty of Bucharest. I guess it isn’t that strange. Even when I’m moving outside the confines of my imagined world, my mind wanders back and, if not finding a way fully back inside, at least holds its ear to the walls and wonders what might be happening.

And most of the time, when it happens, I’m pretty good at looking like I have at least some idea of what’s going on in my vicinity.

So I leave you with a challenge:

Take some time today to think about something that you really don’t have time to think about.


This and That… plus a Release Date


Tortoise and hare

Writing a book is a slow process, but once it’s complete things go much faster.

Some things are fast. Kids growing up, although it takes a lifetime, seems to go by in the beat of a heart. Episodes of This Is Us, take up an hour’s time on my DVR, been when I watch them, they seem to be over just moments after the opening credits. That guy on the highway who was just a tiny speck in your rearview but who flew by you a few seconds later.

All examples of fast things.

Writing a book did not make the list. Neither did the 1.5-meter dash for sloths. The length of time these two take can often feel very similar, especially when you hit a patch were a few days go by with little progress and you get to thinking like a baseball player who’s in a batting slump. You start thinking about everything that could possibly be the problem and before long you’ve talked yourself into another week of little progress.

But once it’s done things speed up.

Since typing “The End” the manuscript has been to the editor, returned with tons of corrections and several good suggestions, undergone a final rewrite, and has been shipped off to the publisher, from whence it will make its way to readers on…


That’s right, T-BoB will be available in a little more than 20 days. So get ready for the thrills…


Coming Soon!

Cover Reveal

I’m happy to be able to show you all the brand-spankin’ new cover for The Beauty of Bucharest, but before I do I’d like to tell you how it came about.

I had been flailing around with various attempts at designing it myself and coming up with results that looked little better than the cat I colored in kindergarten using only a black crayon, not even hinting at staying in the lines and on which I drew four-paned windows for eyes, much to Mrs. Hughes’s very vocal dissatisfaction. (Had the internet been around in 1965 a scan of it would no doubt still be floating around, but you’ll have to take my word for it).

00NLPThen over the weekend, pretty much completely out of the blue, I was contacted by a brand new publishing firm out of Iowa, called Northern Lake Publishing.

I say it was out of the blue, and to me, it felt that way, but in all fairness, I should point out that the CEO of said house is, in fact, my friend, and co-author of the SpyCo adventures, Craig Hart.

Long story even longer, by the end of the conversation I’d made a deal for NLP to publish none other than The Beauty of Bucharest or T-BoB, as we call it in our shorthand conversations, in which I usually address Craig as “C.H.” and he calls me “J.E.R.K.” which I assume is some kind of publisher’s acronym.

So the cynics will say… cynical things. But I will explain a little as to why I was blown away. I had known Craig was starting NLP to handle the publication of his own works and had figured that would be that. I thought that I might be represented tangentially in their catalog as the SpyCo’s,  logically, would be included, but that was the extent of it. I never expected anything more to develop.

When the subject was brought up I was very glad that we were communicating via Facebook Messenger, so that Craig couldn’t hear me squealing like an excited school girl. I probably gave myself away, though, since every other message I sent was just “EEEEEE!!!”

As my main work was already done, (the book was finished and ready for the editor), NLP kicked it into gear quickly by providing the cover design, which I approved without revisions.

Here then, is that cover:


See how much better that is than a cat with window eyes?

Assuming everything continues to fall into place, (it has thus far), the official launch date should be announced before too much longer. I’d tell you now but, frankly, I don’t know it.

I guess if you want to find out any sooner you’ll have to ask my publisher. (You knew I was going to have to pull that line at least once, right?)

New Release from a Favorite Author

00Sorry+to+crawl+out+from+under+my+rock+but+can+_a6471f6f0b0690f4fc41510ac8a6626aYou may have heard the name Craig A. Hart mentioned once or twice in the confines of this blog. If so, you’re about to hear it mentioned again. If you’ve never heard the name, go ahead and crawl out from under your rock. I’ll wait.

All out? Good. Let’s continue.

Not too long ago, Craig released the first book in the Shelby Alexander Thriller series, called Serenity. On April 4, 2018, he will release the fifth book in that series. It’s called Serenity Engulfed.

Here’s the official blurb to whet your appetite:

Familiar enemies resurface in this blazing new thriller that finds Shelby racing against time to save the most important person in his life: his own child.

When Shelby’s daughter, Leslie, fails to show up at his cabin for her long-planned visit to northern Michigan, he’s concerned, but makes excuses.

When her car is found abandoned by the side of a tree-lined highway, he fears the worst.

When her cellphone appears on his front porch, he knows something terrible has happened and that he is to blame.

Enlisting the help of the new county sheriff, Shelby launches a search for Leslie, all the while dealing with a prostitute in fear for her life, a sexy writer interested in writing his life story, and the long-banished ghosts of his own past.

Sounds pretty good in my opinion. You can actually pre-order Serenity Engulfed this very day if you so chose and you can do so from not one, or even two retailers, but from FOUR!! Here come the links:


00EnglufedAnd to make this news even sweeter, I am reporting that the introductory pre-order price is exactly 99 pennies. For those of you, (like me), who are mathematically challenged, I have it on very good authority that this is actually less than a dollar.

You would probably think the news couldn’t get any better, but YOU’D BE WRONG!!!

Because for the remainder of March 2018, books two, three, and four (entitled Serenity Stalked, Serenity Avenged, and Serenity Submerged) are available for the price of $2.99. The same sources that explained the 99 cents thing to me tell me this is actually more than a dollar but, and I’m quoting here: “Not really that much more.”

Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, you can get the book that started it all, Serenity for no pennies at all. Free. Zip. Nada. I didn’t even consult my experts about this because even I know that zero is a really good price for just about anything, and even more so for edge-of-your-seat, heart-pumping, thrill-a-minute (and several other hyphenated descriptors) excitement. Just head to Craig’s Amazon Author Page for all the deals.

Just a couple of other things before I go. Craig has one of the best readers’ groups on all of Facebook, after mine of course. (Don’t dwell on the fact that he has approximately ten times as many followers as me… mine’s still better.) If you’d like to be a part of this community, get the breaking news on the Serenity series as well as his other series, the SpyCo Adventures, co-authored with the most handsome writer currently seated at my laptop, you can follow this link and, once there, click the “Join” button. After he thoroughly vetting process, (consisting of him seeing that you’ve expressed interest in joining the group and clicking “Approve,” you’ll be in.

I suppose in fairness to you I should probably include a link to my group’s page as well since it’s so vastly superior. Same process there. Click join, and I’ll let you.

Last bit of news: The Beauty of Bucharest, my new crime thriller, is still on track for a late April release. Stay tuned for more details.


The Ground Is Shaky…



Probably not what Carole King was talking about when she was singing “I feel the Earth move under my feet…”

When you’re with the one you love and you feel the earth move it’s a good thing. When you’re in a 100-year-old building and you feel the earth move, it’s probably a good idea to get the heck out of there.

But there is another kind of shaky ground, and that’s the sort that sometimes crops up when you’re writing, especially if you’re the “Let’s see where the story takes us” sort of author. Which I am.

Over the past couple of nights’ work, I’ve reached a point in The Beauty of Bucharest where things can either get really exciting and go in a great direction or will require me to go back a couple of chapters and rewrite everything from that point forward.

00forkI suppose I could stress over this and get mad at myself for not being more of a “plan everything in minute detail” sort of writer. But I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that the potential reward way outweighs the potential risk. Having to rebuild a collapsed framework is no fun… just ask those folks from 1906 San Francisco photo. But what if it doesn’t all come tumbling down? More often than not when I come to these perilous forks in the road and commit to the iffy path the result is very gratifying. (I almost wrote “astounding” but my humble gland would not permit.)

I should know within the next chapter or so if I’ve stumbled or if it’s full steam ahead. Either way, I’m having a ball working on this book, and I hope you all will have as much fun when it comes time to read it!


Three is a Mystical Number

3Three. A number that throughout the ages has been imbued with symbolic and magical importance. To wit:

  • The Holy Trinity
  • The Three Wisemen
  • Three days in the tomb
  • Three-for-one jelly donuts at Dunkin

And that’s just in the Christian and the carbohydrates traditions. Here are a few others:

  • The Pythagoreans taught that 3 was the first true number (meaning 1 and 2 are liars, I guess)
  • Three is the first number that forms a geometrical figure – the triangle.
  • Expressions like “Third time’s the charm” or “Third time lucky” date back to antiquity, (or at least to when my mom said it in 1965 after I’d fallen off my bike twice).
  • Plato’s Utopian city was divided into three populations – the laborers, the warriors or guardians, and the philosophers, who were to be the rulers. (I’m guessing if he’d been a plumber they would have been the rulers, but that’s just a guess.)

I think I’ve made my point. Three is a pretty big deal.

It’s a big deal in the world of SpyCo novella’s as well, because every time Craig A, Hart and I publish three books in the series we also release a three-book anthology, and the publication of Assignment: Dublin marked the sixth Assignment.

So with great pride and much mystical “3” celebrating I’m happy to announce:


Assignment: Danger contains the SpyCo adventures set in Sydney, Alaska, and Dublin. These are three important titles in the series, each providing non-stop thrills and action, and collectively propelling the SpyCo saga forward.

All three books are yours for the low price of $4.99, which is also a mystical number, as you will ask yourself the mystical question “Can I really handle this much excitement for less than five bucks? It’s just mystical!” Or something similar.

collectionAnd if, for some mystical reason you haven’t read the first three installments, collected together in Assignment: Adventure now would be a very good time to do so as that particular collection is currently being offered for FREE on Amazon. And free is a level of mysticism we can all agree upon.

So I guess the most mystical question of all is: “Why haven’t you gotten these books yet?” GO!

Going Downhill



This does not look good.

The phrase “going downhill” carries with it a mainly negative connotation. We use it to denote failing health:

How’s Pops?
He’s going downhill fast. I don’t know if he’ll last the night.

Just in case you were wondering, that’s a direct quote from my own children, spoken on an almost daily basis.

The truth of the matter is that I will probably make it through the night, and at least a handful more nights after that. Moral: don’t listen to my kids.

We use the term to speak of the economy, the state of race relations, the quality of entertainment, and the state of the world at large. We have a number of equally depressing synonyms that can be used interchangeably.  Perhaps some pigeons wearing hats, and in one case glasses and a bread necklace, can illuminate this point:

Cheery, don’t you think?

Occasionally we use it to describe the motion of skiers, making it slightly less depressing, as they are supposed to go downhill.

For me, however, going downhill is a wonderful thing.

I use it to reference that point in my writing when everything is coming together and is moving toward a positive conclusion. It’s the point in the process where the book begins to proceed under its own momentum. The writing becomes easier. The story picks up momentum and begins to roll to a tidy ending.


This is an actual picture of me, being shocked by a twist in my own story.

It doesn’t mean there’s no room left for surprises. I have often said that I am the sort of writer who has a basic idea of the direction I want the story to go, and then allow myself to be pleasantly blown completely off that course by a new idea which grows organically out of the story. The twist, if you will. I’m reminded of a joke I recently read:

Q: How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Two, one to screw it most of the way in and another to give it a surprise twist at the end!

That’s funny right there.

Even funnier is the fact that a single writer can do the same thing, i.e. supply his own twist.

That happened to me at just past the midway point of The Beauty of Bucharest, and it brought me to the top of the downhill run. I feel like from here on things should begin to develop quickly, and that we’re on pace for my projected April release date.

Other News

I’ve started a Facebook Group, which I hope will achieve the things my Facebook Author page never did. I came to realize as time went by that pages like the Author page are basically money-making enterprises… for Facebook. They throttle back the number of people who see the posts, and in order to reach the kind of numbers one looks for from a page supposedly promoting your work, you have to pay them to “boost” the post.

Forget that.

The group does not place those kinds of restrictions on me and allows me to interact with readers directly and rapidly. It allows me to conduct polls, run contests, and just have more fun with my readers in general. The group is “closed,” but that just means that if you want to join you click on the button that says “Join,” (oddly enough), and I’m notified that someone is knocking, wherein I promptly open the door and welcome you aboard.

So if you interested in a more intimate connection, pop over to the S.J. Varengo – Readers Group and rap on the door!

And if you’d like a little added incentive to join the group, I’ve announced that once membership hits 200 I’ll do a random drawing of all members, with the winner receiving a signed copy of my short fiction book, Welcome Home. This delightful volume is an excellent addition to any recycling bin and can be yours for the low-low price of nothing at all if you take the plunge and join the group, (and then are randomly selected by an internet-based random selector.)

Do it! You’ll be so happy, and somewhere an angel will get his decoder ring!


Well, This is some B.S.!

Every now and then, despite knowing better, I just get the feeling that the Universe doesn’t like me. Why else would I get the flu right when I was ready to start on the second half of my new project, Cleanup Crew #1 – The Beauty of Bucharest?

Forget the fact that sitting up for more than five minutes is physically excruciating. The fact that I’ve been running a fever for 4 days (102.1° to start, down to 99.4° currently) has been the real problem, as I find it far more difficult to write without the help of my brain. When it’s cooking itself, it’s less inclined to turn the clever phrase or devise that fiendish plot twist. The degree of Herculean effort being spent to compose these few sentences should not be underestimated.

The good news is that this sort of thing almost always goes away eventually, and as soon as I’m sure I can sustain the effort I’ll get back to work.

In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of a nerdy duck.


Craig and Scott – A List of Similarities

Now that Craig Hart and I are poised to release SpyCo #6, Assignment: Dublin, (our 4th book together), I feel it’s time to address some of the… I must call them what they are… bloodcurdlingly frightening similarities between the two of us.


Here is a lovely picture of Craig making Kim drive AND mail a signed book to one of his many fans!


Here is a lovely picture of Kim and me about to pick apples. See how I’m toppling over and she supports me? So… well, supportive!

I’ll start with the fact that both of our wive’s are named Kim. What are the odds? (Seriously, any mathematicians reading… what are the odds?) Both of our Kim’s are great and are super-supportive of our work, which makes life for a writer a whole lot easier than, say, having a wife who routinely sets you on fire or calls you from the grocery store and disguises her voice then asks you if your refrigerator is running.


My son Evan, his wife Brittany, my daughter Mariah, and Kim, right before they set me adrift on a raft in the Atlantic Ocean, which is clearly photobombing us in this picture.

The next similarity is that we each have two children. There is a notable difference here, however. Kim and I had our two over a period of 3.5 years. Kim and Craig had theirs within a period of a few minutes of each other, which is, I suppose, more efficient. I have a policy about posting pictures of other people’s children (I don’t do it!) out of respect for the little bugger’s privacy and safety, so you’ll have to pester Craig if you want to see his adorable twins. My babies are 28 and 25 now so I can exploit their likenesses all I want!

So that takes care of the stuff you can maybe explain away. But now try some of these shockers on for size:

  • Craig grew up in Michigan. I also grew up in a state, just not the same one.
  • Craig lives in Iowa, a state with four letters. I live in New York, a state with three letters… followed by FOUR LETTERS!!!
  • Craig met me on Twitter. I met HIM on Twitter as well!
  • Craig has never seen me in person. Aside from the times I’ve stalked him at book signings wearing a big-hair wig and Lennonesque sunglasses, I’ve never seen him in person either!
  • Craig was born in 1980. I was drunk in 1980.

“Hello, Mr. Hart. Will you sign my copy of Serenity Submerged, available now along with all the other Shelby Alexander thrillers at your favorite retailer?” – S.J. Varengo in a clever disguise.

So I think two things are painfully apparent. 1 – I am a very unstable individual and B – we were pretty much born to write awesome books together. How else do you explain away all of these amazing coincidences? In fact, I think it was the Buddha who said, “Really there are no coincidences, only a lot of things that are very similar for no clear reason. Oh, wait. That’s pretty much the definition of a coincidence, isn’t it? Never mind. I have lots of other better sayings.”

The point here is that if you enjoy action-packed spy thrillers, crammed with amazing heroes, villainous villains, fantastic locations, and a lady named Dot who will have you in stitches, (in more ways than one), then you really need to read the latest work of these two super-similar authors, when Craig A. Hart and S.J. Varengo release Assignment: Dublin in February 2018 at all your favorite outlets, except maybe Home Depot. Because I’m pretty sure they don’t sell ebooks.

Dubs cover

Some Reviews

I am a proud member of Goodreads, both as an author and as an avid reader. One of this site’s best features is its annual readers’ challenge, in which it asks members to pick the number of books he wants to read for the year, and then tracks his progress. This will be the second year I’ve done this, and I’m off to a very good start. I’ll tell you why.

I’m relatively good at adding new books that I’m reading to my profile on Goodreads, but notoriously bad at recording my reading progress, and notating when I finish a book. Several of my 2017 reads were completed but never marked as such.


“Varengo read how many books today? Highly unlikely.”

And so today when I did a little housekeeping, going through my “Currently Reading” shelf and moving several books to the “Finished Reading” shelf, it looked a bit like I read five books… today! That’s not how it happened. That’s Dr. Spencer Reid reading, not S.J. Varengo reading.

Added to the confusion this could potentially cause on the Goodreads site itself is the fact that they joyfully wrote a post for each completed book and sent it along to Facebook. One or two people might have noticed on Goodreads. A whole lot more will have seen the FB posts. To wit: my wife, who pretty much ignores anything I do on Facebook, said to me tonight, “Why did you post about reading all these books?” That was actually my first indication that it had happened. I really had no idea what she as talking about.

“I didn’t post anything!” I protested vainly.

An instant later her iPhone screen was two inches from my eye-holes, accompanied by her sweet sing-song saying, “Ohhhhh noooooooo? What’s thiiiissss thennnnn?” (She really does talk with that many extra letters when she’s proving a point.)

The final maneuver in this choreography was the five emails I got, suggesting that I review the books, now that I’d finished them.


Emerson comes across as much kinder in his essays than his spiteful reanimated corpse would lead one to believe.

To that, I agreed. As an independent author myself, I know the importance of reviews. Perhaps a few of the writers on the list of books I allegedly read today are less concerned with what I have to say about their work. Two are dead, one for quite a while. I doubt even the one that was living when I began reading his work (James Michener), was overly worried about what I thought of Centennial, which I bought when it was released, but abandoned after 500 pages or so. I suppose that’s a form of review right there, but it’s far more an indictment of my attention span than of his writing. The other formerly living author in question was Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was so unconcerned with my feelings that he actually rose from the dead, borrowed a pen from an extremely frighted schoolgirl, and on a piece of scrap paper that he extracted from a waste can in the park, wrote these words:

“I could not possibly care less about what S.J. Varengo thinks of my essays. Your pal, R.W. Emerson.”

So I’m saving his review for last. At the very least it will give me time to calm down and get over the sting of his nastiness, allowing me to discuss his writing and not his post-mortal personality, which frankly does not impress.

The third author, still living in this case, who is not sweating my feelings on his book is Robin Cook. That’s a shame really because I have only good things to say about his work. The first time I read one of his books was when my son graduated from USMC boot camp on Parris Island, SC. in early 2010. It was at the house my mother rented for us, and I devoured it. Not too many guys or gals these days can say that they essentially invented a genre, but with the Medical Thriller, Cook did exactly that. So I will review his book Brain long before I give Emerson the time of day.

The final two books on the list are by independent authors, and they get the first write-ups.

The Wineland Sagas Book One The Saga of Leif the Lucky: The Lost Viking Colonies of North AmericaThe Wineland Sagas Book One The Saga of Leif the Lucky: The Lost Viking Colonies of North America by Milton Norman Franson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This first book of The Wineland Sagas by Milton Franson is a very interesting look at what the “true” discovery of the New World, at least by Europeans, might have been like. His characterization of Lief “The Lucky” Erickson breathes life into a figure that was little more than a name learned in passing during my (and I suspect most other people’s) education.

Franson writes with strength and confidence. He’s not afraid to make us laugh, and he’s very skilled at making us want to turn each page a little faster. I recommend this book without reservation!

View all my reviews

The Murder Files - 8 Stories of Murder, Lies and Mystery: (A thriller and suspense short story collection)The Murder Files – 8 Stories of Murder, Lies and Mystery: by Terry Keys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Murder Files is a great collection of action-packed thriller/suspense short works by some of the best independent authors currently working. The editor and final contributor to the work, Terry Keys, has done a good job of selecting some very intense stories, and his own, Red Eyes is brilliant.

The other highlight for me was The Son-in-Law by some guy named Craig Hart, (my writing partner on the Assignment: Adventure SpyCo Novellas), who has once again written a tale that dares you not to turn the page.

This is not a book you’re going to want to pass on!

View all my reviews

That’s it for tonight. Actually, this is a much better indication of my endurance that the so-called “Five Book Massacre,” as absolutely no one but me is tagging my exploit.

Stop back soon to hear my rave reviews of Michener and Cook, and see me exact my revenge upon Emerson!