On March 22, 1996, a double shooting occurred in a car in a downtown Philadelphia parking lot. A young man and an FBI agent, working under cover, fired their guns nearly simultaneously. Both were killed. The young man was my friend.
So begins the prologue of Below Grade, a compelling coming-of-age story of the choices of youth, and the mistakes that can follow. The tale of drugs, graffiti, and private education follows a young man through his senior year of high school. When a good friend asks Myers to hold on to a bag of Quualudes for a short time, he complies. Because that's what these kinds of friends do. But the friend is deep into dealing, and the FBI is already on the scent. From the19th Century Shelby School, a once-proud institution heading to seed, to the subway tunnels of Center City, to the Philadelphia neighborhood known as "The Bottom," Below Grade is a gritty look at urban life in the 1980s.
Though this is a work of fiction, some aspects of the story are based on the 1996 event, and others that occurred in and around Philadelphia in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Read the first chapter.
When freelancer Chuck Cohen is hired, out of the blue, to co-write a humorous survival manual called Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones: How to Do Everything Your Mother Warned You About, he’s surprised—and not just at the ridiculous title.
A self-admitted PR hack with minimal creative flair, Chuck’s done little more than churn out cookie-cutter copy for a drug company, let alone write a book. But the book’s co-author—who’s already sold the unwritten project to a publisher—insists it’s a by-the-numbers research project. Chuck thinks the idea is silly. But his car needs new brakes.
To everyone’s surprise the controversial little gift book—which has teenage boys everywhere climbing out their bedrooms on bed-sheet ropes—becomes a sleeper hit. The press, and the money, roll in. There’s just one problem: people keep turning up dead . . . killed in bizarre, grisly ways that mimic, exactly, the “humorous” instructions in Chuck’s book.
While a USA Today reporter visits crime scenes and pokes around about Sticks and Stones’ mysterious origins, the book’s rich publisher, Carl Broadsheet, tabloid tycoon and playboy, does everything in his power to keep sales rolling. As the publicity mounts along with the body count, no one is certain which is driving which. Chuck begins to ask tough questions about why he was truly hired in the first place, and why everyone involved seems to be hiding something. Is he a freelancer, or a patsy? And is there a difference?
Chuck and his erstwhile co-author head to Los Angeles to pitch the reality show. But a depraved killer is close behind with his own story to pitch . . . and it has an ending even Hollywood couldn’t dream up.
A hilarious, nail-biting roman-a-clef about books, the vagaries of fame, and the inner workings of both publishing and Hollywood, Bestseller is a peek behind the curtain from a best-selling author who lived to tell the tale.
Read the first chapter.