The best fiction and non books on real people, real jobs, real lives

Who am I?

“Write what you know.” Every writer knows this. I have done that; first, in a novella, Losing Addison, which I recently made into a psychological thriller featuring Sherilyn Fenn (release date: June 28, 2022). The story is based on a nightmare I had in 2011. In addition, I have written two novels, By A Thread and The Falls, both of which involve Mormon missionaries caught up in events that test their integrity, forcing them to make difficult choices as said missionaries discover same-sex attractions more deeply rooted than they—and their superiors—would like to admit.

I wrote...

By a Thread

By Marty Beaudet,

Book cover of By a Thread

What is my book about?

"The time will come when the Constitution and the Government will hang by a thread and will be ready to fall...but this people, the Latter-Day Saints, will step forth and save it."

Thus prophesied the founding prophet of the Mormon Church. Is this prophecy on the verge of being fulfilled? Some adherents to the faith within the U.S. government think so. But what role will 21-year-old missionary Kevin "Red" Davis play when the CIA approaches him? What choices will he make when his faith, his patriotism, and his personal integrity come into conflict? Unfolding on the streets of Vienna, Munich, Washington, D.C., and in the confines of a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, By A Thread is a tale of truth, trust, and betrayal.

The books I picked & why

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Beat the Reaper

By Josh Bazell,

Book cover of Beat the Reaper

Why this book?

Easily my favorite book ever—one I’ve read or listened to five times—Reaper is a fictional imagining of the double-life of a medical resident at a fictional New York hospital. It is entirely convincing, since Bazell was actually a medical resident (at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center) when he wrote it. Don’t ask me how a resident finds the time to write, but boy did he knock this one out of the park! Reaper is the story of Peter Brnwa (Brown), son of Jewish/Polish war victims, who becomes a mob hitman after being informally adopted by his best friend's mafioso family. Peter’s intent is to avenge the murders of the grandparents who raised him. When he decides to get out of the business, he’s enrolled in the witness protection program and, simultaneously, med school. Of course, the mob discovers him there, and the results are hysterical as he tries to juggle killing and saving people all in the course of a typical day at the hospital. As a filmmaker, I actually considered adapting this story. (My connection: Bazell and I have a friend in common.)

Senseless Confidential: A Neo-Noir Absurdist Romp Through the Oregon Cascades

By Martin Bannon,

Book cover of Senseless Confidential: A Neo-Noir Absurdist Romp Through the Oregon Cascades

Why this book?

Senseless is the embellished account of Nick Prince, a jaded census worker, who is required to prowl rural backwoods in search of the folks who, for one reason or another, didn’t return their completed census questionnaires as required by law. Bannon, who actually worked for over a decade in this role, explains that Title 13 of the U.S. Code forbids census employees from revealing anything they learn about the individuals they visit, under penalty of hefty fines and prison time. This conceit makes for some hysterical maneuverings that, according to Bannon, are based on some actual events he’s forbidden to relate in non-fiction prose. It’s hard to tell where fiction and non-fiction diverge as Nick encounters a sequestered polygamist compound far off the grid. Hilarity ensues when a desperate wife decides he’s her ticket out of captivity and she convinces him to help her rescue the rest of the clan as well. (My connection: I worked part-time for the U.S. Census Bureau in the early 2000s.)

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts

By Julian Rubinstein,

Book cover of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts

Why this book?

If not for the Internet’s ability to locate actual news coverage of events, one could be forgiven for thinking Rubenstein’s tale of Attila Ambrus – a Hungarian hockey player turned pelt smuggler and bank robberwas a fanciful work of pure fiction. That it is indeed a true story makes it all the more delicious as the unlikely tale of an unremarkable player on an unremarkable team becomes a storied folk hero precisely because he’s so bad at breaking the law. You will find yourself rooting for the bumbling protagonist of this true story, perhaps because he is so earnest in his questionable endeavors. Rubinstein told me over a decade ago that the story had been optioned for the big screen with Johnny Depp in mind, but it would seem that, sadly, that ship sailed long ago. It would make a great film. (My connection: Rubinstein and I are Facebook friends.)

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

By Patrick Dennis,

Book cover of Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

Why this book?

Patrick Dennis’s “hyperbolized” version of his life with his aunt and legal guardian, Mame Dennis, has a history both on Broadway (“Mame” portrayed by Lucille Ball) and on the silver screen (“Auntie Mame” portrayed by Rosalind Russell). It was the film that led me to the book, which Dennis admits is filled with hyperbole and imaginary details. It is, however, based on the sometimes outlandish and often controversial life of his “progressive” aunt, who believed “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving.”

It’s hard to tell where reality ends and fiction begins, but in truth you won’t want to. Auntie Mame manages to be both touching and hysterical as it follows Mame’s swinging New York lifestyle through the Great Depression into the workforce (a first for the heretofore wealthy heiress) and beyond into marriage into a “proper” Southern family, whose scrutiny Mame does not always survive intact. (My connection: My mother’s experiences, only a decade behind Mame’s, were often similar: a wealthy background, eyebrow-raising “unapproved behavior,” and lots of unlikely hysterics with children in tow. The style of my “Momoirs,” currently in progress is based, in part, on Patrick Dennis’s work.)

On the Road

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of On the Road

Why this book?

This is the only book on my list that isn’t a comedy. But it’s 100% real, as Kerouac chronicles his Bohemian wanderings across the USA in his young-adult years. What it shares with the other titles is the joy of the unknown and the surprise of the unanticipated as Kerouac lives a sort of “stream-of-consciousness” existence. He encounters strangers, pairs up with some, drifts off again, and opens himself up to new experiences and possibilities. Sometimes it results in happy accidents, other times in heartbreak. That this is a true story without a plot, written in real time as it unfolds, keeps it fresh and exciting. Since its publication in 1957 (the week that I was born), it has famously inspired many a young man and woman to embark on similarly open-ended Bohemian wanderings. I myself spent a year traveling across Canada, throughout Europe, and back across the U.S. at the age of 16. (My connection: Kerouac was a distant cousin of the father that raised me.)

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