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Joan Gelfand

Joan Gelfand

A poet and arts activist, Joan is the author of three well reviewed books and the winner of the Cervena Barva Fiction Prize.

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Success! Fear To Shred sold 260 pre-orders by Jan. 4, 2017, was pitched to 57 publishers, and will be published by C&R Press.
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Fear To Shred

Sexual tension, greed and betrayals surround the startup where Hope Ellson is caught in the maelstrom. Add Hollywood to the mix and listen to the cultures clash louder than a timpani pounding out Beethoven’s Ninth. Doug Wiser rebuilds the site. The founders make fatal mistakes. Hope and Doug reignite a romance that threatens the equilibrium and the company’s success.

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Literary Fiction Startup Thriller
San Francisco, California
80,000 words
100% complete
11 publishers interested

Synopsis

Hope Ellson, a thirty-two year old Silicon Valley veteran, is from the wrong side of the tracks. An over-achiever growing up in the Livermore Valley, close to but worlds away from Silicon Valley, Hope is set on the path to success with scholarships and lucky breaks. Now, Hope is hungry for a multi-million dollar win. As luck would have it, she is recruited by Arthur McKnight to work at FearToShred, a hot new startup creating a Twitter-based video streaming game for Extreme athletes.

The Adventure Network (TAN), a Hollywood channel, has approached FearToShred with the idea of using their top players in a reality show. (Think “American Idol” for extreme athletes.)

FearToShred has a chance for an epic win, but there are technical problems. In an inspired and risky move, Hope hires Doug Wiser, an old flame and top engineer to help fix the shaky code on which the young founders Jeff Price and Julie Omara have built FearToShred.

Doug, an accomplished engineer and musician, has the skills and talent to get FearToShred on track technically. When we meet him, Doug is training to compete in his first triathlon. His new training regime is his plan to reinvent himself after a year of failing to make it as a musician.

Doug is working on fixing FearToShred’s site as the vultures start circling. If he misses the deadline with TAN, the company could tank. TAN drives a wedge between Jeff and Julie. Jeff, the scrappier of the two, has no interest in Hollywood. Julie, a lesbian whose father cut his technical teeth at Apple, hops on board, thinking that TAN could help FearToShred score the big win.

As Doug and his team work against the clock to rescue the company, the unresolved sexual tension between him and Hope threatens to derail their working relationship.

By now, so much is on the line that everyone is going slightly crazy. As Doug and Jeff argue about the level of danger FearToShred should be advocating, Doug considers jumping ship. Taking a day off from his rigorous training schedule, Doug tries to drown his confusion and agitation by visiting the hip little bar where he and Hope used to go after work. Filled with nostalgia and beer, he goes to Hope’s apartment on a whim. After brainstorming ways to reinvent FearToShred to engage in social good, they fall into bed.

Unfortunately, FearToShred’s problems are not solved. In the toxic Silicon Valley cocktail of jealousy, power grabbing and greed everyone is trying to out-think, out-maneuver and out-intimidate everyone else. Doug and Arthur are at loggerheads about Doug’s insistence on tearing down and re-building the site from scratch. Kelly, an executive at TAN is out to seduce Hope, and Arthur McKnight, FearToShred’s CEO is losing faith that they will meet TAN’s deadline.

The clock is ticking when a contestant dies in a foolish accident. A technical test fails and the company is running out of runway (money needed to keep the company afloat.) Arthur starts secret negotiations to sell the company.

Phobic about the prospect of a failure, Arthur begins working behind the scenes with YUMI, a multi-channel network, to take over FearToShred. YUMI’s terms include a non-negotiable requirement: Doug works for YUMI for four years before he gets his pay-off.

Arthur needs Hope’s help to make the deal happen. He offers her a golden parachute if he succeeds in selling to YUMI. Hope is forced to make a life-changing decision: Should she help Arthur and fulfill her lifelong financial dream, or stay loyal to Doug and her friends at FearToShred?

As the book careens towards its denouement, Doug dies during the marathon of the Triathlon and Hope is thrown into an existential crisis. What does money mean if you lose the people you love? Oh, and by the way, what IS love?

At the end of the novel, Hope finds her way to redemption when she decides to invest in helping girls to succeed in the technical world.

Audience

1: Women in Tech

Women in Tech will be eager to read “Fear to Shred” because it portrays an authentic protagonist who is faced with, and manages, internal and external struggles.

Hope Ellson is not unique in the world of business but she is not often portrayed; a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who fights to make her way in a male dominated world.

2: Tech workers who love a good story about themselves.

“Fear to Shred” holds a mirror up to the tech community. Readers might not always love what they see, but they will enjoy reading about themselves.

The bonus is that they will hear the stories about the inner lives of their co-workers to which they may have not been privy.

3: Women and men who want to learn about the tech world, its machinations and backroom goings on.

“Fear to Shred” demystifies the world of startups. Most of the country, and perhaps the world, hasn’t a clue how a tiny group of 4 people develop a company from the small seed of an idea to a company that is acquired by Google, Facebook or Linked in for 2-20 billion dollars.

“Fear to Shred” uncovers the mechanics behind the financial dealings that had made some people very rich. “Fear to Shred” goes behind the scenes to give an insider’s look at the startup world, its unusual culture and its dramas, successes and betrayals.

4: Xtreme sports enthusiasts

Extreme sports enthusiasts will love the book because of its focus on risk taking, a fast pace and the focus on different sports and extreme tricks and stunts. 

5: Teenagers, college age kids who love a fast-paced story.

For all the wannabe tecchies in high school or coding boot camps now, for all the college kids organizing their lives to go into tech, for all the dreamers of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, “Fear to Shred” will inspire, intrigue and sober.

6: Romance readers

Readers of romance and love stories who enjoy reading about a strong woman navigating the minefields of love and power, “Fear to Shred” will provide a sexy and fun read.

7: BOOK GROUPS: People who join together to read and analyze books.

With heady themes such as ethics and betrayal, extramarital love, reinvention of oneself, class struggles, family dramas, burnt bridges, reconciliations and doing good in the world, “Fear to Shred” has many avenues to explore to inspire stimulating conversations.

8: Workers and executives in Corporate Life:

Corporations because they will want to know about a book that reflects (and brings media attention) to their industry.

Author

Author of three poetry collections and a chapbook of short fiction, Joan’s work is published in national and international journals and anthologies. A member of the National Book Critics Circle and Development Chair for the Women’s National Book Association, her poetry film, “The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics,” was featured in the Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece and local venues.

Promotion

As a longtime member and leader in the Women’s National Book Association, I plan to organize a book tour in all 12 chapters. As a friend of each chapter president, I will be invited to read in twelve cities around the country.

Many of the chapters include movers and shakers in the book world. Members include an NPR host of a book radio show in New Orleans, book distributors, festival organizers (Southern Festival of Books) Editors, Reviewers and other well connected literary professionals.

As a blogger for the Huffington Post, I will be writing articles on Women in Tech to bring attention to the book.

I have already been invited in to speak to the Women in Leadership at Salesforce corporate headquarters in San Francisco.

I am planning to leverage this invitation to speak at other tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Slack where I have professional connections.

Social media: With over 7,000 connections, friends and followers on LinkedIn, Twitter and Faceook, I will run ads for the book to reach a global audience.

Other professional associations which I will leverage

I will be hiring my own publicist to organize a radio tour, additional book signings and speaking engagements and to strategize well placed reviews and articles.

Competition

“The Cookbook Collector” Allegra Goodman /Random House

“Disclosure” Michael Crichton / Arrow Publishing

“The Code Thief” MR Justin Anthony Conboy/Createspace

“Private Offerings,” by Ann Bridges (appears to be self published)

“Moby Dx” A novel of Silicon Valley. Dan Seligson (being shopped)

“The First 20 Million is Always the Hardest,” Po Bronson, Random House

“Rare Mettle,” A silicon valley novel Ann Bridges/Balcony 7 Media

“The Circle” - Dave Eggers/ Knoph/McSweeney’s

“Learning Curve” Michael Malone, Barking Rain Press

Samples

Chapter 1

“We all have three lives. Public, private, and secret.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After fruitless circling of the Purple, Coral and Lime parking lots, Hope surrenders. She drives underground, edging four levels into the bowels of the Civic Center garage. She surrenders, but not before considering several vacant red, blue and yellow spots, as tempting to her as any gooey dessert. Not today. Anything can happen in the minute she runs into CVS, including a beat cop under pressure to get his numbers up. When did parking in downtown Palo Alto at three pm become an Olympic event? Did the student population at Stanford just increase by a factor of ten? Is Obama in town? WTF?

Leaving the underground lot is like stepping into harsh daylight after a matinee, a brutal transition from fantasy to reality. Today, is very real. Today, Hope’s fantasies are about work, even if work is its own movie.

Today there are questions to answer Does FearTo Shred have legs? Why did Arthur turn down an eighty million dollar offer for Datex, his former company? FearToShred hasn’t gone public yet. That’s a good thing, but a fact which had blocked Hope from getting the boatload of intelligence she wanted for the interview. She could call around, but sleuthing would signal that she’s leaving Manuserve.

Hope squints. The sun is bright, but that’s nothing new; the sun has been bright all year. She slips on Ray Bans, as integral to her outfit as her Apple watch or Blahniks. California has been stuck in an endless summer. Is it November? August? January? Who can tell? Palo Alto and the surrounding small Peninsula towns are rife with a nonstop parade of joggers, cyclists, and mothers pushing baby strollers. Seventy-five degree Sundays. manic with traffic. Fresh air nuts having a heyday.

The drought is creepy. Hope’s yard has deteriorated to a dusty grey; her showers are bullet short. One dry winter has turned into three. The utilities have pulled the plug on public watering. Abusers are ridiculed on the front pages of the press. Northern California blames Southern California. Tony golf courses of the wealthy are under civic scrutiny. All while California’s economy shoots into the stratosphere.

Which was why Hope wasn’t surprised when Arthur called. Startups were competing for talent. Today, despite the severe lack of rain, the world is fresh and new. The air is warmer, the sun higher. Gardenia and jasmine scent the air and the breeze whispers ‘possibility.’ At least the weather forecasters could stop pretending to hope for rain. Next fall will be another story.

Through the glass doors and up the wide aisle at the University Avenue CVS, Hope heads for the row of convenience store cosmetics to suss out a chintzy replacement lipstick for the MAC she accidentally left on her desk.

A wall of lipsticks waits like a chorus line of Vegas dancers. Hope checks her watch thirteen minutes to pick out a shade that says ‘serious but sexy/smart but perky.’ She assesses the check out line – decent. Two cashiers, one auto pay and only a few standing in line. She sets her phone alarm for ten minutes. She has a tendency to lose herself in these things.

Five foot eight, Hope weighed in this morning at 140; not her best weight ever but she’s been busy. A thick lock of auburn hair stretches midway down her back and her legs are long and slim. She woke up feeling good in her skin. A sexy wake up call from James in bed this morning didn’t hurt. She’ll get back to her fighting weight soon.

Lipsticks. Maybelline, Cover Girl. Hope frets. Russian Red. Too slutty. Indie Flick Matte. Trying too hard. Her go-to shade is Diva by MAC, but CVS doesn’t carry the brand. Firecracker. Too wild. Ruby Woo. Milf. Hot Passion. Not for work. Ah, wait. Monte Carlo. Rich. Smart looking. She tries a sample on the back of her hand. Possible. With a clean Q-tip she swipes her lips. Deep. But wait. There’ s American Doll. Looks like Diva’s poor sister. Same shade, cheaper packaging. She wipes off the Monte Carlo with a moistened towel from a handy dispenser, swipes a fresh Q-tip. Hmm…a blend? American Doll and Monte Carlo? Perfect. Hope purses her lips in the small makeup mirror mounted on the wall, wondering if her cheeks have a natural high color or is that the lighting – this is awfully green florescent! – when she catches sight of Doug Wiser walking toward her.

Instinctively, Hope swings her hair in front of her face, kneels down low to fumble with her Coach slouch bag. She’s searching for her credit card when his warm hand alights on her shoulder.

“Hope!”

Hope looks up, her head uncomfortably level with Doug’s crotch. She unfolds herself to full height as the button on her pencil skirt pops.

“How the heck are you?” Doug throws his arms around her in a cozy bear hug.
A whirligig of thoughts. ‘This is Doug? Doug Wiser? In skinny jeans and Nikes? This is Doug, clean shaven, bed hair and cheekbones? This is Doug in CVS at 3:15pm holding a pregnancy kit and a bottle of vitamins? This is Doug who asked Hope (kindly) not to call because he ‘was lost?’ Thoughts spin. Her phone alarm buzzes. How is she? She’s tense. And worse, she’s ruffled by running smack into her ex-lover in CVS a half an hour before an interview!

“I’m great. So good to see you!” Hope half smiles. “I’m sorry – I’m rushing - on my way – I’m late actually!”
Hope nervously juggling the two lipsticks while Doug’s gaze lingers on her hands,
takes in the whole of her. When she finally meets his gaze he’s looking at her warmly, the way a parent looks proudly at a child accomplishing a new feat – a climb up the monkey bars, a ball caught. Or was that condescension? He, calm. She, frazzled.

“Hey, I didn’t mean to catch you in the middle of things! We’ll talk later.”

“Totally,” Hope says touching his arm. “Sorry.”

Hope grabs a package of safety pins. On line, she stares long into the depths of her brown suede bag. It’s been over a year. She’s missed him. She thinks about him almost every day. In front of her, a small woman with dark glasses holds the leash of a service dog, a beautiful short haired golden that reminds her of Gracie, the first and last dog she owned. She peeks in her makeup mirror, checking the front of the store.

He’s gone.
Hope walks toward High Street. How can this be? How can she just crash into
Doug in CVS? Was he really holding a pregnancy test? In all of her fantasies, in all the past year of secret dreams and fears, the last place she would meet Doug Wiser was in the lipstick aisle of CVS.

Now, how is she going to rock the interview? Her nerves are jangled and her button is popped. Now, she feels less like Ninja-warrior Hope and more like one of those disheveled working mothers who drive by on her daily commute – patting makeup on in their rearview mirrors, forgetting babies, pets. She checks her Apple watch – three thirty-five. Ten minutes for a quick stop.
Slipping into Philz, Hope orders a green tea and scoots into the restroom to repair the skirt with a safety pin.

Happily repaired, she snags a tiny table. Lists, a habit she developed in college
when her night restaurant job, parts modeling, classes, and homework assignments got complicated, still calm her. It’s a habit she’s never bothered to break.

Quickly, she taps out a list of questions on her tablet: Arthur turned down the eighty million offer for Datex. Why? Was there a back-up offer? Was he hoping to create more value? Was Arthur passionate about FTS, or was he just in it for the money? She scratches the last question; it’s too early to ask.

At three fifty, her pre-Doug equilibrium restored, Hope walks the two blocks to High and Homer. Past Serenity yoga, craft beer pub, Bucca de Beppo, and the Party Store. Did she really just see Doug? Yes, she had. But did seeing Doug today count? Yes, they had hugged, but it wasn’t really a reunion, was it? A reunion is planned. Hope erases the interlude like she’d erased the lipstick on the back of her hand.

Halfway across High Street Hope’s cell rings.

“Doll?”

“James?”

“That was sweet this morning. You good?”

“Yes. All good! Listen, I’m running late,” Hope’s stomach churns. “Catch you later?”

“No prob. See you tonight?”

“Yes. No. I’m not sure. I’ll call.”

“Mwah.”

“Mwah.”

Three fifty-six. She hadn’t told James about the interview. She wasn’t ready for a lecture on the fallibility of startups or the percentage that tank. Outside FearToShred’s frosted glass doors, she tears open the packaging of the two lipsticks.

A quick application in her hand mirror. Gone is the high cheek color. This time she looks pale, spooked.

Chapter 9

Jeff grabs his white fuzzy hat tricked out with the new Go-Pro. Locking the door to his apartment, a text pings: “Remember who we R! FTS! We R here to tear it UP!”

“Yeah, & U just miss YR sponsorships – that’s why U want 2 DO TAN!” Jeff texts back. It was true that since Julie’s accident, she’d put herself into FearToShred a hundred and ten percent. For himself, he could always go back to skating. He still had all his prize money invested. ‘Diversify’ his financial advisor recommended. And so he had a portfolio of stock and bonds.

If Jeff’s old man worked for Apple all those years, he would be kicked back dreaming about all that stock he was set to inherit. But Julie was the breadwinner in her family. Still. Fucking TAN?

Jeff isn’t sure what makes Julie so cocky, but he wishes he had some. His personal stock is slipping fast. Duh? A girlfriend! Julie has a girlfriend. He could sure use one of those.

Jeff scoots across town on his blue Vespa. Early morning, the skater park is quiet. 8:00 A.M. Plenty of time. Bright morning light creates a crescent moon shadow against the concrete ramp. Skinny birch trees quake in a morning breeze coming up over the hills. Jeff tears off his jacket, queues up ‘The Offspring” and “Dogwood” on his iPhone, sets the camera to record and throws down his old skateboard. He jumps on, spinning a few go-rounds to get up speed and loosen up his quads. He practices his ollies first, circling the crescent on two wheels, the board scraping the side of the concrete bowl. Sparks fly off the back wheels like the Fourth of July.

Maybe things are going too fast. First he signed up to put out challenges, and then Arthur raised money so they could hire more engineers. At that point, he wasn’t sure his code could withstand the increased traffic. Who knew they were going to 6x their users in thirty days? ”I checked it out with my dad. We have to shard if we want the site to stay stable.” Julie insisted.

Rounding wheels, the satisfying sound of the scrape, the sparks. Early in the morning, he can focus in a way he can’t when other people are crowding the lanes. Taking a sharp turn, he realizes that since they got their funding, he’s been working more and skating less. If he loses his edge, he loses, period. Now someone’s gotten arrested for playing our game. Is that what we wanted? Is that our fault?

A cool breeze caresses his face like a silk-gloved hand. Jeff is ranting loudly - to himself.

A couple of turns into his routine he decides today is the day. His pop shove-its are stale, shaky. If he’s going to compete in Santa Cruz next week, he’s got to get this trick perfect. His adrenaline pumps at just the right flow. He moves his right foot back, the board lifting off. Quickly, he moves his left foot into position, heading for the steps. Up! Jeff flips up his board – shouts to the empty park: Ta-da! The rest of the skate is a variation of ollies and pop shove-its defined with a high hat trick thrown in for good measure.

When he first started FTS he was a local hero but when he moved down to the valley with VC money, the other skaters, and even his friends, started treating him with thinly veiled distrust. He’s lost a few local fans, but he’s gained thousands around the country and, lately, around the world. But it isn’t the same. He misses his homies.

Does Julie know something that I don’t? She seems to have a bond with Arthur. Maybe it’s the lacrosse shit. Lacrosse was the collegiate sport Julie’s braniac dad had pushed her into during her early home-schooling years. When things got down to team sports, Jeff always felt left out. “Not my thing,” he told his high school running coach who pressed him to go out for varsity track. Nothing mattered but skating. No boss, no coach. The only authority he had to answer to was himself. Barely a day passed in high school when he wasn’t dressed down by a teacher or his mother for having trouble with authority.

One last pop shove it. Jeff leans his back leg on the lip of his skateboard; he flips the board up at the perfect 45-degree angle. He jumps up to let the board spin and reverse direction. He lands just as a ray of sun blinds him. Losing track of the ramp, he misses a turn. All at once, his ankle gives way, his right foot crumples.

“FUCK!”

Jeff’s shoulder rips, the sound like masking tape pulled from the molding in a freshly painted room.

Chapter 43

The first hill, along the Embarcadero, up to Fort Mason and around under the bridge, is the first in a long series of hurdles.

On the way in this morning, Julie texted: This one’s for you, babe! You go! Then added:

‘There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing
because you are afraid to lose. Garth Stein.’

‘Isn’t that true about nearly everything?’ Doug muses. Life is a race. The company
was a race. The music had been a race. Katie’s baby clock is a race. A race against time.

Doug pedals past the closed-up Ferry Building, listening to cars and trucks tharumping over the metal decking of the Bay Bridge. Ahead is Alcatraz, that politically sticky island that draws tourists like a beehive draws bees. Training had had its challenges, but completing a triathlon is a different animal completely. Doug has the sense that he had practiced riding a horse, albeit an unbroken, slightly wild horse, on a trail in Woodside, but today, he is taking a ride on an elephant in the jungles of Thailand. He had considered running through the entire course once, just to allay the fear, but Aaron discouraged him: “Hey, you gotta save some surprises. Think of the training like dating. You know what it leads up, right? Race day is going for it with your favorite girl for the first time. You want to leave a little mystery, right? You’ll be fine!”

Ok. He drank the Kool-Aid. The sexual metaphor helped. “Turn the anxiety into desire,” Aaron counseled. “Remember, it’s all a mind game, Dougy. And you’re the boss of it. You wrote that game. In fact, think of it as one of your little work games. You’re the master of the universe, man.” He didn’t argue.

So, all weekend, instead of running the course, he rested his muscles, babied himself, really. He took naps, read and laid hot and cold compresses on his feet, back, neck, and shoulders. He ran through the bike route, the swim, and the race a million times in his mind.

The only part of the training he neglected was the cold-water swim, and now he was sorry that he hadn’t forced himself. Hundreds of competitors have trained in Lake Tahoe, the Bay. But unlike his fellow competitors, Doug is not doing this to win. This race isn’t a business deal; it’s an act of faith.

The first long hill ends at a vista point. The east-facing hills, bleached a pale yellow, bake in a blinding morning sun. Ridges and folded contours rising from the bay are a sweet baked Alaska flaming on a silver tray. Knife-sharp cliffs are tinged with green and gold; the view is clear all the way up to Napa.

Doug has seen the sight a million times, but today it takes his breath away. Coming up on the Golden Gate Bridge after biking along under the Bay Bridge is like seeing your gorgeous girlfriend, who just minutes ago was in sweats with her hair up, dolled up for a Saturday night date. There’s a way that the iconic bridge ties the two landmasses together that never ceases to feel, well, downright glamorous. The deco design, the towers, the sheer expanse of the thing give the whole tableau an MGM movie set feel. You just expect to see Clark Gable strutting out in a top hat and tails with Carole Lombard on his arm in a long, slinky gown.

Forget Hollywood. The way the orange bridge reaches out from San Francisco to Marin, almost against all odds and imagination, inspires awe and wonder in all who travel in its vicinity. Experiencing such a grand feat of engineering inspires people to dream their own dreams. Isn’t this what every great architect hopes for? The raising up of the human spirit? And the best part was, the Golden Gate was a piece of architecture that could take its time, have a long tangential conversation before making its point. Hello ships, sailboats, ferries, cars, bicyclists, walkers, joggers! You’re not entering some backwater slough; you are about to enter San Francisco Bay, gateway to the Far East, entrance to the United States! Stand up! Be proud!

Doug rounds the corner, keeping the bridge in his sight for as long as possible. He makes the turn south, thinking how his own personal conversation with the bridge had been short and sweet: “Wiser. You have arrived.” And maybe in his own way, he has arrived. So, he hasn’t gotten as far with his band as he’d hoped; so he would go to work for YUMI. So? He’s still here, isn’t he?

He circles back south, the high-rises of downtown coming into view, spread out like some magical village, like a misplaced, mystical Oz. Tall buildings are all glass, and shine, class and civility off in the distance. Between hills, the Transamerica pyramid punctures the blue sky like an urchin punctures the sea.
Doug’s legs shout. Mile eighteen. Two more hills ahead, the two that are not as forgiving as this last easy grade. Down and up onto the next grade, Doug thinks about the company. ‘Did I screw it up? Was my insistence on the rewrite a deal breaker? Is that why Arthur lost his confidence? Don’t go there, Wiser. Today is my day off, right? Besides, what’s done is done.’ There are always missteps, things take longer than you think, co-workers butt heads. Nothing new, really.

Doug tackles the next uphill, his mind drifting back to work like a homing pigeon. He knew that joining FTS was a risk, but once he made the decision, he went in whole-hog. No ‘one foot out the door.’ No thinking, oh this probably won’t happen. He gave it his best shot. He couldn’t have done it any other way. ‘Like Jeff said, we were all in love with it, with the dream of it.’ There was no other way.

‘So YUMI won. So what? My heart’s been broken before! I’m not even talking about women, not even Hope, Katie. I’m talking about work, music. “You care too much,” his dad once said when he moped for three days after losing a soccer final to the high school across town. Doug was crushed. “It’s all part of the game,” Dad said.

He taught Doug that losing one day didn’t mean you couldn’t win the next. The problem in life, he said, was that most people were afraid to get back on the horse. He made a roller coaster curve with his hand.

Doug bought it, but he kept his dreams and his inner life private. Doug could see his point, but still, he needed time. He might or might not get back on the horse, but before he did, he needed to tear things apart, figure out the missed signals, the bad plays. In the end, it’s really all about hope, isn’t it? We start something that we know is a long shot, muddle through, give it our best, and hope for a break.

How else can you live? No, the better question is, why else live? Doug thinks, coasting down a short hill. We heal. Mostly. And when we don’t heal, we’re changed. And change is what we’re here for, right?

He’s coasting down the side of the first big hill, a three-mile respite. He pedals on; taking a long sip of water from the pack pasted to his back and checks the field for Aaron. Doug pedals on, sweating bullets about the swim. ‘Focus,’ he chants. ‘Wasn’t it I who pronounced myself “so over” my fear of the swim last month? “That was then, this is now,” he told Katie.

The day is young. Eight more miles of biking, one and a half miles of swimming, finishing with the thirteen-mile race. Pace yourself, Wiser. Pace yourself.
He’s on the next to the last downhill, when he starts thinking about his music. Not the chord this time, but the timing. And not timing as in the beat, but timing as in, he’s ready. ‘So what that I tried twice and ended up frustrated?’ That was then. This is now.

Cruising back down toward the Embarcadero, he feels like a fog is lifting. He realizes now that even though he thought he was ready for a new life when he left Topia, he really wasn’t. Another uphill ahead, he’s back to the FTS launch party, time looping back three long, complicated months but feeling now like five minutes ago. He promised himself that he would keep up the momentum, but once he started at FTS, he could barely keep up with the training.

Doug pumps up the last hill, through the deep green of the Presidio. He takes a deep lungful of eucalyptus, listening the bike wheels crunch the brittle leaves. He pumps up out to Arguello and left onto California Street. He’s relaxed, in a groove, his breath strong but measured, his heart pumping hard. Under the grand cypresses with their sculptural branches he flies, watching fog wisps from the ocean brush the top of the trees. He’s pumping to make up lost time from the long uphill grade, watching the road, watching another pack of riders pass. He’s pumping and tiring. But why now? He wonders. Now, when there’s a clear coast downhill. He checks his pulse. Elevated but within range.

There’s a moment, coasting down the wide boulevard when “What if?” ‘What if I don’t go down to the Bay? What if I don’t change into my wetsuit? I could turn right, break away from the pack, call Katie on my cell, tell her I’m finished. Who would care?’ The quitting commentary grates on his nerves. His heart beats faster with the thought of escaping – but the thrill of quitting doesn’t match the thrill of seeing himself at the finish line of the foot race.

Considering the options, he pedals on. Up through the doubts, up through the misery. He barrels through like a submarine or an aircraft taking off. It’s what they do. They careen forward.

Finally, the downhill. ‘Face it, Wiser. The bay is your Holy Grail. Open water. You’re over it, right?’ Doug pumps hard now, edging out of the pack toward the front where he can get a view of the Bay. The whirr of gears downshifting and athletes breathing a particular music of metal and flesh, sharp notes and deep basses.

Katie is there when Doug pulls into the changing area. She’s holding out a clean, dry towel and his wetsuit and her eyes are lit up like the old days, lit with the pure pleasure of seeing him, lit with something that if everything that had happened this past month had never happened, if they hadn’t fought about the baby, if she hadn’t seen him with his face in Hope’s hair, if they hadn’t almost lost one another, he might say looks something like love.

“You’re doing great! You made great time. Hurry up now!”

Doug proffers a quick peck, realizing that he hasn’t even checked the time. Great time? OK!

In the changing tent, shimmying into his wetsuit he wonders how Aaron is doing. Don’t think, Wiser! Just go! He hears Aaron’s command in his mind.

Doug tears out of the tent like a man on fire and runs toward the boat that will take him out into the open water.

“All in!” the captain shouts into his bullhorn.

Doug dives in. After a few shivery minutes, Doug’s body adjusts to the
temperature, and he begins moving well. The water, much as he hates to admit it, is actually refreshing after the heat and sweat of the uphill. He thinks of a tweet: Swimming in the bay Quirk: After an eighteen-mile bike race. Oh, but will they still be issuing extreme challenges at YUMI? Who knows? But if they’re still going to do extreme sports, this is about as extreme as he’ll ever get. He makes a mental note to involve Escape from Alcatraz organizers next year.

The race pacer, a sturdy guy about Doug’s age, shouts encouraging remarks: “Doing great! Looking good! The water’s easy today – we lucked out. Great weather! No wind! Just give us a sign if you need anything! We’re right here!”
The clichés are more helpful than Doug could have ever imagined. Swimming in the bay is more like rappelling off a rock face and less like hang gliding than he had feared. He swims, organizing his thoughts around the lift and dip of his arms, the kicking of his legs. He swims close to the boat, in his own lane. He doesn’t want to worry about other swimmers the way he did with the bikes rushing behind on the racecourse. On the bike, Doug kept his ears tuned for cars and the whirr of gears. Here, he can’t hear a thing beside the megaphone and the intermittent deep hum of the foghorn. Push, dip. Kick. Push, dip, kick.
Where’s “the zone?” he frets, worrying about the slimy, creepy, scary creatures circling his legs. “It’s all about the arc,” he hears Aaron. And so he focuses on his arms, bringing his elbow up and over at just the right angle, turning his face at just the right moment. Breathe. Kick. Dip. Breathe. Kick. Dip.

“Halfway!” the pacer yells.

“Whooo,” Doug whoops weakly. He may not be in the ‘zone’ but he’s in the flow. Kick, push, dip. Kick, push, dip. He realizes that with each kick, push, dip, kick, push, dip, that of all today’s sports swimming is the most mechanized, and, controllable.

“Three quarters, guys! You are so close now!” His arms tire as the pacer roots them on with blasting salsa music. His feet are kicking but he can’t feel them. He’s focused on the hot towels and chocolate Aaron promises are on the other side. And then, he’s thinking about the run. ‘No, not yet. I’m here, now. Focus, Wiser.’

For the last stretch, his arms aching, his feet numb, his legs exhausted, he breaks the movements of the swim into an engineering project, fashioning his body into a projectile. Kick, dip, kick dip. In the pool, he was all about timing, and overcoming the hurdle of submerging his warm body into the cool pool. At the pool, his workouts were about overcoming fear. Here, it’s about getting to the other side, and getting to the other side only. ‘Angle the torso when lifting the arm, turn the head while propelling forward, and kick the feet while focusing on the arm angle.’

“Twenty yards!” the pacer yells. Doug is relieved; he’s dizzy from the waves, the bobbing up and down, the circular movements.

“Five! Prepare to stand!”

A volunteer is at the beach with warm, dry towels, helping Doug out of the water. He wants to hug her, call her savior, but his teeth are chattering and his legs are shaking so hard he can barely stand.

“Drink this!” another volunteer rushes him into the changing tent. He slams a cup of hot broth while twisting out of the sticky wetsuit.

“You did great!”

“I did?”

“Yes! Fifty-two minutes!”

Doug is drying and rubbing and blowing and stamping to keep warm, and at the same time, trying to stand still to sip the warming drink. “I’m a fucking circus act.” His teeth chatter. “And -- I did not train hard enough!”

A cute volunteer rubs his back, warming him. “No one does.”

And then he’s pushing his legs into dry shorts.

Outside of the clutch of swimmers lacing up running shoes, Doug watches Aaron head off for the trail. “Aaron!”

“Hey! I bonked! They pulled me out of the bay! I’m only doing the run to say I finished!” Aaron yells.

Doug can barely hear Aaron over the loudspeakers, music and chaos of hundreds of gyrating, shimmying, and jumping up and down athletes.
“I rode with the pacer the last quarter mile! Fuck!”

“No!” The news that he survived the swim but his coach didn’t buoy Doug.
“My pacer was fantastic! I think Ron Howard trained him. You know, the motivated by kindness thing? I was a freaking science project out there, man!” Doug is rambling, tired and cold, but talking a blue streak.

“Ok – keep going. Then let’s go crawl into your hot tub!”

A volunteer hands him a dry t-shirt and warm-up jacket. Tying on his running shoes, he wishes that Katie were here, rubbing a dry towel over his head, but no spectators are allowed on the beach.

“Go!”

Suited up in dry running gear, a volunteer rinsing his wetsuit shouts: “GO!!”
Doug sips a last drop of hot broth. Then, he’s off. He charges out of the changing area, a bull to the red flag. He’s almost finished! Thirteen miles? Cheezzze… A cakewalk! Yeah!

He starts the run, glad for dry land. He heads out to the park with the pack. The noise of the city – cars alarms, sirens, and race music is a welcome change after the watery whoosh of waves and shrieks of gulls. His feet slowly warm, the nerve endings vibrating back to life. Water rushes in his ears; he’s an astronaut just landed. With his feet back on solid ground, he has the sense of having been hurtled through space; dark, black, huge, mysterious space. It’s over, Wiser. You’re almost done.

On the trail, Doug wills one foot in front of the other. His legs are sore from the swim, his arms drained. Runners are fleet as winged Mercury’s pass on his left, but he doesn’t care; he’s so over the competition. His stomach grumbles. He’s running past cheering crowds, running past a few limping athletes, running and dreaming about a big pizza. Pizza! With mushrooms and grilled onions. Meatballs and peppers, too! He realizes that he hasn’t eaten anything decadent in almost a half a year. OK, forget the curly fries and hot dog, because that whole night is going to be erased. Hope buzzes back into his vision, but he brushes her away. Pizza.

Mile one, two and three go without a hitch. At mile four his right foot begins protesting. It starts in the heel and then pain shoots through his arch to his toes. He’s running, but really it’s more of a slow jog and then his left knee starts yelling, his right femur shouts. Mile five brings a backache of new dimensions and at mile six his back is harmonizing with his hamstrings. “I am a harp constricted by its woody nature, a Stradivarius by too taut strings,” Aaron had mused lyrically. The image stuck. “I am spirit, constrained by vein and tendon, heart-pump and lung bellows.” Doug had sung back. Who knows where this stuff came from. Sometimes, when you are lucky enough to hit the zone, you get out of your own way; sometimes you are channeling God, sometimes poetry.

Talk about God! Doug is running, when all of a sudden he sees his father – or his doppelganger - in the section of cheering people gathered at the side of the course. ‘Go Dougy!’ he hears but he can’t place anyone. ‘Go Kyla! Go Kevin!’ He hears names, but he doesn’t want to slow down but as he passes, he can’t help but turn his head for a double check. Out of the corner of his eye he sees his father’s beefy cheeks, that shiny hair, that paunchy middle. He’s smiling, too.
He runs on. The backache is worse, more intense. A siren screams; the high-pitched chord jangles his nerves. He thinks of Daisy, waiting at home. He wishes she were here now, running with him, cheering him up. Mile seven. He resists the urge to slow, to limp. ‘When I hit that finish line, I want to look cool. Right. Keep your cool, Wiser.’

He’s jogging, slowly, navigating through the throbbing feet, the backache and thinking about his dad. The thought comes from nowhere: ‘why didn’t we stop him? Why didn’t my mother stop him from working himself to death?’ All at once, he’s filled with rage against his mother. Doug had believed that his father’s relentless working was for himself, his own ego gratification. But now, Doug is seriously wondering if it wasn’t for his mother and everything she wanted - no, insisted on! The house at the lake, private schools for three kids, the luxury cars, the country club.

Maybe that’s exactly why I should have a child! The thought blossoms like a crocus breaking ground. I’ve spent enough time just thinking of ME! Have I ever, really, truly, honestly, cared a whit about anyone else?’ All at once, Doug sees his life in stark relief. The whole thing seems…ridiculous. The striving, the myopic focus, the obsessions. Is this what everyone is feeling, homing in feverishly toward that finish line? Was this the “mystery” Aaron had alluded to? This doesn’t feel like a first date at all. Unless your first date is watching a horror movie! Did he know that a triathlon not only broke your spirit, but also threw your whole life into stark absurdity?

A pacer holds up a paddle: “Mile Eight.” The shouting of the crowds drowns out a weak whoop from the pack. “You’re almost home! Keep it up! Go runners!” Runners? Doug has lost touch; he’s numb from his toes to his shoulders. He’s jog limping, slogging through molasses.

His whole body aches, his life is absurd and everything has been a mistake: from Topia, to the band, to the reinvention of the band to FearToShred, to sleeping with Hope. The only thing he is not sure is a mistake at this moment is Katie. He’s running and questioning everything: Has his whole life been organized in opposition to boredom? In opposition to the Midwest, to contentment, to the status quo, to the flat expanse of land that everyone he had gone to school with loved with all their hearts? Had he organized his life against everything Midwestern? Against a staunch regionalism, loyalty to Michigan? Those qualities now he has dismissed as naïve, simplistic, now seem so sweet. The way his classmates planned out their lives in high school, set their sights on a good job and a house on a lake. Long summers. Cross-country skiing in the winter.
So, he’d bailed. Left the Midwest for the land of endless summer. California was his island, his lake house. He was so cool; he didn’t even go back to lord it over his old pals. Now he wishes for a life where not everyone wants to be a rock star. It is exhausting.

“Mile ten!” the pacer runs by. “You guys doing OK? Anyone need a sag wagon?”
Three more miles. Doug sniffs away tears. Or is it sweat? Mistakes have been made. He will have to square it all – after the race. A surge of energy shoots up from his legs. A training run with Aaron comes into focus. The soft dirt. Sunlight filtering through towering redwoods. Three miles. Exactly the distance from the beginning of his and Aaron’s run to the intersection at the creek. He runs, numb to his body, numb to his thoughts.

“Mile twelve!”

Only one more mile! And then Doug’s mood shifts. He’s giving it his all, a valiant show, keeping up a slow but steady pace, but now he begins to feel that things might not go well. Not just with Katie or the code, the game and YUMI, but also with the Bay Area and California. Suddenly, he’s obsessing about plane crashes and terrorists, and then about not finishing the race. His heart starts racing in a different way than it was when he saw his “non father father” in the stands, and in a different way from when he stamped out of the cold water. He jog limps, dreading the finish line, dreading even seeing Katie.

‘One more mile! Wiser! C’mon. It’s a mini-triathlon, not an Iron Man.’

He’s acting out the mental gymnastics, listening to Aaron. “It’s a mental game, Wiser. You can do games! You can do it! You’re the game guy!” So he’s doing the game, telling himself that he’s gone the paces, that this is almost over and he’s wondering again if THIS is the surprise, the mystery Aaron meant. That the end is harder than you can even imagine? He searches out the field for Aaron; but all of a sudden, he doesn’t just want to see him, he needs to. Doug is about to call out Aaron’s name, uselessly, when a dark field starts creeping into his peripheral vision. I should stop, I should call Katie. He stumbles, then catches himself.
And then there’s this crazy slideshow. Doug runs, or at least he thinks he’s running, but he’s not sure. Strangers and family, well-wishers and kids from elementary school, people are everywhere, in front of him, on the sides of him, in the stands. Running or jogging, jogging then limping, he’s moving and watching a slideshow.

There’s his father, and his mom, and then there’s the lake house. He’s swimming in the lake, and he’s watching himself on stage at the Knitting Factory with that first crazy riff, and then again at the FearToShred party finding that riff again. He’s training, and there’s the guy as big as an elephant seal: “Did you make a killing?” There’s Katie, and Daisy at the beach. He’s at the barbecue, hugging Hope, and then he’s getting drunk in the bar. He’s in Hope’s apartment. He’s in her bed, and he’s looking over Brett’s shoulder as he shows off his winning code, and he’s watching himself training, those first weeks. He’s watching Katie fly away on her bicycle, ringing the bell, and the echo “Did you make a killing?” There’s Arthur raging about the rewrite and Jeff ranting about sex and death. There’s Lake Chagrin and then: nothing.

The screen goes black. Doug wonders: ‘Where are the credits?’ but they’re gone and the cheering section is gone and the pack is gone and the pacers are gone and his legs are gone and his back is gone and he’s thinking ‘What the fuck?’ And then he gets it.

“I didn’t make it. I’m gone.”

11 publishers interested
Entrada Publishing logo Entrada Publishing

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i2i Publishing logo i2i Publishing

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We have taken new authors and helped them sell thousands of copies all over the world. We have worked with best selling authors and helped them increase sales by over 500%. We obsess over book marketing. We even wrote a book on it. We are now seeking excellent novels we can publish.

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  • Update #1 - Interview with Joan Oct. 24, 2016

    Hello friends! 

    Good news! "Fear to Shred" has a publisher! 

    We are refining details over the next month or so.

    Publication date ...


  • Guy Vincent on Oct. 6, 2016, 3:13 p.m.

    Wishing you success Joan! Looking forward to reading Fear to Shred :)

  • Randy Heilbrunn on Oct. 6, 2016, 8:14 p.m.

    Good Luck Joan!!!
    Go Girl!!!

  • Kelly Walden on Oct. 6, 2016, 8:35 p.m.

    I'm soooo thrilled to support this awesome work of heart!!!

  • Linda Sonntag on Oct. 6, 2016, 10:22 p.m.

    Congrats on completing your new novel and I love your Intro to the book. I'm now a proud preowner of your novel.

  • Joan Gelfand on Oct. 6, 2016, 10:45 p.m.

    Thank you ! I hope you like it - it's a little wait but ... ; o

  • Renate Stendhal on Oct. 6, 2016, 11:22 p.m.

    Mazl tov for the book campaign to my friend and pal Joan Gelfand. I think I managed to be the 100th lucky one to pre-order "Fear to Shred"! :)

  • LILY ROBINSON on Oct. 7, 2016, 5:48 a.m.

    sounds interesting...Good Luck

  • Kate Northcott on Oct. 8, 2016, 4:06 p.m.

    Can't wait to read Fear to Shred!

  • Susan Stanger on Oct. 10, 2016, 2:41 p.m.

    I can't wait to read this book!

  • Joan Gelfand on Oct. 10, 2016, 11:22 p.m.

    thank you to everyone for your pre-orders! You can have bragging rights - I promise. Now - in your copious free time? would you kindly share with your reading groups/friends/colleagues? xox

  • Joan Reinhardt-Reiss on Oct. 11, 2016, 3:11 a.m.

    You go girl! Shred away!!

  • Jenni Olson on Oct. 20, 2016, 6:29 p.m.

    So excited for this book!

  • Joan Gelfand on Oct. 21, 2016, 10:53 p.m.

    it's been a great week for Fear To Shred - we are 60% subscribed to our VIP group that will sign on as a patron/sponsor - and the New perks offered this week generated preorders! short way to go - 2 more weeks - thanks everyone!

  • Steve Muller on Oct. 22, 2016, 12:46 a.m.

    Sue Stanger sent me. Looking forward to reading the book! Congrats.

  • Susan Cole on Oct. 22, 2016, 7:51 p.m.

    Congratulations and good luck on your new book. Susan Cole

  • Susie Coliver on Oct. 25, 2016, 12:46 a.m.

    Congrats Joan - looking forward to reading it!

  • Richard Loranger on Oct. 26, 2016, 6:14 p.m.

    Shred it, sister!

  • Kate Farrell on Oct. 26, 2016, 6:15 p.m.

    Congratulations, Joan!

  • Pamela Frydman on Oct. 27, 2016, 6:42 p.m.

    Best of luck! Love, Pam

  • Joan Gelfand on Oct. 28, 2016, 3:12 a.m.

    thanks to you all for heeding the call! Exciting news coming soon - we are finished with a "VIP" campaign - 12 people involved - will be purchasing a bulk order this week! So grateful for all of your support - you will be duly noted in the pages : )

  • Amy Truong on Nov. 1, 2016, 6:55 p.m.

    I'm so excited to read it Joan! Hope you are doing well and let's meet up when you have time!

  • Pamela Reitman on Nov. 1, 2016, 10:05 p.m.

    Go, go, go!!! So excited for you, Joan!!!

  • Leslie Caplan on Nov. 5, 2016, 6 p.m.

    Hi Joan - So excited for the book!! Hey - if you are doing the fulfillment, can you pls hold my copy until I return to the states - sometime in Dec. Not sure when yet. Jerusalem is way to wacky to leave. xoox If it goes out automatically, I hope the PO just puts it in my mail slot. xoxoxo

  • Fatima Mekkaoui on Nov. 8, 2016, 9:36 p.m.

    So incredibly excited for you Joan!!

  • Ted Barnett on Nov. 11, 2016, 9:06 p.m.

    Looking forward to it, Joan!

  • Kate Farrell on Nov. 21, 2016, 4:05 a.m.

    Mission accomplished! 10 more books pre-ordered this evening. All the best, Kate

  • Carol Criss on Nov. 21, 2016, 5:18 a.m.

    Glad to be able to support your work and wish you much success.

  • Rhona Whitty on Nov. 25, 2016, 7:12 p.m.

    Good luck Joan! I'm sure this novel will find a great home!

  • Lucille Lang Day on Nov. 26, 2016, 6:52 a.m.

    Looking forward to your book!

  • Joan Gelfand on Nov. 30, 2016, 3:58 p.m.

    thank you to Mona, Connie, Melody, Monica and Carol who alerted me that they wanted to pre-order but had computer probs. We'll hold the books for you here with your names on them!

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