I was born in 1964 in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in nearby Ft. Collins. When I was 10 I penned my first novella, Donald the Dragonfly, during a summer writing course my librarian mom had suggested. The teacher gave me an A+ and wrote that I was also a good kickball participant at recess. As a kid I wrote numerous letters to dozens of authors of children’s books telling them of my well-formed vision and intention to one day be an author.
I was a switch hitter in Little League and chess champion of my 5th grade class. When I was 16 I had already started a lifelong love of bicycling and did a double century on my Trek road bike, 200 miles in a single day, through the mountains of Colorado. I followed the sunshine from Colorado to Arizona, in 1984, and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication at Arizona State University (B.A., 1989). Then I was off to Scotland where I earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Glasgow (M.Phil, 1996).
After writing three novels that didn't sell, my big breakthrough came in February 1998. British publisher Bloomsbury bought my novel ZIGZAG, followed by publishers in the USA (Henry Holt), Germany (Rowohlt), and Portugal (Dom Quixote). ZIGZAG hit bookstore shelves in June 1999. That same month, writer, director and producer David S. Goyer came across ZIGZAG in a Pasadena bookstore. Exactly ten years after I left my first and only official job to write full-time, Goyer began filming the adaptation of ZIGZAG on location in Los Angeles.
In 2005, I interviewed a high-profile plaintiff’s attorney for a magazine piece. From that meeting the ACTION series of novels was born, about a lawyer’s entire career beginning in 1970.
“A fast-paced tale of justice in action and a remarkably accurate portrait of a trial lawyer’s daily grind.”
– Kirkus Reviews
Bolen recounts an impressive career as an employment recruiter and his lifelong struggle to come to grips with his gay identity.
The author began his career in employment staffing with a show of remarkable confidence—in 1969, he showed up at Snelling and Snelling, then the largest employment agency in the United States, and demanded a job. He was 21 years old, a college dropout, and had no relevant work experience. Not only was the author hired, but he became the company’s top producer within three months. He had made his first million dollars before the age of 30. In 1985, Bolen started his own firm, Dan Bolen and Associates, which he owned and operated until his retirement in 2018: It was the conclusion to a half-century brimming with financial success and the industry’s most coveted accolades. Yet his personal life was a mess. Although Bolen knew he was attracted to men, he assiduously kept his sexual orientation a closely guarded secret. In fact, he buried this truth so deep inside of himself that it outwardly expressed itself as homophobia, a wrenching dilemma that led to suicidal depression. The author’s remembrances here are rich and complex—the book begins as a somewhat conventional account of his entrepreneurial success, an almost self-aggrandizing catalog of his “unrelenting drive to succeed.” The heart of the story, however, is not his professional life but the personal travails that he concealed behind the curtain of accomplishment. With admirable candor, he discusses his troubled relationship with an abusive father, his two failed marriages, and his challenges as a Jehovah’s Witness, a religious sect that finally expelled him. With nuanced sensitivity, Bolen reflects on the emotional toll exacted by living a lie: “Who would I be without the secret? Because I had become the secret.” This is an affectingly honest, even confessional life story, one marked by both keen intelligence and fearless self-criticism.
A provocative memoir, refreshingly candid and thoughtful.
Pub Date: July 28, 2022
Page count: 236pp
Publisher: Avery Press
Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2023
An adoptee discusses his struggles to conform in the American South and his difficulties coming to terms with his sexual identity in this memoir.
Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1963, Batton was raised on a 700-acre peanut and tobacco farm. As a child, he recalls having a “Tom Sawyer existence,” although he had a fraught relationship with his adoptive father, whom he describes as a bigot and a “well-mannered racist.” By the age of 8, the author was already aware of his fascination with the male body but had no concept of gay sexuality. Growing older, he felt it necessary to disguise his “gayness,” but this changed after entering LaGrange College as a theater major; his life became a “blur of bars and boys.” Batton’s life changed again while attending a church service. He experienced a moment of epiphany, believing God had delivered him from being gay. The autobiography details the author’s attempts to “look inconspicuous in the straight world,” which involved marriage, fatherhood, and a passionate drive to help the poor. The last led him to work in outreach programs in Hong Kong and London. Written with Napoleon, who helped the author get the “story to paper,” this compelling first-person account chronicles Batton’s coming to terms with his identity as both an adoptee and a gay man. Elements of his life are desperately sad yet recounted with a brisk frankness. Regarding school, he notes: “If I could keep everyone laughing, then no one would call me a faggot. I shifted my entire persona to try to fit in and never be the last kid picked for kickball.” Batton also bravely owns up to deflecting attention away from himself by deriding others: “I was the personification of a shrike, a gruesome little creature that seemed to derive pleasure and sustenance from the slow feeding on others.” His use of language is modestly elegant, and while some readers may argue that he overuses similes, they inject a delightful levity throughout: “Grandfather was meaner than a wet hen in a rainstorm.” From recounting his endeavors to find his birth mother to describing his struggles with fatherhood, Batton presents a richly textured autobiography—readers grappling with their own sexuality may well relate to his journey of self-discovery.
A captivatingly candid and sharply written account of a gay adoptee’s odyssey.
Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2020
Page count: 234pp
Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021
On the evening before Thanksgiving, an airplane shuttling Perry’s ex-husband and three small children crashed into a mountainside, killing them instantly. This biography charts Perry’s journey to, and eventually beyond, that “agonizing night.”
Perry, herself an aviator, became a national figure following the 2011 crash, first as the object of sympathy and later as a model of resilience whose grieving process was captured by an Oprah Winfrey Network film crew. It’s a credit to Napoleon’s (Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story, 2014, etc.) diligent reporting that readers here are treated to a much fuller portrayal of Perry. After starting her pilot training at age 19, Perry spent nearly two decades breaking barriers to pursue a career in the male-dominated field. Then, at age 38, she discovered she was pregnant, an instant “game changer” for a woman who thought she was unable to have children. Perry and her husband, Shawn, welcomed daughter Morgan in 2002; sons Logan and Luke came along soon after. But along with its joys, motherhood introduced new strains. Both Morgan and Luke were autistic. The family was told that Morgan, who also suffered from epilepsy and developmental delays, would never be able to live independently. Perry and her husband divorced in 2010. A little over a year later, the crash occurred, leaving her utterly heartbroken and in search of answers. Napoleon has a knack for capturing and distilling minutiae, a skill on display as he dissects crash reports and court documents. But the real beauty here is when he uses those same skills to render Perry and her children as more than just tragic victims. Although Napoleon’s use of aviation metaphors is at times a bit heavy-handed, his portrayals of Perry and her children are genuine. Along with a collection of black-and-white family photos, his vivid details help readers experience the clan’s happier times. We see Morgan snuggle in the lap of a family friend, learn Luke was a prodigious photographer, and laugh along with Logan as he delights in his Easy Bake Oven.
An absorbing read that serves as a reminder to cherish every moment.
Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2015
Publisher: Avery Press
Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015
In Napoleon’s novel, a struggling lawyer befriends a local bail bondsman and takes on a case that will change his life.
Fresh out of law school, Connor J. Devlin is struggling his way through traffic tickets and he-said, she-said misdemeanor cases in the Maricopa County courts. He decides business might improve if he ingratiated himself with the local bail bondsman, “One-Armed Lucky.” Devlin’s client, a tenacious woman named Kay Pearson, is convinced that substandard nursing-home care killed her mother, Ann, a greyhound-racing devotee and one of Lucky’s best friends. There’s only one problem: In 1970, no one even thought of suing nursing homes for wrongful death. Dying people were what nursing homes were for. Over 10 years, Devlin dedicates his fledgling law practice to getting to the bottom of Ann’s painful, haunting death, culminating in a dramatic civil trial that challenges not only the nursing home, but the very notion that death should be neither seen nor heard. From the start, Napoleon’s novel is briskly told and well-drawn, but this legal thriller does what many courtroom-based novels and television shows do not: It stays true to the actual practice of trial law. Legal tales often circumvent the dense lawyering to keep the action moving; Napoleon, however, proves that realism needn’t be sacrificed to pace or plot, and, despite its dry reputation, legal procedure can provide as much action, suspense and whodunit excitement as any shootout or car chase. Prospective law students are frequently encouraged to read law-student memoirs or legal hornbooks, but for a realistic view of litigation and a great deal more action, they’d do well to add this legal thriller to their reading list.
A fast-paced tale of justice in action and a remarkably accurate portrait of a trial lawyer’s daily grind.
Pub Date: June 3, 2014
Page count: 348pp
Publisher: Avery Press
Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012
A maimed cop fights to regain his life in this inspiring true story.
Officer Jason Schechterle was on a routine call when a cabdriver suffering an epileptic seizure smashed into his car at more than 100 miles per hour. His cruiser exploded, and the resulting flames burned 43 percent of his body. When he reached the hospital, his hands looked like “mutilated claws.” The doctors removed most of his face to prevent infections and told his family he would be “blind, deaf, mute and probably vegetative.” But Schechterle—who fought his way into the Phoenix Police Department after years of effort—has a habit of beating the odds. Author Napoleon scrupulously guides readers through Schechterle’s teen years, spent absorbing the sounds of REO Speedwagon, excelling at golf and falling in love—and into his laudable career in the Air Force. Faithfully documented is every bump and nook on his road toward achieving his childhood dream: wearing a Phoenix Police Department badge. As the enthusiastic rookie got his bearings in the routines of police work—which involved more picking up shoplifters at Wal-Mart than high-octane shootouts—his future fate was darkly foreshadowed by events elsewhere. All across the country, police officers were dying in exploding Ford Crown Victorias, and attorney Patrick J. McGroder III—“the legal equivalent of The Terminator”—aimed to make Ford pay. Schechterle would be crucial in helping him. Napoleon, the author of several crime novels, is skilled at painting a scene in slangy strokes while balancing plotlines. But if this true story reads like a novel, it sometimes feels like the life of a saint. “He had already broken the barriers of medicine and science,” readers are told after Schechterle leaves the hospital, and “now [he] was charting new territory in the field of human potential.” Perfection can be robotic, and many readers will miss the flaws. Still, human-interest fans will enjoy the journey if they take the hyperbole with a pinch of salt.
An underdog tale replete with legal battles, gruesome surgeries and a few too many superlatives.
Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2014
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2013
A remarkable debut portraying the inner life of a disturbed ghetto teenager as he attempts to grow up in the frightening world he's inherited.
Louis Fletcher, alias ZigZag, is one of those charmed unfortunates who appear so forlorn and helpless that they can get away with murder—literally. Ostensibly mentally retarded, ZigZag works as a dishwasher and lives with his abusive father, who shakes him down for cash and continually reminds him that he "killed" his own mother during childbirth. In actuality Louis isn't retarded but autistic, with a phenomenal memory and grasp of mathematics, although, at 15, he does lack the most basic understanding of social behavior and verbal communication. He's looked after by Dean Singer, his Big Brother from a local welfare agency, who takes him on outings and tries to get him placed in a safer home than his father's. When ZigZag's father threatens to throw him out on the street unless he comes up with $200 to pay the rent, the boy memorizes the combination of his boss's safe and steals $5,000. Singer discovers what's happened and tries to retrieve the money before ZigZag is arrested, but ZigZag's father takes the whole packet and uses it to pay back a loan shark. So now Singer must borrow money himself to keep ZigZag out of trouble. The result? He almost gets both ZigZag and himself into even worse trouble when he tries to replace the loot in the safe. Soon the detectives are dusting for fingerprints, the safe is still empty, and Singer is going to get some bones broken unless he comes up with a way of making the loan-shark's weekly vig. A hopeless scenario? Well, God upholds the foolish, innocence is often mistaken for ignorance, and in the end it's ZigZag who looks after Singer in the first of many role-reversals that twist through this marvelously intricate tale.
An unaffected, moving, and astonishing insight into the heart of a troubled, silent genius.
Pub Date: June 1, 1999
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999
"First Blood" by David Morrell
GRINNIN' LIKE A JACKASS EATIN' BRIARS: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books, 2021
ZIGZAG: Kirkus Star
GRINNIN' LIKE A JACKASS EATIN' BRIARS: Kirkus Star
ZIGZAG: Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers, Finalist, 1999
Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story: Arizona Republic Recommends, 2014
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