Wednesday, September 23, 2015


 Below is a piece that ran recently in New Noise magazine on BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity. Below that is the extended, unedited interview. 

Be sure to check out NEW NOISE MAGAZINE and connect as they are one of the only remaining true publications devoted to independent music. 

Thanks to my man John B. Moore for writing the piece.

NN: How long have you had the idea to write a novel and when did you get the idea for Blaze?

ATK: I started really getting into geo-political spy thrillers about ten years ago. It started as a hobby and a way to decompress while enjoying a stiff drink and a fine cigar. I began voraciously devouring and thoroughly enjoying novels by Daniel Silva, Vince Flynn, Ted Bell, Brad Thor and others. But, as is my proclivity, I eventually was not satisfied with being passive about it. Ambition to write my own thriller began growing. Just like the record labels, or my passion for cigars, when I get into something I'm often compelled to go after it full throttle and integrate it fully into my life. For me, I see life, business, and art as an integrated trinity. When those elements are unwoven in my life, I don't have harmony or flow. 
I started working on the initial character sketch outlines, thematic intentions, and plot broad strokes at a time when I was doing financial planning in the midwest back around 2008. The global financial crisis hit with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, and the AIG scandal. My business was suffering and I was losing clients left and right. My practice was in Toledo, Ohio and the old adage of 'as goes Detroit, so goes Toledo' was playing out as predicted. The auto belt was contracting and its participants followed suit with their investing habits. In this space I sought out, in the cracks of life, ways to begin weaving new career threads. Writing BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity, and the start of a long tail writing career as a whole, was one of the threads I began weaving.
Also at that time the entire world was still grappling for its sea legs to understand the after effects of 911 and the geo-political implications of radical Islam. I was always more interested in geo-politics than domestic politics, particularly as the rapid increase in technology and travel continues to make the world smaller. The worldwide inter-connectedness we all now have makes the machinations of global politics all the more important to be aware of. Within that frame of focus, it became apparent to me that the seriousness in which global power brokers took their beliefs in the various tenets, and eschatological beliefs, of the three Abrahamic faiths was wielding strong influence on the shifting dynamics of the global political landscape. I recognized this in 2007 through much study and reflection. Only now is the West finally realizing what a Caliphate is, what Islamic eschatology professes, and how it is driving ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Iranian leadership in their ambitions and strategies. Only now is the west finally looking into the Islamic end times beliefs regarding the Twelfth Imam, both Sunni and Shia, and how their real devotion to the surrounding prophecies is the central motivational thrust driving much of the chaos plaguing the world. I decided to make that a prominent theme in my book back in 2007, long before ISIS existed and the lame-stream media caught on to what is really going on. 
The book also touches a variety of other themes through the characters, scenes, and plot constructions. The novel is ubiquitous with tattooed characters, musical references to the hardcore punk scene, cigar culture trimmings and Irish/Celtic humor. Also, via the inclusion of an agnostic, non-racist, half Jewish SHARP skinhead mercenary character, Blaze's sidekick, Zack Batt, the novel endeavors in an apologetic effort to distance the skinhead culture  from the infection of racism and facism that has intermittently hijacked the movement both in Europe and the US. 
I didn't finish the first draft of the novel until 2012. So it was a four year journey. Then another year and a half of editing. I did four self-edits before hiring my main editor. Then later I had additional help from the editing team of an agent I had for a short time. I didn't write consistently and there were periods of time that I didn't write at all for six months at a time as life got in the way. I finally got real serious halfway through the manuscript and began writing consistently to finish the second half of the book within eight months. That discipline has now carried over as I'm writing new manuscripts. 

NN: Obviously music plays a big role in the book and in Blaze's life. What did you listen to in writing the book?

ATK: I remember in my early writing sessions listening to a lot of jazz. Coltraine, Ellington, Davis. I was real tense in my early writing because I hadn't yet honed my process and realized how fun, malleable and fluid the editing and re-write process could be. I felt like I had to get it right on the first dump, and I thought jazz would sufficiently relax me to do that.
My approach towards the end of the novel was much different, I learned to write while my kids were running around, while the TV's white noise hummed in the background, and bellowing first and second hand cigar smoke towered all around me as I sipped Irish coffee. I learned to get loose and iterative. In those times, I recall listening to a variety of stuff like The Dubliners, The Creepshow, Old Firm Casuals, Waylon Jennings, Bishops Green, The Kings of Nuthin', Larry and His Flask, Madball, Dropkick Murphys, The Head Cat, Circus of Power, Stigma, Junkyard, Hank III, Booze & Glory, Koffin Kats, The Business, Everlast, Mastodon, Hatebreed, The Tossers, Blood or Whiskey, Sheer Terror, Wayne Hancock, Rancid, Bob Segar, Blood For Blood, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, The Pogues, and lots and lots of AC/DC and Motorhead.

NN: You are also working on a non-fiction book aren't you?

ATK: Yes. It's a book about the psychology and spirituality of entrepreneurialism, the value of failure, striving to leave a legacy imprint of positive immortal content, and the difference between simply earning a living and making a living. It's partly a semi auto-biographical excavation of the wild path of rugged entrepreneurialism that I've pursued in realms as diverse as traditional banking/finance, alt/shadow banking, fitness, music, and now self-publishing/media. It digs deep into the pain, thrill, perseverance, emotional strength, adaptive instincts, and unconventional thinking often indicative of an entrepreneurial soul.
The book also looks slightly outward to others I know in my life who have lived and embodied this spirit and have found ways to navigate to freedom and authenticity. These probes expose the viability of one pursuing the whispers and calling of their often-muzzled internal spirit voice. It illustrates the abundance in which we are surrounded by if we only strain to have the eyes to see it and the balls to seize it-and make it uniquely ours. To quote my man Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed, the book is essentially about harnessing the Divinity of Purpose. A Purpose that is realized by practicing the Divinity of Push.
The book then peers farther outward to examine the pathways carved by public figures, both past and present, who've realized their callings in unconventional ways and through overcoming a variety of tumultuous circumstances. It studies and draws on the lives, insights and careers of entrepreneurs, art-repreneurs, entr-employees and solo-preneurs and others who have successfully lived a life authentic.  It covers a diverse swathe including the likes of comedian Rodney Dangerfield, James Altucher (Investor/Author/Master Chess Player), Vince Flynn (The late thriller writer), Henry Rollins, The Perdomo Cigar Family, tattoo legend Norman 'Sailor Jerry' Collins, Glenn Beck, Lemmy Kilmister, Victory Records' Tony Brummel, Jack Johnson (the first black heavyweight champion of the twentieth century), Srinivas Rao ('Corporate Misfit' and self-employed blogger/podcaster), Rabbi Daniel Lapin, John Joseph of the Cro-mags, billionaire John Huntsman Sr., Walt Disney, Johnny Cash, Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Winston Churchill, the biblical characters of Job and Moses, Joey Vento (the late great owner of Gino's Steaks in Philly), Andrew W.K., Louis C.K., Bryan Dyson (CEO of Coca Cola), and many fictional character like Walter White (Breaking Bad), Tony Soprano (The Sopranoes) and Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire). 

The book is entitled Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur. 
I reckon I'll be done with the first draft by the end of 2015, edit during first half of 2016 and release Q4 2016 on my publishing company 21 Gun Publishing. The artwork is already done and looks great. My man Pete Macphee (Dropkick Murphys, Social Distortion, Hank III), did the design and kicked ass. He did the BLAZE art as well. 

NN: Any plans for a follow-up to Blaze?

ATK: Yes. I have pages and pages of rough notes for the sequel. It will end up as a trilogy when I'm all finished. It's all coming together quite nicely in my head. The sequel will be less expository and cerebral and have a lot more action in it. There was a lot of set up in Operation Persian Trinity, but now that the characters are fully established, the sequel will dip less into back stories and internal monologues. Moving the story forward, the sequel will see Zack Batt getting his 'hooligan on' with his skinhead friends in London, Liam McCardle entangled with old IRA enemies in Ireland, and Blaze embarking on a full-on mission of vengeance against the Mexican drug cartels as he develops a new Latino love interest. All the while, things continue to get hot in the Middle East, Russia, and Israel with an urgency that begs both Blaze and Zack's involvement. 

That said, I'm holding off on writing that for a while. I've really only done exploratory marketing on BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity, and I want to continue experimenting with different marketing for a while until I find the right special sauce to build a readership and implement a holistic plan for future books. This will take time. In the interim, I'll be working on a few other manuscripts. 

As I mentioned, the next book will be Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur, a non-fiction book on the psychology and spirituality of entrepreneurialism. Once that's finished, I'll be working on an episodic series called The Lounge: Where There's Smoke, There's Family. Having spent a lot of time in cigar lounges, both in the Philly area and in Ohio, over the past ten years, I've internalized the unique bond and brotherhood that forms between the regulars at certain lounges. The series will be released in small episodic books around 7-10K words per episode and listed for a real cheap price. I haven't decided on the frequency of release, but I'm thinking I will release four episodes per year. At the end of each season, the entire season will be compiled into one book. A season will likely be eight episodes. 

The series will be less about cigars and more about the raw, gritty, vulnerability of male vulgarity and authenticity that occurs when man can be themselves around one another. The cigar lounge will be the setting - the man cave sanctuary where everything gets real. The cigars themselves, and the booze that accompanies them, will be the accents and elixirs that provoke the raw authenticity of the characters.  It will include a host of diverse characters from all walks of life and all ethnic and religious backgrounds - each one carrying distinct personality and a vortex of complex charisma and special issues. The series will marry ball-breaking male-centric humor with the grappling sting of sorrow and dysfunction that is unique to middle age men. 

The series will largely be inspired by my own experiences, but will be shaped and influenced by my love for the TV show Rescue Me with Denis Leary, the barber shop scene dialogue in Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, the comedy of Bill Burr, and more recently, Bill Murray's character in the film St. Vincent.

NN: Are Sailor's Grave and Thorp are still a focus for you?

ATK: Always. Last year we continued to work closely with The Koffin Kats and The Creepshow while releasing Booze & Glory's recent full length As Bold As Brass and a new seven inch for The Business called Back in the Day. Right now, we're gearing up to see Booze & Glory come stateside for their first US tour, kicked off by an appearance at Black N Blue bowl in NYC, as well as forthcoming tours by The Creepshow and The Koffin Kats.
Sailor's Grave has been the most active of the two labels simply by virtue of ongoing organic momentum. Thorp Records has been inactive for a while. We're not sure what direction yet we will steer that label. I've been discussing with my business partner and cousin, Duane Miller, about what the future holds. We're looking to broaden the scope of the services we offer into other verticals to make the label experience for future signings more of a full service cooperation. We've never really gotten deeply involved with tour booking, publishing, merch fulfillment, artist management, and other needed services sometimes offered by labels. We'll be looking for ways to develop each one of these services in the future. Also, we'll be looking to create other ancillary businesses to work in tandem with the labels, such as an online boutique distro, a clothing brand, music news site, etc. All these ideas are on the table right now before we sign any new bands.

NN: Any new release planned for this summer?

ATK: Not this summer. The Creepshow is working on a new record, but I'm not sure of release timing yet. Same with The Welch Boys. As I mentioned, we want to re-structure our model some before we endeavor in a new batch of signings. That said, we will always gladly release new records from the existing active roster. And if something new and irresistible comes our way, we'll, of course, seize the opportunity.

NN: How did you first get into starting and running a record label? 

ATK: Actually, I tell this story in Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur in great detail and with wide context. The short version is that I was newly married, unemployed, and delivering pizzas. I had a dream of starting a label that germed during my last year of college as I got more and more passionate about hardcore and punk rock and was going to a lot of shows. When I was laid off, I used those circumstances to thrust me into taking the risk. I maxed out my credit cards, got some nominal advice from some people I knew who ran labels, and started Thorp Records. Breakdown's Battle Hymns For an Angry Planet was my first release. I lost money on it but kept pushing forward with releases while learning the ins and outs of the business while working my day job at Relapse Records, and later Lumberjack/Mordam distribution. Eventually the labels became successful after a string of records by Madball, Blood For Blood, Ducky Boys, Slapshot, Ramallah, Sheer Terror, Fordirelifesake, US Bombs, Mad Sin, The Kings of Nuthin' and others. I ran the labels full time for several years until hard times hit. After that, I pursued other things as the labels slowly made their way back in the black. During that time, we re-structured our model to now maintain what is a steady and workable long term business model. Between both labels, we've released over 110 releases. 

NN: What's next for you?

ATK: All kinds of stuff. I always have a bunch of pots on the stove while leaving a few burners open for unseen opportunities. I'm currently wrapping up my manuscript for Failure Rules!, organizing notes for  The Lounge and the sequel to BLAZE, and experimenting with marketing for BLAZE. Thinking about other writing ideas like doing biographies for iconic hardcore punk entrepreneurs. Dudes like Ken Casey, Lars Frederickson, Jamey Jasta, Duane Peters and the like. Of course, I've not approached any of them yet. These are just ideas in my head. 

I'm currently looking into a variety of other possible business pursuits in online marketing/alt finance. I'm working out the details for a new blueprint for the record labels. Making plans for a podcast I'm going to launch, some youtube stuff, planning a revamp Doing cigar reviews on my blog in conjunction with Famous Smoke Shop. All the while, I'm hanging with my three kids, my paisan girlfriend, hitting the gym, working as an operations analyst for an online commercial bank, and always fitting in time for massages, fine cigars, and good bourbon. 

NN: Those are all the questions I had. Anything else you want to mention?

ATK: Mind your business. Never give in. Choose yourself and live authentically. Find a way to have leverage instead of being someone else's leverage in as many areas of your life as possible. Don't plagiarize the world view, religion, or politics of your family, your friends, the media, or even your scene. Find your own. Listen to your internal spirit voice. Live to win even as you fight against the reality that we're all born to lose. In all circumstances, be nimble. In all challenges, improvise, adapt and overcome. Nothing is safe, and if you navigate life with balls, this is a good thing. 

For insights on how to fail to success, create chicken salad out of chicken shit, and to improvise, overcome and adapt with a balanced life, look for my forthcoming non-fiction book Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur.


 To read a kick-ass spy novel with a tattooed, cigar-smoking Mick anti-hero protagonist who has a love for hardcore punk music, give a read on to BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity and dive-in to some supernatural near-term geo-political forecasting.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


I was happy to angrily throw the old camouflage shorts in the trash. I wish I would've burned them actually. Like ritualistically with sadistic pleasure.

And I love me a great pair of camo shorts.

But this pair...this frickin' pair....

Had become my nemesis.

I remember thinking at the end of last summer that I'd get rid of them. They had tears all over. Particularly in the right rear pocket. Where I keep my big ass Harley Davidson chain wallet. Sans the chain. Strategically moronic. You'll learn why here in a minute.

But I never did throw them out when I should have. As I pulled them out this spring, I forgot they were waning. And I wore them on the first day of my recent weekend trip to NYC.

I figured I was going to go see Madball, Booze & Glory, Turnstile and others play at the Black N Blue Bowl, and I'd be bouncing around like a helpless molecule with sweaty hardcore dudes, so why wear anything else but the old ass camo shorts?

Bad choice. Faulty thinking.

The trip was supposed to be a fun father-and-son bonding trip. Hit up BNB bowl on Saturday, visit some cool joints to eat and then some kitschy NYC touristy things on Sunday. Ya know, Hudson ferry tourist cruise, Irish Hunger Memorial visit, visit the NYC Apple store, and of course the 911 memorial.

My son and I got in the Uber car 6am Saturday. An extremely affable North African dude picked us up in the Uber car. The man explained how grateful he was to be in the US. No one messing with him if he didn't mess with them. Apparently it's not quite that way in North Africa. Imagine that.

North African dude went on to chit chat with us about our NYC trip. He recalled his last one with his family. He said it was perfect weather, great time, great everything. Until at the end when he realized he lost all his keys. He said, with complete emotional recollection palatable in his voice, that he could not describe the utter feeling of misfortune he felt when this occurred.

Struck with terror at the thought, I instantly took my keys out of my front right pocket and put them safely into the velcro secured right side cargo pocket of my camo shorts.

I was totally petrified of losing my keys after hearing the urgency in the voice of my new North African friend.

We got to the bus stop no problem. We boarded the bus, took our seats, and proceeded to clamp on our respective ear buds and chill for our two hour ride to NYC from Philly. This, in and of itself, was a deviation from our original itinerary. The horrific tragedy that occurred just a few days prior in Amtrak's northeast corridor had our train plans cancelled. Prayers to all those affected.

My son wasted no time asking me to pass the Anker portable charger that we brought. I swear my tech supremacist son was more excited with the possession of this charger than any sight, sound, or experience he could possibly encounter on the weekend excursion. No wonder our visit to the NYC Apple store was one of the highlights of the weekend for him. Along with his first Uber ride. Although he was still pissed we were staying in the Hampton Inn as opposed to an Air BNB room. Quintessential specimen of the great over-washed, unrugged, inherently privileged  millennial generation.  Neo tech supremacist snob, but I love him. Blood is blood.

After a brief stop at the hotel, we hailed a cabbie to Times Square. Again, my tech-focused fourteen year old was primarily enthralled with anything digital and new. The obnoxiously large LED screens in Times Square fit that bill.

We had watched a Louis CK stand up comedy the night before. In the cab, my son and I joked about Louis CK's comment that New York City was not the environment. Louis explained how he had thoughtlessly littered a candy wrapper on the street and his friend asked him if he cared about the environment. Louis CK responded by explaining that New York city was the giantest, shittiest piece of litter next to Mexico city in the world. It wasn't the environment at all-it was where people were.

This was the backdrop from which my son began his first NYC trip.

Minutes later we were dropped off right in front of the NYPD office in Times Square. We were excited to start the day and our weekend itinerary. I don't remember all that happened. The sequence, the conversations, whatever. It was bit of a blur.

I do remember paying the cab fair with my debit card.

And then I remember getting half way down the street and feeling the right back pocket of my camo shorts. I felt entirely way too much of my ass.

My wallet was gone.

Thanks to the cautionary tale from my North African Uber driver friend, I still had my keys.

But the damn wallet was MIA.

Frickin' camo shorts.

Deep horror struck me. My keys were safe but my frickin' wallet was AWOL. And I was smack dab in the middle of the giantest, shittiest piece of litter in the world next to Mexico city.

And my son, the tech supremacist, exhibited little by way of compassion or sympathy. All I remember him saying is "this wouldn't have happened if you had Apple Pay."

I love you too son. I work in the payments industry, and yet needed my son to remind me of my failure to adopt Apple Pay for personal use.

All the sudden I felt like a bald, tattooed cross between the lost and clueless Will Ferrell inElf and the semi-gridless, disconnected, pissed and hunted Will Smith in Enemy of the State.

Yeah, my imagination collides with strange, exaggerated circumstantial distortions. Sorry.

An hour or so later, I realized I was neither of the Wills.

Following the filing of an incident report with NYPD and a few new temporary debit cards from Wells Fargo, I was about half relieved. Half.

It was time to make chicken salad out of chicken shit and improvise, overcome and adapt. I was gonna make a good weekend out of this come hell or high water.

I decided instantly I was going to react the way the fictional character of Ray Drecker in the HBO series Hung would. I suppose a lil WWRDD (What Would Ray Drecker Do)

When his house burned down and he had failed to pay his home owners insurance bill on time, he reacted by improvising, overcoming and adapting and practicing advanced gratitude. He took inventory of his options and resources with the quickness and yielded a positive attitude as he told his distraught misfit children, "We'll pitch a tent and go camping out back. It'll be great. We'll make breakfast."
Might not have been his exact words, but something to that effect. Point is, Ray Drecker kept his roll going and didn't flinch when life forced an unexpected and unwanted pivot. He found the positive and the adventure in devastating and sudden misfortune. One much more devastating than me losing my wallet in NYC.

So I forced out the inherent state of extreme pisstivity (a word invented by Luke Cambell of 2 Live Crew) out of my mind and marched on to a memorable weekend. Like Ray Drecker, when life erupts and flames burn all around me, I push them to the rearview and I look for a sheltering tent. And breakfast.

I enjoyed a great My Father Flor De Las Antilles cigar sitting on a bench in Battery Park.

I got to briefly meet and introduce myself to Lars Frederickson of Rancid, Lars Frederickson and the Bastards and Old Firm Casuals. This, right after my son and I had just watched Rancid's Ruby Soho video at the Hard Rock cafe while eating lunch.

I got to meet Mark from Booze & Glory, a band I've been working with on Sailor's Grave, but hadn't yet met in person.

I said hello to my man Freddy Madball after not having seen him in years. And caught up with Madball's old manager Royce Lee. An old friend.

Then while watching Madball's fiercely energetic set at Black N Blue bowl, some drunken dude saw me hanging with my son and began chewing my ear off. But this dude was great.

He told me his whole life story. Told me how his dad took him to a VOD (Vision of Disorder) show and told him he'd never take him to another show again but how he always remembered his old man for taking him that one time. He told me how great it was that I was hanging with my son at a show. Told me I reminded him of his dad. Said his dad had tats and wore a fedora same as I do.

Dude got rather emotional as he continued on about his family history, upbringing, regrets for never having kids, sadness when his dad died. The whole nine. Heartfelt. Real. He was drunk as hell, but all heart. Moved me. For real. Dude made my weekend.

The next day as my son and I waited in line for the Hudson ferry cruise tour thing, there was an Indian family in front of use. Eastern, not native American. I overheard the father explaining to his son, after the young boy whined and fretted with impatience about the reality of waiting in line, that "You have to wait for good things to happen."

Earbuds firmly in place, and oblivious to the words of the Indian dad in front of us, minutes later my son started in on the "I'm bored" routine.

I parroted, "You have to wait for good things to happen."

He looked at me sheepishly and confused. Dunno if my son got what I meant, but the Indian dude looked back at me and smiled.

Bad things happen. Life's a bitch. We do have to wait for good things to happen. And when bad things happen - illnesses, failed marriages, loss of loved ones, addictions, business failures, bankruptcy, and even lost wallets in NYC -we need to remember the wait. And in the wait, we need to keep failing till we accidentally succeed. Keep pivoting until we find shelter and sustenance in a new tent. Keep improvising. Overcoming. Adapting. Sharpening our ability to create chicken salad out of chicken shit.

Forget the lost wallet and find other currency. Ideas are the only true currency anyhow. Find a new re-invented identity. Burn the camo shorts and leave them behind. Flickering threads of emerging ash flashing in the rear-view. Move forward and live life to the fullest. Dig deep for the strength that you seek.

While you wait for good things to happen.

 For more insights on how to fail to success, create chicken salad out of chicken shit, and to improvise, overcome and adapt with a balanced life, look for my forthcoming non-fiction book Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur.

 To read a kick-ass spy novel with a tattooed, cigar-smoking Mick anti-hero protagonist who bears strong generational contrast to his CIA director boss—as my son’s tech-focused snobbery contrast with me — give a read on to BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity and dive-in to some supernatural near-term geo-political forecasting.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Suggested Retailer: FAMOUS SMOKE SHOP

Strength: Medium
Shape: Toro
Size: 6 x 52
Country: Honduras
Wrapper Color: Natural
Wrapper Origin: Ecuadorian

Wrapper Leaf: Connecticut

My first attempt at enjoying one of the handful of Romeo Y Julieta House of Capulet Toro smokes I had acquired didn’t work out too well.

I lit one up promptly upon leaving the office one day to enjoy on my ride home. A fine cigar usually cures what ails me as I battle traffic and suppress road rage urges on the afternoon commute home. However, I’m usually prone to a heavy Maduro cigar. I do occasionally crave something lighter, but not often. Apparently, the lighter, albeit medium strength, cigar wasn't the right choice for a drive home smoke. The wind whipping through the Cadillac sun roof and front seat windows served to diminish the strength, consistency and flavor of the draw. Never mind the poor performance of the burn.

Never one to give up on the first try, a week later I gave it another whirl. After a short post-meal Sunday afternoon nap, I poured a few finger of Sailor Jerry Spiced rum with just a few rocks and sat in my favorite leather chair, feeling the kind breeze blow my way from the open screen door, as I lit up the 6 X 53 medium powered Toro. No traffic to battle. No horns. No agita. No wind whipping from the sun roof. No distractions for the lighter cigar to contend with.

After several preliminary puffs and the first few sips of rum, the enjoyment began to settle in. The natural Ecuadorian wrapper emitted its distinct flavor and the ash was holding quite nicely. The sweet spot hit its zenith somewhere around the middle of the stick. Just about the time I realized I needed to pour a few more fingers of rum.

The Romeo Y Julietta House of Capulet Toro finished, this time, the way it started—with care, with character, and as the perfect elixir companion to a lazy Sunday afternoon post-nap cocktail.

Need a Sunday afternoon read to go along with your Romeo Y Julieta stick? Grab a paperback or e-book copy of BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity and follow the misadventures of Blaze McIntyre as he smokes cigars and engages in rugged espionage missions. 

Friday, April 24, 2015


WHAT:  BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity Book Signing and Cigar Event!

WHERE: Blaze Cigar House, 433 Saint John St. Havre De Grace, MD 21078

INFO: 443-388-0800

WHEN:  Friday May 1st, 2015

TIME: High Noon until Midnight


1) Because its Havre De Grace’s first “First Friday” of the year and the town will be hopping
2) Because when else to you get to buy a great spy novel signed by its author at a new cigar shop that share the same name as the novel’s main character? 

3) Because your signed copy of the book is only $8 if you buy a cigar

4) Because I’d love to have a cigar and a drink with you and kick off the month of May

“My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.”

- Winston Churchill

In my novel BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity, a fictional cigar lounge in Toledo, Ohio is converted into a CIA safe meeting room. The lounge is owned by a fictional charismatic, comedic Lebanese tobacconist named Butros who reckons that providing the safe room was “the least he could do” for his friend, CIA director Chuck Gallagher. Butros then figures that the most he could do would be to “provide some free cigars and top shelf liquor when those meetings occurred.” 

I don’t know if Winston Churchill ever enjoyed cigars and fine liquor with the CIA, but I’d imagine he would’ve been comfortable doing so. Given his legacy, I’m sure he’d comfortably wallow in and persistently produce bellowing clouds of premium cigar smoke for an extended period of time in such a meeting if a meal was also involved. 

On May 1st, the onset of Havre De Grace, Maryland’s “First Friday” tradition, the BLAZE CIGAR HOUSE will be hosting yours truly for an all day event of book signing, booze sipping, and fine cigar smoking. Winston Churchill will be likely often invoked and recalled, but not present, outside of maybe one’s belief in lingering ghosts. 

Your humble, yet proud, young entrepreneurial tobacconist will not be a comedic Lebanese fictional character, but instead, the passionate lover of the leaf, one Mr. Ray Leak. The cigars will not be free, but your signed copy of BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity will be discounted if you purchase a cigar.

Ray’s character-rich cigar house rests seductively in front of a gorgeous view of the Chesapeake Bay that can be visually accessed by one by sitting on Ray’s divinely spacious back deck—when weather does not seek to interrupt. 

Inside, you will find comfortable leather seating, a strategically stocked humidor full of fine cigars, and accommodations for all your BYO libation catering needs. 

Outside, you will be a part of the procession of cabin fever weary townies and tourists eager to shake off winter and celebrate the first day of the annual “First Friday” unique to Havre De Grace, Maryland. Washington, St. John and Franklin streets will be closed to traffic. You’ll see market stalls lining the street.  You’ll hear street musicians charm your ears. Stores, cafes, and restaurants will entice your inner night owl by staying open later than normal. 

And special events will be ubiquitous throughout the town, including the book signing of BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity at the BLAZE CIGAR HOUSE. Stop by. Puff and rotate. Pour a few fingers. Buy a book. Get your BLAZE on in text and in tobacco. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Dropkick Murphys "Rose Tattoo" video
Dropkick Murphys "Rose Tattoo" Lyrics

A Rose Tattoo for My Daughter Chloe

Music has always been my proverbial go-to drug and the emotive prime mover and the synchronizing clarifier humming in the background of my life. It’s always been right there by my side as I swerve in and out of life’s various lanes of joy, treachery, and thrill.
Along this long tail journey of life, and all the quirky meta-journeys it imposes, there are some sonic moments that emerge out of the normal, absorbed soundtrack that are uniquely punctuated by a heightened relevance—a soul-searing connection to a song, album, or a lyrical phrase. Or even a video.
A handful of these moments have eternally cemented themselves to me via particular songs, bands, albums, video, and poignant lyrical poetic bullets.
In recent years, a tune that has animated all kinds of emotion, significance, and extrapolated personal meaning to me is the song and video for “Rose Tattoo” by Dropkick Murphys. The dichotomies and sentiments weaved into the lyrics and the images in the video paint a tapestry of life that very much mirrors many themes of my life.
So I’mma take a deep dive here and break this down almost line by damn line.
If you’re heavily tattooed and your ink has, at least in large part, some meaning to you, then likely for you it is also the case that “the pictures tell the story” and your “life has many shades”. As I expand here you’ll see that’s definitely true for me.
7 X 70 Room 101 Big Payback
I’ve got a passion for fine cigars. I love the way they go with coffee in the morning and 
bourbon at night. I love the aroma, the flavor, the feel. The way it tames a traffic-filled commute. Love the aesthetic of the cigar band and the thought and art that goes into most cigar branding. Cigars for me are contemplative facilitators that accompany so much of my decision-making. Cigars provide the relaxant mechanism for me to allow all factors of a pending decision to bubble up in clarity. So I can clearly underwrite the ever-changing course of my life. When Ken Casey sings “I’d wake up every morning and before I’d start each day / I’d take a drag from last nights cigarette / That smoldered in it’s tray / Down a little something and then be on my way”, I’m reminded not of last night’s cigarette but of the cigar butt left for my discovery every morning as I down my morning black coffee and head on my way. The cigar butt smoldered in the ashtray that signifies the completion of the previous night’s contemplations, writings, readings, and resolutions made. The coffee that shakes off any remnants of the previous night’s booze intake and soul-searching hangover. The coffee that catalyzes the energy of a bold new day.

When in the “Rose Tattoo” video the camera flashes to the Celtic cross hanging on the wall as Ken sings “I was guided by a compass / I saw beauty to the north”, I’m reminded of the overarching threads of heritage and faith represented in the Celtic cross. I’m struck by the power that those life forces have to guide us through a life that offers very few maps with specific directives of left and right turns. A life that more often than not colors us with the broad thematic direction that a compass provides—a directive that provokes curious margins of wonderment, beautiful instincts of free will, and a teasing hope that keeps us chasing vigorously past disappointments and failures.
As the song confesses that the singer “drew the tales of many lives /
And wore the faces of my own”, I’m reminded of the gift of the vast, diverse swathe of virtual mentors, real-life heroes, and deep impacting personal relationships that have sharply punctuated my life. People from whom whose lives I’ve collectively drawn the tales of—to enhance my life so I could wear the unique face of my own. Individuals whose lives and legacies have had profound impact on how I approach business, faith, loyalty, love, forgiveness, and redemption.

As the song persists and takes comfort that the singer has “had these memories all around me / So I wouldn’t be alone”,  I think of the carefully curated images and items that I’ve populated my living space with. Every selection was intentional and serves to remind me of inspirational sources that help inform my ongoing pursuit of discovering the multi-threaded composite of my calling. Images of my Irish heritage, of Americana beauty, of nautical metaphoric significance, of musical impact, of life’s poetic glory and of men who brought the world to new understanding of insightful profundities. I do my best work when I have the likes of Winston Churchill, Johnny Cash, the Liberty Bell, Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins, Popeye, Marine Corp slogans, Norman Rockwell paintings and Irish Blessings staring back at me.
Blood For Blood skull
My tattoos are a disjointed storyboard of my life. They detail a seemingly random path of
interests, images, and commitments. From a raging tiger to a trumpeting angel. From Jesus bearing a crown of thorns to a Blood for Blood skull. From a lighthouse to an atom bomb draped in the American flag pronouncing our times as the “Age of Quarrel”. Each stain triggers memories of different kinds and emotions and attachments of all varieties. Some of sweet pain and tumult and the strength of fighting through. Some of love, joy and persistent hope. Some, like the obligatory rose tattoo with the ex-wife’s name etched beside it, with piercing memories of complex relationships gone wrong. Indeed, the whole lot of them can be summed up concisely in the way DKM describes: “Some may be from showing up / Others are from growing up /Sometimes I was so messed up and didn’t have a clue.”
Me and My Daughter Violet
I’ve learned to strategically walk through life knowing when to ignore the false impressions I sense others have about me. I do impression management by simply not doing it at all.  Wearing full sleeve tattoos on both arms gives me lots of practice to exercise this skill. The images are primarily for me. They keep me anchored in who I am, where I’ve been, and where I purpose to go. And the ones etched as a tribute to loved ones, like the two rose tattoos bearing my daughters’ names, are there for their honor. When Ken sings “I ain’t winning no one over / I wear it just for you / I’ve got your name written here / In a rose tattoo”, I smile and think of who I wear those rose tattoos for, and who I ain’t concerned about winning over.
Wild-Eyed Sailor
One tattoo comes quickly to mind when I hear Ken singing “This ones for the mighty sea / Mischief, gold and piracy.”—my Popeye tattoo designed by Aaron Coleman and inked by Keith Reed. The image is of a maniacal looking Popeye with bloodshot eyes, tongue hanging out and steering wildly through the open sea. It is my nod to wild-eyed adventurism, bold risk taking, and sailing through life with curious mischief and a sense of life’s endless possibilities.
The “Rose Tattoo” video is littered with images of the band drinking, smoking, gambling, and playing music. It’s a familiar scene of men unpacking the events and troubles of the day amidst their choice pleasures, vices, and past times. A snapshot of the trimmings of male camaraderie and fellowship that helps tough guys distill unspoken moments of clarity amidst the constant hustle of life. These images remind me of my pals at the cigar lounge and the regular gatherings I share with my treasured, long held friends.
This One's for The Man That Raised Me
My old man almost never cursed. But he did once advise me that, “Sometimes life’s a beach, but most of the time life’s a bitch.” My old man followed the direction of his internal spirit voice no matter how much of a bitch life became. He dug deep and stayed the course of his calling through 
undesirable occupational detours—selling used cars, teaching unappreciative kids and other distractions. But he always saw the purpose in everything and found his way back to the pulpit where he belongs. Back to guiding others to a life focused on the internal. On the spiritual. I have a portrait tattoo of my dad on the inside of my left arm. I echo Ken’s sung words of “This ones for the man that raised me / Taught me sacrifice and bravery,” when I peer at this tattoo.

My middle name is Thorp, if you ain’t figured that out yet. It’s a name passed down from the English side of my family and it means ‘small village’ or ‘small farm’. Now I could care less about small villages or farms to be honest, but my family and heritage matters. I named one of my record labels THORP RECORDS and I gave my son Griffin the middle name Thorp to perpetuate the significance. I have the name tattooed in Old English script across my back because “This one’s for my family name / With pride I wear it to the grave.”
A sign reminding that “if you’re lucky enough to be Irish, you’re lucky enough” is seen in the “Rose Tattoo” video. True enough. This truth reminds me of my grandmother who grew up in a working class Irish family in the Kensington part of Philadelphia. My grandmother left home in her late teens. Her dad was a tortured alcoholic. ‘Ole
Betty hoisted herself through life with a bootstrapped Irish Catholic faith that converted to Protestantism only to later mingle back with Catholicism in her seventies after she re-married as a widow. But through it all she never stopped emphasizing the luck of the Irish. A luck that is theologically anathema to the constructs of her faith but somehow seemed to make sense and accent it in the way that she explained it. I think of this when I look at my ‘Blessed” tattoo consisting of a harp and  clovers. My grandmother’s maiden name was McIntyre. In honor of her, I named the protagonist in my spy thriller Blaze McIntyre. Lucky enough indeed.
Madball - A Reminder to Adapt & Overcome
As the “Rose Tattoo” video shows images of Dropkick Murphys posters and tattoos, I’m reminded of the strength music has always given me. A strength further represented by some of my tattoos honoring some of my favorite bands. A Madball tattoo to remind me of the band that has always been my musical workout companion and the angel in the boxing ring of my life coaching me to bob and weave and pivot for the next body shot. A Cro-Mags tattoo to help me traverse through hard times with perpetual PMA. A tattoo of Sheer Terror’s cover art for Love Songs For The Unloved to wrap up my divorce. A Blood for Blood skull with its trademark tear drop to remind me of the necessity of pain as one approaches life with an outlawed approach of risk-taking authenticity. And a set of Social Distortion lyrics from the song “When The Angels Sing” to memorialize a dear friend who passed away after a long battle with a heroin addiction.
A Ship That Always Stays The Course
I’m not a seaman. I don’t fish much. I don’t own a boat. I do love the water and cherish any time away in which I’m able to spend time near the water. So I’m not a nautical purist. But the image of a strong, towering ship has always captured me. Images I usually see in paintings. A ship holding fast through furious waves crashing against it. Through an angry sea begging the ship’s defiance. It’s been a metaphor that I’ve always internalized. Stay strong and hold fast through life’s crashing waves of difficulty and conditioning. Stay the course. Fortify the stern. This is what flashes to mind when I see the ship tattoo on my forearm. It’s what comes to mind when DKM sings “This one means the most to me / Stays here for eternity /A ship that always stays the course.” And when he follows it up with “An anchor for my every choice”, I think of the various anchor tattoos I wear. Mostly the one with banners around it reading “Truth”, “Love”, and “Discipline”—three virtues I strive to remain anchored to with every choice I make in life.
Another prominent thrust of images in the video are the barrage of boxers fighting in the ring. I don’t box other then amateur heavy bag training for exercise. I don’t really follow boxing adamantly and couldn’t really hold a strong fan boy conversation about the sport. But the sport itself still strongly attracts me because of the spirit it possesses. I love the raw lessons that can be wrought from the personal stories of fighters, both real and fictional. Whether its Micky Ward, Mohammed Ali, Jack Johnson, or Rocky Balboa. I internalize the fighting spirit of boxers as much as possible in a metaphoric way in my own life—in business, in parenting, in relationships, and in my spiritual life.  The tattoo on my left arm with boxing gloves stating “Never Give In” roots me in this life approach.
My left arm dons an angel tattoo blowing a trumpet with a skull coming out. It was designed by Dave Quiggle and inked by Ryan Pauliff. The piece is surrounded by two banners. One is the lyrics “Stand Up Strong, Feel The Pain, When The Angels Sing” from the song “When The Angels
In Memory of My Grandfather, Lothar H. Miller
Sing” by Social Distortion. The bottom banner reads “In Memory Of Richard Seiferheld”. Rich was one of my closest friends that passed in 2006 after years of battling a heroin addiction. On my right tricep is an eagle with a banner memorializing my grandfather, Lothar Helmut Miller, who served in World War II. When DKM sings “You’ll always be there with me / Even if you’re gone / You’ll always have my love / Our memory will live on”, it’s these sacred ink tributes that flood my mind with memories of the men they are dedicated to. They will always be in my heart and honored on my skin.
The end of the video showcases a flash to a scene of an American flag flapping gently in the wind. This buttons the whole thing up for me perfectly. Although imperfect like any other nation, America has offered its inhabitants an endless
stream of discovered opportunities, uniquely crafted streams of adventurism, and reformative revolutions that are historically special. These sentiments make me think of the American flag tattooed on my wrist. I don’t know DKM’s intentions for inserting the flag, but to me it’s an apolitical symbol of the land that I know and love.
So maybe I’ve taken this song and video a tad too much to heart. I’ve extrapolated all kinds of meaning, memories, and value out of it that others may not venture to pull. This is just how my mind works. How my soul thrives. When something resonates, I ingest and dig deep. I instinctively grab application and substance. Many times when such substance impacts my life I’ve put ink to truth and  signed and sealed” the relevant “words in blood”. I hope you do too.

American Mick Spy Anti-hero, Blaze McIntyre is chronicled rocking Dropkick Murphys in his ear buds as he boxes CIA Director Chuck Gallagher in my new novel BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity. Pick up your copy today on AMAZON.