Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Break: A Time for Writing

For those of you who have not been forced to participate in Spring Break at this late time - all of the free world, most of the second and third world, and the personnel of a few space stations - you may not understand what it is to suddenly have time to do nothing.

I'm not a fan of doing nothing, and I'd prefer to do something. One of the things that I did manage to do in the lead-up to this dreary week off* was spend a full week writing something new for the Washroom each day. None of it was groundbreaking, but all of it was original. By doing that, I did find myself feeling the urge to write more and more.

I finished the last major edit of "Melbourn's Storm" and submitted that for peer review. I completely restructured and restarted Chapter 4 of "The Wyrd Magnet" novel, and I added 14 pages (so far) to the novella, "Omega Man's Day Off."

I find myself quite pleased with how things are going. Even with a fairly full week of nothing ahead of me, I plan to keep writing. By the end of the month, I'd like to have the final draft of "Melbourn's Storm" ready to go. I am awaiting a chance to submit "A Chilling Wind," but the window for that doesn't open again until May 1.

So let me ask your indulgence. For the first time in several months, I'm feeling that urge to write. As has been noted, it's starting to pay off. If I seem a little more focused on writing and publishing, and a little less on reporting, scholarship, and politics, let it seem that way.

It's not that I've actually changed. The Sun, attending school, financial aid, and Democratic Party interests still captivate me. But for the moment at least, I want the world to see a little more of Nick the Writer, and not Nick the Journalist, Student, or Activist.

Feel free to fling a little feedback my way. I'm always happy to hear what y'all have to say.


*"And there was much rejoicing." /  "Yaaay." - M. Python

Friday, April 15, 2011

And On the Seventh Day, He Chilled

My little experiment seems to have worked. I’ve posted on the blog once a day for a week. It may not seem like much, but I have to count time as a premium. It was actually difficult in a couple of places to know what to write, but I remembered that not everything had to be earth-shattering, and put down something to say.

It’s been good. I have to say it’s good to try to put thoughts out for others to read on a daily basis. It’s also a pain in the butt, and not something I would ever want to do. On the flip side, it’s increased traffic here about tenfold, and that’s always good.

If ever I bothered to monetize this site, that would really be something, huh?

In the past week, I’ve blogged about politics and the Sun, published fiction, fiction I’m in the process of writing, and even a charity anthology I’m going to be part of. None of these are the most important things in the world, but they sure make my life a little more interesting. If they’ve made yours a little more entertaining, then I call it a win.

I also have to say I think that this has helped “prime the pump” – in an entirely writerly sort of way. Since I’ve started this, I’ve also added some new pages to both “Omega Man’s Day Off” and “The Wyrd Magnet: Chapter Four.”

This is a side benefit I wasn’t expecting. I’m probably going to try to keep up the blogging for a while, if only to help keep up the writing.

Thanks for sticking around here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More Financial Shenanigans at SWC: Forensic Accountants to Investigate Alioto and the Contractors

Whoa. I need practice keeping these short. I had hoped to put this one up two or three days ago when the link to our stories on the Southwestern College Sun website. But it only came up sometime tonight. So with little adieu, allow me to present:

Allow me a minute to crow and say this is my third front-page article in a row. This makes me unusually happy. But more importantly, this is another financial story that grew and grew as I looked into it. I started this by going to an oversight committee meeting to hear a short positive audit report. But when I was there, I heard something disturbing. The next day, I spoke with Bob Temple, the new interim vice president of business and financial affairs at SWC. He gave me more still more disturbing information.

It grew like that. As it did, other reporters and other writers started finding more information that started to overlap what I had. And as we started looking into it, several things became clear.

The first is that Nick Alioto, the now-ex-vice president of business, was involved in many different questionable – possibly illegal – actions. We always knew that, but it was good to have it confirmed. Secondly, it also became clear that Henry Amigable, the project manager for Seville Construction who worked hand-in-hand with Alioto to oversee construction on campus, was almost as dirty as the vice-president. The third thing is that the entire construction situation is dirty and possibly corrupt.

We have one more issue coming out this semester. I hope to have a piece written with another couple of editors and reporters about the construction situation. And if I don’t get everything I want, I’ll try to follow up either this summer on the blog, or next fall at the paper.

So if that seems like I’m saying that I’ll likely be back in school next fall… yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Provided they’ll take me – and you can take that to mean either SWC or the Sun – I’ll be back.

I kind of like the place, you know?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Melbourn's Storm" - Looks Like the Rainbow is in Sight

It is with great pleasure that I report that I've gotten back most of the feedback and criticism I requested for this fourth version of my short story, "Melbourn's Storm." I'm pleased to say that I am happy.

With only a trio of critiques still out - and one of those about half-reported - it's clear that, this time, there are no over-arching problems, no structural defects, no big "what?" questions that plagued the other versions. I have increased its length, as many thought that the third version was too truncated and it ruined the tale's atmosphere. After many re-readings, I was forced to agree.

I have back only half a page or so of notes. Most of those are one of two styles. The first is: "Would he or she say/do/think this at that time?" The second is: "Is that clear enough?"

I will definitely consider both. In most cases, I think that he or she said/did/or thought the right thing at the right time, but I'll consider some changes. I'm a little more worried about the clarity, so I'll probably be tweaking a line or two here and there.

I've still got two-and-a-half critiques back, so I can't consider my work done. But I am happy to say that with these little tweaks, I'm going to consider "Melbourn's Storm" done. It'll be nice to have a new piece to try to get published, though I'll probably be quite annoyed if it doesn't happen the very first time.

I say that with some sarcasm, of course. If I couldn't get it right the first time, I wouldn't expect someone to want to print it the first time either.

My last thought is that it was suggested to me to set this up as an online short story. That might be nice, but it's not my style. I am a big fan of ink-and-paper, and I'd prefer to see it in print - meaning print.

It always seems to me to mean just a little bit more when someone says, "That's great. I'd love to publish it for you."

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - A Charity Anthology... And I'll Be In It

I have a bit more good news from the publishing world! I am pleased to announce that I will be providing a short story to the charity anthology, Kizuna: Fiction for Japan.

Created by Brent Millis - also known as Made in DNA - Kizuna will be used to produce donations to help the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged country. Millis, who I've known online for a couple years now, is a resident of Japan who has seen the damage done to the country and decided to help.

Having only one piece ready to go, I was delighted to include "Ploughman" in the anthology. Kizuna is a melange of different genres - fantasy, cyberpunk, erotica, science fiction, horror, Bizarro fiction, and so on - written by vastly different writers from several different countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Italy, Spain...

Like me, many of the authors are unknown, or are only well-known within their niche. But not all of them. Included in Kizuna: Fiction for Japan are:

Michael Moorcock - The creator of anti-hero Elric of Melnibone, the "Eternal Champion," the "Multiverse," and the theory of the "Balance of Law and Chaos," he has put his stamp on more modern fiction than just about any other author of the last 40 years or so. And as the banner-waver of the entire Dark Fantasy genre, being in an anthology with him is like most fantasy writers being included in a book with JRR Tolkein. He is the creator not only of Elric, but also Corum, Jerry Cornelius, and Dorian Hawkmoon. He is responsible for writing lyrics and working with the bands Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind, and for inspiring about 36% of everything Deep Purple ever recorded. He is a metric ton of awesome.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood - He is the author of End of the World Blues, 9tail Fox, Stamping Butterflies, and the "Arabesk" trilogy. He is a two-time British Science Fiction award winner and five-time nominee, a two-time Arthur C. Clark award nominee, and a John W. Campbell award nominee.

Steven Savile - He has written Primeval novels, Torchwood audiobooks, Doctor Who short stories, Warhammer novels, and edited a collection of Fritz Leiber horror short stories. He was nominated for a British Fantasy Award and a Scribe award and won announced a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award in 2002.

Alvin Pang - He is the Singaporean poet, author, and editor. He is the co-editor of the essential No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry and the founder of the internet's The Poetry Billboard.

Bradley Sands - Icon of the Bizarro fiction movement, author of It Came From Below the Belt, and editor-in-chief of Bizarro literary journal Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens.

Sam Stone - Horror writer nominated for awards in both the US and UK.  Richard Salter - Doctor Who: Short Trips author.  Richard M. Price - Theologian and Chthulu scholar.  Kevin D. Anderson - Author of Night of the Living Trekkies.  Mie Takase - Japanese manga artist, writer, and designer.  Joji Hayashi - Gundam author.  Fumihiko Iino - Award-winning scriptwriter and novelist.  Yasumi Kobayashi - Three-time award nominee and writer of short horror and science fiction tales.

In addition, two more big names are tentatively scheduled to be included:

John Shirley is the cyberpunk and horror author who wrote City Come A-Walkin', the Eclipse trilogy, and the short story collection, Black Butterflies. I'll add that Black Butterflies is the only book I've ever read, by anyone, written at any time, that ever scared the crap out of me. I still have it and I reread it once every couple of years if I feel strong enough. He also apparently writes more books, more short stories, some graphic novels, and a few scripts when he's feeling it.

Ellen Kushner of NPR's Sound and Spirit is also tentatively scheduled to be involved. Having heard her many, many times, and being in awe of her mind, I'd love to know what she has to say.

You can see the list of authors here.

There is not a publication date yet, but when there is I'll let you know.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Are You Going to the Governing Board Meeting? I Can Give You 22.5 Million Reasons To Go

This Wednesday, I’ll make another public appearance at the Southwestern College Governing Board meeting. Yes, I’ll be speaking, and yes, I’d like to invite any and all of you to come with me and make them hear what you have to say.

Why am I going? What on Earth could get me back in front of the board to ask just exactly what the hell is going on?

It appears that the SWC district might be expected to pay for more of Nick Alioto’s shenanigans again. To the tune of $22.5 million.

Alioto? Shure.
Alioto, as you know, is the former VP of Business and Financial Affairs at SWC and one of my personal targets. Given that he was heard referring to me as “an archenemy” – and yes, that’s in quotes, I am delighted with my role versus his Lex Luthorness.

So it should go as no surprise that I’m doing this as an activist, not a journalist.

The money is question arises from construction taking place at SWC. The plans and budgets were developed by Alioto, former superintendent Raj K. Chopra, Seville Construction’s former project manager Henry Amigable, and former SWC consultant John Wilson.

See a pattern?

The board will be discussing paying contracts to several different companies. Some of these contracts are appearing for the first time, but some are contracts that have grown larger since Alioto and Amigable signed them.

Apparently, Alioto – known as a financial wizard – didn’t realize that the construction contracts signed by he and Seville Construction didn’t include funding for the various subcontractors that Seville would be hiring, including the huge Echo Pacific Construction.

Now I’ll grant this is all back-of-the-envelope math, but it’s taken from the agenda of Wednesday’s coming board meeting. It appears that $4,338,077 in contracts needs to be replaced by $26,799,522 in contracts.

In other words, the district is being told that they need to pay an extra $22,461,445 to pay for the mistakes made by Alioto, Amigable, Wilson, and Chopra.

Nick Alioto

Yes, that’s nearly 22.5 million dollars paid out to the following companies: Echo Pacific Construction, Fordyce Construction, Arthur Gensler and Associates, NTD Architecture, Act Inc, Countrywide Mechanical Systems, Southern California Soils and Testing, Tel Tech Plus, The Casper Company, Rocky Coast Framers, RL Electric, Chambers Inc, Winzler and Kelly, Consulting and Inspection Services, Willock Contracting, GA Abell Inc, Barnhart Balfour Beatty, BCA Architects, BRG Consulting, Bytesolutions Inc, and Union Bank.

This would seem questionable at the best of times. But these aren’t the best of times. In early November, the voters threw Salcido off the governing board, leaving Chopra and Alioto unsupported. Late in November, Chopra resigned. That December, Wilson “retired” from his consultant position and Seville Construction fired Amigable. Alioto clung on until February, when he also resigned. With the possibly-guilty parties all scuttling away like cockroaches from a light bulb, it’s clear that these are the bad times. And during the bad times, one must question these facts even more diligently.

These decision-makers weren’t strangers. They were connected in many ways. Working together with Focuscom’s Dan Hom, who attempted to provide rah-rah spin about the project, the men were the architects of the college’s construction future.

It's a little like Caligula, but in English.

Wilson was the live-in boyfriend of Yolanda Salcido, the former GB president. Several other news outlets have already covered their conflicts of interest, so I won’t bother. Salcido hand-picked Chopra as her superintendent, and Chopra and Salcido hand-picked Alioto as his vice president.

In return, Chopra and Alioto hosted fundraisers for Salcido’s reelection campaign – which failed. But they coerced many, many contractors into donating, which included Seville and Echo Pacific.

Somehow these men “forgot” that the contracts they signed didn’t cover sub-contractors.

Though it’s not an exact parallel, it reminds me quite strongly of the story in the Los Angeles Times, which detailed the process of creating and using “body shops” in Los Angeles County.

With this process, the L.A. Community College District (we are also a CCD) used district bonds (which we are using) to hire numerous contractors (which we have) and select a project manager (we have Seville) to oversee the whole thing (which we are doing).

In return for this largesse, the contractors sub-contract the hiring of workers into smaller companies, and then everyone above them charges a cut for their pay. One contractor, Patricia Torres, earned $210 thousand, but the county was charged $563 thousand for her work.

URS Corp is allegedly the mastermind of all this. But also named several times for adding tax and pay markups – Seville Construction. In fact, URS Corp attempted to shuffle Torres from her position at URS to Seville, a common practice to move them away from their job, but keep them in the payroll mix.

With Alioto out at SWC and replaced by apparent straight-shooter Bob Temple, even in an intermittent role, Seville should be putting their best face forward.

They’re not.

In December, Seville removed Henry Amigable from his project manager position, later replacing him with Bob DeLiso. Amigable left Seville in February.

Bob DeLiso
 From 2006-2010, DeLiso worked at Harris & Associates, which was the “point company” for many of the construction projects paid for by the LA Community College District. The LA Times did not list them by name, but did say around “two dozen” other contractors were involved. I’d wager that Harris & Associates was one of them.

Before Harris & Associates, DeLiso worked for URS Corp for 32 years, from 1974 until 2006. This is the guy who is now the project manager for construction at SWC.

Amigable, who was fired from Seville, has also shuffled to a new position and is now working for Echo Pacific Construction, as their SWC project manager.

Remember that $22.5 million in question? Echo Pacific is the largest beneficiary of this “mistake.” With contracts of $4,024,977 outstanding, they are claiming they deserve $10,614,180.

That means they expect the governing board to vote to increase their coffers by $6,589,203.

And the guy in charge of it is Henry Amigable, who was part of this “mistake” happening in the first place.

Alioto, long believed to have hidden and spent down millions of dollars – and recently confirmed by the Southwestern College Sun, and written by Yours Truly -- somehow managed to sign these contracts and Amigable never said “boo.”

So, yeah, I’ll be at the governing board meeting on Wednesday. Unless DeLiso, Amigable, Seville, and Echo Pacific are strenuously investigated, the district must not pay for these decisions. At these times of brutal budget cuts and soaring property taxes, expecting the people of the district to cough up an additional $22.5 million is not just ludicrous.

It’s criminal.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Non-Traditional (Part 5) - One Foot in Journalism, One Foot in Activism - Or How Nick Alioto Made My College Days a Lot Harder

Now that I have returned to college, I have found myself in an unusual position this year. With both an interest in journalism, but also a nearly-complete lack of training, I decided to take journalism classes and write for the Southwestern College Sun. The Sun is widely considered the best two-year college newspaper in the country and one of the top two or three papers of any school there is. Max Branscomb, the advisor, is worshipped as a God Among Men in his field, and I’ll say his reputation is rightfully deserved.

I am there to relearn how to write. I know I am good at many things, but at the beginning of the year, I was rusty, rusty, rusty. Now I’m just rusty, but the improvement is something I do notice.

Also at the beginning of the year, I had to speak with Max; Lyndsay Winkley, the Editor-in-Chief; Albert Fulcher, the News Editor; and Marcela Appelhanz, the Assistant News Editor, and tell them that I was in an unusual position – a position I admit I both relished and loathed.

My desire was to both practice and retrain as a journalist. But I am also a political activist. I have been involved, am involved, and will be involved in progressive politics in the area, and none of that will change. So with one foot in journalism and one foot in activism, I had to set a few boundaries.

One of those boundaries was that I would never cover the Governing Board meetings as a journalist. As anyone here (or at my older blog, SWC Board Must Go) knows, I have never attended a GB meeting in an objective fashion. I have photographed board members, ripped publicly into them, and helped ringlead actions against them.

One of the other boundaries that I insisted on establishing was that I would not go after Nick Alioto, who was still then the Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs at SWC. He was also the dirtbag I’d pursued here, at my other blog, in person, with the press, and at every turn, to run him out of town and prove that he was the criminal that we all know him to be. I’ve even used this blog to poison his chances of future employment, and I’m happy to say that I have no intention of changing that. Fully one-third of the people that end up on the Washroom through a Google or Bing search come by searching for some version of Alioto’s name and position – either here in California or back in his home state of Wisconsin.

I set the boundary that I wouldn’t use journalism to chase Alioto, which appealed to my activist nature. I am not so hypocritical that I thought that fair. Even after he resigned a month or so into this semester, I tried not to chase him.

But every piece I wrote from then on twisted and turned and went back to the actions of Vice President Alioto. I started a small piece on a technology plan that had stalled and was going awry, and within a week determined that it had basically been sabotaged by Alioto himself. When a whistleblower unloaded information about money illegally spent, it became a story on Alioto’s decision to spend that money.

"Superintendent Shakes Up Tech Study Group" (February 22, 2011)

"Former VP Hid, Dumped Millions" (March 22, 2011)

The third story, regarding nothing more than the positive reports of an independent auditor, also twisted and turned, looped and swirled, and landed directly in the lap of Alioto himself. That one is not yet online. When it is, I’ll post it.

I remain with one foot in journalism and one foot in activism. I keep my worlds discrete and I make certain that I don’t set foot past my boundaries. I’ll be present at this week’s Governing Board meeting. I’ve got something to tell them – something that I’ll say well, thoroughly, and loud.

It won’t be as a journalist.

But as a journalist, I’ve finally decided it is okay to use my blog to showcase what I’ve written for the Sun. Feel free to comment, blast, critique, or complain. I’m good with all that.

After all, as a journalist, I wrote these for the good of the college, the district, the students, and the public. But it’s as an activist that I have no trouble whatsoever showing them to you.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Ploughman" is Published, and My Fiction is in Print for the First Time (Or Second. I'm Not Sure.)

If everything goes well, this will be the first of several new blog posts over the next few days. I’ve got quite a bit of good stuff to impart to you, and it’s taken a couple months of hard, annoying work to do it. I’ll keep the first simple.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had no trouble whatsoever getting my non-fiction work published. That is no surprise, but as most (if not all) of you know, fiction is my real writing love.

Back in 1991 or so, a publisher I believe was from Sacramento ostensibly printed one of my short pieces, “Wasteland,” in the small horror mag New Blood Magazine (circulation either 200 or 2000; I can’t remember). I say ‘ostensibly’ because I never received the copy of the magazine I was supposed to receive, though I did get a $35 check from New Blood. Was it published? I think so, but I’ve never seen proof.

I did cash the check. I am a writer, after all.

So with that questionable possibility of a chance of having a previous fiction publication out of the way, I have had no fiction published since then (maybe). So when San Diego Writers, Ink. (SDWI) announced that they would be publishing my short story, “Ploughman,” in their literary fiction anthology, A Year in Ink, Volume 4, I was suddenly very elated. I had sent two, but one made the grade.

I wrote “Ploughman” with my lightest touch, yet dealt with the thoughts of a man unjustifiably dying. It was unquestionably my most “literary” piece, so I wasn’t shocked when I learned that the piece that SDWI chose to publish was that one.

On February 15, pressured by members of the North County Writers of Speculative Fiction and even more strongly by my girl, Liza, I stood in front of the crowd at the Book Release Party and read the first half of the short story.

I was in print.

As surprising as it is to admit in today’s world, there are no plans to put A Year in Ink, Volume 4 – or any of the previous volumes – in an electronic form ready for download. So as much as I’d like to give you a link to follow so you purchase the anthology online, I can’t. This book is ink-and-paper, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m proud to be really published. I’m happy that someone felt confident enough about the work to pay to print it on paper, bind it, assemble a cover and contents, and put it on a shelf. That makes me happy. But that, however, makes it harder to acquire for some of you.

Who knows, though, that may change very soon…

Until then, if you’d like a copy of A Year in Ink, Volume 4, which features only two stories that could generously be called “genre” – mine, which abuts dark fantasy, and one other near-horror tale – you can acquire it from Amazon.  But if you really want it, may I suggest Powell’s Books?

(Buy from

Powell’s is a huge independent bookseller in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been there, and it simply is the best bookstore I’ve ever been inside. They are 100 percent indie, carry shelves and shelves of used, out-of-print wonders, and need support just like any other brick-and-mortar store.

(Buy from Powell's Books)

If you want a copy of the anthology, and you’re willing to buy it, and willing to support Powell’s… well, that would be cool.

Can I do anything for you?