My Veteran’s Day

I know: it sounds like a report you’d have to do in school, like the dreaded and mythological “What I Did With My Summer Vacation.” I don’t remember actually writing one of those on that subject, so this is me making up for it… sorta. Don’t worry. I’ll try to keep it from actually being boring.

I served in the Army from 1983 to 1987, with a two-year stint in the National Guard after that. It was a peaceful time to be in the service, for the most part, despite it being during the Cold War with the USSR. There were a couple scares while I was in: we invaded Grenada while I was in basic training, prompting rumors that we would not be going to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) but would ship promptly to Grenada upon graduation. Of course, that didn’t happen, and I’d largely forgotten about it by the time I made it to AIT (they keep you busy). Then, sometime later, we bombed Libya. I was stationed at Fort Polk by then, and the base went on alert, but we mostly found out about it on the news.

I was by no means an exemplary soldier. I joined to learn to be a mechanic, but what I really learned was that I have little aptitude for the job—and I don’t much like it besides. So much for that idea. I’m from Arkansas, took basic and AIT at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and was stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana. If you’ll look at an atlas of the US, you’ll see I never got more than a state away from my home.

So much for seeing the world.

To be fair, I did go to Germany for forty-five days in 1984 for an exercise called REFORGER, Armyspeak for Return of Forces to Germany—basically practicing for the Soviets invading Europe through the Fulda Gap. And I made two trips to Fort Irwin, California for OPFOR—Opposing Forces—training. Of a sort. We were observers. Fort Irwin and OPFOR used the tactics and vehicles of the Soviets for our units to go into mock combat against. From what I understand, OPFOR won every time. Not sure what that says about the readiness of our troops in the eighties. Probably a good thing we didn’t go to war with Russia.

I say all this to bring us to this point: because nothing special ever happened during my time in service, Veteran’s Day has never meant a lot to me on a personal level. Being a veteran, of course, I honor those who serve, but when I’m thinking of that, I’m thinking of those who saw combat, or were at least in an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) that could put them in harm’s way at a moment’s notice.

I was a mechanic. I served my time, got out. End of story.

That changed for me this year, thanks to my wife.

I told her basically what I’ve told you above, and she responded by telling me that, until her younger brother joined the Army, there were no veterans in her family, not since a couple generations back. And when her brother joined, her mother was very opposed to it, even though it was during peacetime, because of one thing: when you join any branch of the military, you’re writing a blank check on your life, payable at any time during your service, payment to include death, if necessary.

Yeah, we’ve seen that on Facebook and other social media for years now. God knows I’ve read it often enough. But I guess the real meaning of that never sunk in. It was like, even though I signed that same blank check, because nothing happened during my tour, it didn’t really apply to me. I didn’t go to Nam, or Grenada, or Mogadishu, or Iraq. I was never in combat, never even close except for being an observer in some war games (we accidentally drove into the middle of a “battle” between tanks and helicopters one of my trips to Fort Irwin).

My wife told me that didn’t matter. What counted to her was that it could have happened. I was vaguely aware of that when I went in, of course, but was victim to that syndrome where you think it can never happen to you. Luckily, it didn’t. But it put those incidents in Grenada and Libya into a new perspective for me.

It could have been me going to Grenada. I could have been called up for something, who knows? You join during peacetime, but you never know what can happen in this world. Just ask those guys who were in those barracks in Lebanon in the early eighties. Or, more recently, the recruiters who were shot while simply standing on the sidewalk. Here in America. You shouldn’t have to worry about being shot while you’re a recruiter.

The penultimate moment for me came on Veteran’s Day itself when we visited Pea Ridge Battlefield, a site dedicated to one of the few Civil War battle sites west of the Mississippi. We were in the visitors’ center when I saw they had a DVD documentary of the battle. My wife hugged me and said to pick it or one of the books offered for sale there as a Veteran’s Day gift.

A Veteran’s Day gift? For me?

I’ll be honest: I choked up. I’m choking up a little writing about it.

I didn’t know what to say, so I finally just hugged her back and said, “Thank you.”

My wife later told me she had known plenty of guys who joined back when I did and didn’t even make it through basic training. That’s probably when I saw my service for what it was. I joined. I served. I stuck with it, even when all I wanted to do was chuck my uniforms and go home. Basic training was the worst, because I’d been raised sheltered and was suddenly thrust into an entirely different culture. I felt lost and alone. Phone calls home were a lifeline to something sane and familiar.

But I didn’t quit. What would people back home think if I did? I couldn’t allow that to happen. I’d made a promise, signed my name on the bottom of that blank check. I would fulfill my promise, cash in that check if necessary.

Thank God it never was.

Sunday and Monday, at odd moments, I kept thinking of Pea Ridge. One of the stops on the tour is Elkhorn Tavern, used by both sides as a makeshift hospital, and reading of how some Confederate troops marched overnight from a fight at the now-nonexistent Leetown to Elkhorn Tavern—a distance we covered in mere minutes in my pickup—to join the main battle. It took them ALL NIGHT to march perhaps four miles. I stood on the ground where those men fought and bled and died, all within sight of the tavern, on a cold March day in 1862. The weather was chilly, and it helped a bit to relate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not elevating myself up with the guys who fought there, or at Normandy, or Ia Drang Valley, or Chosin Reservior, or Kuwait, or who endured the infamous Mogadishu Mile or the Bataan Death March. Or the Hanoi Hilton. Or Dachau. Or Auschwitz. Or any other battle or POW camp.

But I was made to realize that I stepped up. I served. I probably know fewer veterans than I do non-veterans. I’m not saying that as a judgment, just an observation.

I’m proud of my service. And for the first time, I feel that service was appreciated by someone very close to me for Veteran’s Day.

I’ll close by saying a big, belated thank you to all those who went into harm’s way to serve, who went farther down that trail than I did so that I can remain free.

May the sun shine on your face, the wind be at your back, and may you be in heaven long before the devil knows you’re dead.



I Lost My Wife to NaNoWriMo

I’m an NaNoWriMo widower… at least to an extent.

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo—or can’t remember when I’ve talked about it before (I sympathize, believe me)—NaNoWriMo is internetspeak for National Novel Writing Month, and you can find out more about it at The simple definition is this: you write 50,000 words in a month. The aim is to write a short, completed novel, though some begin early and use that crunch to finish—or at least get close to finishing—a novel. It happens every November. The idea behind this is to get the story down on paper. Don’t edit. Don’t polish. Just write. What my wife calls word vomit.

Yes, we’re back to my wife again.

See, I got married in July to the woman I’ve spent my life looking for. Less than four months later, she’s writing a cozy mystery for NaNoWriMo. In and of itself, I love the idea, and I’m fully supportive. But as I write this, it’s November 7th, and I miss her already.

See, to achieve this goal, she has to write an average of 1,667 words a day (50,000 ÷ 30 = 1,666.66667, for you math nerds), and she has to do this in the evenings after she gets home from her day job (you know, that nasty thing we writers have to have to do things like eat food). And that means she has very little time to spend with… me.

I know: cry me a river.

Though this post is largely tongue-in-cheek, I have to be honest and reiterate that I support her fully. Way back when we reconnected (my wife and I once knew one another more years ago than I care to talk about), during the catch-up stage, I told her I was a writer and had four books published. She admitted that had been a dream of hers all her life.

See how we’re so well-matched?

But here’s the thing: she saw my writing, and that of the people I associate with, and I think it intimidated her. After that initial mention of wanting to be a writer, she didn’t bring it up again.

And that bothered me.

See, I’d read some of her Facebook posts. And thesis papers. And I knew she could write, if she’d just give herself permission to. But I had trouble convincing her of that.

I stayed patient, though, not because I’m a saint, but because every writer in history has been there: we want to write, but have no confidence in our abilities to do so. We want to be (insert name of favorite author here) right off the bat without going through whatever (favorite author) went through to get that good. It’s normal, and very human, and it’s not limited to writers and would-be writers. I’d guess every creative person is that way.

What separates the wheat from the chaff—or elevates a would-be to a writer—is the discipline to put butt in chair and write. You gotta have your chops, and while meditation is a good thing, it will never totally replace action, especially when it comes to being creative. At a certain point you simply have to do something about your dreams, rather than just dreaming them.

My wife loves cozy mysteries, and she came up with an idea for one (I refuse to share it here until she’s done with it) that I think is excellent, and it draws on her own experience, which will make it more authentic. She’s let me read most of it as she finishes each section, with the caveat that I turn my editing off, and it’s excellent, especially for someone who said she couldn’t write. I’m not much on cozies, but I know good writing when I see it, and she’s got it.

I encouraged her, so I guess I’m getting my just desserts.

But you know what? That’s okay. It’s made her happier than I’ve seen her yet, and she loves that I believe in her, and that makes it worth anything I could go through. After all, she sits in bed to write while I’m reading (how’s that for a hot time in the bedroom?), so we’re still spending time together, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Only twenty-three more days to go…


Culture Shock

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a country boy. I’ve been some places—Germany always comes immediately to mind when I say that, but that was waaaay back in 1984.

Yes, I’m that old.

As I write this, though, I’m nearing the end of my fourth trip (if I’m counting right) to LA. More specifically, to Santa Monica. Just off Wilshire Boulevard. Not far from the ocean. And the Pier.

Not exactly the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Hell, I’ve only seen one Walmart the whole time I’ve been out there, and that was over an hour away.

All the other times I’ve come out here, I’ve been limited on what I saw. Stuck mostly with whatever I could see within walking distance—and careful with where I went since I have no idea when or if I’ve wandered into a bad neighborhood—I’ve pretty much seen the same things: the Santa Monica Pier, the chaos that is LAX, a very limited stretch of the PCH, and the famous Third Street Promenade. Not a lot to write home about.

But this time I came out for my daughter’s wedding, and because her husband is from Simi Valley, that’s where they decided to have the wedding. It was in a very nice place called Rancho Simi Park, not far off the 118 Freeway. We took the 405 north through what I think was the Sepulveda Pass into Simi Valley, two different trips, one for the rehearsal, one for the wedding itself. Got to see some of that famous freeway gridlock Southern California is known for.

And some high desert. With lots of rocks. And scrub.

I think it’s beautiful, but not everyone does. To each their own. I fell in love with the desert way back in 1985 when I was in the Army and made two trips to Fort Irwin, right smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert, thirty miles south of Death Valley. Much more barren than the desert I’ve seen the last few days.

If it were only the landscape, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But there’s LA. Los Angeles. There are so many cultures here. According to Google, there’s 224 languages spoken here. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that fact. I mean, who’da thunk?

People, people everywhere, and not a break from them in sight. Wanna escape? You’ll need to drive at least an hour to get to the desert.

Of course, that’s one of the things about this area. You can go to the desert, the beach, or the mountains, and most of it is within a couple hours’ drive. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can head up the coast to San Francisco. Or keep going north to Northern California and see redwoods and Yosemite (something I’d love to do).

But down here? As my wife says, it’s too peopley.

I like the area, and the climate is great, especially if you’re closer to the ocean. The inland canyons and high desert can get hotter than Hades in the summer, and as much as I love the look of the desert, I don’t wanna live there. Are you crazy? No thanks. I spent one August in those triple-digit temperatures, and I ain’t doin’ it again.

I’m writing this on Thursday the 2nd, and I’m set to fly back on Friday the 3rd. So by the time you read this, I’ll be home, back to fall temperatures and—probably—bare trees. My daughter is honeymooning at Disneyland as I write this, and I wish her all the luck and love in the world with her marriage. I hope she comes to visit me again (she was at my wedding this past July), and I’m sure I’ll come back out to see everyone.

But as far as living out here? No thanks. Gas across the street was $3.45 for the cheapest stuff, the California legislature having voted in a twelve-cent gas-tax hike that went into effect Wednesday. Helicopters fly overhead on a regular basis, and let’s not forget all the sirens that are like the city’s theme song.

And the homeless begging money and sleeping under overpasses.

The miles and miles of eight-lane freeways with miles and miles of backed-up traffic.

The millions of people.

You can’t find a moment’s peace. Can’t enjoy a sunset in solitude. Hell, you can’t have solitude period.

Yeah, I’m a country boy, and I’m gonna stay that way. It’s where I’m happiest.


Two Firsts

This past week marks two firsts for me—the first time I’ve had a book re-released, and the first time I’ve been featured on someone else’s blog.

Let me explain. I’ll start with the re-release.

If you’ve paid attention to my offerings here, you’ll notice I took the link down for Spree. That’s because I got the rights back at the end of last year and a new edition has been in production since, with a far better cover and interior layout.

And the return of my original opening sentence.

When I originally conceived of Spree, I wanted to have fun with it. So I made the writing style a bit irreverent, and very informal. I wanted it to be more stream-of-consciousness than some stodgy, formal thing (I hate that anyway, anymore). Yes, the story becomes serious—as it should—but I wanted the reader to have fun getting there.

In this spirit, the original opening sentence to what I guess you’d call the prologue read This is how it went down. I thought that, in a sentence, summed up the experience I planned to give the reader.

But the original editor/publisher believed that sentence was too omniscient. Not enough deep POV. So it was scrapped, and I’ve always regretted that. Let that be a lesson to you, kiddies: don’t always give in just to be published, which is sorta what I did.

There was one other passage I had a minor problem with, where I had my cop character have a hunch, and the editor didn’t like it. He wanted to add in that the information had come from a confidential informant. I’m not sure exactly what the objection was to the hunch—it’s been long enough that, if there was a reason given, I don’t remember it. Some people just don’t like the idea of people getting hunches, but I’m convinced cops—and people in other professions as well—get these hunches based on their long experience in their jobs. They’re not something weird and mystical, they’re just our brain and subconscious working together in ways we don’t fully understand yet.

But, I let it stand.

Most of the other editing was fine. No objection. But, on the whole, I wasn’t that happy with the publisher, so when it came time to renew the contract, I opted out.

Now, on the other subject, though I’ve been a published author for some time, I’m not good at the PR end of things. I even stopped doing this blog because, quite frankly, I ran out things to write about. There at the end, I was trying different strategies to make it more relevant and less focused on things only other writers would be interested in, but it didn’t work too well.

And, quite frankly, I lacked the self-confidence to promote myself on others’ sites.

But my wife—God bless her—wants to see me succeed, probably more than I do, and she’s getting me out there, making me do things outside my poor, introvert’s comfort zone, which means I’ve been featured on Ninetoes Loves Books (, so pop on over and give it a quick read and see what you think.

I’m still not sure what to think of it, but I’m happy to report that the man himself sent me a friend request on Facebook, and we talked a bit on Messenger and it turns out we’re a lot alike, so if nothing else, I got a new friend out of it. And I hope for both our sakes we get a lot more than that. If we can give each other a boost, so much the better.

And if I haven’t put up links to my newest books—including the re-release—by the time you read this, rest assured they’ll be up soon.


Westward Ho!

In just a little over a week, I’ll be getting on a plane and flying to LA to be at my daughter’s wedding, and I have mixed feelings about it.

First of all, there’s the simple fact that, in my mind, she shouldn’t be old enough to get married. She’s 29, and I should be younger than that. Like a popular meme says, people my age are so much older than I am. When I was 25, I thought it would be eons before I crossed that half-century mark, and as I write this, I’m two years past that and close to being three years over the line.

Then there’s flying. Could the airlines and the government come up with a more tortuous process just to save time? I mean, if we really want the terrorists to give us information, we should just put them through what we so-called free citizens have to go through just to get on an airplane. And never mind the cramped indignity of actually flying.

Then there’s Southern California. I know there are people who like it, love it even. And to be fair, where I’ll be staying is pretty awesome, just a few blocks from the beach and the Santa Monica Pier, plus the wedding itself is in Simi Valley, so I’ll get to see a part of the state I’ve yet to see.

But… it’s LA. I mean, it’s Los Angeles, man. It has its good points, such as the climate (especially close to the ocean like I’ll be), and the palm trees and such, but I have no interest in seeing any celebrities, and there’s the litter and… to use one of my wife’s words, it’s too peopley.

On the plus side? There’s my daughter. I don’t get to see her nearly enough, and since it’s her wedding week, I won’t get to see much of her while I’m out there, but anything is better than nothing. We talk (i.e., text) on a regular basis, but that’s not the same as spending time with her. She’s really cool, as much my friend as my kid, and I have to say any time spent with her more than makes up for whatever inconveniences I have to put up with to get out there to her.

Besides, as a writer, I’m sure I’ll see something that’ll work its way into one of my books. Even with what little time I’ve spent out there, I can see why so many writers like to set their books in LA. It’s such a varied city, with so many wonderful locations to set the action that I couldn’t resist indulging a bit myself, with some action taking place in Santa Monica in two of my Rural Empires novels.

On a more personal note, as a dad who dearly loves his daughter, I’m so glad to see her getting married to a guy who already treats her like a queen. She was able to come here to Arkansas for my wedding in July and even played a part. Her fiancé was able to be there as well, which was a very special treat for me. And my daughter and my wife bonded very well while she was visiting, so there’s that as well.

It’s certainly going to be a pleasure and an honor to be at her wedding, and I’m looking forward to it.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll have something really good to tell you about when I get back.


Into the Unknown

It’s been quite some time since I told you to look for a comeback from me, and even longer since I’ve posted anything here. If you’ve given up on me, I’m sorry for being absent for so long (though, if you’ve given up, you’re probably not reading this, so…). And if you haven’t… well, thanks for staying the course and please accept my profound apologies for neglecting you for so long.

First, a short explanation: I ran out of things to say.

Short enough for you?

The simple truth is, unless I want to stray into areas I probably shouldn’t—and I touched on them with posts such as questioning whether or not political parties have become cults—maintaining a blog week after week is tough for me. I’ve read books about blogging, of course. I’m anal about researching things to the nth degree. But while those books are good at telling you what you should do (a plug for Rise of the Machines by Kristen Lamb would not be out of place here), very few tell you how to do it, and therein lies the problem for me.

Yes, I realize the details are up to me. I’m not asking someone to hold my hand. The problem likely lies more in my comprehension than anything else. What they say makes sense, I just can’t figure out exactly how to translate that into practical experience.

But I’m gonna work on it.

And I’m gonna get back into blogging. I’ve had others suggest several directions for me to go with this blog, directions that don’t consist of repeatedly talking only about writing and being an author (though I’m sure there’ll still be some of those posts), and I may dabble in many of those suggestions. So if things seem a bit scattered here, that’s why.

In the meantime, a lot has changed in the time I’ve been “off the air.” I’m still somewhat in a writing slump—which no doubt contributed to my long silence—but I seem to be slowly coming out of that and I’m feeling the first faint warmth of the creative fires burning again.

And, about three months ago, I married my best friend. Not to sound melodramatic, but I was well on my way to becoming a bitter, lonely old man (another factor which probably kept me from writing), and then this special lady from the past finds me on Facebook and my life turned around completely.

Which leads to my leap into the unknown.

Being a writer, I’m sure it only makes sense I’m a book nerd. So is my wife. And she’d love nothing better than to see me be successful as an author. To her, I’m a rock star. When last I wrote here, I worked as a security guard, which allowed me to do quite a bit of editing while performing my duties on the job. I’ve since left that job and went to work installing network, fire alarm, and coaxial cable, a job I got laid off from after three months. And, despite the so-called improved economy, I’m having trouble finding a new job.

A couple weeks back, one of the attendees at my writers group offered to pay me to edit one of his books he intends to self-publish. I took him up on the offer, but it got me to thinking, and I talked to my wife about it, and the upshot is, I’m gonna throw my hat in the ring as a freelance editor.

And why not? I now have a couple years’ experience under my belt working for Oghma Creative Media. But we’re still not earning enough money for anyone to make a salary yet—though we’re getting tantalizingly close—and I need to generate an income. Yes, from what little research I’ve been able to do so far, it’s a tough field, but I’m used to that from being an author. And if it works out, it’ll mean no more commuting, which will save on gas, and it’ll be a natural extension of what I already do until Oghma gets on an earning basis. And as my wife said, it’s a good time to experiment and see how it goes while I have some unemployment coming in and no job offers as yet.

Yeah, it’s scary. But following your dreams always is. If you sit on your duff and never take a chance, you never get to find out if you could have made it or not. For some, I’m sure that’s fine, and I won’t argue with them about it.

But I’m not getting any younger. If I’m gonna do this, I better get on it.

I’ll keep you posted.