New Blog Posts to Come

Inspired by fellow author/blogger Berthold Gambrel, I’m going to try something new with my blog. He recently finished a series in which he breaks down some of the most memorable 90’s action films (you can read the last in the series here, posted just this morning), and that was fun to read. Therefore, in a break from the usual book reviews and updates on my writing, I’m going to do a short series on Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, focusing on what I liked most about each movie, what I didn’t like, things I’d wished had been included from the books, and my absolute favorite moment in each film.

After that’s done, if I enjoy doing it, I’ll do the same for some other movies that are in my Top 10 list, films like Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, and Gladiator. And if you haven’t noticed a trend yet, yes, my favorite movies tend to fall on the “manly” side of things, though I do enjoy a good musical (The Greatest Showman, La La Land) or RomCom (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Morning Glory) from time to time, so I’m not just some caveman either.

But what would a blog post be without an update on my work-in-progress? As I mentioned last week, Evolved Publishing is opening up submissions today, so very soon I’ll be firing off that query email! But not before I double-check triple-check quadruple-check do one last check of the formatting to ensure it’s exactly how they want it!

Weekend Update: Some Progress

For a while now, my current work-in-progress Creed: Solomon’s Fortune has been giving me headaches. I think this was the toughest book I’ve written yet, and it took a long time for the full story to truly reveal itself to me. I took a couple breaks, jumped around in the timeline a bit, and just generally procrastinated.

But as I near the end of the first draft, I’m finally hitting my stride. I think the additions I made to earlier parts in the book have worked well and have helped the vision I had in my head flourish on the page. I brought in a second antagonist this time, and I also devoted more ‘screentime’ to the romance between two characters, allowing it to flow a bit more realistically.

But the prologue I added a while back, which serves to introduce the main antagonist, is so far my favorite change to the story. I’ve given this bad guy a lot more space in the pages than probably any other villain I’ve written, so the reader can get much more familiar with her. She’s quite like President Cyrus Arthur from Her Name Was Abby, but perhaps even more cold-blooded. You can read her introduction here.

Anyway, the story is rapidly approaching the climactic struggle and I can hardly wait to write it out! It should be an even more thrilling conclusion than the first Creed story.

However, I’m beginning to wonder if this should also be the final Creed book. With how difficult this second one has been, I’ve started to wonder if it’d be wise to attempt a third one. These have been unexpectedly tricky to write, and on top of that with each successive book it becomes even harder because there’s even less material to work with; the last thing I want is to write a book where the reader is left saying, “You literally just did this in the last book!”

So I’m now left tweaking the ending a bit. Whereas before it was going to be an open ending to segue into third book, I’m going to attempt a soft closing of the door so that the story is completed in case I do in fact shelve this series, but with a tiny opening to get my foot in the door, should I choose to continue this series.

Last of all, next week on April 4th I’ll finally be able to submit Creed to a publisher! Evolved Publishing is the company. Last year I submitted the entire His Name Was Zach series and they actually replied to me to request the full manuscripts. They rejected the series, but I did get to that second step with them so I’m hopeful that Creed will be more to their liking. But this is my last attempt at a traditional publisher for this series. If they don’t take it, I will in fact self-publish.

As always, thank you for reading and being a part of this writing adventure!

Book Review: The Memoirs of US Grant

I’d been meaning to read Ulysses Grant’s memoirs for quite some time. After reading two large biographies and a few analyses of his generalship in the Civil War, I had a pretty good portrait of Grant painted for me.

However, I wanted to get inside the mind of the man himself. I wanted to see how he himself viewed his legacy.

First, a little context. Grant wrote these memoirs while literally on his deathbed; he died 5 days after finishing final edits. A con man had swindled him out of his entire fortune late in life, leaving him nearly penniless. So Grant reached out to a publisher who had bought some Civil War essays from him and offered to write a memoir for them. They responded and offered him standard publishing terms, which Grant happily accepted.

Enter Mark Twain. He was enamored with Grant and when he heard Grant was planning to write a memoir, he went to visit him and asked him what terms the publisher had offered. The terms Grant had agreed to positively disgusted Twain; he believed Grant to be a living legend and worthy of far higher royalties than some country bumpkin. He tried to persuade Grant to let him publish his memoirs. But Grant was a man of honor, and having already agreed to terms with his publisher felt obligated to keep to the contract.

That’s when Twain slapped a check for $50,000 (roughly $1,000,000 today) on Grant’s table and told him that was merely an advance, with generous royalties to follow. Grant immediately informed his publisher he had to back out of their deal and moved forward with Twain. Anyway, on to the review!

It was very interesting to see what parts of his life Grant chose to emphasize, and which parts he downplayed. For instance, most students of Civil War era history know of Grant’s infamous General Orders 11. This was an order to remove possible Confederate spies from his Union camps which unnecessarily singled out Jewish merchants. This black spot on Grant’s record is discussed at length in most biographies but Grant did not even bring it up once.

(Which is unsurprising; I don’t suppose any of us would want to dwell on an action of ours we deeply regretted and that humiliated us whenever brought to memory)

What did surprise me is that Grant gave his family no more than a passing mention here or there. He loved Julia Dent Grant, his wife, with all his heart, and his children were precious to him. We know this from his letters that have survived. I would have thought he’d talk about them quite a bit at one point, but I suppose he thought the public at large cared only to read about his military adventures.

As a writer, Grant does an incredible job of painting a scene for the readers. You can almost see the topography of each battlefield as he describes rolling terrain, dense woods, a bend in a river, a beautiful farm house, a flat and arid desert. And he does it all in straightforward, simple language, the exact fashion in which he wrote his military orders as a Lieutenant General.

There also appears to be an ulterior motive for writing his memoirs: Grant was hoping to “clear his name”, so to speak. Even while he still drew breath, slanderers and libelists, political rivals and old battlefield does, were hard at work tarnishing his legacy, a job which unfortunately was done so successfully that only in the 20th century is Grant’s legacy beginning to recover in the eyes of the general public.

And so when it came time to write about his largest and most infamous campaigns, Grant always opened with a bit of background to the battle: discussing logistics, orders from his superiors, or orders issued to subordinates, that kind of thing. He was setting the stage and explaining his rationale for pre-battle actions. He would then describe the battle as he witnessed it, then close the chapter with some self-reflection, assessing his battle plans and the actions of his men, and offering justifications for what happened. Basically telling his critics, “This is why this happened so, and I dare you to find the flaw in my reasoning.”

Usually these ‘closing remarks’ only lasted for a page and a half, maybe two. But for the Battle of Shiloh, Grant went on for nearly six full pages in justifying what happened. This is because, despite it being a significant Union victory, Grant’s detractors used it as a cudgel to portray Grant as a bumbling, drunken fool who was saved only by reinforcements (which is not even remotely accurate). For instance, he was criticized for not having had his forces dig entrenchments when they arrived at Shiloh, but Grant points out that in 1862, no one would have opted to do so in his position because it wasn’t yet standard operating procedure. If Grant accomplished nothing else with his memoirs, he wanted to ensure that everyone got his side of the story of the Battle of Shiloh.

All in all, this book was an excellent read and exactly what I expected it to be. If you want to learn more of Grant, then in the words of famed biographer Ron Chernow, it’s a “must-have”. The edition I got was excellent as well for the annotations, which were almost a whole extra book to themselves. These were great because it told a little bit about any person Grant mentions by name, so you have a general idea of who he’s talking about. It would also clarify some of Grant’s inaccuracies on things like troop counts in a particular battle or the name of a creak or road.

Book Review: Fields of Fire by James Webb

I knew of James Webb the politician before I knew of James Webb the author. I liked what he had to say in the 2016 Democratic primary debates, and would have gladly voted for him had he been the nominee. But that’s neither here nor there.

Fields of Fire is a story that focuses primarily on 3 Marines: Goodrich, an intellectual from Harvard who dropped out of school, Snake, a no-account street urchin from a broken home, and Hodges, a Steve Rogers type of young man who comes from a long family line of men who’d served and died in the American military.

First things first, a warning that there’s a LOT of racial slurs in this book, almost entirely a word that’s derogatory towards Asians but also a few n-words from one of the Marines. It’s a realistic portrayal of Marines in Vietnam in 1969, so if you simply can’t stomach this kind of writing then I can’t recommend this book.

The beginning of the book is slow as the characters and their backgrounds are laid out for several pages. It fits well with the tone of the story, but it does feel long. But once they get to Vietnam things start to pick up. One thing I never really liked was that, with few exceptions, every character is called by a nickname. So you have Snake, Ogre, Cannonball, Senator. I think I know why Webb chose to do this, and it makes sense: I think the squad all uses nicknames because it was easier to lose a Bagger or a Cat Man than it was to lose a Frank or a Steven.

So it makes sense, but it was also a little odd, I thought. We didn’t do that in the Marines when I served but maybe it was different in Vietnam.

Also when the reader gets to Vietnam, Snake has already been there a while, so a lot of relationships have already formed that are apparently tight but you the reader don’t know it yet. It makes sense as a style of writing, and it’s realistic as someone joining a unit in a war would feel a bit ostracized by the close-knit relationships already formed. But for me personally, I didn’t really care for it.

The last 100 pages of the book were simply fantastic, and the ending dared me to give this 5-stars. It was a bit of a surprise but also probably easily predicted, too. I won’t speak about much of it because I don’t want to spoil anything. But one part in the middle of the book that I really liked was a chapter dedicated to a guy who survived 3 deployments to Vietnam and then got out of the Marines, alive and unhurt.

In this chapter, the former Marine is hitch-hiking from Southern California to the north of the state. Along the way he gets rides from blue collar cargo haulers, from a couple of stoners, and from former Marines and soldiers. He ends up talking to them all, mostly about the war and the military.

This character describes feeling like a stranger in a faraway land when he’s in cars with civilians who’ve never seen a war, even those who support the cause he fought for. He Feels awkward and doesn’t know how to converse. But when he gets rides from people like him, the Korea vets or WW2 vets, he’s at ease. He relaxes, smokes a cigarette, and chats freely.

And that’s something that Mr. Webb, myself, and any combat vet can relate to. Coming back from a war, coming back from a place full of people trying to kill you, changes you. Some of us have an easier time than others adjusting back to the civilian world, but it’s still an adjustment.

There’s always gonna be a chasm there between you and civilians, an experience of yours that they can never emulate, and thus they can never truly understand some of the things you might wanna say. And so you don’t even bother saying them. You might talk about the war with them, but it feels unnatural. Like you’re being interviewed on live television. So you choose your words carefully, frame everything in a way that you think will please or satisfy the listeners.

Talking with fellow combat vets though? You can relax. You can have a beer and just let loose. You talk about patrols and the different tactics your unit used. You talk about whether the locals helped or hindered you. You tell the funny stories and the embarrassing ones too. Then, inevitably, heavily, you mention the names of the fallen. You nod your head in solemn testament to the horrors of war, to the sight of a dead or dying comrade.

And then you move on quickly because neither of you want to dwell on those memories in public for very long.

Guess I’ll wrap this up before I get too preachy. Overall Fields of Fire was an excellent book, 4 stars out of 5. If you’re a fan of military fiction and can stomach some offensive language, this one is definitely for you. The ending is a conclusion that you won’t want to miss.

Okay I lied, I will post a spoiler from the end of the book, just because it includes an exchange between two characters that I can’t NOT share. So don’t read further if you don’t want any spoilers!


One of the main characters dies at the end, and he leaves behind his Japanese wife and young son who never knew him. Years after the war, the mother takes the son to the Marine base in Okinawa, the island where they now live. Since the boy’s father is buried in Arlington on the other side of the world, she tells the boy that this base is almost like a family tomb. She tries to explain how his father died and why, and the following conversation takes place.

“Is he buried here?” The boy asks.
“No. He spent the last days of his life here. He is buried in America.”
“But he did not die here. Or in America.”
“No. He died in Vietnam. Far away.”
“Why was he buried in America?”
“Because it was his home.”
“Then why did he die in Vietnam?”
“He was a warrior there. These Americans, they are warriors. They fight in many places.”
“Why? Why do they fight in so many places?”
“I do not know.”

Neither do I, ma’am. Neither do I.

Book Review: “Never Die” by Rob J. Hayes

I haven’t posted a book review in a while, mostly because the books I’ve been reading have been very long and take a while to finish. I should be finished with one of them by next week and can post a new review there. But in the meantime, I’ll re-post this older book review of an indie book that I truly believe should be on everyone’s to-be-read list. Here’s my review!

WOW.

This was one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. A band of famous warriors are on a quest to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings, a cruel and vicious despot. But here’s the catch: they’re already dead.

The characters leap from the pages in this one, each masterfully crafted and full of life. I’d say Bangwei Ma, Master of the Sun Valley, was my favorite for various reasons. I could go on about him but again, you should experience this for yourself.

The action was great, very much what you’d expect from the Japanese-style inspirations of the story. Oh and can we all take a moment to appreciate that gorgeous cover art?

One thing I didn’t particularly like was the use of the word f*** sprinkled throughout. Not because I’m opposed to that word (if you’ve read my books then you certainly know that already!), it just felt out of place in this story, that’s all.

But that’s really my only complaint, and I’m reaching pretty far to even get to that. What a beautiful story. I had a couple ideas how it would end, and I think by the last 15% I was pretty certain (and correct) about the ending. But I don’t even care. This one isn’t about the destination, grand as it was, it was the beautiful journey it took you on.

Buy it, love it, cherish it, give it to your friends and family on birthdays and Christmas. It will not disappoint!

How Did it Come to This?

Yesterday, what we all knew was going to happen, happened. Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s a terrifying moment for the people of Ukraine and its neighboring countries like Romania or Poland. The Ukranian government has even resorted to handing out military weapons to civilians in Kyev.

I’ve been following along with the news as best I can, watching videos and looking at pictures that tear my heart out. War is good for no one and nothing. Everyone suffers, even the victors and especially the children. At a time like this, I’m reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem in The Two Towers:

It pains me to see these wicked things being done, knowing how many children are now suffering and having their lives upended. As I told my wife, it’s in my nature, it’s in my blood to want to take up my rifle and defend people from wicked men, no matter where they are. It’s the same impulse I felt when the Taliban overran Afghanistan last year, or when ISIS killed 100 people in Paris. It’s the same impulse that led me to joining the Marines years ago.

It’s the same message I’ve got tattooed on my arm, an excerpt from the Bible. Exodus chapter 22, verse 24 (the previous two verses are added below for context).

22 Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. 23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry. 24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows and your children fatherless.

Hell, if I’d never met my wife, I might have actually joined the French Foreign Legion or some mercenary group, something that would let me travel to faraway places and fight against these wicked men.

But that’s all a hypothetical, and now I have duties at home as a father. Duties that prevent me from running off to certain death 12,000 miles away. Here in the present all I can do is hope that Ukraine is able to force Russia back to its borders.

Weekend Update: Super Bowl 2022

Even if you don’t follow football at all, you were probably aware that this past weekend was the Super Bowl weekend. It’s watched by about 100 million people every year, making it one of the most American events of the year. Friends and families gather to eat a lot of good food, spend time together, and enjoy a special show.

I’m a big football fan myself, so I definitely made time to watch the game and it was spectacular. I didn’t have a dog in the fight so to speak, so I was just happy to see a good game no matter who won. Plus the halftime show was an incredible performance from some of the biggest hip-hop and R&B stars from the 90’s and 00’s: Eminem, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar.

Now it’s a long wait for the next season of football, when (hopefully) at long last the Bears will have figured out how to develop an elite quarterback!

In writing news, I’m still working on the second Creed book, and it’s up to 46,000 words. I’m also considering bringing back a character from the first book for this next journey!

And speaking of the first book, I had originally planned to self-publish it this month after the release of the Uncharted movie, but there’s a publisher opening up submissions soon that I want to try first. I submitted His Name Was Zach to them last year, the whole series, and they actually requested full manuscripts! While they ended up passing on Zach and Abby, it’s the farthest I’ve gotten in my quest to be published, so I want to try again with Creed before finally self-publishing.

Hopefully this is the one that finally catches enough interest for someone else to publish for me, so fingers crossed!

Book Review: “Attack and Die” by Dr. Grady McWhiney

This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Written 40 years ago by a man considered to be the leading authority of the history of Antebellum South and the Civil War, Attack and Die gives an in-depth look at what made America’s war against itself so particularly brutal.

(Also one of the things I liked most about the book was how the title nearly summarizes the conclusion reached by the author: attack, and die. If you were a soldier in the Civil War and your commander gave you the order to attack, you were going to die.)

I think most casual historians already know the general answer to what made the Civil War so bloody. Tactics had not caught up to the advancement of military technology. This is correct but also a little too simple to appreciate fully the situation faced by generals in that age.

The rifled musket was introduced around the 1840’s and was the big game changer in war. This invention tripled the effective range of musket fire, making advancing in enemy positions in the old way much more dangerous. But at first it was seen as a specialty weapon, something you issue to only a handful of men. By 1861 however it had become standard issue.

The generals knew that rifled muskets were far more lethal than their predecessors, and they adapted the standard tactics of the day accordingly. We have to give them credit for recognizing that much. Unfortunately for their troops, they didn’t truly appreciate just how much the rifled musket would change warfare.

The changes they made to military theory, quickening pace for advancing troops from a brisk walk to a slow jog, was simply not enough to compensate for the firepower of massed rifles. Men were still packed together in tight formations over open ground and made easy targets for entrenched defenders.

Basically, Civil War generals were trying to fine tune an engine that needed a complete overhaul.

What was more interesting to learn from this book was probably the attitudes of Southern generals. Not only did most Confederate officers underestimate how much rifled muskets had swung the balance of power in favor of defenders, some, such as John Bell Hood, denounced defensive warfare altogether as cowardly. They refused to take up defensive positions if they could attack.

Hood repeatedly expressed his belief in letters that soldiers who had once fought behind defensive positions became worthless. He believed that they would come to depend upon breastworks to fight, and that when it came time to charge an enemy fortification they would not do so with what he deemed the proper manliness and vigor.

That was a truly bizarre mindset to understand. “So you’re telling me that you believe that once men have fought behind breastworks, once they’ve seen how easily they can repulse an enemy charge with almost no danger to themselves, that they’ll be hesitant to attack an enemy breastwork? Well gee willikers General Hood, sounds to me like maybe we just shouldn’t be charging enemy breastworks all Willy-Nilly!”

Truly tragic to think how many brave young men were sacrificed on the altar of romanticized warfare. Some Union generals were guilty of the same mindset but Dr. McWhiney shows how much stronger this attitude was in the culture of the South. They had an ideal type of warfare, filled with gallant bayonet charges and manly war cries. Defensive warfare, the exact kind of warfare that likely would have won them their independence, was looked at with disgust.

These generals willingly chose to dash their armies upon the rocks of Union fortifications rather than to win the war in a manner that would leave them feeling unsatisfied.

There’s lots more I could say about this book, but this review is running long. I will say that this one is not for the casual historian. It’s very dry and stuffed full of troop counts, names of places and generals, and technical talk. Unless you’re a bit of a Civil War buff, I recommend passing on this one. But I enjoyed it immensely, and I give it 5-stars! This is one I’ll keep on the shelf for reference whenever I need it.

Weekend Update: Free Books and Not-So-Free Dogs

Good morning, everybody! I’m back with another weekly update. Over the last two days I ran another ‘free book’ deal on Amazon Kindle. I do these every couple months, usually get a few downloads out of it. I usually announce this on Twitter but I forgot this time. So I went to check how many downloads I’d gotten, if any.

Nineteen. Hundred. 1,900 over two days.

I have no idea what drove this ridiculous number of downloads but boy did it make me happy to see! Now I hope that some of those folks will actually read the books they downloaded, and then that hopefully some of those folks will be inclined to leave reviews and tell their friends about His Name Was Zach!

Now for the not-so-good news: my poor Mr. Frodo injured his ACL last week.

We took him to the vet and after $500′ worth of X-rays and doggy meds, we were told it’s definitely a hurt ACL. Fortunately they didn’t want to do surgery right away. Instead, they prescribed 6 weeks of what is essentially bedrest. Mr. Frodo stays locked in our bedroom so he won’t walk around much or try to play and wrestle with us.

After four days of this he already appears to be doing better. When we took him to the vet, he wouldn’t even put weight on his hurt leg. Now he seems to be walking normally, though you can tell he’s still walking gingerly on that one leg. Hopefully the leg continues to heal with rest because surgery would cost over $1,000.

In writing news, I’m slowly adding to my work-in-progress. It looks like I’m redoing the beginning of the book, and I’ll probably add more sections told from the antagonist’s point of view, since she’s become so fascinating.

I have also reached out to my friend about a book cover for Creed: Mandate of Heaven. Not sure when that will be done, I don’t like to push him at all because he does really great work for pennies and this time it sounds like he’s got a great idea for the cover art. I only asked for something simple but he came back with an idea he sounded really excited about trying, so we’ll see how that goes!

And that wraps up this weekend update! Thanks everyone for reading this far!

Back at it Again

As you may recall, back in December I decided to take a brief hiatus from working on my current manuscript, Creed: Solomon’s Fortune. I’d ran into a brick wall of writer’s block and needed some time away from it to get fresh ideas.

Well, this weekend I finally managed to dive back in and I’m excited to be writing in it again! I went back to the beginning and decided the story needed much more introduction to it, as we jumped into the action a little too quick. So I’m adding some chapters there and hopefully that makes the story feel more cohesive than it did a month ago.

Oh, and I finally passed the 40,000 word mark too!

In non-writing news, I also spent a lot of time this weekend watching the NFL playoffs. If you’re a football fan and you missed these games, boy I feel sorry for you because they were incredible. My Chicago Bears aren’t yet playoff worthy (though I’m 100% confident that will change when they hire a new head coach in a few days) but it was still fun to watch!

Plus those awful Green Bay Packers were eliminated in a dramatic, last-second field goal attempt by a former Chicago Bear, and seeing your division rivals lose like that is just *chef’s kiss*. It’s made even sweeter with the knowledge that that team is probably going to be going through a major rebuild starting next year.

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading today and for continuing to follow my little blog here, it truly means so much to me!

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