An Incredibly Dangerous Job

Ernie Pyle was embedded with U.S. forces on Iejima, Okinawa, in 1945, where he would be killed by Japanese machine-gun fire.

Photographer Robert Capa landed on Omaha Beach with U.S. troops in the second wave on D-Day. A decade later, traveling with French forces, he would die in Indochina after stepping on a mine.

ABC’s Bill Stewart, in Nicaragua covering the Sandinista rebellion in 1979, was shot at a government roadblock in cold blood despite having on his person, and having presented, press credentials issued by the Nicaraguan president’s office.

History is full of so many other examples of how war reporting is incredibly dangerous even when a journalist is accredited to one side and a “frontline” is relatively clear. But attempting to report from a “fluid field” is even more problematic: reporters may end up largely on their own in “no man’s land.” Being a journalist does not provide automatic “neutrality.”

Errol Flynn’s son, photojournalist Sean, was captured by communist Vietnamese forces and (presumed) killed in Cambodia in 1971 by the Khmer Rouge.

More recently, back in May, French photojournalist Camille Lepage, covering the horrific and confusing civil war in the Central African Republic, was discovered by French peacekeepers in a truck, having been murdered.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Now James Foley has been added to the terrible list. He will not be the last, of course. We should always remember those who bravely choose to place themselves in potentially fatal harm’s way to try to give us back at home some insights as to what the hell is going on. :-(

“A biography of….”

Blending historical events and “real time” into and around the lives of my fictional characters is one of the enjoyable aspects of writing these novels. Naturally I hope readers become immersed in that melding too. I also love working in stealthy references to prominent people of those mid-1990s and before:

….While James walked ahead of her into the kitchen, Isabelle dawdled behind. She noted some of his possessions up close. He had lots of books and she lingered with them the longest.

His shelves were full of history. She saw that biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were especially numerous. There were also works on Alaska, ancient history and old textbooks. There were more World War Two books than she could count. She noticed he even had a book on France’s Algerian war.

She was surprised to find a biography of Charles de Gaulle. It was not decorating a shelf, but sat poised atop a pile of textbooks on a table next to the couch. Picking up the book, she saw a back cover blurb by a reviewer describing it as perhaps the best biography ever done on de Gaulle. As she read it, she called out to the kitchen, asking what she might do to help with dinner.

He replied that he planned to do a pasta dish. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe so it should be good. Would you cut some of the vegetables? That’ll speed things.”

“No problem.” She startled him also as she walked into the kitchen waving the book at him good-naturedly. “You say you don’t know much about France? I think you know more than you say. What are you reading, eh? I’m sure most Americans don’t know of this book,” she laughed….

The book she’s referring to? If you know something about World War II American journalism (and read on in the story), you may be able to figure out which book it is. If you aren’t all that familiar with it, don’t worry, I’ll let you know here: The Three Lives of Charles de Gaulle.

A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]

A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]

Its author, David Schoenbrun, was a remarkable journalist and author from the 1940s until his death in 1988. Although it is tough to get a copy of it today, his Three Lives (written while de Gaulle was French president, so it does not cover his resignation and death) remains superb reading.

I’d seen Mr. Schoenbrun at a student event a couple of years before his death. He made a such an impression on me I’ve never forgotten it. I thought I’d sneak in a small salute to him here.

Rip Van Winkle Wakes Up

It was widely reported the other day that when Facebook went down for a time, some of the web site’s users actually dialed 911. The L.A. Times noted:

Officials at one Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department station were not happy after getting calls from residents because Facebook went down Friday morning.

“#Facebook is not a Law Enforcement issue, please don’t call us about it being down, we don’t know when FB will be back up!” Sheriff’s Sgt. Burton Brink of the Crescenta Valley station wrote on Twitter. In a later tweet, he said an unknown number of people called 911 about the outage….

Notice how the Sheriff dealt with it? He went on Twitter. But if this from Media Bistro is accurate, that would not have helped:

The Smartest People Prefer Twitter To LinkedIn And Facebook, Research Shows [STUDY]

Meaning the Sheriff would have been addressing the wrong audience in terms of, err, brainpower. ;-)

I love Twitter…. although I’m not a genius. And I do also use Facebook – but primarily as a keep in touch with family and friends sort of thing; and I’m not on it much. (I’m not on LinkedIn at all.)

Which led me to thinking about where we are here: WordPress. When I first used it for another blog about 10 years ago, I had found it refreshingly straightforward.

However, when I returned to it last autumn to start this blog after several years’ break, I felt far more out of it than if in my absence someone had merely moved the furniture around. It seemed more like I had been dropped into another technological era. To borrow from Catskills literature, it felt rather Rip Van Winkle-ish.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\'s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\'s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\’s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\’s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

On the Dashboard, very little was where I remembered it. There were vast changes throughout the site. Trying to navigate, I sat there utterly lost at first.

“What is that blue screen for? How do I get back to the Dash? I clicked on that, and it’s leading me here? And what the heck does THAT symbol mean?” (Uh, I didn’t always say “heck.”)

What happened to my Atari 800?

That was then. I now have matters under control. Well, mostly anyway. :-)

Have a good [grumble, grumble] Monday….

Why I’d Never Be President

My wife once asked me, “Why don’t you stand (meaning run) for office sometime?” No way. Not when stuff like this is floating around out there:

University of Alaska, late 1980s. Dorm photo. [Copyright, Me.]

University of Alaska, late 1980s. Dorm photo. [Copyright, Me.]

I’ll stick to writing books. I’d (mercifully) forgotten about that picture. Yep, that is me, on the right side of the photo, wearing the white cap.

It’s an informal floor photo we’d taken at our dorm at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in the late 1980s. An old floor-mate (now a very responsible, mature resident of that august and beautiful state) emailed me a copy the other day.

Seeing it on Facebook, my uncle wrote that I was so “cute.” Apparently struck by the long hair, beards, and what she considered a generally “hippie” appearance, a friend in England kidded that she thought it looked like we were doing a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Everyone’s a flippin’ comedian nowadays.

I hope you’re having a good weekend. That post is perfect for a Sunday morning. I know so few of you will probably see it. ;-)

The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
__________

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

It’s Not A 40 Hour Week

The more book you write, the more you need to remember, and the more you have to keep together. Working through the first sequel, I’m juggling several families, as well as multiple locations in three countries: the U.S. and France again of course, and this time Britain too. Subplots blend together, or they may not. I have to keep personal histories straight. I need to keep the timeframe in mind.

Because I’m writing a “real world.” I suspect penning fantasy is easier in at least this respect: you may always make up something magical to move a story along. But, as I like to joke, I have no vampires, so the story must not only be compelling and break new ground, but it must fit into its historical locale (the mid-1990s) and ultimately read “believably.”

Gee, what could be easier? But before I wrote any of it, I had already outlined broadly what would happen all the way to the end. I had summarized for myself in a Word document where I wanted the story to go and how it would get there. It was not unlike a builder framing a house.

* * *

After that framing, I began constructing the interior – which is where I am now. I’ve got about 75,000 words. Some will definitely be changed, and some seem likely to stay as is; but I’m not nearly finished yet.

I regularly re-upload the manuscript-in-progress in .pdf to an “e-reader.” Last night, I had been re-reading a section I’d written, oh, at least two months ago. I realized I had actually forgotten lots of the story details in that part of the book.

Re-reading in a detached manner after an extended interval has its creative benefits. I found myself doing what I always do, thinking: “Oh, that’s good! I wrote that?” as well as, “Geez, that’s a bit amateurish. You aren’t 14 years old. That’s getting the chop!” I also had some pangs of concern: “Hmm, am I going overboard with that sex scene? Remember women friends will again be reading this!” ;-)

How my real life novelist uncle would laugh at me. In Passports, I’d slotted in a fictionalized tribute to him that stemmed from an actual conversation I once had:

“You should write something,” she prodded him. “Your uncle could help you.”

Distinctly uneasy with that recommendation, James discounted it. “What he writes isn’t what I like to read. I couldn’t write what he does. I remember my grandmother once telling him off about the sex. ‘Where did you learn stuff like that?’ she yelled.”

“Hmm, yes, I agree with her from what I have read,” Isabelle smirked. “I think your uncle has learned many things a mother would not want to believe her son knows. It does not matter how old he becomes!”

It is sneaky dropping bits like that in, I know. But, hey, Ernest Hemingway would! ;-)

* * *

So I smiled to myself when I noticed Author Alliance tossed this out the other day for the consideration of “Twitterdom”:

image

Seriously? I was struck immediately with that being – for me, anyhow – impossible to answer. It was – also for me, at any rate – borderline silly. I tweeted back, “How long is a piece of string?”

Writing is not just the mechanics of pre-organizing the book, and then the typing, and the occasional extra research, and the editing. For me, writing these novels is all-consuming. They occupy and fill my mind.

They have become LIFE – which they should be if they are to be “alive” for future readers. Even when I’m not physically sitting in a front of a PC writing, I may well be thinking about what I will be writing, could be writing, or will change. How do I possibly note all that on a timesheet? ;-)

Oh, and Happy Bastille Day!

Upstate New York’s Guillotine

July 14 is “Bastille Day.” Saturday, the Rockland County village of Piermont commemorated it. A photo gallery from LoHud newspaper captures some of the event, including its display of the French Revolution’s most enduring and infamous symbol:

image

In stumbling on that photo while clicking through, I found it jarring and somewhat off-putting to see even a fake guillotine on a street amidst a party atmosphere. I suppose sticking your head into one is now considered a lot like allowing yourself to be locked into “the stocks” or “the pillory.” The real guillotine, though, was assuredly a heckuva lot more final than those.

The article led me to recall this I’d written back in March:

….when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.

Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?

“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.

In 1789, the Revolution had begun seeming to be much like the American Revolution, causing Americans there at that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, to applaud it. However, he departed for home within a year, and other Americans in France looked on in horror as the Revolution descended into a chaotic, bloodthirsty mess. It did not produce many “heroes.”

Indeed, another French character inspiration pulled me up squarely on this suggestion of one perhaps vaguely arguable “hero”:

“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. And there were absolutely no George Washingtons. So while it has become France’s “national day,” underneath it all a disquiet remains: “Bastille Day” is not quite the “unifying” holiday in France that the “4th of July” is in the U.S.

After U.S. independence was recognized by Britain in 1783, those Americans who had opposed it often emigrated to Canada or other British territories, or even to Britain itself. (For example, one of Wellington’s officers killed at Waterloo in 1815 was a New York-born DeLancey, whose prominent family had opposed U.S. independence.) Or they simply stayed in the new U.S. and reconciled themselves to it – and they were allowed to do so. There were not thousands of executions of American “counterrevolutionary” loyalists who had supported remaining part of the British Empire.

The guillotine strikes me as similar to the electric chair. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive? I suppose 220 years since the Terror is deemed enough time to have passed for the guillotine to be confined safely to the realm of Renaissance fair-style history.

After A Working Vacation

Noticing Mr. Scott off-duty reading what appears to Captain Kirk to be still more work-related materials, he smilingly confronts the Enterprise’s chief engineer:

Capt. Kirk: Another technical journal, Scotty?
Scott: Aye.
Capt. Kirk: Don’t you ever relax?
Scott: I am relaxing.

How many of us do that? I’m sure I’m not alone. What did I bring along as “light reading” for the beach and poolside while on vacation?:

Florida vacation “light reading.” [Photo by me, 2014.]

Hey, don’t laugh. You have your preferences too. And when she saw what went into the bag as we packed, my wife voiced surprise: “What? No Jefferson biography?”

Err, nope. Not this holiday anyway. Ah, but I knew there is always also what’s on the Kindle! ;-)

* * *

That said, I did not read or, naturally, write – other than a bit on Twitter and Facebook, a couple of emails and, of course, this blog – too much that wasn’t my manuscript. As a result, I made more manuscript progress than I had expected before we started the long trek down I-95 to the Florida Keys.

Yesterday, I assessed the full manuscript. I have enough of it now that I can pull up the in-progress sequel in .pdf and compare it to the final .pdf of Passports. Its internal format and layout will be the same as Passports. Given the books are a series, I want them to fit nicely side by side.

I even have cover photo ideas – both for front and back. I’m still unhappy with “stock model” photography I’ve seen (apologies to photographers; I do know you have to eat too), so the back cover may – may – include a photo of a “non-identifiable person” that I snapped a long time ago. I’m still wrestling with using it or not: it looks agonizingly good, though – thus my dilemma. (I could still be persuaded on “stock photos” if I saw any I really liked.)

Most importantly, it appears splitting the sequel into halves, as I had been thinking I might, won’t be necessary. I have plowed through so much since mid-June that if I can keep it up I may be able to get the whole “400 page” sequel published in one shot during the late autumn as I had hoped. Almost time again for the proofreaders….

* * *

You do learn lots, storyline, and storytelling-wise, one book to the next: what sorta works v. and what is a home run. I am immensely proud of Passports. But I promised Kam’s sister I would dedicate the second volume to Kam, so I’m determined (obsessed is probably a more accurate description) to make the second volume “better” than the first one.

Overall while the sequel is still far from finished, I’m happy about where I am now compared to where I was at this point in mid-2013 with the Passports manuscript…. long before this blog appeared in the endless internet universe and most of you knew I even existed. And, of course, before I knew most of you existed either! ;-)

What a world we live in now, isn’t it?

I hope you’re having a good weekend….

A Guy In Sunglasses….

….on a harbor tour back on Monday, with Fort Sumter in the background:

Me. Charleston harbor, South Carolina, July 2014.

Me. Charleston harbor, South Carolina, July 2014.

I recommend visiting Charleston, South Carolina. The city itself is more than worth seeing – its historic district in particular. Even more attractive, its people are just so darn pleasant.

One other thing. You can’t really tell from that photo, but it was not just sunny. It was also super-blazing hot!

Of course not that anyone would expect scorching heat in South Carolina in July? Would they? :-)

For July 14

I kept to my plan. Yes, while on vacation I actually got more of the sequel written. As I had explained to our friends’ young daughter, “When you’re writing, you’re never on a holiday really.”

The other day I also had an idea for the already published opening volume. A “Bastille Day” sale for Passports on Kindle was so obvious I was annoyed at myself for nearly having overlooked it:

France's President Jacques Chirac. Bastille Day, 1995. [Photo by me, 1995.]

France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bastille Day, 1995. [Photo by me, 1995.]

After all, in one chapter in that first volume, we find ourselves once again on July 14, 1995:

…On the Champs-Elysées, they managed a spot right along the curbside barrier. The growing crowd pressed all along it as far as they could see. As the parade began, James admitted to Isabelle he was amazed by the French military he saw passing. Even the U.S., which revered its military, did not do martial parades quite like this, he said…

So the Kindle book is 99 cents on Amazon.com until July 15. (Unfortunately, its regular price is apparently too low for a similar sale to be possible on Amazon.co.uk.) I haven’t done a “promo” like this before. It’s new territory for me. :-)