Writing sample

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Alright, readers. Been chipping steadily away at the alternate history, I’m well up over 50k words now and have passed the midpoint of the novel. Fairly happy so far at how this is going, the looming question, of course, is whether I’ll be able to have anyone pick this up or if I’ll be forced to go the indie route.

We’ll see. In the meanwhile, here is another non-spoilerific bit of the novel. But be warned, all is not what it seems.

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He figured he was in for another boring hour, but at least it wasn’t as dangerous as the trenches. No, he thought, not by a long shot. Still, though, his BAR was ready for trouble, and Bill kept a sharp eye out. Not that he could really see, anyway. It was a moonless night, he could only vaguely make out some bushes in the field in front of him, he was facing east. Off in the far distance there was a very faint murmur of guns. The 7thRifles had been told they were going to the rear, and that was indeed the case.

Bill relaxed as he chewed away on his plug.

A flash lit the field in front of him. More flashes. Flashes like a thunderstorm, and then the heavens lit up and Bill could see the strobing field.

His balls seemed to shoot up into his mouth, and then the sound arrived. Explosions, claps, a ripple of howling damnation.

There was a massive bombardment to his front, whoever was off to the east was catching it from what seemed to be every artillery piece in the German Army.

He heard running feet behind him, a voice called out above the cacophony.

“Strohmeier, report!”

It was Crawford.

“Corp, many explosions to the east! Artillery to the front! Tons!”

Crawford swore. “Man your post. I’ll deliver your report. Be ready for stand-to!”

The Corporal disappeared. Bill heard bedlam behind him, and an indescribable roar to the east. He wanted to dig the pathetic fighting position a little deeper, but it wouldn’t do any good. Nothing would, against the weight and crash of metal he bore witness to. Bill had never seen such a display of raw firepower, and he was well over ten miles away from the front. The sound coursed through him, the ground trembled. How many guns were firing, he wondered. And then another question occurred to him.

How many Germans were coming?

You can’t take it back

hate stare

“No wealth, no land; No silver, no gold; Nothing satisfies me but your soul.”

“Oh, Death.” Traditional Appalachian folk song

The above image is from my personal collection. Looks like a regular guy, huh? Not so much. This bastard was partially responsible for a series of wanton killings, bombings, rapes, and the assembly and distribution of IEDs and suicide bombs. This is a classic example of a “hate stare,” the look someone gives you when they would be perfectly happy to kill you out of hand. And by the way, this shithead and his merry crew took me and my men under fire for the better part of a day. We caught him alive and red-handed. Which leads me into today’s topic.

What is wrong with these freaks who target the most vulnerable locations possible in order to wreak senseless carnage? The latest outrage was in Sri Lanka on Easter weekend. This time it was suicide bombers targeting Christians. Swap means and ideologies and we can go back to Christchurch. Do another swap and we can go to Las Vegas. On and on goes the dreary list.

What do all of these attacks have in common, other than mass carnage? Easy. Soulless ghouls who see it as their mission in life to inflict the most suffering possible upon the largest numbers in a short period of time. Another thing? Probably gullible Walter Mitty types who see themselves as heroes for the trigger they pull or the button they push.

These people are anti-heroes. They prey upon the defenseless, they lurk like cockroaches on the fringes of our society. And yet there are those who think these people are worthy of emulation. It makes me want to vomit.

I’ll never understand. Don’t these people understand that killing is something that you can’t take back? That dying for some nihilistic goal is the ultimate in human waste? What is missing from these people? I know long-time readers have read similar stuff from me before; the question lingers still.

Blowing people up will not deliver you into heaven. Shooting people down as they pray covers you in infamy, not glory. Spraying a crowd at a rock festival will resolve exactly none of the world’s problems. So why do it?

I don’t know. And neither does anyone else, at least those who haven’t gone off the tracks. I’m sure it makes a sick sort of sense to those people.

Why have we fought and died, if not to end this type of thing? To prevent it from happening to those we love? As the saying goes, “this is failure, avoid it.” But this sort of thing keeps happening.

This is our World War Three, the long twilight struggle against internet-suckled crazies of any stripe.

God help us.

 

Farewell, old friend

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There’s a lot we could discuss today. Notre Dame burning; a terrible sight. Horrible. I’ve been to Paris a long time ago, climbed the Eiffel tower, saw many sights. But this afternoon I’m thinking hard and I can’t recall specifically seeing that magnificent cathedral. A real shame.

We could also talk about Space X’s feat of launching another sortie with it’s Falcon Heavy rocket, and how they landed all three sections successfully. Pretty awesome.

And how could we miss the capturing of the first image of a black hole, ever? A picture taken of what is essentially a negative, entire galaxies swept into the maul of all-consuming nothingness? Amazing.

But I don’t want to get into that stuff, you all can find the articles with ease and probably know a little about the above anyhow.

No, I want to talk about parting with an old friend, an International Harvester Farmall Super A. It is a chunk of American iron cranked out during our postwar zenith, 1951. Twenty odd horsepower, reliable, and the killer of many a mule. This is the tractor that finally chased the last of the horses from agriculture over here, it was marketed at the ten-acre farm.

My great-grandfather had one on his little farm, I remember it vaguely from my earliest childhood. Tough, reliable, and versatile, these things were built to last a lifetime.

Obviously, mine outlived its previous owner. I bought it in deplorable shape, worked on it between deployments, and soon had it running as good as new. A nearly seventy year old tractor that doesn’t burn oil, was probably never rebuilt, and works as well as it did when it left the implements dealer.

Remarkable.

Sadly, though, I no longer need it. I used to keep a large garden, the little Farmall has done some plowing and a lot of snow removal. But let’s face it, a modern machine can do that stuff better and more efficiently. So I let it sit, a serious mistake. Should have started it up every few months, but I let it sit for a couple of years. As any old mechanic will tell you, it’s harder on a machine to sit than to be constantly used.

So one sunny morning a couple of days ago I tried to start it up. No luck, the starter was bad and I don’t have the factory crank handle.

With regret, I put it on eBay. Hopefully the little tractor will go to an enthusiast, a good home. I’m not a collector, I get rid of stuff when I don’t have a need for it.

The tractor has been a good machine, it’s done everything I’ve asked. Everything that has been asked since the fifties.

Hopefully it will go to a pampered home somewhere.

I’ll replace it when it’s gone with a new four-wheel drive diesel. Something tells me, though, that the new unit won’t last half as long as the Farmall. Indeed, if properly maintained the Farmall will probably outlast my new unit.

I’d ask why they don’t build them like that anymore, but the question answers itself. What use does a tractor dealer have in selling one tractor, one time, to a farmer? Wouldn’t it be better economics to sell him a tractor every ten years?

A shame. It’s a sawed off saying, but they really don’t make them like that anymore, probably intentionally, for the reason mentioned above.

Ridiculous, a machine that lasts for seventy years.

But true.

The End of the Circle

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The other day I was at the VA hospital when I saw a remarkable sight, an elderly gentleman with a hat. It said “World War II,” “Battle of the Bulge,” “Stalag 48.” Wow. He must have been a minimum of 94 or so. The sight gave me inspiration for a short story based in the far future of John Birmingham’s Axis of Time novels.

Here goes.

The end of the circle

J. Lambright

Tom Perkins was dreaming once more. He had been born in the dark heart of a war that never happened, he had travelled through time into one that had. The Pacific sunlight shone upon his tired, closed eyes yet again, he slumbered in his wheelchair upon the black deck of the ship he had once called his home. The scarred old brute of a machine rested at anchor, she was a floating museum, the storied survivor of countless campaigns.

In a time he barely remembered, Tom Perkins had been a young kid straight out of Pensacola, a wet behind the ears A130, an aviation structural mechanic. He had been assigned to this ship, the USS Hillary Clinton, the “Big Hill,” for his maiden cruise. He vaguely remembered the hot wash and disorientation of the Transition, the shock, the fire and the panic that followed afterward. He had been among humanity’s first time travelers, and as far as he knew he was one of the few alive who could still tell the tale.

He was half-awake while people gathered for this commemoration in his tiny group’s honor. Eighty years ago today the Multinational fleet had appeared in this universe, and he was one of the distinguished guests. There were a mere handful of survivors there, so many had gone before him. They were the only ones who could really know what it was like to wake up in the future, and go to sleep in the past.

Tom opened his eyes and looked around. He was seated on a platform, his great-granddaughter Anna sat beside him. She had been born before he was; he always got a kick out of that. He glanced over at her, resplendent in her Navy whites. He nodded. He had struggled into his best suit that morning; his grandson had helped him. The love of his life, Dorothy “Dot” Forrest, born 1924, had passed five years before aged 93. Tom sighed. So many memories, they were all he had left.

His near-century had been filled with bewildering change, he couldn’t remember the last time he had smelled vehicle exhaust from a combustion engine, a stink he well recalled from his adolescence, a decade before. Eighty years before. Even after all these years, it confused him. Filled him with wonder.

And here he sat, at this anniversary, one of the very few scattered survivors of two world wars and the forever war on terrorism that had never happened. He wore its honors nonetheless. He looked down at his chest, Anna had pinned on his ribbons on this morning. They were as familiar as his spotted, gnarled right hand. The sunburst Transition badge; along with others. The ribbons themselves. So many. He had been a career man. His eye caught a few. A Bronze Star. A Navy Commendation Medal with V device. The sky-blue Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal. Asia-Pacific Service. World War Two Victory. The scarlet red World War Three medal. So many. So much time.

Someone was speaking, the assembled crowd settled down. His thoughts drifted once more. He was on leave, the Big Hill was being retrofitted; it must have been 1943. He was in his sailor’s whites. Tom smiled at the memory; so much was a novelty back then. Travelling cross-country on an actual steam train. He remembered the hard wooden benches, the braces of men in coarse brown woolen dress uniforms. The questions. The trepidation. The card games when the men from the past found out he was a regular Joe like them. Sort of. He kept his E-reader hidden.

Many years later, he frowned at a memory. He went to visit his hometown while on leave, to see if he could track down any family. When the train arrived at Steubenville station, he was at a loss for what to do, where to go. He had no idea how to get to Mount Pleasant, where he suspected his great-grandparents lived. He remembered feeling totally lost, devastated and bereft, as he looked around.

Jesus.

A voice had saved him, back then.

“Hey sailor, you need a ride?”

It was a middle-aged man with a black Chevy sedan. The fellow had looked him up and down, he saw the “USS Hillary Clinton” patch on the right sleeve of his whites. The man’s eyebrows climbed a notch, but he said nothing. Tom nodded.

“Hate to be a bother, sir.”

“I remember what it was to come home, I was in the Great War.”

Tom shook his head. “I don’t know if I am home, sir.” He felt tears welling up, his knees buckled at the sight of the altered skyline of the county seat. His whole family; gone. Replaced by strangers dead before he was born.

“Yeah, you’re in a fix, son. Name’s John Forrest, I work the ticket counter here. You have family to go to?”

“Supposedly. In Mount Pleasant, maybe. But I don’t know them.”

The man nodded and pulled out a pipe and packed it. “So it’s true, you’re one of those soldiers from the future.”

“Yeah.”

The mustached man shrugged and lit up. “Well, from what I gather you people still eat. You’re probably hungry. Why don’t you come with me, I’ll see if we have an extra spot at my table.”

Tom hesitated. “Sir…”

John tossed his head towards the Chevy. “Come on, it isn’t a bother. Really, I insist.”

What the hell, why not, Tom thought back then. He shouldered his duffel bag and climbed in.

Ancient Tom, seated in his wheelchair, smiled once more. That had been the luckiest meeting of his life. When he had gotten out of that Chevy at the Forrest residence, the first person he saw was a beautiful brunette with victory rolls in her hair. Mr. Forrest’s daughter. She would be his wife, his anchor point, the mother of his children.

He shed a tear. His great-granddaughter, who favored Dot in her looks, glanced over at him and spoke in a hushed voice.

“Grandpa, are you alright?”

He reached over, patted her hand and spoke. “I’m fine, my dear. I just wish Dot was here, that’s all.”

Anna smiled. “We all do, Grandpa.”

The speaker said something, Tom wasn’t paying attention; he was remembering the time Dot came out to San Diego, before he returned to the Pacific in ’44. They married; she saw the ocean for the first time. She returned home pregnant when he had shipped back out, he saw his firstborn when the war was over. Anna, the eventual result of that coupling, spoke in his ear.

“Grandpa, can you stand? They’re going to play the Anthem.”

He didn’t know if he could, but he would damn well try. “Help me, Anna.” She stood before him, she held out her hand. He took it and willed himself upward; he strained with all of his nearly extinguished strength. With a grunt, he stood. Anna looked at him, her head tilted. He nodded to her. He could do this. She stood aside and faced the flag, along with the others.

The music played.

Tom Perkins saluted the colors beneath the azure Pacific sky.

It would be the final time.

 

“On Father,” by John Birmingham

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And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night

Today I’ve chosen to discuss John Birmingham‘s excellent, moving, and analytical essay “On Father.” It’s about grief, his mourning the loss of his father, and his descent into depression. This book was a tough read for me; I avoided it for a while. Usually I snap up anything that Birmingham writes immediately, this essay was different. But it was a damn good, meaningful, read.

This essay is visceral, personal, moving. It touches something universal, it speaks to us all. Grief is part of the human condition, sooner or later all of us will mourn someone or something.

What sets Birmingham’s essay “On Father” apart is first his skill as a writer. This gentleman can describe anything and drive his point home. Secondly, he has a keen eye for analysis, he delves into Freud, St. Augustine and Seneca with aplomb. Finally, there is a human, personal tone to his writing that reaches in and touches the reader; it touched me. Deeply. The last page of his work, his conclusion, is magnificent.

“On Father” made me think back upon sorrowful episodes in my life, in the lives of others. There were many. One example. A thread that ran through my life and the lives of my family was the death of my uncle, a seventeen year old soldier who died violently in Korea in 1952. This event sent shockwaves through the extended Johnson clan that echoed for generations, and plagued my ancient Grandmother to her dying day in 2016. Just thinking of her describing his death, shortly before she passed, and the bitter, drawn out reaction of my Grandfather, fills me with sorrow.

Strange, because I obviously never knew my uncle, and I never knew my Grandfather. He passed in 1966. But I knew and loved my Grandma, and I felt her pain across the long decades as she herself lay dying, speaking, in her sunlit bedroom. Grief and empathy are intertwined, they are part of who we are.

So I’d like to thank John for sharing his path through sorrow and depression with us, this most intense and personal of experiences.

Ultimately “On Father” is an uplifting book with a powerful message.

By all means read it.

 

Update

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It’s the last day of March, technically spring. Well, it still looks like winter outside, so it was a good day to write. Finished up chapter 21 of my alternate-history, this brings me to the approximate midpoint of the manuscript. Thanks to the crappy weather, it’s been a pretty productive weekend in terms of writing, yesterday I churned out 4k and today a little over two before I decided to call it quits.

For a while I had slowed a bit in terms of writing, the excellent, sunny weather was to blame. There were simply too many outdoor projects which needed done. All of us here on the ice-world of Hoth know there are whole months where the things outside have to be put off, and the list grows longer the harsher the conditions.

For a short time, the lousy weather is back. But tomorrow is April Fool’s Day, so winter 2019 is breathing its dying breaths. God be praised, had enough of the horrible cold stuff for a while.

The collaborations seem to being going smoothly as well, I’m doing this or that in between working on the mystery manuscript. Check out cheeseburgergothic.com, John Birmingham’s website for an idea of some of the stuff that’s going on.

Things are running well. Hopefully it stays that way, we’ll see. In any case, thanks, all for tuning in. As always, I will keep you all informed of developments from my end.

Cheers,

J

The Hard Man, by Jason Cox

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Jason Cox is an Australian author, and his writing was first brought to my attention via the fanfic anthology Demons of Butte Crack County, where he wrote some pretty damn good short stories. The book was based in John Birmingham’s Dave Hooper universe, and it’s wildly entertaining. But I digress.

Today I’d like to discuss Jason’s first independent novel, “The Hard Man.” It’s a pretty darn good crime fiction novel, set in Australia. Now, let me say that crime fiction isn’t a big thing of mine, but it hardly matters. I crossed genres gladly to read this book- it’s an action packed extravaganza that lends itself to being burned up in one sitting, it really sucks you in.

By all means, buy and read this book- it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

But let’s let Jason speak for himself, he graciously provided me with a writing sample. An excerpt from “The Hard Man” follows:

In any prison population there is a hierarchy. Most of the crims inside form groups along racial lines. The Aussies all hang together so do the Asians and the Muslims. If there are bikers inside, they hang in their own groups—often with other biker groups that they have treaties with. Normally, the biggest group runs the jail, arrangements are made to be sure that it’s not a free-for-all everyday. If you’re not connected, you’re fair game. Most people decide to get connected when they realise how hard it is in here. A few over estimate their abilities and end up bleeding from one orifice or another and then they make a decision.

The management structure of these groups is pretty simple. It’s normally the craziest, the toughest or the smartest crim that ends up in charge. Mostly it’s the smartest one, and the toughest and craziest tend towards middle management which, in this case, is in charge of smacking people senseless. In here, Lepke runs the show. It’s not his real name but he couldn’t resist using Murder Incorporated as a gang name and it just went from there.

I’m not connected. I have the sort of reputation that can scare smart people off, so I have a level of respect. Before I found my true talents as an armed robber, I used to fight in the cage. Twenty-two wins, no losses, and I can still walk. It mightn’t sound like much but if you knew cage fighting, it’s fucking amazing. This isn’t that UFC stuff you see on TV, this is bare-knuckle anything goes. Two guys walk into a chain mesh enclosure and punch the crap out of each other until one stops moving. Pretty simple and pretty brutal.

The problem with prison gangs is they get too powerful. Then they can make the guards’ lives hell. The boss ends up like some sort of king. I’ve even heard of some of them getting consulted on official jail-house decisions to make sure the prisoners will all go along with them. Lepke is that kind of boss. The head guard is too scared to come on the ward anymore because Lepke’s threatened him. They tried to transfer Lepke but noone else wanted him. All they want is a quiet life—the guards, the wardens, the decision-makers. But in return for a favour, I think I can help out a little.

I finish talking to Uncle John and I get the guard to detour me before I go back to the cells. I need a favour and, in here, you only get favours when you give them. A quick chat and a handshake, and the deal is done.

Lepke keeps his ‘office’ at the end of the rec room. He’s setup the best armchair and a small desk and thinks he’s hot shit. His two  bodyguards are on either side of the chair, chuckling away. It’s not like he needs bodyguards in here but he likes the affectation of it. They top out at about six foot six, and have the sort of build you only get from steroid abuse and long hours in the prison gym. The prisoners call them the Gorilla Bros; they think of it as a comment on their physique not their intellect, which makes the truth of it self-evident.

As I approach Lepke, both the Gorilla Bros stand up and block my way, trying to look as menacing as possible.

‘Can we help…?’ And that is about as far as he gets before, I hit him straight in the throat with a right hand. My fingers are open and push right into the windpipe. It’s a sucker shot and he should have been expecting it. As I mentioned before, complacency can be a killer. The other Gorilla is caught a little off guard. They don’t really expect to be attacked, which is what I was planning on. His knees are straight, all the weight forward. Idiot. He still hasn’t moved when my heel hits the side of his knee—the crack is all the confirmation I need. I pull his head forward as he falls, and drive my knee into his nose. He falls flat and doesn’t move, unlike the other one who is rolling around and would be screaming if he could get any breath. Lepke starts to run, but there is nowhere for him to go.

The other prisoners are all moving away. They know this would be trouble for anyone who doesn’t help, so they need to be anywhere else but here. The only flaw in the plan is if someone wants to score points and tries to step in and help Lepke. No one does. Dropping the Gorilla Bros like I did was meant to deter anyone who was thinking about lending a hand. It seems to work.

I grab Lepke by the hair as he tries to run past. He likes to wear it long—no idea why, it’s just an invitation to hurt him. The brief was simple. Put him off the floor for as long as possible and ruin any credibility when he gets back. I just bash his head into the door frame until he stops moving. The final touch is when I drape him over the unconscious Gorilla Brother so it looks as if he‘s sucking his dick. It’s the little touches that mean a lot.

The screws charge in after that, and I am hard up against the wall with a face full of capsicum spray and plastic cuffs on. They are pretty rough until I get out of sight, then it was all water bottles and eyewash. The cell in solitary even has a double thickness mattress and they send in fish and chips as a thank you. It made the wait easier.

Four weeks later, the parole comes through with time off for good behaviour being recommended by a grateful friend.

The old man buys the store before I get out.

If you like hard-hitting crime fiction, then this one is for you. You can pick it up on Amazon world-wide, using this link.

Pity the Bundeswehr

hitler's zippo

Ok, Angela Merkel doesn’t like Donald Trump. I get it. He is also enormously unpopular in Germany as a whole.

However, he does have a valid point in that Germany isn’t close to meeting it’s 2% of GDP NATO mandated minimum on defense expenditures. Yeah, his method of bringing this across to our allies really lacks in polish or tact, but he’s still right.

Some say that Europe should go its own way in terms of defense, and not to rely upon Uncle Sam in future conflicts.

Well, if Europe is so inclined, then they can do so. The EU is a big place with a large population and economy. They should be able to afford and staff a world-class military on their own, using European weapons. It’s feasible.

But it isn’t going to happen.

Sooo… Angela Merkel (and probably Donald Trump, too, just to be fair) would like for Germany to be less dependent on the US. OK, you would think that they would raise their defense expenditures above the currently paltry level of 1.2% GDP. This would allow them to raise the forces necessary for their own defense, and the Yanks could go home. Fine.

But no.

According to the Wall Street Journal, she is about to propose lowering projected defense expenditures. I’ve linked to the article, but it’s behind a paywall so unless you have a subscription, you can’t read it. But if you’d like, subscribe. The WSJ is a great publication, if expensive.

I’ll tell you the condensed version. The German government originally proposed to hike their defense percentage to 1.5% GDP. Well, that’s been scrapped, and they are going to drop back to 1.25%. OK, it’s technically an increase of .05%. Whoopee. Tell that to the grunts who are still using WW2 era MG-42 machine guns (the MG-3), lack funds to train, and have some 328 usable tanks in their entire army.

This is a strategy either guaranteed to prolong dependency on the US for defense, or, failing that, to guarantee a defense force atrophied and starved to the point of uselessness.

Who is helped by this enigmatic decision of Ms. Merkel’s government? Not NATO, not the US, and ultimately not the German people.

The surest way to get into a fight is by being helpless. Maybe not tomorrow, but surely sometime. Yeah, Europe’s a nice neighborhood at the moment, but these things have a way of changing.

The Russians have ordered some 2300 T-14 tanks by 2025. The T-14 is NOT a piece of junk, the old NATO rule of thumb of five smoldering Warsaw Pact wrecks for every Abrams no longer holds. NATO would be very hard pressed to keep the Russian Army from driving straight to the Atlantic if things go south. Military planners should never use best-case scenarios, there is a reason that worst-case is used for contingency planning.

1.25% GDP? That’s not even best-case. That’s rose tinted sunglasses stuff.

Bad things happen to nice people all the time. And from all reports, Ms. Merkel is a nice person.

Let’s hope for her, and Germany, that she’s lucky as well.

College scam

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Alright, so some big news floating around here in the ‘States this week is a scam by some people to get their undeserving kids into big-name schools. Seriously, is anyone surprised by this type of thing? Since when have kids of the very wealthy not had a leg up on attending these “elite” schools? This is news exactly why?

Also, why is a big-name school worth the bother? So at the end of a very expensive process you have a fancy sheepskin hanging up on the wall of your office somewhere?

Come on people, get real. The world doesn’t end just because you don’t get into Hah-vahd or Yale. Your precious little buttercup might not have the mental horsepower to do MIT; and you know what? That’s OK. Not all of us are equipped to be astrophysicists, or to research the mating habits of bats.

A lot of people act as if college is the end-state of life. Guess what, it’s not. Having done my four-to-five year slog through the university myself, I wasn’t impressed. The only tangible benefit I got from my degree was an Army commission, and I guarantee you that the kids of the twinkle-toes mentioned in this week’s scandal will never go that route.

You see, most of us ignorant, unwashed proles actually have to take the entrance tests, get college loans or the GI Bill, and go through the stupid convoluted process in order to attend college. We all know the deck is stacked, though. There exists a golden door through which the kids of the few can skate. Everyone knows it; once again, how is this news?

Well, a lesson best learned young is that life isn’t fair.

Another lesson is that you appreciate stuff that you actually have to work for.

So I hope those brats who cheated their way in are happy. I wonder if they look at their subsidized (insert Ivy-league name here) degree on the wall with any degree of pride, knowing they gamed the system to get it.

The only real way to get any satisfaction in life is bare-knuckled work and determination. If you don’t teach your kids that, then you have done them a disservice. Sooner or later these kids with their fake degrees will run into situations where their money means nothing, or integrity actually counts. When the rubber meets the road, they’ll be out of luck, and Mummy-dearest can’t help them. Why? Because these parents have ultimately failed their kids.

Yeah, they got into the stupid, overrated college of their choice.

So what?

What have they learned by their parent’s actions? That people are weak? That systems can be corrupted? That thick wads of hundreds solve problems?

Hell, a life spent in housing projects will teach the same lessons at much lower cost.

And I’ll bet the kids from the projects or the backwoods have a much wider streak of adversity-tolerance than the powder-puffs whose path was greased from childhood. Actually, I know this to be the case; I saw it too often in my former line of work.

Do your kids a favor. Make them work. Allow them to fail. They’ll bitch now, but thank you later.

Parenting is leadership.

Remember that.

 

 

 

Characters running wild

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No, this hasn’t magically transformed into a gun blog. The rifle above is the Lee-Enfield SMLE, the tool used by soldiers of the British Empire in WW1 and 2. It features prominently in this alternate history I’m messing with. That’s what I’m talking about today, this writing process.

So John Birmingham recently discussed on his really cool Patreon page the tendency for characters to grow a mind of their own while you write, for them to have stubborn lives of their own while you are hammering out a manuscript.

Truer, and more timely, words were never spoken. This alt history I’m writing is a case in point. I keep thinking that something’s wrong, and I guess I need to let the control-freak side of me slip a little and realize that this is natural, a price of doing business.

This is my fourth independent novel, so to a certain extent I’ve been down this road before. But each work is its own deal. My first book was a study in “hold onto my beer and watch this.” I didn’t write an outline, didn’t do any character studies, had no plan. Frankly I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did. It was a good learning experience, in any case. By book two, I realized I needed a plan. So I developed one. The book was better, but not quite there. Finally, with the last book, Immolation, I thought I had it down to a science.

Kinda. I made a detailed outline, more or less stuck to the plan, and executed. Yeah, there were a couple of chapters that took me by surprise, but overall the characters did what I had envisioned. I plotted their fate from A to B, and that’s more or less what happened.

In the period between my last book and this one, I’ve worked on a couple of collaborations and gained more experience and expert advice; this has helped one hell of a lot.

So, I started in on this alt history. I figured this would be a done deal. Did the right thing and wrote a 4000 word outline, came up with a plan for my main characters and started to write.

Wow, was I in for a surprise. I’m 25k into this novel (with a planned 100k length), and I’ve got characters running all over the place. My protagonist has taken on a personality and a life of his own, his sidekick too. Their rifle squad has turned into a crew of oddballs and misfits (kind of like a real squad). Their fates, which were sealed, have become debatable, and oh yes, my original plan for a B-story has been grenaded by adding a female character who I do not want to become a disposable (yawn) love interest.

My characters are running around like four year olds at a daycare birthday party. Every time I sit down at the keyboard, I know I’m in for a surprise. I’ve gotten to a point where the only fates that I know for sure are my protagonist and his buddy. Everybody else lives or dies apparently at whim.

Kind of like an actual war, really.

So maybe that’s the game. If I don’t know when the bullet will hit, neither will my readers. Maybe subconsciously I think that that’s the way it should be when writing about war- death, wounds, and trauma happen at random times to pretty nice people.

But as an author, I should have more control over this process. I dunno, maybe I’m wrong. If it’s stupid and it works, I guess it ain’t stupid.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not the struggle I had this winter with “Demons,” my Stalingrad of projects. In fact, this is the opposite, I’m enjoying this process a lot. I’m just mildly shocked by how unruly my characters are acting. The important part is that the end result is enjoyable and readable. I guess.

We’ll see how that works out.

And we’ll see how these characters struggle.