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.



The Hard Man, by Jason Cox


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


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


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.

Having lots of fun, seriously.


You know you’re into a good groove when you sit down to write at 0530, and by 0900 or so you’ve got 3500 words. This makes for a good way to start your day. It’s been like this for me since I started this unnamed project- without forcing anything the words simply seem to drop onto the page of the alternate history project I’m tinkering with.

It’s a lot of fun, and it’s killed the funk I was in for a while there. You guys know about it- when I wanted to do some form of violence to my Mac.

Between this alt history and the collaborations that are out there, 2019 should be pretty darn good. I don’t think the unnamed alt history will be published this year, but I will certainly have a manuscript ready by September, my deadline. Of course, a lot depends on how busy I get, so we’ll see.

In any case, I have made a serious start on this little book. Can’t say the name, because it will give away part of the game. But if you want to hazard a guess… shoot me an email through the contact link above, and I’ll say “hot” or “cold.”

Here’s another small, non-spoilerific snippet.

In the next hastily dug hole was Lance Corporal Tom Bailey. He was dreaming of home, again. His mother’s apple pies. His girl, Lucy. Her caresses. Everything that he missed. As usual, he cursed himself for a fool that he had volunteered for this shit. If he would have waited to finish University, maybe this stupid war would have been over and he wouldn’t have this responsibility, this madness.

His little bit of University time had earned him the stupid stripe on his sleeve. But what good Plato and plane geometry did him in the trenches, he didn’t know. At first he had been dazzled by military service, and he had let that puny stripe go to his head. Men like that old salt Joe had noticed, and they hung his hated nickname around his neck. Medals. He had grown used to it, but it still stung a little. These days he could give two shits about some piece of ribbon and silver. Too often he had seen men die, good fellows who didn’t deserve what they got.

As he looked over the flaxen field, he knew more men would die tonight. Tom was resigned to the bullet that would take his life, a bullet if he was lucky. Maybe a choking mouthful of mustard or chlorine. A whizzing patch of steel. A shovel. He had seen it all.

He would take deep breaths, and let them out slowly. He checked his pistol, a captured Luger, again and again. Tom felt the handle of the trench knife that stuck from his belt, he made sure it would draw easily. His little trench shovel was stuck in his belt as well, along with Mills bombs. He looked back across the field, he felt an electric pulse when he saw the shadowed houses.

Death was there, waiting. He knew it. And he knew there was nothing he could do to stop the dying, the screaming. The assault would go in and Medals was ready. What good was his mastery of Latin now, he wondered.

The lessons of plain steel were the only ones that mattered.

In other news, Go SpaceX! Check out the article about the successful docking of the Crew Dragon with the ISS, a pretty awesome feat for a private company.