Alternative cover

immolation alt cover

Hey everyone; I received a gift from my oldest daughter. It’s an alternative cover for the final book in my first trilogy, Immolation. Personally, I think it’s awesome. Something I struggled with throughout the original military sci-fi trilogy was cover design.

My publisher used to be an affiliate of Amazon, CreateSpace. They sold package deals for newbie and clueless authors like me, the deals included everything, also cover design. It was very, very handy. Write a book, dump it onto CreateSpace, answer a questionnaire about what you wanted from the book and cover, and wait.

A few months later and everything would be done. The cover design, the copyediting and structural critique, the editorial letter, everything. All you had to do was choose a launch date and stand back.

It was perfect.

There were some drawbacks, of course. It was a pay-for-play service, you could spend LOTS of money on your book if you wanted to.

I’d argue they did a really nice job, but a problem was always the covers. I was never totally satisfied with them, but I didn’t have the budget for revisions. The first cover, IN THE VALLEY, was my fault, I didn’t know what to say in the questionnaire. I wanted battlefield wreckage with a lone soldier as the focal point. Well, I had to pay extra for the lone soldier, so it didn’t happen, but the battlefield wreckage was there. However, not a real sci-fi feel. Cover No.1 FAIL.

The second cover, THE CAPTAINS CAULDRON, was kind of OK, and I got my lone soldier. However, the soldier was carrying an M4 rifle and was dressed in a very 21st century uniform. Not good. It would be kind of like an image of US Soldiers in Afghanistan with Brown Bess muskets or something. However, I had spent my budget. It is what it is.

My last cover was pretty good, and the best of the series in my opinion. But IMMOLATION still didn’t have the cover I wanted.

Well, my oldest didn’t like it either, and she knew what I wanted for the cover. Unbeknownst to me she whipped out her markers and went to work. I received the above cover for Christmas.

It is very close to being exactly what I wanted for the covers in my series.

A lone soldier, Paul Thompson, who is the series main protagonist. He is the focus.

Tired, weary eyes.

The Soldier is in a fighting suit, because hey, this is about the Armored Infantry in the 24th century. Why couldn’t the pros at CreateSpace understand this?

Action is implied. Combat. This cover has what I wanted in 2014; it screams military sci-fi.

She needs to do this sort of thing for a living, follow a study one day in graphic arts and design.

If I can’t get a trad publisher for my latest manuscript, efforts are ongoing, then I have to do it the hard, indie way.

If so, I know who is doing my cover.

Christmas 2019

2019 tree

Yeah, you can tell the photo above was taken with my cheap Walmart cell phone. Not the best, but you get the idea.

I’d like to wish my readers, friends, whoever, a fine holiday season. It’s none of my business which deity you worship, if any. But I do wish you all a chance to get together with people you care about. I hope you do something, celebrate anything.

Us? We’ll be fine. On this season it’s easy for me to reflect on how lucky we are. There is no war or fighting in my immediate vicinity. We are well fed. We are relatively healthy. We are not choking on the burning remnants of our forests. Each of our material needs are met, we can travel where we like at will.

In short, we are blessed. Our living standard is much higher than our ancestors, we live charmed lives.

The tragedy is that so many are unhappy. Pissed off.

I can see it, although I try to stay out of the ditch as much as possible.

Here in Greater Appalachia many die of overdoses, or they let their lives swirl down the bottle.


There’s a real lack of meaning in a lot of people’s lives. Many in the past could say “I’m a miner.” “I’m a steel worker.” Et cetera. There are those who say that everyone should go to college, prepare themselves for the modern, technological age.

Here’s the problem. A lot of people don’t want higher education, they want to work in the sun, build things with their own sweat and effort. They want to punch in, punch out. At the end of the day they want to go home, crack open a beer and watch TV. They don’t want to be plugged in 24/7, they don’t want to be on creative committees or spend 16 years in school.

These people are being left behind, and their livelihoods are being erased by the machines and the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

It’s tough to feel good about yourself when someone asks you “what do you do” and your only response is an uncomfortable silence.

So people retreat into silence and a bottle of pills, or a case of beer. They are the walking wounded of our age, mixed in with another group that is silent, unseen.

I’m speaking of our combat veterans, and here in Appalachia there are many.

Some are quiet. Some are not. They range in era from the Second World War to our most recent conflicts. Men, women. The lucky ones have families, others have driven them away.

It’s impossible to generalize about this group, although there are those who try.

All of us have murder in our hearts, but our combat veterans have seen the real thing up close.

Don’t let the past ruin all of your days. Especially Christmas. So if you fit in this category and happen to be reading this, go to the VA. Sooner, rather than later. It helps. I know.

Me? I count myself as lucky this Christmas of 2019, along with my family.

I wish each of you good fortune and cheer as well.

Wishing ain’t good enough, though.

If your situation is bad, make a plan to change things around in the new year. Even if the plan is poorly executed and half-realized, it’s a start in the right direction.

Like my buddy the Colonel always says, “Just put one foot in front of the other.”

He’s right.

In 2020, just keep putting your feet down. If you don’t quit, you’ll at least get to a different, maybe better, place.

Merry Christmas.

Now go make a plan.



Where to start?


As the substandard and somewhat blurry image above reveals, my various bookcases aren’t exactly a model of organization. Well, as they stand depicted and as my thoughts are re: where to start on a mountain of entertainment there is remarkable consistency. In other words, my thoughts are a jumbled mess and I don’t know how to tackle some of the amazing content in front of me.

First there is the written word. The photo above is actually an anachronism; most of my library these days is digital. Actual paper works are growing scarce around here, although I retain my very favorites in dead trees. A project I’m slowly working on is replacing my dog-eared old favs with new copies, and getting actual print for digital books that I really like.

I can’t believe it’s been over ten years since I last avidly bought paper books, but it has. Digital is simply too convenient.

Which leads me to the subject I’m avoiding; the books I must read or listen to. I don’t get it- this is not a chore, it’s pure pleasure and yet I can’t seem to sit still long enough to read a few books for some friends. Oh, don’t worry, I will do it. It’s going to happen. The reading is just taking longer than I would like it to, that’s all.

It’s weird, this hesitation to read. A wholly alien feeling; even in the deadly mountain valleys of the past I’d take time to read. Dead tired, dead stressed, and I’d still re-read Final Impact. So what’s the deal now? I don’t know.

And it’s not just books. There are other entertainments as well. For example, an excellent audio book series about Winston Churchill. And let’s not forget JB’s “Fail State,” the next installment on his end-of-the-world novels. It launches on Monday, the 16th of December, 2019. Under normal circumstances I would fall upon it, listen for hours on end. As it is, who knows?

TV? Forget about it. For one thing, I got out of the habit of watching TV years ago. These days I fidget if I watch for too long. As of right now I can’t watch it at all! This is intolerable. I have Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix. Each of these has at least one series I very much want to see- and I can’t sit down and watch.

Horrible. I’m very much spoiled for choice, caught in the headlamps of too much information.

What I need to do is sit the hell down and start, systematically and surely, whittling down the pile.

What kills me is that this is not work, it’s supposed to be fun.

Since when has entertainment become an obstacle? What the hell is this, anyway? What is stopping me from sitting and watching “The Man in the High Castle?” Or swallowing Alicia Wanstall-Burke’s “Legacy of Ghosts” whole?


This is surely a phenomena of our times. Never before in human history has so much information and content been available for elites, let alone laymen such as I. It’s a treasure trove of knowledge and entertainment.

At the moment? Mostly inaccessible.






I want to release this into the wild.


Readers: Here is a small sample from my upcoming alt history novel, I’ve changed some stuff in here to keep from being hugely spoileriffic. Some names have been scrubbed, some left alone. If you care to, you can wager guesses as to who is who!

Really looking forward to releasing this into the wild; need a publisher first, though.

All of this is subject to change in the final manuscript. So if you all make too many intelligent guesses I may George RR Martin some characters. 

Here Goes (hold onto my beer and watch this!)

Lieutenant Burton ran along the line, he stumbled and bumped along in the flare lit stygian darkness. He had a new pistol; Captain Ferguson had given it to him. It came brand new in a cardboard box that read PISTOL, AUTOMATIC BROWNING CALIBER .45, MK II. He hadn’t fired it; he prayed that the craftsmen in the factory knew their trade. He would need it soon. For good measure he held an Enfield as well. There was no such thing as being over-armed in Thuin.

He stopped at a hunched form. It was Lance Corporal Carothers.

“Are your men ready, Lance Corporal?”

“Yes, sah.”

“Do you need anything?”

“A curvy bint, perhaps.”

Burton laughed. “Steady on, Lance Corporal.”

“Yes, sir.”

Burton continued along the trench. He stepped in something squishy. He caught the form of a grim BAR gunner; it must be Strohmeier. Burton shivered. He wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that gun.

“Are you ready, Strohmeier?”

The soldier nodded, he didn’t take his eyes off the line. Burton noticed the stacks of magazines placed in handy locations, the Mills bombs and a faint cold gleam on his belt. It was a tomahawk.

Burton was at a loss for words. The private clearly meant business. He tapped him on the shoulder and moved onward.

As he passed another private, he heard a murmur in some strange tongue. The broad-faced man had his eyes closed, Burton presumed that he was praying. Burton saw no reason to interrupt him, he’d accept the help of any god at this point, even the heathen. He nodded and continued along his section of trench.

He came across Corporal Crawford, the man was saying something to one of the new replacements.

“Crawford, is your squad ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

“They’re coming soon, Corporal.”

“We know, sir.”

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Not at the moment, sir.”

Burton nodded. He didn’t want to pull his leader’s sleeves. He fought hard against the inclination to change things; he knew damn well that 3rd Platoon was as ready as could be. But it was hard, hard, on the eve of battle to control the urge.

The Lieutenant made his way back to the cubby he shared with Sergeant Larson. The best thing he could do was to sit on his hands and wait. He knew that.

It was the hardest thing he had ever done.


Elizabeth Moore was bumping along the road to Binche, she had an ambulance full of wounded. One of the men was sobbing, she took deep drags on her harsh cigarette.

The scene back in Thuin was bedlam, there were so damn many hurt and maimed men waiting to be evacuated, and so few ambulances and medical staff. The loading had been done to the soundtrack of heavy artillery fire, she had sat in her seat and watched as a round pulverized one of the few intact brick houses left.

It was damned unhealthy.

As she drove along the pitch-black road with her wholly inadequate blackout lights, she knew that this road was dangerous as hell, too. She had to constantly make her way around craters and other debris, she feared getting stuck as she navigated through cow pastures.

As usual, the lamentations of the men in the back stretched her nerves tight. And they were like piano strings tonight. The word she had received back at the aid station in Thuin was bleak, the Germans were breaking through along the line and they weren’t taking prisoners.

What would they do to her, she wondered, if captured? Probably something very unpleasant. She was in a grey area. Not really Army, not really a civilian, and definitely a woman. She really didn’t want to find out. When she heard about the German no-prisoners threat, she believed it. She didn’t intend to be captured, and she took a few measures to prevent rape followed by death.

She dodged a corpse. Her expert eye judged it fairly fresh one, allied. She drew in hard on her cigarette, she was glad she had spotted the dead man in time. Elizabeth hated the squishy feel beneath her wheels.

Some figures loomed out of the darkness. Maybe the mates of the dead man, she thought. She peered, she squinted. The blackout lights weren’t helping her much, and these buggers weren’t clearing off of the road. Her lips pressed into a thin line. Stupid gits. She flicked her cigarette out of the cab and drew a breath. She was going to give these idiots a real tongue-lashing.

At the precise moment that she was about to yell, her shout died frozen in her throat. Her blood ran cold, a bolt of lightning-like adrenaline shot through her body from head to toe.



Leutnant XXX of the 73rd Infantry regiment, a crack outfit, waited in the dark. His men had reached their assault rally point in the pitch black, they had stumbled forward over the heaped corpses of the dead, English and German.

XXX was under no illusions about what was coming. There would be a brief artillery preparation, he had heard that the gunners were short on shells; the damned allied scout fighters had scourged the supply trains leading to the front.

As the artillery was pounding the Engländer, he and his men would attack as the shells rained down. XXX did not doubt that some would be killed or wounded by flying shrapnel, but it was part of the price that had to be paid for a successful assault.

XXX meant to live, and to crush the English position in front of him. The signal for the regimental attack was blue star clusters, he could barely wait.

XXX lived for attacks. He never felt so brilliantly alive as when he fell onto the foe with his Männer. The screams, the savage grappling, the feel of bullets skimming along the ground. In his mind’s eye he pulled the porcelain toggle of a stick-grenade and hurled it into the teeth of a French machinegun nest. He cut down a soldier with his Bergmann, he kicked a man in his face and then finished him with a shovel.

The Leutnant had been there. And he knew his men were proven veterans, the finest the German Army had on offer. They had been hand selected to lead this final assault to smash the center of the English line, and they would succeed.

All they needed to do was clear over the railroad embankment, assault into the trees, and close on the holes that the English cowered in. The price would be high, he did not doubt. But it wouldn’t be catastrophic. No, the English would know disaster this night. Their dying mouths would be filled with the bitter taste of ashes.

No quarter, thought XXX. No prisoners.

His regimental commander had been clear.

XXX looked along the lines of his men in the flickering, strobing dark. They laid prone, weapons in hand. He held a Bergmann himself; he gripped it tightly. He smiled tightly, his entire body sang as a feeling of blinding power coursed through him.

Please, God, he thought. Let the signal come soon.


YYY had experienced a lot of thrills lately, and that suited him fine. What he hadn’t anticipated was the amount of excitement he had experienced simply traveling to this ruined town, Thuin.

After Mons his little platoon had received a few new tanks and crews. He had been directed to stand by for further assignments when this offensive broke loose. With haste he had been dispatched to this sector and unit, the 12th Division.

The Lieutenant had to make his way with his crews of Caterpillars to wherever it seemed hottest; he had played hell to reach his destination on the confusing Belgian roads. In the process he had lost two tanks to breakdowns, the best he could do was to make it to this flaming wreck of a city with three operational machines.

And then there was the bridge over the Sambre.

Good God, YYY thought. The combat engineers didn’t want to let his tanks over the rickety-looking patched bridge, they were afraid the bridge would collapse under their weight. YYY had roared. He had cursed the engineer captain. The exhausted-looking man had finally let him across with some curses of his own.

YYY had taken his machine across first. He wasn’t a man to admit to fear, but his balls had tightened noticeably when he rode across the patched and straining structure. Halfway across the bridge groaned and shifted, YYY prayed and urged his driver forward. He was never so glad as when his tank reached the far shore and solid earth. Then he had the exquisite torture of watching the remaining two tanks cross. The last machine almost went into the drink when the driver missed a turn. The tank tottered, spun its treads and pulled itself back from the brink. YYY let out the breath he was holding, climbed down from his machine and pissed against the remains of a wall.

So here he was, in Thuin, awaiting the Division Commander’s pleasure.

YYY was satisfied; his time would come soon. Again.

He could hardly wait.


The Lieutenant-Colonel walked along the road with his men, the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. They were making haste in a forced march; they had walked without stopping for well over twelve hours. He had never been so tired, so keyed up in all of his life, although he had fought on many fronts from the time he was a teenager.

In his fevered imagination he could see Destiny in capital letters ahead; he hadn’t taken part in the great offensives earlier this summer. His unit had debarked in Calais but a week ago. They had been placed in a worn freight train with hundreds of forty-and-eight cars, they chugged directly to the Belgian border, or at least as close as possible to it.

Since then it had been nothing but marching. The Lieutenant-Colonel’s patrician feet had been in for a rude awakening, they were covered in bloody blisters despite his excellent field boots. He had been forced to leave his luggage behind, along with cases of rather good quality Hine brandy. He imagined some bugger would make off with his drink while he marched to the front to give Hindenburg a good kick in the family tackle.

He chewed on an unlit cigar, he ignored the bloody squishing in his boots, the fiery pain with each step. Despite his fancy double-name his was a tough bastard, a bare-knuckled brawler by inclination, if not by birth.

The Commander knew that he set an example for his men, that they watched his every move. If he didn’t stop, then neither would they. And he wouldn’t stop, the pulsing glow on the horizon, the sound of the guns were his guide. His heavy Webley pistol banged against his hip, he knew he would draw it soon. Most were armed with the Browning these days, but he trusted the Webley like a best friend.

As he marched, he remembered shooting an Afghan down with a similar pistol. It was during a vicious dust-up in some nameless dusty town, deep in the mountains. He shivered as he recalled the tribesman’s naked steel, how the slashing arc that would have ended his life stopped mid-stroke. It was arrested by a fat .455 slug to the chest.

No, the Webley Mk VI was good enough for him.

He quickened his pace.


John Cox knew that they were thoroughly lost. He and his crew took a moment to pop their heads out of their lumbering tank, all of them had splitting headaches from that damn cracked exhaust manifold.

He watched as the Lieutenant and his tank’s sergeant consulted a map by the dim red light of a trench torch. The sergeant was saying something to Wordsworth, the Lieutenant was running a hand through his greasy hair.

The idling engine of the armored brute drowned out their words, of course. It was an open question whether they would reach their destination; half of the tanks had broken down on this trek. These tanks, he thought, would have done better to catch a ride on a train and then move to wherever in short hops.

Apparently that hadn’t been an option. A few days before orders had come down, and now the 4th Horse was moving out on the longest armored operation in the short history of tank warfare. John knew they had never pushed their tanks like this before, it was a matter of time before his tank broke down as well.

This move smelled strongly of desperation to him. He didn’t know a whole lot about what was happening, but he did know the Germans had thrown everything at the 4th Army on the flank and things had gone in the crapper.

He rubbed his face and drank in the fresh air. Events in these parts had a strong smell of shit as well, he reflected. The sergeant was raising his voice; the lieutenant was as well. John wondered if it would come to blows. He hoped not, the two rankers were good sorts.

But one of them needed to learn how to read a map.


Paul Hindenburg had selected this shattered, once pleasant forested chalet as his temporary headquarters. He was close enough to the front that the ground shook beneath his heels. The windows of his map room were covered in tarps, lanterns provided a dim light as he pondered his next move. He turned a little to consider an option, shattered glass crunched beneath his steel-studded jackboots.

He stroked his mustache, then put up his index finger. He spoke to a division commander.

“Send in this regiment” he pointed at a marker, “to develop the English positions. Hold this regiment for now.” He pointed at a marker that said “73.”

“When I am convinced the English have cracked, I will dispatch the 73rd to exploit the gap.” He paused. “They are the finest we have available.” Paul looked at his division commander.


“Yes, sir. What about the special troops?”

“They proceed the 73rd.” Hindenburg looked around at his assembled staff.

“Gentlemen, the English are finished tonight.”

The guns boomed and roared in the background.

“Send out the signal.”

Writing Sample No.3


A query from a reader prompted me to consider putting up another writing sample, it’s been a long while since I have done so. Here goes; you all get to guess its context and series! There’s a lot more where this came from.

Fire Mission

At a little after four in the morning, Gun Number Three’s field telephone buzzed. Geert picked it up. He heard the Fire Direction Officer’s voice on the other end. The man delivered his message flatly.

“Fire Mission, Platoon adjust, Number Three, one round, shell HE, Lot XY, Charge 4, Fuze Quick, Deflection 2573, Quadrant 247, continuous fire.”

For a brief moment, Geert’s eyebrows went up. He knew the command “continuous fire,” which meant that his gun would fire at the maximum rate until “check fire” was given, but he had never heard it. He had expected something like “five rounds in effect.”

Training snapped into place. Geert repeated the message to his crew; they sprang into action. This was the first time the gunners would hurtle high explosives towards their fellow man. But that thought would only come later, if at all. For now, there was a fire mission, a job to be done.

Geert set the announced deflection on the panoramic telescope and traversed the tube until he had the correct sight picture on the proper aiming point. He called out “Deflection 2573.”

The loader used a hydraulic ram to press the appropriately fuzed 41.9kg round into the chamber, this was followed by “green bag” propellant. Once everyone was clear, they closed the breech block and installed the primer.

The assistant gunner elevated the tube to 247, centered the quadrant range bubbles and called out “Quadrant 247, set!” He took the firing lanyard in hand and stood as far away from the breech block as possible.

The enormous howitzer was ready to go, all the platoon’s guns would adjust off of Geert’s gun once the rounds were adjusted down range.

“Fire!” The assistant gunner made a turn like a matador, lanyard in hand. With a heavy thud, the breech block recoiled a few feet into the fighting compartment. As soon as it was forward, the AG levered the block open, blackish powder fumes puffed out. The loader cleaned the breech and face of the breech block with a swab. They repeated their actions; within seconds the weapon was ready to fire again.

Sweat stung Geert’s eyes. One good thing about the reek of propellant is that it blocked out the funk of the crew, he thought. He waited on the fire adjustment, it wasn’t long in coming. The field telephone buzzed again.

“Special correction. Number three, left five mils.” Geert called out the correction, and adjusted his gunner’s aid. With another jerk of the lanyard, another round headed downrange. The crew went back through their carefully choreographed dance, the howitzer was ready once more. The field telephone buzzed. It was the Fire Direction Officer again.

“Platoon, continuous fire.”

Professionally, Geert was pleased. His reserve crew had managed to hit the target (men, his inner voice said to him) with only one correction; that meant good work on his battery’s part, as well as the forward observer, the poor bastard. As his crew labored on their gun and round after round left the tube, Geert imagined what it must be like in the Fire Direction Center, with a hundred cries for help from the heaving front.

How could the FDO stand it, listening to the radio, and triaging life-saving fires?

All Geert could do was what he was doing, managing his boys while cranking out death at four rounds a minute, 41.9 kilos of exploding metal at a time. Geert looked at his watch. Pretty soon he would have to reduce the rate of fire to one round per minute, his gun was heating up, and his loader was flagging.

The fighting compartment really stank of cordite, even with the evacuator fans cranked all the way up. Geert heard the other guns firing, B Battery was going flat-out, and Geert would have to call for a re-supply track, soon.

His gun fired again. Geert’s somewhat rusty but fairly experienced eye started to catch the traces of fatigue in his crew, and the gun was getting hot. After this shot, thought Geert, we are reducing our rate. The loader was fumbling with a fuze wrench when the field telephone buzzed. Geert picked it up.

“Check fire, check fire. End of mission. Be advised, we reposition in five mikes. Counterbattery. All guns respond in sequence.”

He waited his turn, then he spoke up. “Three, roger.” He was looking at his loader, even with the help from the semi-auto rammer, sweat was pouring off of the man.

Geert pitched his voice. “Alright, Check fire. Do not load. We’re leaving in five minutes. Get to work.” The AG and the loader got out of the vehicle and scattered. Field wire had to be rolled up, aiming stakes pulled; it was organized chaos. Geert prepared the vehicle for movement while the driver waited on the command to go.

No one wanted to be around when the Soviet artillery, or worse yet aircraft, figured out where they were. Geert’s armpits oozed as he sat and waited for his guys to get back, time stretched like tar on a hot day.

At last, his loader and AG climbed back aboard and strapped in. The radio, which had been silent until now to prevent triangulation, clicked through his Combat Vehicle Crewman’s headset. Geert recognized the Battery Commander’s voice. He kept it simple.

“All elements, displace, now.”

Geert spoke. “You heard the man, driver. Follow the leader. Let’s get the fuck out of here!” He opened the hatch and stood up. He gave the driver small corrections as they formed up in a convoy and left with haste. B Battery was following a forest trail to their next firing position, Geert smelled diesel, earth and crushed pine. As he understood things, their next position was only a klick away or so.

As Geert stood in his hatch like a tanker, he heard a new sound; a whooshing roar like freight trains, somewhere in the direction from where he had just been minutes earlier.

Unlike Lot’s wife, Geert didn’t look back as yet another chunk of Germany got chewed up.

Dawn was coming on Bravo battery’s first day of war.