D-U-N, Done.

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Well, not quite done, but it’s the end of the first phase.

It’s been a flurry of writing these past couple of months. The rough draft of my latest manuscript, the alternate history, is done. It landed a little south of where I wanted it, but a few thousand words will probably be tacked on in revisions over the next couple of months as my beta crew chews it over.

The beta read phase of a project is my favorite part; you put your stuff out on a cloud based file sharing program and send invites for people to read. Then you sit back and wait on the reactions, stuff you missed.

It’s great fun.

Wish I would have used this technique on my first two novels; I can’t say it’s my invention by any means. I blatantly stole it from a friend, author and mentor. If you are considering writing, I highly encourage you to develop the manuscript and then post it to a trustworthy crew.

It’s an eye-opener.

So yeah, it’s Miller time, the rough manuscript is finito.

Sweet. Now it’s time to “supervise and refine,” as they used to say in my old line of work.

And the writing continues.

Say hello to the new (old) Army uniform

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So I suffered through a number of dumb uniform changes. The beret. The ACU. The ugly, greyhound bus “blues.”

I always wondered what the hell was wrong with the old Greens, which resembled the coolest Army uniform, the old WW2 outfit.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought about that. Now look, each Army uniform iteration had its ups and downs, with the exception of the black beret, which was stolen from its rightful owners, the Rangers. Well, OK, the ASU (blues) were pretty dumb, too. However, the ACUs had many redeeming factors, with the exception of the most important part- the camouflage pattern.

I remember when the ACUs were first introduced, and we debated whether the camo pattern would work in the field. Well, one trip to the woods solved that question. Troops in the old BDUs were practically invisible while dudes in the new ACUs stood out like sore thumbs until the uniforms were completely filthy with mud.

However, I loved the functionality of the things. All those pockets, and no more boots to shine.

So when I was issued Multicams in Afghanistan, it was a perfect world. Very functional uniforms combined with an excellent camo pattern- top notch. A few years later and the Army adopted the pattern service-wide. Wise choice.

But the dress uniforms still sucked.

Well, I came across the news today that the Army has finally gone with common sense. They are bringing back a modified WW2 dress uniform.

I ask myself why it ever changed in the first place. But it did, and now we’ve come full circle. Hooray for the return of Grandpa’s khakis.

It’s about time.

A forgotten corner

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So I recently had the honor of having a mini-story put out on John Birmingham’s Patreon website. If you aren’t a subscriber to his apocalyptic universe, you should be. He’s putting out tremendous stuff. You can read the first completed book for two bucks, plus a lot of bonus content. Among the treasure trove of stuff to read are a couple of shorts by yours truly, so if you’re keen, check it out.

The story I wrote was kind of my homage to King and his masterpiece “The Stand,” a book that many of you are familiar with.

I thought of it while focused on things other than writing, this seems to be how I land with a lot of my concepts. Hurried up and banged out the short before I lost the idea; I’ve learned to strike while the fire is hot.

How does this relate to the image above?

Allow me to explain. So Birmingham’s book is about a world cast into madness via cyber warfare. He goes on to describe America’s descent into anarchy and ruin.

It occurred to me that we’ve been there before. Almost. It was a close-run thing.

Wide swathes of the United States were in utter ruins and under martial law for a long time during the 1860’s-70’s. And that was the US “back East,” out west there was very little rule of law at all. This was exacerbated by a vicious war between white settlers, the Army, and the natives that continued until the 1890’s.

I think this period explains a lot about what is known to some as “America’s gun culture,” there remained a deep-seated need passed down through the generations to be armed against all comers, at all times. Also, the sheer geography of the American territories dictated that law enforcement’s role was essentially to collect the dead and hang the guilty, actual crime prevention and deterrence is a relatively recent phenomenon.

If you are not familiar with the American Civil War or would like to see a realistic depiction of the Wild West, I would recommend two films. The first is Cold Mountain, the second is Hostiles. Look ’em up, watch them.

The Civil War produced nearly Soviet scale casualties, 620,000 dead out of a pre-war population of 31 million. To this day one still comes across echoes of that conflict in the oddest of places, see photo above.

My wife had a visit to the doctor, I was bored. So I took a quick walk. Tucked into a residential neighborhood of a small town there was a cemetery. I noticed a cannon, so I decided to take a look. Lo and behold, there was yet another Civil War cemetery. There are so many of those things around. And those were guys whose remains were actually ID’d and brought home. Many, many remained unidentified in mass graves.

Could this happen again, I thought in that somber place.

Birmingham’s book provides the answer in plausible fashion.

Yes.

Read it. You’ll see for yourself.

 

Carrot Cake

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Ok, so I was just emailing a friend and I remembered an episode in the past. It all revolved around a carrot cake.

Readers, you have no idea how sublime carrot cake can be. Especially after a long tour filled with unhygienic circumstances, tons of rice and goat meat, and stolen melons.

Lemme set the scene. It was September of 2011, a pretty bad month. The little team I was on went through about a month of combat operations up in the mountains, lots of bad stuff happened.

Some vivid imagery from that period.

Bullets clipping off marijuana buds and tree leaves. A pair of fighters that flew beneath me in the midst of a firefight. An Apache chased away by RPG fire. An explosion witnessed from afar that looked like a mushroom cloud. Purple mountains with snowy caps, rapid running streams. Dusty villages as old as time. Oxen pulling wooden plows. Old men listening to the radio, powered by a little Chinese generator. Talking with bombers, their crews would fly back to Al Udeid after their mission. Fear. Disgust. Loathing. Prayer.

So like all things, the period ended. Our weary team returned to our firebase in the “rear,” there was a ghetto little chow hall there run by the 2-18 Infantry.

We were quite the sight. The Colonel was wearing an Air Force flight suit, our Team Sergeant had a “Fuck Al-Queda” T-shirt on, my left arm was swollen up to the size of an American football. We all had beards and probably stunk to high heaven. We were covered in dust, I had a cough that wouldn’t quit. We smoked Pakistani L&Ms, there was nothing uniform or regulation about us, and we didn’t give a shit.

We cleared our weapons and headed into the chow hall.

My eyes were drawn immediately to a carrot cake. I had to have it.

Grabbed a tray, plopped an unknown number of pieces of cake upon it. Heaped mashed potatoes on top, for good measure added some fine Army gravy. Sat down across from some random Department of the Army civilian sorts. Started to eat. A lot.

One of the DA guys spoke.

“Hey Lieutenant. We heard about you guys.”

I said nothing, looked at him for a second and then I jammed another bite of mashed potato and carrot cake in my mouth.

“The Apaches got shot to shit. You were there?”

“Yeah.” I swigged at some mystery fruit juice.

“Good fuckin’ job, LT.”

I probably nodded, can’t really remember much after that. I felt a fierce pride in my team, our band of misfits. And I felt pain. A lot of pain.

The carrot cake helped. The shower that followed was amazing.

A clean toilet, a real bed. God, it was paradise. I wept when the C-17 finally carried us away from Bagram Air Base.

Ever since, all I can see here back in the world is paradise. People have no idea how good they’ve got it; piles of carrot cakes if you want. Amazing food, relative safety.

I ended up in the hospital, the Army and I parted ways.

Unfortunately, I kept eating as if I was in that chow hall.

Sooo… I’m doing a lot of walking these days.

And I stay the hell away from the bakery section of Wal-Mart.

 

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.

J

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