The Battered Helmet

Hey, readers. Welcome to the North American spring, boy, am I glad that the better weather is finally here.

Well, with good weather comes flea markets and what are known as “garage sales,” sometimes I go to those. You never know what you can find. I attended a large one in this area recently on a sunny but cold day, and what do you know, I found this battered helmet for sale. The price was reasonable, so I decided to add it to my collection.

Kooky, I know. During the lockdown things got a little weird. I wrote A LOT. Plus, I spent tons of time on the internet. At times I made purchases; I decided to start collecting helmets.

Now, I already had a small collection. There were a few I had inherited, plus there were a few that I got in the service.

See below.

I see the helmet as a signature clothing item for a soldier; a piece of protective wear that signals what it is that you do for a living.

In this case, the helmet protects against flying bits of metal, blunt force trauma, and under the right conditions they will even stop a bullet.

The US has eighteen million living veterans, so that means that there is a lot of this type of junk to be found at yard sales. Much of it has a story, good or bad. The helmet I found a couple of days ago had obviously seen hard and long service, it was produced by McCord in late 1944. It was covered in several layers of brushed on ugly green paint, and what was cool was that in places traces of the original WW2 paint was visible.

This helmet has a story. To make things even better, a soldier’s name was carved in the paint on the inside, along with the name of a tiny town in Tennessee.

I googled the name, the gentleman is still alive. He is of the Korean War generation.

This. This is history. The price of admission is low, a couple of twenty dollar bills.

Maybe it’s odd, but I find this sort of thing to be fascinating.

This interest in history translates into writing; it blends well with science fiction. Mix it up, then puke the words onto the page and you get an alternate history trilogy.

My chief goal for 2021: Get the trilogy’s first book published, no matter what.


Ha, readers, here is a sample from my alt history trilogy! I am pretty much dying to publish this!


Ernst turned away and scuttled into the irregular belts of rubble and fighting positions. He ran from hole to hole, calling for the commander of First Company. Finally, there was an answer by a Maxim position.

“Over here, sir!”

The Maxim was firing in steady bursts, it looked to Ernst as if von Hassel was directing its fire. He nodded approvingly. He called out.

“Von Hassel!”

The Leutnant jumped.


Ernst cut to the chase. “Hey, I’ve got a company of Sturmtruppen at my back. We are going to attack right here, right now. Can you provide us with covering fire?”

“Fuck yes, sir.”

“Then wait for us. I have to go get them and lead them here. As soon as we set up, we attack. Tell your men! No fucking friendly fire!”

“I’ll arrange passage of lines. How soon?”

“Five minutes.”

Von Hassel’s eyes went wide. “Christ! That’s soon!”

“Better get moving, LT.”

“Yes, sir!”

Ernst turned back toward the south, he ran, his heart pounded. His Bergmann pumped in his hand as he sprinted along the treacherous footing, his canteen and gas mask banged along his hip. He passed back to the smashed cluster of houses where Leutnant Hofsteder and his grim one hundred awaited.

With a final dash, he reached their waiting spot. He called out.



“I’ve arranged passage of lines! We attack right now.”

Hofsteder called out.

Manner! On your feet!”

Ernst watched as dozens of men arose from the rubble. They looked like so many wraiths in the flickering darkness.

“Follow me.”

Ernst padded off, he could sense the special assault troops following in his wake. He retraced his steps, he returned to First Company’s perimeter, the chunk of blasted city that they held by their fingernails. 

Ernst grinned. He knew he was going to kick the lousy XXXXX right in the bollocks. He approached the Maxim nest where von Hassel lay.

“Leutnant! Are your men ready and warned?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good.” Ernst turned, Leutnant Hofsteder was sending his men left and right, into a rough assault formation. It appeared to Ernst as if the man arrayed his company to attack in a rough skirmish line, divided into three parts. He crouched and hastened over to the Sturmtruppen leader.

“Ready, Hofsteder?”

“Hell, yes.”

“Alright, let’s go! I’ll accompany you; I will guide you to where I think the English commander is waiting. We hit there with everything we have.”

“Do or die, Major?”

“Is there any other way?”


“All set?”

Hofsteder looked around, he shrugged. “Yeah.” He pulled out a flare pistol.

Ernst spoke. “Hold on.” He called out between bursts of the Maxim. “Von Hassel!”


“Tell your gunner we assault now. Keep the fire right over our fucking heads.”

“Meter and a half?”

“Yeah. Close shave.”

Ernst heard von Hassel scream something to his machine gunner. He looked over at Hofsteder.



Hey all, you may have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet around here recently. This is entirely my fault, and if you want to assign blame then I am that fellow. There’s been some crazy stuff going on in my personal life, nothing to worry about, but also not something I’m getting into in a public setting.

The events of this month have skewed everything, really. It’s been an avalanche of one thing on top of another. Included in there has been a tax fiasco, among everything else. It’s been really good times.

But finally, sun is breaking through the clouds, much as our weather has done. It’s really beautiful out there, and my lilac bush is sprouting leaves at last. It is past time to continue work on my fitness and finish up my ongoing project, the long-banked alternate history trilogy.

I will have you know that I am in Act III, or the finale, of the final book in the series, which has the helpful name of “3.” This makes for exactly 111 chapters completed, with maybe ten to go. As is usual when I get to the end of a book like this, I feel an acceleration.

Maybe that’s not the right word, but it fits how I feel. Suddenly there is no problem with motivation to write, stuff picks up and the story almost begs to be written.

So I sit down and I write, usually at odd hours. My best times are early in the morning, although I’ve written at all hours depending on the household situation. My standard has been a chapter, or 2-3k words per day, everyday.

In March, I failed to meet the standard.

See vague life circumstances and distractions above.

However, something I did when this current writing blitz started in December was to plan in ample time for project completion. I established my own internal deadline as to when I want to finish up, and I mean to stick to it.

I’m not sure if it will be possible, but I want Book 3 to be done as of 1 April.

Right now I’m on Chapter 31 of a planned 40.

Today I’m feeling the bug, although the sun is shining outside. On days like today I can easily do two chapters. If I try more I usually get a headache and my left arm begins to tingle. So I try to limit myself. Although three chapters would be great, and at this point, easy to do.

The feeling I have, almost every time, at the beginning of Act III is one of falling. It feels like standing on sand in an hourglass, and you are being pulled inexorably toward the little Venturi in the bottom. It is a feeling of inevitability.

This is very good! It means the story is doing EXACTLY what it should be doing at this point in a novel- it is picking up the pace, it is speeding up.

And this was the problem with the first book I wrote.

The structure was entirely instinctive, I wrote it without a plan or an outline. There are those who say it’s a good book, but there are others that have justifiably criticized it.

Well, that book was a real learning experience. And I did learn. By the time I completed the trilogy, I had some very important friends and mentors, as well as fans (!), and I had done some professional reading about writing and structure.

So now I wouldn’t dream of starting a novel without an outline. There is no way I would commit a word to paper without taking flow into account.

But instinct is still important. Feel. It is crucial, and I’m not sure how you learn it except to read or watch a LOT.

And what I’m feeling about this trilogy right now is good.

Will I make the first of April? I don’t know.

But I’ll do my damndest.

Writing Sample

A passage from the third book in my unpublished alternate history trilogy. After a month of intense distraction, the time has come to resume work.

Bill called out.

“That’s torn it, sir! Every Heinie and his mother will drop into our fucking laps!”

“Quite, Sergeant. Lieutenant McBride!”


“We have seen quite enough, young man. Do turn your men about with dispatch.”

Tracers zipped along, they would hit objects and curl crazily into the air. Bill looked heavenward; it looked much like a series of racing fireflies disappearing heavenward. Blokes started to turn to the north; as Bill watched a man was struck. From the sound it was a solid hit; a meaty “thunk.”

The poor bastard hit the ground, a flare popped and Bill watched as black crud and bubbles poured from his mouth.

He was a goner, for sure.

Someone grabbed the wounded man by the collar. They started to drag him north, toward safety. Or at least perceived safety.

The wounded man’s rescuer took a bullet to the thigh. Bill saw a chunk fly off. The man screamed and fell. Bill looked for someone to shoot at, anybody. All he could see were muzzle flashes and the quick bright lines of the tracers.

It was time to fucking go.

McBride’s platoon hustled rearwards. Bill and the Colonel took up the trail position. They were slowed by the wounded; the further they moved the more they had. Fucking Birdcage, Bill thought. We did a recon, all right. You get close to the Birdcage, you get shot.

The night lit for a fraction of a second, and it wasn’t a flare.

It was the whizz-bang gun.

Bill heard the “whizz,” he felt the “bang!”

A chunk of shrapnel pulled at his trouser leg. Bill leaned down to free himself from what he thought was barbed wire. When he found the hole, his blood ran cold. The damn thing had nearly removed his left calf. He kept the Colonel in sight, what had been an orderly, tightly disciplined raid had turned into a headlong flight to safety.

The screams and grunts of their wounded hastened their steps. The 7.7 gun blasted them, the machine guns lashed at the retreating men.

The raid had been a costly debacle, and it had put xxxxx into a rare downcast humor. Later that day, he looked to the south and spoke.

“Sergeant, I fear the Hun is mocking us.”

Bill nodded. He lit a cigarette.

“Smarmy bastards. I should call Divarta and shell that detestable Birdcage to pieces.”

“It’ll just make it easier to defend, sir.”

xxxxx simply looked at him. He said nothing, then he returned to his vigil. He put a cigar in his mouth then he spoke after he puffed it to life with a trench lighter.

“I say, Sergeant, do you think the Birdcage would make a worthwhile study on canvas?”

Bill shrugged. “Sir, I don’t know anything about art.”

“Surely you must have studied the finer things of life in school!”

“They taught me how to read and write.” Bill paused. “And a little arithmetic.”

xxxxx harrumphed. “It is a scandal, what they call an education for the working classes.”

Bill puffed away. “Good enough to run this, sir.” He held up his Bergmann.

Reasons vs. Excuses

Alright, probably not the best pic of me, but I’m out doing something important and long overdue.

Getting exercise.

Which is getting back to reasons versus excuses. I’ll give some examples of reasons, then I’ll tackle excuses.

Reason: a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.

Alright, here are some legit reasons I couldn’t exercise for months. First, I became terribly sick in November. For weeks I could barely get out of bed. By the time I recovered, my family was in quarantine. The quarantine lasted about forty days. It was bad. Once it was over, we had a awful extended snap of cold weather and endless treacherous snow and ice.

You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to walk down an icy road with deep snow on the berms; vehicles passing you close by. Too close. No thanks. Plus, did I mention frigid conditions?

So my condition has suffered. It’s not good.

But for anyone who has been behind the fitness eight ball, you already know what happens next.

The excuses.

Excuse: attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify.

With a reason there is no blame or fault. With an excuse, there is.

It wasn’t my fault we got put through the health wringer, and then the weather was abnormally awful. These are legit reasons for a lack of outdoor exercise.

No, the excuses came when the weather improved. “There’s not enough time.” (PS, I’m retired.) “I’m too busy.” (No, you’re not.) “I want to take a nap.” (Really?) “I can do it later.” (No, you won’t.) The longer the time stretched out, the more elaborate the excuses became, until they were borderline parody.

So, the BS train had to stop. In fits and starts, I started cranking up the exercise machine again. Where I’d like to be is where I was before I got sick, over 7000 steps per day on average. Nothing crazy, about an hour of movement, minimum, per day. This is where I need to be as I approach fifty years old. No excuses, just execution.

Hopefully no reasons pop up. I’ve had enough of those for one decade.

Excuses I can deal with.

Free Kindle Book!

Here’s a link to a free copy of Zero Day Code.

Does it get better than that?

Not really. See my review of this book below. For unfathomable reasons, the author has set the price on Amazon to 0.00 USD. I don’t know how long it will stay there, so don’t mess around.

By all means, leave a review. You might think that authors don’t need them, but that is totally untrue. Reviews are very hard to get, and they make a big difference, for better or for worse.

So do it. Follow the link and score the book.

Then kick back and enjoy!

Zero Day Code, a review

BLUF: Five flippin’ stars. An amazing work in the first rank, think Alas, Babylon, The Stand or On the Beach. It’s that good.

Need I say more?

Well, I will anyway. Here is why you should run out and buy Zero Day Code, which is at last available in Kindle format on Amazon. ZDC was previously Audible only, and now we junkies of the written word can jump in on the fun.

First, we encounter any number of believable heroes and villains, both sets of which come with human traits and flaws. There are no bulging biceps or straining bras, seemingly bulletproof protagonists or withering damsels in distress. No, these are flesh and blood people trying to survive in what becomes a desperate struggle for the living.

Next, the settings are carefully researched and believably presented. The reader can easily place her or himself into the action, at times one can almost taste and smell the locales. Beautifully done, and with a real feel for place and time.

Another point is a driving sense of urgency throughout the work. I experienced this as a strong desire to first keep listening, and then later to turn the pages of the ebook. This is a very difficult book to put down.

Finally, JB’s work is terrifying. The depiction of the situation and the catalyst is dead on. Harrowing. You can absolutely picture the scenario in this book happening tomorrow, the work leaves you with a distinct feeling of unease. Dread.

For me? This book makes me appreciate our currently peaceful and mostly pleasant world, epidemics and political strife set aside. It also rubs my nose in the fact that everything we hold dear is fragile and easily lost. Not to be taken for granted.

Get Zero Day Code immediately.

And then appreciate how good you have it.

For now.

Sensible Measures

Today I’m going to talk a little about something most of us take for granted.

Electricity on demand.

See recent utter disaster in Texas, energy capitol of the US. One significant weather event and half the state was plunged into darkness and freezing conditions. It’s terrible.

John Birmingham, one of my favorite authors, wrote a terrifying book called Zero Day Code. A cyber attack by a hostile state pretty much guts the US, and the US retaliates in spectacular fashion. This book is riveting and horrifying at the same time. As I watched the news this week, I thought of his work. See image below.

Pretty disturbing reading.

For those in Texas, the moment to go buy a small, quality generator is too late.

For those of us who can, you may want to consider buying a small backup unit. They are relatively expensive, but so are burst pipes or spoiled food. In addition, you will also want to safely store at least 5G/20L of high-octane gasoline. Finally, you will want a heavy-duty extension cord for whatever appliance or set of lights that you choose to run.

I would suggest that you consult an electrician to find out how to run your furnace with your new generator, or the refrigerator.

Where I live, we usually lose power during violent summer weather events. Our record without power was eight days or so. Some people were pretty miserable by the end of that one. However, I am well aware that power outages can happen in the winter, too. One year we lost power on New Year’s Day; I had to start the generator early in the morning at 0F/-18C.

This is why, today, I made sure that our family generator had a fresh battery, gas, and I test ran it for an hour or so. Yeah, it totally shot my writing, but hearing that generator run gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. The feeling that I won’t be swearing and cursing the day that I overlooked sensible measures and maintenance out of laziness.

No, our generator will not defend against Zero Day Code hellish experiences. News flash: nothing will.

However, what it will do is keep us warm for a minimum of 72 hours in the winter. Under most circumstances this will do. I could milk it out for longer, up to a week using only the fuel I have stored, if I ran it only when we got seriously cold. As the article is titled, sensible measures. Not crazy-man stuff.

Even in the city it makes sense to get a generator and then learn how to use it. Learn its quirks and its limitations. Maintain it.

Maintain it. There. I think I’ve said it three times. A generator is USELESS if you can’t get it to start.

Most of the time it just sits there and you feel slightly ridiculous that you own it. Trust me when I tell you: when you need that thing, you will really need it. So take care of it.

Today I will speak of only the generator. It’s a nice to have thing.

I have said nothing about food, water and shelter.

There’s problems with that stuff down south, too. Those of you who are currently unaffected, those who still have the luxury of time and resources, you might want to do a bare minimum of planning for some type of extreme weather event.

Just a thought. I think my readers are a cut above. Y’all are big boys and girls, you can figure it out.

No need for crazy. Just common sense.

One Million Words

Well all, the middle of an amazingly cold and bleak February is upon us, and I suppose I’m pleased to report that I’ve gone over some two hundred thousand words in my planned trilogy. For me, that’s a lot of writing. Generally spoken one of my novels is about 90k, so this means that I’m about 20-30k into Book Three of this unpublished trilogy.

A good start, 20 or 30k. It’s enough to give you the idea that you’re stuck into a book pretty well, that you’re not screwing around. My final target for the series is about 270k, I think I’ll probably come up a couple of thousand short, but not by a crazy amount.

As you all know, writing is my bulwark against the black dogs of winter. The more I write, the better I feel.

Funny how before my fortieth birthday the only thing I ever wrote were papers at college and military reports. Now I can’t imagine not having this gift during my unplanned early retirement.

Let’s add it up, I’ve never done this before.

My original trilogy. ~270k.

Second trilogy. ~200k to date.

Numbered book. ~56k

Origin. ~36k

Unpublished novellas. ~111k

Fanfic, odd jobs, etc. ~30k

And I’m sure there’s stuff I’m forgetting. However, let’s bust out my computer’s calculator. 703k words, approximately.

Whoa. That’s a lot of writing, especially for an unemployed ex-soldier. This represents seven winter’s outputs- it looks as if I’ve kicked out about 100k words each black season since 2014. I hadn’t realized it was so much until just now; plus, each year for the past four I’ve typed about 50k words onto this website. So heap another 200k words onto my total.

That’s well over 900k words since I was put out to pasture by the Army.

I anticipate that by COB 2021 that I will exceed 1,000k words.

One Million Words.

How did this happen?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t unpleasant. It’s simply surprising, like watching an odometer roll onto 111,111.1 miles or something.



It’s kind of hard to imagine these days, but this region has a pretty dark and bloody past. As I write my alternate history, I’m always thinking about how things could have been different.

But they weren’t. What happened was that waves of what were known as “Scots-Irish” were chased into America’s frontier with the express intent to violently displace the natives that lived there.

The refugees from the aftershocks of the Battle of Culloden were encouraged to take a ship to America. Once there, they were further encouraged to head west into the waiting mountains. They were heavily armed and primed for conflict; vicious fighting took place. It lasted for decades and the mentality of all against all lasts to this day.

This actually explains a lot about how Americans came to view the world as they do. The maintenance of weapons. The feeling of being threatened by outsiders. The ready resort to violence. It’s all there if you care to look, written into the blood and the history books.

My family and I, we have been touched by this as well.

I need only look at my genetic chart.

Fascinating stuff. Oddly enough one of the most likely matches is for Glasgow, and I can’t think of a single glaringly Scottish name in my background. There are a number of English ones, though. So who knows. But the thumbprint is there, an echo of a long-forgotten war.

But is it really forgotten?

I’d argue not. I read an excellent book years ago about America and the folkways it inherited from England called “Albion’s Seed.”

One of the folkways was the Scots-Irish, also known as the “Borderers.” As I read the book, I clearly recognized the traditions described in my family and region. Hundreds of years later, and millions still act as if they are huddled in threatened settlements, with reivers or other hostiles at the door. It is a mentality that is very, very hard to break. Also, the borderers and the regions they settled tend to have very high populations of combat veterans.

Guilty as charged.

Of course, genes and culture are not destiny. We can all make choices that break the mold, and what’s funny is that a further perusal of my genetic chart reveals other choices my ancestors made in an attempt at forging a better world.

I’ve also got a lot of German and NW European blood, along with a smattering of Native American (with a named ancestor, Mdewakanton Dakota (Sioux)). So ha, the borderers ended up breeding with their sworn enemies over the course of centuries.

I think there’s a delicious irony in this, and a message of hope. If we can slaughter each other and put our enemies to the sword, we can also get along and agree on the common things. In the end, we are all human, we want the same things.

A good life for our kids. A comfortable old age. A dry roof. You get what I’m saying.

Yeah, there’s violence and bad stuff.

But if the borderers, whose blood many of us carry, could move past it, then we inhabitants of the 21st century can, too. Our circumstances are so much better, we have no excuse.

Let the only war we wage be in our movies and books.

We have had enough.