I completed my second novel, The Accidental Spy, about a year ago. The readers have read it. My wife has edited it. And yet, it has languished. Something felt wrong about it. Then, about two days ago, I discovered what it was. A theme crept into the story about midway through and I had missed it. I had to go back and weave it into the complete fabric of the story. The theme? Teaching a civilized man to kill.
Click to read the except of The Accidental Spy
In a way, the study of killing in combat is very much like the study of sex. Killing is a private, intimate occurrence of tremendous intensity, in which the destructive act becomes psychologically very much like the procreative act."
On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
In this story set in the time and place of the Korean War, my hero, Nick Andrews, learns both the art of love and the art of killing. These themes are now embedded in the earliest pages and developed throughout the book.
I hope you enjoy this sample.
In case you're wondering why this website exists, I'm trying to sell my books. Sadly, I have to say that because its purpose is not reflected in its results. Also unsuccessful are my efforts to sell books via social media - Twitter, Facebook, and the like. Even sadder, I don't have the financial wherewithal to advertise in more traditional venues.
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Some authors have written for specific genres in hopes of finding an audience. If they can't find one that works for them, they create it. Boomer Literature was such. Claude Forthomme
championed and nurtured Boomer Literature after publishing a couple of works. Both were well-written but, like mine, remarkably poor sellers. Her advocacy caught my attention early on, but I failed to get it. What is Boomer Literature I wondered: Books for
old farts or books by
old farts or, maybe, both? I fear that I still don't get it.
I'm not sure how well Claude's scheme has worked for her. We haven't discussed sales in some time. However, I think I'm ready to take the plunge. I've come up with two concepts that seem as though they might be sure-fire best sellers.
First, there's Cooking at Room Temperature
. The idea was suggested by my predilection to forget to turn on the burner under pots and pans when I cook meals. The second is Jack's After Cooking Cookbook
which will feature suggestions for dishes to prepare on the stove top or in the oven after failing to remember to turn them off using the scraps leftover from the earlier meal (and thus allay your spouse's fears that you are a candidate for the Alzheimer's academy).
The true genius of this series of books lies in the fact that I can expect old farts like me to repurchase many times inasmuch as they will have forgotten they already have copies on subsequent visits to the book store.
At least, that's the plan...
I may be guilty of overthinking this, but I read a book that got me to thinking about verb tense in storytelling. That's tense as in past, present, or future. Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but it seems to me that most stories are told in the past tense. Consider this example from Charles Dickens: “Marley was dead: to begin with.”
That's the first sentence of Stave 1 in A Christmas Carol. What? Is he no longer dead? Was he not dead at the time of the story? Or should Dickens have written: “Marley is dead: to begin with”?
As I said: I'm overthinking this, or am I?
It's my son's fault. He gave me a book to read, Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy, in which the author played with the present tense. I say played
because he wasn't consistent in its use. I wish he had been. It's the reason I read the book.
I'm not sure that “courage” is the correct word. When my son was a Cub Scout and I was preparing him and his friends to advance to Boy Scouting, we discussed courage. They were, after all, expected to be brave to be good Scouts. I told them the story of Audie Murphy.
Audie Murphy was one of America's most decorated heroes during World War II. Miraculously, he survived and returned home to great acclaim. After convincing the boys that he was a hero, I challenged them to decide if he was brave. Obviously, they were confused by the question (much as you probably are). Let me explain.
I was the Chief of Awards and Decorations during the better part of my tour of duty in Vietnam. I led many panels of senior officers as they evaluated and passed judgment on recommendations for awards for valor. Although it is popular to refer to all service men and women as heroes these days, I learned that there are those who go above and beyond ordinary heroism. They act when others fear to act. To put a fine point on it, they do what is necessary to win the battle, to save the lives of others at great risk to their own, in spite of their fear. In other words, they share the same fear as the others around them, but act in spite of it while the others don't. Those Cub Scouts and I agreed, that is the definition of courage.
As I studied Audie Murphy's many awards, I discovered that he was often confused as the award citation was read. It was as though he was hearing a story for the first time and surprised to learn that it was his. It seems that he may have acted in a fugue state as when, for example, he attacked a German heavy tank with nothing but a pistol in one hand and a grenade in the other. Where was the fear? Without fear, can there be courage? Make no mistake. Audie Murphy earned every award and decoration he received, for the accomplishments if not the courage. Who cares how he dealt with fear? We celebrate his contributions to the defeat of our nation's enemies.
As I look back on my first novel, Rebels on the Mountain, I realize that it simply was not a made up story. It is, in fact, my fantasy. As a boy I had been chosen to pilot a yacht on a cruise to Cuba and denied the opportunity when my father withdrew his permission. In writing the novel, I made the trip in my imagination.
I made the story as historically accurate as possible to give substance to the fantasy. Did I include famous personalities such as Ernest Hemingway as part of that effort or to appease a self-serving motivation to fraternize with such a famous author? Was my treatment of Che Guevara in my novel fair, or was I abusing him as payback to another person, a boy from my youth, who stole my girlfriend and then threw her off, much as Che threw off wives and children? Did I include a romance with a mulata because I know that a relationship between a white and non-white would have driven my own father crazy? (I abhorred his prejudices, still do to this day.) Lastly, was the courage of my hero just a reflection of my own wish to be a little like Audie Murphy?
How could I have bared my soul to the world like that? Was it courage or, like Audie Murphy, was I completely unaware of what I was doing at the time I wrote the novel?
I suppose that if authors are to be successful, they must either be truly courageous or totally oblivious to what they are doing because, after all, all fiction is someone's fantasy.
I've been accused of plagiarism, not explicitly, but it was implied. Another writer, stung by my review of his work, struck back. It hurt. I didn't consciously attempt to foister someone else's writing as my own. I might have unconsciously. The memory is a tricky thing at my age. I can still sing commercial jingles from the 50s but have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast. That's why, in my response to his assertion, I asked for a citation of the work he suspects that I plagiarized. Thus far, no reply.
Click to visit glasbergen.com
Why is plagiarism so bad? It's not a mortal sin, is it? The victim of plagiarism may sue for monetary damages under the law of torts if a case can be made that copyrighted intellectual property is involved. (Be cautious here. Under international treaty, almost everything published, especially on the Internet, is assumed to be copyrighted even if it is not accompanied by a copyright notice.) However, it's not a crime. Still, I was surprised by my reaction to his comment and have given a lot of thought to the subject.
I've reached the conclusion that my hurt is based in my pride of authorship. I don't always like everything I create, however, this piece is one of my favorites and the theme may be reprized in a more substantial story. I can only surmise that if I plagiarized another author's work, they too would feel similarly violated. Thus, even though committed unintentionally, I would immediately withdraw the piece, apologize, and transfer any earnings to the true author without hesitation. Thus, the aforementioned request for a citation of the story that inspired the implied charge.
Here's your chance to chime in. The story is Santa's Secret. It was posted on my blog
as well as VentureGalleries.com
. The commented that inspired this posting came on Readwave
. Please let me know if you ever saw the story anywhere else and tell us what you think of plagiarism. Have you been a victim?
If you're starting a new business, building a brand, trying to sell almost anything, especially a book, wouldn't it help to be famous? Imagine all the free advertising you'd enjoy if the paparazzi followed you everywhere, clicking your photo and writing about your every coming and going.
You can't help but be at least a little offended that the public bestows so much attention on those who have contributed so little, can you? What did the Kardashians ever do to deserve all that attention? Do you know? Did they develop a life-saving vaccine? Did they invent the latest technological gadget that everyone must have? Do they have some great talent? (I'll let you mull that over as you read on. The answer is at the end of this article.)
Imagine what you could do with all that attention. I might actually sell some books. You might own a chain of franchise outlets all over the country and people might flock to them. Your children might bask in the glow of your fame for decades to come.
Then again, you don't have to surrender your life to adoring masses to enjoy the benefits of public adulation. You might, instead, allow one of them, a popular personality, to endorse your product or service. These people have agents who sell endorsements of famous personalities. Yes, you have to spend money to make money, and there are no guarantees that even that will work.
Or, you can struggle on like I have. I've worked long and hard to build my brand to no avail. There's something almost heroic in my ability to persevere in the face of repeated failures. Let me give you an example. I recently posted a brief synopsis of a novel that I've just completed. I included a twenty-seven-word request to read it and answer a simple question: “Would you purchase and read this story?”
I promoted this posting in my weblog in the major social media and there have been almost 400 visitors to it in the first 3 days that it appeared on the Internet. What have been the results? There have been just nine respondents: four yeses, three noes, and one maybe. Yes, that's not bad if you look at the fact that more than half said “yes”. But, the fact that only about two percent of the visitors even bothered to respond to the survey isn't very heartening, is it? Still, two percent was a reasonable response to direct mail campaigns as I remember from my days in the ad biz. Who knows, I may be becoming famous after all.
Would you like my autograph?
ANSWER: Who are the Kardashians and why are they famous? The source of their notoriety probably originates with the fact that Robert Kardashian was one of O. J. Simpson's defense attorneys in his 1995 murder trial. Daughter Kim has parleyed that spark of fame into a family business with the help of her mother and siblings.
STORYTELLERS HAVE BEEN getting themselves in and out of tight spots ever since the first tales were narrated. Chester Gould, who originated the Dick Tracy series of comics, was a master of the craft. No cartoon character was better known for getting into situations that seemed impossible to escape. Indeed, Gould once admitted that he outdid himself on one occasion. Tracy was trapped at the bottom of a deep pit and the bad guys dropped a boulder on him that fit the diameter of the pit like a cannon ball fit a muzzle. Gould used a side story of Tracy's partner, Sam Catchem, to fill the comic's panels for more than a week while he pondered how to extricate Tracy from the pit. He almost went so far as to illustrate a pencil eraser appearing to eliminate the danger. I've gotten myself into a similar predicament.
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My current project, a novel entitled Behind Every Mountain, is a story that takes place during the Korean War. It's not about Korea or the war. This novel traces the coming of age of a young man who joins the Army to escape an abusive father and is thrown into a flight for his life. Yes, that's flight, not fight. As an Army Ranger, he is parachuted with a reconnaissance patrol onto the flood plain of the Yalu River separating North Korea and China. Their mission is to observe the Chinese Communist forces massing there and estimate their strength and intent. Unfortunately, they arrive just as the Chicom army is crossing the Yalu and my hero is the lone survivor. (No pun intended, but he is the lone surviving Ranger.)
Cut off from the planned extraction point, he is forced to follow the Chicom army south as it drives the UN allies ahead of it while he looks for an opportunity to sneak past the enemy and rejoin any American unit. Obviously, he encounters many dangers during this adventure, but none so daunting as when he comes abreast of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. There he must cross the Taedong River.
Although this is a work of fiction, I attempt to remain true to the history, geology, culture, and time of the milieu in which this story occurs. I studied Korea and its history as far back as the arrival of the first Chinese outcasts who escaped there to hide in the mountains that dominate the peninsula. These same mountains provide my hero with cover and concealment as he travels parallel to the Chicom soldiers. However, crossing the Taedong River without revealing himself is another matter.
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The Taedong River is more than a quarter mile wide at the point where the young Ranger must cross, as seen in this aerial photo. The dam that appears in it did not exist at the time of the Korean War. It is reasonable to assume that all bridges were heavily used by the Chicom army and well-guarded. Because the UN air force and naval aviators dominated the skies, the communists moved at night. My hero also would have moved at night when crossing dangerous areas like the river.
This photo also reveals that the river above the damn is covered in ice, while below the dam it is not. I have not yet been able to ascertain whether it was ice-covered during the winter of 1950 or if the ice was thick enough to bear the weight of a man walking across. I may have to make an assumption about that for the purposes of my story. Fortunately, I have my training as an infantry officer to fall back on when making assumptions about the conduct of war.
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However, I know that with absolute certainty that the moon was full at the time of his attempted crossing, December 27, 1950, thus adding another layer of difficulty. It is reasonable to assume that the communists would have positioned observers along the river's edge, probably on both sides. They must have known that remnants of the American army were attempting to straggle back south after the Chicom army surprised and routed them in November of that year. I used the Moon Phase Calendar
when writing Rebels on the Mountain
to determine how difficult it must have been for Fidel Castro to sneak past Mexican authorities as he set out from the Tuxpam River on his fateful trip to Cuba to launch his revolution.
Obviously, my fictional Ranger ultimately will cross the Taedong River safely. But, how? That is the question. You'll just have to wait for the novel later this year to find out.
I WROTE THIS blog posting more that a year ago and it still attracts interest. A couple readers have gone so far as to offer additional material and I want to share it with you (and with their permission).
SHAKESPEARE WROTE THAT we are all actors on a stage. I can't disagree. However, I believe that he might have agreed that not all of us are equally good actors. I'm not referring to our goodness or badness in a moral or ethical sense. Rather, I am commenting on our ability to play a role that anyone else would pay to see. This lesson was driven home to me this week as I attempted to record myself reading a passage from my novel,Rebels on the Mountain, to produce a book trailer.
During a previous life, when I was in the advertising and PR business, I had the opportunity to direct many commercials. This gave me the privilege of working with some fine talent. One of the best was a voice actor named Brad Crandall.
Brad's farewell address on WNBC New York Radio
Brad moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where I was apprenticing at an ad agency, after wheedling out of his contract with NBC in New York. Brad had been a host on NBC's hugely successful Monitor that aired for 40 continuous hours every weekend. It was the forerunner of talk radio that dominates AM programming these days. It took me several years to sift through the various excuses that Brad gave for walking away from his lucrative contract. The truth is, I don't think that he felt that he deserved the success.
Brad had been born into poverty. His father was a railroad conductor and the family lived in poverty near the tracks that stretched across Kansas. He outgrew their resources and quit school to join the Marines just as World War II was ending. Stationed in China, he was assigned to the Armed Forces Radio network and became an on air news reader. While there, Brad studied the voice of William Conrad who was then appearing as Marshall Matt Dillon on the radio production of Gunsmoke. Brad practiced emulating Conrad's magnificent baritone until it became his own voice.
Upon completion of his tour of duty, Brad became a gypsy radio host. He hopped from one station to another across the country, pausing only to enlist for a brief tour of duty in the Army and serving in Korea. When the war there ended, Brad landed in a station in Montreal, Canada. He told me that he lived on peanut butter sandwiches and milk that he kept on the window ledge outside the radio station's studio. I never did find out where he slept. He worked there until producers at NBC heard him and invited him to New York.
The poor boy from Kansas now found himself hobnobbing with famous personalities in the New York theater district. Their favorite eatery was Sardi's (I'm guessing that his caricature still hangs there among those of still famous personalities). He spoke of the antics of his Monitor co-hosts, Art Buchwald, Henry Morgan, Skitch Henderson, and others. One of my favorite tales is when the staff at Sardi's took revenge on one of their company. The man would always jokingly order a peanut butter sandwich in a voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant, and then quietly place his “real” order with the waiter after the “gang” had their laugh. One day, the waiter took off with the order before he could change it. Soon, an entourage emerged from the kitchen: two busboys pushing a cart with a huge carved-ice bear cradling fresh berries in its cupped paws; two others pushed another cart bearing a heated chafing dish; and a third contained a silver tray covered by a large silver dome. Four chefs followed the procession.
Upon arrival at their table, one chef created preserves from the berries. Another took roasted peanuts from the heated chaffing dish and hand ground them using a mortar and pestle. The third sliced the bread. And, the fourth assembled his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The waiter happily presented him with his very sizable bill.
Brad's humble beginnings revealed themselves in his reactions to his fans. Jonathon Bush, a visitor to this website, shared the following postcard that his mother received from Brad.
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Here are scans of both sides of the postcard Brad sent to my mom in 1968. As I think about this, my mom probably sent away for a picture/autograph at my urging. We listened pretty religiously, and I was a big fan--probably because I was able to stay up until the end of the show, which I think was midnight.
Brad's message was brief, but telling. It seemed that he was a bit surprised to get the request, but happy to comply. I'm not a student of signatures, but his signature points decidedly up. I'm told that is a sign of an optimistic nature.
I remember hearing his voice in films after his radio years, and he was always immediately recognizable. Perhaps the fact that I am looking into getting into voice-over work may have made the postcard "pop up" out of the blue. Funny how the universe works.
I am really glad to have this little memory, and happy to share it with you.
Another reader, D. T. Nelson provided a link to a website where we can hear recordings of Brad's show from WNBC...
You can hear your friend Brad Crandall (and many other broadcasting greats) here at the "Sounds of Monitor" page on the Monitor Beacon web site:
I know that Brad enjoyed his riches – to a point. Unfortunately, he never reconciled himself to such success without laboring for it. Much like Clark Gable, whose father never approved of “play-acting” as respectable work, Brad looked for other ways to make his life seem purposeful. Thus, I believe I became one of his many “projects.”
He salvaged me from a disastrous marriage and sheltered me while I recovered. He then went so far as to arrange a meeting with the woman who became my wife (now married almost 36 years). Unfortunately, once I began achieving my own success, he went in search of other projects and we lost track of each other.
Several years after his death, I heard that Howard Stern had honored Brad. Howard was asked who had influenced him as a role model in broadcasting and he mentioned Brad.
Over the years that we were active friends, I employed Brad for many of my projects. “One-Take” Brad we called him. I only ever heard him flub a line once in many hours in the recording studio. I wish I could say the same.
I suppose that I wouldn't be as critical had I not worked with a great talent like Brad. I needed nineteen takes to get an acceptable recording of myself reading a passage from my novel, Rebels on the Mountain
. Even then, I cringe when I listen to it. I'm no Brad Crandall.
Still, I feel that I have a better chance of connecting to my readers if I present myself, warts and all, reading my own work. Click here
to hear me.
OMG, I've lost sixty pounds since I recorded this trailer. I better redo it. There are also some vocal flubs I need to clean up. As I said, I'm no Brad Crandall...
BURIED DEEP INSIDE this presentation by John Cleese on creativity are the answers to all of your questions. Are you creative? Do you have talent? When should you write? Where should you write? Should you be writing at all? How should you handle writer's block?
Unfortunately, the only question Cleese doesn't answer is the one most undiscovered authors are asking: Will your book ever sell?
BEST SELLING AUTHOR and screenwriter Andrew Klavan
and film producer Bill Whittle
discussed this question on a recent program on PJTV
. (I'd love to embed a video of it here but it's only available to PJTV
subscribers. So, click here to view it and invest five dollars (US). That will get you your first month's viewing. It's a good investment.
Klavan and Whittle concluded that heroes aren't as interesting because, most often, story-tellers lie about them. Klavan observed that heroes are even boring because they're always “square-jawed. Courageous. They don't feel fear. They don't feel lust. Of course they're boring. Nobody's like that.”
I had reached this same conclusion while very young. My birthday coincides with George Washington's and my birthday cakes were invariably decorated with cherries to commemorate his virtue, he could not tell a lie. Yeah, Sure. It didn't take long to dispel that notion as I began to study the real Father of our Nation. Funny, I discovered that he was far more interesting than the demigod to whom I had been introduced in school.
It was a short hop from George Washington to the truth about all the other Founding Fathers (excuse me, “Founders”). I came away with a new appreciation for them and a challenge. As demigods, their accomplishments were beyond the reach of mere mortals such as I. However, as flesh and blood men, their courage and dedication became accessible to me. Why couldn't I serve a good cause as well as they?
When it came time to write my first novel, I never considered for a moment that my protagonist should be a hero, not in the classical sense. Interestingly, “heroes” in ancient Greek legends were all demigods. No, I gave Nick Andrews a very human assortment of character flaws when I wrote Rebels on the Mountain
. Now, as I'm writing a prequel to his story, I'm providing a basis for those flaws. Although I only hint that he was an abused child in Rebels on the Mountain
, the prequel will literally describe that abuse. It will also describe the source of the guilt he carries in Rebels
from his early experiences killing and maiming enemies on the battlefields of Korea.
Nick also knows fear. After all, courage is not the lack of fear, but rather the willingness and ability to do what is necessary despite fear. Think back over the heroes you have read in books or seen in popular films. How calm they seem even when awash in bloodshed. I can't help but laugh when I remember that the only character in Star Wars
who exhibited fear was a robot, C3PO.
The lack of fear in the human characters is even more unbelievable to me than the fanciful tale of science fiction.
Digressing to Klavan and Whittle, they were challenged by a PJTV subscriber to discuss, “As story-tellers, how do you break the banality of decency in a culture that celebrates the antihero?” In examining this question, Klavan observed that the real problem is not so much “the banality of decency”, but rather that we tend to lie about decency. Real human beings have urges and what makes them decent is the restraint they exhibit in not succumbing to them, whereas villains do. (As I said, this program is well worth the price, especially for writers.)
Klavan went on to discuss one of America's favorite story lines, wherein the villain evolves into a hero. (Well, a sort of low-grade, nickel-plated hero.) I could not help but agree with Bill Whittle who cited the example of Al Swearengen from the TV series Deadwood. Here is a saloon owner, a murderer, a pimp of the vilest sort, who begins to display signs of humanity as the series progresses. One scene stands out in my memory, wherein Swearengen assists the suicide of a preacher who is suffering greatly. He cradles the man, almost as a father comforting his child, as he smothers him and whispers, “Go now, brother”.
These are the moments in stories that make them great.
Swearengen's foil, the protagonist, Marshall Seth Bullock also frequently succumbs to his baser urges. Although Bullock is more often motivated by righteous indignation, he is little more decent than Swearengen.
No boring characters in Deadwood
, that's for certain. Likewise, I have attempted to preclude any boring characters from Rebels on the Mountain.