Nice review for “Into the Flames”

Roy M. Griffis’ By the Hands of Men

 

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I’ve complained a bit lately (“lately,” you say?) about the various horse-puckey mechanisms that encourage Americans to ignore all but the most formulaic and famous of our national fiction. But part of this is perhaps the fault of writer-reviewers; even if we produce novels ourselves, we both avoid and screw up fiction reviews, because they are hard (and also not conducive to clickbait, you barnyard Internet animals).

The more enthused a reviewer is about a piece of fiction, ya see, the less we want to spoil its surprises—be they plot twists, turns of phrase, or a sweet new massage of a time-honored theme. We know the writer worked hard to come up with that left turn, dammit. Thus we overcompensate, giving the reader only the vaguest idea of why he would profit from the story, and the writer’s hard work is all for nought.

So I’m painfully aware of the need to strike a balance with Roy M. Griffis’s By the Hands of Men trilogy, which is the most touching as well as the most enjoyable historical fiction I’ve read in quite some time—though there were some technical flaws which I hope that I, as the second volume’s copyeditor (there’s my full disclosure for you), was able to resolve.

The first book, The Old World, was released to very little fanfare (unless you count me); the second, Into the Flames, came out on December 10, 2015—to what I hope will be a response more commensurate with its merit.

Read more here:

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“Into the Flames” ignites December 10

Very grateful and pleased to have Into the Flames, Volume Two of the By The Hands of Men series, finally released.

By_the_Hands_of_Men__Cover_for_Kindle

Early reviews are enthusiastic.

Book Three, The Wrath of a Righteous Man, will be released in May, 2016.

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Coming Soon

By_the_Hands_of_Men__Cover_for_Kindle

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Covering Thoughts

The cover of Into the Flames, Book Two of my By the Hands of Men series is, like the first book, designed and executed by the ridiculously talented Kia Heavey.  No, I’m not exaggerating about her talents.  She plays the bagpipes, she’s a wicked graphics artist, and she’s a hell of a writer (I highly recommend her YA novel Underlake).

Kia was the one who recommended looking for an image to represent Robert Fitzgerald.  In her opinion, having a central image to tie the cover together would make it more effective.  I have to admit, I was hesitant…finding the photo of Nurse Florence Ethel Spalding, a strikingly beautiful woman (who actually worked in a field hospital at Gallopoli in WWI) was such a stroke of luck, I thought it would be a fool’s errand to even try to repeat the process.  I was forgetting, however, that coincidence and luck are God’s way of remaining anonymous.

NurseOriginal

The day job had just recently become “the graveyard shift,” which meant my “days” off, in fact, left me awake in the middle of the night with only the cats for company.  So I began to wander through Google images looking for “World War One Veterans.”  That was a melancholy search, as it tended to either show historical photos of the devastation of the Great War or the aftermath.  I kept at it, though, and was led to “Discovering Anzacs,” a project of the National Archives of Australia.

It’s a wonderful site:  over a 1000 images, most of them cotemporary photos of the young men (and some women) who went off to war.  Even better (and more worthy of praise), in many cases you can read the digitized service record of the soldier.  For any person interested in history, that alone would make it worth trip.

I, however, was just looking for a photograp.  A few of the posed, studio photos (the kind typically taken in America while the young recruit is still in boot camp) caught my eye, but they weren’t quite it.  Most of the young men were putting on brave, jaunty faces.  Having presumably read By the Hands of Men, you know that jaunty is not an attitude that the young lieutenant assumes very often.

But there was another type of image, as well, one that struck me very powerfully.  Relatives of these veterans had also submitted photos of their graves.  And most of them, from the simplest flat marker on the ground to the most ornate mini-mausoleum, almost every one of them included the notation “…buried with his wife.”

Maybe it was the lateness of the hour, working alone in my attic office in the early fall chill, but I found those photos of marble and cement and brass slabs incredibly moving.  After surviving the crucible of the Great War, these men had returned to pick up their lives, get married, create families.  And at the end of their life, they would not be parted from those they loved.  I had to stop my research for a while.

There were hours of the night yet to fill, so after a time I returned to the Internet, scrolling through page upon page of the “Discovering Anzacs” website.

And then, after viewing more than 900 images, there he was.  Alexander Chalmers.  A handsome young man, to be sure, but a thoughtful one.  He wasn’t grinning at the camera.  It’s my guess this photo was taken after he had seen some service, and maybe he realized that war and what it required of you was nothing to take lightly.  It was the kind of expression I imagined would rest on the face of a man who’s beheld what Robert Fitzgerald has seen and the journey he’s undergone.

Alexander Chalmers

Like Lt. Fitzgerald, Chalmers saw action from 1914 – 1917.  Alex was part of the 3rd Light Horse Infantry before he was wounded and removed from active warfare, according to his service records.  It gave me a chill when I found that he and my fictional Robert served the same terms of service and were both wounded in the same year.

With some more research, I was even able to locate Mr. Chalmer’s gravesite, but, alas, almost nothing about his life after the service, except for the fact he married a woman named Maud, who died in 1964.  Alex Chalmers followed her in death almost exactly five years later.

They are, of course, buried side by side.

 

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Let’s talk about some real magic

Here I am, talking about writing, the magic and power of stories, and the world of my novel, “The Big Bang.”

As you know, the book is available in paperback at Amazon,Barnes & Noble, and other brick n’ mortar sites.  You can get the ebook at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and over 20 other sites, and it’s an audio book from Audible!  Something about that last part is just pretty damn cool.

 

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For my animal loving friends

Another worthy cause to consider supporting:  an organization dedicated to protecting the greater and lesser apes of Africa from being decimated as foodstocks for loggers.

http://bushmeat.net/about.html

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The beauty of research

I’m now one chapter from completing Book Two of By the Hands of Men, which has the working title of “To the Colonies and Beyond.”  As I really want my historical fiction to feel authentic and, thus, for the reader to feel as if they have lived the story, I have had to do a lot of research on almost every chapter, and the final chapter is no different.

I have a complicated relationship with research.  On one hand, I love it.  It’s the written/oral equivalent of going up into the attic of your grandparents’ house, the home they’ve owned for decades (if not millennia), where odd bits of everyone in the family’s lives have ended up.  Maybe you started to look for a tennis racket, and there, back in the corner, is a banjo.  Which leads you to the old steamer truck, which turns out to have some momentos from your uncle’s tour of Korea, and, you discover, his march out of a reservoir called Chosin.  Before you know it, your siblings have started and finished the tennis game without you, showered, and gone out to dinner, while you are still uncovering all these treasures, all this life you never knew existed.

Research can be like that for me, since what I tend to be looking for is a sense of time and place, and the people who made it that way.  Usually, the time and place help narrow down  the sources that I’ll start with, but the more I read, the more side alleys of curiosity lead me from the path of strict righteousness, like the proverbial trenchcoated figure in the shadows whispering, “Hey, want to see something cool?”

Just to pick one tasty fact at random from the stack of books I’m working my way through:  in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the jaguar was  Royal Game, and was only allowed to be hunted with a permit.  Or, from another book that was close at hand:  Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa (as Isak Dinesen), was kind of a pain in the ass, who always insisted on being addressed by the noble title into which she married, “Baroness.”

That’s the fun part of research.  Discovering the small detail, the every day idiosyncratic behaviors that make these long dead names into real people.  The odd facts that (cottage cheese hanging to dry from a muslin bag) put me immediately into those lives.

The part of research I don’t like?  That fact that doing it keeps me from the act of creating.   But maturity (and experience) reminds me this is necessary prep, salting the creative mine, leavening the novelistic dough so that it can rise to tasty and nourishing heights, rather than lie there like hard-baked road kill, something that possesses everything needed except a mysterious and hard to capture essence of life.

 

 

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Back to work

 

Get to WorkI had knee surgery two weeks ago today.  It kind of slowed me down, but I’m back at work on Book Two.

Above is our newest rescue critter, which my good-hearted wife found in the parking lot of a motel.  We mobilized the family to bring this scrawny, wormy little critter home.  They called her Ava, but I called her “BabyKat.”

Since being with us (and after some assistance from the Vet’s), she’s doubled her size and become a complete part of the family.  She’s still a little wary around the Dachshund (aka “The Princess of Darkness”), with good reason, but other than that, is relaxed and affectionate.  Her skittish period with new people now seems to last about five minutes, and after that, she’ll jump right up in your lap looking for a chin scratch.  She’s even learned to “cat-wrestle” nicely, which means when she grabs your hands she doesn’t drill her claws into your skin as if you’re a weasel with whom she’s in a battle to the death.

We’re also looking at becoming foster parents to one of my wife’s students.  Very bright girl who was dealt a crummy hand.  Will let you know if that works out.

I’ve written 24 pages in the past two days, working on part four of Book Two.

A publisher whom I had queried requested the entire ms of the novel, which was encouraging and exciting.

Oh, in the photo above, BabyKat is telling me it’s time to make breakfast and get back to work.  Looks like Part Four is going to go about 100 pages, so it’s time to get cracking.

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Kirkus Review is up

“With elements reminiscent of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, in the midst of World War I, a relationship develops between an English lieutenant and a young Russian nurse—a surprising tenderness against the backdrop of war…with likable characters, spending more time in the Old World is an appealing prospect.” – Kirkus Reviews

The full review can be read here.

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Books I Keep Giving Away

I was a reader before I was a writer.  Apparently I was an imaginative child…but, now that I think of it, most children I’ve been around have had great little imaginations, if one is willing to pay attention to them and engage those tiny adventurers where they are at.  But, I digress.

 

My reading has diminished of late.  Part of it is the press of life, in all its expression of work and family require attention, much of which is expressed simply in time.  It is not fair to my wife or kids or the critters to not have some positive interaction with me.  I mean, of those three, only my wife has volunteered to be around me.  Too, I am diminished by not spending a part of my day reminding myself who these people and pets are that I love, and why I love them.

 

The other impact to my own pleasure reading is, of course, the novel.  I can’t help but feel guilty if I’m enjoyably browsing, instead of cracking open any of the many bits of research I have piled on my desk, from diaries to academic treatises heavy enough to be used for ballast.

 

That being said, today I was musing on the works I keep giving away.  For a while, there were three titles that I was forever pressing on innocent acquaintances, telling them, “This is a great book!”

 

Oddly, for a fiction writer, only one of the three was fiction, while the others were non-fiction.

 

Watership Down is simply one of the finest novels I have ever read.  During my arrogant teen period (which lasted nearly twenty years), I resisted Richard Adams’ splendid act of creation, scoffing that a story about rabbits was asinine.  The ass was me, by the way.  I’ve re-read the book nearly once a year ever since (one of the very, very few works of fiction I revisit), and the tale of common rabbits and their brilliantly imagined lives and mythology never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  I think I like best how the characters display what I call “ordinary heroism,” simply by finding within themselves the courage to do what needs to be done, not for their own glory, but for the sake of their friends and their homes.  Real heroes move among us quietly, even now in this clammy age where we know Paris Hilton’s ever gynecological detail.

 

Shadow Divers and Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea are both non-fiction stories of discovery in the ocean.  Divers recounts the accidental discovery of a lost German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey, while Ship tells two parallel tales:  the sinking of a paddlewheel ship in a hurricane near South Carolina about a decade before the Civil War, and the inventor who rediscovered the wreck and was able to salvage immense amounts of gold bullion and historical artifacts from the site.

 

Those bare blurbs don’t really do justice to either book, trust me.  The two men who found the submarine were weekend cowboy divers who regularly went to the edge of their physical ability with scuba gear, akin to extreme sports enthusiasts, more interested in bragging rights about their feats than anything else.  As time passed, the divers began to see the wreck as something more important than their own egos.  They end up expending time, energy, and their own money trying not only to identify the wreck for its historical significance, but even traveling to Germany to bring word to relatives about the fate and final resting place of their loved ones.
 

Ship of Gold tells a more complex story by giving us not only the discovery of the wreck, but a gripping, emotional retelling of how that wreck got there.  The recounting of the loss of the paddle wheeler, the heroic efforts of the passengers to save her, and experiences of the survivors adrift in the ocean and their near miraculous recovery is worthy of a book by itself.  At the same time, there is the contemporary tale of a boy inventor, Tommy Thompson, who just liked to make things, and how he drifted into treasure hunting mostly for the sheer challenge of it.  Prior to Thompson’s efforts, many treasure salvage operations essentially vacuumed up the sea floor, destroying the historical artifacts in pursuit of whatever gold or jewels could be recovered.  Thompson build amazing remote-controlled devices that operated at depths never before possible to reach, with such advanced capabilities they could accurately record the site and recover treasure without destroying or materially affecting the wreck, leaving it essentially intact for further scientific and historical research.

 

What I like about both books is that they were the stories of people found there was more to their lives than simply what their experiences could do for their own self-aggrandizement.  It was brutal, hard, dangerous work (three people died during the course of mapping and surveying the submarine site), but it became about more than them.  One could argue that Thompson was well rewarded by his treasure salvage of the wrecked paddle wheeler, but I feel the exacting care he took to preserve the wreck suggests he was as interested in the historical value as he was the monetary.

 

What books do you keep giving away?

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