Grief is not a gentle mother

And it has viciously kicked my ass most of this month.

Grief turned out to be kind of a reverse Trojan Horse:  it detonated in might and power and inevitability like Shiva the Destroyer, but there were gifts (perhaps even a kind of rebirth) to be found in the rubble.

The most gut-wrenching part of the loss has started to subside and, to almost no one’s surprise, I will write more about it later.

In other writing news, my High-School English teacher and I reconnected this summer after losing touch for a few years.  She was a tremendous educator and I was so blessed to have her in my confused young life as a High School Senior.   She also knew Sandy, the friend I lost at the end of September, and it was a comfort to grieve with someone who had cared for that dear young woman, too.

After my teacher and I began corresponding again, I had sent her paperback copies of the entire “By the Hands of Men” series.  Since she had read some of my earliest writing, way back in the last century, seemed fitting to send her the most recent stuff.

Yesterday, an email from Mrs. X—— arrived.  It was long and thoughtful, as I would have expected from this erudite woman of both intellect and faith.  She had clearly read through the series.  She spoke glowingly of the research I’d done, the effort I’d clearly expended on writing those 450,000 words or so, even mentioned how I’d given her some things to think about (the Communist Party in Hollywood had apparently been unknown to her…which was what Stalin and his fellow murderers had intended).  There was other praise, too, which modesty forbids me from sharing.

But I read the letter twice and I can’t tell if she actually…you know…enjoyed the books.

I think I just got a C-minus from my former English teacher.

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The Wrath of a Righteous Wife

The Rib and I at a family reunion two years ago.

The Rib and I at a family reunion two years ago.


Had shoulder surgery last Friday.  I was trying to be tough on Monday and skipped the pain meds, figuring I’d only need those to sleep.

I was sadly incorrect.  When the ortho doc heard my story, he encouraged me to use them.  So I dutifully swallowed them down when I got home.  Damn, what a difference.

So I’m writing this while under the influence.   My son happened to be home from college this weekend, and so he and I spent some time watching movies and chatting, as the shoulder surgery rendered me useless for our usual pursuits (bike riding, getting pizza, that sort of thing).  Tuesday, as we were driving down for my post-op appointment and to drop him off at the airport, he asked if I’d found a place in BTHOM4 for an interesting bit of history he’d uncovered.  I told him yes.

He answered with a laugh, “But you won’t tell me where you put it in the story, will you?”

Cameron and I, doing one of our usual things.

Cameron and I, doing one of our usual things.

“Nope,” I told him.

My wife, who was driving, commented, “Your dad does that to me, too.  He won’t tell me how the story ends.  It pisses me off every time.”

Yes, fear the Wrath of a Righteous Wife.  But I’m that way with everyone.  I haven’t told my editor or publisher how “The Lonesome George Chronicles” ends.  I haven’t told anybody how “By the Hands of Men, Book 4” concludes. I want anyone reading it to be surprised, and that includes beta-readers, dearly beloved wife, and editors.

It’s a weird thing with me.  I want everyone, even those in the “business” side of my writing, to experience the story fresh the first time they read it.

Okay, time to lie down.  Even the tiny exertion of typing this is making me sweat.

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It’s up to us…

This used to be my ride to work.

This used to be my ride to work.

Or so I claim in this interview with Historical Fiction author, Maria Grace.

“You can outsource your compassion (and outrage), or you can do something with your own sweat, toil, and money to change the world around you right now. It’s up to us to make God real in the world. We are God’s hands and feet, we are the miracles He promised.”

It was a fun interview.

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A little unexpected assistance


She’s a lady of strong opinions


Had some unexpected help with today’s research.  BabyKat dropped by to give me her perspective on the issue at hand.

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I received a nice and unexpected fan letter today.

“I devoured your “By the Hands of Men” trilogy last week, and am pleased to say that my first thought was to consider how long I should wait until re-reading those three. That has not happened in a very long time.

“High praise intended for you; I’m a life-long voracious reader, with most of my books on paper. I’ll read one, and it might be decades before the same volume floats up again during cleaning or re-arranging to surprise me with a fond memory that inspires a visit.

“Double praise in that when I find a book on the kindle platform *really* good, I’ll purchase it in print. All of your efforts meet that standard.”

Those make my day.

(Oh, yeah, after he read my free download story “The Fire This Time,” he also bought the first volume in the Lonesome George series, “The Big Bang.”)

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No Writing Today

No Writing Today

Just research.  In fact, as much as work as I have to put into these particular novels, one of the delights of the work is the research.  What I look for in the books I read about regular people in those time (the more obscure the better) is the telling detail, the little facts or quirks or annoyances of daily living that help make that time period feel real and relatable to anyone who’s entered my story.

The joy of research is in discovering something like this:


A police officer stands next to a member of the “Black Legion,” an underground organization separated from the Ku Klux Klan and actively fought blacks, Jews and Catholics. Its members practiced ritual murder, in its ranks were more than 10,000 people. 1936”  I’d never heard of this group, and yet they were a force to be feared by some in Southern California.  As I had Orlando say in Book Three, “Hell does not appear to be limited in its ingenuity.”


I can’t recall exactly when I developed my love for history, but I am fairly certain it was learned from my father.  Dad grew up pretty damn poor in rural Florida.  My grandfather did a lot of different kinds of work to keep the family fed, and at fifteen my dad was helping out, delivering moonshine from time to time.

My father is a smart guy, and looked around at the opportunities in that little town of Stark (“perfect description of the place” he once told me), Florida and knew he needed to get out.  At 17, he joined the Air Force and changed his life.  His own story might have been the one that ingrained in me the belief we can always make ourselves and our positions better, if we’re willing to pay what it costs in time, sweat, and blood.

Regardless, some of my clearest memories are of watching movies (that were old then) on a black and white television, and listening to him tell me the stories behind the films.  Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, who in reality was really a damn fine Olympic Swimmer.  And, better than that, there were books about Tarzan, written by a guy named Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Or, when we were traveling across the United States––as one’s family was known to do when a member of the US Air Force––Dad would tell me about the settlers who’d crossed those long wide plains in covered wagons.  The paths they’d taken, the battles they’d fought against indigenous people, outlaws, even germs.  “And he loved her so much, he walked across the US to find her again.”

Man, those weren’t just random facts, those were stories of real people, folks with dreams and feelings not so different than my own.  More than that, it was about lives that had meaning and purpose, lives worthy of emulating.

Got all that from my father.  So now, when I’m reading new books (or, new-to-me books) for historical background, I often think “Dad is gonna love this one.”  And it takes me back to when I was a kid.  It’s a great feeling.   I end up setting books aside for when I’m finished with the novel, and I look forward to sending them to him so we can talk about them together.

Thanks, Dad!

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Mid-western modesty

Tends to forbid me from singing my own praises.  It’s not natural for me to tout reviews for my work.

Back in Nebraska (the Nebraska of both my youth and my imagination), understated acceptance of praise was an art form in itself, because, hell, everybody who worked the fields, everybody who had to get up before daylight to feed the animals before going to school, everybody knew the work was hard.  So when someone complimented your efforts, there had to be a touch of humility in your reply, along with a very wry acknowledgement that it was just your luck to be noticed.

“Good job getting that calf out of the well by yourself.”

“That wasn’t anything, she didn’t weigh nor more than a speckle-bottomed puppy.” Unsaid, but known by both speakers, is the fact the baby cow was the size of a Harley motorcycle.

Those midwesterners could teach a Grecian statue a thing or two about being straight-faced, but, man, they were funny folks.plowing

I will say this one thing about reviews:  over and above the ego-stroking they provide to an author, they also let us know if we really achieved what we set out to do.  Getting feedback from a stranger can be brutal (think speed-dating on national TV, with every rejection and snide comment about how far your ears stick out from the side of your head broadcast to millions), but it can also be incredibly useful.  Did I hit the mark or miss by a country-mile?  Do I sorta have a clue about what I’m doing or am I fooling myself?  Oh, look, some reader half-way across the world is going to take the time to let me know.

So, you might understand why I really appreciate this review from novelist BarbTarb.

“I simply can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s a read for the long haul, with steady pacing, characters whose spirits are torn apart and slowly painfully rebuilt, a supporting cast of three-dimensional characters who breath life and color into the tapestry. And there is the story itself, which is nothing more than an epic picture of a world between wars, as experienced on human scale through the two protagonists. The bare bones I’ve told here don’t begin to convey the wealth of detail and adventure that are woven into the twin stories of Robert and Charlotte, of what the war has cost, and of what they’ve each gained.

“It’s an incredible achievement and my only complaint this time is that I want to know what happens next.”

Well, shucks.  Guess I’d better get back to work on Book Four, then.

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“The Wrath of a Righteous Man” available today!

BTHOM3 Front Cover

The Wrath of a Righteous Man

By the Hands of Men, Book Three

The epic saga continues:  After escaping enslavement in Russia, Charlotte Braninov fights to build a new life in London while the shadow of modern fanaticism looms over Europe.  Robert Fitzgerald faithfully serves the Crown in Africa until honor compels him to risk everything to overcome an ancient evil, only to discover that the greatest war rages within himself.

Available in ebook and paperback at Amazon

 Kindle version of Book One, The Old World, free until Sunday, May 29.

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Book Blitz Giveaway

by the hands of men banner 2

Book giveaway over at TomeTender, a festive book blog that has a lot of love for both The Old World and Into the Flames and who then had a lot of fun with me while putting it together.  Check it out!


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Nice review for “The Old World”

By  book blogger “Mrs. C.” This is for By the Hands of Men, Book One, “The Old World.”


My Thoughts

About the time I discovered my grandfather’s role in WWI, I received a request from this author to review this beautiful novel set during The Great War.  Author Roy Griffis has the rare talent of writing vividly descriptive narrative which places the reader inside the scene as a nonparticipating character.  His impeccable research has allowed this novel to be compared to Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms.

This novel begins on the battlefield during the Christmas Day truce, and takes off like a bullet thereafter.  Charlotte, a nurse, physically cares for Robert, an officer, man of mystery, and eventually emotionally cares for him.  Charlotte longs for him, and he her, the only bright spot in their war.  Eventually, they part, but not their hearts.  Even in deepest despair, Robert remembers the giver of a cross he wears around his neck.

I appreciate the author sharing the graphic gore of this war without the vulgarity.  If you are a romantic, lover of history, and appreciate great writing which could be described as classic, you will enjoy this excellent work.  I have the sequel to The Old World at my side, ready to open as soon as I complete this review.  I also look forward to the third book in this series to be published this year.

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