Dark Raven: A Sneak Peak!

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Dear Readers,

Another semester looms on the horizon. Classes start on Tuesday, and I’ve been battling horrific back spasms since Thursday. Lucky me. (And this is after feeling relatively good over the break). After the incredibly taxing, in a physical sense, semester I had in the fall, I find myself terrified of what the upcoming semester will hold in store. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. But enough of that. Let’s move on to a more cheerful topic.

As I endure the painful slings and arrows of editing Molly’s Song, I’m also putting together my next project. Right now, I’m doing my own rounds of edits to Molly’s Song, and it goes off to my editor on March 16th. Fitting that, a novel about a young woman from Ireland, goes to the editor the day before Saint Patrick’s Day. Funny how that worked out! When I get it back from her, I’ll spend another couple of months working through her suggestions and then send it back in June or July for the copyedit. Right now, it looks like it will be published in the late October through early November time frame, but I might hold back for a Christmas release. But time will tell. A lot can happen between now and then.

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Editing sucks. It’s entirely necessary, but it sucks. I’m having a lot more fun working through the outline to book three, tentatively titled Dark Raven. Where to begin? How about with the title? I got the idea for the title and, indeed, for the book itself from an old Cossack folk song called Чёрный ворон, друг ты мой залётный. (Literally: Black Raven, You Are My Friend, Stranger but more accurately Black Raven: You Are My Unexpected Friend/Guest). In the song, a raven comes to visit a young woman. In his beak, he is carrying a human hand. She recognizes the hand, by a ring on one of the fingers, as belonging to her sweetheart who is off fighting in the war. Cheerful, isn’t it? You can listen to the song here if you’d like. Speaking of musical inspiration, here’s the other song that provides the basis for the latter portion of the novel. It is called Теперь все против нас. (All Is Now Against Us) It is the story of the doomed White Russian cause. It is quite haunting and you can listen to it (with subtitles) here is you’d like.

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Now that you have the lyrical inspiration, let’s talk structure. As you know if you’ve followed my blog for more than ten seconds, my favorite novel is Mikhail Sholokhov’s Тихий Дон (Quiet Flows the Don) which I opine about ad nauseam. Did I mention that my wife got me a first edition English translation for Christmas? Anyway, as I decided how I wanted to split up the story, I decided to give a tip of my papakha to my favorite writer. It will be divided into four parts called: Peace, War, Revolution, and Civil War, just as Тихий Дон is. (The similarities stop there. He won the Nobel Prize. And Sholokhov I ain’t.) In my novel, Part One: Peace covers from December 1913 to July 1914. Part Two: War covers August 1914 through December 1916. Part Three: Revolution runs from January 1917 through December 1917. And last but not least, Part Four: Civil War takes us from January of 1918 through December 1920.

This novel will cover a lot of ground, both in time and distance. Consider that my first novel So Others May Live (now available in audiobook format!) takes place over the span of 48 hours and is roughly 96K words, so one that covers seven years will be a bit on the long side. Both So Others May Live and Molly’s Song are 32 chapters long (Molly’s Song takes place over an 18 month period). Right now, I have Dark Raven plotted out to be 50 chapters. In a marked departure of how I normally do things, with each book broken into parts with equal chapters, Dark Raven is not equally divided between the four parts. It is sketched out to be 8 chapters for part one, sixteen chapters for part two, ten chapters for part three, and sixteen chapters for part four. I try to keep my chapters around 3K words, so if you are doing the math, you’ll see that comes to 150K. Longer than either of my first two books. But I think there is a rule that Russian literature or literature about Russia has to be long!

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Length aside, it is a fairly simple story. It opens with a chance encounter at a Christmas ball, the last before the war sweeps away everything. Count Vladimir Ivanovitch Lavrov (Volodya) a young, cocky officer in the Chevalier Guards meets Yevgenia Nikolaevna Kutuzova (Zhenya). Their lives are forever intertwined from that moment on, through war, revolution, and civil war. From the salons of pre-war Saint Petersburg to the bloody battlefields of World War One to the frozen tundras of Siberia, this book will take you on an adventure. (Plotting it has already been an adventure, so writing it will be too). The dedication will be the following: “To Maria, my guardian angel. Я люблю тебя, мой голубоглазый ангел.”

And speaking of Maria Nikolaevna, she will have a cameo appearance in the novel at a couple of spots when her path crosses with one of the characters. A couple of posts ago, I shared a link to a video I made about her. However, yesterday I went the whole hog and put together a new EPIC one! It’s eleven and half minutes long and has a ton of photos, historical video, and a three song soundtrack. Check it out here if you’d like! I have a ton of photos of her in my office (and only two of my wife). I had a student look at one of them and say, “Is that your wife?” to which I replied, “I wish.” In my defense though, my wife has a history crush on Manfred von Richthofen and has more pictures of him on her desk than of me…and also a Red Baron action figure. So there’s that.

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I spent a good chunk of time over the Christmas Break in preparation for writing this weighty tome. It’s funny, actually. The first week of the break, my wife was still in school, and so I spent five days alone. From the time I got up, the only language I heard was Russian as I watched some documentaries and listened to some Russian language audiobooks. At night, my dreams were in Russian. The most amusing part was when my wife got home one day and started talking to me and I answered her in Russian (which she doesn’t speak). I guess they call that immersion? The way I see it, given my affinity for Russian literature and the Russian language, I guess it was only a matter of time before I tackled writing a Russian epic.

As I type, I realize that this post is reaching a length that Tolstoy would no doubt approve of! Dark Raven will be written over the late spring and summer, though I may start earlier since I pretty much have everything I need to get started. Oh, remember when I mentioned that my wife got me a first edition of Тихий Дон for Christmas? That wasn’t all. She also got me a complete set of commemorative postcards issued in the Soviet Union in 1974, still in the original package, that coincided with the release of a two volume illustrated edition (which I already have). And…my favorite part…a shirt which says “This guy loves Aksinia Astakhova!” (The main female character in the book).

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Until next time, comrades, I will leave you with a line from the song mention above, All Is Now Against Us, which sets the tone for this novel: “We don’t have a place in this Russia mad from pain/And God no longer hears us whether we call on him or not.”

L.H.

 

 

I’m Going On Tour! (Sort Of)

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Dear Readers,

I am pleased to announce that I’ll be doing a virtual book tour to coincide with the release of the audiobook version of So Others May Live. Along the way, I’ll make virtual stops at a several websites where you can find author interviews, soundbites, character profiles, and character interviews. It should be fun! The tour will run from Feb. 20 – 26. Book mark this page and you can join in the fun when the tour commences. If you’ve got friends that like WW2 and/or historical fiction, invite them to partake in the festivities.

L.H.

How I Learned to Love the Cold War!

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Dear Readers,

I am a child of the Cold War. Born in the late 70s, my early years coincided with deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. (Able-Archer 83, anyone?) I remember being told in elementary school about how the Russians wanted to invade the United States, kill our parents, and force us to be communists. What a thing to tell little kids! I was not one to buy into the propaganda, because even as a kid I realized that the odds were pretty high that the Soviet government was telling its citizens the same things about us. Still, it did seem a bit naughty when many years later, as an adult, I learned to speak and read Russian.

I loved the Olympics during the Cold War. In fact, they’ve kind of sucked ever since the Soviet Union broke up. I mean, we had the perfect good guy/bad guy dynamic! If the American beat the Russian, it meant democracy was better than communism, right? The post-Cold War Olympics seem to lack that panache. I remember one time, I got sent to my room during the medal ceremony in which a Russian was getting the gold medal because I opined that the music to the Soviet anthem was a bit more stirring than the American one.

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With the deteriorating international situation of the present, I thought I might re-visit this bygone era when you knew exactly who your enemy was, what their intentions were, and their capabilities. In hindsight, it seems like it was such a simple time, though, of course, it wasn’t. So without further delay, I present you with my favorite Cold War fiction and movies. However, I write this with a giant caveat. This only includes things from MY lifetime. (Late 70s until the end of the Cold War). So yes, I know I’m leaving out quite a bit.

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The world came very, very close to nuclear annihilation in 1983. A lot of people don’t realize that. And late that year, November 20th to be exact, ABC treated the American people with a no holds barred glimpse of what that kind of war would be like. (Spoiler Alert: It would be bad.) The Day After shocked and even horrified the American public. ABC and their local affiliates even set up special 1-800 numbers with  counselors standing by to talk to those traumatized by the movie. The scene in which missiles streak overhead at the University of Kansas stadium haunt me just as much today as it did in 1983. And the good news, Dear Reader, is that you can watch the whole movie on YouTube here! Go ahead! Get your Mutually Assured Destruction on. (The Brits made their own version of this movie called Threads for you true Cold War junkies.)

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Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer who, during the Cold War days served as a Foreign Area Officer specializing in the Soviet Union, which made him the perfect person to write a novel about a Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany. Coming out in 1989, this book was a late addition to the Cold War bookshelf. Told entirely from the Soviet point of view, it represents a departure from the usual “Rah! Rah! Go Murica!” that was the norm in Cold War fiction. Peters understood that if such an invasion happened, assuming that it remained conventional, the Soviet’s could win. That does that mean that they would. But it was not a foregone conclusion that they could be stopped before reaching the Rhine River (without resorting to the use of tactical nuclear weapons). Incidentally, this is the first audiobook I ever listened to. The library had it on cassette tapes and I listened to it during the summer of 1991. The book definitely will make you think, though it is quite dated now.

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WOLVERINES!!!!!!! If you watch Red Dawn now, it is the typical 1980s movie, complete with bad acting and big hair. It was a controversial film when it came out though. The Russians had invaded Afghanistan, which is referenced in the movie as they patterned their invasion of the US on the way they entered Afghanistan. Now, today the idea of Russian paratroopers dropping from the sky is a bit far-fetched, but it wasn’t back then. The movie is definitely one to inspire the public with its image of teenagers going toe to toe with the mighty Red Army, but the filmmakers didn’t produce a movie with no bad times either. Our teenage guerillas suffer heavily during the scope of their personal war. I would not say that Red Dawn is at the same level of greatness as Casablanca, but it is still a good movie when set against the lens of the time in which it was made.

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Harold Coyle is a former Army officer and a fine author of military fiction. His first novel, Team Yankee, published in 1987 stands beside Red Army as a well written depiction of how a war in Europe might have played out. I was twelve in 1990 when I read Team Yankee for the first time. Unlike Red Army which depicts all levels of the Red Army, Team Yankee focuses on one American tank company and we see the war unfold through their eyes. In a way, it allows you to develop more of a feel for the characters that way, but this isn’t really a character driven novel. It’s pure military fiction and focuses on the action. It can be read alongside Red Army to see things from each perspective.

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Not content to merely depict the aftermath of a nuclear war, ABC also produced a miniseries in 1987 which shows what life would have been like in the United States under Soviet occupation. Though mostly lost to history, the miniseries is called Amerika. I remember when it was being advertised on TV. I was nine years old and really wanted to watch it, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t able to view it until around the Spring of 2001 when I rented it on VHS tape. One of the first scenes shows Kris Kristofferson and my first thought was, “What’s he going to do? Bad sing to the Russians?” All thirteen episodes are available on YouTube here, but only the most hardened Cold War enthusiasts should try and watch it. Though I think it is an important reflection of the fears of the time, I would not call it great television or great drama.

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I would be remiss if I did not end with the greatest skating rink song of all time; 99 Luftballons. When you listen to it, you can just see the strobe lights! The German language hit was actually a song written in protest of the existence of nuclear weapons in Europe. Check out the original music here and you can really pick up on that, even if you don’t speak German. I think this song is THE quintessential 80s tune. Popular culture is and always has been a reflection of the state of the world, and this 1983 hit illustrates not only the fear of nuclear war, but also the possibility that an innocuous event such as releasing balloons might trigger someone pushing the button.

As this post only reflects the bits of the Cold War from my own life, I am leaving out quite a bit. Please rest assured that I have read Alas Babylon and consider it a fine book. Likewise, Tomorrow by Philip Wylie is top notch as well. And if you want a War of the Worlds type broadcast of an impending nuclear attack, check out the “The Last Broadcast” which is a recording of a fiction Canadian radio station broadcasting about an unfolding crisis which results in a nuclear war. You can find it here. Or perhaps you’d like to see a fake documentary about a war that never happened? You can do that here.

I remain, as always, your humble таварыш,

L.H.

More Than a Summer Fling

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History Crush: when one, usually a student of history, develops a crush on a figure from the past, usually dead, based on photos of the person or on reading about them.

Dear Readers,

I have stated before that I have a history crush on Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova. I think I’ve even hinted at when it started, but I don’t think I’ve ever told the full story about how she came to be my history and also my guardian angel. It’s not an overly long story, though I assume that by telling it I will open myself up to accusations of being crazy. Trust me, that ship has already sailed. So here we go.

I was around thirteen years old when news broke here in the United States that the Russians announced they had found the location of the graves of the Romanov family and their retainers killed by the Bolsheviks in the summer of 1918. (Well, all but two of the family members. Those graves would be found in 2007). At that point in my life, I didn’t know much about Russia other than what they told us about the country in school during the Cold War. I did know that there had been a Tsar there and then a revolution, but that was about it. During the course of the news story, they showed pictures of the royal Tsar, then Tsarina, and then each of the children.

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When the photo of Maria appeared on the screen, I had an instant sense that I knew or had known all about her, which is odd because I didn’t. Little details, like the color of her eyes being blue, came to mind. Some people don’t believe in love at first sight, which is fine, but I think it depends on the individual. I’ve been in love with my wife since the first time I laid eyes on her. Almost thirty years have gone by since that day, and Maria still owns a piece of my heart. (What’s left of it, that is.)

That explains the history crush, so why do I say she’s my guardian angel? I don’t want to go into great detail, but I will say that in perhaps the roughest spot I’ve been in during my life and career, she appeared to me and pointed the way to safety. I’m still alive, and so I figure she must be watching over me from above.

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My blue eyed angel 

I’m an Irish Catholic boy, and the Catholic Church frowns on icons. There was a big controversy about that a thousand years ago. So don’t report me to the Pope when I say this! Maria, like her family, were canonized eventually by the Russian Orthodox Church. I keep an icon of her on my wall at home and another on my desk at work. Furthermore, I wear a Russian orthodox cross rather than a Catholic one. Because she is a Saint in the Russian Orthodox tradition, I can talk to her in my darkest hours just like I can the Catholic saints. Maria and my homeboy Saint Michael keep me safe.

Maybe when my body finally wears out, my spirit can float back in time to Petrograd right before the Revolution to a ball in the Winter Palace, and I could work up the courage to ask Maria for a dance. That would be a grand thing indeed.

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Maria (L) and Anastasia (R)

If you visit my Facebook page, you can find a folder called “History Crush” which has one hundred of so photos of Maria that I’ve collected. Or you can watch a tribute video I made here .

Happy New Year to you all!

L.H.

(P.S.: My German wife has a history crush on Manfred von Richthofen and has more pictures of him on her desk at work than she does of me. Just saying…)

Audiobook Release!

 

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Dear Readers,

Just in time to ring in the new year, the audiobook version of So Others May Live is now out! You can find it on Audible here. And even if you’ve already read it, listening to it will be a whole new experience. My narrator did an amazing job. It’s like listening to an old radio drama. You can listen to a sample below:

Have a safe New Year’s Eve!

L.H.

Mi Vida Loca: My 2019 Year in Review

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Well, Dear Readers, it’s time for my third annual Year in Review blog post. (If you are new, you can check out 2017 here and 2018 here).  Time has sailed by since I wrote the last one on New Year’s Eve, 2018. Yet here we are. I called the 2018 post “The Wildest Ride Yet” given my long hospital stays and surgeries in the winter/spring of the year. Buckle up though, because 2019 was just as crazy. We’ll tackle it in chronological order, as that way makes the most sense to me.

In my 2018 post, I ended by discussing the Red Sox winning the World Series and opining about my Saints chances of winning the Super Bowl. Well, as we all know, they were derailed by the worst no call in NFL history (as if we need any more proof that the NFL is rigged….). But I digress.

The year started out with a very big bang, one that I could have really done without. On January 7th, I fell while in the bathroom. Landing in a seated position (and keep in mind, I’m 6’4 so that’s a long way down), I immediately knew something was wrong. The next morning, when I woke up, I was in excruciating pain (worse that I normally am from my pre-existing back injuries). I was afraid I’d broken my tailbone. After about a week, I went to see my GP. He did some x-rays of my tailbone and my lumbar spine and said everything was fine. But the pain didn’t go away.

The same week, I had to teach a professional development course at the college using my cane and the wall for balance. People said it went well, but I was hurting too bad to know if they were bullshitting me or not. And then the semester started. I had a great schedule, and was able to actually use the office I moved into in December as I started teaching two days a week at the campus where my office is. (My college has three campuses). But Jesus Christ and General Jackson! I was hurting bad.

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Finally in February I broke down and went to see my orthopedic surgeon. He ordered an MRI and told me that when I fell, I’d suffered a compression fracture of the L3 Vertebrae. (My other problems are at the L4/5 and L5/S1 levels). There wasn’t much I could do other than let it heal on its own. I did have a series of injections that helped some, and by late March, most of the pain had returned to normal. At that time, I was also serving on a hiring committee and so I had a lot of very long/late days at the college. But I soldiered on.

While all this was going on, I was also working on publication of my novel. I finished my final round with my editor in mid-January. Then I set the book aside to focus on school stuff for most of February. In March, I sent it out for formatting and cover design. I ended up with a kick ass cover, that’s for sure. On March 29th, the book hit the virtual storefront as an eBook, paperback, and hard cover. It’s a strange feeling to hold your book in your hands for the first time. Rather like holding your firstborn child. This was the culmination of 18 months of work and the help/support of lots of people, including you, Dear Reader.

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The semester ended without much fanfare and, unlike 2018, I didn’t have to have a major surgery as soon as it was over. I had been kicking around an idea for a second novel but wasn’t sure about it. And then I found my inspiration. While looking at some photographs taken of prostitutes in the 19th Century, I came across one in particular that really grabbed me. As I gazed at the young woman in the photo, the lyrics to Runaway Train by Soul Asylum came to mind which is odd because that was never a favorite song of mine.

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Now, initially, the book was supposed to be quite different than how it turned out. The original manuscript followed two viewpoints. I knocked out a steady 3K words (one chapter) a day and soon I had 2/3rds of the book written. Then it hit me! In that form, the book would have an unworkable conclusion. I decided to ditch one of the viewpoints and focus on the Irish immigrant turned prostitute instead. This necessitated a complete re-writing, as in starting over from scratch, but from the ashes of the initial draft, Molly’s Song emerged.

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My happy place.

I made good progress at first, but eventually I got sidetracked and, to be honest, a bit exhausted from it. At this point I had written, between both drafts, around 140,000 words over the course of consecutive days. I decided to take a couple of days off to recharge my batteries, but two days turned into a week and then a week and a half. Before I knew it, I’d hit mid-July and it was time to teach my Summer 2 courses. So Molly’s Song went on the shelf for what I thought would be a short time, but it turned out to be a lot longer that that.

My Summer 2 schedule wasn’t bad. I taught a 1301 course followed immediately by a 1302 course. I was in class from basically 10:30 to 2:30 Monday through Friday. I’d leave the house around 9 and get home around 3:30. In a way, it was a good warm up for the fall semester. Summer classes always seem to be good as they tend to be a bit smaller and have motivated students. I think it was in the second week of class when tragedy struck the family. My cousin Marty died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. My wife and I made the drive home for the funeral which was standing room only, a testament to the impact he had on the lives of all who knew him. While there, I stopped by a visited the grave of my grandparents and left a copy of my book for them. This was the first time I’d visited the grave since we buried my grandfather in 2009. A few days after we got back home, I got word that a friend from back in the day had also passed.

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Rest easy, Marty.

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The copy I left for my grandparents

Indeed, the hits just wouldn’t stop coming. I still remember the day quite clearly. It was Sunday, July 28th around 4:30 pm. I was sitting on my front porch, as I like to do for short periods in the summer. I felt a slight twinge in my left knee while sitting down. When I went to stand up, my entire left leg had locked up and I could barely walk. The problem, Dear Readers, is that any change in my walk from stiff knees, etc, puts me in excruciating pain as it throws off my balance, thus affecting my spinal injuries. Difficult doesn’t begin to describe the rest of my summer as I had to hobble to class and back home again. To top it off, on August 14th, my 41st birthday, I broke my pinkie (again) when I tried to grab something that was falling off the podium in the classroom in the middle of a final exam. I finally got in to see a knee specialist on August 19th and, though I wasn’t overly impressed with having to wait two hours for a ten minute consultation, I did get a prescription for a steroid cream and also a lidocaine cream that I use, though the knee pain itself never truly went away.

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This is what I look like on a bad day

There was some good news this summer though. So Others May Live won the War & Military category of the American Fiction Awards and is currently shortlisted for the Goethe Award in post 1750s Historical Fiction. In addition, the audiobook was completed in the fall and should be available for purchase sometime after the first of the year. So that’s something to look forward to, at least. There are two more awards that it is being considered but they won’t be decided until June of 2020, by which time I’ll be working on my third book.

Now we arrive at the start of the fall semester. In Service week passed with little fanfare. I attended two professional development sessions, both good. The department/division meetings went as they always do, as did convocation. Normally, I am excited to start each new semester, but this one I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. Since mid-summer, my own mind had spiraled into a black whole of nightmares, despair, and general darkness. That coupled with how much pain I was in signaled what I knew would be a rough semester. And it was. For the first time in my post-injury teaching career, I had to leave work early due to pain (on two different occasions). Given that I suffer in total silence every second of every day, for me to admit defeat and go home should tell you how rough it has been. There were several times over the ensuing months where I seriously doubted my ability to make it to the end of the semester physically.

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Two things kept me going. My students, as they always do, and my co-workers. From keeping me distracted by talking to me about anything but pain to asking how I was feeling when I looked particularly rough, I made it through the semester because of them. I also decided, for the first time in five years, that given my mental state I needed to seek counseling again, which I did. I wish I could say that my pain has diminished, but it hasn’t. I am having a few good days every now and then, which is excellent, but my good days now are what my bad days used to be, and that makes me fear the future.

My wife asked me if I would mind if she went to visit her sister over Thanksgiving, as that would leave me home alone for several days. I said no, as I had plans of my own. What I had, Dear Readers, was a date with Molly. For four consecutive days (11/27-11/30), I did nothing but write. As soon as I woke up, I’d gulp down some cereal and a cup of coffee before hurrying over to the computer. Other than three breaks during the day, I’d write up until it was time to get in bed. Over that four day period, including Thanksgiving Day, I did not leave the house, did not shave, and did not shower. I did nothing but write (while suffering severe back spasms and knee pain, of course). Finally, that Saturday, I emerged with a complete manuscript. I’m not sure exactly how much I wrote, but it was something like 24K words. Obviously, there is still editing and revisions to be done. I have a lot of work to do before it goes off to my editor in March for a content edit with a copyedit to follow in July, but it should be published mid to late fall of 2020. Originally I was hoping to have it out in the Spring of 2020, but alas, life had other plans.

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The completed draft

On November 29th, I received the audio proofs for So Others May Live. I binge listened to it (with Anastasia’s help, of course) and it is presently going through Audible quality control and should be out shortly after the first of the year. Even if you’ve read the book, I urge you to give it a listen too, as it is almost like listening to a radio drama given the talents of the narrator. When Christmas Break arrived, I had my regularly scheduled Sharpe’s Rifles marathon at the very beginning, and then turned to binge watching episodes of Cold Case on my wife’s Roku stick. (The series isn’t available in any other format owing to royalty issues connected with the music). And, of course, New Year’s Eve and Day will be spent in my annual Twilight Zone marathon courtesy of the SyFy channel. It’s been my tradition since I no longer have to work holidays. Also, over my break, I taught myself how to edit videos so that I could make one for my wife for Christmas. It tells the story of our relationship. You can find it here. Naturally, I also had to make one for my history crush as well. That video can be found here.

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So what’s on tap for 2020? Well, I don’t much care for the “new year, new me” crap. I’m not setting any personal goals, as each year brings me more complications from my injuries and more health issues. That isn’t going to change. However, I do like to set professional goals. I have three for 2020.

  1. Edit Molly’s Song
  2. Publish Molly’s Song
  3. Write the first draft of Dark Raven

And, Dear Readers, if you truly want to start the New Year off the right way, start watching the 1970 film Waterloo at exactly 10:08:45 (pm) on New Year’s Eve and as the clock strikes midnight, Wellington will say, “Now Maitland! Now’s your time!”

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Anastasia still keeps watch over me

And now, as the year draws to a close and a new one begins, I would just like to say thank you to all of my friends, both old and new, and my readers. I wish all of you the best in 2020. I don’t know how many years that I have left, but I think that 2019 will go down as being one of the most momentous of my life.

L.H.

A Different Path

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Dear Readers,

I have, on occasion, been asked if I had not entered the fire service as a young man, what I would have done for a career. Admittedly, during my years on the job, I saw my share of challenging situations and had my own close calls, I never faced the ultimate challenge. The reason why my research focuses on firefighters in war zones is precisely because I never worked in one myself. A fact, I hasten to add, that I do not regret as I am lucky to have grown up in a place where such things don’t happen. However, there is a small part of me that wonders if I could have done it. Could I have worked in Berlin during World War Two? Or London during The Blitz. Belfast during The Troubles. Or more current conflict zones like Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine and Syria. The answer is that I don’t know.

To return to the original question, though, there was a second career plan should the fire service not pan out. Had I not been able to secure employment in the fire service, I wanted to be a journalist. I was torn between a print journalist and a photojournalist. I had no desire to work in television. To be more specific, I would have wanted to go to work either as a freelancer or for the AP or Reuters and report from conflict zones around the world. Ideally, I’d find a war going on somewhere that the rest of the world is ignoring and go there to cover it. Would it be dangerous? Yes. Frustrating? Certainly. Rewarding? Possibly.

I guess part of the reason that this appealed to me was from watching news coverage from places like Sarajevo and Grozny during the 1990s. That said, I’m a better writer than I am a speaker, and so you’d not find me in front of the television cameras. If I had my life to live all over again, would I go down this path? Probably not. I’d stick to the fire service. However, if I get to have another life after this one, it is what I’ll most likely do. I’m happy with the way my life turned out, so I have no regrets about not pursuing this career. Sometimes, though, I do wonder what my life would have been like if I had.

Then again, maybe I was just born with a death wish.

L.H.