Quick Update


And as I work, a photo of my Mashka watches over me.

Dear Readers,

I will not be posting a weekly pandemic journal on Thursday as I have been doing for the past nine weeks or so. With the disruption caused by the electrical repairs to the house which start today, I won’t have consistent power inside to type each day’s entry. (We are replacing the entire electrical system, all the wiring, breaker panel, etc). Also, today I start working on my third novel, tentatively titled Dark Raven and set in Imperial Russia through the war, revolution, and civil war. My history crush Maria Nikolaevna, my Mashka, will be making a cameo appearance at one point in the story. I’m starting the first draft out by writing by hand due to the electrical work.

So to tide you over until I post again, here are a couple of links to the two songs that inspired this novel. The first one you can listen to here. And the second one is here.

Until next time friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.


So Others May Live Named A Finalist!


Dear Readers,

Allow me to make a brief announcement. I am chuffed to announce that my first novel, So Others May Live, has been named a finalist in the War & Military category of the 2019 Foreward Indies Awards! You can see the announcement and the list of my co-finalists here. If you are suffering from boredom during our current situation, consider reading one of their books. I particularly suggest No Common War by Luke Salisbury. It’s a novel set during the Civil War and is a very good story. The winner will be announced later, June, I think, and I wish all of the others (in every category) the best of luck.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.

(From a distance of six feet)


A Writing Update


Dear Readers,

I hope all of you are safe from the Coronavirus. The Friday was closed on Friday because of a conference (that I did not go to), and so I managed to get quite a bit accomplished. I finished my third round of edits to Molly’s Song and now she is ready to go to my editor on March 16th. Next, I tackled finishing the final pieces of the outline for my third novel, Dark Raven. Given that this one will be longer than my others, I may not have time to write the entire first draft in between the end of the spring semester and the start of the Summer 2 semester. With that in mind, I decided that I would knock out the first part over Spring Break which is the week after next. However, with time on my hands yesterday, I went ahead and banged out the first draft of Chapter One. I figured it wouldn’t hurt.


Everything I do is done under the watchful eye of Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Anastasia Colleen Hutchison.

Have a pleasant week, friends.


The Angel and the Smoke Eater: The Strange Tale of What Happened to Me One Afternoon


(The names of my colleagues have been changed to protect the guilty. I mean, innocent.)

I was upstairs getting a cup of coffee when the run came in. My heartbeat accelerated when I heard three beeps over the loudspeaker, the signal for an incoming box alarm. There was a bit of static, and then the dispatcher read off the assignment “Battalion One, Engines 1, 3, 5, and 8. Ladders 1 and 3. Rescue 1. Medic 5. Respond on Box 1342. Heavy box assignment. Fire in a commercial building. Time out: 1426.”

I dumped my coffee in the sink and sat the cup down on the counter before making my way over to the pole. As I opened the gate and wrapped my arms around it, the captain and Griffin came out of the day room and angled towards the other pole. The pole gave its customary squeak as I slid down to the ground floor. Paddy, our E/O on Engine 1 (that means engineer/operator…the guy who drives) already had the motor running as I kicked off my shoes and stepped into my boots. Reaching down, I grabbed the pants and pulled them up, shrugging my suspenders over my shoulder as I climbed into the cab. I kept my coat on the rear facing jump seat behind the driver, which was my riding position. Paddy gave a long burst on the air horn as we pulled out of the station. I put hood on and then my coat. Since we were dispatched to what, as far as we knew, was a working fire, I pulled my hood down, off of my head, put my mask on, and then pulled my hood back over it. Testing the seal with my left hand, I dropped my helmet on my head with my right before threading my arms through the straps of the air pack. Then I put on my gloves.

“Dispatch said they are confirming stills, boys,” the captain yelled over his shoulder to Griffin and I.

Through his mask, I could see Griffin grin. He shot me the bird and yelled, “Fuck you, asshole!”, though his voice was muffled. Why the epithet? Earlier in the shift, he’d beaten me at a game of Madden on the PlayStation 2 and our bet was that the winner got to take the nozzle at the next fire. “Kiss my ass!” I yelled back, but I don’t think he heard me.

The Box Number was in our first due, and we pulled up right behind the Battalion Chief. As we climbed out of the rig, I heard him say, “Battalion One to Fire Alarm, transmit a 10-75 on Box 1342. Show all companies working.” I took a couple of deep breaths to slow my pulse as I opened a side compartment and got an ax and a halligan bar. Obviously, we in this line of work know that fires are bad for the victims, but we can’t help but get excited by them, especially since they don’t happen as often as they once did.

The building was a squat blue square with boarded up windows. It had been a bar for a couple of decades, but had closed a few years before when the owner got sent to prison for touching children inappropriately. A thick carpet of smoke pushed down from the eaves of the roof, which told us that something was definitely burning inside and, given the shuttered nature of the place, it was gonna be an oven in there.

While the captain had a brief word with the Battalion Chief, Griffin shouldered the attack line and stretched it towards the door, moving in a zig zag pattern. I followed behind him and flaked out the hose. The captain joined us at the door as Griffin sat the hose on the ground and took the halligan bar from me. Placing it with the prongs over the lock in the crease of the door, I tapped it a few times with the butt of the ax until the locked gave way with a crunch. We pulled the door open and felt the heat slap us in the face as smoke rolled out over our heads.

As we plugged our masks into the SCBA tank, the Captain signaled to Paddy to charge the line by raising his right arm and waving it in a circular motion. The hose suddenly came alive as Griffin bled out some of the water from the nozzle.

“Alright, you mick bastards,” the captain said, “let’s go find her and put her out.”

We advanced into the darkness of the building with Griffin on the nozzle, the captain directly behind him with his hand on the top of Griffin’s air pack. I followed several feet back. My job as the third man on the line was to help feed them slack on the hose. A charged fire hose is heavier than you might think. Every few feet, I’d stop, turn around facing the way we’d come in, and pull more hose in after me, grunting with the effort.

I don’t know how much time passed, or how far I’d gotten into the building. It was hotter than hell in there. Somehow, and I’m still not sure exactly how it happened, but I lost my connection with the hose. No big deal, I thought. I felt around with my hand trying to find it, but my fingers felt nothing but floor. Okay. That’s not good. But it’s not a major thing, I told myself. Deciding to move in a circle so that I could eventually cross the line and regain my place, I crawled around waving both arms back and forth along the floor. Nothing. I yelled as loud as I could for Captain or Griffin, but they did not hear me.

This happened back in the day before every firefighter carried a radio, and our department had also not issued us PASS devices, so I truly was on my own. Never one to panic, I straightened out and crawled in a line. I figured that I would hit a wall at some point, and could follow it to a door. There was all sorts of obstacles that I kept bumping into. Chairs, tables, etc. The smoke had pushed down so low that there was no visibility. And this is when I started to panic. My breathing sped up which started to run my tank down even faster. There I was, on my hands and knees, staring down at the floor. I knew I was dead. My mind projected images of a big department funeral with bagpipes and hundreds of uniformed firefighters. To make it worse, my mask started to buzz with the low air alert. I had only minutes to get out, but how? Which way should I go? Reflexively, I started to say Hail Maryfull of GraceThe Lord is with thee

And then it happened. What I’m about to tell you is true, though you may think I’m crazy(er). I assure you, however, that it did indeed happen.

I felt hands cupping my chin through my mask. They lifted my head up and I found myself looking into the bright, big blue eyes of Maria Nikolaevna. Now, those of you who follow my blog will know that I first encountered photos of her when I was around 13 and that I was somewhat captivated by her. She was bending down, with her face level with mine. There was a bright…I don’t know…aura around her and I could see her despite not being able to see much of anything else.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I will protect you.”

I stared dumbly at her without knowing what to say or do. Part of me thought I was already dead and dreaming. She straightened up and took a step back, extending her hand down to me.

“Take my hand,” Maria said in a clear, calm voice.

Well shit, I thought. It ain’t like I got any other options here. So I held up my hand and she took hold of it. I remember thinking that she had an impressive grip as she gently, but firmly, pulled me to my feet. I pause here, Dear Reader, to saythat by standing up inside a building filled with smoke, heat, and fire gases, my mask should’ve failed and I should’ve gotten a lungful of superheated air, which would have killed me, but I felt no heat at all.

“Come with me,” she said as she turned and led me into the smoke. I could see nothing but her, as if the smoke itself parted around her. After a very short walk, Maria paused and pushed open a door. I could see bright sunlight outside and Engine Five parked on the side of the building.

Maria let go of my hand and stepped aside, out of the doorway. Then she put her right hand on my air pack and gave me a push toward the light. Right as I reached the door frame, she took hold of my shoulder, stood on her toes, and whispered the words that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

“I will always watch over you,” she said. “Always.”

As I walked out the door, my mask ran dry. I disconnected it from the SCBA tank, pulled my helmet off, and the ripped the mask off. Ahead of me, Jack, the E/O of Engine Five was looking at me with a puzzled expression on his face. I walked up to him and asked for a cigarette. I should have immediately gone to find the Battalion Chief to report that I’d gotten separated so that he could let my Captain know I’d made it out, but you aren’t always in peak mental form when something like this happens.

My hands were shaking so bad that I couldn’t light the cigarette, so Jack did it for me. As I inhaled he said, “Can I ask you something, Hutch?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Who was that lady in the doorway with you?”

I looked at him for a full minute before I said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Jack shrugged and said, “I won’t say anything else about it.”

And now, Dear Readers, I will say that it is up to you whether or not you believe this tale. But I know what I saw in that building on that day. Strange things happen in fires. I’ve heard stories of dead loved ones appearing to lead civilians to safety. Firefighters have spoken of angels or Saint Florian guiding them out of situations in which they are trapped. In my case, it was Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova. My blue eyed angel.


Dark Raven: A Sneak Peak!


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.


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.


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!


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.

White Russians

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).


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.”




Mi Vida Loca: My 2019 Year in Review


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Rest easy, Marty.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!”


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.


Christmas Break

antique radio 1.jpg945ed278-f107-4993-b383-7368f1b34841Large

Dear Readers,

The nice think about teaching college is the generous amounts of time off. My fall semester ended with little fanfare on Dec. 12th. I do not have to report back until January 14th, with students to follow on the 21st. I’m teaching a professional development session to faculty on the 14th, so I do have to spend some time working on that, but the rest of the month is mine to use or waste as I see fit. Obviously, I have my Sharpe’s marathon to keep me occupied for a bit. But I’m also attempting a new writing venture.

As I’ve said quite a few times, I’m a big fan of Old Time Radio programs. Sadly, these are a thing of the past in the US, though in the UK, new shows are produced and air every year. The BBC hosts an International Playwriting Competition in which the challenge is to write an original 53 minute radio drama script. Given my enthusiasm for the spoken word over the airwaves, I have decided to give the competition a go. The deadline is 31 January, though I hope to have my play finished by New Year’s Day. At the time of this typing, I am 20% done with it. As it has to be formatted a script and not a manuscript, it is slow going. But I’m making steady progress. Is it any good? Who knows? That’s for the judges to decide.

It’s not all typing though. There’s plenty of time to play Napoleon: Total War, which I like to play while I’m having my Sharpe’s Marathon. And, when the Sharpe movies are finished, well, then we have the 8 Hornblower movies to follow! On New Year’s Eve, I’ll be watching the epic 1970 film Waterloo. If you start the film at a precise time, then as the clock strikes midnight, you’ll hear Lord Wellington shout, “Now Maitland! Now’s your time!” That’ll start 2020 off the right way!


November, November


Dear Readers,

November is my least favorite month of the year. It’s that point in the fall semester where, though the end is in sight, paperwork, grading, and emails tend to pile up. It’s also the month where we get our first cold spells of the year. As I type this, what we call in Texas a “norther” is on its way. Tomorrow the high will be in the 70s before plummeting 30 degrees in a matter of hours. And Tuesday? Best not to think about that as our low will hover near freezing. The cold is very hard on my damaged spine, and it makes me very stiff, swollen, and in pain. But at least I have a heating pad, right?

November is also National Novel Writing Month which I have taken part in from time to time. I’ve only ever won it once, and that is when I finished So Others May Live two years ago….that’s right two years! I finished the first draft the day before Thanksgiving, 2017, and then ended up in the hospital Thanksgiving night, the first of many visits during that nightmare nine months of surgeries and accompanying misery. Of course, editing, cover design, etc, took time, and so that’s why the book wasn’t published until March 29, 2019. The problem with National Novel Writing month is that you go into it with high hopes of success, and then feel like an abject failure if you can’t get 50K words written by November 30th. Or at least I feel that way.

That said, I do not need 50K words to finish Molly’s Song, and I hope to have the first draft done by the end of the month. Then it’s time for my own edits before it goes off to my editor in March for the first pass, copyedit in July, and I hope to have it out next fall. That’s about six months behind where I originally anticipated releasing it, but still, it’ll go from first draft to print in just over a year, which is faster than my first book. Let’s hope, anyway. As I am well aware, life has a funny way of interfering with our best laid plans.

Though I am plotting my third novel, which I will start writing in May, I actually have a smaller project lined up for December. A short-ish noir novel set in a fictitious town in Texas during the Great Depression. (I am a huge fan of both film noir and noir writing, so it is an experiment I want to try). Since this will come in at around 60K, I can get it written during the month off between semesters.

So I’ll keep muddling along and counting down the days until the semester ends and I can go back to living the full time writer’s life for a month.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Remember the….what?


Dear Readers,

When I was a baby, I took my first steps in front of the Alamo in San Antonio. My grandparents lived on Alamo Avenue in Port Arthur. I watched every Alamo movie that was available at the time (usually while wearing a coonskin cap) and had a large collection of children’s books about the siege and battle. In one of my upper level college history courses, we had to do archival research for a paper. I wrote a demographic study of the defenders of the Alamo and visited the Alamo Library to do my research. My minor was creative writing, and for my first class on the subject, my short story was about…wait for it…the Alamo. Later, in my screenwriting class, I wrote a feature length screenplay for an Alamo movie. One, I might add, which was quite a bit better than the screenplay for the 2004 Alamo film and it would have made a better movie, but I digress. When my girlfriend, now wife, and I took our first trip together as a couple, we visited San Antonio and stayed in the Crockett Hotel. She’d never seen the Alamo before, and I got to give her a tour. Though the children’s books and coonskin cap have long been put away, I still have quite a large collection of non-fiction related to the Texas Revolution and the Alamo.

Back in my undergraduate days, I often thought that one day I’d write the epic novel of the Texas Revolution. It would be a Lone Star equivalent of The Killer AngelsAll Quiet on the Western Front, or From Here to Eternity. In fact, during my junior year, I got to work as an intern at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum across the street from the campus of Sam Houston State University, and had a lot of fun talking to visitors about Texas history. Many times I’d start this novel and give it up. I’m at the point now that I know I’ll probably never get around to writing it. Molly’s Song is nearing completion, and then after that I have a tale centered around the Russian Revolution to tell. When that book is done, Molly will get two sequels as hers is part of a projected series. And then, only then, could I possibly have time to write anything set in the Texas Revolution. However, given how much time it takes me to write and edit one book, I probably won’t live long enough to get around to it. Furthermore, the great novel of this time period has already been written. Check out The Gates of the Alamo by Stephen Harrigan.

But I’ve found a way to work the Alamo into Molly’s Song. How, you ask? Angelina Dickinson was a little over one year old when she, along with her mother, survived the fall of the Alamo. Angelina had a rough life with failed marriages and rumors of prostitution. And guess who happened to be in New Orleans at the same time Molly is? That’s right! The two have a brief encounter on Canal Street in the spring of 1864, shortly before Angelina returned to Galveston. So at least there is that!

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.



An Update


Dear Readers,

I hope you enjoyed my interview. Talking about my own writing process was a lot of fun. The thing to keep in mind is that all writers have different approaches to getting a book completed. Study the writing habits of as many of your favorite writers as you can, and then pick and choose the bits that work for you and incorporate them into your own style. Some like to write in the mornings and others in the middle of the night. You know when you work best, so do that rather than try and mirror the exact same daily schedule that someone else follows.

If you live in the Greater Houston area, I cordially invite you to join me at the Deer Park Public Library at 11:00am on November 8th. I will be giving a lecture as part of their Friday Lecture Series on Ireland in World War One. (Note that I’m doing it under my real name rather than my pen name and in my full time persona as a history professor). It should be fun….or at least not boring. The topic is not without controversy, as anything in Irish History leans toward the controversial side.

This has been a rough semester. The roughest, in fact, since my original injuries in 2012. When I fell and fractured another vertebrae in January before the spring semester, I thought the horrendous pain at that time was the worst yet. However, by late March, I was back to normal and felt like I usually do. I’m in pain all the time, but the levels are usually manageable. I had a great summer and felt as good as I’ve felt since 2012. But then came August. Nothing happened to cause it, but my daily pain levels are through the roof. Whereas I once had good months and the occasional bad day, I now have bad months with the occasional good day. We are past the halfway point in the semester and I’ve only had one week where I felt relatively normal. It’s gotten so bad that for the first time ever, I had to miss a class because of it. I can see the finish line for the semester coming into view, and I’m pushing myself to get there and then use the month off to try and recuperate as best I can. Being 41 and facing another few decades of constant pain is not a cheery prospect at all. Especially since it seems to worsen with each passing year.

On a somewhat more amusing note, I am currently serving a 7 day sentence in Facebook Jail. Why? Because apparently a World War Two meme poking fun at Nazis is “hate speech”. (Though actual Nazis are allowed to post with impunity, but that’s another matter). Two friends were suspended for the same meme as well. All three of us appealed and Facebook overturned the other two suspensions, but not mine. They claim I have violated Community Standards on ten occasions which is absolutely not true….as evidenced by my Support Inbox which only has this one “violation” in it. Honestly, I’m kind of tired of Facebook anyway. If it weren’t for my cat Anastasia’s page and my Author’s page, I really wouldn’t use it at all. Once upon a time it was fun, now it’s just people arguing with one another.

My Instagram account is popping though. If you haven’t yet, go here and give it a follow! It’s got cat pictures, history memes, writing related posts, and sophomoric humor. What’s not to like? I have to behave on it though since my wife follows my account.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.