I recently was interviewed at Booksgosocial.com. They are a great bunch of people based in Dublin, Ireland who have been very helpful in promoting Unspoken Valor. Thanks to their efforts, the book was ranked #35 in the Amazon WWII genre this morning. Click here for the interview and the first few pages of the story. Hope you enjoy it.
Ghosts of the Siege, my latest novel, is an exciting ghost story that takes place in Savannah, Georgia, the most haunted city in the United States.
Unspoken Valor is a WWII tale of extreme heroism. It is often the quiet heroes make all the difference.
Noah is the tale of an aviator who crashes his aircraft in Eastern Europe and eventually discovers the Biblical Ark of Noah. It is a story of finding faith and dealing with the death of loved ones.
A Question of Character is my 2009 novel of political intrigue that asks the question, “What if the President of the United States was a murderer?”
Nikita’s War, the sequel to A Question of Character, follows the characters of “Question” as they ferret out a subversive president whose election to the nation’s highest office was the pinnacle of a Communist plot initiated in the 1950s.
Billy Buckland is a ghost!
The 14-year-old militiaman was killed during the Siege of Savannah in October, 1779. The boy’s body remained buried for over 200 years until part of it was uncovered and used as a decoration by an art student in Savannah, Georgia. Billy’s spirit comes back to find his bones and return them to a place where he could rest in peace. Befriended by a maintenance worker at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Billy learns about life in the 21st Century in one of America’s most intriguing cities. The unlikely team of 18th Century ghost and 21st Century plumber form a close friendship as they seek a way for Billy to find peace befitting one who fought to earn America’s freedom.
Ghosts of the Siege is a ghost story woven within the fabric of one of the most tragic battles fought in the American Revolution. The Siege of Savannah culminated in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, with over 800 killed or wounded. Battle descriptions are included as accurately as possible, having been taken from eyewitness accounts and military reports. The flow of the 1779 battle is presented as an “overlay” of the modern city of Savannah, so the reader can stand on current street corners or parks and say, “This is where_______really happened.”
If you love a good ghost story; if you love American history; if you love a tightly woven historical novel, you will love Ghosts of the Siege. For readers who have never travelled to Savannah, Georgia, America’s most haunted city, Billy Buckland and the other Ghosts of the Siege will definitely move the city to the top of your vacation destination list.
Ghosts of the Siege is available now at http://www.amazon.com in paperback or Kindle edition. Available soon at bookstores and other venues.
When I was young boy in the early 1950s, I was afraid of the dank, dark basement under our house. With only one bare, low wattage bulb for light, there were far too many dark corners and frightening shadows that seemed to dance on the walls and mock me as I stood at the top of the stairs looking wide-eyed into the room. There were, I had no doubt, monsters lurking behind every pile of cast off detritus that was scattered around on the bare and chronically moist concrete floor.
On those occasions when I crept into the basement on shaky legs, it was for one reason only. My dad’s Army uniform hung in one of the gloomy corners in an old wardrobe with a warped door that wouldn’t close. I used to stand in front of the wardrobe and stare in awe at that uniform jacket, wondering what those brightly colored ribbons and medals meant, and what my father did to receive them. Dad was a great man and a great father who was always very involved with his family, his church, and his community. He never spoke of what he did during World War II and would never answer questions when pressed about the subject, but his uniform tucked away in the basement proved to me at a young age that my dad was a hero.
In 1998, I was flying Dad to Florida for a deep sea fishing trip on his 75th birthday when the single engine of my airplane failed and we crash landed into a heavily wooded area on the Florida/Alabama state line. After bouncing off of a couple trees and plowing through a fence, we finally skidded to a halt and crawled out to assess the damage. Once we determined we had no significant injuries, Dad surveyed the sky for a long moment before saying, “Well, at least there weren’t any Germans up there this time!”
“This time?” My mind immediately went to that old wardrobe and his Army Air Corps uniform with those medals on the jacket. There was probably a great war story there that I would never hear because Dad simply didn’t speak of such things. His statement did give me the idea for what I hope is a great book. Unspoken Valor is my way to pay homage to my dad and the other heroes of WWII and all the other wars in which our young men have fought and died, often with no recognition of their acts of valor and meritorious service to their nation. My suspicion is that there are many heroes out there…soldiers, firemen, policemen, teachers, and others…whom we would never expect to be capable of heroism because of their quiet demeanor and attention to mundane life pursuits like church, family, Little League baseball, and other simple attempts to serve others and bring light into the world.
When Dad passed away in 2007, many at his graveside service were shocked when a United States Air Force color guard and a Scottish bagpiper showed up to honor him. We were used to seeing an honor guard from the local VFW show up for veterans’ funerals, but most had never seen a bona fide, polished, professional honor guard at any local funeral. Quite frankly, I didn’t know what prompted their attendance either, but certainly appreciated the additional solemnity they brought to the service. Naturally, my thoughts went back to the old wardrobe, the dank basement, and the uniform. There was a story there worth telling.
Maybe we should all look with a more discerning eye at the people we meet during our daily life. That disabled vet, that homeless man crouched in the alley, those parents playing with their kids in the park…they may all have performed great acts of heroism, but now live their lives in a way that makes us discount the possibility of their valor. There was certainly a quiet hero in my house. Is there one in yours?
Unspoken Valor is my tribute to Dad, but I hope it speaks for the silent heroes all around us.
This is not one of my usual hero stories unless you consider me a hero for driving through a winter storm on a highway covered with ice to get home. That may qualify as heroic…then again, it might just be stupid! In any event, I made it safely home
from Savannah, Georgia in the wee hours yesterday morning. Research is almost (never say definitely until the editors have finished slashing away at the manuscript) complete on my still-titleless Savannah ghost story. Hopefully within the next few weeks I will have both a title and a version ready to submit for publication! While in Savannah, my wife Michele and I took a city tour via the Old Town Trolley. It’s a great way to see the Savannah Historic District and learn interesting tidbits of the city’s history from the very knowledgeable and entertaining tour guides. Since I’m writing a ghost story, we also took the same company’s ghost tour, http://www.trolleytours.com/savann…/ghost-tours-savannah.asp. I didn’t see Billy Buckland, who is the protagonist/ghost in my novel, but was thoroughly entertained by the ghoulish guide who showed us many ghostly parts of the city. I highly recommend both tours when you are ready to visit Savannah!
It is possible that no one reading this blog remembers Hedwig Eva Kiesler, but she was one of the most remarkable women in history. If you are reading this via a WiFi connection; if you are using a 4G cell phone; or if you utilize Bluetooth devices in your daily routine, you can thank the brilliant Ms. Kiesler for developing the earliest technological advances that made those inventions possible. That she was a math and science wizard is without doubt. She was also the “most beautiful woman in the world,” according to MGM’s Louis B. Mayer. Born in Austria, she was married six times and entranced dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. As an actress, the young lady caused a stir throughout the world when, in 1933, she starred in a film called Ecstasy. The most popular movie in 1933 was King Kong staring Fay Wray, but the movie everyone was talking about in 1933 was the one in which Hedwig Kiesler appeared completely nude…Ecstasy. The scandalous film was banned practically everywhere, which, of course, made it more valuable and desirable. Benito Mussolini kept a copy of the film in his library, and considered it among his most valued possessions. The fact that Hedwig was a Jew who hated Nazis and Fascism only seemed to add to her allure as far as Il Duce was concerned.
“Who was this amazing woman?” I hope you are screaming by now. Here is a very abbreviated version of her story. As Hitler was beginning what he hoped would be the conquest of Europe, Hedwig was married to one of the Nazi Reich’s leading arms developers. Ms. Kiesler hated the Nazis, a fact that was not lost on her husband, who imprisoned his wife in his castle until she was able to escape in 1937. She traveled to the United States, where she met Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer. Mayer saw great potential as an actress in the beautiful young woman, and offered to make her a star of his movies on one condition. Hedwig Kiesler was already known throughout the world for her nude role in Ecstasy, and Mayer didn’t want all the negative baggage her name would bring to his studio. Upon signing a contract with MGM, Hedwig Eva Kiesler forever became known as a name more familiar to us today…Hedy Lamarr.
Hedy Lamarr appeared in more than thirty movies in her career, working with industry giants such as James Stewart, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, and Clark Gable. After being dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world by Louis Mayer, Lamarr was quoted as saying, ““Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
The actress’ more secretive life, however, proved she was anything but stupid. Inspired by three things – her hate of the Nazis, the knowledge of weapons and munitions she had gleaned from her Nazi husband, and the help of composer George Antheil, she developed a new kind of communications system that would prevent guidance systems of torpedoes from being “jammed” by German signals, and ensured they would always reach their intended targets. The musician, Anthiel, had devised a way to synchronize his melodies across twelve player pianos at once, creating a stereophonic sound that had never been heard before. Inventor Lamarr devised a way to constantly change radio frequencies to confound the enemy signals and, adapting Anthiel’s musical synchronization, to synchronize the frequency changes between a weapon’s receiver and transmitter. She and Antheil were awarded a patent for the invention in 1942. They promptly gave the patent (note “gave,” not “sold”) to the U.S. Navy. It was an invention that could have shortened the war and saved countless lives, but the Navy saw no merit to the technology, and buried the patent in a cabinet, not to be seen again for many years.
It was not until the 1960s and the Cuban Missile Crisis that some enterprising Navy researcher dusted off the old patent and discovered it offered great possibilities for keeping wireless transmissions secret from prying Russian ears. The rest, as they say, is history. As I mentioned at the beginning of this missive, if you use WiFi technology, Bluetooth, a 4G cell phone or just about any other type of wireless device, you can thank the lady who starred in a skin flick at age 20, went on to become a world-famous actress who was called “the most beautiful woman in the world,” and all the while was a math and science genius who was instrumental in designing the basis for all of the wireless technology we use today.
Ms. Lamarr became something of a recluse after her acting career waned. She never made any money from her great technological breakthrough and, even more sadly, received no personal or professional acknowledgement for the great invention for decades. Finally, in 1997, Hedy was granted an Electronic Frontier Foundation Award for her scientific work. Always quick with a sassy reply, her reaction was, “Well, it’s about time!”
So far all of my ‘hero’ stories have been about men from WWII or centuries before. This story will break that mold as I describe to you a young, modern woman whose deeds are as selfless and heroic as any I have heard. Fern Holland was a young attorney from Tulsa, Oklahoma who gave up a lucrative law practice in order to go to Africa and establish free legal clinics for abused women. These clinics provided aid to women who otherwise would have had no recourse from their sad situations.
After serving in Africa, Ms. Holland returned to the United States and was offered a very high paying position with a Washington, D.C. legal firm. At about the same time she became aware of the plight of women in Iraq, and decided to go there on a similar mission as she had done in Africa. She was soon offered a position with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and began offering legal aid in all forms to Iraqi women. Among her many achievements, she was instrumental in writing into the new Iraq Constitution the portion that requires the parliament to be composed of at least 25% women. She also aided in individual cases of abuse, cases of property disputes in which women previously had no legal clout, and many other areas which were often areas in which Iraqi women were the subjects of discrimination.
A story first reported by Elizabeth Rubin in the New York Times Magazine in September, 2004 describes with great aplomb the character of this great American heroin. The story is about two Iraqi women from a small farming community who came to Ms. Holland seeking her aid in a legal dispute. Ms. Rubin reports of a letter written by Fern Holland to a friend in Tulsa:
”They are widows. They wear all black, all you can see is their faces — no hair or neck. They don’t wear gloves though and you can see their hands — very rough hands, dry and cracked and evidence of broken fingers from years ago, and huge knuckles from years of manual labor. Their faces wrinkled and dark, no makeup, but 2 small faded blue circles on their chins — tattoos. One of Saddam [Hussein]’s thugs grew crops on their land and they thought they could remove him upon liberation. No such luck. He built a house on their land and refused to leave. They have court orders and everything and nobody will move the guy. Everyone’s afraid of him. So much for the rule of law. I’m going to see him Saturday morning, along with the little ladies, the manager of the new women’s center, the judge, and a couple Iraqi policemen. These little ladies reminded me of my mother. Salt of the Earth.”
Two days later, Fern showed up at the judge’s courthouse in Kifl, a farming village about 12 miles from Hilla. The judge was impressed by her knowledge of Iraqi law. Holland promised, in her slight Oklahoma lilt, that she would bring an Internet cafe to his rice-farming village, which boasts the tomb of the prophet Ezekiel. He agreed with her when she said, ”No one should jump over a woman’s rights,” but with all the suffering people in Iraq, he was a little puzzled why this slight, 5-foot-2, fiery American, with golden hair and sky blue eyes, was putting so much energy into this particular case. The judge pointed out how shameful it is to destroy somebody’s house — so much so that no local would dare to carry out his order to do so. Tribal or religious leaders usually mediate such quarrels. Still, he gave his word to implement the ruling that he had himself issued, but on one condition: Holland had to bring the bulldozer.
”A bulldozer?” cried Adly Hassanein back at the Babylon Hotel. An elegant Egyptian-American human rights adviser with the C.P.A., Hassanein worked closely with Holland and shared her commitment. ”Fern,” he said, ”that is an Israeli act.” He begged her to let it go: it’s family business; it’s local culture. She smiled at him. She knew Hassanein’s paternal routine. ”They can’t just harass women this way, Dr. Adly,” she said.
Three days later, on a warm spring Tuesday, Holland collected some petty cash, found a bulldozer and a driver and returned to Kifl. The judge set off with 30 policemen following the bulldozer. The man’s house was demolished. The ”salt of the earth” got back their property. And in Holland’s mind another step had been taken toward getting Iraqis to trust in the rule of law.
Holland, American press officer Robert J. Zangas, and their Iraqi translator Salwa Ourmashi were shot in their car on a road near Karbala on March 9, 2004. Their killers wore Iraqi police uniforms. According to reports, she and Zangas were the first American civilians working for the CPA to be killed in Iraq,  The New York Times Magazine reports interviews indicate she was intentionally targeted for murder by those threatened by her empowerment of women; these interviews also reflect that for many CPA staff this was a turning point in the war when Western civilians could no longer travel without guns.
Fern Holland was 33 years old when she was killed. The selfless and apparently fearless young lady gave up a financially lucrative law career, a life of comfort with friends and family nearby, and the freedoms provided by a nation with a Bill of Rights, to go into places where neither she nor her mission were welcome and her life was constantly at risk. She went, not for glory or for fame, but because it was the right thing to do. She was a true American hero.
Martin Luther King once said, “If a man is not willing to die for something, he doesn’t deserve to live.” I don’t know if Fern Holland ever read that quotation, but I have no doubt she would have agreed with the sentiment.
For a much more comprehensive look at the heroic life and sacrifice of Fern Holland go to http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/19/magazine/19WOMENL.html?_r=0. This New York Times Magazine article by Elizabeth Rubin presents a far more comprehensive look at the life and selfless achievement of this great American hero.
“If I die, know that I’m doing precisely what I want to be doing.” Fern Holland
While many will not admit it, we all harbor an atavistic fear of snakes, vampires, zombies, and the millions of loosely wrapped mummies that wander the countryside at night searching for their next unfortunate victim. But what about the dentist? You have to admit, it is not often we see dentists slinking through the dark forest carrying their whining drill and box of veneers as if they were medieval weapons, but many of us fear dentists nonetheless. For those of you who fear going to the dentist (I know you are out there) I thought I would give you some incentive to make a New Years Resolution to visit the dentist on a more regular basis. The short film provided below will prove to you that no dental visit could possibly be as bad as this! I’ll even go so far as to say that most dental visits will be enjoyable by comparison.
When I am not writing, I still practice dentistry a few hours a week…mostly root canal treatment, something that I know generates real fear in many patients. My lovely wife had to explain to me why people who noticed me in WalMart quickly moved away to the other side of the aisle. I hate it, but that’s the way it is. Maybe I should wear a T-shirt that boldly says AUTHOR when I venture out of my den in search of a bargain on toothpaste or flip-flops. Believe it or not, we dentists do try to make treatment as painless and gentle as possible. Occasionally a patient leaves my office uttering the word ‘pleasant.’ That really makes my head swell.
To keep me in my place, my oldest son wrote and produced the following short film for a Steven Spielberg competition a few years ago. I hope it will assuage any fear you might have of your own dentist.
“Dental Case” produced by Sheepthrowingboy Productions
If you happen to enjoy life’s ironies, the history of U.S. Presidents, and surprise endings, you may enjoy this Christmas story as much as I do. This tale was taken from the memoirs of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. It is a piece of Americana that embodies the bravery and selflessness of American citizens, and the unexpected turns life provides us on our journey.
Robert Todd Lincoln wanted to join the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War. His mother would not allow it, however, and implored the young man to enroll as a student at Harvard University. The dutiful son complied with his mother’s wishes, and traveled north to Boston instead of south to fight the secessionists.
During the Christmas break of 1863, the son of the president was traveling home to Washington, D.C. to visit his family for the holidays. He took the train from Boston to Trenton, New Jersey, where he was to change to another train going to Washington. The station was crowded with hundreds of travelers jostling for position as they exited trains or waited for connections. As Robert approached the edge of the platform, he was bumped from behind and fell onto the tracks just in front of a train that was starting to move. Scant yards from the large wheels moving his way, he lay stunned and helpless on the tracks, doubtless wide-eyed as he watched his doom approach. At the last second, a pair of strong arms reached down from the platform and jerked the young traveler to safety.
The crowd on the platform applauded and cheered. Robert grabbed the hand of his savior and no doubt bubbled profuse thanks as he shook the hand again and again. While not mentioned in Lincoln’s memoir, I suspect the stranger was shocked to discover the man he had saved was the son of the President of the United States.
Even more shocking to those of us who are aware of later tragic events is the name of the brave man who saved the son of the president. While it seems inconceivable that one family could bring so much joy and sadness to the Lincolns, the name of the man who saved Robert from certain death and gave his parents the greatest possible Christmas gift was Edwin Booth. He was the brother of the infamous John Wilkes Booth, who would assassinate President Lincoln in the spring of 1865.
Now that’s a Christmas story worth retelling.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit on the front end that I am not a big fan of reality TV. My oldest son’s first job out of film school was assistant to the producer of one of those early reality shows…one that involved supposedly non-actor men endeavoring to pick up dates at local bars. According to my son, most of the action in the show was staged and even rehearsed to get the sequences just right. About the only reality in the program was the fact that most of the cast was blind, staggering drunk by the end of a full day of filming and sipping Budweiser at the bar in every scene. Thankfully, they did have a designated driver to take them home…my son. His revelations about reality TV more or less soured me on the subject in general, so I seldom tune in.
I picked “Dancing With the Stars” as the title of this missive primarily because the name evokes so much more that just a TV series, at least to me. It brings back memories of my childhood fifty and more years ago, memories of a kinder, gentler time when the evening news (on b/w television) was not completely filled with the tragedy of drug arrests, school shootings, or political unrest. It was a time when Walter Cronkite could unashamedly cry tears of joy in front of a national audience when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to step onto the surface of the moon. Most important, it was a time when all of America looked to the stars and dreamed of a future for their children that was truly unlimited. We all looked to the stars and danced a giddy dance of unbridled ecstasy as we saw no limits to what we could achieve. The Vietnam War changed all that, but for several years that perfectly coincided with my childhood, the world was our oyster. We danced with the stars.
1957 was a great year that quite possibly was ground zero for all America achieved in the next few years. I pick 1957 because four seminal events occurred that year which would determine the course of the American way of life for decades to come. First and foremost, the Leave It To Beaver television series premiered that year, and would provide the ideal for American family life to an entire generation. Second, only a couple of months before the Beaver made his appearance in American living rooms, I was enrolled in first grade, and was in a position to observe and learn from the very best in public education and black and white television at the same time, a fact that doubtless colored my actions and observations until this very day. At the same time, those dastardly Russians blasted into the cosmos a basketball-sized satellite named Sputnik. Sputnik scared both the Dickens and the Tolstoy out of everyone from President Eisenhower down to old Mr. Fisk, the janitor at our elementary school, who regularly reminded us kids that “them Ruskies is up there takin’ pictures of you with that spy satellite, so you’d better be good!” The fact that the Soviets had given us such a technological drubbing caused the entire nation to launch into a frenzied program of science and math education in our schools that reached all the way down into public elementary schools, making both the Beaver and me have to study harder and learn our fractions much sooner than we would have preferred. Possibly because of the positive influence of the Beaver, or maybe because of the jitters we all felt as “them Ruskies” looked down on us every night, 1957 was also the year the U.S. Treasury began to print “In God We Trust” on our paper currency. Americans looked to, and danced with, the stars that year as we searched the heavens hoping to find a bright future, a Russian satellite, and the face of God watching over us.
1958 saw a major push from all of America to ratchet up our national goals related to everything from educating children to beating those Russians in the space race. Schools began programs to emphasize math and science at all levels. In 1960 John F. Kennedy was elected President, and among other things, listed putting a man on the moon within the decade as one of his presidential goals. Although he did not live to see his vision come to fruition, Kennedy set in motion the might, the drive, and the ingenuity of all of America to achieve this lofty goal. Life was good, and everyone yearned for a chance to contribute to what we knew was an unbounded future.
It is sad to realize many Americans today no longer perceive a bright future for themselves or their children. We seem to have forgotten that we still live in a great country where anything is possible, even though current economic, political, and international circumstances suggest otherwise. Maybe we just need to adjust our thought processes. Maybe we need to look back to 1957. Maybe we all need to go “Dancing With the Stars!”