Character Interview: Col. Steven Reynolds, USMC

  • What do you carry in your pockets?
    Well day to day I’m in my blue dress uniform a lot, so I don’t try to put anything in those pockets besides a pair of keys and a thin wallet. When I’m in the field there’s always some piece of equipment or a rifle magazine or something, usually a map.
  • Do you ever have concerns that when you’re defending America, you’re defending good and bad people and ideas you may not agree with?
    Honestly, no. My oath binds me against all enemies foreign and domestic, and if I end up defending say, a pedophile, it’s only from external threats. He’d still have to deal with the law, and I won’t defend him against that. That’s what lawyers are for. No, my oath does not come with caveats,
  • What is your strongest quality?
    I’m tenacious. There’s a part of recruit training where you run into this circular arena and pummel a fellow recruit with a padded stick. When I joined the Corps, I made it to this particular training but I was really tired from the previous evolution, and I got into the arena second. The other guy was waiting for me, and believe me, he laid into me good and hard. I ended up on the ground but I kept blocking his blows, and eventually made it back to my feet and pushed him up against the wall and ended up bloodying his face pretty hard. I got a good chewing out for that, since we weren’t supposed to knock each others headgear off, but like I said, I’m tenacious. It just sort of happened, and I was in the moment and just kept going at him.
  • Of all the places you’ve been in the Marines, where would you like to revisit?
    Well that depends, am I visiting for a deployment or a vacation? I always liked the views over the ocean when I was deployed aboard the amphibious carriers, so I think a sailboat trip would be nice. There are also some places in California and Colorado I’d like to visit, and my wife and I would like to take a trip to Europe some day, maybe.
  • What are your most important values?
    Duty, honor, country. I know it sounds canned and stereotypical, but its true. Some people would put family in there, and I get that, I love my family more than anything and anyone but God. But I have a duty to God and family and the Constitution, so if I always keep duty foremost in my mind, I’ll take care of all three while preserving my honor and defending my country. It comes down to a balancing act.
  • What has your cancer diagnosis revealed to you about yourself?
    Um, well, it’s been just a week, so … ah. Well, like I said, I’m tenacious. I know I’m going to beat this, despite the odds against me. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Other Things: why I hate deer

Bambi and her mom and dad are loved by the granola-munching, Prius driving crowd. Me, not so much. As far as I’m concerned, they’re a bunch of overgrown rats too stupid to run from things that harm them, like cars. One of them deliberately rammed my car one time after I slowed down to let him cross the road.

Then there is their eating habits. They seem to love the things that grow in my yard, particularly things humans also like to eat. Like tomatoes and lettuce. They’ll jump in and start munching away, eating anything that they feel might be tasty. “Daffodils? Nah, man, no thanks,” they might say. They also won’t touch weeds if there’s lettuce around, the little jerks.

You’d think this would build a little animosity in my heart towards these gentle creatures, and you’d be perfectly correct. Compound it with the fact that whenever any of my three dogs see them in the yard they start going nuts, barking madly in an attempt to both scare them off and let us know that they need to be hunted for food. The latter is not as easy as you might think in a backyard of known distance. From back door to treeline is only about 25 yards, and I’m well-zeroed at that range with my M1A. But four things conspire against me and my valiant efforts to reduce the population of deer for the greater good.

First, there’s Louisa County. While almost every other county in Virginia allows for cartridge firearms, all hunting in Louisa must be done with a muzzleloader if the caliber is greater than .22. So in other words, unless you’re hunting squirrels or rabbits, you have to use a frontstuffer. This would let me take but one deer a year from my backyard, for if a deer saw his pal get shot you’d think he would not come back for the salt lick, no matter how tasty.

Second, there’s the neighbors. They’re just a bit too close for comfort when it comes to letting lead fly, and the neighborhood association down the street likes to complain when they hear gunshots, even if the firing is far from their little enclave of self-righteous tyranny that is the modern Home Owners Association.

Then there’s the deer themselves. Someone nails a calendar to the tree every year when hunting season starts, because I don’t think I’ve seen a buck in my yard in the month of November. There’s the occasional doe, but never on doe hunting days. It’s like they know exactly when I would prefer to kill them from my backyard and they deliberately avoid it.

Finally, there’s my own skill in the field. I’m quite good at shooting, but I’m also remarkable for my tracking skills. At least, remarkable in the lack thereof. I can track animals, in broad daylight, if they’ve walked by after a recent rain with a bad case of the runs, but aside from that? Not so good.

So I must content myself with the fact that a deer herd will likely not approach my garden if it is close to the house and protected by a four foot suggestion of a fence. And perhaps think about getting a suppressor for the M1A and unilaterally extending the hunting season into October – Walter Mitty style, of course.

Writing Tip: Walking the grounds

There is an excitement at Manassas, a cramped-ness at the Little Round Top, and a simplicity at Appomattox that cannot be experienced without being there in person. I’ve been to all three, and the experiences have taught me something about writing: you have to go to your setting to understand it, and you can’t describe it without understanding it. Knowledge leads to understanding, which leads to descriptions that live in the reader’s mind, not just on the page.

The Manassas battlefield is small enough that you can walk the trail for one of the battles (there were two at the site) in a day. It is a bit of a hike, and you need to be in good shape and know where you’re going, but it can be done. The first place you start at is actually the end of the battle, where the visitor center is located. Looking out across the expanse of the hills on which the first battle was fought you get an idea of the scale of things in that day, and how large the battle was. But at the same time it prepares you to realize just how small the engagement was, relative to what was to come. A quick trip down to and across Bull Run Creek where the Union crossed and you find yourself emerging on the other side of the battle, behind Union artillery emplacements. Captain Imboden’s Confederate guns are barely visible from here, but you tend to forget them as you wrap your head around the scale and start to realize that what was once strictly the realm of artillery is now considered a standard sniper qualification range. It’s a long way from Matthews Hill to Henry Hill, but not that long.

At Gettysburg the close quarters of the Little Round Top belie the scale of the battlefield and the impossibility of touring the entire place in one day on foot. The lines of battle for both sides stretched literally for miles and were separated (at times) by miles, yet were still easily visible to each other. The scale of the engagement in Pennsylvania is enormous, but what is most interesting is that the Union victory was possibly sealed on a hill the size of a tennis court. This is a remarkable conclusion to draw for such a large battle and such a small space – it could be a tennis court in another setting – but nevertheless, many historians (but not all) have reached that conclusion. Roughly one hundred men were crammed shoulder to shoulder into a space normally occupied only by squirrels and strewn with boulders, but it would become the setting for a battlefield maneuver still studied at West Point and other institutions that teach the art of leading men into the jaws of death.

Appomattox is the simplest of the three sites, consisting of little more than a small preserved village from before the electrical age with an attached parking lot and National Park entrance gate. There are two main buildings and several smaller ones, all connected by dirt pathways that serve as reminders of simpler times as well as foot-roads. It is walked in an hour with more time standing still and pondering the events and men that came here in April 1865 than spent actually walking. The room in the McClean house where the surrender took place is small as well; if Grant brought half his staff there would have been little room for Lee and his adjutant as is commonly depicted. But it was sufficient to hold the sentiments of the men involved and the words they left behind for us, as well as the rebirth of the nation and the good and bad that came with it.

Of course, walking the grounds does little to help if your story is set on the moon or some other country or some other planet, but that’s what historical records and your imagination is for.

No Longer Free, April 21-25, 2014

No Longer Free

Fighting Back

Desire Liberty. Seek Freedom. Make Independence.

The Chief, Chapter 4

(Previously: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3)

“You promised this would be an easy job, no mistakes. You drew up the plan, picked the crew, laid out everything. And you failed, you fuckwit.”

“The Chief Justice was in just in the same place, at the same time. It was an unavoidable coincidence tha-”

“That what? That he had the same height and build as the mark? That he just happened to take the same path to work every day? That he tended to be in the same place at the same time EVERY FUCKING WORKDAY?”

“I told you, I would get the job done, and I will. So who are you to complain, huh? I thought you said the Chief Justice was ‘that self-confident ass who couldn’t put together the intellect to blow his own nose’. Wasn’t he on one of your lists? Didn’t you want him out of the way as well? The way I see it, I did you a favor.”

“The only favor you did was to fuck up our entire operation. And for that, you won’t be getting your payment.” [beep]

“Did Robin just flip me off?” Newsome asked his secretary, Rachel Robinson.

“Yes, and I encouraged him to do so. Here, sign these, initial these, and review these, then send them over to Andrew for review before his press conference,” she said as she dumped pile after pile of papers into his hands.

“You know, I like you better when you’re not doing crap like this. I’ve got agendas and speeches and … other stuff to review, so unless it’s illegal for you to forge my signature on papers no one else is ever going to see again, I’m going to hand this back to you and tell you to hold off for a couple hours, okay?” Travis gave the stacks back to Rachel, turned and entered his office. The TV was still on, and still running nonstop incoherence interference. He reached for the remote, but paused with his thumb over the power button.

“… militia types, who haven’t lost any love for this justice? Aren’t the militias and freemen and those types prime suspects in this assassination?”

“Well, yes, they are, and I would -”

“Do you think they were responsible for this murder? Because that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? A political murder in broad daylight?” Travis had never been impressed with the right-wing political news station, but at least they brought in interesting guests, even if their hosts were interrupting morons.

“I can’t speculate on what or who the government has under suspicion at this point,” said the first guest, who sported a beard and whose title card said he was ‘EX-SF OFFICER’. “But I can tell you that I would put the militias very near the top of my own list, if I were investigating.”

“Brian, lemme interject here for a minute,” said another guest, giving the host a taste of his own medicine. “I think you’re both way off base with this line of thought, I think-”

“Way off base? Off base how? We know that militias are all about state sovereignty, and states rights, down with authority, anything Federal equals bad, right?” Brian Tudder, the show host, responded. He was fiercely territorial with his opinions, and had a reputation for defending them no matter what the cost to his dignity.

“Remember, this justice was the one who ruled last year, by himself, that the states had a right to ignore federal laws that directly violated the Constitution.””

“No no no, that doesn’t matter because one, he was wrong, and two, even if he was right, he was still in the minority, all by himself, so his opinion didn’t matter anyway.” Brian and the unidentified opposition guest droned on, talking over and alongside each other without hardly taking a pause to breathe.

Oh, why not, there were plenty of good arguments out there, and plenty of reason to push the ball down the field, as the President had implied earlier.

“Rachel?” Travis called from his office. “Rachel, find Andrew, tell him I’ll have some new talking points for him in about fifteen minutes, and that he needs to incorporate them into the President’s remarks.”

Writing Tip: Writer groups

There is nothing I’ve come to appreciate more since I started writing fiction than a writer group.

In measured doses.

Writing groups can be wonderful for encouraging each other to reach your goals and edit your work. They can also be massive sources of distraction and frustration, because just as you may have to tell your family that you need space to write, you may need to tell your writing buddies that too. Writers can be social too, despite their solitary, introverted tendencies – particularly when the plot line isn’t coming to you. I’ve attended write-ins for NaNoWriMo where they only way to get some writers to shut up was to constantly have a word war going on.

But when they are motivated, either by a goal they set or a carrot you dangle in front of them, they can be very well suited to helping you achieve your goals. And of course, the motivation works both ways. Each writer sharpens the other’s writing, especially when you let go of your little baby and admit that it needs some help.

There is an inherent trepidation when you do this, much like what a parent experiences when they first give their child into the hands of a babysitter. Then again, a parent can bring legal action against a babysitter who harms a child, but a writer has no such recourse when a fellow writer suggests it would be best if the eight-page exposition on the virtues of [fill in the blank] get cut.

This is where I would post a picture of Ayn Rand if I wanted to make a point about her writing, but I don’t, and I think you get the point anyway.

So find a writing group and leverage them to strengthen your writing. Just don’t be a taker without being a giver. Value for value, and all that.

Free Book Day!


Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday Scott Philipson*
Happy birthday to you

It’s Scott’s birthday, but you get the presents. Today only, the Kindle edition of The Dragonslayers Volume 1 is available for free at Amazon. Go download it, then go tell your friends!

* Yes, today is the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and yes, that is deliberate. Can’t give away more than that because as River Song says – spoilers

No Longer Free, April 14-18, 2014

No Longer Free

Fighting Back

Also, earlier this week there was a report that Jews in the Ukraine were being given flyers and told to register with the Russian government trying to take over eastern Ukraine. The next day came a report that this was just a rumor, or at the very least a government-doesn’t-know-who’s-doing-this situation.

Regardless, the proper way to deal with such a threat (and I’m a bit surprised that Jews in eastern Europe don’t practice this already) is to produce a pistol and stick it in the face of the one who tells you to register with the government. Either that or the phrase “never again” has a previously unnoticed asterisk after it.

Desire Liberty. Seek Freedom. Make Independence.

The Chief, Chapter 3

(Chapter 1 Chapter 2)

“Hello?” William was getting tired of answering the phone.

“William, oh, thank goodness you’re alive. I saw the news on Fox and saw how it was so close to where you live so I just had to call and see if you were alright and if you heard anything or saw anything or -” For not the first time in his life, William wanted to hang up on his mother. She had a tendency to run on and not give an opportunity to respond to her many questions, which meant he found himself interrupting her quite often.

He had already fielded calls from most of his family and wanted to hang up on her, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew she loved him, and just wanted to make sure he was alright, but the temptation was strong, so he chose the diplomatic way out. “Mom, I have to go. I’m alright, but I saw the whole thing and have to talk to the police. I love you,” and before she could respond he tapped the end call button. Immediately he turned the ringer off and looked over at the police officer taking statements.

Somehow he had found himself on the inside of the police tape, which meant that he was constantly being asked what he was doing, then told to stay where he was. It was as if the police didn’t know who he was or what to do with him until they got to the box on their checklist that said “talk to witnesses and take statements”. He felt like just another cog in the machine, waiting to be turned.

He turned his attention to the crowd, who was pointing at and photographing the outline where the Chief Justice had drawn his last breath. The regular press was there too, snapping away, and one of their photos had made it onto the Drudge Report half an hour earlier. You could see William’s foot in the lower right corner, easily identified by the Converse sneaker.

William’s gaze went back and forth over the crowd, taking it all in. Most were staring in some combination of shock, horror, disbelief, or incredulity. He stopped and watched one man in particular, dressed in a business suit, staring at the outline and the bloodstain. He could be anybody, but it occurred to William that he had been there for some time. He pulled up the photo on Drudge, and sure enough, the man hadn’t moved for at least half an hour. He even wore the same expression on his face as in the photo, shock at the spectacle before him.

He’s connected, William thought. Then he noticed the odd things – his hair was the same color as the Chief Justice, and had the same hairline, halfway back along the dome of the skull. He was about the same build and height. The eyes were deeper set, and the nose was sharper, but at a glance he could be mistaken for the deceased. William noted that his tie and lapels had been dampened, as if he had spilled something on them.

Like tears.

“Okay, bud, I’m Officer Maddox, and this is Special Agent Atkinson of the Secret Service. You saw all this?”

William decided to keep an eye on the man in the suit, just in case the police didn’t get to him. He watched the weeping man as he answered the questions from the two government investigators, keeping him in sight as much as possible.

Character Interview: Olivia Romano, MD

  • Why did you become a doctor, and why did you choose oncology?
    I learned early on that I had a knack for making people feel better. I don’t want to say it was destiny, because I’m not sure I believe in that, but I never really seriously considered any other career field. Oncology because … reasons.
  • What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to face in your professional career?
    There was a colleague, Michael Shensen. He’d spent fifteen years or so in medicine as an oncologist, and was something of a mentor – no, he was my mentor, for a very long time. Dealt with pediatric oncology, which is by far the most emotionally brutal thing you can do in medicine. Anyway, he learned he had liver cancer. Stage IV. Missed all the warning signs because you’re taught as a doctor to not diagnose yourself or your family members, and he missed it. [wipes away a tear] Anyway, he put a bullet in his head the day after he got the diagnosis.
    I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been, to see your teacher end his tutelage so abruptly.
    I won’t lie, it was tough. Definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen.
  • What does a typical day look like to you?
    Start too early, drink too much coffee, paperwork, more paperwork. Rounds with the med school students, more paperwork. Lunch gets squeezed in there somewhere, usually right about the time I’m working on my research. More paperwork, then rounds with the residents. Paperwork, at least one meeting with a patient per day, more usually two or three, then dinner with a side of paperwork, and eventually bed.
  • What do you want for your patients more than anything else (except healing from their cancers)?
    That their family relationships be restored. A lot of times cancer takes an emotional toll on the families and friends that is greater than the emotional toll on the patient. Often the patient resolves him or herself to their fate, but the family most often has more difficulty. Sometimes they turn ugly and vindictive, other times they turn inward and introspective – they appear cold or cruelly detached. They hurt just as much, but often they don’t know how to talk about their pain.
  • How do you relax?
    I like to read, which sounds crazy given all the paperwork I just talked about, but as long as its light and meaningless it helps me get my mind off work. And I’ve recently taken up gardening, so yeah, there’s that.
  • What do you want to do that hasn’t been done yet?
    I want to find the cure to at least one cancer that’s plagued us for a while. That doesn’t sound like much, but since they all operate in similar ways, finding the key to one might turn out to be a skeleton key that unlocks all of them. I figure I should aim for the moon and if I miss, at least I’m headed for the stars.
  • How clear is your desk, and how clear is your signature?
    Neither is clear, not at all. At. All.
  • Any last minute health tips?
    Go for a jog, or at least a walk. Don’t be afraid of salad instead of a burger. Unless its the chicken Caesar from the hospital cafeteria. Be afraid of that one. Very afraid.