Whither Originality?

We can’t constantly tell stories of heroes. We have to hear the other stories, too, about people in dire straits who make bad choices.”


I can remember a time long ago when every time I went to a movie, it was a new experience. The same with books. When you bought a book, you expected to be transported to a fantastical world like you’d never seen before. That time, sadly, is gone, and it has been for a long time. We have entered a world where innovative entertainment is shunned and disparaged, treated like a perversion that makes you weird if you like it. Publishers and studios are on epic quests to find and publish the latest example of the Last Big Thing. So, how many retellings of vampire romance are you up for? Dominant billionaires? Star Rebellions?

Movies I can understand. You can’t make a movie cheap anymore. The sad fact is that to make a solid action flick or a period piece can cost $100,000,000, and if it doesn’t return something close to twice that in sales, it could bankrupt a studio. Look at John Carter; it’s unlikely that any studio other than Disney could have absorbed that loss and survived, so I get it. That doesn’t mean I like it any better, but I get it.

Books are another matter. The traditional publishing industry bears no resemblance to what your grandfather would have recognized. Gone are copy editors, or even acquisition editors. Independent agents who earn their living from their percentage of a book’s royalties are expected to bring them print-ready manuscripts, proofed and edited, and ready to sell. I’ve heard that they expect their authors to do most of their own marketing these days as well. If all that is true, that all the work is done for them before they ever see the manuscript (and I don’t deal with them, so it’s all hearsay), what’s the source of their fear? Perhaps fear isn’t the word; perhaps it’s greed.

Whatever the case, the effect is the same. The Big Publishers are like self-proclaimed explorers turning over flagstones in the middle of town, hoping to unearth some great discovery in a place where millions of feet have already trodden. If you, as a reader, want to see something original, something that hasn’t already been done to death, you need to venture out of town, off the familiar streets, out onto the plains and into the mountains beyond. You need to get out past the edge of the map to where those authors who are beholden to no profit-based publisher, who dance to their own tune, who can’t be coerced by the threat of non-publication to change their vision to align with someone else’s ply their trade.

These explorers are independent authors. Self-published visionaries whose impresses are CreateSpace, Kindle, or Kobo. These people write stories that aren’t copies of someone else’s success, they build plots that take turns no traditional publisher would allow, and their characters are, well, characters! Of course, if you’re patient, you can stay in the middle of town; ten years from now, the Big Publishers will move into these strange lands that the indies have already moved beyond, and thump their chests while loudly claiming to have created a whole new genre. But if you’re a reader of indies, you’ll know better.

There are those who will warn you off of indies. Maybe they’ve gotten hold of a lousy self-published novel and now they’ve sworn off indies for life. So what? Who among us can say we’ve never gotten hold of a lousy book from a Big Publisher? Modern websites offer previews of almost every book they sell, and you don’t need more than a couple of paragraphs to know whether the author has the skill level you’re looking for. So there are no excuses for that assumption anymore. If you’re prejudiced against indies, fine, that’s your right, but don’t try to make it sound like it’s all the indies’ fault, because there are some damned good writers out here writing stories like you’ve never seen, with engaging characters, well-developed plots, and storylines that will leave you breathless. That’s what I’m trying to bring you in my Thursday “Edge of the Map” feature.

But don’t take my word for it. Look, the world of self-publishing is moving fast. Maybe it’s a world you haven’t been introduced to yet. If that’s the case, allow me to introduce you to William Jackson, David Lee Summers, Karen Carlisle, and C.W. Hawes . . . and even Jack Tyler. These folks have a story to tell you, more than one, in fact, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they could win you over to a point where you’d support indies for life.

I should point out that during the course of this past week, I got the first six chapters of Broken English posted in the tabs above. The pace will slow down until I’m finished, as from this point forward, the remaining seven chapters need to be transcribed by hand, but if you’re interested in seeing what I did in my first and only foray into the crime drama, dive in and see what you think.

BREAKING NEWS! The astute among you will have noticed that you can no longer access Possession of Blood.  That is because I am in talks with a small, specialty publisher who has expressed an interest in publishing that story, and any follow-ons I may be able to produce. We are in very preliminary discussions, and I’m not offering any details for obvious reasons, but should they pick it up, it would be my first book that I haven’t self-published, and would fulfill a life-long dream. Wish me luck!

Other Voices . . .

Tara Sparling, my favorite Irish satirist, looks at how Brexit can be expected to affect the books being written and read in the British Isles. Well worth a look, as is all of her material.

Jefferson Smith of Creativity Hacker announces the launch of a new YouTube series consisting of fun and unusual readings from his books. He admits that even he doesn’t know what that means right now, but knowing Jefferson, it should be entertaining.

My old friend Alice E. Keyes, who’s been away from blogging for a year, returns with an update, including news of her new posting (her husband is in the Diplomatic Corps). If you haven’t known Alice before, stop in and get acquainted.

Astronomer David Lee Summers talks about his work at Kitt Peak, and how it informs his writing, in his latest post at The Dead Planet. Fascinating stuff.

Writers Helping Writers, always a good source to reference for quality writing advice, looks at chapter hooks, and what you can learn from television shows.

Independent author C.W. Hawes has embarked on a series to spotlight excellent writers you’ve probably never heard of, and this week his attention is focused on Andy Graham’s An Angel Fallen.

Andrew Bloom of Classic Film Jerks joins the Nerd Lunch crew for another installment of Down the Rabbit Hole. They have no theme this time, but just go where Wikipedia’s links take them. This podcast is hard to describe, so just click in and join the fun; you may find yourself with a new guilty pleasure!

Author Phoebe Darqueling is on installment 4 of her series on things to see when you visit Paris. This issue is about the Botanical Gardens, and even if you never intend to visit the City of Lights, the photos accompanying this post are well worth lengthy perusal.

Michael May of Michael May’s Adventure Blog is joined by his son David on a regular feature of the blog, Dragonfly Ripple, in which they take an in-depth look at 2011’s Thor.

Karen J. Carlisle, author of steampunk, Victorian, and fantasy stories, has a Patreon account for those wishing to follow her activities. It is quite inexpensive if you’d like to take a look, and she makes videos for her followers; one was just released, and announced here with details.

Sarah Zama, an author enamored with the Roaring Twenties, offers a book review of Zen Cho’s The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. Enjoyable reading, and an excellent chance to meet a talented writer.

There is little peripheral activity of greater value to a writer than good editing, and it is my privilege to be friends with one of the best. Join Lynda Dietz for an only partly comedic look at the admonition against using contractions in “serious” literature.

Photographer Richard Schulte also loves to write little slice-of-life short stories, and he has added another gem to his portfolio with One Lone Candle. Be sure to take five minutes to broaden your horizons with this one.

Sandy, or Doris the Great (see blog for more information), a Newfoundlander enjoying the tail-end of summer, has posted about a wonderful nature hike she took recently. There are pictures and some interesting text describing them; a nice relaxing side trip in the midst of all this heavy reading.

Novelist C.P. Leslie showcases an interview with fellow author Karen Brooks concerning Karen’s latest period piece, The Locksmith’s Daughter, an Edwardian novel of a lady spy. Looks like some good reading here.

Kyanite Publishing, LLC is seeking horror authors to join its ranks. They seek works of 15,000 words and up, and offer traditional contracts with royalties, editing, design, marketing, the works. Could be a great opportunity for the budding horrorsmiths on my reading list, and there are some other categories they support as well, so if you’re looking to get your foot in the door of traditional publishing, the link is just a few lines up. Don’t miss this opportunity!

And that’s 30 for this issue. Be with me Thursday for the latest list of promos; I’ve already found some beauties, and with four days left, who knows what might turn up? I’ll see you then. Read well, and write better!


Buy these fine books at Amazon.com.

The Edge of the Map – No. 4

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends . . . At least not anytime soon! As long as 5,000 books are being published every day, I won’t have trouble finding a few that look interesting. I don’t exclusively promote independent authors, new books, or books of a certain price.  I stated here a couple of months ago that I will not pay more than $2.99 for an e-book, because there is no overhead for them, and no demonstrable inflation, and I have refrained from stating the only reason I can see that an unknown, unproven author would charge the price of a hard-cover for a gang of pixels that you can’t hold in your hand, display on a shelf, or share with a friend. I won’t buy them, but I feature them here all the time, because that isn’t a decision that I try to force on you; if you’re comfortable paying $11.99 for an e-book, by all means, do so!

As to new books, I try to keep this column exclusive to books that are new to me. A book might be five years old, but if it’s the first time I’ve seen it and it piques my interest, I’ll pass it along. If you’re one of my cherished regulars here, you’ve already seen me giving extra “air time” to the projects of my friends, though I will say that that’s mostly over on Sunday’s list of blogs, and I do it when said friends have material that seems very much worth reading.

Probably the most controversial of my decisions is my focus on indies and small press publications. I do not exclusively promote independent authors, but I favor them. I believe they have far more innovative ideas than those writers who dance to the tune of the Big Houses, and perhaps more importantly, they have the complete creative freedom to present them any way they want. The downside is that many of them can’t write, and have no business asking money for their work when they lack the ability to write a coherent grocery list, but that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. We all buy products almost every day that don’t do what they claim. Do we then say, “I’m never using toothpaste [or whatever] again!” Of course not. We become smarter consumers, and that is easy to do using amazon’s Look Inside, and similar features on other platforms; you don’t need much more than a paragraph to spot a terrible writer.

Allow me to ‘fess up right now and admit that some of my prejudice against the Big Houses can be attributed to sour grapes. I tried to find a publisher through the 90s and early 2000s with no success at all, barely so much as a nibble, but that isn’t completely why I turn away from them now. There are certainly innovative authors published by the Big Houses, but they are few and far between. Said Big Houses are terrified that they might publish something that won’t rake in trainloads of money, so their tendency is to go with things that have already proven themselves in the market. This is why you can find clone after clone of Twilight, Lord of the Rings, Fifty Shades, and an uncountable number of zombie “thrillers,” but you’ll never find anything in their catalogues to compare with a Viola Stewart mystery, An Unsubstantiated Chamber, or The Astronomer’s Crypt. My hope is that, whether you’re author or reader, you’ll find this material helpful on your chosen path. If you have any thoughts on this particular feature of the blog, any suggestions, I’d love to hear them; this particular column is all for you. Join me Sunday, when I’ll be engaging in an in-depth look at the points I’ve hinted at here.



Castling the King by Martin Archer. Arrows fly, swords clash, nobles and churchmen are gulled out of their coins, and the French and Venetians are successfully blamed for things they did not do. Castling the King: The Sea Warriors is another exciting book in the action-packed saga of Cornwall’s Company of Archers at the dawn of Britain’s military supremacy and the beginning of its great merchant companies. It is an enjoyable and often witty read that sticks pins into the Church and nobility along the way. $3.95 on Kindle.


Remember Last Summer by David Heilwagen. How would you spend the last summer of your life? Still reeling from a bitter divorce, Kristen Carrington is just starting to move forward with her life when she is diagnosed with an incurable form of heart disease. Her outlook is bleak. Unless she receives a heart transplant very soon, the doctors say she will be dead within the year. But Kristen’s a survivor, and has never been one to sit around and bathe in self-pity. Against her doctor’s advice, and with summer vacation fast approaching, she packs- up her two teenage daughters, Alison and Emily. They drive to an old family beach house on the shores of Lake Michigan, in the tiny tourist hamlet of Sunset Cove. Recently feeling the emotional detachment that all mothers of teenagers experience at one time or another, it’s here where Kristen hopes to reconnect with her girls while building memories that will linger long after she is gone. But even the best laid plans are oftentimes peppered with glitches, and things turn rocky as soon as they arrive in Sunset Cove. Neglected for years, the beach house is in a ramshackle state of disrepair. The paint is peeling, and the shutters are hanging precariously off the windows. To make things worse, there is no cable TV, no internet, and only sporadic cell service. Wondering how they will survive without modern conveniences, Alison and Emily want to turn around and head back home. For a short time, even Kristen wonders if coming here was a mistake. Still, she remains strong to her beliefs, and they settle-in for what promises to be a long three months. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Kristen and her girls embark on an emotional journey that will raise them to the heights of love, forgiveness, and self-discovery, as well as plunging them into the depths of heartache and despair. Working together, they eventually reconnect as a family, and Kristen learns to love again. $2.99 on Kindle.


Magdalena Gottschalk: The Crooked Trail by M. Gail Grant. Lily Brooke, where small town charm and a hidden secret converge one fateful late autumn night. The demons of the past are determined to never be locked away again. MALB, the Mystical Alliance of Lily Brooke, consists of six childhood friends that are bound together in loyalty, friendship, and courage. Together, they all face the unleashed enchantments that are haunting the children after their discovery of the forbidden sacrificial cave, crooked trail, and mysterious treehouse. Magdalena has always known she is different from the others, but the cause has always escaped her, until now. Coming to grips with her soul purpose, she must gather courage she never knew she possessed to save her friends and family from the evil forces hiding amongst them. Magdalena Gottschalk: The Crooked Trail, is a middle-grades to young adult epic fantasy fiction novel that explores faith, unity, differences, belief in a higher power, magic, and teamwork. It will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat, begging to turn the page, while written for audiences of all ages. With a touch of southern charm and tradition, this novel takes you on a journey not for the faint of heart. Witches, wizards, demons, black magic, and soul searching all have their place in the quaint little town of Lily Brooke. Free on Kindle [reg $2.99].


Fortune’s Son by Jennifer Scoullar. Heads you win. Tails you die … Can one man’s revenge become his redemption? Young Luke Tyler has everything going for him: brains, looks and a larrikin charm that turns heads. The future appears bright, until he defends his sister from the powerful Sir Henry Abbott. His reward is fifteen years hard labor on a prison farm in Tasmania’s remote highlands. Luke escapes, finding sanctuary with a local philanthropist, Daniel Campbell, and starting a forbidden love affair with Daniel’s daughter, Belle. But when Luke is betrayed, he must flee or be hanged. With all seeming lost, Luke sails to South Africa to start afresh. Yet he remains haunted by the past, and by Belle, the woman he can’t forget. When he returns to seek revenge and reclaim his life, his actions will have shattering consequences – for the innocent as well as the guilty. Set against a backdrop of wild Tasmania, Australian Gold and African diamonds, Fortune’s Son is an epic story of betrayal, undying love and one man’s struggle to triumph over adversity and find his way home. 99¢ on Kindle.


Rise From the Embers by Stacey Marie Brown. The King has fallen! While Stavros moves to take over Lars’s throne, the war for the entire kingdom begins. However, this is no ordinary war against Seelie or Unseelie. The real enemy is the most powerful object in the world. The Stone of Fail. Lars isn’t the only one the stone wants. Zoey Daniels is next on its list. And the stone will do whatever it takes to finally get the girl. With a battle on all sides and lives of those they love threatened fae, humans, Druids, pixies, and a certain sprite-monkey will have to come together to save the true King, along with the world, from destruction. Out of ashes, true heroes Rise from the Embers. Don’t miss the FINAL installment of the Dark/Light/Collector Series, where your favorite characters unite to try and protect those they love, and the earth from the ultimate opponent. Ember, Zoey, Kennedy, and Fionna lead the fight, but be prepared … Not everyone will make it out alive. $3.99 on Kindle.


No Higher Ground by Roman Godzich. Sam Czerny’s career as a xenobiologist was relegated to studying strange life forms deep in the oceans. Then a Chinese mining facility discovers an unusual artifact on the far side of the moon. A device which could change the way humanity sees itself and its place in the galaxy. Sam finds himself on the project of his dreams only to get caught up in a sudden war between the US and China. A war that prevents the two governments from noticing an even more dangerous arrival. $3.99 on Kindle.


Cage Life by Miles Watson. It’s the punch you don’t see coming that drops you. Any fighter can tell you that. And Mickey Watts isn’t just any fighter; he’s one of the best in mixed martial arts, a top contender who seems to have it all: looks, brains and a rich girlfriend who’s crazy about him. The fact his family is mobbed-up to its Irish-Italian eyebrows has never been a problem … until Mick throws one punch too many and finds that some debts can only be paid in blood. 99¢ on Kindle.


An Angel Fallen by Andy Graham. You’re eighteen. Bored. Dad’s away a lot. Says it’s business, but you’ve seen the lipstick stains. Mum’s home. Too much. Keeping the world gin market afloat on her own. There’s Ariel, the family maid. She’s cool. The one piece of this messed up world that makes sense. And then there’s Raph. Raph’s the leader of your gang of two. He gets off on doing those things to the animals you both catch: the slicing, crushing, and maiming. Buried a few alive, too. His relationship with that hammer of his is sick. You run with Raph because, well, nothing else to do out here, right? Except if your folks found out what you’ve been up to, there’d be hell. Then you find it. Whatever it is. It can’t be what you think it is. Those things don’t exist. But it’s staring at you. Asking for help. Is it dying? Can these things die? You need to do something for it. Raph wants to do something to it. Time to choose. Do you run with the human devil you know, or take a chance on this thing that fell from the heavens? An Angel Fallen is a supernatural horror novella of divine retribution from British author Andy Graham. On a day when the world is struggling to stay sane, and is being ravaged by biblical plagues, what price will two teenagers pay for their past? $2.99 on Kindle. Another fine recommendation from C.W. Hawes.


Gold Envelopes & Murder by Harper Harris. A dead Best Man. A high profile crime. And a murder charge against the wedding planner. Things never seem to go right in Buckingham Downs, a quaint coastal resort town in California, where when the rich get married, it’s a billion-dollar business. Things certainly aren’t going right for Valerie Masters, her clingy Yorkie, Buttons, and her wedding planning business. It’s a new wedding and a new batch of clients: a meek bride, a reluctant groom, a controlling mother of the bride, a young step-father, and a whole bunch of secrets. But before anyone can walk down the aisle, Val is accused of murder. Murder of a man she only met once and barely talked to. The police are throwing crazy theories at Val, trying to get her to confess. Her only hope is her best friend Sebastian’s rich uncle, Wellington Brown, a famous hot shot L.A. lawyer. With so many accusations against her, Val has to find the real murderer before she ends up in jail. But her options are limited, and the detective whom she hoped would always be at her side seems ready to betray her as well. With possible corruption in the air and the media convinced she’s guilty, Val feels like the verdict is decided before she can even get into the court room. With the bride and groom on her side, can Val investigate a murder and pull off a high-profile wedding at the same time? Will the bride make it down the aisle before Val lands in jail for good? Or will Val’s wedding planning days be as brief as her chance at freedom? Gold Envelopes & Murder is a full length cozy mystery novel. It is Book 2 in the Val Masters Wedding Planner series, which can be read in any order and are best enjoyed together. $3.99 on Kindle.


The Knowing by Cherie Mitchell. Several generations of women with an extraordinary gift. A tumultuous period in America’s history that honored the brave and the foolhardy. And an intricate tale of everlasting love that spans the fragile bridge between life and death. Independence, Missouri, 1853: Mary and Norton Beecroft share a love like no other. They have endured their share of heartache and tragedy but a new life now awaits them in the promised land of California. Along with their young daughter Lucy and their twin sons, Mary and Norton plan to leave Independence, Missouri with a wagon train bound for a state so wondrous it has been referred to as the golden future of the rapidly growing country of America. However, the Beecroft family are a little different from most. With a history on his wife’s side stretching back many generations to the gypsies of Europe and an undoubted (but little understood) gift shared by the women in the family since time immemorial, Norton has his work cut out trying to understand his womenfolk. Join the folks of the wagon train as this little community makes it slow way across the great plains to a new future. Share their joys and triumphs, heartbreaks and hopes, and lose yourself in a more simple and adventurous world than the one we know today. The Knowing – the first full-size novel in the series, preceded by Mary Ellen (a novelette) and followed by Cutter’s Mill. A series to captivate you, engage you, and have you questioning all that you thought you knew. $5.99 on Kindle.

And that’s 30 for this week’s offerings. That should be enough to get you through the weekend, and remember to be back here Sunday morning, when I’ll be discussing my reason for creating this particular feature. Don’t miss it if you can, and always read well, and write better!

The Mornings After

Today is the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. This is a recreational blog, and as a rule, I like to keep it light, meaning that I avoid religion and politics at all costs. But once in a while, I feel the need to say something, and given the state of the nation right now, today, this is one of those times. I first published this article on Jack’s Hideout on the tenth anniversary in 2011, and for the most part it still applies. So here, with a few tweaks to bring it up to date, is my offering for the 9/11 remembrance.

It has been seventeen years since that dark day in history. As one who loves my country, despite all its faults and blemishes, it is time to tell my own insignificant story. Here on the west coast, separated from these momentous events by two mountain ranges and three time zones, it took on a surrealism that couldn’t be experienced by those in the immediate vicinity.

On September 11th, 2001 I was a shift worker. It was the first of three days off. I had come off a night shift, and crawled into bed for a good night’s sleep around 3:00 AM [all times Pacific, making it three hours later in New York and Washington]. Later that morning, about 10:00 AM, I woke up, staggered to the coffee pot, still mostly asleep, poured a cup, and sat down on the couch. When I flipped on the TV, KUSI Channel 51, an unaffiliated local station came on, showing a long view of the New York skyline with black smoke roiling up from the Twin Towers, a somber reporter making infrequent comments about the dark day this was for America. This was puzzling, as this outlet was normally showing a sort of localized version of the Today show at that time, and my first thought was, “Why are they showing a movie at this hour?” Remember, I haven’t begun to come fully awake at this point.

My first attempt to rationalize what I was seeing was that they must be showing scenes from an upcoming blockbuster. The effects were magnificent, of course, but when the view stayed the same, and the reporter didn’t offer much more in the way of dialogue, I got bored and cycled the channel to our local NBC affiliate.

Oh my God! There was the same picture, with a reporter offering much more information. I have never come awake that fast in my life; I hope I never do again. As I sat open-mouthed, my shaking hand spilling hot coffee on my jeans, the first tower began its descent into rubble. At first I thought I was watching live events. Only later did I learn that all this had happened while I was sleeping. That didn’t matter, it was live to me. My first thought was, It’s the end of the world; somebody’s going to get nuked into radioactive slag for this. Other impressions were of a missing President, as Mr. Bush was out of Washington at the time, and took to the air in Air Force One, escorted all over the southeastern United States by F-16s, presenting a moving target to an attack that no one could say was over yet. I remember the map with 5,000 little green glowing airplanes beginning to clear as the FAA struggled to clear the skies over America. But mostly, I remember Ashley Banfield.

banfield_11_12 - Copy

Ashley Banfield became the face of the 9/11 coverage for me. A reporter of personalities, she had a job on Wall Street interviewing the movers and shakers of the day. I myself had never heard of her. She looked like a ditsy woman I had once worked with, which was an initial strike against her, but she overcame that within minutes. Without hesitation, she descended on the World Trade Center, armed with a microphone, and accompanied by her cameraman, whose name, to my everlasting discredit, I have been unable to find. Arriving shortly before the first collapse, they broke into a closed business to shelter from the fallout. She emerged covered from head to toe in fine gray dust, finger-wiped her Clark Kent glasses, and proceeded to perform two nonstop days of the finest unplanned news coverage I have ever witnessed. She was given water by firefighters, caught a nap in the back of an ambulance, and interviewed everybody who would stop and talk to her. And this was none of that, “What do you think about this?” drivel you see so much at disaster scenes. Her questions drew out the essence of what it was to have lived through the horror, and kept us up to the minute on what was going on among emergency responders and survivors alike. I don’t know why she didn’t get Tom Brokaw’s job when he retired, or at least, Katie Couric’s. The only reason I can think of is what I call The Zulu Effect: In that no-longer-PC movie, after hours of non-stop attacks by thousands of Zulus on a small British garrison, the two officers, played by Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, stand amid piles of corpses in a small yard of the mission hospital they have successfully defended. Second-in-command Michael Caine asks, “Was it like this for you? The first time, I mean?” to which his superior, Stanley Baker, replies, “The first time? You think I could stand in this butchers’ yard more than once?”

I was scheduled to be off for three days, which was the length of time that all of America was a no-fly zone. It was eerie. I remember sitting out under the orange tree with Bonnie, hearing no jet noise, seeing no airplanes, except once on the second day when a flight of F-16s from an Air Force base up north made a sweep over the city. Getting to work would have been a nightmare, as security on all the bases was cranked up to a level unprecedented in American history. There were eight hour waits the first couple of days, as every car was checked with a fine tooth comb from hubcaps to sunroof. It was not the most enjoyable three days off I’ve ever had, hanging on news coverage that mostly showed the Towers falling, over and over and over again, waiting for hard information that didn’t seem to come. It did eventually trickle in, of course, a picture emerged of who they were and where they came from, and the War on Terror began on my birthday; I was proud of that . . .

Now it is seventeen years later. What has changed? Well, nobody flies for fun anymore. If you simply must, then before you get on the plane, government officials subject you to a level of sexual molestation that, performed outside the airport, would get them life in prison without parole. It’s harder to get into buildings than it used to be. My “rank” was sufficient that I could take Bonnie to the Officers’ Club for dinner; after 9/11 I couldn’t even bring her on the base. Have these measures helped? Possibly. It’s impossible to describe the attacks that didn’t take place because you couldn’t bring a bottle of shampoo onto an airplane, but it is more difficult to make your way through your daily life, and I can’t help but think of the words of Benjamin Franklin, words to the effect of, “Anyone who gives up some liberty to obtain some security will soon have neither.” I guess the jury’s still out on that one.

The survivors have become a subclass of our culture, and they say some things that seem odd. From the fireman who pulled his buddy out moments before the collapse to the securities manager who carried a wheelchair-bound woman down sixty-eight flights of stairs, they all say, “Don’t call me a hero. Talk to that guy.” Survivor’s guilt? Modesty? Just fed up with their unwanted star status? That’s not for me to say.

I sort of get it, though. As one who came of age in the sixties, I am a Vietnam Veteran, and while I will freely talk about what it’s like to ride out a hurricane on a small wooden ship, stand a pier watch in freezing rain, or hold a 25,000 ton fleet oiler steady in a seaway while a helicopter medevacs a stricken shipmate, I don’t talk about ‘Nam. I can’t. I tried to write a work of fiction incorporating some of the events that happened to me; it doesn’t come. What happened there stays there, somehow part of a sacred core that no one is allowed to touch. The 9/11 survivors had their “Tour in ‘nam” visited on them in a single morning, and with none of the training or preparation we had as soldiers and sailors. I briefly mention my own experience here as a reference point, but had I made a dozen tours, it would pale by comparison to what these people went through.

My grandparents recognized one date on which they remembered where they were, what they were wearing, who they were with, what song was playing, everything, like it had just happened moments ago. Their Date was December 7th, 1941. In the aftermath of that memory, their generation rolled up their sleeves and went to work. My grandma took a job building fighter planes for Lockheed, Rosie the riveter, freeing up a man to carry a gun. And carry guns they did. They made sacrifices on the home front, endured rationing, saved cans, turned in their aluminum pots and pans so that their soldiers, the Greatest Generation, could stamp out the greatest evil of their day, a pair of Empires so vile that we allied with Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union to defeat them.

How is our generation measuring up? Not well. Who do you know that has made one meaningful sacrifice? Oh, an individual here and there, and certainly those who have joined the services to stand in the face of a form of evil that will commit mass murder in the name of their god, but what is happening on the home front? Practically nothing. We whine about the price of bread while our soldiers die in faraway lands so that we can sleep peacefully in our comfortable beds. As Kipling noted over a century ago:

“Makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep

Is cheaper than them uniforms, and they’re starvation cheap.

As Al-Qaeda and the other poisonous leagues of evil it has spawned, diligently plot the downfall of Western Civilization, what are we, that very Western Civilization, concerned with? Why, ninety-two flavors of butt-stupid “reality” shows, and hanging on every word of some rich-ass celebrity who’s blubbering into a hanky because the elevator in her mansion is out of service, while children starve on the sidewalk within view of her rooftop patio. Look what’s happened in our nation’s capitol year after year since, with our petty piss-ant politicians willing to let America slide down the toilet rather than take one step to compromise with the opposition party. We are openly encouraged by those very politicians to silence those who disagree with them with threats of violence and persecution. Just who is the enemy here, really? We elected these jackasses, so I guess we deserve them. Seriously, I posted the solution to that particular problem on the old Tyler Gang blog. It was up for three years. There was not one comment.

I look around seventeen years later, and I see the camaraderie that followed in the days after the attacks gone. It’s business as usual, like nothing ever happened. If you study the history of our great nation, you realize that the path of that history is littered with the wreckage of swaggering dictators and petty warlords who all believed that Americans were too soft, too addicted to their little creature comforts to actually set them aside and fight to preserve them. As I look around seventeen years later, I fear that this time, they may be right.

You will notice that I did not post any pictures of the actual attacks. You know where to find them, if that is your interest. I cannot look at them without being transported back to that day. It is like salt in an open wound, and when I see the images, all of my emotional makeup wants the bastards who orchestrated it killed. I want the people who nurtured them, and gave them the beliefs that led them to this killed. I want the countries who harbored them laid waste. See, when I look at those pictures, all of my religion, what I claim to be my spiritual beliefs, are made lies, because I don’t want to forgive any of them for anything. I want them killed, horribly, terrifyingly, lingeringly killed. Is this what my grandparents felt when they watched the black-and-white newsreel footage of the USS Arizona exploding? Most likely. Their generation acted on it, going so far as to immolate two cities in nuclear fireballs. In the aftermath, Germany and Japan are two of our staunchest allies. Where will we stand with the Middle East in fifty years? More importantly, where do we stand with ourselves today?

I sat down here to remember those who fell in a savage act of pure evil, and to honor the heroes of that day. I don’t think that can be done without looking at what has happened to the rest of us, to our culture, because of those events. I have spent many years learning the history of this nation, and from that perspective, I have to say that what I see frightens me for our future. Oh, not our brave and skilled warriors, but those of us left behind in the civilian world whose lives and actions form the foundation on which they stand. What do they stand for? What must they think when they look back to their homeland and see the biggest news items of the day are who got booted off American Idol, or what zillion dollar resort the Kardashians are frolicking at? I think that, while it remains a date on the calendar, most of us have, by and large, forgotten 9/11. As a person a continent away whose personal life was untouched by these events, that seems a sacrilege. And yet, during all the remembrance shows of this past weekend, one thing stands out. A survivor, being interviewed about her experiences of that day, losing her husband among them, had this to say:

“Everyone tells me, ‘never forget, never forget.’ Every time I want to speak with my husband, I remember, but if we are ever to achieve true peace and closure, don’t we have to, at some point, forget?”

In 1973, thirty years after the Second World War, my grandmother refused to allow me to bring my good friend, my good Japanese friend, into her home. Will my grandchildren be more enlightened thirty years from now? Let us hope . . .