Archive for May, 2012

There must be something in the water, or something about the month of May. Whatever it is, to the readers and book-lovers (as well as the idly curious) who made this month my most successful this  year, thank you very much. Glad to know that folks are still enjoying  the antics of Wade Stuart, as well as a story about the Gulf War.

That bit of good news will keep me going (we writers are suckers for a little good news) as I finalize my next novel, “Deep Blood.” If you haven’t checked it out yet, click on the button at the top of the screen and get to know Colt Harper and a little of east Mississippi. And check back here for details on when it will be available.

And if you haven’t joined the Wade Stuart bandwagon yet, get over to Amazon and check out these:

A Simple Murder: the follow-up to Enemy Within, which finds former ATF Wade Stuart in Hawaii, content to while away his days surfing and relaxing. But when he discovers a corpse aboard the Marine Corps base, he’s drawn into a domestic terrorism plot with a terrifying goal. Available in both paperback and Kindle edition.

Enemy Within: Former Marine Wade Stuart, an ATF special agent, finds himself working undercover in his home territory, Mississippi, infiltrating a militia unit with lofty goals. When Stuart uncovers a plot to assassinate the governor and take over the state as part of a people’s revolution, Washington plans to send in the 2nd Marine Division to attack the militia. Stuart sees a bloodbath coming, begs for time to quash the plan, but the President sees this as an opportunity to set an example. Isolated and unsure of the decision out of Washington, Stuart must race to shut down the militia before the military arrives.

Into the Storm: A U.S. Marine in the Persian Gulf War: The title is pretty self-explanatory. My view of the Gulf War. Print only.

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I don’t brag on my hometown too often, but there’s good reason to. For one, Columbus, Miss., is the birthplace of America’s greatest playwright, Tennessee Williams. His boyhood home is now a historical landmark in the downtown area (that’s it to the left). The town was also spared the Yankee torch during the Civil War — mainly because Nathan Bedford Forrest kept the Union forces west of the Tombigbee River — which meant that the numerous antebellum homes in the town still stand today. And the river upon which Colubmus is perched is now the site of a major lock and dam in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Also during the Civil War, Columbus served as a sort of 19th-century MASH unit. Casualties, both North and South, from the Battle of Shiloh were treated there. Some of those casualties who succumbed to their wounds were also buried there, in a cemetery on the south side of town known as Friendship Cemetery.

And it was in Friendship Cemetery where Memorial Day got started. Down South, a tradition sprang up almost immediately after that war, in which the ladies of the various towns across the South took the last Sunday in May to decorate the graves of the fallen Confederate soldiers. It was called Decoration Day, and in some parts is still called that. As a kid, I can recall being piled into the family car to head out to Egger’s Cemetery in Caledonia, laden with flower arrangements, to decorate the Lockhart graves (my mother’s family). This always happened the week before Memorial Day.

A few years after the war, once this tradition became established, the women of Columbus decided to decorate not only the graves of Confederate troops, but the fallen Union soldiers, too. This conciliatory act was noted nationwide, so much so that Memorial Day was established as a national holiday, largely because of the grace of the women of Columbus, Mississippi.

Today was one of the most, well, memorable, Memorial Days I’ve had in years. Thanks to a gracious invitation from the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association’s Virginia Chapter 27-2, I participated in a ride through Stafford County to the Quantico National Cemetery to attend the day’s ceremonies. Though CVMA wasn’t the only motorcycle group there, it was certainly the largest, at about 30 bikes. Great bunch of guys, awesome ceremony and a fitting way to spend the morning. And remember.

This is probably going to get me some hate mail, but here it is: Americans commemorate Memorial Day poorly and wrongly. Let’s go with poorly first. In our consumer society, we’re all about “getting away for the weekend” (which in my area means hours of maddening traffic to get to an overcrowded, overpriced, overeverything beach with no ridable waves), the sales, the grill, etc. Even — and I say this with trepidation, being a motorcycle owner and a veteran — Rolling Thunder has gotten out of hand. Seriously, upwards of 150,000 motorcycles bearing down on the Pentagon? With all the chaos, the rush, the spending, the grilling, the eating, what the hell does Memorial Day even mean? Other than a day off from work.

That’s the poorly part. But too many people seem to not even know why we have a day called Memorial Day. And I know people mean well, especially the talkers on the radio, but Memorial Day is not a “Thank you for your service to our country” holiday. That’s Veterans Day. It’s not “tie a yellow ribbon” day, either. So, please, don’t come up to me and say “Hey, thank you for your service.”

Several years ago, I spent about a week in Israel, and learned an awful lot about the Israeli psyche and culture — both good and bad. But one thing they understand is the concept of Memorial Day:

“Yom Hazikaron is the national remembrance day observed in Israel for those who fell since 1860, when Jews were first allowed to live in Israel outside of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. National memorial services are held in the presence of Israel’s top leadership and military personnel. The day opens with a siren the preceding evening at 20:00 (8:00 pm). The siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything (including driving, which stops highways) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect.

Memorial Day is a commemoration for those who died in the service of this country. Period. Yes, all gave some, but this day is for those some who gave all, men like Capt Jim Thorp, Sgt. Aaron Pack, and Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Murphy.

On Monday, take the time to stop what you’re doing, stand in silence for a moment, and pay your respects.

This made me laugh today. A friend of mine, a former editor at a publishing house in New York, posted it on Facebook earlier. If you want to know why writers are generally nuts, it may be because we tend to view the world this way.

First thing I thought of was Bob Bausch, who sure enough, posted: “As we all know, plot is pretty much meaningless. It’s not WHAT happens but WHO it happens to.”

That was Lesson Number One in the Bausch School of Writing. Which, of course, goes against everything most writers are taught. Much like we’re all taught in high school that “good” poetry rhymes (which is total crap, of course. See Roland Flint, whose “What I Have Tried to Say to You” will shatter the heart of the staunchest dispassionate soul.), good writing isn’t necessarily a good plot. I’ve written about it here before, but Bob’s words happen to be true, in my opinion. Plots work in movies and cemeteries, but they don’t guarantee a good story. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t guarantee good characters.

What do you remember more about To Kill a Mockingbird? The plot or Boo Radley and Atticus Finch and Scout? Now, what do you remember the most about Die Hard? The lead terrorist’s name and background or the plot?

I try not to write plots anymore. Sure, I start out with an idea of where I want a story to go (usually), but then I have to let the characters tell that story. I, literally, don’t know where the story is going until the character speaks. Happened this week with a new character I’m learning about. I sat down for about an hour to write a little bit about this idea I have for this guy named Kenny Whitaker. All I knew is that he’s not that bright and seems to be living outside the law. But when I finished writing an hour later, I learned that Kenny did a year in the county jail for robbery — originally armed robbery, but his lawyer managed to whittle it down. Now, I have no idea where it goes next, and I won’t until I write again. But finding out will be fun (if only for me).

That’s one of the real joys of writing to me — discovering the new character. It’s like walking into a room full of strangers and meeting each one on his or her own terms.

Speaking of which, get to know Wade Stuart, former ATF agent and present badass of two novels, Enemy Within and A Simple Murder. Get ’em both for less than $5. Great summer reading, I swear.

One thing about Southerners: we like to talk. Yeah, we do it slow, but we do it well. My cousin’s recent visit is a case in point.

I have 10 first cousins on the Thompson side, all of which have a little of the story tellin’ in them. Uncle Tom’s crew is the Alabama bunch and when they’re not reminding us all that there’s a football team in Tuscaloosa that’s supposed to be pretty good, they’re usually cracking wise, a gift bestowed on them by the true storyteller of the family, their father. Aunt Jo’s bunch includes LisaandLinda, the twins. There are countless stories about LisaandLinda, many of which involve one of them (or both) driving poor ol’ Uncle Aubrey nuts with their antics (more on that later). I grew up mostly with them and their siblings, Susan and David. David was my nearest male cousin and, as he was a few years older, was the one I tended to look up to the most (and get in trouble with the most).  Uncle Truman is the baby of his family, and his kids are my youngest cousins. Terrie and Edward grew up all over the country — Dad was in the Army (a subject that always seems to come up when he’s around his Marine brothers and brother-in-law). Edward likes to think he’s taller than me, even though he’s now only the third-tallest living Thompson male. He’s also, like his dad before him, in the Army.

Terrie stayed with us a couple of days last week, at the end of a business trip from Nashville. And we did a scaled-down tourist thing in D.C. — only one museum (Native American), the Jefferson Memorial (her favorite, and mine) and the WWII Memorial, which she had never seen.

Mostly, we talked. A lot. About our families. And laughed about that a lot. But we had great stories about GrannyandGrandaddy, the Alabama cousins, the Redneck Nettleton Christmas and the Wedding From Hell. Actually two wedding stories.

Terrie’s mom, who happens to be my Aunt Linda, got married to Uncle Truman when I was very young. I’m guessing about two. Couldn’t have been much older, but I do remember it. Or at least my part in it. I don’t remember the name of the church or anything, just Aunt Linda’s wedding dress. It was white, she was beautiful and the dress had a long, blindingly white train. My cousin David and I were in the back of the church before the wedding, all dressed up nice, complete with our Sunday best Buster Browns on, standing behind Aunt Linda. This wasn’t during the processional or anything (I don’t think); we were just behind her, and she was in the back of the church.

Anyway, David came up with a very cool idea. He leaped over Aunt Linda’s train. Jumped clean over it. And back. Whoa, I thought. Cool. So, David — being David — convinced me to follow his lead. It didn’t take much convincing. Remember, David was my BigCousinDavid, so whatever he did, I wanted to do. That was Problem #1.

Problem #2 was that David, being older than me, had longer legs and greater train-leaping ability than I did.

Problem #3 was that I didn’t realize this.

So, I took a big ol’ little boy leap and very nearly cleared Aunt Linda’s train. Emphasis on “very nearly.” The heel of one of my Buster Browns didn’t quite make it and landed on her dazzling white train, leaving a perfect, BLACK Buster Brown heel mark. I looked down in horror for about a nanosecond — because it only took that long for my father to snatch me clear of the floor, of the Earth, and haul my little ass outside to receive the spanking of my young life. I’m talking that howling, snuffling whupping you remember for weeks. I guess he felt bad after because I have the distinct memory of him giving me, of all things, an orange soda to drink in the car. Where that thing came from I’ll never know.

Aunt Linda never batted an eye. She just smiled her Aunt Linda smile at me like it was OK. Did I mention she was beautiful?