McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

Saturday, January 8, 2022

50 Years of Being 'Phil & Nita'

I am 72. Nita is 73. We have not (yet) lived particularly long lives. Looking ahead, we may or may not experience the luxury living through our eighty’s, into our ninety’s. We don’t know if either of us will face the challenge of living with grace and dignity as our abilities to keep doing what we’ve always done, fall away, one at a time. That’s the unknown future.

The wonderful known thing of now, is that today is our 50th wedding anniversary. For more than 2/3 of our lives, Nita and I have been ‘us.’  I’ve said more than a few times that she and I aren’t just married, we’re joined at the hip.

It’s common to hear couples joke about staying married a long time. They mention making it through the ‘rough patches.’  Maybe I’m wearing blinders, or am already senile, but I honestly don’t remember any particularly rough patches in our five decades of marriage. I think that means that if God sometimes shoves two young people at each other, His hands were on our backs in the days when we were barely adults.

Fifty years of marriage has never been a special goal of ours. Neither of our own parent couples reached a golden anniversary, due to the mid-life divorce of my parents and the sudden death of Nita’s father just a few weeks after our wedding. We all know that lives end unexpectedly, and paths chosen early in life, change. We understand that both luck and God’s grace have helped our marriage. We are proud of reaching fifty years together, and rather than having attained a goal, we’re viewing today as a mile marker, a noteworthy stake alongside the road with a gravel pull-out for a little celebration before moving further on down the highway.


Regretfully, the first week of 2022 has already unveiled itself as another frustrating year of on-again-off-gain gatherings. Plans for our golden anniversary reception later today have moved from maskless to masked, from indoors to outdoors. and may wind up as only an intimate family gathering. Our little town is not in a protective bubble. Nearly one in three people in our county are testing positive for the new Covid, and not surprisingly, our circle of friends includes a lot of seniors like us who are shy about exposing themselves to infection. Nonetheless, we’ll toast ourselves with whoever shows up.

And yesterday, bless them both, our two sons each put surprise gifts in front of us. Son Ben carried in a small table he built, the top of which is an old stained-glass window that was salvaged from the demolition of the church where we were hitched. Now that’s a meaningful momento.

After we previewed the Power Point slide show of highlights of our fifty-year marriage that I pulled together for today’s reception, son Todd said, “We’re not done yet. Stay seated.”

He then popped up on the big TV screen an anniversary congratulations speech to us from actor Sean Aston.  Sean, otherwise known as Samwise Gamgee, J.R.R. Tolkien’s character who was the relucant compass who kept Frodo on the hard but truth path.  I first read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1967, and in 2014 I almost missed the tour bus just so I could drink a pint in the tavern in Oxford, England where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis hung out. The short congratulatory speech to us from the guy who played Sam was touching and cool, and for the second time in the day before our anniversary, I wiped away tears. It struck me for not the first time that Nita’s and my best work lay in our two sons.

So, later today we will celebrate with whoever shows up, and the day after we will begin our second half-century together. Stay tuned.

 

 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

On Writing My First Civil War Novel

 As I’m an avid consumer of historical military fiction (authors like Jeff Shaara, Bernard Cornwell, Gingrich & Forstchen, PJ Nagle, and Harold Coyle), I decided to try writing a Civil War novel. I built the story around the real outfit which our reenacting group uses for our name and which we hold to as our “primary impression.” That’s Company K of the Sixth Texas Infantry, CSA, aka The Alamo Rifles, whose men were recruited around San Antonio, Texas.

This article, however, is not about the Alamo Rifles or the plot of Whittled Away. This article is about the process of writing a first novel. With each new chapter I rediscovered that military historical fiction is a whole different beast than anything I’ve written before.  All the magazine articles and newsletters I’ve written were easy compared to writing a novel.  First of all, the darned book just wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d wake up early in the morning eager to hit the keyboard to get the gist of a new scene recorded, since breakfast and the morning newspaper tend to wipe clean any sleep-inspired ideas. I kept jabbering to my wife about the characters and how to take them down the path the real Civil War put them upon. I took to e-mailing scenes to my sons and brother to gauge their responses. I read whole chapters out loud to my cornered family during holiday gatherings. 

For over three years, I practically lived with one or another of six primary accounts of the war written by soldiers in the regiment or brigade to which my characters belong.  One of the most pleasant surprises was learning how many odd and exciting anecdotes are in those six primary accounts. Honestly, truth is stranger than fiction, so much so that I decided the book needed an “Afterward” to list the memoirs and note that the most unexpected vignettes in the story really did happen.

Then there has been the core question that seems common to writers of historical fiction: Is the historical war storyline mainly a vehicle around which to create human conflicts and the development of fictional characters, or are my fictional characters primarily the vehicle to tell the story of the war for this one regiment? I think I started with the characters being the means to tell the war story of the Sixth Texas, but the characters kept growing and demanding more attention than was my initial plan, so by the end perhaps the human side prevailed over the war itself. But I’m not sure, and each reader will decide that answer for himself.

The fictional characters became my family. My job was to dream them up; name them; put personalities on them; put them in tight spots and get most of them out again, deciding who to kill off and who to keep alive until the end. That was great fun, but not as easy I thought it would be. I learned it’s tough to knock off a good guy. Even more, the main characters had become my kids, and you just don’t “do in” your own kids.  Also, it was much easier to create good guys than real meanies, yet good stories need villains. On the other hand, even good-guy characters need human shortcomings, like we all have.  I confess that my guys are not overly complex and with a few intentional exceptions, are good people, but sometimes the dark side pops up in all of them. I hope.

With the story about three-fourths written, I had an epiphany and decided the book needed a romance. Bear in mind that I’m a big admirer of the novel The Killer Angels and  the movie Gettysburg, which have no female characters, much less a romance thread.  All along I’ve just wanted to tell the war story of the Alamo Rifles, nothing more.  Then the light bulb clicked on to remind me that war is depressing and reading about battle after battle and hardship after hardship is also depressing. Prisoner-of-war camp and then the Atlanta campaign in 1864, which are big parts of the story of the Sixth Texas, may have been long periods of terrible hardship and non-stop fighting, but a book about it needs a distraction every now and then – like a romantic interlude for some lucky soldier. The other thing is that I have never written a romantic scene and wanted to try. Turns out it was great fun, and more importantly, my wife gave it a passing grade. I don’t yet know if the lovey-dovey bird-walk away from the war itself detracts from the essence of the novel, but I hope not, because it’s one of my favorite parts.

Then there are the forbidden words. The unspeakable “N” word, which is the racial slur that continues to plague Mark Twain’s books today. Huck Finn is truly one of the great American classic novels, but it still gets banned from school reading lists and classroom instruction because it includes the “N” word.  I’m not even in Mark Twain’s shadow, but to be authentic in 1860’s dialogue, should I include that “N” word in the everyday conversation of my characters?  What about the other “N” word? The one which is an anatomical reference, not the place where we put priming caps on our muskets. If I use that word in the romance, will the book be deemed too racy for teenage readers? I’m not telling if either of those hot button words fell victim to the delete key. Writing this before the novel is finished, and certainly not fully edited, I don’t even know if any forbidden words will be in the final version. (Author’s Note: The book is now done, and I can’t be coy, both N words are in the book.)

Since war is an ugly business, how many light-hearted experiences should be part of a war novel?  My answer has been enough to flesh out the personalities of the handful of very young men who are my main characters.  Young guys are not known for a lot of serious introspection, they are known for doing stupid things, saying stupid things, taking risks, ribbing each other, and somehow enduring crappy situations. The primary account memoirs and diaries helped here, because those veterans remembered many of the mischievous and light-hearted things they did between the battles and other hardships they endured. Again, I hope my guys reflect that in a realistic way.  

Since my novel is first and last a war story, how many battles should be included?  How often and in how many ways could I take my characters through the horrific experiences of Civil War battle?  Wouldn’t the battle experience be too repetitive and intense to include time after time? Again, a close reading of regimental and brigade histories led me through this challenge. I found that not one of the Sixth Texas’ dozen battles were fought in the same circumstance as any other. In the real war, sometimes the Sixth Texas was attacking, sometimes defending. Sometimes they were in the forward skirmish line, sometimes they were elbow-to-elbow. The terrain varied. Opponents differed. Engaging Yankees armed with Henry repeating rifles led to a very different fight than engaging Yankees armed with old Springfield smoothbores. Fighting US Colored troops brought about different emotions than fighting other white men. The outcome of the battles ran the gamut from great success to utter defeat. It turned out that I could highlight those differences. Moreover, being historical “fiction,” in some battles key characters die, or are captured, or are seriously wounded. In other battles the whole group skates through unscathed. I tried hard to put the same core elements of combat into each battle: Fear, the fog of war, chaos, the nastiness of blood and offal, but I think each battle wound up with a different feel to it.  I hope.

The internet has been a blessing for quick research to identify which Federal divisions and brigades opposed Cleburne’s Division in their engagements. It was then surprisingly easy to find online histories of Union regiments that might well have fought the Sixth Texas. Those internet sources usually included officer’s names, after-action reports, and more cool anecdotes that I could weave into the storyline.

A final challenge was how to use my experiences as a 15-year Civil War reenactor to write a better Civil War novel, without writing a novel that’s obviously written by a reenactor who is eager to display his knowledge of the material culture of Civil War soldiers, or the field craft of Civil War soldiers. It was very tempting to describe the brass buttons on the characters’ uniform jackets, or list the nine steps of loading a musket, or quote the specific orders to move a formation of soldiers about, or tell how to turn a sack of cornmeal into edible food, or how to make a brush shelter that might keep men dry during an overnight thunderstorm. While it’s neat we learn those things in our reenacting hobby, I found it very tempting to overdo them in writing. Nonetheless, I included some Civil War reenacting “trivia” because, after all is said and written, I am a devoted Civil War reenactor, but only a fledgling novelist.   

 The completed first draft was 120,000 words long. I quickly sent a printed copy to my brother, who since our teenage years has guided my choice of books to read, and is an astute Civil War historian. I asked my English teacher-librarian wife to tackle an electronic version. She is an avid reader of novels, but doesn’t know much about the Civil War. I thought this pair of willing “prime-readers” would give me candid, but not too brutal feedback. Waiting for them to read and critique the drafts was like holding my wife’s hand while she delivered each of our sons. I was on pins and needles, time slowed to a crawl, and I was really scared my newborn child would be missing something important. (Turns out both sons were missing hair, balding by thirty, but that came much later.)

Brother and Wife each provided me a fair set of compliments. When talking by phone about the book, Brother laughed a lot at the parts where I hoped readers would at least smile. Wife blessed my main characters as believable and interesting. On the other hand, they both gave me lists of suggestions, chapter by chapter. That stung, but I had asked them for it. I returned to the keyboard, not too sullen, and started patching the fabric that connected the chapters, reluctantly grateful to have guidance from critical eyes of people I trust and respect. I don’t transition very smoothly in real life, and Brother and Wife confirmed my story line needed smoother segues too. It took some work to lessen the gaps between the chapters.  It was harder to reshape a few of the characters. It took some nipping, tucking, and injecting little bits of personality and backstory here and there, but again I concede the prime-readers’ observations helped me improve the believability of the characters. In the months of revisions I also added a few new characters to better paint the whole picture.

Both were too nice to suggest I delete or rewrite whole chapters, for which I’m grateful. Well, that’s not true. Wife did urge me to delete one complete, albeit short, chapter right at the end of the book, a chapter wholly based on a quietly remarkable incident in a diary, but an incident that was not particularly germane to the storyline. Wife said it detracted from the core story at a time when the focus needed to stay tight on the key action. So, I did it. It’s gone.  But it hurt to hit that “delete” button.

Wife was also not shy about suggesting whole paragraphs of “boring history and irrelevant details” bite the dust. She didn’t want to get bogged down in either the minutia of the stuff soldiers carry, or the bigger picture of the war, she wanted the characters to carry the tale. After zapping a whole chapter, paragraphs became easy victims. Her suggestions shortened the story by 2,500 words, and I think it is now a leaner, better, character-driven book.

Did writing the book make me a better reenactor?  I don’t think so, although the ongoing reading and research did make me better appreciate the hardships Civil War soldiers endured for long periods of time during the campaigns. Those guys were tough hombres, no doubt about it.

On the other hand, some of my campaign reenacting experiences did more to enrich my writing than the writing the book did to enrich my reenacting. I recall the immersive event I did in 2007, Bank’s Grand Retreat, where we marched over twenty miles in the deep woods of Louisiana, fought skirmishes every day, camped and ate for four days without modern logistical support, but did do picket duty every night, and never saw more of modern America than a stray plastic bottle or beer can on the trail. We had experiences like filling canteens in creeks (the water purified with iodine pills), cooking in the dark, depending on hardtack crackers for sustenance, packing up in the pre-dawn, hitting the trail early for four days in a row, marching most of the day, then fighting while more tired than I thought possible. Then we did it again the next day for four days.

Those experiences helped me get in the heads of my characters in a way I couldn’t have done before the four days of immersive campaign reenacting. I had to endure discomfort for more than an isolated hour in order for the deprivations, hardship and endless activity to make an impact, to give me just a taste of the real circumstance of Civil War soldiers on campaign – and no one was really shooting at me.

Conversely, the casual reenacting static camp weekends didn’t provide any helpful insights for writing the novel. Those weekends are great fun, they are not the right kind of virtual time travel, and do not provide enough “magic moments,” to help me write realistic scenes about a terrible war that happened 150 years ago.

Hunters shoot different game, athletes play different sports, and authors write different genres. My plunge into military historical fiction was the biggest challenge I’ve had as a writer. I hope the result is something worth reading.

 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Two Tales From a Vietnam War Chaplain

 Whoops. Somehow August slid right by without a McBride blog post. Okay, it was hot in Texas in August. Nothing new there.

Moving onto September, the month of the Civil War battle at Antietam where the single bloodiest day in U.S. history occurred, more American deaths at Antietam than on 911 when the terrorists attacked our homeland, more American deaths than on D-Day in WWII. Only the 3,000 deaths at Antietam were inflicted on us by us. Never again, I pray With those somber September thoughts, this post is not mine, but from a friend:

A good friend, Dick Gray, was an army chaplain during Vietnam, serving in a MASH unit. Dick lives in Galveston now and is an active Mason. While he left the ministry after his army chaplaincy, he is about to do (by now has done) a Masonic funeral service for a member of the Galveston Lodge who died of COVID. Our email conversation about that included his sending me the following two stories from his army chaplaincy, one story here in the states shortly before he shipped out, the other shortly after he arrived in Vietnam. I found one story sad, the other chilling, and both compelling. So, he’s letting me post them here.

“In April 1971 while assigned as one of five chaplains in an infantry brigade, my name came to the top of the list on a post-wide Ft. Benning rotating Protestant Chaplains Duty Roster - when a funeral home's request came in for a military chaplain to assist at the funeral of a young Black infantryman killed when he stepped on a land mine after six weeks in Vietnam. I declined a staff car & driver; my then-wife Linda & I drove ourselves about 75 miles to Lafayette, Alabama from Columbus, Georgia.

Before going, though, I met with another brigade chaplain who was Black - to get his input; didn't want to screw things up! Floyd told me that there were three simple rules to follow at a rural, southern Black funeral: 1) Hang loose; 2) Hang loose; 3) Hang loose! Then he gave me about a dozen Bible passages they'd expect to hear, depending on my level of involvement (I had been asked only to help with military honors at graveside). He also said that sometimes at an event like this there would be more than one minister: hers; his; theirs after they married, if different. He said to plan on staying a while!

We got to town well before the 2 p.m. funeral time - and had trouble finding the funeral home. We asked for directions at a Norman Rockwell painting gas station-general store. Old farmers in bibbed overalls playing checkers on an upturned barrel, etc. I was in my dress uniform, crosses on my lapels. 

"Now boy, why would you want to be goin' theya?" I explained the obvious. "I know, boy, but THEYA?" They gave us bogus directions that took us way out of town before we caught on.

Finally got to the funeral home - and, Duh! - this clueless young chaplain - fairly recently from likely the most liberal Methodist seminary in the country - realized it was, of course, a Black funeral home. We met the white infantry captain from Auburn Univ. ROTC who was the Survival Assistance Officer. He took us out to the church - a mile off a paved road deep into a pine forest.

 Wood-framed; white clapboards; some broken windows; Standing room only crowd, Linda counted at about 350 (and we three were the only whites); flowing out the front door; people crowded around and looking into the church from the outside through the open windows. Old upright piano; banged up podium as the pulpit.

 As we walked into the church I saw a large man up front wearing a large badge; a star. My thoughts whirling, I said to myself, "Well, at least they've got a Black Deputy Sheriff" and even said, "Sheriff, it's a pleasure to meet you" as I shook his hand and noticed that the star said, "USHER." He handed me a program - which listed two ministers plus "Military Chaplain - Graveside."

 A bit after 2 p.m. I saw "the Sheriff" waving his arms to motion me to come to the front of the church. I motioned for him to come to the back of the church - which he did; and informed me, "Well, Chaplain suh, nobody else done showed - I guess you'z it." And so it began.

 I stood at the front of the church and looked over the congregation - totally clueless about what to say. I was grateful to be led to say: "I don't see how we can possibly go on this afternoon. I'm white; from the north; from a city; and in the military. You're Black; from the south; in a rural area; and civilians. I don't see any way for us to come together - unless we do so in the name of our common God and Christ and for this man and his family. If we can agree on that, we'll begin."

 There was a very old woman seated in the front pew along the isle right in front of the podium - swishing the flies away with a fan. Turns out she was not "family" but was the "Mother" figure for that congregation. Total silence. You really could hear the flies buzzing. Then she slowly stood; turned to face the congregation; and in a very clear voice announced, "Praise the Lord; we will begin."

I ended up using every one of the Bible passages Floyd had given me. Went on for about 40 totally extemporaneous, podium-pounding minutes - with clapping, and "Yes, Sweet Jesus!" and "Amen!" all over the place. At one point, I looked to the rear of the church (where Linda was standing with the SAO - having refused several offers for seats), and she was in wide-eyed shock.

 Paul Harvey's "The Rest of The Story." - The deceased soldier and gone through Basic Infantry Training at Ft. Dix. On weekend passes he linked up with city guys from New York and went home with them to Brooklyn. Met a local NYC girl. Completed Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Dix - and married the NYC girl just before he went to Vietnam; where he died 6 weeks later. He had broken up with his hometown Lafayette high-school sweetheart - who went out and married HIS best friend when she learned he'd married the NYC girl. HIS parents were so poor they were brought to the funeral by a friend in an old, very rusty pick-up; they did not own a vehicle of their own. And the brand new NYC wife came in all superiority in a rented black stretch limo - SHE would get the GI life insurance payment. At the funeral (half-open casket since the lower half of him stayed in Nam) the former local girlfriend totally lost it; tried to climb into the casket screaming, "I love you."

 I later learned that a Black staff sergeant accompanied the remains from the Military Mortuary at Dover (Delaware) Air Force Base - and was denied lodging at the only motel in Lafayette. He had to stay at the Holiday Inn 18 miles south in Opalika. Guess the 1964 Civil Rights Act had not reached Lafayette yet!

 I wrote up that blatantly illegal conduct in a report to the Post Chaplain - who took it to Ft. Benning's Commanding General Talbott. Lafayette was beyond the 50-mile-limit range of a post commander's typical authority, so Talbott could not take even the largely symbolic step of placing the motel "off limits" to military personnel. But he was livid! He'd commanded the 1st Infantry Division ("The Big Red One") in Vietnam.

 So Talbott did what he could: he sent scathing letters to the mayor of Lafayette; the owner of the motel; and the editor of the local newspaper –along with copies of the Civil Right Act.

Many years later, when my wife Kate & son Douglas & I were driving home on a Sunday from a trip east to visit son Andrew at the Civil War battlefields where he worked for the National Park Service, I convinced them to detour with me to Lafayette to look for the church. I found what I was certain was the right dirt road - but turned around after quite some distance without finding the church (we were towing a pop-up camper). Went back into town; found a small church (nice, new, brick) on a paved road  - saw the African-American ushers standing out front. Explained what I was looking for and why. One of the ushers said I WAS on the right dirt road - just hadn't gone far enough into the woods; that I was standing at their new church - and he said HE was there that day for that funeral!

 We found the church; fallen-in roof; mold and dirt and branches everywhere. The old podium and even the old upright piano still were there. Most of the windows were broken. Found the soldier's VA gravestone - and one 8' or 9' tall mini-"Washington's Monument"-style gravestone near the road - with dates of birth & death - and simply 'MOTHER' in big letters. We're convinced it was the grave of the matriarch who gave me permission to start in 1971.

 And from when Dick arrived in Vietnam:

 I arrived at my 1st assignment in Vietnam. After in-processing at Long Binh, a C-130 flight north to Cam Ranh Bay. Then a C-123 flight further north to Phu Cat airfield about 25 miles from Qui Nhon on the coast at Binh Dinh Privince (the air field at Qui Nhon was closed due to enemy activity - and Binh Dinh was one province never close to being "pacified" by either the French or the U.S.). Then by 3/4 ton truck the 25 miles from Phu Cat to the HQ at Qui Nhon. 

 The driver explained that I would conduct a funeral immediately upon arriving. Due to "rotation" of chaplains that HQ had been without a protestant chaplain about a week. As soon as we arrived at Qui Nhon I got out my chaplain's field kit (I just dumped my other gear at the chapel) and boarded a chopper to a nearby MAC-V advisor compound in the boonies. They knew I was inbound & had tracked me so they could get me asap.

 About 25 U.S. personnel (advisers to a South Vietnamese regiment) and a few Vietnamese translators were sitting on the ground waiting. I set up my altar on the hood of a Jeep and got under way.

 The dead: a U.S. Army infantry major (married; 4 children); his driver, a U.S. Army corporal (married; no children); and their young, single Vietnamese translator.

 All of whom were killed in an ambush by the Vietnamese the major advised - because he was too aggressive in searching out the VC."




 

 

 

 

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Case of the $700 Fried Lizard

 If you are a Texas homeowner the title may have already told you the whole story.

Last Sunday evening our air-conditioner quit cooling. We all encounter home problems like cranky ice makers or doors that stick.  Problem, yes, crisis, no. Broken AC’s in July in Texas are THE f ’ing crisis we all dread.   With a plea for help left on the phone of our local AC guy, Nita and I slept on top of the covers under a ceiling fan with another fan at the foot of the bed.

One of the reasons I love small town life followed: The AC servicemen showed up first thing the next morning. Probably didn’t hurt we’ve been going to church with the owner for 35 years. Anyway, his two very young and able repairmen checked this and that inside our blower closet and confirmed more than one electrical component was kaput. Next they went outside and looked in the house electric breaker panel. They called me to come look and shined a flashlight on the big double breaker that guards the AC from power surges from lightning and such. Behind the breakers I saw a brown lizard head on one side and his brown tail on the other side. That sucker was fried like a crispy taco, and in sacrificing himself to the gods he’d provided an arc that shorted out those critical inside pieces.  They replaced the failed components inside and I called an electrician—whose two sons I’d coached in youth soccer—who came over with one of those sons I’d coached as a kid, who replaced the shorted AC breakers and removed the poor old fried lizard. The $700 fried lizard.  But we slept under the sheets on Monday night and I was almost even smiling when I wrote the checks. Sometimes, quick, efficient service at any cost is what matters most. At least if you living through a Texas summer.

The crisis of the month aside, I now have a writer’s website.  I hope you will take a look at it. Here's the link: https://www.pmcbridenovels.com/

  The name of the website is ‘Swimming in the Light,’ which may not seem reflective of my Civil War novels, or even the flying horny toad dragon novel, but it is a theme in my last effort, Just To Be Fair. There’s a page on the website with a short explanation of why I chose that title. Hope you will read it, as well as reading Just To Be Fair.

Stay cool, it's only July and August is coming.  I know a good AC guy if you have your own fried lizard.  

Monday, June 7, 2021

An Unexpected Gift and Mysterious Advertising Decisions

 Now that Just To Be Fair has been for sale on Amazon for a month and some people have read it, I gotta mention two interesting things stemming from it.

First, a friend named Mike, who is my age, gifted me with his old Remington Model 66 .22 caliber rifle—the same rifle that is instrumental in the plot of Just To Be Fair. The same model I owned as a teenager and accidentally left at a friend’s country place back in the’70’s and never recovered. Mike said he bought his Model 66 for his son who is grown now and he doesn’t want it. After gushing my thanks for such an unexpected offer, I sent him a paperback copy of JTBF in a very lopsided swap. The gifted Model 66 is in my closet now, and has brought back some nice memories of my excursions into the Sabine River bottoms with it back in my tender teenage years. Hopefully, I’ll take it to the rifle range with sons and grandkids someday.

The other odd deal about Just To Be Fair and Amazon is that they four times rejected my Kindle advertising campaign for the book, even though the original book cover is on Amazon in full color and the plot well described.

When you open your Kindle to read, there is always an image of a book with a very short blurb about it. If you click on the cover image you can buy the book or read more about it. The advertising author pays Amazon ‘per click’ whether the clicker-reader buys the book or not.

The serial rejections stirred my streak of stubbornness and curiosity as I kept amending the copy and the cover image until the Amazon Kindle advertising gods accepted it.  First, I changed the brief text from referring to a shooting.  Nope. Then dropped the term ‘high school,’ thinking schools are off-limits. Another nope. Next I deleted the phrase ‘Redneck Romeo and Juliet’ romance. Yet another nope. Then I asked my cover designer to delete the rifle slung on the teenage boy’s shoulder on the cover, suspecting it was too threatening. You can see that version of the cover here. 

Anyway, that was a fourth nope. Finally, I completely rewrote the blurb again, and on the fifth try received an approval.  It’s still a mystery exactly why the rejections kept coming until the fifth effort.

 So far, the cover of JTBF has appeared on someone’s just-opened Kindle nearly 3,000 times. Sounds impressive, huh? Well, maybe not so much. I’ve paid for 17 clicks at about a dollar per click, and have had no purchases resulting from the clicks. I’m starting to feel like an email spammer or telephone robo-caller. If the campaign doesn’t beget some sales soon, I’ll zap it later this month and put the rifle back on the Kindle cover, knowing I at least tried a new marketing gambit.

Meanwhile, I’m receiving some nice feedback about the Just To Be Fair story and the characters. I hope you’ll invest a few bucks in a Kindle or paperback and give it a read. I’m betting it won’t disappoint, even if there’s no Civil War or giant flying horny toad in the plot.

And just for fun, here’s two of the grandkids at the San Antonio Zoo last weekend.



Sunday, May 2, 2021

Just To Be Fair

Just To Be Fair, my new novel written during the year of COVID isolation, is a done deal. It’s up on Amazon for sale as an e-book or a paperback.  I set out to draw on my experiences as a high school principal and write a story about a teenager who becomes a school shooter. I may have done that, but I may also have written a Redneck Romeo and Juliet story set in 1985.  Here’s the back cover blurb:

In 1985, we were naïve.

No one thought about school shooters.

No one imagined a student

Bringing a rifle to school

To commit murder.

Until the day

Stalker met Cheetos

In Puma Springs, Texas

And their world changed.

 

I hope you’ll take a look at it. Here’s the link to the Amazon page: 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B093R7XRXF


Sunday, April 4, 2021

An Unexpected E-Mail

I put my email address at the back of all my novels, inviting any reader who reached the end of the book to shoot me a message about the book. Over the eight years and eight novels, I’ve received a few messages from folks who wrote nice things about the book. Such notes always are unexpected and always make my day. If there is anything writers crave, it’s a pat on the back for our efforts.

Last week I received this email:

I hope all is well with you and your family. My name is M---- Miller and I recently read Tangled Honor and I enjoyed the book especially the historical connection. The book also has a personal connection, since I am a descendant of Levi Miller's brother Johnson Miller. I have been conducting genealogical research into Levi's interesting life and the lives of his parents. I recently uncovered Levi's Will which provides clues and in some cases confirmation of the identity of his parents and siblings. If possible, would you be able to provide any additional information about Levi's life prior to the war. Thanks again for the read! Have a great day.

Blow me away. You see, Levi Miller in my novel Tangled Honor is based on a real-life Levi Miller who was an enslaved man, ‘owned’ by my ancestor McBride’s in Lexington, Virginia. Twenty years ago, not long after discovering Levi Miller through a 1921 newspaper article at the time of his death, I wrote a magazine article titled, “JJ McBride, Levi Miller, and Me.”

During the Civil War, the enslaved Levi Miller was the ‘body servant’—the personal slave—of my great-great-uncle Confederate Captain JJ McBride. Here’s a post- war portrait of old JJ.

Captain McBride was twice seriously wounded in battle and twice Levi Miller nursed him back to health. Most remarkably, there is solid documentation that Levi Miller once fought with Captain McBride’s infantry company (Co. C, 5th Texas Infantry), defending a trench at Petersburg against an assault by Union soldiers, an action so unusual it earned Levi approval for a Confederate soldier’s pension.

The real Levi Miller is listed in a US Census as being ‘Mulatto ’ having one white parent. In the times of American southern slavery, the white parent would be the father. Go figure. The diary of the historical Richmond socialite Mary Chesnut succinctly addresses ‘the thing we cannot name’ within Southern culture.

“Every lady tells you who is the father of all the Mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own, she seems to think drop from the clouds or pretends so to think.”

 So, in my three ‘Honor’ novels about Captain JJ McBee and Levi Miller during the Civil War, I took the literary license to make the unmarried McBee the father of Levi Miller, Levi’s birth being the unintended consequence of JJ’s coming-of-age tryst with an enslaved woman. My speculation of a slowly-growing and reluctantly acknowledged father-son bond between the two men is a central feature of the three novels. No doubt the positive familial relationship I created between the two characters is absolute utter fiction, but I think it made a good story, and such reflects the time and place. As importantly, to me personally, perhaps it made me feel better about my slave-owning ancestors to take a bare set of facts and spin a positive, if fictional, connection beyond whatever was the actual case.

Back to Mr. M. Miller’s email, I also feel really good that a member of Levi Miller’s modern family reached out to me. We have traded some documents. He sent me a copy of Levi Miller’s will. I sent him a disturbing handwritten list of slaves owned by my 3-great-grandfather, Isaiah McBride, all the children of a slave named Anna, and I sent this old postcard from the Jim Crow era, promoting Levi Miller as a ‘Confederate soldier.’



So, an odd Easter morning blog post. But the unexpected connection with my old family history has made Holy Week one for me to remember.

 And most importantly, remember,

Christ is Risen!  He is risen, indeed. 

Have a great day.