I’ve decided to post the first chapter of book 3 in my series. It’s titled Line in the Valley, and is about Jerry Nunez’s unit fighting a cartel incursion on the Texas border. The Amazon judges read this and decided it blows, so I’d like to hear what you guys think.
Please drop critiques on me. Don’t be gentle. It’s not my first time.
Thanks and hope you enjoy it.
Line in the Valley
Carlos Ramirez’s phone rang in his pocket, rousing him from a half sleep, half pleasant buzz. He put his beer down, lifted himself halfway off his recliner, reached past belly fat and dug his phone out. The caller ID showed it was his coworker and across the street neighbor, Andy Carter. Carlos slurred a greeting.
“Hey Andy, what’s up? Why you bothering me now, when you know by this time every night I’m into my tenth beer?”
Carlos’ wife gave him a dirty look from the kitchen as she washed dishes. She had complained about his drinking for years and threatened to divorce him more than once, to no avail. She was Mexican, devoutly Catholic and wouldn’t want to be stuck taking care of their kids alone. He knew she would never leave him.
“Sober up, pendejo,” Andy said. “You remember that little shithead Antonio Guevara you arrested last week? He’s walking around by the corner, next to the Melendez’s. He’s been looking toward your house.”
“Shit,” Carlos responded. “That little punk needs his ass kicked. Again. You see any of his little gangster friends with him?”
“Nadie mas, hermano,” Andy answered. He was white, but like most of the white people in Arriago and all the white cops, he spoke fluent Tex-Mex Spanish. “Nobody but him. He’s been walking from the corner toward your house and back, talking on a cell phone.”
“A cell phone? Who did he steal that from? When I arrested him he didn’t have a phone, and he gave me his house number to write on the blotter. That little shit can’t afford a cell phone.”
“He must have burglarized another car, or maybe one of his gangster homies gave it to him,” Andy said. “Who gives a fuck why he has a phone? I didn’t call to talk about his phone, I called to tell you he was outside in case you want Jesse to run him off.”
Carlos took another swallow from his beer. “Nah, I won’t bother Jesse for this. He’s the only one on duty tonight, he’s probably busy. I’ll go outside and run Antonio off myself. He’ll probably piss his pants and take off as soon as he sees me. And if he doesn’t, I’ll kick the shit out of him again.”
“Andale Carlos, that’s what he needs. Call me if you want me to come outside and videotape it.”
“Go to sleep, hermano. Thanks for the call.”
Andy hung up, and Carlos struggled out of his chair. He went to his room and pulled on a t-shirt, then grabbed the flashlight and pepper spray off the duty belt hanging on his bedpost. He thought about it, then went to his closet and threw a .38 snubnose into a pocket. He doubted he’d need the gun for Antonio, but you never knew how stupid a wannabe gangster could be.
Antonio Guevara was the seventh grade, fourteen-year-old head of Los Nortenos, a middle school “gang” made up mostly of eleven to thirteen year old aspiring thugs who desperately wanted attention. Since annointing themselves gangsters, they had been trying like hell to make a name for themselves in the tiny Texas border town of Arriago. Being the oldest, Antonio naturally fancied himself the leader. He and his flock, all eight of them, had been making themselves royal pains in the asses to the town’s 2,400 residents. They had spent the last month spray painting wooden fences with their made-up gang symbol, bringing beer to school in backpacks, beating up terrified ten-year-olds and even talking trash to police every time they saw a passing patrol car. Arriago had real gangsters, but they tried to keep a low profile. The Nortenos wanted everyone to know who they were.
Carlos had caught Antonio breaking into an old woman’s car the previous week, and Antonio bowed up to fight. Carlos convinced Antonio that he didn’t really want to fight a cop after all. Antonio hadn’t needed any medical attention afterward, but Carlos knew he would feel the asskicking for a few days.
Carlos walked toward the front door, past his sons playing Xbox in their bedroom, and told his wife, “I’m going outside to handle something, I’ll be back in a minute.” She asked what he was talking about and he ignored the question, walked out the front door and turned toward the corner, two houses away.
He didn’t see anything at first. His neighborhood was poor and overgrown with brush, especially on the corner where Antonio was supposed to be. Then, in the pale light of a barely working street lamp, he made out the baggy, rumpled outline of Antonio, standing half-hidden behind a bush.
“Antonio!” Carlos yelled. “You don’t live here! What you want, boy? Didn’t you get enough last time I arrested you?”
Antonio stepped out from behind the bush. Carlos saw that he had a cell phone to his ear. Carlos walked toward him fast, calling out, “Hey, I’m talking to you! What you doing here, pendejo?”
Antonio yelled back, “Fuck you, lambiache!” and spoke into the phone. He didn’t back away.
Antonio was a punk and a coward. He shouldn’t stand his ground. Surprised, Carlos yelled back, “Ass kisser? Boy, you better run, because I’m about to beat you to death!” He quickened his pace, ready to whip Antonio’s ass again.
Before he made it out of his front yard the sound of racing engines came from around the corner. Carlos stopped, unsure what to make of it. He didn’t see light from headlights, he just heard engines. Antonio looked toward the sound and didn’t move. Carlos heard him say, “Aqui, aqui!” Right here, right here.
Two black Ford Explorers raced into view, screeched past Antonio and made the turn toward Carlos. Their lights were off. The lead Explorer covered the distance to Carlos’ house in two seconds and slid to a stop. The brake lights didn’t come on. The second Explorer skidded to a stop in front of Andy’s house. That one didn’t have brake lights either.
Carlos stepped back, turned on his flashlight and pointed it toward the Explorer in front of his house. The SUV’s doors flew open. Two men in ski masks jumped out, dressed in all black with AK-47 rifles, body armor and tactical vests. Carlos turned his light to the man who had come out of the back seat. The man shifted his body so that his chest faced Carlos, and raised his AK. He moved like a soldier, his actions quick and efficient.
Carlos took another step back. What the fuck is going on? Behind him he heard his front door swing open. He turned to see his wife standing at the front step. He looked back as two more men with rifles and gear ran toward his house.
The impulse to react finally worked its way through the alcohol. Carlos jammed his hand into his pocket and grabbed his pistol. Before he was able to yank his weapon free the man pointing the AK at him pulled the trigger one time.
A white-orange flash exploded from the rifle’s muzzle. The bullet hit Carlos to the right of his sternum, punched straight through and exited his back. His vision went grey. He dropped flat onto his back, struggling to breathe. He heard his wife scream “Dios mio!”, then more shots. The scream stopped, but was replaced by shrieks from his sons’ room. He turned his head and could just make out another man in black rushing through the door. Down the street he heard more shots, more screams. Andy’s screams.
He looked up. Antonio stood over him, flashed a gang sign and said, “See that, bitch? See what happens when you mess with Los Nortenos? Never fuck with me, bitch.”
Carlos couldn’t process this. His sons’ screams drowned in automatic gunfire. Slow, painful recognition worked through the haze of pain and alcohol. His family had just been murdered. He had just been murdered. This couldn’t be the work of Antonio and his band of preteen shitheads. They couldn’t do this. It didn’t make sense.
Antonio kicked him in the groin. Carlos’ body rocked from the blow, his blurred vision bounced, but he couldn’t feel the impact. He heard feminine screaming and could just discern Andy’s teenage daughter running down the street. Gunfire sounded, the scream disappeared as if it had never been there. Carlos saw the blurry, ghostlike image of the girl slam facedown to the pavement. He heard laughter and shouted comments in Spanish.
Carlos closed his eyes and tried to breathe. When he opened his eyes he barely saw the man standing over him holding an AK to his face. He heard Antonio’s voice, but couldn’t make out the words. He croaked, “Why, Antonio? Why?”
Antonio laughed. The man next to him said in Spanish, “Muevete atras.” Move back. Carlos didn’t understand him. He managed to wheeze, “No entiendo, no entiendo.”
The man in black fired another round, from ten feet away. This wasn’t the first time he had shot a man in the head with an AK. He knew enough to stay at a distance so that the blood, bone, brain, skin and hair wouldn’t spatter back on him. Carlos never heard or felt the round. It hit beside the bridge of his nose and exited the back of his skull. The blast scattered shards of Carlos’ head across his lawn, spraying the yard with an arc of gore.
Carlos died without knowing that all seven Arriago police officers, and all seventeen Harper County deputies, had died with him. Or that their families had been killed. Or that the Arriago mayor, municipal judge and twelve firefighters had been killed. Or that the same thing had happened in every Texas town along a hundred mile stretch of border between Roma and Brownsville, within fifteen minutes of Carlos’ murder.
NOTE ADDED 3/23/13
Son of a. . . after my writer buddy Lilas told me to look, I checked the CreatSpace account I forgot I had, and saw these two reviews from “ABNA expert reviewers”:
What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?
The narrative was smooth, fast reading, as well as the realistic dialogue, but the strongest aspect is the quick intro to the story line. Gets you thinking, could happen, right?
What aspect needs the most work?
Nada. Excellent work. Good character descriptions, but if you added some physical descriptions of the characters, it might add a little more.
What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?
Mad that this is just an excerpt, because I would still be reading this well into the night. Very original, albeit possible, plot. We,unfortunately, live with these possibilities everyday, especially those on the southern borders. This contemporary thriller would sell.
Review #2 (which also addresses the second chapter):
What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?
The pacing here is great, which means I wanted to keep turning the pages and reading further. The staff sergeant’s briefing is detailed and vivid, and the reaction of the tired and half-drunk cop to the news that a wannabe gangbanger is hanging around outside his house was completely convincing. What all that adds up to is the fact that the author has a distinctive voice, which is pretty hard to come by. That means, IMO, that it’s worth toiling away on the hard work that it might take to make this publishable, because the voice is the one thing is hardest to come by.
What aspect needs the most work?
Well, I’ll just mention the fact that if you want someone to read a lot of content, please format it with paragraphs… This segment read as one very very very long paragraph, with no breaks, which is very hard to process. NB: My ratings, below, don’t reflect that, but be aware that it makes life harder for a reader.
[Chris Hernandez note: I have my novel formatted correctly, but when I loaded it onto the ABNA submission page it changed it into one big paragraph. I tried three f'kin' times, and it did it every time. I even went back and tried to do it manually, but it kept making the excerpt into one big paragraph. And then I get criticized for that. Bastards!]
What I struggle with here is what happens after Carlos and his neighbor and their families are murdered. Instantly, we’re plunged into the military response team, telling me it’s going to be all action. I found myself craving some kind of bridge to that scene — Nunez and Quincy could hear rumors about this, or we could see Lacey being told about it, or something else. The segment started with a big bang (well, technically, a lot of ‘em…) and sometimes it’s good to take a step back and take the time to set the stage and develop the characters so that we know what’s going on and care about the people who are here. It’s as if the 9/11 story went straight from the attacks to the invasion of Afghanistan, without us understanding how or why the attacks took place and thus why it’s logical that the invasion is taking place. Yes, I’m sure Lacey is about to explain it all to them, but then that would fall into the category of telling the reader, rather than showing them. As it stands, this feels like an abrupt and unconvincing jump for the reader.
What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?
The writing needs a lot of polishing: there are lots of awkward phrasings — eg “pulled the trigger one time” rather than pulled the trigger once. Or, “saw the blurry, ghostlike image of the girl slam facedown onto the street” — presumably it wasn’t the image of the girl that slammed down but the girl herself?
And there are exchanges between the two soldiers that feel unnatural, as if the conversation is taking place just for the reader’s benefit. (which goes to my criticism above.) Sure, all this information about Laura and the marriage is great to have but don’t just download it, dribble it out in a natural way. It’s a shame to waste an intriguing idea, after all.
The idea is intriguing, and I assume it comes from all the narco-trafficante stories. One element that I would hope is going to be explained somewhere very early on is just why they would want to wipe out every law enforcement member and their families? Clearly this would bring about precisely the kind of reaction that is taking shape: a military incursion. To make this more than just a “soldiers shooting guns and being violent” novel, there needs to be a logical backbone to the story, one that is apparent to the reader from early on. I did find myself wondering just why this would unfold this way (beyond the fact that it was because a novelist wanted it to happen this way to write the book he/she wanted to write…)
The level of detail in the writing here is mostly excellent, particularly segments like
“Lacey paused to take a drink from a
plastic water bottle, then screwed the cap
back on and set the bottle to the side.
“Okay gentlemen,” he said,
looking over the room again.
“Here’s what’s up.”
I could literally see this scene in my mind’s eye, and that’s an excellent sign.
For me, a lot comes down to where this excerpt goes next. If it veers off in what I think of as “fictional gun porn” — a novel about soldiers and their weapons and their brotherhood and so on — then you’ve lost me as a reader. If you can convincingly explain why drug cartels would do this, and make this a story about people, then I think it could be very interesting, with work on style and structure.
[Chris Hernandez note: so if this becomes a story about soldiers and their weapons and brotherhood, he's not interested? Or did I misread that?
It sounds to me like one guy loved it, and one guy saw positives and negatives but doesn't care for military fiction. Damn it.]
Filed under: Writing | 34 Comments
Tags: cartels, military fiction, Texas border, veteran writers
So there I was, minding my own business, patrolling a small town on night shift. I had been a cop about nine months. Christmas was a couple of days away, and the town had pretty much shut down. Then I got a call over the radio: “man harassing customers at the truck stop”.
I headed that way. The truck stop was on a major highway, and a lot of destitute travelers stopped there. It wasn’t uncommon for people to beg customers for gas money. The truck stop manager probably wanted me to run someone off, no big deal.
I made the turn into the truck stop parking lot. A tall, thin, homeless-looking guy stood by the front door, yelling at someone. Then he saw me, and sprinted along the front window toward my car. He pointed angrily at me and screamed “You! You!”
I had no idea who the guy was, or why he was so pissed at me. I stopped the car, he stopped running. As I stepped out he stood on the raised sidewalk, eyes wide, huffing in anger.
“Hey man,” I said in a calm voice. “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know!” he screamed back “You tell me!”
“I’m just asking a question. Is everything alright?”
“No it’s not alright! Why are you f**king with me?”
Well, crap, I thought. As I’ve said before, I’m a little guy. At that time, I weighed all of about 115 pounds. I wasn’t then and am not now physically intimidating. Another officer who was even smaller than me had given me good advice one night: “I’d rather spend thirty minutes talking someone down than thirty seconds getting my ass kicked.” Unfortunately, some people you just can’t talk to. This guy didn’t seem real receptive to conversation.
I tried again. “Hey dude, everything’s cool. I’m just talking to you, alright? What’s going on?”
This time the man didn’t answer. He pulled his fists up and took a bladed stance, ready to fight. I sighed, took my glasses off and dropped them on the hood, and thought, Here we go. I’m going to have to fight this guy.
I had been in a few fights as a cop. Most people who fight are trying to get away, not trying to beat you senseless. This guy didn’t look like he wanted to get away. He was wiry, way taller than me, with arms that looked about a foot longer than mine. He was furious, and I still didn’t know why. His head was tilted down, eyes glaring at me over his knuckles. He wanted a fight.
I tried one more time, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. “You don’t want to do that. Just talk to me.”
He didn’t answer. I tried to think of something else to say. Just then, another officer drove up and got out of his car.
Apparently, they were acquainted. The man instantly relaxed. He dropped his fists, smiled and exclaimed, “Hey, my buddy’s here!”
The other officer, “Rick”, walked toward the man with his hand out. “Hey man, how you doing?”
The man instantly switched back to a fighting stance and screamed, “Don’t you touch me!”
Rick was surprised. He told me later that he had dealt with the man once before, and the guy had been friendly. Rick walked toward the guy’s left side. I went toward his right. The man kicked Rick in the leg and backed against the window, fists up. This was before Tasers, and I didn’t have pepper spray. Rick did. I told Rick, “Spray him.”
Rick sprayed. The guy ducked, twisted, blocked with his fists, and eventually got a shot in the face. He tried to rub the spray from his eyes. Rick and I took that as a signal to grab the guy.
The man threw a blindingly fast, powerful punch. As chance would have it, the man was left handed, and I was on his right. The punch hit Rick square on the temple.
Rick staggered away with his hands on his head, wailing something that sounded like, “Uuunnngh!” The man spun to face me. I yanked my baton off my belt and extended it. Rick stopped wailing and looked at me with wide, seemingly angry eyes.
I took Rick’s expression to mean, “Let’s get this guy”. What it actually meant was, “I’m in outer space at the moment”. I cocked back the baton, just as the man launched himself off the raised sidewalk at me.
I swung hard and connected with the man’s ankle. He stumbled and kept coming. Of all the baton strikes I landed in the next couple of minutes, that was the only one that had any visible effect.
I backpedaled as fast as I could. The man threw haymakers that barely missed my face. I cut the air with my baton, swinging back and forth with all my might. I could have sworn Rick was on the other side of the guy, trying to tackle him. But Rick was in a daze, stumbling through the parking lot.
Still running backward, I turned right to avoid a punch and kept hitting with the baton. Then I turned left. Then I cut left again. Then I ran into a car parked at the gas pumps.
The man punched me on the right temple, hitting mostly bone. I remember looking at the man as he swung, then my view suddenly changed as his fist knocked my head sideways. I tasted blood.
I turned back to him. He looked surprised, and reared back to punch me again. I spun off the car and cocked the baton for another hit. The owner of the car I had just run into was standing by his door. With a voice full of concern, he yelled at me, “Hey, don’t scratch my car!” Then he got in and sped away.
For just a moment, I was more pissed at that guy and his stupid car than I was at the homeless man trying to take my head off. That anger disappeared as the homeless man charged me again. We swung at each other. My baton hit, his punch missed. Then Rick woke up and tackled the man.
The man went down onto his face. I dropped my baton, yanked one of the man’s arms behind his back and dropped as much weight as I could onto it. Rick did the same thing. I was light, but Rick weighed about 200 pounds. Rick huffed, “Just hold him like this until backup gets here!”
With almost no effort, the man yanked both his hands free. I was shocked. I tried to grab an arm, and he reached out and snatched the baton I had dropped.
Rick yelled “Oh shit!” and jumped off the man. I rose to my knees. The man sat up, held the baton by the wrong end and cocked back to hit me. Behind me, I heard leather break as Rick drew his weapon.
I had to make a decision, quick. If I tried to wrestle the baton away, I would likely take a hell of a hit to the head. It probably wouldn’t kill me, but it could knock me out and give the guy an opportunity to take my weapon. So I could risk getting beaten and disarmed, or jump out of the way and let Rick shoot. I had less than a second to decide. The man was about to swing.
I dove in low, under the baton, and knocked the man back down onto his face. Rick holstered and threw himself onto the man’s back. I tore the baton from the man’s grasp. He pushed himself off the pavement and I hit him again. He went down, but kept flailing and trying to get up. We pinned his arms just as I heard the screech of an approaching siren. The man yelled, “Okay, I give up! I give up!”
We handcuffed him. He didn’t resist. A patrol sergeant tore into the parking lot. For a reason I didn’t understand at the time, a woman drove out of the parking lot yelling, “I didn’t see anything!”
We lifted the man to his feet and searched him. He went into the back seat of the sergeant’s car without a murmur of protest. I checked myself. Ripped and dirtied uniform, a big red mark on my head from the punch. Nothing serious. We asked the truck stop manager why he had called us. He said the guy just walked in the door and started screaming at people. Nobody knew what his problem was.
We took the man to jail. He happily went into a cell. At the time I didn’t get it, but now I know the man had been high when I showed up but had come down off the drugs by the time we got him to jail. That was one of many lessons I learned that night.
When Rick and I talked about it later, I was frustrated at how much I had missed during the fight. At one point, the man had grabbed Rick’s big, heavy metal flashlight. I never saw that. He also grabbed Rick’s pepper spray. I didn’t see that either. When someone asked me why I didn’t call for backup, I realized it had never even occurred to me. Rick had screamed for help on the radio, but I never heard it.
Then the dispatcher dropped another bomb on me. While we were fighting the guy, after he almost knocked Rick out, around the time the guy tried to hit me with my own baton, someone had called 911 from the truck stop. Not on the suspect attacking us. He called the police, on us. The person had told dispatch, “I can’t believe how those officers are treating that poor man!”
So during the worst fight of my new career, not only had a citizen been more concerned about his car than he was about me, not only had a witness fled rather than talk to us, but someone actually called the police on us for defending ourselves. That was a shock. During the relatively short time I worked in that town, I had the police called on me two more times.
I went to my family’s Christmas celebration that year with a black eye and three red lines, impressions of the spaces between the man’s fingers, temporarily imprinted on the side of my head. I received a few good-natured jabs about it. Worse than that, I had left my damn glasses on the hood when I drove out of the parking lot. I found them later, but they were so scratched up I just decided not to wear glasses anymore.
Later on I got some bad news. This incident happened shortly after the Texas Legislature had made a little oopsy and removed the “aggravated assault on a peace officer” statute from the books. The man was charged with two misdemeanors instead of two felonies. He had a long criminal history, and was known in his hometown as a raging crack addict. I don’t think he was on crack that night though. That seemed more like PCP. That drug wasn’t common in that area, but based on later experiences I’m pretty sure he had just taken some. I was told he pled out for probation, and I never saw him again.
A couple of years later, an officer asked me if I remembered the man I had fought that night. I responded, “Of course I do, I’ll never forget that guy. What about him?”
“He just got sentenced to eight years for rape.”
I was quiet for a few moments. During that fight I made a conscious decision to avoid deadly force, and had walked away with nothing worse than a black eye. For the homeless man, the result of that decision was no jail time, another slap on the wrist, and the freedom to rape someone later.
Some decisions you make as a cop have immediate and obvious consequences. Some decisions are plainly right, some are plainly wrong. Some, like the one I made that night, look right at the time and wrong in hindsight.
Filed under: Cops | 18 Comments
Tags: deadly force, drugs, police
So I took a hard hit yesterday. Book 3 of my series got cut from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.
Although I wasn’t counting chickens or anything, I had high hopes. Book 3 is about Jerry Nunez’s infantry company fighting against a limited cartel incursion on the Texas border. I like to think it’s a pretty good book, but the Amazon judges didn’t agree.
I’m trying to be fair about it. There’s a strong possibility the judges thought my writing sucked. On the other hand, the bitter, angry part of me suspects there will not be a single military fiction novel among the finalists. In the publishing world, military fiction seems to make editors and agents turn away in revulsion.
I’ve been trying to get a mainstream publisher interested in my novels for three years, which is not a real long time. I’ve been told the average successful writer tries for seven years before they make it, and some others have to try a lot longer than that. Karl Marlantes, a Marine VN vet who is an inspiration to me, tried for over thirty years to get his novel published. So I’m thankful for the success I’ve experienced so far. I’m ahead of the curve.
On the other hand, my brief brushes with the publishing industry have been pretty frustrating. Most agents seem to dismiss my genre out of hand. I had a conversation with a male agent one evening, and was sure he would be interested in war fiction. Most agents are female, highly educated, extremely liberal, into chick lit and young adult fantasy, but this agent was into guy stuff.
I told him I had written a novel based on my experiences in the Afghanistan War. He pursed his lips, pondered for a moment. Then he said, “Nah. What else you got?”
Another agent read Proof of Our Resolve and responded, “I don’t think I can place this.” In other words, nobody’s interested. Thank God Tactical16 came along, looking for veteran writers.
In my more cynical, bitter moments (which is most of the time I’m thinking about the mainstream writing world) I chide myself for not following the basic rules of success: add a vampire. Write about zombies or Victorian romance. Don’t waste your time telling the world about amazing, dramatic struggles in exotic lands where ordinary Americans risked and gave their lives to defend an ideal.
Yes, I realize I’m whining. Yes, I sound like Aunt Flow is in town. I’m retaining water. My estrogen levels are high. I’m being a wuss. I’m not considering the likelihood that my writing needs work. Guilty as charged.
But in the spirit of frustrating disappointment, I’ve decided to publish the short story below. This story is without a doubt Every Literary Agent’s Dream Novel. When you finish it, you’ll be so awestruck that you WILL perform the internet equivalent of throwing your panties on stage. If this story somehow makes it across an agent’s desk, I’m guaranteed to get a publishing contract and 64 trillion dollar advance. I hope you guys enjoy it.
Victoria, Caroline and Alberta, daughters of the Widow Duchess Lady Countess Jane Anne Montford Remington, crowded into the drawing room of their sprawling Yorkshire estate mansion. Their mother, tall and elegant, glided into the room. Looking down her prim, aristocratic nose, she said, “Today Mister Farcy will visit, with the intent of choosing one of you as his bride.”
Victoria jumped from her fainting couch. “Mister Farcy? Oh mother, we’ve always so wanted to meet him! I simply must marry him, I must!”
“No, he shall choose me!” Caroline cried.
“But I so love Mister Farcy, I shan’t live without him!” Alberta exclaimed.
“Ladies, control yourselves,” the Duchess commanded. “Mister Farcy will not be amused by such childish outbursts. Whirl about and greet him properly.”
The daughters spun and were shocked to see Mister Farcy behind them in the drawing room. “Mister Farcy!” Victoria exclaimed, thinking, What the f – ? . . . where did he come from?
“It is I,” he answered coldly. Victoria was frozen by his breathtaking handsomeness, his perfectly tailored livery, the eyes that commanded her to be his. Her loins quaked at his brutally masculine voice.
“Mister Farcy, please take me as your wife!” Caroline begged.
“No Mister Farcy, I am by far the best sister,” Alberta pleaded. “You simply must choose me!”
Mister Farcy glared at them with a face of stone. “Enough of this,” he commanded.
They fell silent. “This is our first encounter, we scarcely know one another. I shall only choose a wife after careful consideration and sufficient dramatic pause.” He gazed at the eager faces. “I have made my decision. Victoria will be my bride.”
Victoria’s pulse raced with passionate elation. Caroline burst into tears. She screamed, “But Mister Farcy, I so love you, I just can’t live without you!” and fled the room. Alberta wiped tears and protested, “Mister Farcy, life without you will be so wretched it is not worth living!” She ran from the room after her sister.
Mister Farcy sat beside Victoria and took her hand. Victoria melted at his touch. The Duchess beamed with pride at her daughter. Her family’s financial security was now assured. Mister Farcy took Victoria’s face into his tender palms and leaned in to kiss her.
“Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!” Victoria was startled by the scream and spun around to see her sister Caroline’s body fall past the window to the moat below. The splash was drowned by a second scream as Alberta flung herself out an upstairs window to her death. Mouth agape, Victoria threw her face into Mister Farcy’s muscular chest.
“Oh Mister Farcy,” she sobbed, “my sisters have taken their lives! Oh, what shall I do without them?”
“You must carry on,” Mister Farcy answered in an even tone. “I am your family now. You have lost all else.”
Victoria lifted her head. “But Mister Farcy, I still have my mother.”
Mister Farcy gave the Widow Duchess Lady Countess Jane Anne Montford Remington an iron glare. She purposefully strode out of the room. Seconds later, Victoria heard another scream as her mother hurtled past the window to the moat.
“No Victoria, you are now an orphan. You will devote your life to pleasing your husband.”
Desire pulsed through Victoria’s veins. Her bosoms heaved — yes, those bosoms were heaving! — as she gasped for breath. She was a modern, educated woman. But her true passion, the secret passion of every woman, rested in her need to meet the desires of her man. She smiled, stood and began to disrobe.
The door flew open. Caroline, dripping with brackish water, covered in blood, stood in the doorway. Dull grey skin and purple lips stood in stark contrast to jagged teeth and claw-tipped, skeletal fingers. Caroline staggered into the room, arms extended before her, moaning unintelligibly. Victoria’s mind reeled. She made out one word from Caroline’s mouth: “Brains.”
Caroline was a zombie! Mister Farcy threw himself before Victoria and backed her into a corner. Behind Caroline, her sister Alberta and the Widow Duchess Lady Countess Jane Anne Montford Remington stumbled into the room. All three repeated “Brains! Brains!” and advanced on the doomed lovers. Victoria clutched Mister Farcy’s coat and cried in terror, “Oh Mister Farcy, what shall we do?”
Mister Farcy turned to face his betrothed. She looked at his handsome countenance in confusion. He seemed somehow. . . different. His skin was pale white, pupils slit vertically like a Tiger’s. He bared teeth that had morphed into fangs. Victoria drew back in terror. Mister Farcy was a vampire!
“Bare your neck, my dear Victoria,” Mister Farcy whispered. “To save you I shall turn you into a vampire. Together we shall transform into bats and fly to Berkley, California. There we shall open a university dedicated to studying women’s issues and electing liberal presidents. Prepare for your journey to the world of the undead, my darling.”
Victoria threw her hands up to defend herself. Mister Farcy brushed aside her feeble efforts and closed in for the bite. Her zombie sisters and mother were almost on them. Victoria slapped at him, cried “You beast! Stop, I forbid you from turning me into a vampire!” But inside, her heart roiled. She detested vampires, and yet, as his fangs closed in she felt her desire grow to unimaginable proportions. The logic of her brain was swept away by the passion of her heart.
As Mister Farcy’s fangs pierced the soft flesh of her neck, Victoria had a shocking revelation: she now loved him even more.
Awesome, isn’t it? So where’s my damn publishing contract?
Okay, it’s out of my system now. No more whining. Back to the grind, onward to victory.
Thank you for letting me vent, guys.
NOTE ADDED 3/23/13
I found out today that the contest reviewers did leave me some feedback. It appears to me that one of the two judges who left reviews is not a fan of military fiction. He also had some valid criticisms. The reviews have been added to my “Novel Excerpt: First Chapter of Book 3″ blog post from 3/22/13.
Filed under: Writing | 34 Comments
So there I was, minding my own business, patrolling the hood on night shift. It was a quiet weeknight, nothing too interesting had happened. The streets were almost empty. I was wandering around looking for stolen cars and hoping for a good call.
The dispatcher bumped me. “Suicide in progress” at an apartment complex. I didn’t get too excited. Those calls can be anything from a real suicide to a panicked parent calling because their son was passed out drunk. They rarely turn out to be an actual suicide attempt. I turned around and headed toward the apartment complex.
Just before I turned the corner toward the complex I heard two officers announce they had arrived. I sped up, hoping to catch them before they found the apartment. Apartment complexes are usually huge and confusing, with numbered buildings laid out in no particular order. Unless you know the complex, it takes a while to figure out where you are.
I reached the apartment complex entrance and started to turn. A car was speeding toward me in the opposing lane. I jammed on the brakes and waited for the car to pass. Then the driver started flashing the high beams and waving frantically. She stopped beside me, pointed toward a fast food restaurant a couple hundred yards ahead and yelled, “They’re robbing the hamburger place!”
Okay, now I was excited. If memory serves me correctly, stats show that more officers are killed on robberies in progress than any other type of call. The likelihood was that I would be in a gunfight within seconds of arrival. I got a quick description: black guy, about thirty, real muscular, no shirt. She didn’t know if he had a weapon.
I called it out on the radio and stomped on the gas pedal. Seconds later I pulled into the parking lot. I saw a cluster of scared restaurant employees huddled around one corner. They pointed behind the restaurant. A shirtless, muscular black man was walking away.
I sped toward the man, stopped about twenty feet behind him, kept one foot on the brake and the other on the gas, and grabbed the PA microphone. I could see the man’s hands and didn’t see a gun. But if he turned around, pulled a gun from his waistband and started shooting, my car would be a better weapon than my pistol.
I keyed the PA and ordered the man to stop. He spun around to face me. No gun visible anywhere. The man started screaming something I couldn’t understand. I threw the car in park, drew my weapon and jumped out of the car. From behind the door, I ordered the man to lie on his stomach. He stayed on his feet and kept screaming maniacally.
At this point, I noticed a few things about the man. He was sweating profusely on a cool night. He was shaking. His eyes were bugged out and face taut with fury. He had something white smeared on his head and face. I’m no expert, but by golly, I was starting to suspect the man was under the influence of an illegal drug!
I ordered the man to lie down again. He yelled back an answer I’ll never forget: “Berk grang huffsa furdis!”
Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what he said. The point is, he was screaming unintelligibly. I didn’t know what the hell he was yelling at me, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t friendly.
I ordered him down again. He took a step toward me. I thought, Oh, crap. Only a short distance separated us. If he started running, he’d be on me in a couple seconds. I still couldn’t see a weapon, but he was bigger and looked way stronger than me. Plus he was stoned out of his mind. I didn’t have a Taser, and in my experience pepper spray and batons don’t work well on strong guys who are super high.
I ordered him to stop. He kept coming. I yelled more orders. He screamed something that sounded like the Aramaic version of “I hate you and everything you stand for.”
He reached my front bumper. I had to decide what to do. Jump in the car and back away? Holster my pistol and pull pepper spray, in the probably vain hope that it would stop the guy from beating me to death? Shoot an unarmed man? Whatever I decided to do, the end result probably wouldn’t be good.
I heard roaring engines and squealing tires. To my relief, two patrol cars raced through the parking lot and slid to a stop beside me. Officers jumped out with Tasers in their hands. As soon as the suspect saw red laser dots on his chest, he IMMEDIATELY dropped to his stomach with his hands behind his back. He hadn’t been too scared of getting shot, but apparently he’d ridden the lightning before and wanted no part of that.
We rushed up and handcuffed him. He was still shaking and speaking in tongues. When I cuffed him I got white, oily stuff on my hands. I stuck the guy in the back seat and grabbed some napkins and hand sanitizer from my car. As I cleaned my hands, I wondered, What the hell is this crap? I was afraid to smell it, and my mind went to dark places as I considered the possibilities.
We took the man back to the restaurant. The employees were terrified. Before I could interview them, a frantic young man drove into the parking lot, jumped out and said he had just been robbed.
We got everyone calmed down, and eventually figured out what had happened.
The stoned guy in my back seat was my “suicide in progress” subject from the apartment complex. It turned out he wasn’t trying to kill himself, he was just high and tearing up his girlfriend’s apartment. When she called the police, he jetted out the door.
In the parking lot he ran across a random guy getting into his car, and of course decided to carjack him. Random guy had just sat in the driver’s seat and started to close the door. Stoned guy grabbed the handle and tried to pull it open while screaming something about car keys. Random guy, understandably startled, got into a tug of war with stoned guy. Stoned guy pulled so hard on the door that the inner door panel tore off. Random guy grabbed a crowbar and jumped out. Stoned guy gave up on the carjacking, but broke the car’s side view mirror off just to make a point. Then he ran across the street, probably seconds after the first two officers arrived at the complex.
At the burger joint across the street, a young female employee was standing outside smoking a cigarette. The burger joint’s lobby doors were locked, but its drive-thru was open all night. The employee watched stoned guy run to a tree in front of the restaurant. He was ranting about something she couldn’t understand. Then he started chewing on the tree.
The young woman noticed right away that this was unusual. She called to her manager through the drive-thru window, “Hey, come check out this crazy dude chewing on a tree outside”. The manager looked outside, just as the stoned guy gave up on the tree and ran to the locked doors.
Stoned guy yanked on the doors and screamed at the employees. Leaves were falling out of his mouth. For some odd reason, nobody let him in. He ran to the other side of the restaurant, and yanked on those locked door. The lock broke. He ran inside and jumped the counter. Employees fled in mortal terror. Stoned guy ran around knocking crap off the counters. Then he scooped a handful of mayonnaise from a container, smeared it in his hair, and walked out the back door. Shortly after that, I showed up.
So the most important question was answered. The white stuff I got on my hands when I cuffed the guy was mayonnaise. I wouldn’t have to burn my outer layer of skin off after all.
I went back to my car to ID my robber. When I ran him I was shocked – shocked! – to discover he had a long history of drug-related arrests. He was speaking English now, and demanded to know why I arrested him.
“You tore up your girlfriend’s apartment, tried to rob someone in the parking lot, then broke into the burger place and wiped mayonnaise all over your head.”
“You’re lying! You set me up! I didn’t do that!”
He kept ranting about his innocence and corrupt police who were arresting him just for nuthin’. I ignored him as I completed his arrest paperwork. About ten minutes later, he had come down from the drugs enough to change his attitude a little.
“I really did all that? Damn. Serious, you’re not messing with me? Man, I gotta quit doin’ PCP.”
In the end, he wound up going to jail for trying to rob the random guy and for damaging the burger joint. His girlfriend and the tree refused to press charges. We actually had a nice conversation on the way downtown, and he wasn’t too mad at me when I handed him to the jailers.
Moral of the story? I dunno, how about, “Don’t get high on PCP, tear up your girlfriend’s apartment, fail at being a carjacker, chew on a defenseless tree, break into a burger joint and slather your head with condiments?” Or maybe a better way to say it is, “Don’t be a dumbass.”
Filed under: Cops | 22 Comments
Tags: drugs, pcp, police
I was more tired than I had ever been in my life. In the previous two nights combined I had a total of less than five hours sleep, and the pills Doc Johnny (not his real name) gave me had just barely stopped the worst case of the runs any human has ever had in history. Even though it was still morning I was sweating in the August heat.
Tons of machine gun rounds and 40mm grenades were pouring from our vehicles. I don’t know how much fire was coming back. As soon as we bailed out of our vehicles we had to charge up a hill, with our gear, under fire. I made it halfway up the hill, dropped behind some rocks and watched one of my soldiers dumping machine gun rounds into the trees across the valley. I searched for a target, any target, and didn’t see a thing. Then the helicopters rolled in and hit the Taliban with missiles and 30mm gunfire. The gunfire slowed.
I forced myself to my feet and struggled to the top of the hill. I knew at least two casualties were up there, and even though other soldiers were already with them I still wanted to check on them. Afghan soldiers were at the crest of the hill, and those guys shoot at anything. So I had to be careful that I didn’t run right into their fire.
When I got to the top of the hill, I saw something I’ll never forget. Doc Johnny, a young man I will always have tremendous respect for, was kneeling next to a wounded soldier. Doc’s face was absolutely still; head tilted slightly to the side, eyes squinted a bit, seeming to focus on a distant spot. He looked about as scared as a student at a yoga class. In contrast to my beet red, sweat-drenched face, racing heart and trembling hands, Doc was the picture of calm.
There have been moments in my life when I saw an expression on someone’s face that was so powerful I can’t find words to describe it. In my writing I’ve tried to capture certain moments and expressions that just seem to defy simple words on paper. That’s probably a task for a highly trained, experienced writer instead of an amateur like me. I wish I was better at it. I wish I could do justice to the look on Doc’s face, to really convey to the reader what it was like to see that placid expression in the midst of all that chaos. It moved me so much that three years later, I felt compelled to send Doc a Facebook message and let him know how powerful that moment was, and how much I respected him for it.
My book, Proof of Our Resolve, is a war story that encompasses many aspects of battle: weapons, tactics, strategy, cooperation and friction between different units. But it’s about the soldiers more than anything else. The Afghanistan War wasn’t a technological marvel for me. It was a year of intensely human experience, a lesson in the highs and lows of ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances. The battle that morning was one of those intense experiences. Doc Johnny was one of those ordinary men, maintaining his composure in extraordinary, life and death circumstances. I feel a duty to do justice to his bravery. It’s not an easy thing to do.
One of the best compliments I’ve received from someone who read Proof of Our Resolve was about two lines I barely remembered. It was a tiny passage where Jerry Nunez, my protagonist, locks eyes with a French soldier through his windshield and reads a thought that’s plain on the Frenchman’s face. A test reader, who had served in Iraq, told me that when he read that passage he had to get up and walk away from his computer for a moment. Those two lines took him back to many missions in Iraq, to many Americans and Iraqis he had seen outside the wire. As he put it, “That reminded me of all the times I read the story in someone’s eyes.”
I might have a better way to show you what I’m talking about. I fought alongside French and Afghan troops in a huge operation to take a Taliban-held valley. A combat cameraman captured the moment a young French soldier was told his friend had just been killed. It’s the most human eleven seconds of footage I think I’ve ever seen.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vh7gni5iXMY (the entire video is worth watching, but the part I’m describing is from 10:50 to 11:01)
I hope my writing has accurately captured the depth of emotion I saw in those eleven seconds. I hope it captured the bravery, fortitude and iron will of men like Doc Johnny. I hope my writing isn’t looked on as war and action for war and action’s sake. If it is, I’ve failed Doc and that French soldier.
But calm resolve isn’t all I want to capture on paper. I also hope to give the reader a sense of war’s random chances, of the things you don’t think of or expect until you’ve spent time on the sharp edge of combat. That randomness can’t always be honestly portrayed.
I learned about one of those random incidents years after coming home from Afghanistan. I was having a telephone conversation with another medic, “Eddie” who had been in the battle that August morning. War has an odd way of bringing strangers together. This other medic and I were pretty good friends despite the fact that I had only met him twice; once during the battle and once after. Even though we live in different states and are about a decade apart in age, we’ve had a lot of good conversations about the war and our lives afterward.
More so than anyone else, Eddie had been in the thick of battle that day. Eddie had been the first person to treat the soldier I saw Doc Johnny kneeling beside. Without a doubt, he and Doc Johnny had saved that soldier’s life. I told Eddie about Doc Johnny, and how inspired I was to see him so under control during that battle.
Eddie got quiet on the phone for a moment. Then he asked me, “You know why Doc Johnny was so calm, right?”
The question, and the dramatic pause beforehand, made me curious. I told him I didn’t know. Eddie laughed and said, “He was calm because when he tried to give the wounded man morphine with an auto-injector, he had it backwards and accidentally injected morphine into his own hand.”
I laughed with him. Years after the fight, I had learned the truth about one of the most moving, dramatic memories of my life. But it didn’t change my mind. Doc Johnny is still an ordinary man who rose to extraordinary heights, when a man’s life depended on him. I still remember Doc’s face and feel the sense of something like awe that I felt that day. And I hope I’ve helped readers feel just a tiny bit of what it was like to be in the presence of such ordinary men, who chose to become extraordinary.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Writing | 12 Comments
Tags: Afghanistan, bravery, combat medic, valor
Thought I’d drop a quick note about this. Yesterday I was interviewed on San Antonio’s NPR station, and the interview was broadcast today. It turned out pretty well. You can listen to it here:
http://www.tpr.org/post/fronteras-san-antonio-veteran-channels-war-experience-through-creative-writing (my interview starts at around 9:45)
I debated whether or not to share this part of the interview story, but what the heck, why not. Stand by to be impressed by my media savvy.
I fidget a lot. I’m always bouncing my leg, twisting in my seat, tossing something around, biting pens, whatever. In one of the military schools I attended my instructors even documented it in my initial evaluation. In court I’ve had people tell me I spent my entire time on the stand rotating my chair back and forth, and I never realized it. That’s a problem for TV interviews, but not for the radio. Or so I thought.
Yesterday as I was being interviewed I was doing my usual thing, bouncing my foot and moving my hands around. Then without realizing it, I cupped my hands together and started squeezing them against each other. My hands were right under the microphone as I did this.
So I was talking about something serious, squeezed my hands together just the right way. . . and made a fart noise into the mike.
Of course, the interviewer was a young woman. It couldn’t have been a crusty old guy who’d laugh and slap me on the back about it. I don’t know if I hesitated, looked shocked, or what. I think I froze for a moment. But then I kept talking, tried to play it off. Which was probably a stupid thing to do, since it wasn’t a live interview and I could have just explained to the young woman what had happened. As it is, she probably thinks I’m crude and disgusting.
So, lesson learned: don’t squeeze your palms together during radio interviews. This will now carry the weight of the 11th Commandment for me. Fortunately, it didn’t come out on the radio. When I listened to the live broadcast today I was sweating bullets, wondering if it would be audible. The tension was so thick, it was like reading my awesome novel Proof of Our Resolve (available on Amazon, B&N and iTunes)!
See what I did there? I took an embarassing story and used it to advertise. It’s all about marketing.
Filed under: Writing | 6 Comments
In the last few days my blog has increased exponentially in readership and my book has actually moved to Amazon’s best seller list. Even though I know the bestseller status is temporary, it’s still an amazing, humbling experience. The way I feel about it, if just one person is interested in and moved by your writing you’ve accomplished something. If thousands of people are interested and moved, that’s something to value for the rest of your life. Thousands of people have read my blog recently, and that’s something I’m truly thankful for.
Several web sites have made this happen for me by linking to my blog, or reprinting specific essays. A partial list of sites I need to thank is below:
Plus several others. Thanks for linking, but more importantly thanks for helping spread the word about 2A rights. The people driving this debate (think senior administration officials) are the least informed and qualified, so it’s important to get qualified opinions out there. All the intelligent comments people have made about my blog posts are very helpful in that effort.
Now for the request: many people have bought my book over the last few days, and several people have commented here and elsewhere that they’ve already finished it. I’d ask that anyone who read the book to please post a short review on whatever site you bought it. I’m not looking for a plug, but for honest reviews. If you thought the book sucked, hit me with the truth. I won’t cry for real long . Brutal truth helps me write better in the future, so I welcome any honest opinion.
Thanks again guys, and I’ll do my best to keep the writing interesting. I’m open to any ideas you guys have for future blog posts.
Filed under: Writing | 18 Comments
Tags: proof of our resolve