Know Why You Write

Party on DarthWhen my sister and I shared a bedroom as kids, I used to tell her stories before we went to sleep. I made them up. As a teen I played D&D, not as a character but the guy that invented the stories for characters to wind their way through. On submarines in the north Atlantic, I sat before the missile launcher console and told stories like all sailors do to pass the time. I was always going to tell stories.

And when I finished my naval career and worked in a hotel, I realized how long I’d gone accepting my identity as that man in uniform. I pictured my job, my career, as who I was. One look at my new surroundings and I said, “I must be more than what pays the bills. But what?”

At forty-three I realized, I don’t know who I am anymore. Throughout that night, between auditing the day’s books and fixing the complimentary breakfast for the coming morn, I struggled to connect the dots. At one point I asked myself, “How can I turn being a solitary daydreamer to a good purpose?”

“I’ll write.”

My laptop came with me to work. Rather than watch infomercials or reruns on the lobby TV, I wrote. The story I began with had been a plot for a game I’d intended to run. A recent conversation with an old friend left me with that as my first manuscript.

Granted, I hoped to earn a living as a writer, to return to the Appalachians and write near my kin. And that dream hasn’t died. One of the books I read in my quest to suck less and write more said, “It takes ten years to become an overnight success.”

I’ve been at it for five. I love writing. I love the notion that a story once stirred in my mind might tickle other brains.

So now I must ask, why will you write?

I’ve met those who never expect or even want their words published for others to read. They write as therapy or posterity. They write journals, diaries, or manifestos.

Many imagine a quick and easy path to wealth or fame. It’s possible, unlikely as hell, but possible. Sure, anyone who’s gone to school can write a sentence. It takes little more to string them together to tell a story. But is it compelling? As I write, zillions of folks are publishing their first works via the internet. A hopeful best-selling author has gone from a small fish in a big pond to plankton in the Pacific.

Everyone has the patience for something. They tend to the tedious tasks in their passion with love and focus. I liken it to carpentry. I can purchase the materials, slap them together, and voila, I’ve made a table. But will anyone purchase it? Will they display it with pride in their home?

A carpenter finds love in the measuring, cutting, sanding, staining, etc. He sees the finished product in his mind and strives to bring his vision to reality.

I know a carpet cleaner who’s passionate about his profession. His face lights up while he shares his joy: to enter a home and restore beauty hidden by filth.

I don’t get it at first. And then I turn his story in my head and it all makes perfect sense.

He’s found his passion just as I’ve found mine. Will you find yours in writing? If so, congratulations. If not, mark it off the list and continue your quest for your purpose.

Archer goes overboard

Too Gay? Yup. The Story of an Author Who Tried Too Hard.

Red Sounding

My husband would love reading this,” an author friend and navy-wife said. “But as soon as you got to this point, he’d throw it in the trash.”

These words weren’t spoken out of malice but concern.

Let me explain.

Life’s like a pinball machine, you never know where all the bumps take you. As a US navy submariner and a fan of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, I thought it’d be great to set my own vampire novel on a submarine. In order to darken the story more (and avoid concerns that I shared classified information about my naval exploits) I set the story aboard a Cold War era Soviet submarine. And then it hit me. I have always included a romantic element in my novels.

How can the hero ‘get the girl’ among an all-male crew?

Short answer: a homosexual relationship.

Once I’d answered all my questions about how to begin Red Sounding, I started writing like mad. Thankfully my writers’ workshop friends saved me from a big mistake.

The image above comes from a late night cartoon: Archer. In the episode, ‘Honeypot,’ the hero tries to go undercover to entice a gay spy to hand over valuable secrets. Naturally, stereotypes drive him to extremes and his cover is blown.

That’s where my novel was headed.

In an attempt to write a gay romance within my horror novel, I’d tried too hard. The forced scenes made little sense and came across with an uncomfortably plastic feel. And while I debated deleting everything and starting over, a better idea came to mind. I’ll treat my homosexual naval officer like any other character with a secret to hide. Rather than put a sign with blinking lights over Zhora Ivankov’s head, I’ll keep him as real as I can and focus on a character driven story.

Within the following months a theme evolved around Zhora Ivankov. We all have secrets we feel will undo our lives if revealed. Many dance on the razor’s edge between being true to ourselves and fitting in enough to be accepted. Ivankov’s outsiderness became familiar. I wrote from my own heart about that feeling.

Bloody Yankee

As a geek with Asperger’s Syndrome I grew up beyond the golden dome of popular people. When I joined the navy I donned a sailor’s persona as readily as the uniform I wore. Only after the navy did I consider letting the real me out more often and more freely. I am happier for it. Now I crusade for others to likewise embrace their outsiderness. If we all felt so free, the mainstream might drop to a trickle and the outstreams might earn the world’s respect with equal zeal.

When I was a boy, my parents were embarrassed by my geekish interests and as a result I kept them secret when I went to school. Now, through social media, I realize how many friends I could’ve had in those lonely days. So many of my classmates have been fans of my favorites for decades. If I hadn’t kept a lid on my fandom we might’ve been friends all this time.

I’m fifty. And as I go to conventions I realize my concept of hidden passions may be dated. I have Doctor Who décor in my home that wasn’t available when I was twelve. At conventions I see families now who share their love of such things.

So in the end I hope readers, gay and straight alike, can see my story for what it is; a horrific tale of hate’s harvest and love’s power.

Red Sounding Front Black

Love’s Fire: What Will Keep Your Heart Warm Throughout Life’s Cold Dark Nights?


A camp fire requires a spark, kindling, and solid blocks of wood to really last. But fire only serves a good purpose if cared for. Unattended it’ll either die or consume everything around it. Love and fire share many characteristics.

Love’s spark comes from that feeling one gets when they first meet a new friend or lover. We see them and our heart flutters. A fever washes over us. Or their laughter catches out ear and turns out head. Whatever love’s initial spark, it emboldens us to draw closer and ignite.

Kindling comes from those first encounters when we’re on our best behavior. Eager to consume more but afraid our own faults might dowse the flame, we fight to be everything our partner desires. But while kindling burns hot, it cannot sustain itself. Chilling darkness collapses in on superficial relationships when the pine straw flames out. Its heat must penetrate layers of fear, pride, and ego. Our innermost selves must welcome the heat to catch fire.

Hardships will come and disappointments arise. We’re never as well put together as we tell the world. But the value of that deeper fire keeps us alive in the freezing winter nights. The light of our love shines in the darkest night. The product of our smoldering selves is life.

A well planned campfire can still go out. Damp wood and cold gust threaten to snuff out the flame. Don’t take love’s heat for granted. Stoke the coals, add more kindling. Revisit what that first spark ignited and reflect on all you may be thankful for in the red embers of your past together.

All good fires require boundaries to keep people safe. Clear away any flammable temptations. Corral the heat with a ring of rocks or encase it within a safe fireplace. Fire will consume any fuel in reach and burn you in your sleep.

Fire brought humanity out of the dark and tamed the cold. We’ve fashioned lanterns, kilns, ovens and industry, all to harness fire for our benefit. So too, love strengthens the weak, emboldens the timid, and heals the lame. Love’s fire lights life’s hope. And life’s hope forges humanity’s faith in a brighter future.

Where Do Monsters Come From? The Love Equation

Fear is the flowerbed of imagined monsters. In our minds shadows grow and gain power. They form limbs and lumber about. But real monsters, where do they come from? My new novel uses one to expose the other in an effort to defeat them all.

Red Sounding Front BlackS2promo2_049

As a popular song once said, “Love is the answer.” Subtract love or add hate to any child’s life and see what sprouts from within. I include hate in the love equation because I see it as the negative digits on a numeral scale. Simplistic as it sounds, I’ve seen people with a love surplus withstand greater hate.


But a tragic transformation occurs somewhere beyond the zero between love and hate. Some starving hearts, those with no hope in sight or no positive reference, feed on another source. “Hurt people hurt people,” I’ve heard. The news and history provide ample evidence. In the absence of love or having grown up unaccustomed to it, the heart devours admiration, fear, and pain. It delights in suffering and seeks vengeance for old wrongs.

Humanity’s greatest and most horrific achievements were accomplished with heartfelt passion. Our ability to love others and the effort to love strangers and even enemies will turn back the hatred tide one spot on the number line at a time. Our kind words and actions today can save tomorrow from the next atrocity visited by someone who’s lost sight of the positivity of their own heart.

Salem’s Lot Mixed with Hunt for Red October: I Couldn’t Help Myself

Red Sounding Front Black

Mixing genres doesn’t always work, but I couldn’t help but wonder what a vampire novel might unfold aboard a Cold War submarine. November 2014, look for the novel that smashes military thriller with vampire horror.

Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King, was my first book read for enjoyment as a fifteen year old. I loved the way the vampire crept into a small town and subverted its weakest members, the way Jerusalem’s Lot rotted from the bottom up. And when the pillars of the community dropped their veil of denial it was already too late for most. The heroes were people armed with imagination enough to believe the impossible and courage to face evil with a dangerous fascination.

Driving to periscope depth.
That’s me in the center, driving. My mentor, Moose, is standing, gripping the pipe in front of him.

I served on four submarines over my naval career of twenty-three years. A hundred and fifty men settle in between a nuclear reactor, missiles, torpedoes and drive out into the open ocean for months. Cabin fever and spiteful pranks aside, we always managed to come back to port satisfied we’d done our part to avert nuclear Armageddon.

Out at sea I often wondered how some of my favorite movies and books might play out on a submarine. Once I began my writing career it was merely a matter of time before Red Sounding became a reality. But some questions needed to be answered and some details nailed down.

The Soviet Union, America’s nemesis during the first half of my career offered an ideal setting for a crew driven to stay on task through the initial outbreak of unexplained deaths. As a fan of science fiction and history, the USSR made an obvious choice as a for-real dystopian society.

Able Archer ’83 added a much-needed piece to the puzzle. In my research I discovered a little known moment in history when the Moscow seriously considered America on the verge of launching an all-out war under the pretense of an international exercise. The USSR felt as clearly threatened as close to war as we did during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

red sounding back

So, war on the horizon, a vampire in the shadows, and nowhere to run-the thrill is on.

Bloody Yankee

It’s Not Impossible, It Takes Work, Passion, and Dedication

     As a child, we’re encouraged to dream. We’re told we can be anything we want to be. But as we grow up, many avenues close, most our friends and family discourage wild ideas, and we settle into whatever rut we land in when the wind goes out of our sails.

      That’s what I did. But eventually, I came back to my dream, at forty-two, and got serious about it. It’s not made me rich but it’s enriched my life. It’s been said, you don’t know God is all you need until God is all you have. Likewise, when nothing seems possible, the impossible doesn’t seem so far out of reach.

    Don’t wait until you hit bottom to reach for the sky.


Red Sounding: An Interview with Lieutenant Zhora Ivankov


Hello everyone. We’re in the year 1983, with Soviet naval officer, Zhora Ivankov

What’s your job on your submarine, K-389?

     -I’m the Tactical Officer. I coordinate the ship’s sensors like sonar, radar, and periscope sightings to track enemy vessels. I also oversee the torpedo systems to dispatch those vessels. With the submerged environment we cloak ourselves to hunt beneath the waves. But this cloak also blinds us. Imagine hunting an armed burglar in the dark. Whoever shoots first either wins if their aim is true or exposes their position only to be killed himself.

What’s it like being in the Soviet navy, on a submarine?

     -Imagine your whole life wrapped in a titanium capsule. We operate and fix machinery that defends our nation and keeps us alive. Fresh water, oxygen, electricity, we produce all these. Our food, cooks prepare in the galley. Our beds lie between the missile tubes. Every crewman counts and the slightest error might endanger us all. We do what we can to ease tension: music, cards, pranks, but our jobs and duty we take very seriously.

Where are you from?

     -Murmansk. My father commands the Northern Fleet out of Severomorsk. My mother, well, she does her best to be a good Communist Party wife. She entertains my father’s friends and rubs elbows with the wives of other politically minded men.

What was growing up like? Did you have any brothers and sisters?

     -I was born in a navy hospital in Severomorsk in 1959. My father spent most his time away, either at sea or remotely posted. I was an only child. After my birth, my mother couldn’t have any more children. She barely survived. My mother treated me like a delicate treasure. My father kept mistresses and discounted my mother’s value as her youth faded. I hated him for it and he me for convicting him every chance I got.

What’s one secret even your closest friends don’t know?

   -Wow, a hard one to answer. I don’t really have any friends anymore.

     -Until recently, I’d have said my biggest secret was my interests in love. There are terms and tags for people like me, but I choose to avoid them. They evoke stereotypes and judgments. I’m no stereotype and I’ve had enough judgment for one lifetime.

     -My newest, biggest secret… I’m a vampire. Beaten by my crewmates for whom I choose to love, they left me for dead. I begged to be made a vampire by the creature that found me. He meant to kill me, said the only purpose I had left to serve was to feed him. I offered him a home on my submarine in exchange for another chance to get life right.

What about your current family?

     -Funny, my ‘family’ consists of my father vampire, a daughter I created, and her first creation. Sevastyan is older than the Soviet Union itself. He considers our kind a part of nature, predators to cull the human herd.

     -Vladlena, my ‘daughter’ adored me when we were both humans. She crept around the corners of her whorehouse to admire me. When I came to her in that burning building as a vampire, she saw me as her savior. Our relationship has cooled since I shared my blood with her. She’s seen into my heart as a result. She knows the atrocities I’ve committed.

     -Vadim Adaksin I consider a ‘son-in-law’. My daughter sought him out and took him into our family without my consent or counsel. For that, tension between the three of us runs high. Vadim’s already begun to ruin my plans for K-389. I’d hoped to turn the submarine into a mobile mausoleum from which to roam the Earth and feed.

What’s your goal in life? What drives you to excel, to wake up every day and do the daily grind all over again?

    -As a living man I’d hoped to keep two happy lives from colliding. I had found love and a career I loved, but the Soviet Union and especially the Red Fleet doesn’t tolerate my desires. I love men and I love my career as a naval officer defending my country. Until my death I worked very hard to keep those two apart.

     -As a vampire I see myself as an angel of justice. Sure, I’ll kill people, some of them not truly deserving of what I reduce them to, but I focus mostly on unchecked injustice. Lately though, each mind I peer into as I drink their blood, leaves me with few humans to leave unpunished.

What scares you? What keeps your inhibitions in check?

     -I feared my father as a child. My own success as an adult dispelled the only fear I had, except for death. I’ve always been afraid of dying before I’ve made my mark in history.

     My inhibitions were kept in check by the beatings I knew would come if I weren’t discrete. Now that I’ve died and risen a new creature… I fear nothing. Death would release me from the horror I’ve become and success as an avenging angel tempers that self-destructive angst enough to keep me moving forward with my plans. I’ll either succeed through my boldness or die a quick death. Either suits me fine.

If you could be doing something else with your life, what would it be?

    -I would live on the beaches of the Black Sea with the man of my dreams. We’d be spies, a spy team, like in those American and British movies. We’d travel the world and eliminate threats to our nation while drinking martinis.

What is your favorite thing to do with your free time?

-I read. My father’s library included books forbidden in the Soviet Union. He’d always explained, you must know your enemy’s mind to out think him. I like science fiction especially. There’s always something that pushes our future toward one focus.

Do you have someone you love, someone special?

-I do, but he’ll never love me the way I love him. I wrestle with that every time I see him.

If you had to choose between immortality alone and mortality with family, would it be a difficult choice?

-I’ve already chosen. Difficult? Ask me again after I’ve conquered this crew, this submarine.

And for the future… Where do you see yourself in ten years?

  -I will burn the current civilization in a nuclear fire. Two nations in 1983 sit ready to help me. Afterward, I’ll recreate a new world in my own image.