Like a Phoenix

Time to get serious for a minute.

Self-publishing has sort of a bad reputation. It’s often seen as “vanity publishing,” and there is sometimes an assumption that our books aren’t good enough for traditional publication. We spend an awful lot of time trying to prove that we are “real authors” despite the route we’ve chosen to take to publication.

But I’m not going to bore you with yet another dull comparison of all the pros and cons of self-publishing as compared to traditional publishing. It is what it is.

I want to talk about the Indie community. The circle of independent, self-published authors who are, for the most part, some of the most incredible and supportive people I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Oh, sure, there are more than a few loopy-loos and whackadoodles out there, but they are hugely outnumbered by the Good Guys.

One of those Good Guys is Mark Dawson. He’s a fabulous writer and a terrific role model who offers training, workshops and support to help his fellow indie authors learn to navigate the confusing world of publishing and marketing.

As if that weren’t enough, I recently learned that Mark has taken his kindness to the next level. I’m going to quote him here from his post on KBoards: 

 

“Emma Johns is the wife of my son’s godfather and has been battling with breast cancer for five years. In the middle of her grueling treatment she found out that she was pregnant (the chemotherapy was supposed to make her infertile but, to her surprise, it didn’t).

And then, in December, she gave birth to her own little miracle: baby Phoenix.

(You really couldn’t make that up. It’s the nearest thing to a miracle I think I’ve ever seen).

Emma’s condition is worsening but there is some hope: a trial immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab has shown amazing results for women with incurable triple negative breast cancer (like her). But, due to her pregnancy, Emma missed out on being eligible for the only trial available for this drug. Her best option now is to pay for it privately for the eye-watering sum of 40,000 pounds.

I’ve written a short story in my John Milton and Beatrix Rose universe – called PHOENIX – and I will be giving all of the proceeds to her and her family.

The book is available for preorder right now at $2.99. Every sale makes a difference.”

 

This one hits home, folks. My mom died of breast cancer on Mother’s Day 1987. It’s been thirty years next week. Breast cancer is a real bastard who has taken too many mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives.

I don’t know Emma Johns or baby Phoenix. I’ve never met Mark Dawson face-to-face. But Phoenix shouldn’t have to grow up without his mommy, so I’ve already bought my copy of this book. I am reaching out to all of you who follow my blog, and I’m asking you to spend a measly $2.99 to help out; I’m asking you to share this post and get the word out there.

To pre-order your copy of Phoenix by Mark Dawson, follow this link to his Amazon page.

Thank you for helping out.

 

Brides of Serenity: Book One

 

Every time I set up a pre-order for my newest book and have a firm deadline to complete my manuscript, the universe starts screwing with me. Something always goes wrong and I end up stressing myself out trying to hit a deadline while life spins out of control around me. So this time around, I didn’t set a firm release date. I set a date in my mind, but kept it to myself.

I figured I could outsmart the universe.

How’d that work out for me?

So glad you asked.

This happened:

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Then this:

flu

Followed by a lot of quality time spent with this:

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And copious amounts of this:

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And just when I finally started feeling like this again —

14650195_1279964872014605_491808719304975814_n

 

— I found out about this:

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But somehow, despite all of that, guess what happened?

This:

caroline

 

Letters to Caroline is now available on Amazon! It’s on sale for only .99 cents for a limited time before it returns to its regular price of $2.99.

So what if I didn’t manage to outsmart the universe? I finished my new book, my first historical romance, and I had an absolute blast writing it!

I hope you all have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Please check it out and let me know what you think of it.

 

 

Soup and Validation

Since my books are self-published, I sometimes run into people who don’t really think of them as “real” books. Like the co-worker who said, “Oh, so they’re just things on the internet that anyone can download?”

“Yes,” I told her, “sort of like your college degree.”

Snarky responses aside, I really am enjoying being an “Indie Author.” I am constantly learning and growing (and failing from time to time) and the excitement is indescribable. It’s fun, plain and simple. And it’s a challenge to get better, to learn more, to reach more readers.

I am proud of my books. I don’t defend myself to the people who turn up their noses and assume that authors like me self-publish because we’re not good enough to be traditionally published. I honestly don’t believe I’ll ever convince those people to think otherwise, and I’d rather spend my time writing another book. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone.

Still, I sometimes wish I had that validation that comes with being traditionally published. The respect. Something to change the opinion of those who think self-published authors aren’t “real” authors.

And then, I got something in the mail that made me feel ridiculously validated as a writer.

I just got my “contributor’s copies” of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles®.

soup

This is the first time I have sold a story to a major publication, and I freely admit that I am giddy and silly about the whole business. I keep taking pictures of the box of books. I keep talking about it, Tweeting about it, babbling about it until everyone I know is starting to duck into hallways and hide behind fat people when they see me coming their way.

Okay, I may have been a little boastful about it once or twice.

But c’mon, it’s Chicken Soup for The Soul, guys. As in THE Chicken Soup for The Soul. Who hasn’t heard of these books? Who hasn’t read at least one of them?

I wrote the true story of the car accident that changed my life in 2011. This moment is a first for me as an author. I’ve written and published five books, and I’ve sold a few articles to some random publications, but this is my first major sale. As crazy as it sounds, this makes me feel like I am finally a “real” writer.

And I am in great company, with my little story surrounded by 100 others. Please take a moment to check out the newest edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles, available November 1, 2016. This one’s all about Angels and Miracles, and the stories will blow your mind.

Preview: Their Love Rekindled!

Okay, guys, it’s the home stretch. Their Love Rekindled is going to be released on Friday, November 20!

I am so excited about the way this one has turned out. I even surprised myself with a few of the plot twists. Like the rest of the books in this series, Their Love Rekindled is a standalone story that can be read with or without the others. There are, however, a few familiar names and faces making a cameo appearance or two.

I’m ready to share a sneak peek here, although I am a bit nervous about introducing my new characters to the world. Here’s the book’s description as it will show up on the Amazon page:

Everyone in Beach Haven thought Aaron and Cassie were the perfect couple. Right up until Cassie eloped with Aaron’s best friend, that is.

Now, ten years later, Cassie has been widowed and Aaron is asked to come home and speak at a memorial in her late husband’s honor. He’s got to find a way past his anger and hurt to forgive his old friend, but he doesn’t expect to find that his feelings for Cassie are stronger than ever.

Cassie never expected to see Aaron again, especially since he’s made a life for himself in Texas all these years. She’s got no choice but to keep her distance from him because she knows he’ll never be able to forgive her if he ever finds out the truth she’s been hiding from him. But how can she keep her distance when just seeing him brings back all of the old memories of what they once shared?

Since Chapter One will be available in the “Look Inside” when the book goes live on Amazon, I’ve decided to share a different part. The following scene takes place a few chapters in, when things start to heat up in the kitchen.

***

She whirled. “Why are you here, Aaron?”

“Supper. Your son invited me, remember?”

“No, I mean why are you here in Beach Haven? Why did you come back? And when are you leaving?”

He shrugged. “My sister called me last week and said she needed help taking care of Mom after the surgery and her infection and everything. I took a leave of absence from work and got here as fast as I could, but now . . .”

She waited.

“Mom’s not as bad as they made it sound,” he admitted. “They tricked me. They want me to speak about Mikey at the fundraiser. Mom has this crazy idea that I need to make some kind of peace with his memory. I wasn’t going to do it, to be honest. I planned on getting right back in my car first thing tomorrow and heading back to Texas.”

“Good. Have a safe trip.” She watched the surprised grin pop up on his face, as though there was something funny about her rudeness.

“I said I wasn’t going to do it. Now, I’m thinking about it.”

“Well, don’t. Don’t think about it at all.”

Absently, Aaron picked up a dishtowel and started drying the bowls she had washed. “I don’t want to hate him anymore, Cass,” he finally said. “Or you. You two were my best friends, and I loved you both. I just can’t . . . I can’t get past . . . I feel like I need to stay and say my good-bye to Mikey. I missed his funeral, but I can do this much for him.”

She reached out to take the towel from him, and their hands touched. Her fingertips tingled at the contact.

He was hurting; that much was plain to see. She’d had a year to accept Mikey’s sudden death, but Aaron had somehow managed to avoid dealing with it until now. No matter what had happened between the three of them or how many years had gone by without speaking, the two men had been like brothers. She could see his struggle between grief and anger written clearly on his face.

Without thinking about it, she reached up with her other hand to touch his face. Closing his eyes, he leaned into the warmth of her touch, and she caught her breath as the tingle turned into a jolt of electricity that flared through her entire body.

He slipped an arm around her waist and drew her closer. His body felt warm and firm against hers; she longed to slip her hand inside his shirt and run her fingers across the muscles of his chest, to seek out the familiarity of the body she had once known so well. For an instant, she could almost hear the pounding of the waves and moaning of the foghorn as she remembered again the way their bodies had moved together so long ago in the tiny room of the old North Pier lighthouse.

His lips brushed hers, tentatively at first but growing more insistent. She responded, her tongue meeting his as he pulled her even closer. Their bodies still fit together perfectly, just ast they always had. She could feel his arousal pressed against her and she wanted to feel more of him, even though the logical part of her mind was shouting at her to stop.

Aaron touched her cheek and pulled away suddenly, looking down at the wetness on his fingertips. Embarrassed, she brushed away the tears she hadn’t even realized she had shed.

“Cassie –“ he whispered.

Just then, they both heard Trevor’s footsteps stomping across the room upstairs. The boy was obviously still unhappy about being forced to do his homework, and he was going to let everyone know exactly how he felt about it.

Pull yourself together! She scolded herself. “You need to leave, Aaron. Go back to your mom’s house, and go back to Texas. The fire chief can speak about Miguel at the talent show. You really shouldn’t be here.”

Aaron looked up at the ceiling and then back down at her. The tenderness she had seen in his eyes was gone, replaced by a cold, calculating gaze that she had never seen before.

“I’ll go back to Mom’s tonight, “ he told her. “But I’m not going back to Texas until I find out if Trevor is my son or not. If I have to get a court order for a paternity test, I will. But one way or another, I’m staying in Beach Haven until I find out the truth.”

Their Love Rekindled: Cover Reveal

Well, it’s taken a bit longer than I had anticipated, but I’m almost ready to release the third book in my Beach Haven series: Their Love Rekindled.

If you’ve read Her House Divided and His Heart Aflame, you may remember a young firefighter named Miguel “Mikey” Garcia, who died tragically in the line of duty. My newest book tells the story of those he left behind– specifically, his widow Cassie. It’s a story of healing, of forgiveness, and learning to love again.

My first two books were set on the beach in summer, so it only seemed natural that this one should explore the raw beauty and power of the lake in winter. Personally, it’s my favorite time of year to visit the beach; I wanted to share that appreciation of a Lake Michigan winter through the eyes of Cassie and her former flame, Aaron.

I’ll be sharing a “sneak peek” at one of the chapters soon, but for now, I’m thrilled to share the cover with you. Once again, I went with Jessica Richardson at CoverBistro.com, and I am really pleased with the results. As always, she did a fabulous job.

Their Love Rekindled 1 print

So, whaddya think?

Just

IWSG

Back in the late 1980’s, when I entered the workforce as a secretary, I was told that it was somehow demeaning to refer to myself as a secretary. I was an “administrative assistant” or “office assistant.” Some days, I was a “member of clerical support services staff” or a “word processing technician.” It was supposed to be all about taking pride in my work and demanding respect as an equal, sort of along the lines of not getting the coffee for the men in the office.

I went to a training seminar in Grand Rapids, where the instructor told us it didn’t matter what we called ourselves as long as we left out one very important word: Just. As in “I’m just a secretary” or “She’s the VP, and I’m just her assistant.”

That did more for my self-respect than any of those inflated titles, and I’ve held onto that lesson through the years. In later career moves, I never referred to myself as just a hairdresser, just a stay-home mom, or just a lunchlady. My ex-husband was never just a maintenance man, and in all his years on our local fire department, he was never just a volunteer firefighter.

That’s a big part of why, all these years later, I bristle when people ask me if my books are just self-published.

It’s true that anyone can self-publish a book these days. It’s estimated that there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 new books self-published every year. It costs nothing to slap together some pages, create a cheap cover, and upload it to Amazon or Smashwords. Anyone can do it with any book, good or bad, but that doesn’t meant that all self-published books are slapped-together garbage.

Okay, some of them are. Let’s be honest. There are an awful lot of discussions in writers’ groups about a need for standards and gatekeepers and ways to improve the perception of self-publishing in general, but I feel that the change in that perception begins with how we refer to ourselves. It goes without saying that we need to produce the best work we possibly can, but it goes beyond that. If we want to be respected, we need to start by treating ourselves with respect. 

If I agree that I am just a self-published author, I am quietly agreeing that all self-published books are in some way inferior to those that are traditionally published. I’m apologizing for not being traditionally published. I’m dismissing my own accomplishments as unimportant. If I say, “My books are just self-published,” it sounds an awful lot like, “They aren’t good enough for traditional publishing.”

It is an insult to say that a book is just self-published. Here’s a backhanded compliment I saw in a review not too long ago: “It’s self-published, but it was actually good.” As though the reviewer was surprised! Just a wee bit condescending, don’t you think?

As writers, if we want our books to stand out from the flood of self-published works out there, it starts with how we treat ourselves and our work. If we want to change public perception, we have to set an example by treating ourselves right.  We are not just self-published.

For that matter, we are not just romance writers or just science fiction authors. Short story writers, do you tell people you just write short stories? What about those of you who write children’s books — do you say that you just write kids’ books?

Stop that.

I have a challenge for all of you. For the next twenty-four hours, wipe the word just from your vocabulary. Don’t be just anything.  Not just an indie author, not just an aspiring writer, not just a beginner.

You might be surprised to discover how many times each day you dismiss your own importance, your own accomplishments, with that one little word: just

Coffee Time

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If we were having coffee, I’d start by apologizing for the mess in my kitchen. I’d pull out the mismatched cups from the cupboard and haul out the giant canister of sugar for you, since I’m just not the type to keep sugar in a dainty little sugar bowl. That’s all right, though, because I’d have to offer you the entire gallon jug of milk since I’m not big on using the dainty little cream pitcher, either.

I take my coffee black for a reason.

Let me tell you about my week, because it’s been an emotional one. My oldest child graduated from high school at the end of last week, and this week has been all about adjusting to the idea that she’ll be leaving home in a few months.  She’s done a lot of sleeping in and I’ve done a lot of nagging, and I thought I might possibly be well on my way to a stroke the day I came home from work and found her sunbathing in the front yard – with the TV blaring inside a house full of dirty laundry and dirtier dishes.

I also had my last day of work in the school lunchroom this week. Oh, sure, I’m planning on going back in the fall, but this was unexpectedly emotional. I didn’t expect the kids to hug me good-bye, and I certainly didn’t expect to miss any of them so soon.  Even more than that, I didn’t expect the ending of the school year to feel like the ending of a chapter in my life. This was my first real job since my accident, and it’s been all about finding the balance between pushing myself and knowing when to step back.

In a way, this job was a huge step toward understand who I am now and learning to thrive in my new “normal.” It was a step that was every bit as terrifying – and hard—as those first steps on the walker nearly four years ago. And I did it. I made it. I survived all the way to the end of the school year.

This was the week I interviewed for a second job to help me make my bills. It’s a front-desk position at a local hotel, and it would be a godsend. I did my best at the interview, but it’s hard to tell. I am supposed to hear something on Monday. Either way, it’s good to know my resume is good enough to get me an interview, and the interview itself was good experience for the next interview.

This was the week I finally conquered a really stupid fear and wrote my first real novel synopsis. That, in a nutshell, has been my biggest reason for self-publishing:  I was afraid of writing a synopsis to send to a traditional publisher. As much as I love self-publishing, I still want to explore my options with a traditional publisher, just to see what’s out there. So now I’ve done it and sent it out and I can check it off my “bucket list.”

Who knows – I may soon get my first real rejection letter and end up checking something else off the ol’ bucket list.

This week, I signed the lease on my house for another year. I had really expected to be able to buy it by this point, so it was a little disappointing. I love my house; I want to stay here forever. I just thought I’d be farther ahead by now. Money is trickling in too slowly and flowing out too quickly, and it hasn’t gotten any better this first year on my own.

The week ended with a two-day college orientation trip with my daughter and ex-husband. I hadn’t realized she was so grown-up until I saw her mingling with all of the other young adults on WMU’s campus, and I hadn’t realized just how ready she is to go. I’ve heard all the clichés about “spreading her wings” and all that nonsense, but I never really understood it until this moment. It’s almost time to let her go.

This week, I realized that I am not ready.

If we were having coffee, this is the point where I would break out the peanut butter cookies that I’m supposed to give to the neighbor who mowed my lawn. I’d top off our coffee cups and tell you to drink up before my kids wake up and invade the kitchen, because this is one of the few chances I’ll have to spend one-on-one time with another adult and I want to enjoy every minute of it.  And I think we need a little distraction, because I’m not quite ready to say anything more about my daughter moving out or the fact that I really enjoyed spending those two days with my ex.

Besides, I’ve been talking about myself this whole time, and now it’s your turn to tell me about your week. What have you been up to? What challenges have you faced and how did you deal with them?

Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share.  Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!

Cover Reveal (sort of)

When I first published Her House Divided, I made my own cover. It was really artsy-fartsy, and I was really proud of it.

Of course,  I realize now that it was awful. Just like my formatting was awful. And my spacing. And some of the punctuation. And the fact that I called my main character by the wrong name every once in a while. And . . . well, let’s just be kind and say that my first foray into self-publishing was a learning experience. And oh, boy, did I have a lot to learn.

People have been really nice about helping me. I just can’t get over the number of wonderful authors, artists, and other publishing professionals who have reached out to offer the kind of guidance I have really needed throughout the process.

One of the first to help me was cover artist Jessica Richardson with CoverBistro. She offered me a great deal and made up a new cover for me that really gave my book a much more professional look. There was no question about my going back to her when I needed a cover for His Heart Aflame — and yes, she will be designing the cover for Their Love Rekindled.

I recently turned to Jessica again with some questions about updating my covers to tie them together and make them look more like a series, and I am thrilled with the results. I want to show them off and get some feedback. Tell me, what do you think of the changes?

Old Cover
Old Cover
New Cover
New Cover

But wait, there’s more!

Old Cover
Old Cover
New cover
New cover

Subtle changes, but gorgeous, right?

Ten Questions with Don Dennis

This week’s interview is with Australian author Don Dennis, whose war stories and tales of the military offer a distinctive blend of truth and fiction. His books give us a unique insight into history while bringing to life events from the non-so-distant past.

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I am thrilled to have the chance to talk to the man whose work has had such an impact on so many people. He’s got a lot to say, and a wonderful way of saying it, so let’s get started.

AJ: According to your Amazon author page, you have a “healthy disregard for authority.” How did you manage to reconcile that attitude with serving in the military?  Did it get you into a lot of trouble then, and how does it work out for you now in civilian life?

DD: Actually it was after being in the military for a few years that this attitude developed. I was originally drafted in 1965 and I must admit, I found the NCO’s and Officers who trained us to be exceptionally skilled and surprisingly friendly – many had WW2, Korea and Borneo experience – we’d been fighting an “unofficial” war with Indonesia for years and in some ways we still are – and these guys knew their business.

One jungle training course was so tough I was asking how could anyone survive this, many of the situations they put us in were impossible. When I mentioned this to one of my instructors, he suggested that I “bend the rules” (But don’t get caught). What they wanted you to do was develop the ability to think outside the box…this was their way to foster initiative. That same instructor was later awarded the Victoria Cross for an action in Vietnam where he gained a reputation for thinking outside the square.

I think the attitude grew from there. The “authority” I developed the healthiest disrespect for wasn’t so much the Army – it was mainly the politicians of the day, most of whom I believe lived in an isolated vapor. We had some of them visit our unit in Vietnam (including a future Prime Minister whom I regarded as the biggest hypocrite of them all ) and occasionally we’d send them on a recon in one of our aircraft – although mostly their minders stopped them doing this because of the risk factor involved. They’d usually return white faced (or airsick) – suddenly they had a better understanding what war was all about. It’s amazing what a few bullet holes in an aircraft will do.

I still have a healthy disrespect for many of our politicians – they seem to work on a “Do as I say, not as I do” code of behavior. There are decent ones of course, but they are becoming increasingly hard to find.

AJ: Most of your books are non-fiction accounts of military events, but some of your shorter works seem to be sort of on the line between truth and fiction – “based on real events.” So, which do you prefer to write: fiction or non-fiction?

DD: I prefer fiction – Science Fiction is the genre I love and my first work, a short story, was first published in a Science Magazine in 1964. I also received a very lucrative contract in 1989 for a fiction work, however in the intervening periods until 1992 when I wrote One Day at a Time and 2006 when I wrote The Guns of Muschu business and family prevented me from writing anything extensive apart from magazine and web articles. Most writers will understand how much effort needs to be put into a book and if one isn’t careful it can affect family life.

I’m working on a novel now, set in 2014. I’ve scheduled this for completion late this year (2015) and will self publish.

AJ: You really performed a great service for the families of the men lost in the raid on the island of Muschu. Can you tell me a little bit about that, and about the events that took place as a direct result of your book?

DD: The story is a true one based on my uncle’s wartime diary. He was the only survivor of an eight man Z Special commando recon raid on Muschu Island in April 1945 and it had been talked about by family members ever since. (Z Special was a department of the Strategic Recon Bureau – the forerunner of the Australian Special Air Service or SAS)

Mick Dennis is a very modest man and getting information out of him sometimes is like opening oysters, but in the late 80’s he told me a lot about the Muschu operation and loaned me his diaries.

muschu

I could have published the story through my (then) existing publisher (Queensland University Press) in 1993, however I held off until 2005 when I put a proposal to Allen and Unwin here in Australia. I gained a contract and in 2006 the book was published.

One advantage of writing in the true military genre was that the story was already there for me. All I had to do is prise details from my uncle and fill in the blanks. Fortunately I was able to do this in an entertaining way and the book was successful. One thing I did do (because I owned a web design company) was build a dedicated website to supplement the book. One problem with conventional publishing is the additional cost of printing photos and maps etc, and because I wanted to be able to authenticate much of the action, rather than put the reader through the effort of having to wade through what is often rather dreary documentation or explanations in the book, I decided to place it on a website. This could also act as a promotional site for the book. (http:www//gunsofmuschu.com )

I was fortunate enough to receive good reviews from TV, Radio and newspapers which resulted in a number of leads about the fate of the four men who went missing on that operation. One of these was emailed to me from the USA in 2008 by the son of a US Army WW2 veteran who’d read my book. He explained he’d been searching for information about his father who was a US Army Air Corps B25 pilot who’d been shot down over Muschu island in April 1945 (same month as the Z Special raid) He said the information gathered by a US investigation team in 1947 indicated that the Japanese also had several other allied prisoners on the island – both of who were executed. The US Navy documentation included descriptions of the allied prisoners, descriptions that fitted two of the men from operation Copper.

Unfortunately I lost contact with him suddenly, his emails bounced and he seemed to have dropped off the planet. I found his name in a phone directory on line and called him – his home had been destroyed in a hurricane and he’d lost his computers.

However he had collected more information, including a report from the US Navy in 1947, that described how several Australian airmen had been taken prisoner on Kairiru Island to the North of Muschu. Japanese interrogation records indicated that these men stated that they’d been passengers in an Australian transport aircraft that developed engine trouble and ditched in the sea near the island, and the men swam ashore. Examination of on-line war records at the Australian War Memorial, showed that no Australian aircraft were lost during this period, and as the descriptions of the men fitted two of the missing Z Special commandos, it seemed to me to be fairly obvious who they were. Their stories to the Japanese were typical of one’s they’d rehearsed – the last thing the wnated is the Japanese to learn that they were from Z Special.

b52

After receiving more information from him I asked for help from an organization here, known as MIA Australia. This is a privately run operation who’d successfully recovered the remains of MIA from WW1, WW2 and the Vietnam War – in fact they were responsible for located all our MIA’s from Vietnam.

The principal of the organization is Jim Bourke, a former army officer, and he along with Peter Aylett – another veteran – took over the investigation. Jim and Peter were able to gain access to records that had been sealed in 1948 – not be opened for 30 years, then sealed again for another 30 years to prevent public access. This of course raised flags, and after battling bureaucracy for almost a year, more information gleaned from Australian archives that told a gruesome story of torture and ritual cannibalism. They were able to determine that indeed all four men had come ashore on Kairiru Island to be captured and later executed by the Japanese.

We believe that the fate of the four men was known to the Australian Government in 1947 and 1948, and because of the political machinations of that period – when General MacArthur was suppressing war crimes so that certain Japanese high ranking officers responsible for these were never brought to trial, that the records were sealed and the families involved were never told the truth. It’s interesting to discover the reason behind MacArthur’s behavior, however my conclusion is that it was linked to the necessity for him to ensure that Japan became aligned with the western powers as a block in the Asian region against communism. Trying and executing certain top ranking Japanese officers would, according to his reasoning, alienate many of the Japanese upper class, and increase the possibility of Japan becoming sympathetic to communism.

So we found ourselves in the middle of a politically sensitive issue. A lot happened behind the scenes, including suggestions that there was no point in pursuing the matter further as it would only be distressful to the families involved – along with other reasons.

However, after consultation with what relatives of the missing men we could find, it was decided to continue. Jim and Peter planned an expedition to the island and raised funding for this. Both men are professionals when it comes to investigating MIA, especially when it comes to interviewing possible witnesses, and they devised a series of questions and planned carefully who they would interview, doing it in a manner that would avoid “cross pollination” of the memories of those being interviewed. It should be noted that when searching for war dead, all suspect sites have to be treated almost the same way as a crime scene and the correct forensic protocols observed. One doesn’t take a shovel and start digging…

The expedition took place in 2010, and resulted in Jim and Peter narrowing down the search area on Kairiru to roughly the size of a football field – with a subsequent follow up expedition by them narrowing it even further.

Armed with this evidence they then handed the information over to the Australian War Grave department – literally handing them a map with a large cross on it marked “Dig Here”

The rest is now history, the government sent teams to investigate, found the remains of two men, which were later confirmed by DNA to be those of two of the missing commandos. Meanwhile it had been found that the two other men had been found in 1947, and interred in Lae War cemetary as “Unknown Soldiers”. These were subsequently identified by DNA and their graves marked accordingly.

One thing we learned and have yet to substantiate, is that the heart of one soldier was removed, placed in ceremonial jars and sent back to Japan where they are now in the hands of a collector.

Read about the executions on the website.

http://www.gunsofmuschu.com/mia_project.html )

The conclusion to it all was a re-internment ceremony at Lae War Cemetery in 2013 where the surviving relatives of the men were flown to New Guinea to attend – along with Mick Dennis, the mission’s only survivor.

One thing the government didn’t do however, was give credit to MIA Australia for all the preliminary legwork and funding the original expeditions. None of the press releases even mentioned the background, and they read as if the government department had performed a miracle of forensic investigation. Yet another example of bureaucrats spinning a story to justify their existence.

AJ: Wow. The story of the investigation into it could almost be turned into its own book!

An image posted by the author.

As a former military man and a writer, have you found it difficult to tiptoe along the line between what you want to share and what you aren’t allowed to share?

DD: Yes I have. However now that more than 30 years have elapsed I can generally say what I want irrespective of the so-called secret nature of the subject. Actually there’s not that much I was privy to during my time in Vietnam (or the rest of my ten years) that was secret – maybe a few things about our activities with radio intelligence gathering and later some of the army’s operations against the Indonesians along the New Guinea border, but really I’ve decided when writing not to bother about crossing that line. (What are they going to do to me – jail me – or put me in front of a firing squad…) There’s a few things I’ve held close to my chest (read Kill the Chinaman) but it serves no purpose to reveal identities of people involved in some of these incidents that happened so long ago.

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Ironically as I write this, the very politician who visited us in late 1967 (Malcolm Fraser)  who set me on the path to disrespect, has just died – came over the radio five minutes ago. It’s strange that I’m not in mourning…

AJ: Two of your books have been optioned as movies.  Where do things stand with both of those projects?

DD: Both are now in the fund raising stage. The screenplays have been written, I was involved with both – the screenplay for One Day at a Time  is by a writer named Jack Brislee, who has been responsible for a number of Vietnam movies. He’s written what I believe is a great screenplay that really capitalizes on the humor and pathos in the book. My involvement has been minimal – mainly corrections for accuracy, terminology etc, that one would expect, but Jack really nailed it, he knows his stuff in this genre. I have a feeling that funding for this one will be finalized before the Guns of Muschu – maybe about another year or so.

With GOM, there’s been a lot of activity – two screenplays have been written, both of which I’ve been involved in. The reason there have been two is that GOM is a much larger story and there are two concepts for it. The first is a movie length feature, the second is a two (or perhaps even three) part telemovie. The recent events in finding the MIA from that mission have prompted several producers to suggest they’d like to see the subsequent investigation included, as there’s still information being found. So my feeling on this one is that it’s maybe two years away from going into production, if funding can be raised (estimated at 15 million, which I’m told is cheap).

At the moment though, our film industry is in a bit of a frenzy, with Pirates of the Caribbean being shot in studios only about ten minutes drive from where I live. However normality is expected to return when Johnny Depp returns home on completion in May.

As an aside, I’ve been promised cameo rolls in both productions. One as a grumpy old quartermaster who talks in a Welsh accent and has a glass eye, and another as a sentry who gets to shout (in a loud and military fashion) “Who goes there?”

Better than running for a bus I suppose. I hope I can handle them…

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AJ: Is there a project you want to write but haven’t started yet for some reason? What are you working on right now?

DD: On my bucket list is a love story…I have one that’s a true tale that extends over a period of 50 years. It will be a mammoth task to write it but I hope to get round to it before Gabriel blows his horn in my direction.

I’m currently working on a book started five years ago. Nominal title is The Lost Pharoah. About an American TV journalist who discovers that Rameses II wasn’t really buried in the Valley of the Kings, but possibly in the backyard of her parent’s home on Martha’s Vineyard…

AJ: They both sound like books I’d like to read. What was the last book you read?  Would you recommend it?

DD: Funny you should ask, as for the last two years or so I’ve had very little chance to read anything other than what I write…and it can become almost incestuous. However just a week ago I obtained a copy of The Judas Pledge by Margaret Brazear.

Being a card carrying chauvinist from the old school, I tend to avoid what I term is “woman’s business”, however I found that she writes a very good story and writes it well. She specialises in the era of the reformation in England, which I tend to believe was a pretty dreary time – after all the only music from that period seems to be Green sleeves continually played by a peasant trio. But Margaret puts the story together superbly and I read it in two days (on my Kindle Fire) to the accompaniment of a bottle of red wine. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone (and the sequals)

AJ: I haven’t read that one yet, but I’ve really enjoyed several of Margaret’s other books.  She really is a fabulous writer.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I never really knew anything about Australia’s involvement in Vietnam. Do you find that your books sell well here in America, or are my countrymen all as ignorant as I am?

DD: My best market for the Vietnam Diary series is on the US Amazon store, and I have had emails from former US servicemen telling me that they have shared similar experiences. I spent time with several US Army Aviation units and got to know a lot of them – I was 22 years old then. I found them little different from us, except they talked oddly and drove on the wrong side of the road. I have some funny stories to tell about flying around in a Huey delivering reconditioned aircons to remote US units – part of a service one enterprising young US Warrant Officer pilot had set up. I just wish we’d had access to all the toys these guys had.

Vietnam was a long time ago, so don’t feel embarrassed – even I’m starting to forget it all.

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AJ: You started out being traditionally published and then went to self-publishing. Which do you prefer, and why?

DD: That’s a hard one to answer. I decided to self publish in 2009 after a contract I had with an Australian publisher was cancelled. Until then I’d enjoyed working with them and my books sold well. Having a good editor (mine was a young woman who kept me on a tight leash…) has its advantages as often one tends to wander off topic and head in a different direction. So a tough, objective editor is great to work with.

The reason my contract was cancelled (suspended actually) was because it was a time when the industry was in a bit of a flux..(mess)…my editor and the senior editor of many years resigned after a marketing “guru” was employed that sent the company off in a new direction, including trimming down the genres they would publish (inc mine). So my editor suggest I self publish until things “ironed” themselves out. What happened next was one of Australia’s largest bookstore chains went to the wall – you’d call it chapter 11. What caused all this was the advent of the e-book.

So while my publisher sorted out the mess they’d become bogged down in, I decided to self publish and have since had reasonable success – but the main thing is I get a certain amount of freedom not before possible. However on the downside, I have to self edit etc – always a difficult thing to do irrespective of experience. Having also been a technical writer for 20 years, I’m well aware of the problems involved in self editing which perhaps makes me a little more cautious.

Would I conventionally publish again? Certainly yes – especially as I normally gained an advance on commencement and another on manuscript acceptance.

AJ: What suggestions would you give to new writers just getting started in self-publishing?

DD: Be persistent and be prepared to learn. I see too many who believe their first work will achieve instant success, and if it doesn’t sell within minutes of going live on Amazon or wherever, they complain that it’s someone else’s fault. If the book looks bad or reads poorly it’s no one’s fault but the author’s. They need to learn the craft of writing.

Also don’t go hunting for miracle software to format or edit your ebook. Microsoft Word is perfectly capable of producing excellent results. Again too many would be authors seem to think they can purchase software that will do it all for them. In Australia I can buy MS Word 2010 for $20 – and it’s perfectly capable. I use Word 2003.

I liken it to being a pilot – some people believe they can step into the cockpit of a 747 and fly it away without learning the basics of aerodynamics in a trainer first. Same with writing – write and learn. Start small and work your way up. So called fancy software will do little for you – too many like the thought of being an author but simply aren’t prepared to put in the time to learn the basics such as a word processor.

But above all persistence pays.

AJ: That’s great advice.  Thanks for that, and for taking the time to talk to me. I wish you all the best with your upcoming projects, and I hope you’ll keep us all informed of the progress on both movies.

***

If you are an author or blogger who would like to be interviewed for “Ten Questions With –” please contact me at AuthorAJGoode@gmail.com.

Ten (or more) Questions with M. Lauryl Lewis

Well, it’s time for the grand finale of Zombie Week here at A Goode One, and I’m very excited to introduce you all to the author who inspired me to focus on that theme, M. Lauryl Lewis.  Her Grace series gives a different and unexpected twist on the current Zombie trend and makes it something new and unique.

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As someone who has never really been a big fan of Zombies, I have to admit that I wasn’t sure I’d really enjoy these books. But I was surprised to discover just how heartfelt the books are, and how much I came to care about the characters.  This series is about so much more than Zombies, and I can’t wait to learn more about the author, so let’s get started.

AJ: You are a former nurse.  So does that mean some of the gorier scenes in your books could be medically accurate?

MLL: Yes, absolutely! I try to be as accurate as I can when it comes to the gore and also the few birth scenes in the series. With over 18 years in the field, ranging from hospice to labor and delivery, I not only aim to be accurate in descriptions of death and decay but I also try to build the emotions of difficult situations into the story. Many readers have mentioned that they both laugh and cry while reading my work. You can safely say that if there are tears being shed, I was likely reflecting upon my own experiences either in work as a nurse or in my personal life when I wrote those scenes. And scenes that people say are overly gory? Chances are they were based on some smaller-scale “yuck” that I came across somewhere in my work life.

AJ: It can’t be easy to write some of the more violent and disturbing scenes in your books.  How do you come up for air afterwards—how do you come back to reality?

MLL: Fun question! Yes, it can be very difficult to write some of the scenes that I do. Many of those scenes have some root within them from my own life, and so reflecting upon them can be somewhat miserable. Others I come up with from deep within my mind. Perhaps there’s something not quite right in there? There’s times where I have to literally stop in the middle of writing and just take a break. I once went for a walk to the edge of the woods behind out house. It was after dark and, well, that didn’t go well. I was scared pretty bad. Chocolate M & M’s can be of comfort, or a cup of hot tea. Some of the hardest scenes are the death of favorite characters. I mourn, just as my readers do.

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AJ: I understand that this past year was a pretty rough one for you and your family. How did that affect your writing? And how is everyone doing now? 

MLL: Yes, 2014 was the hardest year of our lives. Our oldest son, 10 at the time, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I took the entire month of May off to be at his bedside while he was in Seattle Children’s Hospital and underwent two brain surgeries. I also took a portion of June off while he recovered. It delayed my release of the 5th Grace book, and I am so blessed that readers were understanding and forgiving (my readers truly are the best!)  While our son doesn’t have cancer, his tumor is inoperable and he now faces some lifelong medical issues. It’s a rough road and emotions are still very raw. As a result my progress with projects has been slower than average while I try to just breathe some days. He really is doing well. He is such a bright young man who is kind and compassionate, and who loves life. I think he’s coping better than us adults! His prognosis is good, thankfully!

AJ: I’m so glad to know he’s doing better.  It sounds like you have a very strong family.

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Now, Praying for Grace was the final book in your Grace series.  What’s next for you? 

MLL: Actually, the Grace Series does not end with Praying for Grace. Many others make that assumption as well, which really is my fault. I ended the book with a “fast forward” scene similar to an epilogue, but it was still part of the final chapter. That “fast forward” was a setup to the next book (State of Grace) that releases later this year. It promises to have a slightly different feel than the rest of the series, and will be set about 2 years down the road in their apocalyptic world. This next book may end the series, but that’s TBD. Aside from that, I’m also working on a standalone haunting called Schiessl House, and the first in a sci-fi/dystopian/horror trilogy called The PlantedSchiessl House will be loosely based on my own paranormal experiences. The Planted: Year One will follow a group of young adults as they settle a new planet as humanity’s last hope for survival after an extinction level event on earth. Days and nights will be long on their new world, and darkness will bring monsters their way.

AJ: Can you tell me a little bit about the Sun Trilogy?

MLL: The Sun Trilogy is still a work in progress. I wrote book one, This Side of the Sun, wanting to give contemporary new adult romance a try. To be brutally honest, it hasn’t been as well received as my horror works. I had a ton of fun writing it, but I feel my niche is horror. I still intend to finish out the trilogy with Under a Brighter Sun and The Heat of a Thousand Suns, but my inner punk needs to finish my other projects first. This Side of the Sun follows Saul and Hattie as they find each other amidst a tragedy in their small town. The second is series will follow Saul’s sister Carolina as she tries to heal from a violent intrusion into her life. The third book – well, I have no idea just yet.

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AJ: You’re a mom, and a nurse, and you come across as a very sweet lady.  So . . . where the heck did the Zombies come from?  How were you inspired to write this particular series of books?

MLL: I am a total zombie addict! When I was about 5 years old, my dad spliced into the neighbor’s HBO (back in the days of rabbit ears ha ha) and I would sneak into the basement in the middle of the night to watch horror movies.  I think my addiction began with Night of the Living Dead. When it comes the Grace Series in particular, I was inspired by breaking my ankle in a random act of clumsiness in March of 2012. I was spending so much of my time in a recliner with my foot in a boot and in pain that I figured I might as well try to write a book (true story). When it comes to my choice of zombies, it just seemed natural to me. Also, I needed some new zombie material so I figured perhaps the world did too.

AJ: With Zombies being such a popular trend right now, did you have to avoid other books and TV shows in the genre while you were writing, or were you able to keep your own work separate?

MLL: The thought of NOT indulging in zombies makes me want to cry! Sadly, I cannot give up the genre even for the sake of my own work. The only time I feel it interferes with my own writing is when I discover that my ideas have coincidentally mirrored someone else’s. If I discover that prior to publishing, I change my work because I have a horrible fear of being accused of copying others. I also rack my brain when I have a new plot idea to avoid writing anything too similar to other materials out there. I opted to NOT use a mall for scavenging or living within, for example. Also, within my series there were zombies with their jaws and arms cut off, but then the episode of The Walking Dead that introduced Michonne and her “pets” aired. I immediately altered my storyline. I have not read TWD comics but do religiously watch the TV series. That being said, my series has two main kinds of zombies, referred to as ROAMERS and RUNNERS. TWD (TV) has recently introduced the town of Alexandria, whose residents call the dead “roamers.” While I’m quite confident that the show did NOT get the term from me, I didn’t get it from them either. And so, unless it’s in the comics, I call dibbs.

AJ: What was the last book you read, and would you recommend it to others?

MLL: Ahhh…that’d be the Emily Goodwin Contagium zombie series. YES, I recommend! I know you asked about one book, I but I absolutely LOVE recommending other authors. A new author has hit the scene who has mad awesome skills. Check out Shana Festa’s Time of Death series (also zombie).

AJ: If you could have lunch with any “big time” author from any era, who would it be?  What would you ask?

MLL: Hands down, one of my favorites – Charlaine Harris! I think I would ask her questions about her Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) series, wanting some answers as a reader. I would also likely ask her how she got started. I would want to know what makes her mind tick.

AJ: Why did you choose to go with self-publishing rather than traditional?

MLL: The choice was fostered by my intense lack of patience. I did what I thought I was supposed to and queried literary agents for oh…2 months? I got plenty of rejections out of the 50 or so queries I sent off. I got tired of that in a hurry. I did some research into self-publishing, utilizing Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) as my source. I jumped into it not really knowing what I was doing and what-do-you-know an agent asked for a full manuscript to read about a week later. Being the honest person I am, I informed her that I had self-published. She kindly retracted her offer to read my manuscript but asked for the sequel once it was ready. I ended up never sending off that second manuscript and have never looked back. By this point in my new career as a novelist, I also have to be real and recognize that income plays a role as well. Since retiring as an RN, my books are what helps supplement our family’s income. Writing allows me to stay at home with our kids and most especially to be available for our oldest son with his health needs. Frankly, if I were traditionally published it’d be a huge income cut.

I honestly have no interest in going with a traditional publisher at this point. Self-publishing affords me complete control of content, editing, cover art, formatting, marketing, and even price. I guess I like control.

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AJ: If any of your kids want to follow in your footsteps and become writers when they grow up, what advice would you give them?

MLL: “Follow your heart and dreams because you can do anything you want!” I would tell them that writing’s a tough go at making a living and they should have backup plans (like a day job). Our kids are only 11, 10, and 7 right now but we already talk about education, college, dreaming, and we encourage reading for fun. So, really, the advice starts this young. The most important thing to us, aside from good health of course, is that the kids all grow up to have a passion for what they do. We talk about that often.

AJ: I heard that you have some exciting news when it comes to the Grace Series, do you care to share?

MLL: Yes! It’s very exciting! One of my readers is a make-up designer. She contacted me to see if I would be interested in collaborating with her on a collection dedicated to the series. Nessa’s Naturals is a line of all-natural mineral make-up. Vanessa decided about 10 years ago that she didn’t like the harmful ingredients of most make-up lines available, so began to create her own. She started small and has turned it into a full time business. I ordered some of her products and fell in love, and was so excited to hear she wanted to custom-make a line linked to the Grace Series. And so, she has developed 3 unique colors of eye shadow (Hope, Zoe, and Roamer) and a lip glaze (Blood Orange) and will combine them in a set along with my personal favorite eye-liner (smoke monster). I actually got my set in the mail from her yesterday and it is even more than I imagined it’d be. She’s done an incredible job. The set will be available near the end of this month, so be watching!

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Nessa’s Naturals: www.nessasnaturals.com

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AJ: How Exciting! The make up looks great – especially the lip glaze!

How can people find you and your books?

MLL: My books are available through all major ebook platforms (Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, etc) as well as through my website as PDFs. Book 1 of the Grace Series (Grace Lost) is always free! I love to interact with readers, so welcome people to contact me.

My website and blog is www.zombieauthor.com

AJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of my questions.  I wish you all the best with your books and the make-up line – and of course, with your son’s health. I hope he continues to get better.

MLL: Thanks, Amy, for such a fun interview!

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If you are an author or blogger who would like to be interviewed for “Ten Questions With –” please contact me at AuthorAJGoode@gmail.com.