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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have five novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York published my latest novel, Secretocracy, in March 2020. It will bring out my newest collection of short stories, Coming to Terms, in July 2020

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the thirteen years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

Secretocracy, published in March 2020, tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the Trump administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation. Coming to Terms, out in August 2020, is a new collection of short stories about people trying to work through the downturns in their lives.

My Careers (2)

Continuing the story of my multiple careers: When my army enlistment came to an end, because of my facility with languages and my knowledge of French, Vietnamese, and Chinese—the three languages of Vietnam—NSA hired me at five steps above the normal starting grade for a new employee and immediately sent me to Vietnam for the first time in 1962. For the next thirteen years, until the fall of Saigon in 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. My career as a spy was launched.

After the fall of Saigon, I went on doing the same kind of work in other places, but what I did and where I did it are still classified, so I can’t talk about them.

Meanwhile, when I could, I wrote. Because I had so little time to myself and because I was always working on more than one book at a time, it took me an average of fourteen years to write each book. Most of my writing, all fiction except for some magazine articles, was based on my experience in Vietnam—everything after that was still classified. But all my fiction was rooted in fact. That led reviewers to describe my writing as fiction in name only. They were right, although sometimes I described incidents after 1975 as if they had happened in Vietnam.

For twenty-plus years after the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, Americans condemned the war there. It was also the first war we Americans had ever lost. As a result, for years I was unable to get my fiction published—Americans just didn’t want to hear about Vietnam.

That all started to change around 2015. A new generation of Americans had come along and wanted to know why the Vietnam war was never talked about. They were curious about what happened and why. Publishers began to accept my books and short stories. I now have six books and seventeen short stories in print with more to come. So my career as a writer has finally arrived.

That’s how my careers went, from being a musician to being a linguist and then a spy (which paid very well) until I could retire with a handsome stipend and write full time—that is, fulfill my vocation to write and take on my true career.

More books coming. Be patient.

My Careers

When I was preparing to do the blog post about polyphony, I dug out my copy of Hugo Leichtentritt’s Musical Form, published by the Harvard University Press in 1951. In my days as a music student, and still today as far as I know, it was the final authority on the subject. When I opened the cover of the book, I found a hand-written inscription which reads, “Christmas, 1955. I hope this book might help you somewhat. I also hope you’ll soon come to the point where you no longer need it. Sincerely, Mary”. The inscription tells me that it dates from my second year in college and my first year of studying music at the college level. I took my Batchelor of Arts degree in music in 1958.

Mary, who gave me the book and signed it, was a woman a year or two older than me whom I greatly admired for her musical talent. She, too, was studying music at the University of California, Berkeley. After we finished college, I went into the army (the draft was still in force), and Mary got married and ceased communicating with me. I know that her marriage didn’t work out, but that’s all I know about what happened to her after that. I never heard from her again despite my many letters to her.

Mary’s inscription brought back to me many memories of my undergraduate college days and my impecunious youth. With my mother drunk and my father in and out of prison and writing bad checks against my checking account, I had to work twenty hours a week to feed and clothe myself while attending a regular schedule of college courses. As I have reported here before, I missed my college graduation because I was in the hospital suffering from exhaustion. But once I graduated with a BA in music, my career as a musician was launched.

I majored in music because I was hoping to escape my fate of being a writer. I had known since I was six years old that I was born to write, but I dabbled with other careers. I was also a budding linguist, comfortable in French, Italian, Latin, and German. Learning languages came naturally to me—I taught myself French and Italian as a child—and it never occurred to me that learning foreign tongues was challenging. Only later did I come to understand that we Americans regarded foreign languages as very difficult because, as a dominant nation, we required others to learn our American English and consequently considered learning other languages as preeminently demanding.

After I graduated from college, I enlisted in the army to go to the Army Language School (later called the Defense Language Institute), the finest language school in the world, to study Chinese, a language that fascinated me but was too difficult for me to teach to myself. The army in its wisdom decided that I should study Vietnamese, not Chinese. It wasn’t until after I had completed a year of intensive study of Vietnamese that I was assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), found myself near Washington, D.C., and enrolled at Georgetown to study Chinese.

More next time.

Online Videos

Partly because I’m a successful novelist and partly because of my long history of assisting friendly troops in combat, I now have three videos online that my readers can access. The most recent is by WMAR Television (Baltimore), who spent the better part of a morning interviewing me. The result is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FcNLFQovys

Two earlier videos, from 2017 and 2018, are still online at YouTube. You can access them at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg1UDKl57PA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee07TKBrSks.

If you watch them, please comment here or via email on what you think.

Polyphony (3)

Even though polyphony was no longer in fashion after the Baroque period, composers seemed to understand that it was the highest form of music. Nearly all composers, as they matured, ventured more and more into contrapuntal writing, taking pleasure in having several voice lines going at the same time, operating independent of each other but obeying the rules of harmony. Counterpoint, it turns out, works in any style and period of music.

As a composer myself, I can bear witness to the magnetic appeal of polyphony. The charm of multiple voices sounding at the same time but independent of one another is hard to resist. No composer worth his salt has avoided it for very long.

Polyphony (2)

I interrupted my discussion of polyphony, sometimes called counterpoint, to meditate on my birthday. I now return to the subject of multiple-melody music.

About the fugue, the most complex and sophisticated polyphonic musical form ever devised by man: Composers have varied the form of the fugue. Bach himself showed how much variety could be introduced into the form in his The Well-Tempered Clavier (Das wohltemperierte Klavier in German), two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys for keyboard (a total of 48 different pieces). In Bach’s day, clavier meant “keyboard” and referred to a variety of instruments including the harpsichord, clavichord, and organ. So the collection’s title clearly indicates that the pieces were intended to be for keyboard soloists.

By the time Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arrived on the scene in 1756, the Baroque period had come to an end, and the Classical period had begun. The tastes of listeners had changed. They wanted a clear melody with accompaniment rather than polyphony but demanded greater complexity in the total musical form. The sonata form resulted. Far more complex than any musical form before the Classical period, the sonata consists of three parts, the exposition, development, and recapitulation. Composers of the Classical period (Mozart, Hayden, and Beethoven) typically used the form this way: the exposition laid out two themes, one in the tonic (the key of the piece) and one in the dominant (five tones higher than the tonic). The development offered variations on the tonic theme and sometimes on the dominant theme as well. And the recapitulation restated both themes, this time entirely in the tonic key. Often, the composer offered a coda at the very end.

More next time.

My Birthday (3)

Continuing my dissertation on my eighty-fifth birthday: Despite my age, I’m very active. November has been an unusually busy month for me. The first half was filled with presentations (I did my fall of Saigon presentation twice), a parade, several gatherings of veterans to celebrate Veterans Day, a television interview (you can view it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FcNLFQovys), and related celebrations. The second half is filled with personal and family festivities. Three of my four children and their families came to visit last Saturday, and Tuesday, on my birthday, a friend and his family came to celebrate with me.

The end result is that November has been a time when my regular, every-other-day workout schedule was regularly interrupted. But I’ll get back to it starting today. Oddly, I have no plans for Thanksgiving Day or the day after. I can finally rest up and return to my routine.

So being old is irrelevant. I don’t have time to slow down. Too much to be done. And I’m enjoying every minute.

My Birthday (2)

In response to my post of yesterday about my birthday, several readers asked if I live alone and what kind of help I depend on. The answer is, yes, I live by myself and rely on no one but myself. I do my own grocery shopping, do my own cooking, and pay my own bills. I live in a medium-size split-level house which I take care of myself, cleaning as needed and doing my own laundry.

I bought this house several years ago because it is so well suited to the way I want and need to live. I have no lawn to care for. The only outside work is pruning overgrown bushes along the walkways several times a year. The beautiful grounds around the house are owned and managed by by the Columbia Association. Inside, cleaning is easy because the only person messing up the house is me. The biggest job I have is keeping my round, white marble dining room table orderly. It invariably gets strewn with newspapers, books, pads, pencils and pens, reading glasses, a wine glass, a bottle of wine, and bowls of popcorn, crackers, and nuts. When company is coming, I have to clear it all off and put everything away.

I spend most of my time in my office on the lowest floor of the split level. It is in the central room which runs the length of the house and is taken up with my u-shaped desk. I sit between the two sides of the desk with my computer on one side and a small writing slope podium (that is, a writing desk) on the other. The walls are covered with book shelves. I make little attempt to keep the clutter under control. I want everything within reach.

One of my favorite spots in the house is my upholstered reading chair close to the gas fireplace in my sun room, adjacent to the deck that runs most the length of the house looking north over a pond surrounded by trees. Since I read so much—partly because I am always reviewing books but also just for pleasure—that chair gets well used.

More next time.

More next time.

My Birthday

Today is my birthday. I turn 85. In 2019, the most recent year for which figures are available, the average life expectancy for American men was 76.3 years. So I’m already past the expected limits. And I’m in perfect health.

Today is also the first day this autumn when temperatures started solidly below freezing. It is currently 29 degrees in Columbia, Maryland where I live. We can speculate on whether there is a causal relation between my birth date and the freezing temperature.

Meanwhile, I claim credit for my healthiness. As noted here in earlier posts, I lift weights for more than two hours every other day, I watch my diet, stressing low-calorie healthy food (mostly vegetables and fruits), and I sleep more than most people, including a nap every afternoon. And my mind stays active with reading and writing. In addition to this blog, I regularly write book reviews and work on my own books. I now have six books and 17 short stories in print with more to come.

But I have to recognize my good luck, too. Because of a generous retirement, I don’t need to exhaust myself with work to earn enough money to survive. Granted, I had to work very hard and at times put my life on the line for my country to be eligible for that annuity. I didn’t do any of that to earn money. I did it out of love of others and love of country. But many people, both men and women, worked as hard as I did and ran risks equal to mine, but they didn’t end up free of money worries. I am truly fortunate. And because I don’t have to earn a living, I can spend full time writing.

So here I am, the most fortunate of men, living as I choose to live in a beautiful house in a magnificent city (Columbia, Maryland), enjoying life to the hilt. I know no one with better luck than me.

Polyphony

As I have noted here before, one of my attempts to escape my fate as a writer—I knew at age six I was born to write—was to compose music. As child, I taught myself to play the piano and read music and learned to write down the music I heard going through my head. I ended up composing many pieces, especially for chorus and folk group when I was music director in various churches. My first college degree, a BA, was in music.

Through it all, I found myself drawn to polyphony, sometimes called counterpoint, which means more than one vocal line going at the same time. Traditionally, melody lines were called vocal lines and thought of as fitting a voice range, that is, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. When more than one vocal line is going at once, the coincidence of tones must fit the rules of harmony. That means deciding whether the musical piece is conventional harmony (in a major or minor key) or if it is modal. There are basically seven modes, each a scale beginning on one of the white keys on modern pianos, called Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. The Ionian is the same as the modern major scale, and the Aeolian is the minor scale.

By 1600, with the arrival of the Baroque period of music, composers, players, and listeners had settled on the major and minor scales that we know today as the standard for all music. And harmony emphasized the third (two tones three steps apart sounded simultaneously) and the triad (a chord consisting of three tones a third apart) as the most pleasing. The result was that composers writing more than one melody to be sounded at the same time had to follow the rules of what was harmonically pleasing.

All that led to the fugue, arguably the highest musical form ever invented. In its classic form, as used by Johann Sebastian Bach, probably the greatest composer who ever lived, it uses the four vocal lines (soprano, also, tenor, bass). It starts with a single voice, often the alto, stating a melody. Two or three measure in, another voice repeats the melody, usually starting a fifth above or below the first voice which continues the melody. The remaining two voices enter stating the melody from the beginning, starting on the first or fifth note of the scale.

More next time

Disorder or Injury? (2)

I ended yesterday’s blog post with the sentence: “Sometimes the unbearable memories are so bad that death is preferable to continuous suffering.” In other words, suicide. I know what it feels like to be in such pain from battlefield memories that I don’t see how I can go on living. I choose to bear the pain and try to live life to the fullest. But not all veterans do. In 2019, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, the suicide rate among veterans was 31.6 per 100,000, substantially higher than the rate among non-veteran U.S. adults (16.8 per 100,000). And one study found that at least four times as many active-duty personnel and war veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died of suicide than have died in combat—an estimated 30,177 have died by suicide as compared with the 7,057 killed in post-9/11 war operations.

So the wounds to the soul inflicted by combat are real and dangerous. PTSI can be a killer. I urge all readers who know anyone suffering from PTSI to show interest and sympathy and to encourage the sufferer to share his memories. By opening up to you, the victim of the disease will face his or her memories and begin to come to terms with them.

That could mean a life saved.