September Wrap-Up

As the release day for Mandate of Heaven inches closer, I managed to have an extremely productive month of writing! I set a goal to add 10,000 words to my current work-in-progress (Book 3 of the Ethan Chase series, Gold of the Jaguar) by month’s end, but I ended up adding 20,000 words as of this weekend. That brings the manuscript to just over 50,000 words and near the end. Just this morning I was able to finish a chapter that puts Ethan and company into place for the exciting, climactic scenes.

I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by fellow blogger and author Berthold Gambrel! He will be releasing that interview on October 10th, the same day that Mandate of Heaven drops, and I’ll be sure to share it here and on Twitter, as well.

They say that writers have to be readers, and I’ve been doing my best to live up to that standard this month! I finished reading George W. Bush’s presidential memoirs, as well as a biography on Dwight D. Eisenhower (I’ll review that one later this week), and I’m about a quarter of the way through the audiobook version of Barack Obama’s presidential memoirs. Also, this weekend I picked up a two-book collection of arguments about the US Constitution and the Constitutional Convention that my brother gave me, and that has been fascinating to read!

Well, fascinating to me, anyway. My wife and children roll their eyes when I open that dusty, boring tome.

As always, thank you all for being loyal readers of this blog and my works! It’s officially one week until Mandate of Heaven is released and I’m brimming with excitement about it! It’s one of my best works to date, and I think you all will find it easy to fall in love with these new characters.

Weekend Update: Pumpkins and Progress!

With the release date for Mandate of Heaven fast approaching, I think it’s time to give an update on the rest of the coming series!

Book 2 of the series, Solomon’s Fortune, is currently under editing and that should be available in December, just in time for the holidays! Book 3, Gold of the Jaguar, is still a work-in-progress. I’ve passed the 45,000 word mark and I’m chugging efficiently along, well ahead of schedule, in fact. That book will not be released until Spring of 2023.

On the personal side of things, there was a nearby fall festival yesterday. I took the family and we had a great time! There was a hay maze, a bouncy house, balloon animals, and, yes, pumpkins. The kids had a blast and, as a parent, watching them enjoy themselves was great.

Also, I discovered this morning that my His Name Was Zach series has officially reached 100 reviews on Amazon! It’s spread between the three books and short story prequel, but still a pretty cool milestone nonetheless. I can hardly believe it’s been three and a half years since I self-published Zach and Abby’s story, and I’m truly grateful for all of you who’ve read it!

Book Review: “Decision Points” by George W. Bush

After reading Ulysses Grant’s Memoirs, I’ve decided to read more of the books written by past US Presidents. I think it’s a fascinating way to get inside their heads, to see how they portray their lives, their upbringing, and their presidency.

The construction of Bush’s memoires was interesting. He laid out his life story from birth to the presidency in a linear manner, but then once he gets to his presidency, each chapter focuses on the major issues of his time and carries them through to the end of his administration in 2008. First, as you could probably guess, he spoke about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and how he used the government intelligence agencies for the next 7 years. He then spoke about Afghanistan from 2001-2008, then Iraq from 2001-2008, then his education polices from start to end, and so on.

And that makes the book title make sense: Decision Points. Bush’s book is a book about major decisions he made and how he justifies them.

I always felt a little bad for Bush. By his own admission, he wanted to be a reform president who was known for his education and financial policies. Instead, 19 Saudi hijackers forced him to become a wartime president.

It was interesting to see how much the attacks on 9/11 tinted the lenses on his presidency for the remaining seven years in almost every arena. He approved broad, and what some might call unconstitutional powers to intelligence agencies and the military because he did not want a second 9/11. He invaded Iraq because he feared they would develop nukes, that these nukes would end up in the hands of terrorists, and then there would be a nuclear 9/11. Ditto for North Korea, he feared dissemination of rogue nuclear devices that would trigger a nuclear 9/11.

The parallels to Eisenhower’s administration are unmistakable. The Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor deeply wounded the psyche of that generation of Americans, and with the advent of atomic weapons the fear of a surprise attack that annihilated an area the size of New York City created full-on hysteria. While Eisenhower made admirable steps to rid the world of nukes by offering the Soviets chances to work together to decommission their weapons, when these attempts failed he leaned hard into the production of more and bigger nuclear weapons for the US arsenal.

Why? Because he feared an atomic repeat of a surprise attack that had scarred a nation.

Obviously, what you make of Bush’s book will largely depend on whether you support him. I grew up a Bush-supporter because that’s how my parents voted. I may have voted for Bush in 2000 had I been old enough, but certainly not in 2004. I think now I have a better understanding of why he made the decisions he did, and I think I came away with my view of Bush slightly elevated, since the book reminded me of some of the good he did in areas that had nothing to do with war or terrorism.

I do think that, in decades to come, Bush will receive more favorable reviews than he’s had thus far, but I would still peg him pretty far down the list of my favorite presidents.

I also recommend this book to anyone interested in modern American history! George W. Bush was, for better or worse, an extremely consequential president, and it might provide you some valuable insight if you choose to read it. Right now I’m going through an audiobook version of Barack Obama’s Promised Land, so I’ll have a review of that ready when I’m done.

Remembering 9/11

September 11th, 2001 was a historic day not only in American history but in the history of my own life. As a 10 year old who grew up knowing relative peace, who believed war was generally a thing of the past, the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on that day rocked me to my very core. I wasn’t old enough to understand the intricacies of politics and history in the Middle East. I didn’t know anything about extremist Muslim groups or American involvement in their countries.

All I saw that day was evil men murdering thousands of my countrymen for no reason whatsoever.

All I knew that day was that it was my responsibility to make those men pay for what they did and to protect country. I decided then and there as a 4th grader watching the news at home that I was going to become a United States Marine.

21 years later, I’d like to think I learned a thing or two. Having deployed to Afghanistan twice, having been shot at and shot back, I learned that war is not as simple as ‘go get the bad guys’. I learned about terms like ‘blowback’ and the law of unintended consequences.

Worst of all, I learned that our efforts in Afghanistan post-9/11 were in vain. The Taliban won that war, and they once again run the country, to the detriment of every Afghan.

It’s impossible to say how differently the course of American history may have run if 9/11 never occurred, and the same can be said for my life. I like to think that, ultimately, the choices I made for myself were the best ones. I think the military changed me for the better and gave me opportunities to learn and grow in ways that nothing else could have. With that in mind, I’m proud of my service and would never do it differently if given the chance to go back.

But that pride cannot exist without the tragedy of 9/11, without the loss of brothers in arms in a war that proved fruitless. It’s a maelstrom of emotions that I feel every year on this day, and it’s difficult to describe exactly how I feel. All I know is that I will never forget the lives lost 21 years ago, on a crisp Tuesday morning in September. Nor will I forget the Americans who died fighting for what they believed in in the years that followed.

No one should.

Rings of Power: A Spoiler-Free Review

Long-time readers of this blog know that I am a complete nerd for The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read the trilogy numerous times, including The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and many of the histories of Middle-Earth written by Tolkien.

So when it was announced years ago that Amazon would be producing a show based on Tolkien’s world, I was immediately hyped. And last night, I finally got to return to Middle-Earth! It was a long expected return, and definitely worth the wait.

As the title says, you won’t find any spoilers here. This is a show you need to experience for yourself, and fast because I’m sure that by Monday morning it will be impossible to miss spoilers online. All you’ll get here for now are my impressions of the show.

Reports have said that Amazon has spent over $1 billion on this show. Yes, billion with a ‘b’. And so far that money appears to be well spent. I’ve heard complaints online about cheap sets, horrible CGI, and bad costumes, but I didn’t see any of that. The sets looked great, the CGI was barely noticeable, and the costumes? They were amazing, especially the orcs.

Holy cow, the orcs! The last time we saw orcs was in The Hobbit, when many of the creatures were pure CGI. In Rings of Power, the orcs are once again played by actors in costume and make-up, and they are terrifying. Stunning. They look like monsters created in darkness by a power of pure hatred and spite, exactly as they’re supposed to be.

The music was wonderful, just as always in a movie based on Tolkien’s work. Howard Shore, the composer for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit returned again, only for the show’s theme song, but you can absolutely hear his influence on the rest of the soundtrack. Gorgeous, haunting, intense, it’s everything.

Thus far the casting decisions seem to have been done well. I read a review that cast aspersions on the casting of Morfydd Clark as Galadriel and Robert Aramayo as Elrond, calling them ‘miscast’. I don’t get that feeling at all. Clark plays a majestic yet fierce Galadriel, merely a younger, more emotional version of Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel. And Aramayo’s Elrond is thoughtful, wise, and always calculating. Again, a faithful homage to Hugo Weaving’s Elrond but with a younger twist (Rings of Power takes place approximately 7,000 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings after all, a long time even for Elves and they can and do change after the passing of ages).

The fighting scenes were good, not over-the-top or silly as in The Hobbit. The dialogue is fantastic, and changes tonally between the races: when the Harfoots (distant ancestors of hobbits) speak, it’s a very plain, country-bumpkin kind of talking, dwarves speak with a Highland accent, speaking loudly and boastfully, while the Elves speak softly, thoughtfully, using old-fashioned words and sentence structures with a royal British accent when speaking English, though they also speak their native tongue Quenya, as well.

Last night was the premiere of the first two episodes, both an hour long. By the end of the second one, I was not quite as engaged as I had been when I started, and I’ve seen some people say that the first two episodes can get a bit heavy with exposition (I kind of agree), but I owe that more to the fact it was 11:15pm and I’d been awake since 5 that morning.

Either way, I’m looking forward to Episode 3! If you have an Amazon Prime account or someone who will let you borrow it, I highly highly recommend watching Rings of Power, whether you’re a bona fide Tolkien nerd or not! Don’t miss out!