December 30, 2019 ·
SOMETIMES IT GETS STRANGE
As readers of the blog-type material I put on this group’s page already know, I devote a great deal of research time to reading and searching the Internet for things that support the book I’m currently writing. (In case you’ve wondered, by the way, when you see “WIP”, that stands for “work in progress”.)
As in other books in The Unit series, my current WIP is based on actual facts and an actual case. Being built upon an actual case can sometimes cause a writer’s research to swerve into a truly strange path.
For the current WIP, one of the people involved in the case is an FBI Special Agent. This agent has some ties to one of the events that’s mentioned in my WIP. Out of curiosity and in a search for additional information on this event, I stumbled across a truly unusual book that mentions this agent by name. Or should I say, a downright weird book.
As readers know, the main focus on The Unit series is the lives of the characters: how did they find themselves in the unit, what personality traits do they have and how do those traits factor into the way the unit operates, how do the unusual or extreme events they find themselves facing affect them personally.
I’ve seen a review of the first book of The Unit in which the reviewer talks about certain things in the book being “far-fetched.” Of course, The Unit series is a work of fiction in the end – no matter how much I might glean from actual events. And like most fiction, it starts with a few constructions that might be considered outrageous by some. But believe me: until you start researching things the way your author has, you have no idea just how “outrageous” reality can be!
December 25, 2019 ·
WHAT ANNE READS
Believe it or not, I’m finished with A Spy’s Guide to Thinking. It was a very short book – more of an expository paper, actually.
The process related was somewhat familiar, given I taught a similar process as a flight instructor. Where Braddock teaches DADA (Data – Analysis – Decision – Action) the aviation community teaches DECIDE:
Detect a change has occurred
Estimate the need to counter or react to change
Choose the most desirable outcome for the flight
Identify action(s) to successfully control the change
Evaluate the effect of the action countering the change
And, of course, repeat as necessary, with one overriding rule. I used to put this rule as succinctly as I could: “If you just did something and the plane went to shit, undo what you just did!” This rule proved very beneficial when I did my actual CFI checkride with an FAA operations inspector, who gave me the following scenario: “You apply flaps, and the plane takes a roll to the left. What do you do?” My simple answer: “Retract the flaps.” It turns out he had done an inspection of just such an incident in a 737 at the time, and the determination was a split flap condition (one deployed, the other still stowed) as a result of fasteners failing to be reinstalled after maintenance.
This led, of course, to my first rule as an airplane owner: make sure you hire a good mechanic.
Next up: American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh & the Oklahoma City Bombing by Lou Michael and Dan Herbeck. This promises to be an interesting book, as it ties in somewhat with my current work-in-progress, Oh, What a Tangled Web.The Oklahoma City bombing was done on the second anniversary of the Waco siege, which itself came on the heels of Ruby Ridge, both of which began as ATF operations and both of which play a role in Oh, What a Tangled Web.
December 25, 2019 ·
WHAT ANNE FOX READS
I’ve just finished reading Forensic Analysis and DNA in Criminal Investigation. A simple review: not recommended if you want even a basic understanding of forensics!
I don’t know if I’ve posted this before, but I took an early interest in forensics, and even discussed working for the FBI in their crime lab with an FBI recruiting team.
It was a matter of bad timing.
At the time I met with recruiters, the FBI didn’t take professionals straight into the crime lab. They insisted that you be a Special Agent in the field for a minimum of two years before you could apply to work in the crime lab. At the time, I certainly could have made it through the Academy, but I didn’t simply want a chance of getting into the crime lab later on, with no guarantee of ever getting there, so I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
My big interest was DNA forensics, which was just coming to the forefront while I was in graduate school. DNA forensics weren’t seriously looked at until the OJ Simpson trial, which occurred while I was in grad school, so again: right place, wrong time.
Now, forensics personnel can be hired directly into these crime lab positions, and of course, DNA forensics is a major field with the general forensics field. With the expertise I had at the time I talked with recruiters, in the present time I’d likely be hired.
December 18, 2019 ·
HOW ANNE WRITES
It’s a given that I’m part of a number of book-related and author-related groups on Facebook. And one thing I see frequently in these groups are questions about how authors write, how many hours a day, how many words a day, how often they publish, etc.
I don’t worry about any of that.
You also see the inevitable questions about how a writer is motivated.
I don’t worry about that, either.
As I write, my characters are telling me their stories. This sometimes means I have to edit a bit when I’m done, because I can’t type as quickly as they can reminisce over their lives. But that’s the way it goes. They’re always there, talking to me, telling me about this time and that thing and what they thought about it all when it happened. They can be real pains in the butt sometimes!
I see other authors saying it takes them months or years to write a book. My characters would never put up with that crap! They want their story told, and they want it told NOW! So, usually it takes me about a month to tell one of their stories; to get it down and get it right.
How many stories will they tell me? Well, I don’t know. But I do know that there are children who are starting to insist that their stories be told as well, so there is likely to be a series sequel to The Unit simply because of that.
There are other characters that are asking for their stories to be told, too. It will be interesting to see just how many of them I can get to!
In the meantime, Oh, What a Tangled Web is progressing to completion, which I expect will be either at the end of the month or early in January.
December 12, 2019 ·
WHEN IT ALL COMES TOGETHER
Some of you might recall that the fifth book of THE UNIT series, For Alexandra, is based on a true story: the story of a little girl in my home town who was abducted and murdered, and I believe sexually abused prior to her murder. Or, at least an attempt was made, as she was found naked from the waist down. She was five years old. Her abductor is a man who had been previously convicted of indecency with a minor: a seven-year-old girl. He sits on death row in Huntsville, Texas. I believe he’s exhausted his appeals, so hopefully justice for Alexandra will come soon.
But what made me remember this years-old case? I asked friends what topic they thought would make a good topic for a crime novel, and one of my friends related the case of a man who had been abducting/receiving young girls and subjecting them to who knows what kind of horrors. You might be able to imagine them when you read the article I’m going to post the link to. And for him? Federal court (yes—child pornography and sex with a minor is a federal offense of the felony variety) says 30 years in prison, the vast majority of which must be served. And he has state charges pending, so once he’s done being a guest of the federal penal system, he might just find himself a guest of the state penal system.
You can call me callous all you want, but I stand with John Douglas on this one: these pedophiles should never see the light of day again. Just as in Alexandra’s case, they come back into society and repeat their crimes, destroying, and in the case of Alexandra, ending young, innocent lives.
As I wrote For Alexandra and began to see the scope of this ugly little national secret, I began to feel more and more that this was something I needed to be involved in ending. ENDING. So, I’ll pass this information on to you again: 1-888-3737-888. Very easy to remember, it’s the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline. If you see what you believe is trafficking of a minor for sex, PLEASE CALL! If it’s not safe to call, text 233733 (BEFREE). REPORT IT! 1-800-THE-LOST will also get help for these children (The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). Your local PD might have a child exploitation task force—find out and be willing to call. I believe EVERY state law enforcement agency has one. The FBI has one, and has units at every one of their 56 field offices. Find the number, make the call. There are 330 million pairs of eyes in this country, the vast majority of which are possessed by good, law-abiding individuals who need only take that one more step to stop a problem that erodes the future of this nation.
Read the article. Ask yourself if you’re willing to stop predators like this man. I hope a few of you will say not just yes, but HELL YES!
December 2, 2019 •
I’VE BEEN ON THE ROAD and now I’m ready to hand out my Long Road Trip Awards for Worst Roads and Drivers.
THE WINNERS: For roads, OKLAHOMA! It is generally considered a plus to drivers if your roads don’t send their vehicle and everything in it flying at each seam in the pavement. Plus, (psst!) bridges should be at the same grade as the road—not 4″ off, and especially not that far off when traveling from the low grade to the higher one at 70 MPH—your posted speed limit.
A close runner-up for roads: ARKANSAS! Your roads are marginally better, but you seem to have learned your bridge-building from Oklahoma. Plus, I’m glad it wasn’t raining, as I would have had to explain to the United States Navy how I hit a submarine surfacing in one of your many large and deep potholes.
AND NOW FOR THE DRIVERS: TENNESSEE! Yes, you top the list. Memphis is especially creative at using the small gap between an 18-wheeler and a truck pulling a travel trailer in which to zip from the lane to the right of these two vehicles to the one to the left of them, nearly resulting in you being a sedan sandwich. The lines of 20+ cars, all in the left lane, all traveling at 80 MPH or more, and all no more than one car length apart—which I started calling “conga lines”—were as interesting to watch as the drivers with suicidal tendencies in Memphis. And they were a state-wide phenomenon!
GEORGIA, your drivers deserve mention as well! The many who I gather believed I couldn’t see them sitting six feet behind my camper evidently didn’t notice the rear view camera back there. How do I know they were only six feet behind me? Because the camper has a set of distance indicator bars in its viewer. You may believe that this is a fine place to “draft” and save on a smidgeon of gasoline, but you neglect the fact that if I have to avoid something by applying brakes, you will end up with a 22-foot-long-camping-trailer-shaped hood ornament.
I’ll be home tomorrow. Thankfully, with all these states behind me.
November 30, 2019 ·
Getting ready to get back on the road, headed home from Virginia. A literal long haul, given I’m towing a camping trailer (mi casita).
I haven’t had much of a chance to give my thanks on this Thanksgiving weekend to all of you, my awesome fans, who make it possible and motivate me to keep clicking on these keys while I tell my characters’ stories. You’re the best!
I’m currently getting in a little reading as well as a little writing during this trip. I’m reading Mindhunter by John Douglas. John is one of the founders of the FBI’s criminal profiling group. One of the current sub-themes of the book I’m writing (Book 11 of THE UNIT: Oh, What a Tangled Web) is stress for those who work in law enforcement. John’s book starts out with a horrific tale of being sliced, having a sharp object inserted in his penis, etc., and concluding that he was being tortured by all of the sadistic criminals he had played a hand in capturing.
It wasn’t true.
What was actually happening was that John was deathly ill, hovering between life and death and in a coma. What his brain was interpreting as torture was actually the attempts of medical personnel to insert IVs, catheters, etc., while he was comatose. But can you imagine the kind of stress a person must be under that their brain interprets medical intervention as torture?
Both the truths I research that occur in law enforcement and the motivation that all of you give me help me tell my characters’ tales. In the meantime, I’ll be leaving the Charlotte area and traveling further west today. As my Navy friends might say, wish me fair winds and following seas!
November 24, 2019 ·
ANNE IS STILL ON THE ROAD
A day of absolute madness on the highway today! I have to wonder about some of the driving habits I see.
On the other hand, it was also a day of waking up with some odd memories. Because one of the other things you don’t know about your author is that I’m a trained Scoutmaster. That’s right—I even did Woodbadge, Order of the Arrow, and am a Brotherhood member of Order of the Arrow.
Which brings me to the troop I was a Scoutmaster for.
They were a different kind of troop, perhaps mainly because we encouraged them to make their own decisions, and would simply guide them in those decisions by asking them to affirm their Scout Oath and Law prior to settling on a course of action.
And so it was that during one summer camp at a Boy Scout camp in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, the boys found themselves faced with a decision. The camp staff had a policy of allowing the Scout troop that made the most noise when prompted to do so to go first in line into the mess hall. The boys of our troop decided to do a “yell.” One of the Scoutmasters didn’t like the yell they chose. I thought it was funny as hell. I asked the boys to reflect on their Scout Oath and Law and come to a decision. They actually took quite a bit of time, then decided the yell would be yelled when the staff came along to prompt them. And thus Troop 218 got to go first into the mess hall with the following:
A yell! A yell! a 2-18 yell!
And when we yell, we yell like hell!
And this is what the hell we yell!
WE WANNA EAT! WE WANNA EAT!
Of course, these are the same boys who, when we went through Order of the Arrow Ordeal, corrupted the “WWW” of the Order of the Arrow from Wimachtendienk Wingolauchsik Witahemui to Wimachtendienk Wingolauchsik Washyerdick.I try to make THE UNIT characters real. It isn’t hard when I’ve spent time with some real characters!
November 22, 2019 ·
ANNE IS ON THE ROAD!
Once again on the road, I find myself making the typical observations.
First, weather is horrid, and has been since crossing the Sacramento and White Mountains in New Mexico. Hauling a trailer in the rain isn’t fun, but I’ve done worse: up and over Texas Canyon in Arizona in the wind and snow! One must count the small blessings.
If you take the lesser-travelled routes to avoid being tailgated by impatient drivers who don’t realize that pulling a trailer is not necessarily safe at 75 miles an hour, you have to worry about finding fuel when you need it in the middle of Nowhere, Texas and Nowhere, Oklahoma.
On the other hand, taking that lesser-traveled route allowed you to find a better way to the Sooner Classic in Oklahoma next year.
And lastly, taking the lesser-traveled route allows you to see sides of this country you wouldn’t necessarily see from the interstates. Endless farmland, communities that seem steeped in poverty and others not so much, the ability to wonder at a rainbow without having to worry about a trucker running you down. We live in a wondrous land—get out there and see it!
November 19, 2019
WHAT DOES ANNE RESEARCH?
Those who have begun reading The Unit series know that there’s usually some secondary themes that run through the books. They run the gamut of experiences that police officers and others in law enforcement might experience that are unique to their jobs.
So what am I researching now?
As it turns out, stress is, although a normal facet of every person’s life, a particular facet in the lives of those in law enforcement. So much so that it affects their health, with the result that on average those in law enforcement can expect to live seven fewer years than their non-law enforcement counterparts.
This is of particular concern to the three doctors who comprise “Medical A” in the unit. Their job is to keep the Field Team as healthy as possible—both physically and psychologically. This is not only so they can do their jobs as effectively as possible, but also that the ability to retain Field Team members for as long as possible benefits the unit’s mission. The longer Field Team members can be retained, the more experience can be brought to bear on a mission they’re attempting to complete.
So, I’m reading about stress in general, and stress as experienced by those in law enforcement in particular. This takes a lot of reading: everything from anecdotal material gathered from social media sites to scholarly articles on the topic. And it’s getting woven into the plot for Book 11: Oh, What a Tangled Web.
November 5, 2019 ·
WHAT ANNE FOX IS READING
As you’ve all probably figured out by now, I don’t just spend my days writing. I do a lot of reading as well, both as research for sequels in The UNIT series and just for recreation. There’s nothing like being informed, and also nothing like giving one’s imagination a thorough workout on a regular basis. Reading for me involves visualizing the characters in my mind from what I read on the written page.
I’m just beginning a book I purchased as research for my series. Many of you might be familiar with it, and hopefully for more than just its title and author. The book is A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey.
If you have read any of The UNIT series, you know that the unit has a singular loyalty. It’s to the Constitution of the United States of America. Like all those in law enforcement, they raise their hands and swear their loyalty to that singular guiding document that defines the U.S. as a nation first and foremost of laws.
I’m still finishing A Pound of Flesh, but after that will be moving on to a sequel called Oh, What a Tangled Web. This book will be based on a true story (as are others in the series)—one that exposes the evil that can creep into the highest levels of law enforcement: ones that occur when ego and agenda push aside the Constitution and the rule of law. It will be a touchy topic for the unit, as they get their missions from the federal law enforcement agencies that everyone knows about. But what happens when Hank is compelled to correct a situation that arose as a result of misguided direction implemented by one of those agencies?
I’m certain that this will be an interesting book to write, and hopefully just as interesting to read. Like For Alexandra, which was also a book based on true stories, this one is calling out to me to be written. And just as For Alexandra spurred me into exposing the plight of sex-trafficked children, I’m hoping that Oh, What a Tangled Web will lead to a similar result: the exoneration of an innocent man.
“Without a fundamental commitment to the truth—especially in our public institutions and those who lead them—we are lost.” – James Comey, A Higher Loyalty
November 2, 2019 •
WHAT’S WITH THE MISSILE SILOS?
Those of you who have started reading THE UNIT series know that the unit has remote bases around the country. Most of them are located in old nuclear missile silos.
So, what’s with the nuclear missile silos, anyway?
The United States has had multiple iterations of its nuclear arsenal. Some of the earliest were Atlas E and F ICBMs. The Atlas E launch site employed a horizontal launch magazine which required the missile to be erected vertically before launch. The Atlas F silo had an associated launch control room with a 170-foot-deep vertical silo that housed the missile. When readied for launch, the missile was brought to the surface via an elevator.
These two ICBMs were replaced with the Titan series. Titans were also housed in vertical silos, and often arranged in large, multiple-launch assemblies with associated launch control rooms.
After the Titan series, we come to the Minuteman missiles, many of which are still in operation though reduced in numbers as a result of disarmament treaties. Like it matters! Airborne and sea-going missile launch capabilities abound!
In addition to ICBMs, the U.S. once had a network of interceptor missiles, the Nike being one of these. Nike batteries were placed to protect major cities from nuclear attack by bombers. Some had conventional warheads, others nuclear warheads.
Not too far from your author’s home are 12 abandoned Atlas F silos (one of which is for sale—anyone care to buy enough books to pay for a $300K silo?), 2 abandoned Nike installations, and an active silo complex I know about simply because I’ve flown over it. (No, you can’t see it on Google.) A little farther away is a Titan II, also for sale, and two Atlas F silos in (guess where, those who have read onward in the series) Nebraska.
These abandoned complexes were sold as excess properties by the government when decommissioned and relieved of their missiles. Because they were constructed of special concrete and highly reinforced, they can be—and often are by their owners—converted into unique, underground homes. Which make them the ideal setting for a covert law enforcement unit that must remain hidden.
Not all of the unit’s remote bases are hidden in old silos, but many are, having been turned over to them for the purpose the unit uses them for. Do the unit’s converted missile silos exist? Yes, indeed they do!
October 18, 2019 ·
THE CHARACTERS: HANK (FT7)
There is only one woman in the team, and Hank is it. But don’t take her lightly: she’s tough as an alligator hide when she needs to be. Recruited from the FBI, she served in the Albuquerque Field Office until recruited by the unit.
Hank likes guns. A lot. But more as a hobby than a special role in the FBI. Regularly on days off, she could be found either at Albuquerque’s Shooting Range Park or at a large shooting range complex in Raton, NM, where she could often be seen on the high power silhouette range shooting at the white buffalo target set 1100 yards away on a hillside. This is where she’s seen in the opening of the series, lying prone, making easy work of hitting that white buffalo until she decides it’s too easy and hauls a more challenging target to the same location.
Given her prowess with hitting small targets at large distances, she’s brought in to replace the Field Team’s sniper, who has just retired. She maintains her FBI decorum until she deduces that the man recruiting her is not FBI and she is not headed to a special assignment within the Bureau. That’s when she reveals that not only when it comes to shooting can she stand as an equal to any man, but she also possesses as full a repertoire of four-letter words and isn’t afraid to use them. Until she feels comfortable with the rest of the team, her use of this repertoire is profuse. Not so much as she becomes “one of the guys”—her reason for choosing the codename “Hank” based on her former life’s surname of “Hanko.”
Her recruiter doesn’t escape her notice from the start, though at first her approach to him is all business. But just as Spud finds himself attracted to her, she finds herself attracted to him. The conflict between their desire to be together and the unit’s fraternization rule’s intent to keep them apart does get overcome, and the two settle into the business of doing the unit’s work while maintaining a relationship that is sometimes smooth, sometimes strained by the demands of the job—something that’s not uncommonly seen in relationships among those “on the job” in law enforcement.
Hank can be a force to be reckoned with, as Spud and the rest of the team soon find out. When Hank says, “I’m going to hurt you,” the men pay attention. Even their more serious threats consist of telling a teammate that they’ll let Hank hurt them. The evidence that she is capable of this hangs around her neck: a small, leather Native American medicine pouch that contains teeth—two of which she knocked out of someone’s mouth.
Hank soon finds herself a regular and respected part of the team, the members of which see themselves, as Edge puts it, as “one, big, dysfunctional family.” They will prank you hard just to blow off steam, talk with great candor and more than a bit of raunchiness to each other, and when the call to scramble is made, grab their gear and move their rear.
So stand back.
As you read The Unit series, you will gain greater insights into the Field Team and other members of the unit as well. More than a story of crime-fighting, the series is their story: how they live, how they interact, the demons they deal with in the course of their work—and on that last, mostly the demons they deal with in their own heads. It’s a story of how some will choose a difficult job and learn how to cope while doing it, and sometimes fail to cope. They are men and women in law enforcement, and they’re human. Just like you and me.
October 17, 2019 ·
THE CHARACTERS: SPUD (FT6)
Spud is the oldest member of the Field Team and also the Field Team member who has been in the unit the longest. Recruited from the Secret Service’s Presidential Protection Detail, he still routinely employs his “Secret Service” face to mask what he’s thinking and feeling.
This does not fool Hank, who can read him like a book.
Due to his level-headed nature, Spud is an unofficial leader of the group. The team has no designated leader, but because of his experience and longevity in the group, the others often defer to him for guidance. He is also not afraid to stand up to the unit’s three head medical doctors, whose role gives them a certain level of power over the team.
Spud’s specialty in the team is intelligence, where he typically leads the morning intelligence briefing. He spends all his spare time on his tablet, garnering what he can from the daily news and internet sources for cases the team may be asked to handle. The rest of the team, though appreciating the need for intelligence briefings, would still rather be somewhere else, so Spud regularly comments on how “appreciated” his role is.
Spud also is proficient as an infiltrator, largely because of that Secret Service face and his ability to hide his reactions to events he witnesses while embedded with a group for the purpose of surveillance.
Spud was Hank’s recruiter, and as such it was his role to integrate her into the Field Team and help her through the period of adjustment. But it went further than that when he found himself increasingly attracted to her, nearly resulting in him having to make a choice to leave the unit, given fraternization was forbidden. You’ll just have to read the book to find out how that all got resolved.
Spud tells his own story of how he became a member of the unit when Hank manages to pry it out of him, even though what happens before the unit isn’t supposed to be known. You can find all the details of his background in the series prequel, Before the Unit: The Recruiting of Kevin Banks.
October 16, 2019
THE CHARACTERS: CLOUD (FT5)
Cloud is the second of the unit’s original aviators. Like Crow, he is proficient in both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft (planes and helicopters, for those of you uninitiated in these things).
Cloud was recruited from the Army, which means he has to defend his branch of the service initially while the unit is headquartered at Quantico. Particularly grating to him while at Quantico is that the unit disguises itself as a bachelor enlisted quarters full of male marines. (Yes—even Hank, who has her hair cut short to meet the requirement of appearing male, among other things.) This means that for Cloud, he must wear (“Ugh!”) the MCCUU (Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform). He declares the initials stand for “Marine Corps Crappy, Ugly Uniform.” For Edge, who declares as all marines do that “Once a Marine, always a Marine”, this is pure sacrilege, and so he has to make his remarks about “ground pounders” as well. To which, of course, Cloud must make some retort regarding “jarheads”.
The unit is not exempt from inter-service rivalries, though just as in the military when the doo-doo hits the rotary air-dispersing device (if you get my drift), no service member has qualms about sharing a foxhole with someone from a different service.
Cloud is also a CFI, holding the same ratings as an instructor that Crow does. He also has his own nervous habit, which shows most notably when a student is out on a checkride as well. But unlike Crow’s jiggling leg, Cloud instead flips a quarter over the backs of his fingers. He always has a few quarters in his pocket, as do all the team members, due to the constant betting that goes on and which always consists of a quarter.
Like most pilots, Cloud and Crow have their share of tall tales to tell. Pilots know these as “hangar stories”, usually beginning with, “Listen to this one”, or “There I was”, rather than the non-pilot version of the same story that would begin with “Once upon a time”. And, like most pilots, they revel in keeping up the mystique of pilots being somehow much closer to gods than “regular people”.
And back to those quarters…. Crow and Cloud will flip one to determine who gets the role of captain (pilot-in-command) of a flight and who gets the first officer (second-in-command) position. Sometimes, the quarter gets examined to determine that both sides aren’t alike. There’s nothing more distasteful than finding yourself second-in-command when it’s raining, given the SIC gets the “honor” of doing the preflight inspection of the aircraft while the PIC sits snug in the cockpit, drinking coffee.
October 15, 2019 ·
THE CHARACTERS: CROW (FT4)
Crow is one of the two original unit aviators. Proficient in both fixed wing and helicopters, he was recruited from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Crow is 1/4 Cherokee, and his name was actually chosen based on his original Cherokee name—which is not revealed in the books until later in the series. His reason for becoming a DEA agent is revealed: “When you see what drugs and alcohol do to your people, you need to do something about it.”
Crow is also a Certificated (no, it’s not Certified, it’s Certificated—we hold a certificate) Flight Instructor, and takes on the task, along with Cloud (who you will meet tomorrow), of training additional team members to fly. As Hank had taken flight lessons prior to joining the unit but had not yet obtained a license, she’s one of the first to undergo flight training. (Spud doesn’t like this idea—not at all. At least, not at first.) When the unit acquires not one but two Citation Latitudes, she’s tagged to pilot them as well, along with Edge who turned out to have a natural ability for piloting. His only problem is getting in and out of the cockpit due to his size.
Crow has a nervous habit that drives other members of the team crazy—especially his students, as he engages in this habit whenever one of them goes before an examiner for an FAA checkride: he jiggles his leg. But when it comes to flying, his confidence in his abilities shines forth—just part of his background as a DEA pilot. These guys sometimes find themselves in assignments where they get shot at, folks.
Crow would love to get Hank proficient in the unit’s helicopter as well, but Hank declares—as most fixed wing pilots do—that the helicopter “doesn’t fly—it just beats the air into submission.” In spite of his constant cajoling, Hank resisted getting a helicopter category license. To which Crow says, “Chicken!”
Oct 14, 2019•
THE CHARACTERS: AMIGO (FT3)
Amigo is the newest member of the Field Team, gaining entry by a bit of a circuitous route. Hank’s original spotter was a man codenamed Turtle. During a training exercise, Turtle takes a bad fall and literally mangles a leg, meaning he can now no longer walk without a cane and must be medically retired from the team. HIs place is taken briefly by another recruit, codenamed Spot. You’ll have to read the first book, Camp Chaos, to find out why Spot leaves the unit. In the selection process, Spot and Amigo were evenly split for consideration, so for expediency, the team brings Amigo aboard.
Amigo is recruited from the Border Patrol (CBP = Customs and Border Protection): specifically, from BORTAC, CBP’s elite tactical unit. An accomplished marksman, he nonetheless doesn’t have problems with being second fiddle to Hank, who is Sniper 1, falling comfortably into his role as Sniper 2 and Hank’s spotter. Hank, likewise, takes an almost instant liking to Amigo.
Amigo is Hispanic and has a working knowledge of Spanish. Hank, likewise, can converse in Spanish, so the two will regularly converse back and forth either in Spanish, or in “Spanglish”. If you live anywhere near the southern border, you’re familiar with “Spanglish”, the half-English half-Spanish way of conversing that is especially useful when throwing in a cuss or two.
Amigo also has experience in drone operations, which comes in handy when Voice introduces tiny drones with varying capabilities that are disguised as insects. In a later book, you find how Voice modifies a drone and Amigo uses it to give Hank very exacting firing solutions for difficult, long-range shots.
Hank is not unaware that Amigo’s capabilities are close to, if not in some cases equivalent to her own. But with their unique working relationship, this isn’t threatening to her at all—rather, she finds it comforting knowing that there will be someone to take over for her should she become incapacitated and the mission needs to be completed. In the typical manner you find between LEOs and their partners, she trusts him completely and he, likewise, trusts her completely. Don’t let the exchanges of “pendejo” and “perra” fool you—that’s just the way they show their love for one another as partners.
October 13, 2019 ·
THE CHARACTERS: VOICE (FT2)
Of all of the members of the unit’s Field Team, only Voice was recruited from a completely civilian background: he was a senior programmer at Thor Computing, a large, multinational computing and gaming company headquartered in Japan. Voice worked in the Gaming Division, writing code for games that employed increasingly realistic graphics and scenarios. Being half-Japanese himself, a fact not yet revealed in one of the books, he was moderately accepted by his Japanese superiors. (With apologies and revealing that I spent 4.5 years in Japan, I’ll note that the Japanese people are not terribly accepting of foreigners.)
Being a “civilian”, Voice, like Edge, had to learn law and procedure when he first came into the unit. Not that the unit really wanted him for “front line” work but wanted him for his capabilities as a programmer, given the technology they use. Because Voice can program on the fly, though, his position in the Field Team is appropriate, as he can quickly reprogram the unit’s massive supercomputer, Hal, when needed.
Voice is the smallest member of the team physically, but the biggest in terms of I.Q., being a bona fide genius with an I.Q. of 180. He never felt comfortable in “the world above deck” because his intellect had him miles above the heads of his peers. As a result, Voice is somewhat shy and socially awkward. Even so, the unit is the first place he’s ever felt comfortable socially.
The rest of the team refer to Voice variously as their “fucking genius” (don’t be alarmed—it’s a compliment) and “The Wizard of Hal”. When he arrived in the unit, its supercomputer had far less capability than it does at present. Voice was given command of Hal after he demonstrated ability to not only program it, but add to its capabilities through the addition of more and better processors. As a result of Voice’s work with the huge machine, Hal now stands as the world’s fastest supercomputer. Voice has also programmed Hal to access just about any computer anywhere, having a certain expertise as a hacker as well. When asked if there’s anything Hal can’t obtain by way of information, Voice reflects briefly and answers, “The nuclear launch codes.”
Voice also is in love with a particular substance: graphene. He uses it to make a number of things that the Field Team employs, as well as experiments with additional applications for it.
A major change occurs in Voice’s life in later books in the series. You’ll have to read on to discover what happens.
October 12, 2019•
THE CHARACTERS: EDGE
Those who have read any of The Unit books know that there are seven members of the Field Team, and they all go by codename and designation. Today, I’m going to tell you about Edge, FT1.
Edge was recruited from the Marine Corps, where he served as a Raider. He’s “the big guy”. Why? Because he stands at 6’6″ tall and weighs 260 pounds of pure muscle. Within the Field Team, his specialty is hand-to-hand combat, and he’s an expert in Krav Maga—an Israeli martial art that combines the techniques of other martial arts with brutal street-fighting. He’s especially good with and fond of knives, hence, Edge.
For being as big and tough as he is, however, Edge has his weaknesses. He doesn’t like needles, and thus sometimes ends up passed out on the floor during the required periodic medical evaluations that are done on the team members to ensure they’re still in peak health. He has certain vegetables that he simply won’t eat unless he’s fooled into doing so or the flavor is masked with something else. Spinach is high on this list. He’s squeamish about certain things and doesn’t want them discussed at the team’s table while eating. On those last two items, he’ll slam his fork down on the table and glare at whoever tried to feed him spinach or whoever might be making a crude comment. Either that, or he’ll declare he’s done eating.
He grew up Catholic, and served as an altar boy. Although he doesn’t closely adhere to Catholicism any more (which would be difficult, as the unit has no priest, nor any other religious leader), he’s still a practicing Christian and knows his Bible pretty well, as well as other religious topics. He doesn’t lay on the religion, however—none of the team members do. He does pray, but does so in private, usually while sitting under a potted tangerine tree that’s located on the residence level of the Nebraska Headquarters Complex.
Having been recruited from the military, he had to study law and procedure when he first joined the unit, meaning he had to learn entirely new “rules of engagement”. In Book 3: No Brother of Mine, he does something that should make the reader ask a question: What was his motivation? You’ll find the incident, the question he’s later asked, and his response at the end of the book. But ask yourself: What was his motivation?
October 11, 2019·
WHAT’S WITH THE MILE HIGH CLUB?
For those who have read the first books of The Unit series, you’ll know that Spud and Hank joined the Mile High Club. If you’re not a pilot, a friend of one, or a knowledgeable person on such matters, this might take some explaining.
In short, the Mile High Club is for those people who have—let’s be frank—had sex in an airplane flying over 5,280 feet above ground level (AGL). No—making love in Denver doesn’t count! Neither does self-gratification.
Being a pilot, I have to relate my story on this. No, not a personal one—I don’t have my wings, so get your minds out of the gutter.
During the time I was studying to get my Commercial Pilot’s License, Airplane Single-Engine Land, Airplane Multiengine Land and Instrument Airplane (ASEL/AMEL-IA) which I did in a single FAA checkride, I had a little argument with my instructor over the capabilities of the autopilot installed in the Seneca II I was learning in. He said it couldn’t capture a glide slope on an instrument landing system beacon (ILS), and I argued, “Then why does it have a glide slope capture annunciator light?”
It turns out I was right, but that’s only tangental to this story.
I was also serving as a counselor in a Webelos (Boy Scout) camp. At night, when the boys would be asleep, the counselors would all get together in the Order of the Arrow lodge and chew the fat, play cards, etc.
One night, I was reading my Seneca II Pilot’s Operating Handbook to see if the autopilot could actually capture the glide slope of the ILS. And what do I see prominently stated in capital letters at the top of a page and enclosed in a box? The following statement:
“PILOT MUST BE SEATED AT THE CONTROLS WHILE AUTOPILOT IS ENGAGED.”
I laughed out loud.
One of the other counselors asked what was so funny, so I read the statement, then added, “You know why that’s there, don’t you?”
One of the other counselors grinned, but most just looked bewildered. So I told them, “That’s for all the people who want to join the Mile High Club.”
Most continued to be bewildered, so I asked, “You know what the Mile High Club is, don’t you?”
They all shook their heads except the guy who had been grinning and one other guy who I knew was a fellow pilot. Mr. Grins laughed and said, “YUP!” Mr. Fellow Pilot turned red as a cherry cola. I saw the latter, and though he was clean across the very large room from me, shouted to him: “Dale, are you a member?”
He turned a darker shade of cherry and shouted back, “You would ask me that in front of all these people!” Then he muttered, “I can’t get my wife to wear her fucking pin.” That latter statement seems particularly appropriate, given the nature of the award, which is exactly what you see at the beginning of this blog post. Just change the emphasis on the words “fucking pin” and you’ll understand why I say it was an appropriate remark.
Now it was my turn to laugh, because Dale was a generously proportioned man (to be polite) and he flew a Cherokee 150—not by any means a roomy airplane. The mental picture was enough to make this exchange a memorable one, even after many years.
October 10, 2019 ·
INCLUSIVITY IN THE UNIT
One thing readers of THE UNIT series have probably noticed (or maybe not, which would be great!) is that I try to be inclusive about the unit. They aren’t all men, they aren’t all white, and they aren’t all straight.
I realize some readers might be bothered by that.
But, one thing you’ll recall—and I believe it’s in the first book, Camp Chaos—is Spud’s remark that “we take talent where we find it” (or something to that effect). The unit doesn’t care about the personal lives, religious beliefs (they don’t even have a chaplain), political leanings, sexual preferences, sex, race, ethnicity, etc., etc. of those who serve in it. I seldom even mention their backgrounds, except when it comes to showing that the team isn’t swayed by those factors, either, when it accepts a mission. They’ll accept a mission when they feel it’s the right thing to do because there’s an injustice that needs to be addressed.
This doesn’t mean they’re not sensitive to the feelings a unit member might have—be it Team or Support—to something they might say or do. Because the truth is, as anyone who has been in law enforcement will tell you, that LEOs can be truly crude. Raw. Seemingly prejudiced, sexist, and narrow-minded, even when they really aren’t. It’s how they cope with the job.
So, enter Dr. David A. Anderson, MD, PhD—the unit’s psychiatrist. His job is to keep the Field Team functioning psychologically—no minor feat. My own personal experience with this need is having watched the distress in an FBI Special Agent’s face over the loss of his partner, the man who Camp Chaos is dedicated to. I won’t relate the full series of events, but will say that I asked him if he’d seen the agency’s grief counselor yet.
What’s special about “Doc Andy”? You find out in the second book, where it’s revealed that he is gay and has a gay partner. He has never revealed this to the team, but it becomes knowledge among them, and is explicitly discussed when Spud and Hank pull a prank on him that they then regret, believing he might have been offended by it because he’s gay. So they bring him in for a “group chat,” revealing to him for the first time that they’re aware of his sexual orientation—something he had thought he’d kept from them. The thing they assure him of is that his sexual orientation doesn’t matter to them.
There are other bits indicating the inclusivity of the group as well: when Luigi declares himself proud to be a “Wop” (“You know where it comes from, right? Guappo—a dude, a stud. Someone calls me a stud, I’m proud!”), where Luigi declares that Hank is a “Kraut” when she reveals her ancestors to have come from Germany, and where James (who is black) questions the honorary title of “FTBG” he’s given after participating in a Field Team training exercise (“What’s that stand for? Field Team Black Guy?” “Well, we were thinking “Field Team Bad Guy [the part he’d played in the exercise], but that works too.”).
So, keep in mind that the Team takes its talent where it finds it – the best of the best, wherever they might hail from. And happy reading!
October 4, 2019 ·
IS IT REAL?
I get asked that question from time to time. “Is the unit real?” Of course, there’s a military team that calls itself “the unit” that is real, but is there a law enforcement unit that has no name and simply refers to itself as “the unit”?
As you read the books, I leave that to you to determine.
One thing I will say is that I strive to make The Unit series as realistic as I can. This sometimes involves conversations with people who have stood on the front lines in law enforcement. Sometimes, the things I wish to relate lead to contacts with people whose information is very much front line. So front line that sometimes they decide not to talk.
I often wonder about that. Then I reflect that I have enough ability of my own to get to the truth, even if others are afraid to tell what they know.
So, is it real? Just how much does Anne Fox know?
As you read the books, I leave that to you to determine.
September 27, 2019 ·
I’ve had people wonder why my female main character (former FBI Special Agent) curses up a storm. I’ve explained how she does this when she’s uncomfortable, pressured, etc. But a friend of mine—a former narcotics officer from a large, midwestern city—has explained it perfectly. And here it is:
Dear civilian friends,
First responders have a different language with each other than we do with you… the normal citizen.
If you ever walk up on a conversation between me and some of my female officer buds and we are cursing at each other, but laughing, we’re good and we’re bonding.
If you ever hear some of my male officer buds ask, “You’re comin’ across like an asshole, wtf?” they are making sure we have a solid relationship.
Don’t be offended.
My main character, “Hank” (female—it’s a codename) is asked at one point if she “talked like that” when she was in the Bureau. Her explanation? “Around each other—fine. In front of the public? Major reprimand.”
And there you have it!
September 18, 2019 ·
Listening to NPR this morning, I hear the government wants to focus on Facebook with a view to how Facebook “removes offensive material.”
Let’s rephrase that: How Facebook censors its users.
Now, I’ll say right up front that Facebook is ostensibly a private entity, and as such can conduct itself as it pleases. But going back to discussions on what constitutes free speech and whether any entity has a right to thwart it (is a corporation exempt?), one has to observe that Facebook is, after all, a venue that purports to allow people to interact, while at the same time deciding in what way they can do so.
Perhaps Facebook should concern itself much more with who people interact with, given they’re also a major venue for pedophiles to entice children into performing sex acts—often against their will.
I’m a big girl, and I can take cussing. I can take extremist language and I can recognize it as such while also acknowledging that “extremism” is in the mind of the beholder. I’m sure those who spawned our Revolutionary War were considered extremists in their day! I can take sex or leave it, and if given the proper tools I can block what I see. I already do!
So, why am I up in arms about the government focusing on Facebook and how it censors its users? Because, First Amendment, folks. I see this as government using Facebook as a surrogate for censoring people directly—and that’s unconstitutional. For government to coerce Facebook—or any other social media platform, for that matter—into changing what it allows and what it doesn’t is equivalent to government denying people free speech and denying a corporation the freedom to conduct itself as it chooses as long as what it chooses to do is within the law.
This is how government chips away at our constitutional rights, and I hope I’m not the only one that recognizes that.
Plus, it’s counterintuitive for government to try and silence extremists. Silence them, and you have no way of knowing who they are! In the game of Whack-a-Mole, you can’t whack the mole until it sticks its head up. If extremists choose to use social media platforms to do that, then fine! Now you know who they are, you can monitor them to determine if they’re just talk or actually preparing to commit violent acts in violation of the law, and you can stop them before they act. Isn’t that what we want to do?
August 27, 2019•
REFLECTIONS ON BEING A CRIME/SUSPENSE AUTHOR
While sitting and reflecting about the things I’ve written, it occurred to me:
- I know how to fly;
- I know how to make napalm;
- I know how to find out where someone lives (it’s actually pretty easy);
- I know how to make explosives (oh, the things they used to teach in organic chemistry lab!);
- For Special Delivery, I devised how to construct a bomb (no, you won’t find it in there, but I do have the drawing in The Playbook);
- I know how to make a genetically-engineered organism (which came in handy when writing Engineered for Death);
- I know how to shoot;
- I even know a fair bit of forensics, meaning I can understand the aftermath of actual crimes.
With all of that, I figure I had two choices in life:
a) become a homicidal maniac;
b) become a writer.
Perhaps it’s the people I’ve known and know in law enforcement that moved me to take upon myself Career B rather than Career A. Though truly, the choice to never engage in criminal activity came long before knowing any of them. I truly would have loved to be a forensic scientist, and actually talked to FBI recruiters at one of the college job fairs students go to hoping to pay off their student loans once they graduate. But at that time, they wanted a person to be a special agent in the field for two years “before you can apply for the Crime Lab.” When I heard that last, I told myself that I might never get into the crime lab, and I didn’t really want to spend my time as a special agent, even though I would likely have done well at the Academy at that time. Now they take professionals directly into those jobs.
Right place, wrong time.
August 22, 2019 •
THE PLAYBOOK -or- HOW DO YOU KEEP ALL THIS STUFF STRAIGHT?
When I write, one thing that can be difficult given this is a series is keeping everything straight. What’s the name of the FBI gunny? Did I ever mention the name of the Roswell facility’s caretaker? Which one of the two head pilots worked for the DEA?
You get the idea.
So, I have two things that help me along. One is a Word document that has my sequel ideas as well as the characters that have been introduced in the past. The other is what I call “The Playbook.”
The Playbook has a number of things in it: diagrams of the unit’s facilities – including how those located in old nuclear missile silos are laid out after modifications were made, Marine Corps enlisted ranks and facilities at Quantico, the locations of the remote facilities (yes—they exist), what the single- and married-housing looks like inside the Nebraska headquarters underground complex—even what the obstacles in the obstacle course look like and a page of random notes. Another book has articles I’ve researched for the various books in the series and ones being planned.
“Disconnects” can be b-a-d in a series. If you forget the name you gave someone and that person reappears later with a different name, a series reader quickly gets confused. A cardinal sin is killing a character off and then having them come back in any manner other than a flashback. I’ve had a couple of occasions where The Playbook has saved my hide from committing such sins.
Out of curiosity today, I added up the words I’ve written thus far for The Unit series. It’s around 730,000 words in all, including Book 8 and what’s written for Book 9 that haven’t been published. I don’t think I’ll be throwing out The Playbook any time soon!
August 15, 2019 ·
YES, HANK’S A WOMAN – BUT WHY DOES SHE CUSS SO MUCH?
In my life, aside from being an author, I’ve held a few other jobs.
•Biochemist/molecular biologist. A great help when it came to writing Engineered for Death.
•Flight instructor/commercial pilot. You’ll see evidence of this in several books.
•Firearms instructor. I do this currently.
There’s a common denominator among those jobs: they are traditionally male-dominated fields. And there is still a bias against women in these fields. The saying goes, “As a woman, you have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good.” I’ll never forget the day I had a prospective flight student hang up when he found out I was the instructor—not the secretary.
Given that, what do you think Hank experienced as an FBI Special Agent? And therefore, what do you think she expects as the only woman in a seven-member covert law enforcement team? And not just the only woman—the sniper!
I know a former female FBI Special Agent. She’s tough as nails and about as no-nonsense as they come. “Sam” had a favorite saying: “The world is a dangerous place. Everyone needs to have a gun and know how to use it.”(She did, and she did—probably still does!) I have no doubt that, even with that tough-as-nails attitude, she found herself up against some resistant-as-can-be workplace sexism.
I’m not saying it doesn’t cut both ways. Male nurses are often looked down upon as well, in spite of their years of education, experience, and dedication. Is it fair? Of course not.
So Hank compensates. She does so by two mechanisms: being very, very good at what she does, and sounding tough. In short on that last, cussing up a storm.
As you read the series, though, you’ll notice a pattern. Hank doesn’t just cuss. She cusses when she’s upset, unsure of herself, or feeling uncomfortable with a situation. When she first joins the unit, her uncertainty about whether she will even be accepted has her tongue blazing. The men will cuss as well—often under the same circumstances. But not to the extent Hank does. At one point, Spud points out the pattern to her, telling her she cusses when she’s upset.
Her response? “I don’t f***ing cuss when I’m upset!”
So if you like a ballsy, tough-as-nails female protagonist who isn’t shy around four-letter words, you’ll love Hank. Spud certainly does.
August 14, 2019 ·
IF THERE’S ONE THING THAT’S TRUE…
…not every case in law enforcement lacks humor!
I have a good friend and fellow competitive marksman who is also a former narcotics officer, having served with the Oklahoma City PD. I keep trying to convince him that he needs to share his tales, and perhaps get some of his buddies to share theirs. I’m willing to compile everything in a book and get it published and marketed. I even have a title: And the Beat Goes On.
One of my favorites was told to me by a sergeant in our El Paso, TX county sheriff’s department. Working intake at the lock-up one night, a couple of deputies came in with “a drop-dead gorgeous woman.” He took out a booking card, got a sharpened pencil, and head down asked the accused, “Name?” In a very bass voice, the accused replied, “Steve.” This resulted in the Sarge breaking his pencil lead on the booking card due to his reaction. Seems the deputies decided to have a little fun with the Sarge.
With that in mind and having heard many a fine tale from those I know in law enforcement, I decided that the next book of The Unit series, Unidentified Flying Operation, should reflect this. Yes, I’ve just come back from a trip to Roswell, New Mexico, so it’s natural that the team should chase a few aliens, isn’t it?
What’s the truth? It will be revealed. But in the last book finished (Lunatic Fringe), the team already discussed the storming of Area 51, with one of the guys remarking that the folks at Area 51 should just take all the people in and show them everything. Then as they leave say, “Oh, we have one more thing to show you.” At that point, the Area 51 people hold up one of those things you saw in Men in Black, “and flash! They forget everything!”
August 8, 2019 ·
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS ANNE FOX TODAY?
You may remember that another event that happened while Hank, Spud, and the rest of the team were at Roswell, was that Hank insisted Spud accompany her while she went rockhounding for Pecos diamonds. While doing so, they came across an old Nike missile site: W-10.
W-10 was fully complete, but never armed. The site still stands, though it’s been extensively used by people who go into the desert to shoot their firearms. The unit never used this site, but have a remote base in a similar site: Mars Hill, PA. Hank was not at all impressed with the Mars Hill Nike site, and continually referred to it sarcastically as “the Taj Mahal.”
The whole purpose of this trek was to do some rockhounding – something that Hank had as a hobby. Spud found this out the hard way on this first trip of Hank’s to a remote site. For him, collecting mineral specimens wasn’t a thing: they were just rocks. Hank realized this from his first reaction, but would drag him out to collect things anyway, hoping he’d catch the bug.
He never did.
He did grow to appreciate her hobby, though, as a way to spend time with her and allow her the enthusiasm she had for her hobby. She, in turn, allowed him his enthusiasm for stamps, even though she felt that having a collection that was always kept hidden inside collecting books defeated the purpose of a collection. (“Why have a collection that you can’t display?” “I can open up my stamp books and see them any time I want.” “Hmph!”) After retirement, when telling tall tales of past adventures (“bullshitting”), she’d turn to Spud and say, “Do you remember going hunting for Pecos diamonds near Roswell?” Spud would plant his face in his hand and come out with a drawn-out, “Yeeeessss…” Then he’d add, “It’s a good thing you didn’t know what I was thinking,” and she’d reply, “Oh, I knew what you were thinking.”
Below are some pictures of the W-10 site near Roswell, and some Pecos diamonds collected near there.
One of the launch bays at W-10. The original metal doors have been sealed over with concrete, but the two deflection pads that stood under each of the two missiles that could be launched from this bay are still visible. The site is getting overgrown, and each of the original four bays that could have launched eight missiles is full of trash from indiscriminate gun owners shooting there.
Looking sideways from a berm atop the magazine where the missiles were held underground.
Looking into one of the six bays present at this site. The large rectangular area in the center would have originally had two large, metal hinged doors there, with a missile launcher to the left and right.
Air vents and access to the magazine, extensively damaged by shots from firearms.
The deflection plate that would have formed the base of the launcher to protect the concrete from flames from the missile motors.
Access to the magazine. This would have had a hatch on the outside, and you can see where the ladder down was bolted to the wall on the inside. The ladder has been removed to discourage people from going down into the magazine.
Pecos diamonds—what Hank was after when she came across the Nike site. Hank took a keen interest in old missile sites after she joined the unit and became aware that many unit remote bases are built in them.
A handful of Pecos diamonds. Hank would collect, then sort later, keeping the best ones for her collection. By the way, Pecos “diamonds” aren’t diamonds—they’re doubly-terminated quartz crystals. I have examples from many places near Roswell. They all differ a bit depending upon the location where they are found.
August 7, 2019
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS ANNE FOX?
If you’ve read a couple of The Unit books, you know that the unit has a remote base built inside an old Atlas F missile silo in Roswell, NM. Every so often, I take off, dragging my little “Home While on the Roam” with me, and visit one of the unit locations.
And so it is that right now I’m in Roswell, NM.
Go through the comments below to see what I came to see (among other things).
Below: Anne’s Home While on the Roam.
Where the antenna site would have stood when the silo actually held a missile.
The silo itself. Standing on top of the missile silo, which is 50 feet in diameter. You can see the original launch doors, and beyond it, the access that goes down to the silo launch control room and the passageway into the silo, which is on the left side of the photo. Sorry, I can’t show you the inside. That’s classified.
August 6, 2019
I CONSIDER IT A HUGE COMPLIMENT!
I recently got a private message from someone reading my first book of The Unit series, Camp Chaos. This is the question I got:
“I have a question: is your book fiction or is it from experience? So far it reads like it could be a bio.”
Is it real? Well, here’s the answer I gave:
“Well, the options, of course are:
“1. It’s real.
“2. It’s not real.
“3. It’s partially true.
“4. It could be real in the future.
“5. It might be real now, and I got lucky in deducing what could be real.
“The consequences could be:
“1. I get arrested for divulging state secrets.
“2. People just scratch their heads.
“3. I get arrested for divulging the parts that are real.
“4. Like many of the things seen in sci-fi flicks, I somehow got the future correct.
“5. I might still get arrested, but they’ll have a damned hard time figuring out how I know.”
So, read the books and ask yourself: Is it real? Keep in mind: Most writers write about what they know.
August 3, 2019 ·
WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS OUR SORROW
The information we’ve learned so far is that our shooting here in El Paso today resulted in twenty dead, twenty-six injured. Of course, with an incident of this kind, it’s possible the number of dead will increase depending upon the seriousness of the injuries to those who have injuries.
This is a terrible incident for our otherwise very safe and tolerant community. The indication is that the perpetrator (I refuse to even mention his name), who is not from our community, arrived here with the intention of committing a racially-motivated killing spree. This demented individual was targeting Mexicans. Yet, only three of the dead were actually Mexican citizens. The remainder were U.S. citizens from our own and neighboring communities.
Our community of 800,000 people is 85% Hispanic. Our friends, our neighbors, more a part of this community than I am with my white face. How an outsider could come here and visit this horror on us is unimaginable.
Coincidentally, my current work in progress, Book 8 of The Unit series, Lunatic Fringe, has now taken on additional meaning. The plot of the book is that one of the members of the team, “Spud,” who is the romantic partner of my main character, “Hank,” a female sniper, must infiltrate a violent, anti-immigration group to determine if they are involved in attacks against migrants crossing the border. I was about 62,000 words into this book which will likely span 80,000 words when this shooting occurred.
The message of this book is the same as the message of the other books in The Unit series: we are a nation of laws. Ideally, those laws are enforced impartially and with true justice applied. Primary among our laws is one that is echoed in the Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Not Kill.
Ordinarily, I dedicate each book of The Unit series to a member of law enforcement who I know personally and who has either served in the past or is serving now. However, in light of today’s events in this, my hometown that I love, The Unit Book 8: Lunatic Fringe will be dedicated to the twenty—and perhaps additional—dead of our shared community of El Paso, Texas, USA and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, México. Let the perpetrator of this horror fade into oblivion. Let the victims be remembered, for they were innocent.
·August 2, 2019 ·
AND NOW, TO GET RECOGNIZED AS AN AUTHOR
You sit for hours at your computer, word processor open, and tap out the words that will make a book. You get a cover artist, buy formatting software, upload to Amazon, hit “publish.” But does the book sell? NO.
The reason isn’t typically because the book is awful, but because Amazon—perhaps the nation’s largest seller of books—has a sales algorithm that favors authors who have lots of previous sales and stellar reviews numbering in the hundreds. Your book just doesn’t get noticed, because Amazon doesn’t promote it. Let me repeat that: AMAZON DOES NOT PROMOTE YOUR BOOKS AS A NEW AUTHOR. So, if your name isn’t known, your choices are two-fold:
1. Pay Amazon a TON of money to promote your book. Face it, Amazon is, in fact, an advertising platform, advertising the wares of anyone willing to set up an account with them to list their product, whether that be dog food, a porch swing, or a book.
2. Prevail upon your fan base to help you out by one or more of a handful of methods:
a) Help spread the word by reposting advertising and sales offers as well as inviting them to like an author’s page or join an author’s group;
b) Purchase your book;
c) Leaving a favorable review once you’ve read the book (which helps your standings on Amazon so you get seen by more prospective buyers and readers);
d) Encouraging other people who have read the book to leave a favorable review.
I’m now engaging in the process of trying to get reads and reviews. As I’ve posted my sales links here (found on the “Books in the Unit” page), I hope you will look over the books and take the plunge. I’ve even made it painless for you to test the waters: the prequel to The Unit series, Before the Unit: The recruiting of Kevin Banks is permanently only 99¢ in the Kindle version.
AUGUST 1, 2019
PITFALLS OF PUBLISHING: COPYRIGHTS
No, not my copyrights – those are easy! But occasionally, I find myself stymied by the existence of a copyright that will keep me from writing exactly what I’d like to.
Take a scene I have planned for the end of my current work-in-progress. Hank is working on planting flowers. Her lover/husband (they can’t legally marry for reasons that are obvious if you read The Unit series), comes out to help her. After a while, he takes her trowel and cat claw tools from her, holds out his hand for her gardening gloves, and puts them in a flower pot she keeps on the porch for that purpose. Then he takes her hand and starts to dance with her while singing a song.
What song is running through my mind for this? “As Time Goes By,” the song from Casablanca.
I would love to include some of the lyrics, because Hank has already told someone else that Spud sings “old, romantic love songs” when he’s dancing with her. Specifically, I’d love to include the “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh” lines, as well as the “And when two lovers woo, they still say ‘I love you,’ on this you may rely. No matter what the future brings, as time goes by.”
CAN’T DO IT. Why? Because Warner Brothers owns the copyright, and even though the song came out in (if I recall correctly) 1931, they still pay copyright royalties to the songwriter’s heirs.
The last folks I have money to fight on such an issue is Warner Brothers, and I’d lose anyway. You can’t use copyrighted material unless it follows the “fair use” conditions, which basically say only very short, attributed quotes and used for an educational purpose are permitted.
So, what I have to do is simply allude to the song (I can use the title, for instance, by having a character who’s looking on saying, “He’s singing that old song from the movie Casablanca—you know, “As Time Goes By”), but I can’t use the lyrics. DRAT!
I have published quotes from a book I own in one of my books, and got permission of the author ahead of time, even though they’re brief and likely wouldn’t fall out of the “fair use” dictum. But the author is a lawyer, so better safe than sorry!
July 28, 2019 •
EDITING: IT’S NOT JUST FOR BREAKFAST ANYMORE!
I’m currently editing a short work as a favor to another aspiring author. Given I have my own publishing firm and have worked professionally as an editor in the past for a company called Casting Words, editing is a service I might like to offer under my Star on the Mountain Books LLC banner.
For some reason, I find editing someone else’s work not as difficult as editing my own. For my own, it always seems to require at least three passes, and then after I publish, I look through the manuscript and say, “Oh, crap—there’s a mistake!” I think it’s easy to overlook your own mistakes. You wrote it, so you know what it should say, and your mind wants to see that rather than the mistake you actually wrote.
What I find often when I edit, as it is in the current work I’m editing for someone else, is that the story is fine. I think most people’s ideas are good, and I find them refreshing. But often the manuscript has glaring errors of grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation that detract from the story. I’m a member of many author and reader groups on Facebook and see many people say that if they encounter those sorts of errors in any significant degree, they simply don’t read further.
Errors in the fundamentals of writing, which spelling, grammar, and punctuation are, I find distracting as well. I’ve actually purchased books that are so full of errors that I’d like to cry—especially when it’s nonfiction and the person is putting him or herself forward as an expert. Which reminds me of a lab report I once graded for an upper-level molecular biology course I taught. The writer of the report gave me several explanations as to what “could of” gone wrong during the failed experiment of her group (it was a difficult course, so if the experiment failed they could still receive a good grade by explaining why it did). After the third “could of” I wrote in the margin, “The correct wording is ‘could have.’”
The report writer was very indignant about this, and came to my office, angrily declaring that she was taking a course in genetic engineering, not English. I told her, “Correct, and I didn’t grade you on your English but on your report content. However, if you want to be seen as a credible scientist, you also want to use correct grammar. Otherwise, your readers will think you’re an idiot.”
This is likely not so much the case in fiction writing. My writing involves a lot of dialogue, and dialogue should follow the character. So, for instance, one of my characters is from Connecticut, and talks like it. I’m familiar with how those from Connecticut talk, and so he seldom puts the ‘g’ on the end of anything that ends in ‘ing’, instead saying, ‘goin’,’ etc. One of the unit’s facility caretakers is a midwestern farmer, who at one point says, “You got corn, you got mice,” to which Hank (my female main character) declares (because the unit’s Field Team lives underground—literally), “We don’t ‘got corn’ in the Mole Hole.”
But still, proper grammar, etc., is what makes a story flow well. My advice to authors is, if you’re not quite sure you have that grammar and spelling correct, hire an editor.
July 24, 2019·
HOW DO I HELP OTHER ASPIRING AUTHORS?
Having just clicked “publish” on my latest edition to The Unit series, Book 7: Engineered for Death, and now waiting to see how the sales go got me to thinking about this.
Most readers don’t know the expense of publishing a book. As an author who has worked as an editor, I can save a little money on the editing process. But a typical author can spend up to $1500 for the editing of a book. More typical is $300-600 for a book of 300 pages, but the cost also depends upon what kind of editing is wanted/needed.
You can self-publish, but this entails some risks in the current marketplace. If you inadvertently use copyrighted material or trademarks and don’t acknowledge the source, you can be sued. If you’re smart, you’ll either work with a publisher or set up your own publishing firm. I did the latter. Cost: $500, with recurring costs of $150/year for a registered agent to collect my mail—essential if you travel, as I do, to avoid having legal papers delivered and not be there to sign for them.
If you’re a good artist, great! You might be able to avoid pitfalls surrounding cover art. If not such a good artist, you could find yourself using a copyrighted image and now you’ve got another lawsuit. You can avoid the whole issue by employing a cover artist, which is what I do. $300 per book.
And now you enroll in Kindle Unlimited and get 1/2¢ per page read. Guess what? You’re not going to make back what you paid to get that book published unless you get LOTS AND LOTS of readers.
So, what I do is look for the books with few to no reviews and pick those. I know what those authors are going through, because it’s where I am right now! Sometimes, the book is poorly written, has a weak plot, is full of grammar errors, has a yucky cover. Other times, it turns out to be a gem! In either case, I leave a review.
The importance of getting readers to read and review one’s work can’t be understated. Newly-minted authors are competing in a huge market that includes people who make five-figure incomes from their writing every MONTH. So, pick up that book with no reviews or a single review and give it a go. The author who created it will appreciate it!
July 17, 2019 ·
WHO DO YOU WRITE FOR?
That’s the question that someone in one of the author groups I’m a member of asked. Here’s how I responded: “I have an alternate world in my head. My characters all live and work there. I tell their story because no one else can see them inside my head. If a reader likes their story, they’re happy. If not, they just wait for another reader.”
One of the biggest compliments I’ve received as a writer was from a reader who said, “I’ve come to think of the characters as my friends.” She also vehemently admonished me not to kill one of the characters off. (She still doesn’t know what happened to Doc Sue. She’ll have to read the book!)
I don’t know how many other authors have a story running through their head and simply sit down and take the time to write it out, but that’s the way my writing tends to be. In the case of The Unit series, the story keeps evolving, the characters keep growing. As you read through the series, you’ll hear them talk about events that occurred in the past and how those events affected them, or how they’re relevant to their current situation. You’ll hear them talk about the things that have touched them in both positive and negative ways. You’ll hear them talk about what they consider their strengths are, and what their weaknesses are. You’ll gain insights into who they are as they reveal bits of themselves, or someone close to them does.
In short, you’ll follow as they experience everything real people experience, because they are real people. I know they are, because I interact with them every day, right there in my head, so that I can tell you their stories.
July 15, 2019 ·
WHY IS HANK (A WOMAN) CALLED HANK?
Hey, read the book.
Seriously, though, if you’ve read the first book of The Unit series, you know that Hank doesn’t start out as Hank. Hank is a code name—one she chose herself on her “rebirthday.” (Yeah, you’re going to have to read the book to understand that one, also!)
So, why did she choose Hank? There are two reasons. Both she states herself in the book. But ask yourself: If you were the only woman in an elite, covert, seven-member law enforcement team, why would you suggest they call you “Hank”?
Hank is, as one of my law enforcement buddies puts it, a “bad ass”. In my current work-in-progress, someone notes a bruise on the face of the biggest guy in the team (also a bad ass former Marine Corps Raider). He claims he got it when he bumped his face on the door of the unit’s helicopter while starting a fast rope from it. Someone else notes that the bruise is on the wrong side of his face for that, given the location of the fast roping arm. Then it’s noticed that the size of the bruise is the same size as Hank’s fist. Yup. She clobbered him! In another book, as a group of the men go to grab her (yeah, you’ll have to read the book to find out why), one experienced with trying to do this warns the others that she kicks and fights “like a banshee”.
The interesting thing for me as a writer, though, is melding Hank’s bad ass attitude with that of her “husband’s” (they’re not really married, for reasons that become obvious—yes—when you read the book!). He’s also an “alpha”: a former Secret Service agent in the Presidential Protective Detail. So, how is it that two distinctly alpha personalities both find themselves in love with each other and able to do the demanding work of the unit together?
Yeah, you’re going to have to read the books!
July 12, 2019 ·
A STORY IS ENTERTAINMENT, AFTER ALL…
So why do a bunch of research? <shrug> I guess it depends upon exactly what you’re trying to do.
In my present work-in-progress, the team will be handling a mission that involves going undercover in an extremist group. But a conflict can arise here between what someone in law enforcement believes is right and what the Supreme Court believes is right.
Actions by those in law enforcement that violate constitutional standards generally result in failure to convict. This can be a big problem when the person facing conviction might actually be guilty. Typically, the casual observer of a court case that fails to convict due to violations of procedure or the rights of the accused are regarded by the public as “the guy got off on a technicality”.
In my current work, aside from entertaining, I try to also instill some knowledge about the factors that might surround a case. My cases are fictitious, but the laws that might apply to them are real.
The people that work real cases often are torn between the strength of their personal convictions and the requirements of the law. Hopefully, as you read The Unit series, you can see both how these conflicts affect those in law enforcement and how those in law enforcement relieve the stress created by these conflicts. From benign actions (you’ll find that my Field Team members can be quite raunchy—even the woman in the team) to potentially destructive ones.
July 10, 2019 ·
WHY DOES THE UNIT START OUT LOCATED AT QUANTICO?
For those who have read the first book of The Unit series, you know that the unit at the start is located at Quantico. There’s a twist to this, which I won’t reveal. You’ll just have to read the book, which is linked on the Books in The Unit series page and available on Amazon in Kindle and print format.
But why Quantico?
It turns out there’s more to Quantico than the Marines. The FBI Academy is there, as is an Army intelligence agency and the DEA Academy. So, it’s not out of the question that a unique and very secret law enforcement group with ties to multiple federal agencies would be located there as well.
Ah, but how does a unique and very secret law enforcement group stay hidden among the Marines at Quantico? Again, you’ll just have to read the book! When you do, you’ll also find out about one of the unusual ways the unit has to behave in order to remain hidden in plain sight.
You can find links to all of the books of The Unit series on the Books in The Unit page here in the website, as well as a short synopsis of each book. I hope you will browse and start reading The Unit.
July 2, 2019 ·
WHAT EXPERIENCE DO I HAVE, ANYWAY???
I am finally out of internet hell, which means I’ll be able to post things here while I’m living in a travel trailer and competing in a national marksmanship competition. WiFi in RV parks is often said to be present, but isn’t.
My experience as a firearms instructor and competitive marksman is part of what I bring to The Unit series. I just finished writing a section of Book 8, Lunatic Fringe, where Hank (the unit’s sniper and firearms expert) is practicing with Amigo (sniper 2 and Hank’s spotter) using lever action rifles—something Amigo, at first, seriously questions.
So, what’s Hank’s justification for having the two top firearms people in the unit practicing with lever action rifles? No frills—just basics of shooting create success with this kind of firearm. How do I know this? Because I’m currently preparing for a competition using them!
Of course, Amigo isn’t motivated very highly by this exercise, having been a member of BORTAC. But he warms up to the idea when Hank decides to invoke the unit’s standard bet to add a little competition to the exercise. And if you want to know what the standard bet is, you’re going to have to read the series.
June 29, 2019 ·
Ah, but the rule gets broken, and I introduce a romance between two of the characters in The Unit series. Why?
If you’re in law enforcement, you can probably guess. I’m trying to show just as much of the human side of those in law enforcement as the procedural side. It’s a tough job, with pitfalls for those who hold it. One of those pitfalls is the strain it can put on relationships. How could I show that if there wasn’t a couple in the series?
This is also part of the reason the unit has a psychiatrist as part of its medical support group. How does an officer reconcile having to kill someone if part of his duty as an officer is to save lives? This is another misconception as well: police find themselves shooting someone every time they turn around. Not so, and for most officers it’s a devastating event. How does an officer deal with it? And while he’s dealing with it, what effect does it have on his relationships?
I get a hint at the strain of their job not only when I talk with my friends who are either in law enforcement or were formerly in law enforcement, but when I encounter law enforcement personnel in the field. I live in El Paso, directly on our southern border, and have the additional unusual circumstance to travel on the access road that follows the walls, fences, and barricades in place along the border. It’s typical that I’ll encounter a CBP agent on patrol. Keep in mind that this is the desert southwest, so when you meet one of these guys along the border, you’re usually in the middle of nowhere. They’ll stop me (to be expected), and we’ll chat. I always let them know I’m armed, and sometimes I’ll see them start to “guard” their own gun when they actually see mine. Am I benign, or am I a threat? They don’t know, and that action of guarding their gun tells me they’re nervous.
I’ve tried to portray the effect the job has in a realistic way. If you’re in law enforcement or have been, I welcome your tales!
June 28, 2019 ·
What? Me Worry? -or- How to Get Over Writer’s Block
Every writer has been there. You’ve got a great idea for a story. You’ve even started writing it. And then it hits you: writer’s block. It should probably be called “writer’s brick,” because that’s what it feels like when it hits you.
Face it, writing is a job. A chore. Something that authors don’t always like to do. You get stale, burned out, run out of both gas and ideas.
This is the point when you should remember that most jobs are Monday through Friday. Most jobs are 9 AM to 5 PM. Most jobs have defined tasks. You don’t have to make it up as you go. Someone, somewhere has defined what you need to do each day.
I find myself up against the wall with my own mind wanting to cuff my hands behind my back most often when I forget that a creative process is often not very amenable to being told when to turn on and when to turn off. If I tell myself, “You should write 5,000 words today,” that’s the day I’ll struggle to get 500 done. So I’ve learned to accept the days when my creative juices stop flowing and I say, “Might as well sleep late, ‘cuz ain’t nothin’ happening today.” If I just let it happen, then I find I’ll have slow days when 500 words is the limit, and fast days when 10,000 words come easily. It all averages out.
June 26, 2019
The Pitfalls of Self-Publishing
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That quote from A Tale of Two Cities perhaps best describes the current climate of publishing for up-and-coming authors like myself.
It’s easier than ever to get published. Multiple services provide venues for this. Just upload your manuscript, hit “publish” and it’s out there.
Or is it?
The truth is, yes—it’s out there, but will anyone see it? For that last bit, you need to market your work.
In my opinion, the first way you market your work is through a captivating cover. I’ve mentioned this before: yes, we judge a book by its cover.
The second way you market is by researching where your potential readers are. Obviously, one of the venues I’m using for this is right here: Facebook.
Why is marketing important? Because when you self-publish, you’re up against a lot of authors who have “made it.” Their names are recognized: Stephen King, Dan Brown. How can you compete against a six-figure author?
Marketing is, in my opinion, hateful. For me as an author first, it feels like begging. But it’s a necessary evil. So far, all of my reviews (also important, and I’ll talk about that some other time) are five-stars. But that doesn’t mean recognition for an author.
Yes, your work is out there. But is anyone seeing it? Indeed, the best of times, the worst of times!
June 24, 2019
Does Word Count Count?
Those who don’t write probably have never heard the term “word count”. Having written for magazines in the past, I’ve become achingly aware of word count!
But the question has to be asked, when writing novels does word count count?
Word count certainly counts when writing for periodicals, as the editors will demand that your article only contain so many words. Typically, this is 2,000 to 2,500. Rarely, they will accept a series of articles, with each of that same length.
Novel writing, though, is a whole different thing. Same goes for nonfiction, actually. The goal for these is not to fill a certain number of pages amidst the advertising in a magazine, but to cover the subject (nonfiction) or tell the story (fiction).
I have once again just viewed a Facebook post by an author pondering word count, and gave him my standard answer: tell the story. If your writing is lengthy but captivating, your reader will keep reading. If you think your story is too short for publication, the options are to publish in a periodical, publish as a “short” (which many readers look for), or publish more than one story within an anthology. But don’t worry about word count. Worry about telling the tale.
June 24, 2019
Before You Hit “Publish”
I’m sure there are a lot of people who think an author just writes and then publishes.
There’s quite a bit that goes on before a smart author hits “publish.” Perhaps the most important thing is to first edit, or hire an editor. As I’ve just finished Book 7 of The Unit series, for me it’s now time to edit Book 6.
I’ve actually worked as a professional editor. But authoring and editing are two different tasks. Sometimes in the authoring process, your thoughts get ahead of your fingers. This results in mistakes.
I like to take a little time between authoring a book and editing it. For some reason, if I don’t do that, I manage to miss the mistakes! So I write one book, set it aside, write the next, then go back and edit the previous book. That catches a lot of mistakes, but not usually all of them. So I’ll then start the next book (which will be Book 8 for The Unit series in this case), then go back and edit again. Usually, third time’s the charm!
June 22, 2019
If It’s a Novel, Why Do Research?
I read a great many books as research for writing The Unit series. I know a lot of people probably think, “But it’s fiction. Why bother doing research for fiction?”
Ah, but is it fiction?
I have always had a problem with fiction that has no basis in fact. I’m one of those people who watches the Starship Enterprise swoop around in a big arc and then take off, always headed forward. First of all, this is an aerodynamic movement, and there is no air in space. Secondly, with engines arranged linearly, how can they do that swooping maneuver in the first place? With no air in space, where does that whooshing noise come from? Air is needed to propagate sound.
In The Unit series, everything the team does is assisted through the use of a multi-parallel processor mainframe supercomputer that they, of course, refer to as “Hal”. But how can they coordinate through Hal when they’re hundreds of miles away? The first book of the series, Camp Chaos, describes that. If you believe that people can communicate with someone halfway around the world with a satellite phone, then you can believe the method that’s described can do it as well. The team also makes use of a great many things that are constructed using graphene—a real substance with some truly amazing properties. What was conceived of as potential uses for graphene back in 2016 are real uses of graphene today. Can graphene conceivably be used in ways the unit uses it? Not only can be, but in many cases is.
As you read The Unit series, I hope you wonder what’s real and what’s not, because there’s a lot that is real. If you find yourself hitting the Internet to see if something in one of the books is real or not, then I consider I’ve done my job.
June 21, 2019
Hazards of Writing Atypical Characters
I mentioned in a past post that I don’t like stereotypes, but not writing to the stereotype can present problems. Where it’s created a large problem for me is with cover art. Not just for me, but my wonderful cover artist, Momir Borocki, has been pulling his hair out trying to find decent images to fit a FEMALE sniper. Just go to Shutterstock.com, put in “female sniper” as a search, and take a look at the pictures they show of “female snipers.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a woman on a firing line wearing a thong, never mind seen one lying on hot concrete wearing one.
So what was today’s big event? A six-hour photo shoot with a model (actually a friend’s daughter) who fits the biometrics of my main character, “Hank”. Yes, she’s in SWAT gear. Yes, that’s a real sniper rifle she’s posed with (mine). Yes, that’s a real tactical rifle she’s posed with (also mine – we used two of them, in fact). The only thing that’s even close to stereotypical is the “unit formal wear” for the book I’m currently writing, Engineered for Death, where she will be posing as a Secret Service agent. But that earpiece in her ear? Also mine, and yes – it’s real.
I had another photo shoot I did for the third book in The Unit series, No Brother of Mine, as well. The book takes place on the southern U.S. border, and I live practically on the border, so I went out and took pictures. Also had a very nice chat with one of our CBP agents (handed him my U.S. Passport card and explained what I was doing there).
So sometimes, it’s not just writing, but other things you end up doing as an author to make your book cover truly represent what’s within. I doubt I’d sell many books about the serious issues regarding what occurs in the lives of people in law enforcement if I put a bimbo in a thong with an old civilianized AK47 on the cover as the elite sniper in an ultra-clandestine, ultra-modern law enforcement unit.
How the Heck Did a Woman Get to be a Sniper in The Unit?
One thing I’m always a little perturbed about is the stereotyping of people based upon [you may fill in the blank here]. You know, nurses must be women. Why? The male nurse who took care of me in the ER recently did a great job, and yes – I can be judge of that as my mother was a nurse. Pilots must be men. Really? The women I trained were just as good as the men.
A sniper must be male? Why? I shoot competitively, and many of the shooting sports I participate in and follow have women in the very top ranks, if not at the very top. Cathy Winstead-Severin has been one of the best smallbore and high-power silhouette marksmen ever since I started with the sport. And are we going to neglect the achievements of notables such as Kim Rhode? (I’ve met her, by the way. She’s a class act!)
“Hank” is a 5’7″, 122#, ballsy-as-all-get-up former FBI Special Agent who had shooting as a hobby and who, in the unit, gets it as a job. When she threatens to “hurt you” in the unit, the men all take her seriously. She has two teeth that she knocked out of someone’s mouth to prove she can do it. (You find out who that was and the circumstances by which it happened in Camp Chaos, the first book of the series.) She cusses. A lot. Her moods vary from amused to pissed off to serious to anguished. Yes, she’s as real as I can make her. The same goes for all of the other characters in the unit.
June 17, 2019
“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” may be true, but we do it all the time!
For this reason, I employ a professional cover artist (Momir Borocki) to do all of my book covers. A versatile cover artist, he has branded my Unit series very well.
The Unit logo itself is actually done by someone who works for Sony Playstation. The “constants” of the book covers are “The Unit” logo and the “radar screen” seen surrounding the cover image. The rest varies by the theme of the book. In the first book, Camp Chaos, you are introduced to the unit via “Hank,” the unit’s female sniper and firearms expert. (If you want to know why she’s called “Hank,” you know what to do.) The unit’s mission in this book is to track down and apprehend a terrorist group that calls itself Camp Chaos. So, why is Hank standing in a corn field?
The second book, Operation Assassination, involves a mission to assassinate the President. Why? And why does the unit decide to take the mission? And what happens when they do? And why is Hank poised with her spotter, “Amigo,” among trees on the cover?
The third book, No Brother of Mine, involves gun-running across the southern U.S. border. The photo of the border was actually taken by me, so if you wonder what our southern border looks like, just take a look at the book cover. And feel free to ask me about our border if you like. Why is Hank looking over the border with a rifle in her hand? And why is the book called “No Brother of Mine“?
You get the idea. As well as the image on the book covers, the mask on the lower portion of The Unit logo also changes, and gives you a hint of what the book is about or where a critical scene in the book takes place. Yes, those crystals on the bottom of The Unit logo on the Crystal Killer cover are crystals of methamphetamine.
June 16, 2019
What Do I Bring to The Unit Series? -or- How Do I Know This Stuff?
I grew up in the Northeast part of the country and settled in the Southwest after first getting a Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Iowa and then following a career military officer to Maryland, Japan, and to my present home in El Paso, Texas. While here, I pursued a PhD in molecular biology at New Mexico State University, but unfortunately ended up with an “ABDD” (All But Dissertation Defense—I still have that 400+ page tome around here somewhere) as a result of my principle investigator taking a Dean’s chair in Michigan. Because my PhD principle investigator also failed to get a grant to cover my work, I worked for a couple of other professors in their labs as well, sequencing DNA and working on the development of a biowarfare agent detector. I was in early on the use of DNA for forensics, and actually talked with FBI recruiters about working in their crime lab. At the time they wanted even professionals in the lab to do a minimum two years of duty as a Special Agent in the field first. The word was, “After that, you can apply for consideration to work in the crime lab.” In my mind, that translated to “You may never get into the crime lab,” so I said thanks, but no thanks. DNA forensics took off shortly after that, and they started taking professionals directly into those jobs. I was in the right place at the wrong time.
As I had already started my flight school prior to my mentor’s move, I couldn’t move with him. So I dropped the PhD stuff and concentrated my efforts on teaching people how to defy gravity for a while. During part of that “while”, the nation experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which not only brought about many changes for flight instructors but also put a damper on flight instructing as a business. I kept going until a freak accident killed my aviation mechanic as well as (financially) the shop he worked for.
Already being an avid marksman, I turned to doing firearms instruction, first getting NRA certification in nearly every firearms discipline (the only ones I lack are the muzzle-loading ones) and then state certification as a Texas License to Carry instructor, all of which I continue until this day. My personal favorite shooting disciplines are bullseye (conventional) pistol, where I regularly win the local annual woman’s title, silhouette rifle (lever action) where I have been working my way to Master and won the 2012 smallbore national woman title as well as a ton of other trophies, and for fun (and if you’ve read Camp Chaosyou’ve already guessed it), long-range sniping.
I recently ran a firing range for four years, still shoot competitively, still do firearms instruction, and occasionally do consulting work with the NRA as a Range Technical Team Advisor, traveling through Arizona, New Mexico, and the western half of Texas for that, assisting ranges on maintaining and improving their operations.
Now you have a bit of my background, and can see what I bring into writing The Unit series.
June 15, 2019
On Being an Author, or How Do You Come Up With This Stuff?
Lots of authors have lots of different tactics for getting a book out. Many are currently writing to what sells, so we’re seeing a flood of erotica on the market.
I don’t do that. I think it makes for a stilted read. I write what I like, which is mostly crime/intrigue/mystery.
My first book, Gabriel’s Call, is in a completely different genre than The Unit series. It came about literally as a result of a dream. I wrote, then dreamed some more, then wrote some more. In five days, the initial draft of the book was done. The Unit books take longer, usually on the order of three to four weeks each. Doing a release of one each month gives me time to do the editing of the manuscript and the formatting for publication. So I write, I edit, I format, and then I upload and hit “publish.”
It turns out that The Unit is much the same way, with many ideas and twists to the plots coming about as a result of running out of steam at night, going to bed, and waking up with new ideas. Sometimes, the idea for a new book of The Unit comes from reading the news, or reading some of the books I read for research. Sometimes, it comes from instances I know have occurred from personal discussions with the people in law enforcement who experienced them. Some stories in the book are taken from my own life. I’ll leave you to guess which ones those are!
I also take ideas from my readers and fans. What do you like to see? The fifth book of The Unit, For Alexandra, came about as a result of a friend responding to this question by sending me a link to a story about a sex trafficker who was trafficking very young children and had been for twenty years before he was finally caught. When I started doing research for the book, I found that the problem is both pervasive and HUGE. All of the statistics, terms, phone numbers, and even online ads pedaling children for sex are REAL.
So that’s a big part of being an author. Just having a bit of an imagination, and doing your homework on your topic. I hope you enjoy my efforts!
June 14, 2019
THE IDEA BEHIND THE UNIT
I’ve had people ask me if The Unit has any similarity to the TV series. The answer is no. In fact, I’ve not seen even one episode of the TV series, which I believe is based on a military unit.
My unit is based on a covert law enforcement unit. So covert that as far as only a few people know, they don’t exist. Even the individual members of the Field Team in the unit don’t exist. You find out why and how this is so when you read the first book, Camp Chaos, where Katheryn Hanko is recruited to the unit.
Most crime novels focus on the crime and all of the action surrounding solving it and bringing the criminals to justice. I’ve sought in The Unit to put as much focus on the people who fight the crimes, having interacted with many in law enforcement on a personal rather than professional level. Their lives are in many ways like ours. The demands of their profession are in many ways very unlike ours. In both cases, there are periods of laughter, periods of tears, periods of anger, periods of sheer terror… A couple of the most poignant moments of interacting with those who serve to keep us safe was listening to a female Special Agent recalling an operation in which the operation was compromised, resulting in injuries to both herself and her partner (who is now permanently brain damaged as a result), and watching another Special Agent cry over the death of his partner.
They are real people, just like us, and we shouldn’t forget that.
June 13, 2019
As I believe most people here are interested in The Unit series, I thought I’d blog a bit about how The Unit came into being.
For some years, I was a flight instructor. I based out of El Paso International Airport in El Paso, Texas where I now live, and had an office in an FBO: basically, a gas station for privately-owned aircraft.
My office was in an area that was occupied by three other flight outfits. One was an on-demand charter firm run by a friend of mine. The other two were the local DEA and FBI flight wing offices.
Flight instructors work odd hours. This is partly due to students needing to work around their work schedules, and partly due to the requirements that students take a minimum number of hours of instruction flying at night. Law enforcement pilots also work odd hours for reasons that should be fairly obvious: if the mission demands it, then you go. Often, the only people who would be in that area of the FBO building would be myself and the LEOs. Occasionally, I’d see one of the charter pilots, as they “hauled checks”: made the rounds of area airports picking up checks that needed to be delivered to a central bank for processing.
The FBI pilots worked in pairs. Sometimes when I was there very late at night, one or the other of the FBI pilots in one pair would stop in at my office and chat until I was ready to leave. I’m convinced that for one of them in particular, he just didn’t like the idea that a woman was alone in a remote area of the building late at night. So, he would stay until I was also ready to leave, and we’d leave the building together.
This Special Agent I respected a great deal. He was honorable, dedicated, and lived up to the FBI’s motto of Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity. His partner was the same way, so it was no surprise to me that they were not only partners in fighting crime, but also friends.
The two of them went for some advanced flying in Colorado at one point to learn mountain flying techniques. Anyone who flies knows that flying in the mountains is a whole different animal.
One of the charter pilots came to me at one point and told me that one of the agents had died as a result of an accident during this training. The circumstances left me feeling devastated, having valued his friendship and knowing that he was a family man with a wife and young children. It seemed so very unfair that his life should be snatched away like that.
Around the end of November of 2018, for some reason my memories of Paul came back very vividly. I had just started writing the first book of The Unit series, Camp Chaos. The more I wrote, the more the memory of this man bothered me. I began to feel compelled to dedicate The Unit to him, at the time not thinking the book would evolve into a series at all. The only picture I could access of him is his official picture, which appears on the FBI’s website for their Wall of Honor and which you see above. HIs official picture, though, is one of those somber, ‘see what a serious Special Agent I am’ kinds of photos, so I sought out his former partner. Now retired and living far from El Paso, I somehow managed through dumb luck to not only locate him, but find a way to contact him. I was hoping he would have a picture of Paul that was a bit more the way I remembered him: with a warm smile.
Alas, that was not to be. But Camp Chaos is dedicated to Paul nonetheless. When I finished the book—which is over 400 pages, I also felt that the story wasn’t done. And so came Operation Assassination, No Brother of Mine, Crystal Killer, For Alexandra, Special Delivery (which will be published at the end of June), and now Engineered for Death (which will publish at the end of July). Each book is being dedicated to one of the very special people I have had the privilege to meet, both during my time as a flight instructor and now during my time as a firearms instructor and competitive marksman, who are or have been in law enforcement.
I don’t know when The Unit will end. But I do know how it began: with the memory of one special man who dedicated his life to trying to make the world a better place for the rest of us, and for whom I still hold very fond memories.