SOMETIMES, I WONDER ABOUT MYSELF
The current book I’m writing for The Unit series will feature a man who is one sick puppy. Not the first time I’ve created a nemesis who’s got serious mental issues, so I guess I should say, “Here we go again.”
Sometimes, I’ll put a bit of a book before someone I know just to gauge their reaction, and I’ll get that look. I do believe there’s a fine line between those who can dream up something horrible, and those who will actually do something horrible. I think the difference for me is that I can dream it up, but can still dream up the fact that the horror can be countered by good. It just falls to those who can keep the good in focus to wipe out the horror.
I also note that truth is stranger than fiction—and often more horrible. I read accounts of true crimes, and a good many require having a bucket nearby. If I wrote a book that contained some of the things I’ve read that people have done to other people in reality, I think there would be such an outcry that it would be the end of my writing career. But trust me: truth is not just stranger than fiction, it’s sicker as well. Just Google “death from a thousand cuts” and see where that actually came from and I think you’ll agree with me.
Now consider that we ask our law enforcement people to deal with this sort of stuff day after day after day. I have personally dealt with the carnage that occurs from auto accidents, and it’s hard to erase the images. I don’t know how police officers, firemen, and EMTs do it day in and day out, year after year.
And then there’s war. Let’s not even go there, though I did in one book, having Edge tell a brief bit of his story, and am dealing with it in this book as well, revealing and explaining why Doc Rich suffers from PTSD. The people of The Unit are devoted to justice and committed to excellence, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t bring their pasts into the unit nor that their pasts don’t shape who they are and how they react to the events they’re involved in.
One of the reviewers for Before the Unit: The Recruiting of Kevin Banks I think gave my work the best compliment I could get when he used the remark, “keeping it real.” I try to keep it real and show that real people can do remarkable things, regardless of what they’re faced with. In an age when people no longer want to give our first responders the support they need to deal with the real horrors they face, I hope that by keeping it real I can give some insight into the job that they thankfully do on our behalf. It’s why my typical parting remark to those I encounter in law enforcement, as well as other first responders, is, “Stay safe out there.” It’s the least I can do to acknowledge that they will put themselves in harm’s way for me, should the need arise.
December 11, 2020 ·
JUST ABOUT DONE…
…with editing of Book 16, Shining City. Book 17, Cold Justice, is now over 12,000 words as well.
What’s coming up? A trip to Alto, NM for the photo shoot for the cover to Shining City and Cold Justice.
I’m still holding to my commitment to 3000 words per day, but will be taking two days a week off from writing (or maybe I should say, writing that much because if my characters demand it, I must write!) to start preparing for this year’s shooting competitions. The first one will be in mid-February, so there’s range time and time to reload ammunition to consider.
More on your author:
You know I read voraciously. This includes periodicals as well as books. I made a commitment to read 60 books this year, and so far have read over 100. I do the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which is a great way to get motivated toward reading more.
The periodicals I read include scientific journals. I have a degree in biochemistry/molecular biology, and still take an active interest in the topic, even after being abandoned by my mentor in grad school and thus never completing my PhD (he took a dean’s chair in Michigan, and I couldn’t move at that point from El Paso due to also being an active flight instructor to support myself after he lost his grant). I’m determined to read every one I have, which is a considerable collection
Scientists are interesting creatures, to say the least. I’ve noted that for some, “scientific integrity” is an oxymoron. I cringe every time I see a scientist report in a journal article that they didn’t include certain data because “it fell outside the norm” or some similar remark. In other words, Dr. Whoever, you ignored those data that don’t fit your hypothesis? No, sir—that’s not how it’s supposed to be done. If your data plot into a “scattergram,” either your method is flawed or your hypothesis is. You don’t ignore the data.
Integrity is a very important thing to me. If you can’t trust me, then can I even trust myself? I note that one reviewer of Camp Chaos made the comment that it featured “an unlikely FBI agent.” I’m curious as to what this individual found “unlikely” about Kat Hanko (“Hank”). Is it that she reacts emotionally to some events—like having to kill someone? Is it her insistence that she behave with integrity in mind, living up to the agency motto of Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity?
I have to admit that I’ve personally seen three examples of FBI agents who I would consider more “unlikely” than Kat Hanko, yet who made successful careers as Special Agents. One stood in defense of another agent who had been accused of a crime simply because he was friends with the agent. No objectivity—just “he’s my friend and therefor can’t be guilty.” Another I had a great deal of respect for, yet something this agent told me has always gnawed at me. The agent had been involved in an incident on the border that occurred during a sting operation. One of the individuals they were seeking to apprehend during this operation crawled his way back across the border into Mexico (and thus out of the jurisdiction for the operation), whereupon this agent reached out and dragged him back into the U.S., thus placing the desire to make the arrest above the desire to conform to the applicable laws. The third I found out through doing some research on a well-known case had blown the handling of some key evidence in that case, thus leading to the failure to convict a person who had shot and killed a U.S. Marshal. Whether the improper evidence handling was the result of ineptitude or deliberate action, I have often pondered. What I don’t ponder is the complete loss of respect I had for this agent.
Integrity seems to be a commodity that isn’t important to very many people these days. It extends even to the premise that “it isn’t a crime if you don’t get caught.” Yes, it is a crime, and it has a victim. More than one, actually, because the piece of you that you cut out of your soul while making that kind of justification is perhaps greater than the person who suffered at your hands. It’s why integrity is so important to me, and why therefor I try to paint my characters with that brush, Hank included. It may make them “unlikely,” but then in a society that places winning over integrity, that alone makes them “unlikely.” May you, too, be unlikely. Gems are rare. Resolve to be a gem.
November 13, 2020 ·
I’m currently writing the 16th book of The Unit series, Shining City. I’m pacing it to hopefully be done by the end of the month. Currently, I’m 23000 words into the story.
This is likely to be the most difficult book of the series for me to write thus far, as the topic requires I highlight an extremist group. The group is a far right white supremacist group that justifies their actions with religion. Their beliefs are as far from my own as they can possibly be, and where there is some overlap, theirs falls to the extreme side.
I have always found that tolerance of others is to my own benefit, and question why some don’t see that as well. The example I give is this: The day I get into a bad accident, I don’t care what color, religion, ethnicity, etc. the person who picks me up off the street and gets me into an ambulance is. I don’t care about anything other than looking into their face and seeing COMPETENCE. Same goes for the doctors and nurses who will rush me into the ER and work to keep me alive.
I also think it’s a travesty when someone who was born with the genetics to be competent at something never gets there because of prejudice. That cheats me, and I don’t like that. It cheats me because when I need that competence, I might not have it available because the person never succeeded in getting it. Maybe that was due to lack of access to prenatal care, poor nutrition as a child, a lousy school because s/he lived in a poor neighborhood or community, no money for training or college—whatever.
And now I have to write about a group that would use every factor that I think is totally irrelevant to put down others—even their own wives, because “wives should be submissive to their husbands; it says so in the Bible.”
You may expect to see Hank puke at least once in this book as she and Spud go to infiltrate the group at the request of the ATF, who fear they’re looking at another Waco. She doesn’t like this crap, either.
November 3, 2020 ·
I was just doing something I don’t do often, and that was reading over the reviews for my books on Amazon.
Yes, there are those that don’t like them, and that’s fine. There are plenty of books I’ve read that I don’t like, either. You’ll note I never mention them here, because I’d rather focus on the positive and help the other up-and-coming authors out there that are trying to be recognized the same way I am and who are good. And those free books I post links to? Books by other up-and-coming authors that I’ll read, rate, and review. Even if a book is terrible, I wade through it so I can do that honestly, so I can only expect that other readers will do the same when it comes to my own books.
But overwhelmingly, I see good reviews, and I think the worst average is 4.5 out of 5 stars. When I see this, and see the positive reviews from people who have fallen in love with The Unit series, it literally brings me to tears—tears of gratitude.
You see, I started writing when I was very, very young. Third grade, if I recall correctly, was when I wrote my first story about a young man with a chemistry set who hid in his family’s basement and did experiments. I don’t recall how it was that my mother got to read this first story of mine, but I do recall how she laughed reading it. A laugh intended to ridicule, as were her remarks.
It crushed me. I hardly wrote anything at all from that point until I went to graduate school to pursue a degree in molecular biology—a late endeavor as I was also chasing around an Army officer from assignment to assignment. Kind-of had to: I’m married to him (now retired). I was 35 years of age, and while experiments ran to completion, I wrote to kill the time. The book was what I call a “cusp sci-fi,” with most of it based in current space technology but culminating in the accidental discovery of how to travel at faster than the speed of light.
It’s pretty awful. Publish it? Not on your life!
A lot of years went by between that and my next book, originally titled The Prophet, but being republished as Gabriel’s Call. It’s a religion-based paranormal. Quite a twist from The Unit, but the book literally poured out of me—all 55,000 words— in the space of a week.
Then came Camp Chaos, which I didn’t conceive of originally as part of a series. It took about a month to put down its 144,000 words. It was after completing it that I realized I’d somehow tapped into an alternate world inhabited by the characters, and they were being very insistent that their story was a lot bigger than Camp Chaos—that Camp Chaos was only the tip of the iceberg, and they were going to make damned sure I wrote their other tales.
Now, I’m imprisoned by these characters, who insist I take very few breaks in relating their experiences and how they develop themselves to the point where they can do the missions they do. If I ignore them, they haunt my dreams and wake me early to demand I go to the computer and write some more about them. They even keep me up late (she says, noting the clock reading 22:21), insisting it’s not time to stop yet.
Still, the other thing that haunted me was my mother’s laughter and assertion that my writing was ridiculous, which had always convinced me that I could never write anything worthwhile that anyone would like. So when I see a sequel get 10 five star ratings and no others and read glowing reviews from people who demand another book the same way my characters demand I write one, I cannot help but feel gratitude to those who have read the books and left ratings and reviews. I don’t mind the occasional bad ones, because even with those Camp Chaos still has a 4.5-star average and 74 ratings. I look at that and tell myself, “Maybe you can write after all.”
The re-editing of Operation Assassination is nearly done; so is the editing of The Hanged Man; and the next book, Shining City is already up to nearly 2,200 words.
For those who have urged in their reviews that I keep writing, yes. Yes, I will. What will happen after The Unit? Those who are reading it know that being a Field Team member in the unit is rigorous, and thus a young man’s job. Hank and Spud won’t be there forever. A younger generation will gradually replace the older team members until the team is entirely replaced. There will be a surprise there when it is, with two new and special individuals being recruited into The Unit: Gen 2. But in the meantime, Hank, Spud, and the rest of the gang insist their stories be told first. And you know what happens as people get older: they get cranky. As Hank will tell you, you don’t screw with the little old ladies, so I’d better obey her when she says her story comes first.
Wouldn’t want to lose a couple of my teeth!
October 21, 2020 ·
Remembering Flight School
I’m currently re-editing Book 2 of The Unit series: Operation Assassination, and have come across the area where Hank and Edge are completing their private pilot’s certification and being introduced to the Piper Seneca.
I have experience in the Piper Seneca. Not the current New Piper version, but a Seneca II. It was the flight school’s only twin, so anyone who wanted a multiengine rating had to do their training in it. A lot of schools use the original Seneca, but in El Paso’s thin air (we start at 4000 MSL, and it’s HOT) the original one really doesn’t have the performance needed for our altitude and climate.
I went from Private pilot VFR (Visual Flight Rules) to Private Pilot IA-SEL (Instrument Airplane – Single Engine Land), to Commercial Pilot, SEL&MEL, IA (single engine land, multiengine land, instrument airplane with privileges for both single-and multi-engine). Basically, I did the commercial airplane complex aircraft requirement in the Seneca, thus gaining the multiengine authorization, and tacked on a multiengine instrument checkride so as to have no restrictions when it came to instrument flight.
I loved the twin, and had the good fortune of being the only newly-minted multiengine pilot that the flight school’s chief pilot would let take it solo while the ink was still wet on my Temporary Airman Certificate.
It did lead to an interesting moment at one point. The chief pilot was a former marine named Gene, and everyone called him “Gene the Marine.” He was a gruff ol’ guy who no one could ever satisfy. I would ask him to fly with me on occasion because I figured if I could keep a plane upright while he screamed at me about how crappy a pilot I was and how I couldn’t fly I wouldn’t ever be in danger of crashing.
So it was that one day I asked him to go with me on a local practice flight to act as safety pilot while I did some instrument approaches in the Seneca.
Everything went pretty uneventfully until the final instrument approach: our local ILS (instrument landing system) approach. The ILS gives course guidance in both the lateral and vertical dimensions, allowing a pilot to fly an approach without seeing the runway environment until a mere 200 feet above the ground. I have always been a “power/performance” pilot, having a list of numbers in my head for what prop settings, manifold pressure, aircraft configurations, and airspeeds would give me the performance I needed to make a proper descent, climb, or whatever—and flying the ILS was no exception.
My routine there was to intercept the glide slope (the vertical course guidance), reduce power, set props, lower the landing gear, and apply the first flap setting, then double-check to make sure the plane was still on the approach path and everything was actually configured properly. Which I did. But during the double-check on the aircraft configuration, I saw what can be a pilot’s worst nightmare: there was no indication that the landing gear was actually down. Instead of three green lights—one for each tire, I was greeted with darkness.
I turned to Gene and said, “We have no gear,” while reaching out to raise the gear lever and lower it again to recycle the gear, which will sometimes work to get gear down and locked as it should be for landing. He stopped my hand and reached out, turning the interior instrument light setting from night to day.
The night setting dims all the cockpit instrument lights, you see—including the landing gear lights which, once the setting was changed, illuminated quite nicely.
I was certain I was in for a nice ass-chewing.
I landed, taxied back to the school’s ramp, and as I shut the plane down Gene got up and exited the airplane. Standing on the wing walk, he poked his head back inside and declared, “I’m glad you don’t give lip service to checklists!”
And that was that!
I wondered how I escaped the rant about ‘Did you think to check the instrument lights?’ and remarked about it to one of the linemen. It was then that I was told he’d gone out with another pilot just the day before who he’d pulled the same trick on. Only that guy landed without ever getting a positive ‘gear down’ indication.
Hey, I guess it worked out for me! But I do feel sorry for the other guy, who I gather got both the ass-chewing he deserved and the one I would have gotten as well, had I done the same thing he did.
October 14, 2020 ·
IT’S DEFINITELY 2020…
…and this week started out by proving it.
First up: Sunday. At the range in Austin (actually, it’s in Manor), getting a final sighting-in and practice for the rifle cartridge match. There’s a split in the concrete platform on this range. The step down went fine, but the step up? Not so much. Hooked my toe on the edge of the concrete and went down with my ammo in one hand and my rifle in the other. Broke the ramp that holds the front sight on, and irreparably damaged the rear sight on my rifle, so I had to share a rifle with my partner whose gun is not the same as mine. To add insult to injury, they had just dumped the water from a nearby cooler, and I landed smack in the puddle! I’m cold, I’m wet, I’m shooting an unfamiliar gun. Scratch the rifle cartridge match.
Head back to our campground, and all is well until darkness falls, when two fire engines, an ambulance, and two supervisor vehicles arrive. I still have no idea what happened, but it made for getting to bed later than usual. The night before, we had had loud music and guns fired into the air from a neighboring area, and the night before that a loud domestic argument culminating in someone driving off while angrily honking their horn, so a very interesting stay at the East Austin KOA Holiday. I have a true hatred for those who carelessly and recklessly discharge firearms into the air, by the way. I guess they figure they reach escape velocity and never come down. THEY ARE WRONG.
Get all hitched up and on the road yesterday, get about 40 miles outside of Austin, and the clutch in my truck decides that 105,000 miles is enough and gives up the ghost. In talking with Geico, they inform me that I hadn’t added mechanical breakdown coverage. What? That’s the first they’d told me that wasn’t a standard for the policy I had. So, $1600 and 4 hours later in Austin, we’re finally back on the road to our reservation in Big Spring. Because of the delay and backtracking for maintenance, we arrive at 2200 rather than our estimated 1700 to find that our reserved site had been taken by someone else.
Yes, it’s 2020.
I could whine, and I guess I just did. But for every yang, there’s a yin, and here are mine:
The match director sees me flat on the ground on my face, comes over, asks if I’ve broken anything (only my pride is shattered), and gets me up out of the puddle. Another competitor hands me a towel to dry off as best I can. Throughout the day, other friends and competitors ask me if I’m OK, offer their assistance and painkillers, etc.
In spite of the interesting events, the stay at the KOA was really rather nice; I met some nice people who, when they found out I was an author asked about my books; and good friends were camped two sites away from us (and stopped to ask if I was still OK as they arrived back at the campground).
While disabled at the roadside, a nearby construction crew set out those plastic barrels to protect us and our vehicles, offered us water, and generally made sure we were OK until the tow truck arrived. So did a TXDOT vehicle (they have patrols that stop when a vehicle is disabled at the roadside).
In spite of it being a 42 mile tow, AAA covered the entire thing—including towing the camper as well. (Geico would only cover 20 miles of towing and would NOT cover towing the trailer, either… I won’t be with them much longer.) The transmission shop found a place to park the trailer while they worked on the truck. They also gave us priority, and I even overheard him telling his parts supplier to put a rush on getting the new clutch to him as “they’re just passing through, and I want to get them on their way.” He even called yesterday while we were en route to make sure everything was OK. And he grew up in El Paso!
While waiting for the truck to be finished, my brother-in-law arrived and we went to find lunch at a little “mom and pop” Mexican restaurant that served up some great food. So we got an additional visit with my BIL.
We were able to find another vacant site at the campground in Big Spring which I think was even nicer than the one we’d been assigned. A water leak at the water hook-up had created a small pond with cattails growing in it!
And last but not least, this relative novice at backing up trailers was actually able to get it into the driveway straight this time, in spite of our rather narrow street!
So smile. It’s 2020. You can moan about it, or you can just shake your head and laugh. I prefer the latter.
September 30, 2020 ·
I’M SEEING WHAT I CONSIDER TO BE A DISTURBING TREND…
…and that’s the recent inclusion of a category in book promotion sites of “Black and ethnic books.”
Really? Their covers look pretty much like they’re all colors and ethnicities to me.
Yeah, that remark was snarky. But for my fans who see the kinds of books I choose to read, you know that:
a) I’m a voracious reader as well as an author;
b) I’m not fussy about what I choose to read, though I might have a few things to say in my reviews which are usually based on the writing or whether the author tends to glamorize something I think should not be glamorized;
c) I don’t even look at who the author is when I choose a book;
d) I don’t care one iota if the person depicted on the cover is white, black, male, female, purple polka-dotted, or a shape-shifter/alien.
If a book is good, it’s good. It will inform, entertain, delight, evoke strong emotions, etc… or not. In the latter case, it’s perhaps not so good, but I’ll read the whole thing and give an honest review based on its merits—not on who authored it and not on whether the main character is able to be stuffed into a particular pigeon hole.
At the very least, every book takes you inside the mind of the person who wrote it, which is valuable to understanding the people around you—all of them. So you should read. You should read voraciously. You should read everything you can get your hands on and let your mind absorb what it has to tell you. It’s one of the reasons I like reading better than videos: my own mind gets to imagine the character, build them in my mind, walk in their shoes, become them for a while. How better to understand our fellow humans?
September 29, 2020 ·
I NO LONGER FLY…
…though sometimes, I still get the urge. Usually when I trip over something that reminds me of my flying days.
This morning, it was the t-shirt I grabbed to wear under my shooting vest during practice at the range. It’s pretty unique, in that what’s printed on it is the official airport diagram for El Paso International Airport, where I had my flight school. It’s no longer current as they’ve (finally!) done some of the improvements I’d always felt were necessary.
But its dated diagram isn’t what makes it truly unique. What makes it truly unique is that the diagram is printed upside down. At least for someone looking at the shirt as its worn.
No, this isn’t some reference to aerobatics or the inability of student pilots to keep an airplane right side up. It was quite deliberately printed this way as the shirt I’d give to newly-soloed student pilots.
You see, there’s a tradition in the U.S. regarding the solo event: the back of the student’s shirt is cut from the shirt by the flight instructor after the student successfully solos. This stems from early aviation, where there were no radios nor headsets, and cockpits were open. The student sat in the front seat, and the instructor sat behind. When the instructor wanted to get the student’s attention, he’d yank on the back of the student’s shirt, whereupon the student would lean back and the instructor lean forward to shout in his ear over the sound of the engine and the slipstream. When a student soloed, it was therefor considered that the back of the shirt was no longer needed, as the instructor wouldn’t be aboard. So it was cut off.
Yes, I upheld this tradition, and would give my newly-soloed students a t-shirt with the airport diagram printed on it, upside down. That usually got me a puzzled look and a question or observation about the diagram being upside down.
I’d then explain that it wasn’t upside down. It was printed so that if they got lost among El Paso’s three runway surfaces (and thus six runways) and numerous taxiways, they could hold out the shirt, look down at the diagram (which would thus appear right side up), and figure out where they were supposed to go.
September 25, 2020 ·
EVER WONDER WHAT I THINK OF MY OWN BOOKS?
I got to thinking about this as I looked at the current promotion I’m doing on Facebook. It’s for the 9th book of The Unit series: Unidentified Flying Operation.
Yeah, it’s got an odd twist to it. But (GASP!) it also tells of the only mission that got recorded as “unsolved” by the unit.
This book was truly fun to write. Have I been to Roswell? Yes—more than once. If you look at the cover for the book, as a matter of fact, I took every picture used to create it (though my incredible cover artist, Momir Borocki, put it all together and made it work). If you take a look, you’ll see my cover model, Kat Fry, standing atop an actual Atlas F missile silo. This required one photo of Kat, and one of the silo itself.
The twist in this book is what made it such fun to write. And the next book holds a similar twist that harkens back to this one.
Most of my books touch on more serious issues, but this one I characterize as “whimsical.” But then, not every encounter law enforcement has is serious. My LEO “buds” tell me all kinds of funny stories about pranks pulled on each other and strange encounters with the public.
So I chose to write a book about strange encounters. It was fun!
September 10, 2020 ·
SO, WHAT’S WITH THE CUSSING?
One thing I see as a criticism in reviews of The Unit books is the degree of cussing that goes on, as well as sexual inuendo. But one must understand: the books look closely at the relationships between the unit members, and especially the Field Team operatives. And trust me: If you’ve ever spent any time around people in law enforcement, you’ll note that they have various mechanisms for dealing with the stress of the job.
Let’s look at our Field Team members. First up: Edge (FT1). Former Marine Corps Raider, the biggest guy in the team of seven at 6’6″ tall and 260 pounds. He’s the one you’d imagine would cuss, but he doesn’t. Instead, he “talks with The Man.” Of all the people in the Field Team, he is the most religious. His talks with God and his reading of the Bible are his mechanism for dealing with the stress.
Next: the techie: Voice. Voice’s outlet is his “pal,” Hal. Hal is the unit’s massive supercomputer. Voice is Hal’s programmer, and has programmed Hal with a persona that Voice can interact with. Voice also considers himself the team’s weak link due to having no law enforcement nor military background, so he gains status by continually improving Hal’s capabilities. This gains him the title of Wizard of Hal.
Next: Amigo. Former BORTAC member, he’s strong on firearms. But that’s not his outlet. His outlet is T-scale model railroads. Think T as in “tiny” (they are). He has a hobby that takes his mind off of the job.
Next: Crow. One-quarter Cherokee, former DEA agent and aviator. I haven’t really discussed what he does to take his mind off the job, but I’m sure something will be revealed in the future. He does have a nervous habit, however: he jiggles his leg up and down, which drives those around him crazy. Perhaps he engages in some Native American ritual. Sage smudging comes to mind, as it’s reputed to remove evil from around you.
Next: Cloud. Former Army, aviator, and photographer. He started with photography as a hobby, but it now is involved with his Field Team duties as well. He does, however, also own his own airplane: a small, single-engine propeller-driven Piper Archer, which he goes flying in—his outlet.
Next: Hank. Female, Field Team sniper and firearms expert, she also uses shooting as her outlet. But the type of shooting she engages in as an outlet isn’t related at all to the shooting she does as part of the Field Team, but rather is traditional competitive shooting sports. She also plants flowers and takes every opportunity to go rockhounding that makes itself available. And when she’s upset, she cusses. A mean streak! When she’s REALLY upset, she withdraws into herself and munches on chocolate.
Last, Spud. Former Secret Service Presidential Protective Division, he has learned the infamous gruff nonemotional face very well, so you never know what he’s thinking. Except for Hank, who as his romantic partner can read him very well. His outlet? The mild one is stamp collecting. The not-so-mild one is sex. Well… all the team members have sex as an outlet, but for most it’s self-gratification. But being part of a “spousal unit” with Hank (“dead” people can’t legally marry, of course), he has better opportunity for releasing tension through sexual release than the other guys have. (Which changes later, by the way—and you’ll just have to read the books!).
What’s the one thing that the Field Team operatives don’t use as an outlet for tension that you often see used by those in law enforcement? Substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden and unavailable to the Field Team members due to their medical Support personnel feeling that their unusual level of stress would make any of that far too destructive.
Is this realistic? Again, if you’ve ever had the confidence of anyone in law enforcement, you’d know that they have their various mechanisms for dealing with the job and its dark aspects. A dark humor, alcohol use, sometimes drug abuse, sexual release, and a degree of cussing that rivals longshoremen, truck drivers, and sailors is not uncommon.
I was introduced to the latter (the cussing) the first time I attended SHOT Show (the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades Show put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, where I’m a member). The display areas are arranged into two main areas: recreational shooting (which includes hunting), and law enforcement. When you wander the recreational shooting area, hardly a curse is heard. But the minute you walk into the law enforcement area… watch your ears! You’ll hear a lot more F-bombs than I could wedge into any of my books, believe me!
This is already long enough, but there will be more on why I write the books as I do later.
August 30, 2020 ·
YES, I’M A PUBLISHER, TOO!
There’s a ton of stuff you have to watch out for when you decide you’re going to publish a book. To avoid one of the pitfalls, I decided to create my own publishing company. It’s called Star on the Mountain Books.
Why Star on the Mountain Books? Well, if you have ever been to El Paso at night, you may have noticed that there is a giant star that illuminates the east side of the Franklin Mountains. The Franklins also give El Paso the distinction of being the only city bisected by a mountain range.
The star is often lit in memory of someone’s loved ones, in recognition of those who serve the community or the nation (given Fort Bliss is also literally embedded in the city), or in the name of a cause.
The star had additional significance for me when I was still training students in the fine art of flying airplanes. You’ll note that the mountains are silhouetted against the city below. Thus, my admonition to students when taking them for night flights was, “If you can’t see any lights through it, you probably can’t fly through it, either.”
For aviators, mountains are often referred to as “cumulus granitis” (granite clouds), to be avoided at all costs. Because my training aircraft had a GPS unit in it that held a terrain database, I’d often fly students up through “the corridor” (a narrow bit of airspace allowed for flights from El Paso to Alamagordo, NM) where, because it’s smack dab in between two huge Restricted Areas belonging to White Sands Missile Range is typically over ground with no lights in sight. While they would be flying along “fat, dumb, and happy”, as the saying goes, I’d have them toggle up the terrain database when they’d be over top of Orogrande, a veritable ghost town, but also a location right between two groups of mountains. It would usually get a good reaction when the students would see that they were actually surrounded by high terrain that they couldn’t see.
For students at night, then, it was, when outbound from El Paso International, “Keep the star to your right.”
This also reminds me of a somewhat humorous exchange between myself and an advanced avionics instructor while ferrying an airplane to El Paso from Vero Beach, FL. We were flying a Malibu Mirage, with the client in the back seat (he’d already flown quite a bit that day, so I got the last leg). Cruising at 24,000′ mean sea level, it got very dark once we’d passed Junction, TX. Very few lights on the ground, and not many stars visible in the sky, this not-so-desert-savvy instructor turned to me and asked, “You can’t tell where the ground ends and where the sky begins! How do you people fly out here at night?” I turned to him with a smile and said, “We get instrument ratings.”
August 10, 2020 ·
WHY DO I USE A MODEL FOR MY COVERS?
I’ll start off by saying that doing the modeling for the covers isn’t easy. Usually, Kat Fry, my cover model, makes the trip here to the El Paso area for the photo shoots. It gets hot, and she ends up dressed in a black SWAT coverall, a tactical vest, heavy duty boots, etc. The rifles she is shown with are mine, and I can assure you that they aren’t lightweight either. Most sniper rifles are well in excess of 15 pounds. Weight = stability, which you need to make an accurate long-distance shot, and every firearm you see her posed with is the real deal. You see one image, but a typical day of shooting will entail 200 photos or more. For the latest cover, she was dressed in a biohazard suit. Did she cook? Yes, she did. But she made it through the shoot, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic no less. And then got stranded in El Paso as United Airlines (never again will I use them to bring her here!) cancelled flight after flight for her return trip to Georgia.
Today, for instance, it only got to 111°F.
The early covers used stock photos. But realistic photos of female snipers are few and far between. Go onto a stock photo site such a Shutterstock, do a search for “female sniper” and you’ll get image after image of a half-naked, big-boobed, round-bottomed, overly-made-up women holding a clapped out AKM.
I have not known any women who engage in the fine art of sending bullets on long travels who look like that. For one thing, just let one of those scalding-hot spent cases find its way against your skin and you soon decide that covering all skin as completely as possible is a g-o-o-d thing.
My cover artist, Momir Borocki, and I soon ran out of good stock photos, so I went looking for a model. After a bit of a local attempt to find someone who could fit the bill, I recalled that my good friend and rockhounding buddy, Jimmy Fry and his wife, Shannon Fry have a daughter who fits the description of my Kathryn Hanko/Hank pretty much to a T. And so it was that I asked Kat Fry if she would like to model for my book covers, and she agreed!
You know by now that I always attempt to make the books as realistic as possible, so the last thing I was going to do was to put one of those half-naked bimbos on the cover. Nope, no, no way! So, I’m glad that you like each new cover, both for Momir’s excellent work and for Kat’s putting up with the conditions during a photo shoot.
July 9, 2020
Those of you who have been reading The Unit series know that one of the support personnel is a gunsmith. Makes sense, for a few reasons. First, just about any law enforcement team needs reliable firepower, and it’s even more so when the team is as elite and covert as the unit. But not only must the guns be reliable, they also need to be untraceable. You don’t want a gun that gets left behind (gasp!) to trace back to people who are supposed to be dead. So he builds the guns, and puts no serial numbers on them.
So, enter Luigi Cancio. Italian-American, from Middletown, Connecticut where there is a large Italian-American community. One of the local Catholic churches to this day offers Mass in Italian. If you want a good pizza or a stupendous hot oven grinder, you go to Connecticut to one of the Italian communities and pig out. And if you’ve been to Connecticut or spent any time there, you know what a hot oven grinder is. Otherwise, you’re in the dark, unless you’ve read in The Unit where Luigi makes Hank one.
If you’ve been to Connecticut, you also know that anything, or just about anything that ends in -ing is pronounced “in”. They eat puddin’ and go fishin’. They drink their beer from boddles, too. Luigi, being from one of the Italian neighborhoods, mixes this with a slight Italian accent.
Luigi is enamored of Hank. It’s not a sexual thing – he just loves that she’s as gung ho about guns as she is, and does a fair degree of drooling over her extensive gun collection (which she was hell bent to not give up) when it arrives. Being the father of two boys, Sebastiano and Danilo (Seb and Dan), he always wanted a daughter as well, so he simply takes it upon himself to “adopt” Hank, calling her “Sweetheart” and she calling him “Papa”.
At one point, Luigi, who also makes jewelry, gives Hank a medallion. On it is the image of Saint Michael, who is the patron saint of police officers. In legend, Saint Michael led the battle against Satan and his angelic followers in a heavenly battle, and Michael (the name literally means “Who is like God?”—it’s a battle cry) vanquishes Satan to hell, along with his minions. So he’s usually depicted with a sword in his raised hand and Satan under his foot. Luigi gives her the medallion as a talisman to protect her from harm. Later, he gives each of the other Field Team members an amulet in the shape of a sword, with their team designation and code name on one side and the inscription “Gladius Sanctus Michael Est” (this is the sword of Saint Michael) on the other side. Spud’s amulet nearly gets him killed in Lunatic Fringe when the leader of a terrorist group sees it and interprets the inscription.
Luigi also fashions a large version of this sword and its inscription, which is placed over the exit to the team’s underground residence area. Under it is a plaque that reads, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” It’s a verse from Deuteronomy which Hank is first exposed to in For Alexandra when a truck driver, believing she is an underage girl being sex trafficked, attempts to rescue her. When he declares he’s calling the police, she tells him not to because she is the police. He then prays for her, pulling out his Bible and reading this verse.
When the other team members ask why Hank doesn’t have a sword, Luigi reveals that he has inscribed the sword on each of Hank’s firearms that she uses in the unit. He tells her to take her swords and send the evil back to hell with them.
Hank doesn’t like to kill. In fact, she detests it, and the men on the team all agree she’s got the shittiest job of all of them. But she reconciles this with the knowledge that sometimes you have to kill someone so they won’t keep killing others. In fact, in Special Delivery she asks a preacher whose church she just used as a firing point to pray for her because she had just killed a man. He tells her, “Vengence is mine, says the Lord. But sometimes the Lord uses people to enact His vengeance for Him.” This is small consolation to Hank, who will constantly ask, “Why me?” But she will do her duty, much as she hates that her duty is to kill someone when it’s necessary. She doesn’t take it lightly. And I don’t know anyone in law enforcement who has had to kill in the line of duty who does.
June 26, 2020 ·
WILL HANK SOLO TODAY?
At my fans’ request, Hank has been learning how to fly a helicopter. Specifically, the Airbus H155, which is the only helicopter the unit has in their possession.
Yes, she was snookered into it. By Cloud. Who has a bet (the usual 25¢) with Crow, who is training Edge how to fly 100UN. There’s a bit of a twist to this bet, as Edge requested the training and Hank emphatically didn’t. Plus, Edge got a head start.
Your author, by the way, is now being cajoled into taking a helicopter lesson or two. Oddly, one of the people doing the cajoling is the one dissenter to the idea of Hank flying helicopters. You know who you are! I don’t know if that will ever happen, but Mr. Cajoler has requested video of any attempt at hovering I should engage in. So, if it ever does happen, I’ll post the video here for everyone’s amusement.
As a former flight instructor in fixed wing aircraft (aka “airplanes”), I can tell you that there is a process in learning to fly any aircraft. One part is “ground school,” where you learn both how the aircraft flies and other aspects of flight not involved with the physics of flying: airspace and regulations, communications and maneuvers, weather and handling emergencies… oh my! All of this is done with an instructor sitting to one side of you, typically to the right in an airplane and to the left in a helicopter. Why the switch? Because aside from requiring a lobotomy (as my 20,000-hours-in-helicopters cajoler insists) to fly helicopters (which actually only beat the air into submission), helicopter pilots are backwards. At least, as a fixed wing pilot, I believe this to be the case.
Once the instructor feels the student is sufficiently capable of practicing on their own, they’ll start hinting that it’s time to get a medical certificate. This is because the medical certificate also serves as a student pilot’s certificate, and the student can’t fly on their own (no passengers allowed and no instructor there to yak at them constantly while they’re flying) until they have one, complete with an instructor’s endorsement for solo on it.
When the instructor is confident that the student can at least go around the pattern three times with a landing each time and not damage the aircraft, they’ll tell the student to stop, taxi back to the end of the runway from which a departure will be made, endorse his/her student pilot certificate and logbook, and then get out, sending them on their way for their first solo. This is “sweat time” for both the student and the instructor, though most students are excited about their first time “out of the nest.” I wish I could say the same for the instructor. I was always very careful to ensure the student didn’t actually observe me crossing myself and raising hands pressed together in supplication to God to please not let them crash! You never know quite what will happen when the student performs their first solo.
So after having discussions with helicopter pilots and now on my third book on helicopter flight as references to get it right, Hank is about to be sent on her own to demonstrate her ability to fly the unit’s helicopter. Is it sweat time for Cloud? Well… the H155 only costs $10 million, so meh! (Translation: YOU BET IT IS!) How ’bout for Hank? Like I said: the thing only costs $10 million, so why worry?
June 23, 2020 ·
WHY DIDN’T THE TEAM GO AFTER SPOT?
I had a reviewer question this, so I thought I’d answer it here in case any of the members of the group are wondering the same thing.
First, recall that the unit gets called to assist on the cases they take by other agencies, typically federal agencies. These cases tend to be big, complex, and difficult for the agency to solve. It’s more effective for that agency, then, to ask for the unit’s assistance so that they don’t consume their resources pursuing a single case.
There was only one case that the unit pursued on its own: the case portrayed in For Alexandra, and that largely because of their overwhelming interest in helping stop the sex trafficking of children—and even then, they were invited to participate in an annual event the FBI conducts and were also given permission to pursue the case.
In the case of our rogue team member, Spot, he is convicted of attempted rape and wanted for the murder of a US Marshall. The US Marshall’s service is responsible for the transport of prisoners to and within the federal penal system, so an escaped prisoner would fall under their jurisdiction. Until they request the assistance of the unit in finding Spot (Daniel Hunt), the unit won’t get involved. It’s not that they aren’t interested in seeing Spot brought to justice, and you can bet that they watch the case of Spot’s pursuit. But in the grand scheme of things, they have bigger fish to fry, as the saying goes. They must give priority to the cases they are requested to pursue and which they accept. And they never decline a case unless it’s so overwhelming that there is simply no way they could handle it—even with the assistance of the requesting agency. Those are few and far between.
So, the short explanation here is that the US Marshall’s service is pursuing Spot and has not requested the unit’s assistance—at least, not yet.
· June 12, 2020 ·
SO, WHAT ABOUT THAT BIOWARFARE STUFF, ANNE?
When I was in graduate school, I worked on a lot of projects that weren’t my own. This was largely because my principle investigator (PI) wasn’t very adept at getting grants. In retrospect, I should have looked at his publications. In the sciences, it’s publish or perish, and he hadn’t had a publication for the seven years prior to the time I joined his lab. That, coupled with his move to Michigan to take a dean’s chair, are the two principle reasons I never got my PhD, in spite of having a 400+ page dissertation written and only one experiment left to run to complete a difficult isolation and sequencing of a bacterial gene.
So it came that I worked in a laboratory that was doing a modification of a device already in use by the military for detecting chemical warfare agents to the capability of detecting biowarfare agents. My work in that laboratory led to my one and only scientific publication.
It was an interesting project, leading to an interesting conversation with a person who I believe was one of the foremost authorities on biowarfare. For although President Nixon banned the development of biowarfare agents by this country in November of 1969, putting the final nail in the coffin in February 1970 with also banning the development of biological toxins, research in biowarfare continued and continues to this day. Just because the USA banned development of biological weapons doesn’t mean everyone else did, so you need to do research into biowarfare defense. Of course, to develop appropriate defenses, you have to have appropriate organisms to test your defenses, be they immunizations, antibiotics/antivirals, or simple detection so you know when to get the hell out of the battle theater.
That was the beginning of that very interesting conversation, which Doc Sue repeats in Engineered for Death.
I’ve kept up with this topic through the years since then, and have recoiled at the present possibilities for the rapid development of biowarfare agents that has been enabled by more modern means of genetically engineering bacteria and viruses. Pandemic aside, we truly live in perilous times. I often wish I didn’t have any expertise in this area, because life would be much less stressful without the contemplation of what could be. But if the truth was widely known, more people would realize that the genie was out of the bottle long ago.
All of that having been said, I’ll repeat here what I’ve said often in conversations over the past months: Rule of Threes. First rule: You will last 3 seconds if you panic. So don’t panic—prepare.
And by the way, you won’t find toilet paper anywhere in the Rule of Threes.
June 9, 2020 ·
IS IT REAL?
Those of you who have been reading The Unit series know that the team wears a bullet-resistant garment under their duty clothing that’s made of graphene tubules.
Yeah, really. Here’s a video of graphene tubule body armor in action:
June 1, 2020 ·
WHY DID THE RULE GET BROKEN?
Those who have read the first book of The Unit series, Camp Chaos, know that originally there was a strict rule against fraternization in the Field Team. Why did I choose to break the rule?
Police work is incredibly stressful. On average, officers live 7 years younger than their citizen counterparts. Officers succumb to stress-related mental illnesses: PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, etc.
The work is hard on their relationships as well. Many of those I’ve known in law enforcement at every level, are divorced. Often, a successful relationship is with another first responder—probably because the spouse can thoroughly understand the life the other is experiencing.
I wanted to show this in my books.
So enter Spud and Hank, Spud being the male half and Hank the female half of what, were it not for faked deaths and complete anonymity, would be a marriage. (Spoiler: they actually get married in the last book, which is still a ways off, when they resume “above deck” identities.) Their relationship is actually quite steamy. Why? Truth be told: sex is a way that lots of officers relieve the stress, and I wanted to portray that—though not in a graphic way. The Unit is about what it’s like to serve in law enforcement, and its effect on personal relationships is part of that. So, their sex life is suggestively exposed, as well as the events that disrupt their sex life and their relationship. Sometimes the disruptions are the same sorts of disruptions you see in ordinary marriages (“Do you know what it’s like to step on your toenail trimmings with bare feet?” “Well, how do you think I feel when you use my razor on your armpits?”), and sometimes they’re born from the mission as when, in Book 8, Spud confesses to Hank that he hasn’t initiated any romance because “I don’t want to start anything I can’t finish. I’m impotent.”
Yes, very real for some officers. They get traumatized, too. They’re human, just like the rest of us.
In light of recent events (and not wanting to get political), I’d like to remind everyone that there are good officers out there: men and women who care about the public they serve, and do so with integrity and honor. There are bad ones, too. Support the good ones. It’s a hard job, and an even harder one when they have to go up against one of their own. I applaud those officers who are voicing their outrage right now that one of their own has crossed that line that no one should ever cross. To my right is a book on my “to read” list called To Serve With Honor. Let’s support those who do.
May 6, 2020 ·
The Unit Book 13: Redemption is now just over 69,000 words, Yes, I’m approaching the finale, so no more teasers for you! Instead, I’ll be posting more of my thoughts and recollections until the next book, Breakout, is begun.
So, what am I thinking about today? I’m thinking about Theodore Kaczynski, who you all know as Unabomber. Why him? Because I’m reading a book of his collected works called Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski.
Kaczynski is an interesting personality. Unlike the usual stereotyped serial killer, he doesn’t appear on the surface to be demented, and is in fact quite brilliant. Hear me out on that one: he entered Harvard at age 16, earning a degree in mathematics, went on to the University of Michigan, where he earned a Master’s degree and PhD, and then taught at UC Berkley.
This is no slouch mind.
I’ve just started the book, and so have read an introduction by another author of the same mindset (though not extending to the criminal activities) as Kaczynski, as well as a brief introduction by Kaczynski himself. But already I’m finding some interesting “tells” about Kaczynski’s mindset.
The most interesting “tell” is his use of quotation marks around the word “victims”. This use seems to imply that he doesn’t see the people he maimed and killed with his bombs as true victims. I, however, offer you this definition, straight from the dictionary:
- a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.
So, Kaczynski doesn’t see maiming and killing people as harm, injury, or death? Then what else is it? If those people were harmed, injured, or killed, and he performed the act that resulted in those outcomes, why are they not his victims?
I’ll also point out that if Kaczynski had true reservations about the place of technology in modern society, he could have retreated to his cabin in the woods of Montana (as he did), lived an austere and self-sustained life (as he apparently at least attempted to do), and written and published books and articles on the topic of the perils of technological advances (which he has done, but not until after he maimed and killed his victims).
All of which brings me to my age-old question: Why does one person who has faced adversity, as we all have to one degree or another, resort to violence and/or crime while another who has faced the same or even worse adversity go on to live a productive and socially-acceptable life? How is it that a person like me, who writes about crime and can envision horrific acts, and who has (trust me) faced my own set of adversities, simply go on to be a successful author and not a convicted murderer? I know plenty of people for whom this is true: women who have been raped, people who were abused as children, people who have seen the horrors of war or who have been “on the job” in law enforcement and have faced what they considered was certain death numerous times and fortunately prevailed, while others on the job faced the death of a partner – often a person as close to someone in law enforcement as a brother – and sought peace within their hearts rather than revenge.
And so I’m reading Kaczynski’s book in my age-old quest to answer that question. It should be interesting reading.
MAY 5, 2020 •
…of an experience I had when I was still flying airplanes. Largely because of a story I read in R. Randall Padfield’s book, Learning to Fly Helicopters.
I hold a Commercial Pilot’s License for fixed wing aircraft, both single- and multiengine, with instrument ratings for both. I used to rent a Seneca II (a light twin engine airplane) that was owned by a local flight school in order to fly from El Paso to Albuquerque, where I had a collaborator at the University of New Mexico. I would take a young flight instructor with me, knowing that he could use the multiengine time for advancing to his next career step. Like most young and aspiring pilots, he didn’t want to work as an underpaid flight instructor forever.
And so it was (at this point you need to translate the forgoing statement to “once upon a time”) that one day, with weather not the greatest, we departed El Paso International on an instrument flight plan to Albuquerque Sunport, the flight up to be performed with me as pilot-in-command, and the return flight to be performed with the young CFI acting as pilot-in-command. Another pilot asked if he could come along, and I agreed (given I was paying for the rental). He climbed into one of the aft seats—which was pretty much required, given a full load of fuel and two pilots up front, to correctly balance the airplane.
All was well until we got north of Las Cruces, New Mexico on V-611, which is when we began to experience quite a bit of turbulence with high winds aloft coming from the west and cascading over some of the highest peaks in the Gila Wilderness. The turbulence intensified to the point where the autopilot couldn’t be used, and even hand-flying the aircraft I couldn’t keep it on our assigned altitude. A call to our en route air traffic controller with a request for a block altitude got us an assigned block that spanned 2000′ of altitude—and even that was difficult to maintain. During all of this, the young man next to me continuously uttered, “I hate this, I hate this” over and over. If he thought he hated it…
At some point during this, the guy in the back decided to swap seats, as his aft seat near the tail was giving him the worst of the ride. Having burned off some fuel, this didn’t complicate things for me as the airplane was now still within acceptable weight and balance. But even the smoother ride didn’t help the nausea he’d induced by his attempts to study for his instrument rating while being bounced up and down and thrown back and forth. I watched him search for the Little Blue Barf Bag, and not finding one, threatened to use my copilot’s flight bag. My copilot, of course, threatened to throw him from the airplane, so he just suffered for the remainder of the flight to ABQ.
Just about the time things smoothed out, it became necessary to begin our approach to ABQ. My sense of relief was soon to be dashed, however, when during descent I looked out of the cockpit and noticed what I thought was birds circling. My copilot thought the same, as he announced, “Birdstrike!” But just as he did, I realized what I was seeing was not a flock of birds, but tumbleweeds! We were about to hit a strong dust devil with no chance to avoid it, and knowing they can turn aircraft upside down, I took a quick glance at the altimeter to determine just how much altitude I might have to get the Seneca back upright. 900′. That’s not a lot of altitude for an airplane not rated for aerobatic flight! With an exclamation of “Oh, shit!” and a firm grip on the yoke, we hit the dust devil and snapped 90° from horizontal flight into a right wing low knife edge. This deported the fuel for the right engine, causing it to drop RPM. Things just got complicated, with the high wing’s engine developing full power and the low one with fuel flow at zero on its gauge.
Both of us at the controls fought to get the plane back upright, which we almost did before hitting the other side of the dust devil’s rotation and having the plane snap in the other direction.
The good news was that our exit from the far wall of the dust devil seemed to go much quicker than the time actually spent from entry to far wall penetration, so we were able to make an uneventful landing.
But the story doesn’t end there.
As soon as I exited the runway and started on our taxi clearance to parking, I heard the cabin door pop open. Yes, I’d completely forgotten about the airsick fellow in the back, but he had not completely forgotten his airsickness. I’m not sure if he barfed during taxi or not. I do know that when we arrived on the general aviation ramp, he quickly departed the aircraft and stood, hunched over and shaking, on the ramp. One of the linemen came up to him, bent down, and asked, “Sir? Are you alright?” In a shaking voice he said, “Yeah… I think so.”
It was at this point that I noticed the Dewar flask that I’d packed my biological materials in sitting unsecured on the floor of the cabin where I’d placed it at the beginning of the flight. A Dewar flask is like a big stainless steel Thermos, and mine was packed with dry ice to keep specimens frozen. It was, in effect, a 5-pound stainless steel missile. I asked the guy who’d been in the back if he had set it back upright, and he said no, that it had sat just as it was the entire flight! In fact, had the turbulence decided to get that flask flying through the air, it could easily have struck and killed any one of us in the airplane. My own face turned white realizing this, and since then I’ve never flown with any kind of cargo without it being tightly secured. My copilot’s remark? “It was an E-ride (the tickets for the wild rides at Disneyland are E tickets), but it was coordinated!”
As we secured the airplane and went to claim our rental car, I glanced at my watch. It was about noon, and though I knew what the answer would be, I turned to the guy who had been riding in the back and said, “Hey Joe! It’s lunchtime! Wanna grab some Mexican food?”
He gagged and declared his disinclination for anything in his stomach at the moment, but for the next two hours both I and the other pilot would ask him if he wanted to eat every time we saw some color return to his face, which would instantly convert our Hispanic friend into a white guy momentarily.
The return flight was pretty much uneventful, though we did wait out the high winds for a couple of hours. The flight up had apparently exhausted me, because somewhere along the route my CFI friend, now flying in the left seat while I handled radios and communications from the right (our usual plan: he who is not flying takes care of the avionics for the one who is), had to perform all of the piloting duties as I had fallen asleep.
The next morning, I woke up with every muscle in both arms and both legs sore, and 5 pounds lighter. Still, I would not recommend piloting a plane under those conditions to anyone, regardless of how good an exercise or weight loss plan it might turn out to be!
April 30, 2020 ·
HOW ANNE KEEPS IT AUTHENTIC
Pictured above, is my friend, “Rudy” Rodolfo Maldonado. Rudy and I share a couple of commonalities: we are both pilots, have both flown and instructed in fixed wing aircraft, and both have more than our share of “hangar stories” (you know: those ones that start “And there I was” rather than “Once upon a time”).
Rudy was also Deputy Regional Director at DHS Air and Marine Operations here in my home town of El Paso. He has since moved on. Of course, “Regional” doesn’t mean these guys just serve the immediate area. They have a wide-ranging zone of operations along our southern border.
Rudy is a “sheepdog.” If you look on his profile, you’ll see a picture with the text, “The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day.” I love that. It’s the heart of our men and women with integrity in law enforcement, spelled out for all to see.
So, why am I talking about Rudy? Because aside from helping to protect our borders from incursions by traffickers, both drug and human, terrorists, and other unsavories, he was willing to sit down with me for a couple of hours and explain some things about helicopter operations. You see, Cloud (one of the unit’s two helicopter-rated pilots) is trying to convince Hank (who only flies fixed wing aircraft—aka airplanes) that she should learn how to fly helicopters.
Hank isn’t enthusiastic about that, but she manages to get shamed into trying it, so far in Redemption, at least once.
I have never flown helicopters. Flown in one a few times, as that was how the military shuttled people between bases in Japan while I was there. I didn’t relate to Rudy the interesting event we had coming into Sagami Depot one time, with the helicopter touching down right as an earthquake hit. I watched the two pilots look at each other with a “WTF?” look, then seeing the swaying of telephone poles, they lifted back into a hover, waited for the poles to stop moving, and set back down again.
But, not me. Never have flown one of the things. The last time I heard any solid statistics on the matter, the bumblebee is aerodynamically incapable of flight, and so are egg beaters. They are aerodynamically incapable, but are too dumb to know it, so they fly anyway. Not that I didn’t have someone who was trying to get me to give it a try, but helicopters are not cheap in any respect. They’re expensive to own, expensive to maintain, and it’s expensive to get lessons to fly them.
I have a friend who flies helicopters, and I asked her one time (she’s a Whirly Girl—and yes, that’s an actual organization) how hard it was to learn. Her remark was that hovering was like trying to stand on a basketball, which, when I related this to Rudy, got several other activities tacked on—all of which needed to be done simultaneously. (Pat your head, rub your stomach, put your finger on your nose… while balancing on the basketball.)
But with Hank being cajoled into trying it, how was I, a low-down, little-known flight instructor with only fixed wing experience to describe the process of a first lesson in a helicopter?
By chatting with Rudy, of course.
This was the first time during the writing of a book that I’ve placed a marker in red saying “[ADD MORE HERE]” to it, so I could go back and fill that spot with an accurate description of what a first attempt at mastering hovering a helicopter might be like. Rudy gave me an ample description, along with answering other questions about operating helicopters. His very humorous recollection began with “Let me tell you about my first flight” rather than “And there I was,” but it progressed to the usual story of one’s first-time exposure to flight in something new and different. (His tale of watching as the various airport structures around the helicopter appeared and disappeared from his view as the helicopter whirled around minus enough pedal input while his instructor, in full Arkansas drawl, admonished him by saying, “Better git this under control, Big Boy” ironically made me wish I’d tried the process at least once.) So now I have some fodder for writing Hank’s first helicopter flight scene.
She does sum it up later that evening over dinner when she’s asked if she was the one seen hovering the unit’s H155, 100UN, at the airport that afternoon. Her reply of, “No, that wasn’t me. You saw Cloud hovering. I was the one dancing all over the ramp and threatening to crash into the hangar” turns out to be (apparently) pretty accurate. Rudy summed up his first attempt at hovering with, “I was certain I was going to die.” Another helicopter-flying friend of mine and fellow author Lauren Danforth recalled that his instructor informed him that if he was going to leave the pad, he’d have to call the tower and ask for a departure clearance.
So, with gratitude, I take this opportunity to thank my friend, Rudy, for his assistance with making my writing on this topic real. And I remind you that the sheepdogs are on patrol so you can sleep soundly tonight.
April 22, 2020 ·
EVERY NOW AND THEN SOMETHING REMINDS YOU
Today, in celebration of my leg feeling better and thus my ability to do at least some limited driving and work on my feet, I prepared to go to a storage unit I have a bunch of junk in (junk being the operative phrase) and see what I might be able to clean out. It’s warm here in El Paso, Texas, today, so I ‘d had doors open for a while, and was aware that there had been an airplane “running a track” that was almost centered on the house.
Going out to the truck and standing in the driveway to observe for a bit confirmed my suspicions: some agency was doing aerial surveillance over my neighborhood. It didn’t surprise me that much, because my flight school office used to be in between the FBI’s flight office and the DEA’s flight office, and pretty much that’s what they did for a living.
The DEA had a bit of a different aircraft for their surveillance: a Soloy-engine-equipped Cessna 206. Because of the conversion, it had a unique sound.
Back when I still had my flight school, I was out in the back yard doing some yard work one afternoon when I became aware that not only was there an aircraft overhead running a track, but that it was the Soloy. Grabbing binoculars from inside the house confirmed it: it was definitely the Soloy, and though its surveillance track didn’t center on my house, one leg took it directly overhead each time they made their circuit.
The next day, I bumped into one of the DEA pilots. I told him, “Mike, there is nothing in my garage you need to know about.” He looked at me and said, “Huh?” So I repeated: “There is nothing in my garage you need to know about.”
He continued to look at me with a puzzled expression, so I asked him, “Were you guys doing a mission about two blocks north of ___ yesterday?”
He admitted they were, so I told him, “That’s right about where I live.”
He asked me what street I lived on, and I told him.
He smiled and said, “Well, I can’t tell you what we were looking at, but I suggest you stay away from ___ Street for the next few days.”
April 21, 2020
ANOTHER TRUE STORY FROM MY OWN LIFE
I spent a bit of time as a graduate student majoring in molecular biology. Long story as to why it’s not Dr. Anne Fox, PhD, which I’ll not get into here.
One of the oddities of my tenure was that I taught an upper level undergraduate/graduate course called Recombinant DNA Technology, and in fact had even rewritten parts of the course manual (it was a laboratory course). To my knowledge, I was the only graduate student teaching other graduate students.
One year, I had a student named Ernie. I won’t give his last name to protect the innocent. Ernie was a good guy, great sense of humor… and therefor became the perp whenever a quiz entailed finding the deadbeat dad or perpetrator of the crime in a quiz question. I don’t know that any of the other students in the class ever caught on, but Ernie was always proven innocent by the DNA evidence given.
But the short of it was, because Ernie was always a suspect, that we began to refer to him as “Ernie the Culpable.”
This, as it turned out, had amusing consequences later on. Ernie did well. If I recall correctly, he aced the class and went on to find a job… at Los Alamos National Laboratory. They do more than work on nuclear weapons there, you see.
Given the security at Los Alamos, naturally Ernie had to be vetted for his job. Doing the honors were two “suits” from the Albuquerque Field Office of the FBI. I just happened to take a trip down to the chemical stockroom after a needed reagent while these two were questioning the person who ran the stockroom regarding Ernie. When she saw me, she said, “Ask Anne—she knows him better than I do.”
At this point, the two agents turned to me and asked, “Do you know Ernesto G___?” Well, no one ever called him “Ernesto”, so I’m saying, “Who?”
The gal in the stockroom pipes up and says, “You know, Ernie who works for Dr. K___.” Whereupon I blurt out, “Oh! You mean Ernie the Culpable!”
I had two very puzzled-looking Special Agents looking at me at this point, as well as a mortified stockroom clerk. I laughed and explained the whole thing, adding my assurances that Ernie was as clean as could be (to my knowledge)—especially always having been found innocent!
As far as I know, Ernie got his job. But just to give you an idea of his personality, he once had a protein purification to do that involved pouring a column: a large, glass tube filled with particles that would separate proteins in solution according to their size. This column was two inches in diameter by eight feet tall, requiring him to stand on a lab bench to work with it. (His shoe prints were there as evidence of this.) After setting up the column, he put a piece of paper next to it that read, “The measure of a man is the size of his column.” And you know me: I just have to appreciate that kind of humor!
April 20, 2020 ·
EARLIER TODAY I WAS REMINDED…
…of something that happened during my training to become a Certificated Flight Instructor. That’s right: “CFI” stands for Certificated Flight Instructor. We receive a certificate from the FAA that allows us to instruct.
One of the flight instructors at the flight school I attended decided it would be a good thing for the six of us who were instructor candidates at the time to do an oral exam prep, the oral exam being one of three hurdles you must clear in order to be granted the authority to train others to pilot aircraft. Questions would be asked, and those of us who were instructor candidates would take turns answering them, or various answers would be proffered from around the circle. We were all sitting in a circle of chairs.
A question came up as follows: “What would you do if a student freezes at the controls?”
Yeah, it happens—often at really bad times, like coming in to land. And there you are (pilots will recognize that phrase as the typical beginning of a “hanger-flying story”, taking the place of “once upon a time”) with a student who won’t let go of the yoke nor get his feet off the rudder pedals while commanding the plane to crash, with you as the hapless instructor along for the ride.
The instructor class consisted of five men and myself, with a male instructor asking the questions. The answers from the five male candidates spanned from “I’d chop his hands off the yoke!” to “I’d give him a hard jab with my elbow in his ribs!” Basically, what the men were saying was, “I’d beat the living shit out of him!”
The instructor turned and looked at me, given I’d been silent during all these offerings of various beatings to be used. I very calmly said, “I’d reach between his legs and squeeze. He’ll let go.”
Five male candidates cringed, and the instructor remarked, “I never thought of that, but that would work.”
Well, one candidate, an active duty big, bad Marine, apparently didn’t like my response, because immediately after it, he said, “Women should stay at home and take care of their kids.”
Wrong thing to say, and the other men present—who all knew me, unlike our erstwhile Marine—began the first instance of “social distancing” I’d seen prior to the corona virus outbreak. They all started to move away from the guy, in a plan not to get hit with the chair they felt I was sure to launch in his direction.
No, I didn’t toss a chair at him. Instead, I very calmly said while realizing that I had in my pocket a Commercial Pilot’s Certificate with Single-Engine and Multi-Engine plus unlimited Instrument Airplane ratings, “If these other guys didn’t know I can fly circles around you, I’d be offended by that.”
The other guys literally laughed him out the door.
The flight school chief pilot was also a former—oops!—Marine. (Once a Marine, always a Marine, so they say, hence I must admit my gaff, at least as far as marines are concerned.) One day when I arrived to take the school’s Seneca II on a flight to Albuquerque for a meeting with a scientific collaborator, he had another pilot waiting. He announced to the guy, “You’re going flying with Anne today so you can see how that airplane is supposed to be flown.” I was the only multiengine-rated pilot in the school’s history that had ever been allowed to take the plane solo with fewer than 100 hours of flight time in it, and I think I had maybe 20 at the time. Not being a multiengine instructor, I had to relegate the guy to handling radios. After giving him instructions on how I liked the radios set up, he proceeded to drive me insane by doing it every way except the way I asked him to, adding more to my workload than I would have had I simply done the task myself.
When we arrived back at the flight school and the guy had left the office, Gene the Marine (the moniker everyone at the flight school used for “the boss”) asked what I thought. I told him, “If you ever ask me to fly with him again, I will kill you.” I gather he knew sincerity when he heard it, because he never did.
So, if you’ve wondered where Hank gets some of her attitude, now you know.
April 11, 2020
ODD THINGS ANNE FINDS WHILE STUCK AT HOME
Like most of you, I’m doing my best to keep a safe distance from everyone else so as not to either catch Covid nor convey it to others in case I already got it and am asymptomatic. The latter is more important to me, actually. Like many of you who are likely going as stir crazy as I am, I’ve been taking the opportunity to also do a little cleaning and reorganizing around the house.
It’s no secret to those who have been reading these blog posts that I hold a commercial pilot’s license and for 15 years ran my own flight training operation. Those years, by the way, included 9/11/2001, which gained me several visits from the FBI—which was funny, given their flight wing was right down the hall from my office at the time.
In the wake of 9/11, any flight instructor wanting to give instruction to a non-U.S. citizen had to apply and be accepted as an “Alien Flight Training Provider”. This required making a visit, in person, to your POI (Primary Operations Inspector) at your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO, pronounced “fizdoh” by aviation-types).
I am in El Paso, Texas, and the nearest FSDO is a 4.5-hour drive away in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’d flown in and out of Albuquerque Support on many occasions, but elected to drive rather than fly myself there on that particular day. This allowed me to avoid renting a car to take a side trip to REI Co-op for some hiking and camping stuff.
It was on this trip that I learned my POI—no longer employed by the FAA, but I still won’t mention his name—claimed that the letters of the newly-instituted TSA did not stand for “Transportation Security Administration” but for “Those Stupid Assholes”.
And so it was that I was duly appointed as an Alien Flight Training Provider, given I had students who lived in Mexico and would come across the border for flight training. I could no longer train them without the designation.
About equidistant from El Paso as is Albuquerque, is Roswell, New Mexico. Roswell survives on two things: oil drilling, and the 1947 “crash of a flying saucer”. I’ve seen the pictures, folks. Yes, it was a mylar-film weather balloon which did have a secret data collection package on it—hence the secrecy.
The Roswell area was also home for a time afterward of Atlas F missiles, with 12 silos in the area around the city, as well as 2 Nike Missile sites that were never commissioned—one of which still exists. At least the batteries and magazines for the missiles do. Those who have read some of The Unit series know that the unit has a remote base located in one of these silos. In fact, if you look at the cover to Unidentified Flying Operation, which takes as its theme unexplained renewed sightings of UFOs in the Roswell area, you will see Hank standing atop one of these abandoned silos. And yes—that’s a real picture of the silo. I know this because I took the picture myself!
Given my proximity to Roswell and being an Alien Flight Training Provider, you guessed it: I couldn’t resist certain things. One was the creation of a t-shirt with the chest-burster from the movie Alien with a prominent caption stating “Alien Flight Training Provider”—an item that was amusing enough for my students at the time. The other was obtaining a Flying Saucer Driver’s License. I had misplaced the latter. But guess what I found while going through a box of miscellaneous stuff today?
March 28, 2020
YES, CONSTANTLY READING… CONSTANTLY WRITING
You all know by now that my main character, Hank, and I share a common love of reading. I constantly read: for research, for pleasure, and for self-improvement.
I’m backlogged when it comes to reading, having a house full of books and periodicals that need to be read before they can leave. Today, I picked up an issue of a journal put out by the American Society of Microbiology, where I was once a member. On the cover? Rotavirus. In the pictures above, you will see in red, rotavirus; and in white, coronavirus. See some similarities?
Rotavirus is also a disease-causing organism that causes gastroenteritis, usually in children. Every single child will have a rotavirus infection at some point before they turn 5 years of age. Usually, it’s just a case of diarrhea, but it can be more severe and cause deaths in both children and adults. Like most RNA viruses (and both corona and rotavirus are RNA viruses), it’s highly mutable, so some cases are worse than others. We all have native rotaviruess and coronaviruses in our system that aren’t ordinarily pathogens. But we’re wonderful organisms ourselves, and have an immune system that’s highly adaptable, being able to mix and match elements to fight the current pathogen, whatever it happens to be.
Seeing something here? Seeing that key of being healthy and thus having a healthy immune system?
If you’ve been reading THE UNIT series, you know that the team has support personnel that ensure they have everything they need. This includes a medical contingent that consists of a doctor with a major specialty in cardiology, another in orthopedics, a psychiatrist, a dentist, an ear/eye/nose/throat doc, and initially three nurses but currently two nurses and a medic who is trained as an EMT and physician’s assistant. Backing them up is a laboratory technician as well. So nine support people, all providing medical care, all with major specialties and additional capabilities (all of the MDs can handle things like infections and minor injuries, for instance). The medical contingent actually has more personnel within it than the team with it’s seven members.
Why such a big medical contingent? Think about it: if the team isn’t healthy, they can’t do their jobs.
Toward that end, the head of the medical contingent, “Doc Rich” (Dr. Lois Richardson, MD, whose major specialty is orthopedics) is particularly adamant that the team members eat a healthy diet. Working out is a natural given for a law enforcement team that gets difficult assignments, but staying away from crap in their diet? Yeah, Doc Rich is going to make sure they do that, too. It doesn’t stop them from occasionally sneaking a “forbidden” item, but Doc Rich would rather see them eat a Danish that’s made with organic ingredients and lacks high fructose corn syrup than the standard Danish found at a hotel breakfast bar. When on assignment, if they find themselves “exposed” to such items, she’ll typically walk down the line of items, pointing out which the team may have and which they may not. When temptation gets the better of them, it’s not unheard of that one will grab the forbidden HFCS-laden Danish that has not a single organic ingredient in it, stuff a mouthful, and pass it down the line for the rest to take a bite. And when Doc Rich catches them and asks what’s being eaten? The answer never varies: “Nuffin’, Doc Rich.”
So, be like the team. Eat healthy, stay healthy. Help your body stop coronavirus as well as other ailments in its tracks.
Mar. 24 2020 •
WHAT ANNE THINKS
Those of you who are reading my The Unit series know that Book #7, Engineered for Death, deals with a terrorist situation in which a biological weapon is developed.
I occasionally get asked the question, “Is it real?” Well, the scenario in the book isn’t an actual event, but many of the things discussed in the book are, indeed, real—and based on the personal background of your author.
Perhaps this is why I’m not finding the COVID-19 organism, which as far as I can tell is simply being referred to as “the novel coronavirus”, so scary. The common sense CDC guidelines that have been put forward will work if people simply apply them.
I know many people get angry when I say, “I’ll bet you don’t know how to wash your hands.” But it’s the truth, as my many observations of people washing their hands in public restrooms attests—and why I never grab a public restroom door handle with my bare hands after washing them. When, however, you work in both a molecular biology lab studying bacteria and using genetic engineering as a tool and also work in a lab developing a biological warfare detection device, believe me: you learn how to wash your hands properly.
There’s also a certain survival aspect to this. Many of you might be familiar with “The Rule of Threes.” This “rule” discusses the time frame in which certain resources become essential for survival. And the first rule is: You will survive for three seconds if you panic.
So, I’m not panicking. Instead, I’m staying safe by applying the CDC recommendations, which my own education and training say are effective. I haven’t hoarded anything, because I can also do the math: If you’re so wasteful as to use a roll of TP every day, then that 500 rolls of TP you bought is going to last for a year and four months. If this organism killed 100% of the people who contract it, then it’ll be over way before 16 months go by. If it isn’t, you’re going to be stuck with a whole lotta TP for the next year or so. Given I know a single roll of TP will last me for over a week, and as Hank remarks in Last Rites when she sees how much TP is in your standard MRE accessory pack that “a woman can’t bang herself dry on a tree trunk”, I think I’m set for a while with the 18 rolls I currently have—if I don’t count what’s in the travel trailer.
So stay calm and carry on. And don’t forget: if you haven’t started The Unitseries yet, there are now 12 books in the series. So, you can stay inside, keep your 6′ distance easily, and be entertained by my convoluted thought processes. If nothing else, it can’t hurt!
Feb. 29, 2020 •
I’ve just finished a book called Criminal Procedures by Richard M. Bloom and Mark S. Brodin. If that sounds like the title to a law textbook, it’s because it is.
So, why does Anne read law books? After all, it’s not the first one.
I keep asking you: Is it real? Well… the law is real, and it governs what those in law enforcement should do if they don’t want the work they’ve done to make a case get thrown out in court.
Courtrooms can be interesting locations, and judicial determinations mysterious. But, if a person in law enforcement crosses the line by violating a suspect’s rights, they may see the entire case thrown out. Your suspect says, “I’d like my lawyer present during questioning.” Better stop all questioning. Do something to coerce your suspect into making an incriminating statement after s/he’s invoked the right to remain silent or has requested their lawyer? Treading on thin ice, Officer. Do a warrantless search that doesn’t meet one of the exceptions, or during a search with a warrant search an area not specified on the warrant? (If you’re looking for stolen flat screens, you aren’t going to find them in a desk drawer, for instance.) Not only a no-no, but if you find something incriminating (like a book telling to whom all the stolen goods were sold), you can’t then go back and get a warrant to search the drawer. That’s called “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
And if you’re a crime novelist and have your crime fighters break these rules, your reader who just so happens to be a cop is going to say, “PFFT!”
So, yes. It pays to do your homework. You can get away with one outrageous thing, but make it a habit and you’re likely to find your readership—other than those who aren’t knowledgeable and only seeking entertainment—walking away in disgust.
This sort of thing is always reminiscent to me of watching the Starship Enterprise bank while changing directions in space. This is a purely aerodynamic maneuver, and there is no air in space. Probably why UFOs (if they exist) are saucer-shaped: they can move in any direction without “swooping.” The whooshing noise is also not something you’d find in space.
But it’s entertaining.
But, is it real?
February 21, 2020 ·
In my never-ending quest to ensure that there is realism in The Unit series, I often spend a great amount of time researching and reading the various topics that those in law enforcement encounter.
Toward that end, I found myself doing reading to update my knowledge of DNA forensics. I decided it might be a good thing to invest in a textbook on the topic.
I found an interesting book on Amazon, but in reading the sales blurb, had to have a good laugh at what might be a Freudian slip:
“The mock trial will mimic what takes place in a real courtroom, and the >>> jury of swill <<< be asked to deliberate on the evidence presented to determine the guilt or innocence of the suspect.”
The set of brackets (>>><<<) indicates just what I got a good laugh at. I’m pretty sure the writer meant to say, “The jury of course will.” Sometimes our brains get ahead of our fingers. Then again, maybe this was the work of a feisty editor. Maybe one whose court appearance went against them in a jury trial?
I’ve been ordered to report for jury duty many times, but never chosen. I suspect this is due to knowing far too many people in law enforcement. But seeing how some may consider me part of a “jury of swill,” I should perhaps take heart that I’ve never been chosen to sit as a juror!
February 17, 2020 ·
I WAS ONCE ASKED (REALLY!)
“Do you always think in such an evil way?”
I’d love to tell you who asked me this and why, but it might be a bit risky, given what I was working on at the time. But it’s a question my readers just might ask when they read Last Rites upon its completion.
It’s dark. VERY dark.
One of my favorite true crime authors is John Douglas. You might know of him if you watch the series Mindhunter. Mr. Douglas was one of the early FBI criminal profilers, and his books tell the chilling and true tales of those who have committed some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
It’s a sad truth that these individuals are among us. And no one knows what makes them turn out the way they do. How do you explain a Jeffrey Daumer? A Timothy McVeigh? A Toy Box Killer?
These are some truly demented folks, and they aren’t the only ones—not by a long shot.
So, if you’re in law enforcement, how do you deal with having to deal with them? Knowing many people in law enforcement, they use various coping methods: some self-sustaining, some self-destructive. You don’t do a job that keeps your heart rate going at 120 beats a minute every hour of every day without doing something to take the load off. The mechanisms include: alcohol, drugs, sex, pranks, vigorous workouts at the gym, a reliance on faith, and occasionally popping your cork and getting yourself in hot water for doing so. Or just plain getting out before you lose your mind entirely.
Those who are reading The Unit realize that I try to focus on this aspect of the team: how they do what they do without losing their grip on things. In Last Rites, Hank will face off with someone just like her, with one exception: the suspect will transform into someone with a lust for killing, whereas Hank never feels her job as unit sniper is one that she should enjoy, or could enjoy—it’s simply necessary sometimes.
Yes, Hank’s a badass. But she’s not such a badass that she can unemotionally take the life of another human being, even though it might be necessary to save innocent people, even if the suspect is truly evil.
February 11, 2020 ·
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS ANNE FOX NOW?
Well, folks—it’s been a miserable trip and just keeps on giving.
My trip to Oklahoma was rained out—totally. Every day, rain. Thunderstorms. Drenching, pouring, rain. Not exactly rockhounding weather, which was part of what this trip was about. Oklahoma has some stunning barite roses, but they’re not worth drowning for.
I’m headed back, and now in Lubbock, TX after nearly getting stuck trying to get pictures of the locations for the book that will follow Book 12: Last Rites.Because you are my biggest fans, you get the early word on what Book 13 will be about.
Book 13 will feature a kidnapping. Who gets kidnapped? A five-year-old girl. Those of you who have read Book 1 and Book 5 should know why this mission will have Hank particularly on edge.
The title of the book is Redemption. They get the kidnapper, but he’s not talking. How will they find the little girl in time?
Now, it’s time for some Toxic Slime. Spud shouldn’t be allowed to drink all of it!
JANUARY 17, 2020
WHY DID I WRITE CAMP CHAOS AS I DID?
I sometimes get negative reviews on Camp Chaos. I don’t think those who give them understand, first, that it’s the first in a series and therefor sets the background for the subsequent books. Second, The Unit is suspense. That last might be partly the fault of the way Amazon allows authors to set categories, with “suspense” not being a primary category.
I wanted to show how a person becomes a member of the unit, right down to what they would experience during the intake process. I do that exactly once: in Camp Chaos. The sequels always delve into some of the training that’s involved as well as the interactions between the people of The Unit. I try to keep this real.
The reality is that police work is not a continuous “blood and guts” experience unless you’re a traffic cop. Talk to any detective and he’ll tell you of the mostly boring hours of writing reports.
I also wanted to show the human side of law enforcement rather than a continuous smear of gore across the pages. I think we lose sight of the human side: the fact that our badge-wearing public servants are first and foremost human beings with their own strengths and weaknesses. They laugh, cry, and both argue with and poke fun at their fellow badge-toting compadres. They often have a macabre sense of humor—and trust me: I’ve not portrayed anything nearly as macabre as my friends who are or were LEOs have told me. An average citizen who has never been “on the job” wouldn’t believe people could react to situations the way LEOs sometimes do. I think I may have related what one friend told me about when he and his partner were first to respond to a train versus human accident. When the ambulance arrived and EMTs asked where the victim was, his response was, “He’s there, there, and over there” as he pointed out the location of body parts. That, however, was NOT the most macabre thing he had to say about that accident. No, I’m not going to tell you what was.
The unit’s field team operatives have perhaps a more active existence than their fellow people in law enforcement who aren’t in the unit simply because of the constant preparation they have to do in order to be able to tackle the instances when they’re called upon to engage in a difficult mission, whether that mission involves doing the kind of sleuthing another organization can’t handle or whether it involves actually stepping into the line of fire. They’re a small unit, only seven people, but very effective. That may seem unrealistic, but in fact small units have a greater versatility than larger ones. This is the very reason the military employs small units in the form of entities like SEAL teams and why the FBI has one and only one Hostage and Rescue Team. (If you see a reference to “HRT” in the news, now you know what it stands for.)
If you were to see a pyramid of law enforcement personnel, at the bottom would be the “beat cops”, at the top would be the special units within federal agencies, and at the very, very top—the apex—would be the seven people of the unit’s field operations group with its unique capabilities and highly unusual lifestyle and stresses.
That is what I wanted to show by writing The Unit series.
At least one reviewer got it. When he read Before the Unit: The Recruiting of Kevin Banks, this is what he had to say:
If you are an avid reader of thrillers, mysteries, international intrigue, and champion those in law enforcement who keep the world in balance, you have undoubtedly gone through the ups and downs of series after series. You have followed the action and adrenaline highs from tale to tale. If at the same time you are like me and wondered how it all began, this is the beginning of one man’s journey on what is basically a trip “from the cradle to (hopefully not any time soon) the grave.”
But, this book wasn’t just about how one agent found himself in a unique place to make a difference. This book does give you a straightforward map from the first step of one life, into the next first step, with a new identity working in The Unit.
It puts you inside the skin of that agent. It shows you his inner thoughts from when he made the first step on that trip. What it also does along the way is make you feel what he feels, and understand all the threats and what that does to a person, even an adrenaline junky. How the way you step you is the difference between life or death. How the out of place can mean death, how every second is a heartbeat of danger, always having to question reality and the stress that can turn even a young man’s hair grey. Once you read this, next time when you are reading, in the middle of the fast action of any thriller, you will feel how each moment of action is generated by a mind that has to travel a thousand miles a second to get to that satisfying conclusion. Exhausted like the hero, in the end, you will know what it really means when you say, just keeping it real.
Yes, I think he got it. The Unit is keeping it real, as real as I can keep it. I hope that as you read each book, you can find yourself staring through Hank’s sights, computing a firing solution along with Amigo, trying to decide what might be relevant like Spud, even facing Edge during a hand-to-hand combat training exercise. If you do, then I’ve done my job. I’ve kept it real.
Jan. 11, 2020 •
WHAT ANNE READS
I’ve mentioned that I’m now reading a textbook on forensics, and how I’ve had a long-standing interest in the topic—especially DNA forensics. The book itself has another interest to me, though. And that has to do with who published it.
The publisher is the CRC Press. For those with no background in chemistry, the “CRC” in CRC Press stands for “Chemical Rubber Company.” And if you’ve ever taken an advanced course in chemistry, you are either still the owner of a copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics or long ago stopped using it as a doorstop and threw it in the fireplace, with the risk of thus burning down your house.
Yeah, it’s big. And contains EVERYTHING you’d want to know about every common chemical available—and a bunch of uncommon ones as well.
Having been published by the CRC Press, this book is known by anyone with a chemistry background as “The Rubber Bible.”
Fortunately, Forensic Science: An Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques, Fourth Edition is not nearly the size of the Rubber Bible, or there would be little chance of my finishing it anytime this decade. And even more fortunate is that I find it immensely more interesting, though the Rubber Bible kept me from messing up many a reagent solution by giving me the exact number of grams per mol for any chemical I might have needed to use.
I’m reminded, also, of my physical chemistry professor’s lament that during a certain portion of this nation’s history, chemists working in uranium chemistry often got skewed results due to a strange truth of the times: the figures given for uranium compounds weren’t accurate. You guessed it: the compounds were being made with depleted uranium, given the “good stuff” was being removed for the manufacture of nuclear warheads.
That, by the way, was reported by Dr. Cator, who enjoyed chemistry humor as well. He at one point announced his epitaph: “Here lies Dr. Cator, who is no more. For what he thought was H20 was H2SO4.” He also passed along, “The red ant is deemed illustrious/ For his deeds industrious./ So what! Would you be calm and placid/ if your tail was full of formic acid?”
Yes, it’s easy to create interesting characters when you’ve been around so many interesting characters in the past.
January 5, 2020 ·
WHAT ANNE READS
There’s always some bit of research I’m doing, and sometimes it involves reading a textbook. This one I’m finding interesting, because as anyone who reads these blog posts realizes, I once had aspirations to be a DNA forensics examiner.
The book is Forensic Science: An Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques.
This will have relevance to my current work-in-progress (WIP), Oh, What a Tangled Web. In the book, Hank must figure out how to send a letter and not have it traceable. It’s a given she’s going to end up talking to Doc Sue, the unit’s forensic scientist.
So, what things do you think might make a letter traceable to a particular writer of the letter? Would it be easy? Let me give you a hint: If I recall correctly, it took the FBI eleven years to find out the identity of Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski). It was only possible after the publication of his manifesto, and then only because his brother recognized the style of the writing and told the FBI he believed the author was Ted. No analysis of the physical evidence of the case led them to him.
But, if we were to just look at physical evidence:
- Fingerprints. Fingerprints can be lifted from the paper, the envelope, and the stamp. To keep any fingerprints from the letter, Hank must wear gloves.
- With regard to the gloves: If they’ve got a coating of powder or cornstarch (common with latex gloves), the powder or cornstarch can reveal which manufacturer(s) made the gloves. This can also reveal where the gloves may have been sold. Which leads to
- Postmark. Hank must avoid sending the letter from her own location, as this would narrow down the search for the author of the letter.
- Paper letter is written on. Characteristics of the paper can reveal who manufactured it, and thus where it was sold and even who may have bought it.
- Envelope. Also can reveal who manufactured it, and thus where it was sold and who bought it. If it requires being moistened at the seal in order to seal it, DNA can also be recovered from it. This is simplified by modern envelopes that have a pull strip to uncover a sealing strip.
- Stamp. Again, things are simplified by current peel and stick stamps. But certain stamps are released in only limited locations, so Hank will need to be careful to use a generic stamp that’s in wide circulation.
- Trace evidence in the form of fibers from clothing. These can adhere to the paper the letter is printed on as well as the envelope. Can tie Hank’s clothing to the letter.
- Trace evidence in the form of hairs, skin cells, etc. Any of these found on the envelope or letter can positively identify Hank—though that will be problematic. Why? Because technically, Hank is dead!
- One you might not think of: the form of the letters the printer makes when the letter and envelope are printed. Obviously, Hank doesn’t want to use her own handwriting, as that can show characteristics that are unique to her, so she’ll print the letter. That can give an indication of what make and model of printer was used.
- And related to (9), the ink or toner used by the printer, which can also reveal the make and model of printer and other factors that could identify the printer.
So, there are at least ten things that could identify Hank as the author of the letter, not counting what helped identify Ted Kaczynski: the style in which the letter is written. Because forensic evidence tends to be exclusionary (can show that someone wasn’t involved much better than if they were), a combination of several of these would give strong cause for saying the letter came from Hank. And, of course, any recoverable DNA—and it takes very, very little—would ID her positively.
Can she pull it off?