WRATH goes to Hollywood 


I recall those early heady days when Permuted Press offered me a contract for Objects of Wrath . They signed me to a trilogy, and paid me for two books I hadn’t even written yet. I got the advance within three weeks of signing, just days before Christmas. And, let me tell you,  it saved Christmas for my family. I had visions of family vacations in Jackson Hole and delusions of movies made. That was before reality set in, and I realized that a) the books weren’t going to sell themselves and b) Hollywood sure as hell wasn’t going to be kicking down my door.

Since then, I’ve finished four novels. Tears of Abraham, a stand-alone novel about the next Civil War, went into bookstores all over the country last year. Once again, I thought, “okay this is it.” Alas, the book died on the vine, after zero promotion and being miscategorized as science fiction (despite my vehement objections). So, after getting my hopes crushed many times, I’m jaded.
Still…

I signed an agreement last week with Council Tree Productions, a Hollywood based film and television production company helmed by veteran producer Joel Eisenberg. It’s a new company, but Joel has some juice in Hollywood, and he’s also a writer. I really look forward to working with him. The other partner in the company (also a writer) is the founder of a successful private equity firm. They invested $180 million in Telemundo, and have conducted billions in transactions. These are serious people.
What now?

After my initial dance in the street, I’m looking at more waiting, hoping, and work. Just signing with a producer is a big deal, a tremendous opportunity, but it’s far from the end of the journey.  The producer will come up with marketing materials and shop the idea to various studios. We’re hoping for a televison series with one of the streaming services like Netflix, or with cable. I’m busy writing scripts for episodes, which may or may not ever see the light of day. Once the series has the attention of a studio, things start to get interesting. The producer will attach a director, and secure financing for the project. I’m hoping for a “direct to series” deal, which is the best possible scenario. That means the first season (13 episodes) gets picked up by the studio. What’s more likely, though still statistically improbable, is that we get signed to shoot a pilot. If the show gets green-lit, that’s when the real celebration begins.

I’m anticipating something of a roller-coaster ride. Highs and lows, some near misses and dashed expectations. Hopefully, by the end of the year the project will be in development, somewhere. Even then, I won’t know until the studio green lights the series.

I’m quietly optimistic, and very grateful for this chance. My work will be in front of people who can change the trajectory of my life with a phone call, and that’s exciting. The thing is to enjoy the journey, to embrace it. Even if things don’t play out the way I hope they will, it’ll be quite the ride. And other doors may open that I can’t foresee now. I’m learning how to write for film, and that’s a fun process, a very different beast from novels.

Short Story: The Hill

The Hill

I’m not sure what’s real and what isn’t anymore; the dreams started again. I wake most nights coated in sweat with a strangled scream on my lips, and the feeling that I can’t breathe. Maybe the nightmare is reality, and I’m only now sliding back to it after all these years. Perhaps I’m dead, after all. There are times, especially in the dark of the night, when the rain beats down on the roof with the sound of a cascade of pebbles and the branches beyond my window sway and leer in the shadows, when I wonder if I’m not still back there on the hill.
I’ve tried to reach Logan, but he never answers; I wonder if he shares the same dreams, and doesn’t want to talk about it now because it might make what happened then seem more sinister, more real. Like what happened before is going to come back to haunt us again because it can.
Sometimes it’s easier to bury things we cannot vanquish. We made a vow to each other back then, swore we wouldn’t speak of that night again, and we stuck to it. We skirted around it, and if the conversation looked like it was going to get too close and mean, someone would change the subject and make a joke about girls. We didn’t want it to be real, so we decided to make it fantasy. A month later, Logan moved to England with his mother, and I haven’t seen him since.
I was twelve, Logan was eleven, and John was fourteen. We’d been friends all our lives, growing up on the same placid tree-lined cul-de-sac in Jacksonville, Florida. I lost two friends, my childhood, and pieces of my soul that night. Often, the things we bury rise again; when they come for us, there is no where to hide.
Then
I woke up while it was still dark outside, a hollow, flying feeling in my chest, one of excitement and possibility. It was Saturday morning, and there was no school on Monday. Better still, we had a big plan for the day. This was going to be an adventure, not the lame sort of backyard fantasy we usually engaged in, but an actual exploration of parts unknown. I’d prepared the night before, emptying my school backpack of its crumpled papers and unsigned notes, stacking books and binders on my nightstand, replacing them with four Snickers bars, bottled water, a Swiss-Army Knife, one family-sized bag of Ranch Doritos, and a detailed map of the city.
I checked the time on my phone, a recent addition to my collection of home electronics, and the one I liked the most. Because now I could call and text my friends anytime. I sent John a quick text.
“U ready?”
“We’re outside.”
I padded across the wooden floors, putting my shoes on only once I got to the front door. Mom and Dad wanted to sleep in on Saturdays, at least until 7:00. They’d notice me missing, but we had it all planned out. I was at John’s, John was with Logan. Our folks wouldn’t worry, because we did that sort of of thing all the time, and our parents all looked out for us. It wasn’t much of a stretch. We just had to make it home by dark. They would figure someone was watching.
That particular Saturday, though, we were going to travel. We figured that we could maintain an average speed of at least 6 miles per hour on our bikes (we debated this for hours during the days leading up to our excursion.) We had an effective range, therefore, of thirty miles, as long as we still had the stamina to bike home. Five hours in, three to explore, five or six to make it back. 
We pedaled hard along silent streets where trees hung low and porch lights casting a meager glow were the only way to tell the street from the sidewalk. The occasional dog barked, but other than that, the night was still, and my breathing seemed louder than it should have been while the tires ground the road and the chain clicked on my red Mongoose. We pushed east and north, following the route we’d planned across the slumbering city. It was late October, and the air was crisp and clean, and my mottled green Army jacket flapped in the wind behind me.
I marveled at my freedom and innate daring and congratulated myself for venturing so far from home in such pirate fashion. I was a benign Columbus, seeking the new world, or Galileo, pushing the boundaries of the solar system, for I was an explorer at heart and a believer in the idea that boundaries were made to be broken. With the wind in my hair and the sun breaking over downtown, I felt something glorious tugging at my soul. Like I knew something no one else knew, a secret made me smile to myself.
An hour after sunrise, we made it to the highest bridge in the city.
“Holy crap,” John grunted, standing on the pedals, grinding up the steep slope of the Dames Point Bridge.
“I’m gonna stop now,” Logan huffed. “Keep going if you want. I’m walking the rest of the way.”
“I’m pretty tired,” I said. “Let’s walk to the top. This thing is nasty.”
“Wimps,” John snorted. But he got off his bike. I think he was relieved that someone had suggested walking.

None of us had ever tried to bike up a hill of any significance. Jacksonville was flat, and this thing was Everest in the winter. Impossible, relentless. I was sweating and out of breath. I climbed off the bike, legs quivering and sweaty under my jeans.
As we neared the top of the bridge, vertigo hit me. The St. John’s River looked like it was miles below. Downtown Jacksonville appeared small in the distance, with the sky-scrapers clustered together off to the south and west. We’d come far.
Cars blew past us, and I noticed some of the drivers giving us dirty looks. A few of them appeared worried. Mostly, though, they ignored us. Since it was early on a Saturday, there wasn’t too much traffic. Still it was dangerous. The bridge was four lanes, and every time a semi went by, I felt the air- wash blast me and threaten to fling me over the low railing.
I paused beside a red bow and fading flowers tied to the metal railing with a string.
“What’s that?” Logan said from behind me.
“Suicide,” John said with authority. “People jump from this bridge every year. Number-one spot here in Jacksonville to end it all.”
 All three of us stopped beside the red ribbon, gazing down. I imagined what that would feel like to fall from here. The seconds of flying, with the water hurtling up at me like a concrete wall and the brown marshes sprawling in the distance. What was the last thing he saw, that sad person who leaped into the great unknown? Did he see his mother’s face, or his son or his wife, there at the end? Did he focus on the towering smokestacks at the utility company’s power plant, falling, falling, rather than the river or the sky? Did he wish he hadn’t taken that last step on the way down, screaming because he figured out that he made a mistake after it was too late?
“I wonder why he did it,” I murmured.
“He was brave,” John said, squinting out at the river, his voice two octaves lower than normal, a bit of gravel in it. “He wanted to see if he could do it. I guess he did.”
I cut my eyes sideways at John. He’d been going through it at home, I knew. He didn’t talk about it much. He tried to make jokes about his dad and mom. Sometimes, though, when he had a new purple bruise on his face, he’d get a far-away look in his eyes while he joked, and you just knew how bad he hurt inside. When it was cool outside, in the spring and the fall, the shouting from inside his house spilled out through open windows and onto the street. Sometimes, police came.
“He was a coward,” I said bravely. 
John snorted. “What do you know about anything?”
“He gave up. You gotta keep on, and eventually it gets better,” I said with earnest. “If you give up, it never gets better.”
John cocked his head sideways and grinned at me, slapping me on the back of the neck. I was struck by how old and wise he looked just then, like he was a big brother visiting for Christmas and he’d already seen the world, been in the Army, gotten married, and had kids of his own. 
“You’re right,” he said. “I’m just messing with you.” But he had that far-away look.
“Let’s go!” Logan howled, already coasting downhill.
“Ya know I’m gonna win,” John said with a sly smile and an exaggerated southern accent, hopping onto his bike with one fluid movement and kicking forward.
We flew down the bridge, and it was glorious. The wind whipped my face and the sun shone golden on the face of the water while I hurtled down the bridge. The smell of the ocean and marsh filled my lungs and I shouted the kind of scream I normally reserved for roller-coasters; this ride was better, though, because it was real, and it was mine. The struggle up was worth every second of the road down. Johnny zipped past Logan during a long lull in traffic, swinging around him and leaning hard into the handlebars, pedaling furiously rather than hitting the brakes.
I hit my brakes every few seconds, because I was going almost as fast as the last car that went by. I whipped around Logan, too, right before he dismounted and decided to walk down. A hundred yards ahead, John put his hands in the air and kept going, no-hands, while the slope of the bridge flattened out.
Johnny stopped ahead and dismounted, waiting for me. My brakes smoked with effort, my entire bike vibrating under me as I slowed.
“Holy crap!” He said.
“Yeah. That was awesome,” I replied, unable to wipe the grin from my face.
“Let’s do that again!”
“We will, on the way back,” I said.
“No, I mean right now. Why not?”
“Well, we’ve still got a long ways to go. That’s a long haul back up.”
“Yeah, but this is the best part. Don’t you think? What’s going to be better than this? We should do this again and go home. Man, that was better than I thought. Freaking amazing.”
“You don’t want to hike the plantation? That’s part of it, you know. See where the slave quarters were. Maybe we’ll see Old Red Eyes.” In local urban legend, “Old Red Eyes” was the ghost of a former slave who’d lived and died at the plantation, a man who’d raped other slaves, and been lynched by fellow slaves for his crimes from a live-oak tree on the grounds. Over the years, many visitors claimed to have seen red eyes glaring at them from the rear-view mirror. We’d discussed the legend and were dying to see for ourselves, though we lacked the resolve to see the grounds at night.
“Not really. I wanted to go on this little trip for the bridge. I couldn’t care less about seeing some dumb made-up ghost. I’ll do it, but I’d rather try that downhill again and go home. You don’t seriously think Logan’s going to make it all the way back, do you? I mean if we keep going? Look at him.”
I glanced back up the bridge.
Logan scrunched his shoulders every time a car passed him, leaning away, seeming to shrink into himself. He might have been crying, but I couldn’t see his face. “He’s tougher than you think,” I said.
John gave me a smirking nod. “All right, man, whatever you say. He’s got more stones than both of us, I’m sure. But he’s gonna whine all the way home, I promise.”
We watched Logan get back onto his bike and coast down the part of the bridge that wasn’t so steep. His eyes were red when he pulled up next to us, and his nose was running.
“Hey,” he said. “That was the coolest. You guys are fast.” His voice cracked and his eyes were wide. “We’re almost there. I can’t wait.”
“Yeah,” John said. “Need some new underwear?”
“Kiss my butt,” Logan said.

Now



The dreams come every night now, and they are getting worse. I can’t focus on writing the novel I’m under contract for, so I’m writing the truth. This manuscript is just for me, a kind of therapy. A journey, I guess. I spoke to my editor and she suggested that I see someone about it, knowing I wouldn’t.
“I call editor,” she said yesterday. She knows I’m eccentric and becoming more so. Felicia probably thinks I’m just performing the author’s equivalent of character-acting. Believing my story so I can tell it right.
I finally spoke to Logan in VR, after pestering him for weeks. He hovered in front of me, wearing an impeccable blue suit and yellow tie, speaking with an equally perfect Oxford accent.
“William,” he said. “It’s great to see you after all these years. Even if it’s not in the flesh.”
“Hey, Logan,” I replied. “I hope this isn’t too weird.”
“No, no, not at all mate. I’ve been very busy, but I’ve always got time for an old friend.” In virtual reality, we faced each other. Behind him, floor to ceiling bookcases lined the walls of an intimate study, a massive wooden desk in front of him, a cracking fire burning in a stone fireplace at his back. We both knew that he wasn’t making time for an old fiend, because we weren’t friends anymore, merely people who once knew each other.
“I guess life’s been good,” I said, smiling at a man I did not know. He was tall, slim and square-jawed. I could see the Logan I’d known when I looked at him now, and I felt a certain kind of pride. Like maybe I’d known all along, and he became what he should have, and I had something to do with it. Which was preposterous.
“Indeed,” Logan said, with a magnanimous sweep of his hands. “I suppose I could say the same for you. I read one of your books.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“So,” Logan said, checking the gold watch on his wrist and arching his eyebrows, “why now, after all these years?”
“I sent a few letters after you moved,” I said.
“Hmm. I never got them. No worries.”
“Have you been having dreams, Logan? Anything strange. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve got to ask.”
“Not at all. Why?”
“Nothing tugging at you? Memories, visions, anything?”
“We haven’t spoken in decades, but let me tell you something,” Logan said, his voice dropping and becoming ice, like he’d rehearsed this conversation. “I always appreciated your friendship, but I hate the fact that you filled my head with nonsense. It caused me more pain than I’d care to admit. I’m thankful that I moved away from you, because you poisoned everyone around you. Truly, I was hoping you called for another reason; an apology, perhaps.”
“So, wait. You’re telling me you don’t think it happened?”
“Of course it didn’t. And, I know exactly what you mean when you say it. Look, I’m sorry your life isn’t quite what you thought it would be. And I’m sorry about Johnny. That’s how it goes, old chap, though. You can still do something great if you decide to. Your imagination is truly impressive. Always was.”
“So, you weren’t there at the hill? That’s, what, a construct of my mind?”
“Of course.”
“What happened, then, if I made it all up?”
“Kids got hurt. And you made up a good story to explain it. And I believed it, like you did, I suppose, because that was easier than the truth. It took me years of therapy to figure that out.”
“So, you think I’m crazy, now, I guess? You don’t think about it anymore? There’s nothing happening now that makes you wonder whether or not I wasn’t telling a story?”
“Old friend,” Logan smirked, “you really should speak to a mental-health professional. I’d love to chat more, but I’ve got another VR meeting in thirty seconds. Feel free to call again, though.”
The screen went gray, and I yanked the set off my head. I knew we’d never speak again.
Then



The ruins of slave quarters stretched for more than a mile along the plantation site. Each one was white, bleached with age, roofless, once smooth walls aging and crumbling beneath the Florida sun, the patina walls whispering with evil that erected those structures more than a hundred years ago. A few tourists walked around with pamphlets, muttering to themselves, pointing at this and that, smiling and laughing.
I was shattered.
There were too many. Too many buildings, too many tourists. Too many broken lives. This place tried to be a museum and a memorial, but I felt that it didn’t succeed. Generations of families died and lived on these grounds, stripped of their freedom and living secret lives in these wrecks, finding faith in what they could. There was a stain of evil, a reverberation, an echo clinging to the earth. I felt it in my soul. 
That the original owner was a decent man, as slave holders go, was swallowed by the greater evil perpetrated here. I’d been raised to view slavery as abhorrent, a thing for which there is never an excuse, because it destroyed families and people, and stripping a human of freedom was the same thing as killing him, except worse, because a good man would endure bondage for the sake of his family and children, clinging to a thread of hope for them. 
We walked away, like everyone else did.
Before this land belonged to Zebidiah Kingsley, Timucuan Indians lived here for thousands of years. They were killed off with the arrival of white men even before “Manifest Destiny” was a phrase of justification. 
Vines hung onto the trail, thick and gnarled, the size of my wrist, and spider-webs caught the late-morning sun amidst the shadows, with Golden Orb Weavers the size of my palm hanging in the middle of ornate webs spanning ten feet. Live oak trees shaded the trail, a loving canopy, a tunnel, with Spanish moss weeping long and hanging low. In the scrub, squirrels chattered, birds twittered, and reptiles rustled among dry leaves. The sound of my breathing mixed with the crunch of my sneakers on twigs and the cries of birds, and there was a darkening. 
The forest was dark and unfriendly, and sounds grew muffled; even my breathing didn’t sound the same. It was like I was underwater in a swimming pool, the way that sound gets distorted and seems father away than it is.
That’s when we saw the hill.
It was an anomaly. A sloping mountain rising from the woods that was only a mountain in the way that a landfill looks like natural phenomenon, but is actually Mt. Trashmore. It wasn’t huge in the way of an actual mountain, but it looked vast and scorched and out of place nonetheless.
A wooden sign with hand-written paint in faded red proclaimed “DO NOT ENTER.” The sign hung over an old chain-link fence rusted and beat into the ground.
“Woah,” I said.
“What the hell is that?” John said.
“I think we should leave now,” Logan said, voice cracking. “Go home.”
“I’m tired of following rules,” I said. “Let’s do this. This is a dumb sign, like every other dumb sign. Who cares?” I said that, and I wish I hadn’t.
“Right,” said Johnny. “Let’s do this.”
“No,” said Logan.
“You can wait here, if you want,” I said.

 

Johnny climbed over the fence in one easy move, and I followed him over. Logan huffed behind me, getting his shirt caught on the edges, muttering to himself the whole time.
We wandered into the dark tangled woods beneath the black hill. My arms burned with cuts from Devil’s Shoestring, nasty vines armed with needles which cut the skin and broke off inside, and saw-palmetto which raked wrist and face and drew blood.
We made it to the base of the hill, where the trees and scrub died, charred and crisp until nothing grew. There was an aura of dread about the place, a sense that we were violating something, walking where we should not tread, and there was a thrill in it, a shivering sort of danger which attracts and fascinates and dooms boys and men.
John was the first to reach the base of the hill, and he bounded up, his running shoes crunching on the blasted soil.
“Hey, this is sick,” he exclaimed. “This shouldn’t be here. But it’s awesome!”
I followed him, busting through the last brambles and webs, needing to climb that mountain of darkness because it was there. Adrenaline pumped through me and my heart hammered and the sky and the woods seemed to have a certain clarity, an odd sort of sharpened, jagged and dangerous tint to all of it.
“What are you waiting for?” John howled, scampering up the blasted, scoured hill.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Logan whined.
“See you at the top!” I hollered. I stepped onto the black sand, which wasn’t really sand, I saw. It was more like hardened ash. Cascades of it slid down the hill in my wake as I climbed. I slipped a few times, and had to throw my hands out to catch myself. Ahead, John kept climbing up.
The temperature dropped, as though we were on a real mountain and we were approaching the tree-line where the icy wind tore at anything alive.
John was already at the summit, hands on his knees and out of breath. “This is so cool,” he said. “Wait ’till you see this.”
I made it up to the top, clawing at the charred and shifting ground on the last steep bit. John offered me his hand, and I took it, hauling myself up to the apex. We straddled a pyramid, I saw, one with a blunt top.
We waited a few minutes for Logan to catch up. His nose was running and his eyes watered when he climbed the last few feet.
“Wow,” Logan said, attempting a brave smile. “This is too weird.”
“Got that right,” John replied. “This thing shouldn’t be here. Or at least, because it is here, people should know about it. Some kind of historic site, at least. Open to the people. What the hell is it?”
“I have no idea,” I said.
“Maybe some kind of Indian burial ground,” Logan offered. “Or one of those shell mounds, except different from the rest. Is it just me, or is it cold? And what happened to the sky?”
I looked up. The sky was wrong, dark and lowering the way it looked when a thunderstorm was about to unleash buckets of rain, but without the roiling clouds. Instead, we stood beneath a menacing charcoal, like a planetarium were the universe went one artificial color.
“Let’s go,” I said, my voice breaking from more fear than puberty. I felt small.
John, perhaps my hero and certainly the bravest of us, looked terrified. “This ain’t good,” he said. “I’m–” He took one half of one step.
John froze, one Nike shoe suspended above the slope, as though time itself stopped him, like a DVD on pause, like a video game character halted mid-stride because Mom is hollering to turn off the game, and you’d better take out the trash right then. John quit moving in a way that real people don’t quit moving.
He rose from the ground, still with his right-leg extended. He levitated. It couldn’t happen, but it did. Neither of his feet touched the ground, and he drifted up until his shoes were level with my head. His eyes rolled back in his head and just the whites showed and he shimmered with light, stark against the darkening sky.
“What the hell?” Logan screamed.
I probably screamed, too. I’d like to think that I didn’t, but I’m sure I did. I do know this, though: I ran.
I scrambled and slid down the hill, and Logan was right behind me. I ran through the scrub and thorns and webs and the sky was dark. My breathing seemed loud and my heart jackhammered in my chest and I shivered while I crashed through the dark woods.
Logan kept whining and whimpering, and I kept running, heedless of the cuts on my face and tears on my face and blood on my hands and arms.
We stumbled through the woods into a clearing dominated by a brick mansion with boarded-up doors and broken windows, a two-story home with a castle-like minaret.

 

The place was old and abandoned, and the cracked bricks crumbled from the walls. A murder of crows lined the roof top, cackling and jumping with nervous energy, and the air was cold beneath a sunless sky.
“Araggah! Help! Logan screamed.” Or maybe, it was me.
We plunged around the house, and kept running through the woods. And we wound up in front of that house again.
“NO!” Logan said.
“Keep running,” I said, cold and terrified.
We kept coming back to the house. I don’t know how many times it really happened. At least three times, we returned. It seemed like a hundred, a thousand, an eternity spent in hell. I was out of my head, because nothing made any sense.
The last time, though, the door to the house was open. I remember that much. Every time before, the door was boarded shut with plywood and two-by-fours. And then, we came back up the slope, the door hung open. I ran inside, and I’ll never know why I did that. Maybe, because I’d already gone around so many times, I had to do something different.
I stumbled through the house in the dark. I saw crude paintings on the walls in the anemic light, stick-figures scrawled red in violent poses, primitive skulls and images of human sacrifice. I felt the darkness pressing close and mean and I swear there were candles in that house, too, burning slow in the corners amidst the rubble and sagging timbers, and walls oozing blood.
I ran out the back door, the only place that seemed to offer hope. On the far-side of the house, three coffins, wooden and rotten, lay on the ground. I screamed then; I’m sure of that memory. I stood before them, and the woods around me were gone. The house behind me no longer existed. There were the coffins, and there was me.
I spun around, and Logan was gone, too. It was just me and the boxes. No sound, no light beyond the diffuse gray. I stumbled away, my steps awkward and thoughtless, and came back to the coffins. I tried over and over again to leave, yet I returned.
I stopped, finally, panting and quivering with fear. I opened one of the coffins. My friend Logan lay there inside, looking peaceful and wearing the clothes I’d seen him in the last time I saw him. 
I didn’t know what to do. I cried, there in the woods with the wrong sky and the coffins and the wet-spot on my pants. I prayed. I ran again, and came back to the coffins, although this time, one of them was open, and Logan was in it, looking like he was sleeping, like I’d left him.
I opened the next coffin, feeling like I had no choice. Like a video game where you have to unlock the door to move on to the next level. The second coffin was empty. There was only one way out.
I walked to the third coffin, and I pulled off the lid, the smell of rotten wood and corruption strong in the frozen air.
I saw myself, dead and pale, lying stiff against the wood.
My eyes flew open. Not my own eyes, but the eyes of the corpse who was me, yet not-me, eyes white and uncaring. The corpse lashed out and gripped my arm with the quickness of a snake, fierce and strong, and it pulled me into the darkness.
When I opened my eyes again, blue lights flashed and radios squawked and people were yelling at me. That’s how I remember it. No one believed me then, and I’m not sure I believe it anymore, either. They never found Johnny. He was gone.

Now



I’m going back. I left my friend there on that hill. I never saw him again, and folks made me believe I’d lost my mind, convinced me that monsters don’t exist and that it’s better to forget than remember. Sometimes it’s easier to burry what we cannot vanquish, yet often we find strength in the truth.
Maybe Johnny’s living in Malibu and living the good life now, and he simply ran away from home that day because he couldn’t take any more bruises. That’s what the police decided, and even my own folks didn’t believe my story. Johnny’s childhood was stolen from him before we left that morning years ago, and mine ended that day in the darkness.
Who know’s what I’ll find? Perhaps I’ll come back to that scorched hill and see myself again, and this time, everything will be different, and the truth will set me free.
End

America That Was 


After the bombs rained down, the world entire was an open wound; it was in those bleeding years that I became a man. I was twelve on November 8, 2016, the day America lost its collective mind, a day which now lives in infamy for those of us who remain, the few that survived The Fall.

I recall that my father never believed the country would elect The Donald; we used to laugh at the news shows as a family, shaking our heads in disbelief at the words spewing out of the man’s mouth, and marveling at the way so many decent people were willing to overlook the threats he made. It was all there, nothing concealed. The racism, the misogyny,the blatant lack of human decency was on full display on television and on the internet twenty-four hours a day during the months leading up to the last election. The other candidate had some issues with emails. No one remembers what those were anymore.

That was back when we had email and televisions and cell phones. Kids go blank now when we try to explain those devices, because that technology is so far outside the realm of reality, children don’t believe it ever existed. The old-timers who were there are viewed with great skepticism and a certain disdain, as though we are woefully ignorant of U.S. history.

Back when there was a United States, we used to learn history. Most of our history now comes from legend and lore, and history is no longer written, but spoken and sung.

But I remember.

The dollar collapsed. (This was when currency existed, before the time of barter). After that, the entire global economy imploded. Civil unrest spread like wildfire throug the city streets across the United States and western Europe. Nationalism surged, and interment camps sprouted up on both contingents, where refugees and dissidents were rounded up and never heard from again.

IMG_0193

Russia invaded the Balkans, and the west cowered in fear. NATO no longer existed, weakened by the U.S. pullout, and the EU itself was ripping itself apart. There was no way to stop the horde of armor rumbling across eastern Europe. The United States stood idly by, vowing to act on behalf of England and Germany, but staying out of the fray. “There will be peace in our time,” the President promised. Another lie in a long line of them.

I don’t know who launched first. Maybe it was the U.S. Maybe it was Russia, or Iran or Israel. It escalated too quickly from several tactical launches to full-scale global nuclear war to be sure. ICBMs streaked past one another through space and pounded major population centers. Submarines stationed off coastlines unleashed payloads onto military installations and vaporized navies.

We were on our way to the family farm in Tennessee when the Emergency Broadcast System blared in the middle of the night. I asked my father what the glow in the sky was, far off to the south, where the horizon looked like the sun was about to rise, the darkness cut with orange streaks.

“That’s the world dying,” my father said.

Later, when skeletal families showed up at the farm dying from radiation sickness, dysentery, starvation, or plague, I remembered what Dad said. He was right. The world was dying, and I watched the death throes every day for years. After the initial die off, there were more years of anarchy, when we were attacked by roving bands of people that didn’t seem like people anymore. They were animals, bent on death and destruction, murdering for fun and food, raping for pleasure, enslaving others because they could. The law of the jungle was the law of the land.

I’m lucky to be alive, I know. I lost my family during the years following the Fall. Now, when my kids ask me about it, they wonder why America didn’t do something to stop it. I tell them that most people are kind and decent, but that the really bad ones have a way of convincing everyone else to overlook the truth. I tell my children that because there’s nothing else I can think of that makes sense, and the words leave me with a hollow feeling.

Maybe there is hope, though. Maybe my kids will get it right, and the next generations will be better than the ones that came before.

The Writer… Free short story

The Writer
He flowed onto the bar, elbows perched upon the hard edge with his shoulders slumped, a cigarette in one hand while the other aimlessly caressed a shot of whiskey, neat. The smell of stale beer and smoke mingled with decades of accumulated broken dreams and lingering hope. He regarded his reflection in the bar room mirror, and his face, gray-bearded and worn, stared back at him, half obscured behind rows of liquor in the dimly lit dive.

“Hey, John, you want another one?” Mickey said. Like he didn’t know. 
“Yeah. Thanks.” 
John fell back into the foggy trance he’d wandered in for the last hour, meeting his own gaze, a certain kind of defiance in it. He remembered the first time he came in here, how he sat in front of this same dammed mirror, perhaps even on the same padded stool, back when he was shiny and new and his eyes burned with that fire which comes with youth and certainty. It was empty that first afternoon, just him and Diane, who still owned the place, and old Billy, who was sitting at a battered piano playing a hit song he’d written back in the seventies, three chords and the truth. It was magical; John was hooked.
That was why he’d moved to Music City, to be around people like that, places like this. To write songs and play music until all hours of the night and grasp the thrum of creative energy that hummed in the air all around this place and inside him. He yearned to find a way to unleash it, to tap into a force greater than he, to channel those ideas and create something great.
In those early years, ideas danced all around him in the way of magic, swirling threads of many colors, each one a line, a melody, an emotion, a truth. He figured that all he had to do was reach out and grasp those threads, weave them together, and sit down with his guitar, and something beautiful would eventually emerge, a song never heard before. Nashville, and then the world, would recognize this rare talent, of course, and reward him with the praise and cash commensurate with his ability.
It had only taken John a few weeks to figure out that he’d overestimated his unique skill set, which proved far less rare than he’d initially believed. There were folks writing poetry and lyrics that would have made Kirstofferson proud, singing their asses off in front of empty bars and tip-jars. Yet, he kept believing, working to get better, honing his craft. His fingertips were calloused from long hours playing his guitar, and his skin grew thick with rejection. Sometimes he wanted to quit, but he didn’t because he believed. Really, he didn’t have a choice, for writing was in him.
The years slid by while John wrote and played songs and networked and drank on Music Row. He lost his wife, who grew to despise him in spite of her kind nature, and he lost himself, too, somewhere right in the vicinity of where he now sat. She couldn’t forgive the wasted potential, and neither could he. She had a great job, while he was a mere “aspiring writer.” That’s how she introduced him at cocktail parties, and it made him grind his teeth then. Ten years of marriage down the drain. He wanted to think he was better than he was, and that label was something he chaffed at. Either you were a writer or you weren’t. 
“John, do you want another one?”
“What do you think?”
“You’re too ugly to be an ass, and not old enough to get away with it,” Mickey quipped, sliding another one across the bar.
“Thanks,” John said.
“Written any songs lately?” Mickey said.
“A few. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Mickey used to write songs, too. But last night he sang the same four songs he’d played relentlessly ten and twenty years ago, though now his voice was shot to hell. Back when John first heard the man sing, he sounded like Garth Brooks. Now it was like Garth on gravel with bad pitch. Back then, writers would pass around a beat-up guitar at the bar until five in the morning, after the bar was supposed to be closed, and Mikey would play harmonica while Billy made the piano sing and someone was always there on the fiddle, and there’d be mandolins and upright base-guitars, and girls singing harmony. All the while, the beer flowed and people laughed and wrote and played and created. It was joyous. That’s how he remembered it, anyway.
“What happened to this place, man?” John said.
“Progress. We’re busier than we’ve ever been. Nightly live shows, tourists come in and out every day. Business has never been better.”
“It’s dead, though.”
“The hell it is! Look at that table over there, a tour bus from Tampa. They just tipped me a hundred bucks. This place is hopping now. You’ve been gone a while.”
“The whole Row has changed. It makes me sad. Don’t you wonder what the hell happened? The publishers all moving away, high-rises taking over. There’s no heart here anymore. It used to be…intimate. Now it’s all corporate, impersonal, worse than I remember it.”
“You sound just like the Doctor Doom I remember,” Mickey laughed. “I never liked you then. You were arrogant, always bitching about “politics.” Guess what? You don’t have what it takes. Never did. And this place is still here, while you’re just passing through.”
“Screw you, Mickey.”
“You deserve it.”
“Maybe. But I’m just trying to sit here and have a drink in my old watering-hole.”
“It’s not your watering hole any more. So, you don’t get to talk bad about it now. I saw your ex in the paper last week, by the way. She looks great. A real peach.”
“Good for her,” John said, meaning it. 
“So why’d you get divorced, anyway? I remember her coming in here to meet you, her all dolled up and professional in her business suit and you in your cut-up jeans and long hair. We all wondered when she’d leave your ass.”
John picked up his glass and gripped it tighter than he usually did, a slight nod of his head as he had a conversation with himself, the one where he reminded himself that he had much to lose and nothing to gain by coming across the bar.
“That’s not how it was. But you can go ahead and check yourself now, Mickey. Cause’ I never liked you either.”
“Just messing with you, Doctor Doom.” Mickey snickered and stuffed his rag down into the back of his jeans and turned away.
The juke-box which once wailed Haggard, Jones, and Cash now blasted pop-country-rap while a group of starry-eyed kids set up on stage with nervous energy and fervent belief, like this was their moment. They wore hats and cowboy boots, and John smiled. They launched into a predictable set of songs about trucks and beer and girls in cut-off jeans and the tourists from Oklahoma cheered.
A kid sat down next to John, after he’d left the guitar on his back next to the stack of them lining the stage. He grinned, his eyes full of wonder and glory, scruffy and earnest.
“Hey, man,” he said, “are you gonna get up on stage?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“You new in town? I’m Lance, by the way.”
“John. Nice to meet ya. I’m just passing through.”
“Ah. Well, this place has a way of getting in your blood. Watch out, or you might just stay.” He laughed. “There’s a cool vibe here, you know? An energy in the air. It’s like nowhere I’ve ever been. What are you doing here, if you aren’t here to pick some songs?”
“Reconnecting. Remembering. I don’t know. I love this place. Or at least, I used to.”
Lance got a far away look in his eyes, something akin to pity and perhaps a bit of fear.
“Ah,” he said, “you’re a writer. Moved away. That’s a hard thing.”
“Not really,” John lied.
“If you didn’t miss it, you wouldn’t be here, though, would you?”
“I guess.”
“I worry about that, you know. Swinging for the fences and striking out. Failing in a spectacular way, because there are so many people more talented than me here trying to get through the same little door. And one day you wake up and you’re forty and wonder where your life went. No offense.”
“None taken. Trust me, I had that conversation with myself, right here, many times. Wondering why I what the hell I was doing. I moved away when I was thirty-five, no regrets.”
“So, what happened?”
“Life happened. And that’s a good thing, not something to be ashamed of. I used to think that there was nothing more important in the world than my music and my writing. I was a fool. By the time I figured that out, it was too late.”
Lance nodded his head, silent for a few minutes while the kids on stage wrapped up their set with an original song, a ballad about the death of a loved one. I noticed that the bar quieted down, and folks were listening, feeling it. 
“I think the same way,” Lance said, peeling the label on the longneck in front of him. “Maybe it’s the only way to make it, to be willing to give everything up. Art demands sacrifice. Somebody said that. I’m willing to go the distance, but I worry how I’ll feel in ten years if I still haven’t gotten a cut.”
“It’s different for everyone,” John said.
“I’m up,” Lance said, brightening. “Wish me luck.”
He marched up to the stage, unzipping his gig bag and removing a battered Martin. John grinned. The kid had taste in guitars, anyway. He played finger style, a unique arpeggio, and sang a song about whiskey and loss, and damn it if John didn’t find some rain in his eyes. Lance was good, really good.
The crowd clapped after the song, though not with the same enthusiasm they’d displayed for the trucks and girls in Daisy-Duke’s. He spoke into the microphone, his voice a deep baritone, and said “I’d like to get my new friend John up on the stage. What do y’all think?” More tepid applause.
What the hell, John thought. That’s why I came here, maybe. He stepped up to the stage, and one of the other writers offered him a nice Taylor to play. Lance grinned at him, one hand shielding the mike, and said “I hope you don’t mind me puttin’ you on the spot. Let’s see what you got.”
“It’ll be fun,” John said. “Back me up.”
“Right on.”
John played “Rainy Night in Nashville,” a song he’d written just before he left town, a sad song about broken dreams, and Lance sang harmony and laid down some cool licks. John lost himself in the melody, embracing the moment, weaving the threads dancing in the air around him.
After they left the stage, the two sat back down at the bar, and Lance slapped John on the back. “You’re pretty good, man.”
“Thanks. You’ve got it, Lance. That rare thing. You’re gonna make it, so don’t listen to old fools like me.”
“That song you played is still on the juke box here,” Lance said. “I dig it.”
John felt a warm hand on his neck, and he turned. His wife smiled at him, appearing from nowhere, long dark hair tumbling over her shoulders, her dress cut low enough for a hint of cleavage. She smelled like flowers and hope and sunshine. She kissed him on the lips and squeezed his thigh.
“How’s memory lane?” She said.
“Good. This is Lance, by the way. Really talented writer.”
“Hi, Lance, I’m Kelli. Did John invite you to the book signing?”
“Hi, uh, no.”
“Well, you should come. We’re going for drinks afterwards with some friends. You should join us. Always fun to hang out with a bunch of songwriters.”
“What signing?”
“He didn’t tell you? A book signing at the Vanderbilt Barnes & Noble for his new novel.”
Lance arched his eyebrows, an almost relieved smile spreading across his face. “You write books? My faith is restored. You had me worried, there, for a minute.”
“Writers write,” John said, with a laugh.
Mickey sidled up to us, leering at Kelli. “So,” Mickey said. “It’s starting to make sense now.”
“Yep,” Lance said. “When you said life happened, I didn’t quite understand. But I do now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kelli said. 
“Well, you’re beautiful.”
“Isn’t she, though?” John said, running his hand over her backside, savoring the curves in all the right places. “Gave me two boys and thirteen years. Now we’re getting to the really good part, I think.”
“It’s hell being married to a writer sometimes,” she said. “We had to learn to quit worrying about what might happen, and live in those times between the folds. Once we did that, it got easier. You writer-types spend so much time pining away for a dream, you miss the good stuff happening all around you every day. Do that enough, and it all starts going to hell in a hand basket.”
John and Kelli said goodbye to their new friend, and strode into the pale afternoon light hand in hand and the old homes cast friendly shadows down Sixteenth Avenue, while the new offices and condos looked on with disdain and music from the last bar on the row poured out onto the street and life was good.

Yes, the World is Going To Hell in a Handbasket

When the wolf really is at the gates

One of my favorite children’s tales is The Boy Who Cried Wolf; my  boys understand it well. Parent’s know how frustrating it is when kids exaggerate or fabricate danger, provoking a response from us that is out of porportion to reality. The moral, of course, is that when the danger is real, help never arrives.

A good friend of mine, a staunch conservative, is fond of saying “Sean, people have been saying that the world is going to hell for as long as there have been people.” He’s right about that. Humans have always found reasons to fear the future, whether justified or not. The biblical flood is a part of mankind’s collective memory, with varying versions found on most continents. Furthermore, some form of Armageddon or the Apocalypse is also a part of most major religions.

Jesus said he was coming back soon, and the early apostles took that to mean within decades, looking to the heavens for signs of the return of the king. Since those days, Christians have proclaimed that the end times are upon us with regularity, and pointed to the alignment of prophecy and circumstance to justify the dire predictions.

In the U.S. an entire subculture has evolved around the idea of “being prepared,” and folks with varyng degrees of committment and motivations go to great pains to monitor the news while stockpiling food, weapons, water, and medical supplies to ride out The Fall while providing security and a future for their families. A lot of these folks are highly intelligent, skilled people with military backgrounds.

There is a certain tendency  in mainstream media to write off the preppers as crazy “tin-foil -hat” people. I write post-apocalyptic fiction and military thrillers, and I’m afraid these folks are right. The trouble is, no one is listening. I’m about to purchase a firearm for the first time in twenty years, and I’ve got a bug-out plan and a go-bag.

Why now?

The world has always been a dangerous place, and evil men are relentless in their quest to weild power over others. Our capacity for goodness, self-sacrifice, cooperation and innovation is in a constant state of war with our innate propensity for violence, destruction and atrocity. The religions of the world understand this ongoing battle between light and darkness.

For the first time in human history, mankind has the ability to eradicate himself in multiple ways. Nuclear winter, biological warfare, climate change, and Artifical Intelligence are all pathways to destruction. The doomsday clock is ticking, and the fate of the world hangs on the brink of a yawning abyss.  With the rise of nationalism, a resurgant Russia, and immigration problems that are doomed to grow worse, I fear for our future. The causes of danger and the methods of our self-destruction are tangled together.

Nationalism

Trump’s ascent to power is not an anomoly common only to the United States. The United Kingdom voted yesterday to exit the EU, bolstered by a populace reeling from and outraged by the infux of immigrants and the perception that they have lost autonomy and surrendered sovergeinty to the European Union. France’s far-right intends to call for a similar refferendum, as does Sweeden. Scotland will likely leave the U.K. in favor of joining the rest of Europe. The union itself took a huge hit, loosing 1/6 of its economy. There is enough momentum building that could propel the E.U. right off a cliff, taking the rest of the world with it.

The recent surge in nationalism around the world is inextricably bound to other factors. First, there is the anti-intellectual movement, which propagates the idea that experts are not experts, scientists are not scientists, and Facebook memes and snappy twitter characters hold the real knowledge. This age of unreason came to the United States with Sarah Palin as its poster child, and has come of age in the last months with Donald Trump now representing the party of Lincoln. Just about every country in the world has some version of Trump at the moment, from neo-nazis in Germany, to the South Pacific, and even South America.

Nationalism itself relies upon fear of others. It is the creed of walls and war, and history remembers this while men forget at their own peril. The last two world wars were the result of nationalism run amuck, and at the height of the cold war the Soviet Union and the U.S. took the world right up to the bitter edge of extincition. Bombers in the air, ICBM missiles awaiting launch codes, submarines stationed off coasts silent and deadly. While the far right in European countries beats its collective chest, Vladimir Putin is licking his chops. When Trump calls for abandoning our founding principles and wipes his ass with the Constitution, China sees opportunity.

Immigration and the refugee crisis

The rise of nationalism thorughout the west is tied directly to the refugee crisis, immigration, and the financial collapse that occured at the end of the Bush presidency. It’s an adverse reaction to globalization, and a longing for the dream of simpler times that were never simple nor true.

Had the United States not invaded Iraq, we wouldn’t be here yet. That war created a vacuum, which led directly to ISIS, which wants to kill the world and is spurring the influx of refugees throughout Europe. Failing economies make ideal breeding grounds for fear and xenophobia, and when there are legitmate concerns over terror attacks like Brussels, Paris, and Orlando immigration becomes a hot-button issue. Close the borders and let them drown, comes the battle cry. Already hurting economies are struggling to cope with people who aren’t assimilating quickly enough. It’s a global powder-keg.

Global Warming

As climate changes lead to more severe storms, droughts, and shifting weather patterns, the immigration crisis is going to get worse.

Mass migrations and displaced populations will continue to put pressure on the developed nations. Unfortunately, in this age of unreason, many politicians and voters believe that the experts have it all wrong. Global warming, my ass! It’s snowing outside. Never mind that the iceshelves are melting at rates that confound even the most aggressive models, the oceans are growing more acidic, the bees are dying off, and water shortages and wildfires are commonplace even in the West.

The combined effect of global warming and nationalism will inevitably lead to wars. Remember the fall of rome? Goths,  Visigoths and Vandals, displaced populations, sacked the capital more than once. The Huns came roaring across the planes.

  
The people who deny climate change are either doing so because they have a vested intrest in doing away with envornmental restrictions, or are just plain duped by the propaganda campaign funded by the first group. Either way, the result is that nothing gets done in time to stop what’s coming, let alone prepare for it. Because that is going to take cooperation, and with the rise of nationalism, cooperation is turning into a bad thing, for we musn’t work with the enemy. Build a Wall!!!

WAR

Despite reductions in nuclear arsenals, men have more than enough warheads ready to launch and trigger a nuclear winter. There are multiple flaspoints.

  
1. The Middle-East

Whether it’s ISIS, Iran, or Israel, the Mid-East has long been a bomb waiting to go off. In addtion the the sectarian violence betwen Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, there is also the universal hatred for Israel. A war there could start in many ways and quickly escalate. Israel has nuclear weapons and those nukes are key to its defense doctrine. They will use them if attacked by Iran, and Iran  seems intent upon wiping Israel from the map.

2. Russia

Russia annexed Crimea, and is actively engaged in the Ukrainne under the guise of humanitarian aid. The fact is, many residents of Eastern Ukraine support a stronger relationship with Russia, so the country itself is divided, making this civil war vulnerable to Russian intervention. As Russia militartizes the artic, this also opens a pandora’s box. Canada and the U.S. are vying control of resources below the melting ice and for the sea lanes which are opening up due to global warming. Russia rages against the sanctions placed on it, and resents the expansion of NATO into it’s traditional sphere of influence. Putin can’t wait to see a weakened Europe, a distracted U.S.

3. China

China is building airstrips on islands manufactured out of coral reefs in waters contested by Japan and the Phillippenes. Last week, Chinese aircraft came dangerously close to U.S. warships in the region,  and flybys are becoming a common occurance. How long before someone makes a mistake? One with international, and perhaps catastrophic consequences. Furthermore, China and Russia are working to improve their relationship, planning huge infrastructure projects together and developing trade relations in an effort to cut the United States and Europe out of the loop.

4. The United States

  

  
If Trump wins the Presidential election, God help us all. This guy has advocated giving nuclear weapons to the Saudis, expressed admiration for Putin, and is one word away from declaring war on an entire religion of more than a billion people. He believes his own hype, and this is incredibly dangerous, thinking that international relations are nothing more than business deals he can bullshit and bully his way through.

If Trump doesn’t win, then all that outrage that got him this far is going to be seeking an outlet. We may end up destroying ourselves in the end. And where the U.S. goes, so goes the fate of the world. 

Given the current state of affairs, that’s a scary truth.

Trump: don’t laugh, cry

Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President of the United States. In the most recent polls, he is running neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton. These are the two most disliked candidates in our history. Quite frankly, it’s not funny anymore. Because while both candidates are dangerous, Donald Trump is a threat to the human race, a scourge worse than the plague and meteors.

Hillary Clinton is not a good candidate. She has lied many times about the email account she used as Secretary of State, and faces a very real indictment from the FBI. The co-mingling of responsibility and funds for the Clinton Foundation is disturbing, at the least. She is the embodiment of an establishment politician focused on power rather than results, and this drives everyone in America nuts. Even the ones who like her.  She should be better, but she’s not. It would be great to see a woman sitting in the Oval Office who isn’t blowing a president, but who is actually the Commander and Chief.  I don’t like her because she feels that she is entitled to this job, and have the sense that she doesn’t care what it takes to earn it.  She will emerge as the nominee, California notwithstanding, and folks will be in a fruit-juicy-uproar about that.

I don’t like Hillary, but I’ll damn sure vote for her before I vote for Jester Trump.

Trump is the court-jester that vies for the throne. That comic relief character that farts and insults his way closer and closer to the crown; when the actor puts it on his head, the crowd cheers because it is absurd and unexpected. When Trump takes his bows, the world will convulse. A buffoon in the Oval Office.  When the nation that defeated Hitler elects its own, the world will shudder.

When the world shakes, people die.

Donald Trump doesn’t care.

He wants to be President because it means power, not because he can do good. He is blinded by his arrogance and essential meanness, and his schoolyard-bully mentality that has somehow won over American voters.

In the good stories, the bully looses, and perhaps is even redeemed. Darth Vader even got it at the end. Evil is defeated and good triumphs when people recognize the difference between words and deeds, and then act.

If you vote for Donald Trump, you are voting for smoke and mirrors and lies and the destruction which comes from those things, and worse, a man who believes he can control the outcome. His arrogance knows no bounds. Anyone that speaks of themselves in the third person so redundantly should be excluded from public office.

His foreign policy is based on the illusion of absolute power. (I hit back ten times harder). Escalation is not necessarily the answer when nuclear weapons are in play. The nukes in the Russian triad alone, between bombers, subs, and ICBMS, would be enough to wipe out the human race. Trump has no concept of this. His arrogance can kill the world.

Trump promises to “Make America Great Again,” which assumes that America isn’t already great. America is great, by every metric available. Yes, we could be better, but we still lead the world in might, production, technology, and individualism. To all of you who disagree with me about this, I say, “fuck you. You are arguing on the internet.” The internet exists because of America. Read your history and statistics. We’ve still got the biggest GDP, military spending, and natural resources in the world, on top of the greatest minds that migrate here, because, well, we invented rock and roll and jazz and put a man on the moon.

Trump is dangerous, while Hillary is annoying. There is a huge difference, and it’s not a reality show any more. Trump could be the idiot that launches ICBM missiles because he feels disrespected, and he gets angry at 1:00 EST with a sandwich in one small hand and the nuclear codes in the other.

We survived Bush. We survived Obama.  We won’t survive Trump.IMG_0673

 

 

 

 

Sprinsteen and Me

bruce

 

I met Bruce backstage just before the show. The crowd thundered, the lights were up, and chants of “Bruuuuuuce!” shook the concert hall. I’d promised myself not to gush and fanboy, but there I was in the same room with the E-Street Band and the Boss himself was grinning at me.

“Hey, man,” he said in that raspy voice I’d heard a million times on worn out cassettes and CDs. “How’ya doing? I’m glad you could make the show. I read your book, and it’s pretty good. I thought you might like to join me onstage for the last song. We’re gonna close with “Chimes of Freedom.”

“Um,” I stammered, aware that I was sweating profusely and that I couldn’t feel my legs.

“Well? Do you know the song? You look like an idiot just standing there. Can you speak?

Of course, that never happened and it never will, but it’s a nice dream. Bruce Springsteen has inspired me for about thirty years now, and it’s both funny and more than a little absurd in the way that he and his music have influenced my life. I wonder what I’d say, if I had the opportunity to speak in coherent sentences.

The Music and Memories

I saw Springsteen in concert for the first time back in 1986 on the Born in the USA tour at the Orange Bowl in Miami. I’d been a casual listener before that, but the concert changed me into a lifelong fan. There was an electricity in the air, a palpable thrum and connectivity throughout 80,000 people, and when he launched into Glory Days, there were tears in my eyes.

In my mind, perhaps the most amazing thing about Springsteen’s music is the way it grows with you. When I heard Glory Days, I was a senior in high school, and the song meant something entirely different then than it does to me now. Same thing with The River; I felt the quiet desperation in the lyric and that mournful harmonica riff, and I knew I didn’t want to wind up like that, where I looked back years later with a misplaced fondness upon a youth wasted, where being trapped was a way of life. Later on, I could relate with a certain horror to some of the bleak songs, yet I found hope in them, too. Born to Run and Thunder Road acknowledge boundaries and the self-made prison life can become, yet are ultimately gloriously triumphant. A lot of his music is about pushing through, breaking those chains, and busting out.

Badlands is probably my favorite song of all time, and when the bridge launches I still get chills every time and if I’m driving I have no choice but to speed up and start belting out the words at the top of my lungs, much to the horror of my wife and children. I once explained this necessity to a police officer, and, being a fellow Springsteen fan, he understood and tore up the ticket.

Inspiration

I love movies, books, and music that are about overcoming defeat through sheer force of will, and Bruce’s anthems are as good as it gets. When I hear Trapped, Light of Day, and Wrecking Ball in sequence, my chest swells and there is a singing feeling in my soul virtually nothing can dampen.

I hear persistence, hard work, and discipline thumping from the speakers in a way that makes me want to do whatever must be done, no defeat, no surrender. It makes me want to be a better man. His music makes me believe in dreams.

So what would I really say?

I’d stammer and look like an idiot, of that I’m certain. But I’d like to think I could manage this, at least:

“Thanks, Bruce.”

 

 

 

Tears of Abraham, now Available!

What would another civil war really look like? That’s the question I try to answer with this new thriller, set in the near future.

abraham cover final

The country is more polarized than it has been at any time since the years leading up to the first Civil War, and there is a deep undercurrent of anger which is now spilling onto the streets. If Democrats win the White House, where does all that rage go? There is a revolution of some sort on the horizon, and it is my fervent prayer that it’s not the violent kind. Once, folks on the fringe spoke of it in whispers, but now the idea is gaining traction, with politicians and leaders using rhetoric designed to incite outrage.

One reader noted that “if Hemingway and Clancy wrote a novel about the next American Civil War, it would be this book.”

I wrote this book to entertain, but also to spark a dialog. Those who clamor for war seldom know what that really means, what the cost will be.

I hope you will read, enjoy, and talk about it!

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Abraham-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618688197

 

 

 

 

America Never Stopped Being Great…and here’s why.

Breaking-Light-in-Lamar-ValleyThe sky is not falling. Despite the ongoing narrative from many politicians who capitalize on fear and anger, America is still a great nation. We are bombarded by posts on social media and on the evening news claiming that the country is in free-fall. That we have squandered the light which made us a beacon of hope to the world. Nonsense.

We have plenty of problems, and I write  often about them. In spite of our flaws and our divisions, the United States remains great and will continue to be unless we allow ourselves to succumb to the self-fulfilling prophecy these political clowns and talking heads are perpetuating. In terms of opportunity, ideals, economy, resources, and global power, the U.S. is yet a “city on a hill” which far surpasses the hopes of even our visionary founding fathers.

Why is everyone so angry and afraid?

Scroll through your news feed on any social media site. “We have gone off the rails,” Trump howls. “God’s judgement is upon us,” Cruz wails. “When a million people stand up and fight, they win,” Bernie extols. But Sharia Law is not coming, our guns aren’t being confiscated, Mexicans aren’t streaming across the borders raping and pillaging in hordes, and FEMA won’t stick you into a death camp. The gloom and doom makes you want to build a bunker and start stockpiling seeds food for the coming apocalypse.

The trouble is, this insidious mentality has crept into our national psyche in a way that endangers the future. This fear-based thinking ignores reality, overshadows the things that are true and good all around us. So here are some things to remember.

Ideals

Democracy works. America began the “great experiment,” and despite the absurd Presidential election we are watching, the Republic is still the best thing going. The division of power between the branches of government functions as it was designed to, and the Constitution remains intact. Yes, there are issues, and Congress and the Executive branch often don’t get along. That’s by design.

The U.S. continues to champion  human rights and democratic ideals around the world, and while there is some hypocrisy there, the truth is undeniable that the U.S. does much good in the world. When there is a terrible tsunami, earthquake, or genocide, the world still turns to the United States.

We have come far as a country. Black people are no longer considered 3/4 of a person and aren’t chattel; we have a black president. Women can vote, and we might have a woman in the Oval Office within the next decade. We have made great strides in the war on poverty and gay rights. Freedom of religion, the arguably single most important founding principle upon which our nation was built, is still protected.

Economy

The United States has by far the most powerful in the world and this will continue to be true for the foreseeable future. Employment is up, the national debt is down, and we may well see a balanced budget again soon. Listening to the politicians, you’d think that the U.S. ranked just above Afghanistan in terms of GDP.

20-largest-economies

Resources

Our national resources made this country the envy of the world. Of course, our greatest resource is our people. We are a melting pot, and still attract the best and brightest from around the globe. In terms of sheer natural resources, the U.S. continues to be at the forefront, coming in at #2 behind only Russia. Forest, coal, water, oil, and natural gas are tremendous national assets. The U.S. is ahead of Russia with its ability to exploit these resources, and will do more to protect and manage them.

Despite the fact that the U.S. is falling behind many western countries in education, the existing brainpower of our populace continues to exert a significant “brain drain” on the rest of the world. Our scientists lead the world in more fields than we can count, and we are on the cutting edge of technology, health-care, and entertainment.

Power

Listening to Donald Trump pound a podium, one could be led to believe that Putin is holding off on invading Europe and the East Coast only because Trump might win. God forbid. We hear about catastrophic cuts to defense and claims that the Obama presidency has weakened our armed forces beyond repair, making us vulnerable to threats real and imagined. The truth is, Russia is aggressive, and so is China. So how does U.S. defense stack up? Note the disparity in spending between the United States and the rest of the world.

bi_graphics_globalfirepower

For those of you who read my work, you may guess that I’m a hawk. I’m certainly for maintaining a robust military. The United States is able to influence global geopolitics because of both its economic and military strength. Our Navy continues to add new ships with staggering technology and capabilities. Our Air Force boasts the most lethal fighter jets and bombers in the sky. Our infantry is the best-trained on the planet, and our special forces operators are the most deadly.

Culture

America gave the world Rock and Roll, Blues and Jazz, Saving Private Ryan, Grapes of Wrath and Born to Run.

Our innovations birthed the internet, the i-Phone, Microsoft, and Tesla. We are risk-takers and explorers, and we’re stubborn. The Protestant work ethic is strong in us, and while our values have evolved with the times, the Christian ideals of God, Country, and Family remain at the core of our national soul.

So the next time you hear someone say that we need to “make America great again,” I hope you will remember these things.

The party of Lincoln: Tears of Abraham

  
Lincoln is easily my favorite president, for without him the United States of America would not exist, and the world would be a vastly different place. We’d probably be speaking Russian and waiting in bread lines. Lincoln’s essential goodness propelled the nation to great heights. He was willing to shed blood to truly take America back. He freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclimation and believed that our greatness lay in our unity.
Lincoln weeps among the stars as he watches Trump pander to the worst in us. Fear. Rage. Suspicion. 

Trump is unwilling to condemn David Duke, former Grand Wizzard of the KKK, and The Donald wants to outlaw an entire religion. The more offensive his is, the higher his ratings go. He is putting the Republican Party out of business. And conservatives know this.

Trump is surfing a wave of outrage, a tsunami of destruction and paranioa crashing into the country and smashing the nation. He won’t win the election. But he isn’t nearly as dangerous as the incoming wall of poision he’s riding. Because those waters won’t recede any time soon.

What happens after Trump looses the general election? Well, I wrote a book about that. Tears of Abraham releases March 22 2016. The first Civil War was bloody. The next one will be worse.

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Abraham-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618688197