Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 30, 2015

Editing As You Work

Today, I managed to complete the first draft of an intense action chapter.  It’s only five pages of normal text, but I’m pleased. My dear friend and mentor, Anne Carroll George (RIP) said five good pages were enough.  Much of the action in the chapter, including details, I’d “written” in my head before I started stroking the keys.

Of course, once I typed in the first lines, I started trying to polish as I went. That’s one of the stages of self-editing for me. Then I told my editor (my Wife, Marge) that I’d written a scene she’s been anticipating. She’s wonderful with her patience about my writing. Lucky me.

As I read from the screen of my laptop, I had to stop several times to add words; delete words and correct punctuation.

I’d read, in books on self-editing, that reading  one’s work aloud forces a different perspective. Yep. It works.

Now, a slightly different take on novels read aloud.

I subscribe to .  The first audiobook was free and I pay a painless $14.95 a month to be able to download audiobooks from their library.  Since I have several books of my own on the site, I like the idea.

Marge and I have made some long drives in the past few months. Listening to a good book makes the miles slide under the wheels more quickly.

But… yes, there’s a qualifier. I found that the work of a couple of authors (no names) I’ve respected does not translate to audio. I don’t mean the work wasn’t read well, it simply wasn’t prepared for a listener. Some phrases that a reader may have simply ignored kept popping up to became hopelessly redundant and annoying.

That’s yet another reason for novelists to read their work aloud before handing to a narrator. Once the narrator has completed reading the book, the author should feel obligated to listen to every minute and edit those needless repetitions.

Yours for good reading and listening.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 29, 2015

Learning from the Masters

I learned a valuable lesson, a few years ago, from a writer who I consider one of the masters of modern fiction, James Lee Burke.

I was writing my first novel, Piety and Murder.  The tale is told from the first person point of view.  I hit a situation in the novel where the protagonist wasn’t present in an important piece of the action. His buddy had to tell the story from that scene.

What to do?

I remembered that Burke had used a simple, very effective technique to have the telling of his story transferred from the original narrator to another.

Here it is.

“This is the story he told me.”

It worked. The reader isn’t confused about the speaker.  In my book, the principal protagonist is on the phone with his buddy, the man who tells him about the scene he’s just witnessed.

This technique has a limited, but elegant, use.

Have fun, Writers!

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 22, 2015

Introducing a Major Character — in a Few Words

Just as the first line of a novel is vital as a hook to draw readers into the book, the introductory description of a major character, whether protagonist or antagonist, is vital to the book.  It should be early and succinct.

One of the best I know is from the late Robert B. Parker’s Brimstone, a western.  The principal protagonist is Virgil Cole, a gunfighter.  His sidekick is Everett Hitch, a former Civil War officer and West Point graduate. Hitch narrates most of the book and the dialogue between the two carries the story.

Everett is telling, in the first few paragraphs of the book , about entering a saloon in a new town, for the first time.

“He wasn’t special-looking. Sort of tall, wearing a black coat and a white shirt and a Colt with a white bone handle. But there was something about the way he walked and the way the gun seemed to be so natural. People looked at me sometimes, too, but always after they looked at Virgil.”

Good, huh? Parker was a master at bringing his characters to life. This short description illustrates his craft.


I’ve tried to emulate Parker (and others) in my writing.

In the novel, Overload, the principal protagonist, Frost, is introduced when his buddy Ferguson talks to him on the telephone.

They agree to meet and then…

“He was gone. I didn’t hear the click.  Frost was like that sometimes—most of the time. He wasn’t rude unless he intended insult, then it was plain.  He was a minimalist with words. Each word or phrase he offered wrapped a thought, like paper enclosing a package, good or bad. ”

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 21, 2015

Original Book and Sequel

One of the most successful book/movie series of recent history is arguably the Hunger Games trilogy.  It was originally conceived as a YA (Young Adult) book, as was/is the Harry Potter series.

I’ve published the first novella in my YA Science Fiction trilogy, Warrior’s Psalm (which, by the way is Psalm 91). It’s available as both a Kindle book and an audiobook, masterfully narrated by Shawn Hughes. I’m now working on the sequel. The same characters are, of course, in both. The second novella, though, focuses more closely on a minor character from the first.

In my experience with the novella, I’ve discovered that the piece should open with action in progress; draw the reader into the story quickly and then move—with little pause in the action—toward the climax.

Here’s the opening of the second novella, tentatively titled Beneath His Wings.  Following that is an excerpt from Warrior’s Psalm to explain who the evil woman, Tapja is, from the first book.


From Beneath His Wings


Commander Mikhel Moren, leader of the Decider’s Guard of the Order of Protectors unconsciously listens to the sound his gleaming black boots make in the deep gray carpet.
To an outside observer, there is little more than a faint tread as the officer’s soles compress the fabric and a minute hiss as the fibers spring back.  To Moren, the sound is like marching to the beat of muffled drums to stand before a firing squad. The brush of his silver-gray trousers—one leg against the other—is like the scrape of stiff brooms sweeping spent cartridges.
He has been summoned to the private office of the Senior Decider for Sector 3, Commandant Vladim.
The walls of the hallway glow a pale green today, a color that some consider soothing.  Today, for all the color’s calming properties, Moren’s pulse sounds like timpani inside his ears.
He pauses, breathes deeply and exhales as he taps on the Decider’s door.
“Enter!” the voice is like sound of the steel teeth on a hunter’s trap slamming shut.
Moren opens the door and, standing as tall as his frame will allow, strides into the office, stops three paces in front of the black steel and glass desk and renders a stiff-armed salute to the man sitting behind it.
“Sir, Commander Moren reporting as ordered.”
“So, Moren, have you come with the answers you promised? You’ve had the forty-eight hours you wanted.”
The man sitting in the massive, black leather chair is almost handsome. He has brown hair, cut in traditional military style— pale blue eyes and a square, clean-shaven jaw. His mouth, he holds in a grim, flat line, is like a gash below his nose—cut by a sharp sword. He wears a close-fitting black, high-collared tunic with silver buttons and piping. The black is appropriate. The man was the consort of the Decider’s executioner, Tapja. He is no less casually lethal than she was.
“Sir, I have examined the recordings that were made when Lady Tapja confronted the prisoner we held in a cell below. I have the infocarrier here.”
Moren removes a thin, round black rod from his jacket pocket. As he moves across the office, the light from above reflects from his bald head, revealing a thin sheen of perspiration.
“If you’ll permit, Sir, I’ll display the scene for you now.”
Vladim leans back in his chair, steeples his fingers below his chin and nods toward a blank wall, without speaking.
Moren inserts the infocarrier rod into a steel panel near the edge of the wall and touches a square pad.  A scene appears, covering the entire wall’s surface. The image appears three-dimensional, as if viewers could walk inside.  It is the inside of a  prison cell. A man sits up on a cot watching as the door from the ceiling drops. The woman, Tapja, led by Moren, descends.
Her voice echoes in the cell as she points a long, quivering index finger, topped by a crimson nail like a bloody spike, at the prisoner. She aims it like a weapon.
“You!  You’re not a common stinking drone from the foul city. I felt your mental voice. You are the one who hurt me! I am Tapja! I am a Decider and executioner. You will die a slow painful, burning death and I will be there to watch and listen to your howls. You have tonight to consider the pain that awaits, while I gather strength to attend your execution.  I will delight in your misery!”
She spins to go up the stairs, but trembles in weakness on the first step. Silently, Moren helps her ascend.
The scene fades and the wall becomes blank again as the Protector officer removes the rod from the panel. His fingers are unsure and the rod quivers as he puts it away.
“You’ve only shown me evidence that the Lady Tapja knew who the prisoner was. You haven’t justified keeping your command—or escaping execution for dereliction of duty.”
“Sir, Lady Tapja ordered me to drain the prisoner of information and then scramble his brain. I can show you the scenes in which I, with my technicians, tried to accomplish those tasks. The machine would not drain his mind, so we simply scrambled him,” Moren says.
“No. Explain why you were not with her when she went to Elation City—the stencher’s town—to, ah, supervise the prisoner’s burning.”
“Sir, the Lady was angry that we couldn’t extract information from the man. I was planning to travel with her to the city, but she ordered me to stay behind.”
Vladim stands and walks around the desk, stopping almost within arm’s reach of the officer. He is easily over two meters tall and looks down at Moren by several centimeters.
“What happened to her at the execution site?”
With difficulty, Moren fights off the instinct to back away from the Decider.


Excerpt from the first chapter of Warrior’s Psalm

The two young progagonists are observing a baffling scene in The Hive.

With no possibility they can be seen from the ground, Freya and Kalev jog through the trees and underbrush at the crest of the ridge, toward the sound as it rises in intensity.
As the two near the point of the mountain above the Hive, the words become clear.
“Plant food! Com—post! Com—post! Plant food!”
Over and over the rhythmic chant rebounds against the rock cliffs rising above the Hive like heaving waves breaking against a rocky shore in a storm.
Suddenly the chant goes silent.  Within seconds, a clamor of cheers punctuate the end of the earlier calls.
“What’s that all about?” Freya.
Though the chance of their voices being heard is virtually nonexistent, she stays in silent communication.
“Let’s crawl to the edge of the cliff and see,” Kalev.
The Hive is a dense city made up of scores of high-rise buildings forming a squared “O.”Growing plants cover the flat tops.  The open space is about a hundred yards on each side. Though the promontory on which Kalev and Freya lie is towering limestone, the Hive is only a few hundred feet below.
People are jostling in the square, shoulder-to-shoulder around a black metal box with a shining top.  They are dressed in identical gray shirts and trousers. A lane through the crowd, leads west under the buildings to a narrow exit road.  Parked near the reflecting box is a black vehicle six or eight times the size of the Hive’s Lectrics. The packed crowd avoids the paved area.
Beside the huge car, facing the box, are two people; a man and a woman, dressed in black robes that reach their shoes. Hoods on the robes are thrown back. They stand, spines straight and chins lifted; as unlike The Hive masses as timberwolves among animal shelter dogs.  An armed silver-uniformed Protector stands beside each of them. These two are Deciders.
The woman, tall, narrow faced, with dark hair, wide mouth and imperious black eyes raises her right hand.  All crowd noise stops. In the silence, her amplified voice rebounds from the cliffs.
“Let any who would dissent remember!”
The male, tall, brown-haired and square-jawed stands beside her with arms crossed. A thin smile curves his lips. He raises a signaling hand.
The crowd, as one hoarse voice, responds.
“Yes, remember!” then goes silent.
The two Deciders turn toward the car. Protectors hold two of the eight doors open. The male steps through one door and disappears.  Just as she is about to enter the vehicle, the woman pauses.
She turns toward the mountain where Freya and Kalev lie. She lifts her chin and shifts her gaze like a questing predator. After several still, ominous seconds, she enters the car and a Protector closes the door.



Several years ago, Christopher Vogler wrote a memo for Disney Studios about storytelling based on the works of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. The studio used his ideas in the production of movies such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

Vogler then expanded his work into a book, The Writer’s Journey.  The book analyzes the structure of number of well-known movies, including The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars.

I was introduced to The Writer’s Journey a couple of years ago at a writer’s conference and have consciously begun to use the structure of a classic hero in a book.  The book I’ve begun is tentatively called Swift & Co. It can be described as a “Space Opera.”

For those who have a copy of The Writer’s Journey, the following excerpt represents the following steps described as: “1.Ordinary World; 2.Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call.”

If we think back to the beginning of Star Wars those three are quite plain.

Here is the beginning of Swift & Co.  The first three elements are easy to see. I hope you have fun.


It started off like most days: crappy.
I may as well not have had a sign on the door, Swift Enterprises, Photography & Investigations. Good thing I didn’t have a secretary.  I wouldn’t have been able to afford her salary and, from boredom if nothing else, would have been fooling around with her.
Hey, if I hired a secretary, she’d be pretty.
The name, Swift Enterprises, doesn’t necessarily mean quick. Sometimes tasks take time.  My name is Thomas Swift, emphasize the Thomas. Calling me Tom Swift causes all sorts of smartass remarks about my “electric rifle,” or “flying submarine.”  Most of these come from old farts that may have read ancient Tom Swift books as kids and think making puns on other peoples’ names is cute. Most old farts think they’re cute.
Crap! The fax machine’s groaning.  A pizza ad, no doubt.  Maybe they have a special, doesn’t hurt to check.
I dragged my chair out from behind the desk (bought at Mike’s Used Furniture—with some interesting amateur carvings) and rolled across the flattened gray carpet to the multi-function machine. Didn’t want to stand up if possible. Weather must be changing, thigh aching.
Damn! Business—or, at least the prospect of a paying job.

Mr. Swift:
Our firm, Universal Exports, is interested in securing your photographic services for documentation of product condition in regard to insurance services.
Our principals will be available to discuss terms and compensation tomorrow, May 15th, at 2:00 PM if this is suitable.
Please call our offices or send an email in reply to this message if the appointment is not at a convenient time for you.

There was a local phone number, and local address, upstairs. I’m on the sixth floor; they were on the ninth. The email address was  I sent a message accepting—it wouldn’t look good if I immediately knocked on their door, and it wasn’t as if I had a tee time to interfere.  I don’t play golf.  Never took up the game.
Army sergeants have other things to do.  When I retired in 2010, I was a Master Sergeant, U.S. Army Special Forces.  After two tours in Afghanistan and another looming within months, I pulled the plug—after 24 years.  At 43, I figured I was still good for another career.  I had a hefty amount of intelligence training and I was pretty good with a camera; hence, Swift Enterprises.
Unfortunately, I get the occasional inquiry about delivering packages.  Maybe I should buy a truck.  Not a helluva lot of room in my car. I drive a BMW Z4—big enough for two people—so long as they’re normal-sized.
I had a bit of money stashed away that neither Blanche—my ex, nor her foul, predator lawyer—knew about.  I bought a house about twenty miles from downtown Mobile, in Fairhope, then the car.  My office, about the size of a medium medieval monk’s cell, overlooks Bienville Square.  Not much space is necessary for a lone photographer/investigator, though.  Most of my business, sparse though it’s been lately, comes from angry wives/husbands seeking photographic proof of infidelity.
Some of my in flagrante shots are priceless.  Of course, the customer paid a hefty price for the little gems, but then, he/she’ll get that back during the litigation—if the lawyers don’t take it all.
Phone. Turning out to be some sort of day for Swift Enterprises.
“Swift Enterprises, how may we help you today?”
“Mr. Thomas Swift, Please,” a contralto voice with a faint British accent.
“Speaking. How may I help you?
“This is Lois with Universal exports.  We received your email just moments ago.  We’ll be eager to meet with you tomorrow. I’m just calling to confirm our appointment at 2:00 P.M.,” she said.
“I’ve cleared my calendar until 5 p.m. in case we need to explore details.  Shall I bring my camera?”
“No, not at this stage.  Mr. Lee would like meet you and discuss your services before we begin.”
“Did you say your name is Lois?”
“I’ll look forward to meeting you in person, Lois.”
“Thank you.”
She hung up.
I was hoping the woman I’d meet matched the voice.  Smoky and feminine. I was unattached except for a professor named Lil, who taught in the master’s program in nursing at Spring Hill College.  She spent frequent weekends with me.  Said she liked the beach and fishing. She could cook flounder as tasty as I’ve ever eaten.  We’re comfortable together. We’ve both been burned in marriage and haven’t ever talked about it for ourselves. Yet.

I stood in front of a solid mahogany door, looking at a heavy, old-fashioned brass plaque, five minutes early. Universal Exports, the plaque said in deeply engraved block letters. My brain cells twitched a bit, but couldn’t find the reference. I pushed the door open.
The outer office was spacious and well lighted by windows and incandescent bulbs. It was furnished with polished wood furniture that looked a bit dated.  The only person in the office, a redhead sitting behind a desk behind an old-fashioned typewriter, stood as I entered.
“You must be Mr. Swift,” she said.
Her voice, in person, was more of a Lauren Bacall sound.  Husky, sexy.
“Yes, I’m Swift, and you are Lois?” I said.
She chuckled.  Nice. She looked familiar, quietly sensuous in a tight sweater and skirt. Auburn hair, green eyes, minimal makeup.  I had the same tingle I’d had about the company’s name.
“My voice gives me away every time.  Mr. Lee is expecting you. Come this way please.”
She looked great from behind as she led me to the inner office. She partially opened it and leaned in.
“Mr. Swift is here.”
I heard a voice, couldn’t understand the words, but she opened the door and waved me in.
The office was spacious and well lighted.  There was an immense rosewood desk. Two wingback easy chairs faced the desk. One was occupied, but the chair’s wings blocked his face.  The man behind the desk, I recognized. He was the man who played the part of M in the early James bond movies.  He stood and held out a hand.
“I’m Bernard Lee,” he said.
I stepped forward to take his hand, forgetting Lee had been dead for years. As I moved toward the desk, the man in the wingback chair stood up and faced me. He nodded.
“Bond, James Bond,” he said.
I nearly choked. He was a duplicate of the young Sean Connery. He wore a navy blue, three-piece suit, red tie and white shirt.  When he stood, I was surprised at how tall he was.  I’m six-one. He was a shade taller.
“Mr. Swift, please make yourself comfortable. I know that our appearance is a bit disquieting, but there’s a good reason for our masks,” the man who looked like Lee said.
I sat in the chair next to Bond/Connery. He gave me his ironic half-smile.
“Miss Moneypenny, would you please bring coffee and tea?” Lee said.
Damn! Lois Maxwell, Moneypenny. I decided to play along with the charade—didn’t seem threatening and my curiosity buzzed like a cell phone locked in silent vibrate mode.
“May I refer to you as “M”?” I said.
“Of course, of course.  Our masks are for your convenience. Someday, we may show you our true physical forms. Just not now,” M said.
True physical forms?
“Since we’re working through James Bond symbols, I’d like to meet Ursula Andress or Honey Ryder—whatever you’re calling her,” I said.
M didn’t blink.  Bond smirked. Our silent male bonding over the sensuous actress was broken when the Moneypenny clone showed up.  She was carrying a silver tray with two pots and four cups. She set it down on the table between the chairs.  She gave the Bond clone a special smile and swayed sweetly out the door. The coffee smelled wonderful and proved as good as the scent.
“Mr. Swift—may I call you Thomas?” M said.
“Sure, but you haven’t told me about Ursula,” I said.
These two characters looked so real that I figured the Andress clone would be astounding up close.
“Miss Ryder will join us after we make a few arrangements. Now, I’m sure you have a number of questions. I think that we can answer them best by showing you what we are going to ask you to do,” M said.
“First thing: just what in hell is all this masquerade about.  You ask me to come here on the pretense of business and I’m confronted with people who look like actors playing in a movie.  What do you want from me? I have a business to run,” I said.
Actually, my business was limping along.  Sounded good, though. The Bond-looking/Connery-looking character hadn’t changed expression. He still looked bemused.
“Mr. Swift—Thomas—we do intend to offer a paying job.  One, I might add, that you’re quite suited to do. Please wait until we show you,” M said.
A light tapping on the door: the Moneypenny clone stuck her head in.
“Major Boothroyd is here,” she said.
Until the man walked in the door, I had no idea who Major Boothroyd might be. I couldn’t remember the actor’s name, but he was “Q,” from the first Bond movies. The clone introduced himself as Peter Burton. As Q, he had seemed the archetype of the British scientific type: gruff and unbending with an encyclopedic knowledge of gadgets. The Brits called them “boffins.”
Still no Ursula/Honey.  I let it ride. Nothing else to do anyway. They’d decided to address each other as characters in the Bond films. No threat, but I could feel my .45 nestled in the small of my back, under my jacket.
“Thomas, Major Boothroyd will set up a bit of equipment. We’ll first show why we require your services and then describe precisely our needs. We’ll answer your questions,” Booth said.
“Watch closely, Thomas.  Some details could be critical,” Bond said.
He hadn’t spoken since the introduction. His voice was grim.
The Boothroyd or “Q” set six little boxes around the room.  They appeared to be featureless. They were slick black and about the size of Bose sound cubes.  He touched each of them—appearing to stroke their surfaces—and moved to stand beside M’s desk.
“Gentlemen, we are ready.”
“Proceed, Major,” M said.
The room we were in disappeared. We were in a triple canopy jungle.
I taught at the Army’s Jungle Operations School at Ft. Gulick, CZ (that’s Canal Zone) in the mid ‘90s.  The illusion was powerful. I could smell the jungle. In M’s office, we were in a “Green Hell.”
The camera, if that’s what guided our senses, took us down a footpath to a village.  To call the collection of dome-shaped woven huts a village was generous. A fire smoldered in the middle of the open area and I could smell the embers.  The sensations of heat and humidity were so real I felt sweat on my back.
A man and a woman: humanoid, but different squatted on hard-packed ground beside the fire.  The woman was holding a skewer with chunks of multi-colored objects over the fire.  She and the male—obviously male, but, again different, chatted and nodded. The sounds were clear, but unintelligible. The skewer dripped into the embers, sparking sputtering flames.
They were naked except for loincloths. Their skin had a pale green tinge. Their ears were smaller than one would expect on a human, and rounder.  Their hair was straight, black and appeared to be very fine-textured. They were slim in the way of Olympic swimmers.
I could smell the meat cooking.
The male stiffened, trying to stand.  A spear with a metal point pierced his chest and thrust out his back. He dropped backward, dying.
The female dropped the skewer and ran down the footpath, into the jungle.
What stepped into the clearing and jerked the spear from the dying male was less humanoid. It wore a short skirt and jerkin made of something that looked like armadillo hides.  Short boots of the same armored skin completed its ensemble.  The creature was approximately the size of an extra large NFL offensive guard, with a face ripped from nightmares.  A pelt of pale brown fur covered the brute where there was no leather. The nose was like the first inch of a pig’s snout and twisted as he sniffed.  The eyes, under heavy brows, were red.  But only ßwhen the thing turned, could one see narrow vertically elliptical, black pupils. When it snatched the spear from the body, I noticed that it had eight fingers on each hand—if one could call them fingers—the nails were heavy black claws.
Whatever device Q was using, panned to the face in a close-up.  The beast had fangs Dracula might have envied.
The scene/illusion disappeared.
We were back in M’s office.  Boothroyd picked up his cubes and, nodding, left.
I drew breath again.
“Thomas, you’ve just seen why we need you,” M said.
“Just what the hell was that?” I said
“The big, ugly devil is a Hanoe. His kind branched off from the smaller creatures you saw—the Origii—several millenia ago.  Hanoe is the name we’ve assigned to that species.  That was a male, by the way.  The female is only slightly smaller and just as ugly and savage. The Origii—that’s the name they have for themselves—are a different, more intelligent species which separated itself from the Hanoe in both physical development and culture.  If the two species were to interbreed, there would be no offspring,” Bond said.
“The planet on which they live is almost evenly divided into three parts: water, jungle and rocky steppes leading to mountains.  The Origii live in the rain forests or on the shores of the seas.  The Hanoe live in the steppes and mountains,” M said.
He leaned over his desk.  A professor imparting wisdom to a student. Bond had a scowl between his eyebrows.  I sipped some of their excellent coffee and breathed deeply.  The stench of the jungle was gone, but the memories from Jungle Survival School and operations in the rain forests of the Philippines on advisory missions had left deep memories of the unique odor.
“Okay, gentlemen, thanks for the extraterrestrial visit and educational experience; impressive.  My question stands: what do you want from me?” I said.
“Simply put, we want you to organize and lead a team to teach the Origii how to fight the Hanoe,” M said.
Simply put, simply insane.
“Bullshit. I’m forty-three, out of condition and have a gimpy leg. I’ve hung up my weapons and beret.  As I told the CIA when they came calling, ‘Forget it.’”
“Thomas, if I could go in, advise the Origii and lead them against the Hanoe, I would.  I’ve done it before—all our kind have, for thousands of years. Technology has enabled us to live longer than you can imagine. Now, though, only one of us remains who can undertake the mission—but he cannot do it alone,” Bond said.
“Gentlemen, it has been a truly unexpected pleasure to meet you. No matter what you really look like, I feel as if I’ve been transported to a movie set and met legendary stars.  Please excuse me I must go.  I hope you can find help for the Origii.  I’m not your solution,” I said.
I stood and shook both their hands and left.  On the way out I thanked Moneypenny for her kindness.
“Check your business bank account when you return to your office. I’m sorry to see you leave,” she said.
She was a sweet fabrication, but I left anyway.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 18, 2015

Another Work-in-Progress

To be completely candid, I’m not exactly sure where this one is going, at least at this moment.  I’ve shared this with several close friends and family and have several suggestions.

I liked the metaphor of the approaching storm and have already had lots of fun wondering what the president has in mind for the protagonist.

Stay tuned, as the radio and TV folks say.


A storm was coming.
I sat in my rocker on the farmhouse porch, watching. My dog, Teddy, knew something unusual was happening. He lifted his head and looked for the source of the sound. His ears, better; my eyes, better.
I stood up to get a clearer view as a convoy topped the ridge—moving too fast for the curving gravel driveway. A car with a light bar led three other vehicles. Blue lights flickered like lightning. Behind were, in line: a black Suburban, a black Town Car and an identical Suburban. They rolled in—dust-streaked thunderheads, and stopped in the circular drive down the steps and across the short brick walkway from where I stood.
The car with the flashing lights, a Virginia State Trooper’s. A man got out the driver’s side, pulled on his Smoky Bear hat and leaned on the top of the car, staring at me through shades.
Two men in dark suits emerged from each of the SUVs that formed bookends protecting the limo, buttoning their jackets over bulges as they stood. One of the four stepped, in a quick march, to the right rear door and pulled it open. He leaned in and then back. He damned near saluted.
I waited at the edge of the porch, neither going down the steps to greet my uninvited guests, nor retreating inside. Teddy stood beside me. He didn’t growl or wag his tail, but after watching my reaction, the hair on his back was no longer standing,
The late-November chill had me wearing an insulated hunting jacket to sit outdoors. The man who stepped from the limo pulled the lapels of a black cashmere overcoat close around his chest, hold a cane in his right hand. He glanced up at me, then down to the walkway, tapping the stick on the bricks, then on the boards of the steps. Facing me on the porch, he said,
“I’m Carlton Elbridge.”
He shifted his cane to his left hand, reaching out to shake mine. “Mr. Blair, your pictures don’t tell the whole story. In person, you look more the athlete than businessman. I hope you won’t be too unhappy with my unannounced visit. We were aware you’d be here and, for security reasons, didn’t call. I am the Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern affairs. The President asked me to talk with you. May we go inside”?
“Yes, come inside.”
I opened the door and held it for him. Without asking directions, he went into the living room, took off his overcoat and stood with his back to the fire. I followed him, but stopped before going through the door. Someone was behind me, a man in a tan trench coat. I felt his presence and when I faced him he said,
“This is the Secretary’s briefcase. He’ll need it. Call us when he’s ready to go.”
He went back to the leading Suburban.
My wife, Elizabeth, had heard us and had come from the kitchen. She was talking to Elbridge when I came in. She broke off her conversation with him and said,
“Alex, you’ve obviously met Mr. Elbridge. I’ll get everyone some coffee.”
Friendly and practical. She went in the kitchen. A quick, green-eyed glance over the shoulder asked, “What”?
“Mr. Elbridge, I’ve seen your name in the newspapers and your crew is impressive, but I’ve no way to identify you. I’m standing here holding a briefcase one of your men brought to the door. You told me within seconds of introducing yourself that, ‘The President…’ sent you. Sorry, but I need to see identification.”
“I wouldn’t feel you had good instincts if you’d failed to ask,” he said.
He pulled a cordovan leather folder from the left breast pocket of his suit and handed it to me. The wallet was a passport case. The passport: black—diplomatic. The picture: my guest. The full name, Clayton Armistead Elbridge. Title: Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs.
I waved toward the tan leather sofa, “ Please sit down, Mr. Elbridge, thank you for humoring me.” I put the briefcase on the coffee table.
Elizabeth came in with a tray and set it on the table opposite the briefcase. I sat in a stuffed chair that matched the sofa and faced Elbridge.
She focused on my eyes for two or three seconds then went out of the living room and down the hall. The door to her study thumped shut.
While standing, Elbridge had been only slightly shorter than me. I’m 6’ 2.” His handshake: firm, his hand: soft. The leg needing help from the walking stick was his left. His suit: more expensive than I’d buy, and I could afford whatever I wished. Grey hair, trimmed short over the ears and blue eyes, weary.
“Mr. Blair—Alex, if I may—I didn’t mislead you by any means. The President of the United States personally asked me to find you and ask you to do your country a service. I’m here to give you the outline of what we ask.”
A storm was coming. Static electricity before first rain drenches—before first thunder crashes, before first forked bolts reach from purple clouds to earth touched me then.
I should have paid attention.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 17, 2015

Second Post – Opening Chapter of a Novel

Note: This is simply an edited copy. The audio on the original had some problems.  Enjoy anyway.

Yesterday, I posted the first draft of the opening chapter of a work-in-progress. Thank you to those who commented.

Today, I’m posting the prologue to a published novella,  V Trooper – First Mission.  It was started as an experiment in writing fantasy fiction.  The protagonist is a vampire.  Since no one has codified what a vampire is truly like, I chose to use some of the elements from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and added in a bit of Anne Rice’s take on the supernatural creatures from her Interview With The Vampire. Wil Boyd, the vampire is unlike any other I’ve encountered in reading.  I can’t speak for TV vampires, I’m not familiar with them.

Regarding the writing of the novella, the fact that I was writing about a vampire who was a soldier, seemed to set the creative juices free. There is more poetic description there than in some of my other, more conventional fiction.

Wil Boyd, as noted, is the protagonist, but his boss in the Army, Major Vic Russell shares the stage almost equally. The man is a frustrated warrior. He lost part of a leg in combat and has now been shuffled away from his beloved Special Forces to command a sustainment battalion, supplying bullets and beans to troops in Afghanistan.

There are underlying love stories that become more fully developed in the second novella. That piece also examines the birth of the European vampire mythology.

V Trooper – First Mission is currently available as a digital book through Amazon and as an audiobook through Amazon and

Here’s the prologue.  Enjoy reading and listening. The talented Carl Moore is the narrator for both novellas.



Mustafa Muhammad was cold. Night in the mountains near Bamiyan, Afghanistan, chilled the Taliban warrior. His robes were not enough to block mountain winds that slithered through the rocks as he squatted, watching the trails that led to his master’s encampment at the top of the hill.

No enemy will come, not even the infidel’s Special Forces, but the Sheikh would have my head removed if I left this post. Eight of us guard the Sheikh’s tent. If I have to piss, I can only go three meters away to a tin bucket, and I have to smell it until my relief comes at four in the morning. Then I have to take away the bucket, empty it, and bring it back for the next man.

My sergeant is sleeping in a comfortable bag inside a big, warm tent while I freeze.

A sound, like great wings above him, made Mustafa look to the stars and lift the barrel of his AK-47.


Then he was there, coming up the hill. A slim man in a black uniform, an American. He approached Mustafa without speaking. In the bare light of the sickle moon, the man seemed to smile. Before the Taliban guard could bring his weapon around, the stranger had grabbed the gun barrel. He was smiling, though there was a strange look to his mouth.

The intruder wore curved sunglasses and pulled them aside as he came ever closer. The eyes were red and glowed as fiery as the burning coals they mimicked. Mustafa released his grip on the weapon and turned to run. He opened his mouth to yell an alarm, but a hand as cold and hard as a knife’s blade covered his mouth and spun him around, drawing him against a body hard as dragon’s scales. The mouth the Taliban soldier thought was eerie, opened. Fangs, like those of a viper, glittered in the moonlight.

The only sound at the guard post was a slight drumming as the dead guard’s feet trembled in the dirt.


Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 16, 2015

First Chapter of A Work in Progress

I recently read a person’s blog that had his favorite fifty opening sentences.  One of them was the unforgettable “Call me Ishmael.” from Moby Dick.  I humbly disagree. It’s a memorable line because of the powerful work that follows .

I do agree with another person’s favorite first line: it comes from Follet’s Key to Rebecca. It’s all in caps in the original: “THE LAST CAMEL DIED AT NOON.”  A reader, looking at that line in an airport bookstore, trying to find something to read on the plane, would probably want to know more–and buy the book.  That’s the idea of “the hook.”  Grab the readers by the figurative collars an make him or her want more.  Make the reader turn the page.

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing, a few pages at time, bits of books I’ve written–or, in some cases works in progress.

Following is the first chapter of a new book.  The working title is Rollin’ on the River (with apologies to the Creedence Clearwater Revival).

Enjoy and comment, if you’d like.  I always appreciate comments.

Out here in the dark, miles from the nearest airport, an airplane was landing.

The noise seemed to come from the pasture east of the barn.  Absolutely weird.  Maybe somebody’s got problems, but the engine had not sounded wrong.  The sound itself was wrong—alien to this old farm by the river bluff about fifty miles west of Chattanooga.

I eased out of bed to avoid disturbing Shannon.  I was only wearing a pair of shorts, and the chill in the unheated bedroom quickly hit my bare arms, legs and feet.     The room was on the second floor of the house, on the southwest corner, and from the windows that faced south and west I couldn’t see the pasture.  I quietly opened the door and headed down the hallway to the other end of the house to a bedroom whose windows looked east and south.  On the way, I stopped in the bathroom and put on a bathrobe and moccasins to help with the cool night.

In the empty room, I sat on the bare mattress of an old iron-frame bed and looked out the window that faced east. There were no curtains or blinds on the windows.   I could see lights in the pasture, moving lights, but I could no longer hear the plane’s engine.

When I raised the window—taking care to make no noise—a flood of late-October air rushed over me. It was clean, cool and sweet and smelled like a fresh mountain stream. The almost-full moon silvered the landscape.

Voices came from the direction of the pasture.  Indistinct but clearly human voices.  Time to go investigate.

As I was starting to lower the window, I heard a soft sound and turned, Shannon came in the door.  She was barefoot and wore only a long tee shirt.  I stopped with the window half-open and went to her, hugging her close to me.

“What are you doing in here, Hon?  Why did you get up and why is that window open?”  She was half-whispering, although she had no obvious reason to do so.

I matched her quiet tones.  “Someone is out there in the pasture to the east of the barn.  Look.  See those lights through the trees?”

Small flickers winked and disappeared and flashed again as we watched.  She leaned around me toward the window to watch. When we moved to the bed, she sat beside me and curled her legs under her.

“I could hear voices just before you came in.  Listen.”

She put her arm around my waist and her head on my shoulder.  Her warmth against me and her personal scent, like roses in the summer sun, made me simply want to go back to bed and hold her close.

Shannon is a little more than five-three; slender, but nicely shaped with firm breasts and a cute, round butt.  She wears her dark brown hair short and has the softest, warmest brown eyes I have ever known.

But it is her smile that can light a whole room and make my heart stop.  We have been married for only a little more than two years and I cannot imagine life without her.

“It’s cold in here, Honey, pull the window down and let’s go back to bed.  Those are probably just kids out there goofing around on their four-wheelers.”

“Wait.  Did you hear it?”

An engine started, then brighter lights flicked through the row of cedars near the barnyard. More voices.  Another engine churned into life.

I pulled the window down and took Shannon’s hand, leading her back to our bedroom.  I picked up a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans that I had hung on the back of a chair and began dressing.

“I’m just going down there to see what those people are doing out there.  After all, this is my farm, now.”  As I spoke, I picked up my .45 pistol from the chest of drawers and slipped it under my waistband in the small of my back— just in case.

“You’re not going down there without me.”  Shannon was pulling on a pair of jeans and tucking in the tee shirt. “And, if you think you may need your pistol, I’ll take mine.”
She had taken her little Kahr 9mm out of its purse holster.

I tried momentarily to dissuade her, knowing it would do little or no good.

“Okay, but stay close behind me and don’t take the safety off unless it’s absolutely necessary.”  I think she stuck her tongue out at me, but it was too dark to see.  She’s a sweet woman, but tough.  I was always glad to have her backing me.

We went downstairs without turning on lights; through the kitchen and out the back door of the house, the side that was away from the activity we had heard and seen.  I held her hand as we went around the west side of the house past my Jeep, and to the front porch.

We paused to listen and watch.

Faint voices, but no visible lights from here.  Probably blocked by the barn and the dense line of cedars.  I led the way across the chilled, dewy front yard holding Shannon’s hand, staying on the rock slab path down to the barnyard gate.

A few crickets clicked and scraped.  The light from the moon and the stars seemed even brighter out here in the country.  There was enough light that we could find our way without stumbling.

The huge, black open front door of the barn was straight ahead as we closed the gate behind us. The dense line of cedars was to our left about twenty yards away to the east.  There were no animals in the barn, so there would be no problem of our disturbing them and causing a ruckus.

I was about to lead us to the trees when the sudden growl and revving whine of an aircraft engine splintered the country night quiet like an explosion.  Immediately, there were more lights filtering through the trees like flame to accompany the explosion.

“Cover my back. Stay close to this side of the barn.  I’ll be right back.”  I dropped Shannon’s hand after squeezing it and caught her nod as I jogged into the line of trees.

Grandpa had planted the cedars when he and Grandma had first bought the farm and built the house and barn.  He had gone into the woods and found small, thick young plants that I grew up calling “Christmas Trees,” and brought them back here.  He had planted them in three offset lines.  The thick, fragrant trees with scaly bark made a sturdy windbreak for the barnyard from the sometimes-bitter winter blasts from the east.  The winds cross the broad Tennessee River, climb the two-hundred foot bluff beyond the pasture, and rip the half-mile across the open ground to the barnyard.

Cows, horses and mules stood behind the cedars, turned their butts to the wind and sheltered from the chill.  Now in October of 2010, seventy years or so after Grandpa had planted them, their dense branches hid the night’s intruders.

Pushing  through the thick limbs, I moved cautiously from instinct and training and could now see the aircraft in the bright moonlight.  Its lights flared across the open grass.  The engine revved to the top of its range and it rolled only a short distance before it was airborne.  Almost immediately after the wheels had cleared ground, all lights except the wingtip markers went off.

Just like the Agency’s STOLs I had known when Delta worked with them.

I stood there, stunned by the unreality of the situation—a plane taking off from the farm’s pasture in the middle of the night…  Following the aircraft as best I could as it swung on its right wing and headed east then abruptly dropped below the cliff toward the river.  Even stranger, it looked like it had pontoons as well as wheels.

What the hell…

Then vehicle engines started, and small yellow and red lights marked where they began to move. They were coming toward where I stood, probably to catch the small dirt road behind the barn heading back to the paved road that runs north and south next to the farm.

I stood there at the edge of the pasture with the cedars behind me, watching the humps of vehicles coming closer, trying to make up my mind.

Should I confront these people—these trespassers–by going to the road and trying to halt them? Probably stupid and dangerous.  Or, should I just go back to Shannon and try to catch their tag numbers as they passed behind the barn to the paved road?

My mind was made up for me.  A quick whip-snap burned past my left ear and pop-pop-popped through the thick branches behind me.  The crack of a rifle followed.

Some asshole had just shot at me!

I had been standing with my back to the dark foliage, wearing faded jeans and a white sweatshirt.  An easy target; but then I hadn’t expected gunfire.

Instinctively, I dropped to my belly and rolled to my left, snatching the .45 from my waistband and thumbing the safety off as I moved.

Engines jammed to a higher key and the lights jumped as the two vehicles accelerated, bouncing across the rolling terrain.  They were heading for the dirt road as I had expected.

I raised up to one knee to see them and took aim with the pistol.  Two more shots popped and ripped the grass and my right and left.

Damn! That first shot wasn’t an accident. These people were serious!

I rolled farther to my left and crouched behind a big cedar trunk and ripped off two shots at each vehicle, aiming over the glowing sights, between the front and rear running lights.  Probably a useless gesture given the distance and the lack of real light, but it made me feel better.  At least I had participated in the fight, and had not just been a target.

The vehicles, a pickup truck and a SUV reached the little road and gravel spattered as they accelerated then went out of sight beyond the trees and the barn.

I stood up, quivering with adrenaline and impotent rage.

Pop, pop, pop! Shannon’s pistol! Then a heavy rifle crack, just before tires screamed on the pavement and the engine sounds dopplered away.

“Shannon!”  I yelled as I ran through the trees into the barnyard. “Shannon!”

Oh my God! Where is she?

“Shannon!” I yelled.

“Fort!” Shannon said.

I could breathe again.  Her voice was strong. My knees felt shaky with relief.

“Over here, on the other side of the barn.  Are you okay?” I said.

As I trotted over to where she waited, she was talking in a torrent of words. They were spilling out even before I got to her.

“ I heard them shoot, then I heard your pistol, and I heard them shoot again and again.  Then I heard the trucks on the dirt road and ran over here to see their tags.  I saw a guy in the back of the pickup with a rifle pointed back down the road.  He saw me, and swung it toward me so I shot at him.  I hope I hit the sonofabitch! I’m so glad you’re okay.”

The last she said as we held each other with grateful desperation.  Her face was burrowed into my shoulder; the scent of her hair was in every breath as I gulped the chill air in relief. I felt her tremble as we embraced, but that may have been both of us.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 15, 2015

A Supermarket Rant

This was published earlier by my friend, Donna Cavanagh, on her Humor Outcasts site.  I ran across it today, while cleaning out my Dropbox. Most of us have seen at least one of these situations.  Grin and grimace!



There you stand: you have two items in your hands.  The express lane is closed and there are three people ahead of you.  None of them have a full, wheeled basket, so maybe this won’t take too long but here’s what happens.

The first in line, a sweet-looking little old lady (SLOL) is standing there with her purse resting on the counter. Her hands are clasped on top of the purse and she has a neighborly smile.

“That’s a total of thirty-three, sixty-four,” the cashier says.

“How much?” SLOL says.

“Thirty-three, sixty-four,” the cashier says.

After digging in her briefcase-size purse, she looks up with a smile.

“Oh, let me see.  I have two twenties here,” SLOL says.

She hands the cashier the two twenties and, before the cashier can ring up the sale, stops the action.

“I think I have the correct change, please wait.”

The cashier stands with the two twenties, waiting.  So is everyone else in the line.  The SLOL now opens her little pink change purse and starts digging, looking for change.

“Oh, I guess I don’t have the correct change.  All I have is three quarters.  If I give them to you can you apply that against… what did you say it was?   Sixty-four cents?”

“Yes, M’am. I can do that,” the cashier says

The cashier hands the SLOL  $7.11 and waits while the woman turns the bills so that they are facing the same way and reopens her already-closed coin pure to deposit the eleven cents.

Meanwhile, I’m standing there with a cold half-gallon of milk and a loaf of bread.  One hand is getting cold and I’m trying not to crush the bread—waiting for the next patron to check out.

The cashier, aided by modern technology, swipes two six-packs of beer for the man. He stands, waiting for his total.

“Eleven, eighty-eight,” the cashier says.

The man pulls his wallet from the rear pocket of his jeans and hands the cashier a hundred-dollar bill.

She stares, at first, seeming confused then finds a special pen to drag across the face of the greenback. After it doesn’t show up as counterfeit, she hands him his change.

He’s been holding his wallet open, waiting for his change.

The cashier hands him his $88.12 by placing the cash on his open palm and the receipt and coins on top. He has to put the billfold down; separate the receipt from the change and put the coins in a pocket. He then throws the paper back on the counter and puts the cash in his billfold. Finally, he grabs his Bud and leaves.

The woman in front of me has been reading one of those supermarket tabloids. The lead story was, “Has the Ghost of Diana Been Captured by Space Aliens?”

The woman’s cart was half-full.  When the cashier has tallied all the items, she announces what shows clearly on the computer screen.

“The total is $114.56, M’am,” the cashier says.

The customer turns back and puts the tabloid back in the rack.

“How much?” the customer says?

The cashier repeats the total.

The customer then opens her purse and begins a search. After my left hand, holding the milk, is almost frostbitten, she finds a checkbook.

The process of writing a check is, of course, long and arduous.

Once she hands the check to the cashier for processing, she begins the subtraction from her check log.

By this time, three other customers have lined up behind me. There are a couple of not-so-nice comments.

“Didn’t she know how she was going to pay before she even got in line?”

“Is she having trouble spelling the grocery store’s name?”

I gratefully shift the cold—or now maybe not-so-cold—milk to the counter and slide my bank card.

“Debit or credit,” the cashier says.


By the time I get my purchases and head for the car, the severe weather that caused me to shop has arrived.

I’m drenched by the time I get to the car.

Shopping is an adventure.

Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 2, 2015

The Emperor’s Words After The Atomic Bombs

Emperor Hirohito’s voice was heard by the Japanese people for the first time in a radio broadcast on August 15, 1945. Before that, only his closest advisers and his family had actually heard him speak. After all, he was considered—by the Japanese—to be a living deity.

Scholars and historians are still at odds over the emperor’s culpability during WWII.  Some criticized MacArthur for allowing him to escape the fate that other Japanese, such as Tojo suffered.

After the war, Hirohito studied marine biology and wrote several scholarly papers on the subject.

In 1989, I was traveling for business and saw videos of thousands of Japanese in the streets, mourning the death of their “Showa Emperor.”  The following bit of poetry came without many revisions.


Thousands of black umbrellas

like bubbles on a pool of oil,

reflect the Japanese winter sky.

Solemn faces at the edge

stare up at the camera,

tilting their protection;

rain wets their white shirts.

Some of these, no doubt,

once watched the Emperor of The Rising Sun

pacing a white stallion across palace lawns,

glittering in plumed helmet and medieval armor,

inside the Imperial moat.

Some had screamed “Tora, Tora, Tora!”

above a sleeping harborå

in a December dawn.

Others shook in the steam of malarial jungles.


They stand wrinkled in the chill rain,

caught somewhere between the glory

that sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne

and golf on Okinawa;

just miles up the sunny coast from cliffs

where Imperial Army troops leaped,

in a hara-kiri dive

rather than fall before the sweep

of America’s steel typhoon.

The Sony’s picture is clear, its colors exact;

Hirohito is dead.

Mourning for their emperor,

death of empire,

began when they first heard him speak;

-the voice of god in radio static

telling of incredible brightness

at Hiroshima

at Nagasaki

and unconditional surrender.

He knelt then,

more than forty years

before his sea anemones.

Did they bow delicate, watery heads

before his hand?


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