Friday, June 29, 2018

Interview with writer Mahlon (Dick) Palmer about his memoir, Destiny

Writer Mahlon (Dick) Palmer is helping me wrap up the month by chatting with me about his memoir, Destiny.

Dick grew up on the family dairy farm in upstate New York. At the age of seventeen, immediately following graduation from high school, he joined the US Air Force where he served four years as an Air Weather Observer. Although Dick has no college education, he began working in the field of data processing when that world consisted of IBM punched cards in the early 1960’s.

Almost immediately, Dick became fascinated with the IBM 650 computer when he quickly decided he must learn how to program it, thus the beginning of a thirty plus year career in the field. He has programmed virtually every make of computer up through the early 21st century, using the same methodology Dick began designing computer systems in the Bahamas on a large Navy Contract named AUTEC (Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center) when he built his first computer system for that contract. The design techniques that he developed and used on that system would become the blueprint that he used for the next twenty-five years while designing systems for the Air Force to include BMEWS and the DEW Line, NASA Apollo 11 and 12.

He then built the largest business system in Lockheed Martin Corporation that is still operational today after nearly thirty years of successful operation. Adding to his computer accomplishments, he has managed major portions of operations on the DEW Line and BMEWS contracts, stretching from Iceland, then across Greenland, Canada and throughout much of Alaska. All of the skills that were necessary to accomplish the above detailed tasks were self-taught. Those skills not only served him well throughout his professional career but also were invaluable in the pursuit of his many hobbies, adventures and ultimately retirement.

Welcome, Dick. Please tell us about your current release.
With Destiny, the writing just flowed, was just there when I sat down to the page. I tried to be as accurate as possible.

It’s the story of my life, starting when I was a small child on a dairy farm and following my career through my time in the Air Force and my work on software and computer systems with Lockheed Martin, the US Navy and Nasa’s Apollo 11 and 12 missions.

And I’ve got quite a story to tell about my destiny, how everything came together for me even when I didn’t realize it at the moment. I’ve taken a few thousand photos since 1954 so have a lot of memories to share and a story that I hope will encourage other people.

What inspired you to write this book?
One day, while selling our family’s honey at the farmers’ market near our house, I suddenly collapsed. Later, I woke up in the hospital after having survived a near-fatal heart attack.

Nurses had to visit my room every half hour to do blood draws in order to monitor my health. I entertained them by telling stories from my life to pass the time. When I left the hospital, they all agreed that I should write a book – which eventually became Destiny.

I’ve never written anything before, and – not to brag – but a friend and fellow farmers’ market vendor, who’s also a lawyer, took a look at this book and asked, ‘wow, who’s your ghostwriter?’

What exciting story are you working on next?
Well, I suspect this will be my only full-length book, but I might take some of the photos that I have collected over decades and put them together into a book, Destiny in Pictures.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t consider myself a writer. I simply wanted to tell the story of my life.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I never wrote full time, I have a full life that includes reading, selling honey at the farmers’ market with my wife, and learning about my other interests – woodworking, small engine repair, dog training, and traveling.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
One of the quirks of my writing style is that I always tell stories, even my own story, in third person. Sounds more natural to me, and I find first person repetitious.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child I always wanted to grow up and become an adult, since farming was such hard work. On the farm, once you could get up and get places by yourself you were expected to work hard. By five or six years old you were doing as much work as an adult.
Even serving in the Air Force was easier than my farm chores!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I came up with the title for this book last, after reading my story over and realizing that destiny was the thread that pulled my life together.

Some people think this book is about the border collie on the front cover. He was a dog I knew and loved, and I chose that photo for the cover after hiring an illustrator and falling in love with the image. But there’s so much more to this book, it’s the story of my entire life. I admire people who write novels, but I don’t have that much imagination, so I stuck with memoir.

Thanks for being here today, Dick.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Interview with military historical author David McCue

Author David McCue is here today to chat with me about his military historical novel, When Angels Wept.

David McCue is a native of Southern Californian. Like Rod Hirsch, the hero in his novel, his parents were from Iowa and raised him with Midwestern values. He grew up in Palos Verdes, CA and graduated from California State University Long Beach. He and his wife live in south Orange County and have two sons. David is a WWII and Vietnam War era history buff with a particular interest in military aircraft. When Angels Wept is his first novel.

His interests are varied and include spending time with his family, reading, travel, landscape design, and vintage corvettes. He spent many years restoring the vintage 1970 Corvette he has owned since 1974. The time put into the restoration was well worth the effort. It won top in its class at the prestigious all Corvette Plastic Fantastic Car show in San Diego, the largest all Corvette show in the country.

He has been influenced by John Steinbeck, Pearl S. Buck and later Larry McMurtry, Herman Wouk and Mario Puzo among others. When he finished Wouk’s Winds of War and War and Remembrance, he recalls thinking they were “damn were fine books” and that they would stay with him forever. He says he got the same feeling after reading Stephen King’s The Stand.

“In writing When Angels Wept, I wanted my readers to take something away with them long after they had finished the book,” McCue says. “I wanted them to feel that the message contained within the pages was important and had merit. If readers feel that, I’ve done my job.”

Please tell us about your current release.
In World War I it was labeled “shell shock.” In World War II it was known as “battle fatigue.” Today most of us are familiar with the term “post-traumatic stress disorder.” No matter what the label, it remains the destruction of the minds individuals who experience traumatic events…typically events no one was ever meant to experience, like the unspeakable events of war. When Angels Wept follows the path of one such individual, an idealistic young airman named Rod Hirsch, who experiences the most absolute horrors of war during his time fighting in World War II. Hirsch has been raised with a respect for life and a belief in the rewards of hard work. The young man accepts his duty to his country without question. When he enters the Army Cadet Pilot Training Program and eventually becomes the captain of a B17 bomber, his inner struggles begin. Hirsch learns to deal with military life and the diverse personalities of the men in his charge.

There is more in store for Hirsch than just air battles and kills however. He also finds love while shopping for a special gift for his mother in a small bucolic English village. The moment he lays eyes on Shelly, a new layer of complication centers his young life.

Hirsch’s record of staying alive over the skies of Europe eclipses all other pilots’ until one day when he and his crew come up against an insidious evil his mind could never have concocted. After losing his entire crew, Hirsch’s grip on reality seriously wavers. The horrors of war begin a relentless invasion into his psyche, his mid-western values are compromised forever. Guilt rages and seeps into every fissure of his mind.

War indeed is hell, but for those with PTSD, it is a personal torment that no amount of medication can cure. So it is for Hirsch as the cracks between reality and horrid war-torn memories deepen and expand. His final break from reality comes when Hirsch uncovers the body of his love, bloodied and crushed by the rubble left by a rogue German bomb. Hirsch’s new focus is to find the bomber responsible German pilot and exact an unholy revenge.

While When Angles Wept chronicles the path to destruction of just one man’s life, the result of the effects of war that hundreds of thousands of soldiers experience today. The book takes readers through the insidious downward physical, mental and emotional spiral that post-traumatic stress disorder causes. You can’t see it; you can’t touch it; it has no taste or smell. PTSD is the mind’s own grim reaper that has just one, single purpose…to kill the human spirit over time.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always had an interest in military history and military aircraft. For some reason, during a dramatic section of Yanni at the Acropolis, an image of American B17 bombers fighting the Luftwaffe during raids in WWII developed in my mind. By the time I got home a sketch of a story was spinning in my head. Although I was unprepared, not proficient at typing, spelling or punctuation, I started to write it. I guess it was just the number one item on my bucket list.

Excerpt from When Angels Wept:
A few blocks away, a boy on a bicycle peddled in their direction. Although the 13-year-old was never greeted warmly, everyone knew Harvey. His bike had a bent pedal that nicked the frame slightly, warning that he was coming.
As he rounded the corner, two neighbors talking over their fence abruptly stopped upon seeing him. They stared, wondering where he was going. They resumed their conversation only when he’d passed. Harvey wore no badge or uniform, but everyone knew his official capacity; he delivered telegrams, words cut from a teletype and pasted on to paper and sealed. Harvey’s first stop was Number 4 Market Street.
He rang the bell nervously. There was no response. The cable would have to go back in his pouch. As he hopped back onto his bike, a droplet of water bounced off his nose followed by more drops, making perfect half-inch circles on the pavement as he peddled toward Mill Road. Over the last several months Harvey had delivered countless messages from the War Department. He watched as the hearts of the entire community broke. Rod looked up the street and saw the boy peddling toward them. 
Shelly turned the same direction. Recognizing the boy, she gasped, forcing her attention away from Rodney. She drew her fist up to her mouth and said out loud, “Keep going. Keep going.” 
Harvey continued peddling toward them and stopped at the Waters’ gate across the street where Pam and her mother-in-law had just exited their house. Upon seeing him, their umbrellas spilled out of their hands. Mrs. Waters clenched her jaw and steeled herself. The rain began trickling off her nose and cheeks but went unnoticed. He confirmed the address, got off his bicycle, set it down and hesitated at their gate. Mrs. Waters recoiled. Pamela began whimpering and raised her hands to her face, obviously fearful of the approaching boy and the official telegram he carried in his hand.
Harvey approached slowly, avoiding eye contact. Mrs. Waters stood straight, balling her fists as if squeezing hard enough could will him away. “I have a cable for Mr. and Mrs. Edger Waters,” he said respectfully and extended his hand holding the cable uneasily. Alice hesitated. Her son was a navigator in the RAF. The news needn’t be fatal.
She grabbed the damp envelope. Her freshly curled hair, now soaked, lay flattened from the rain. The boy continued to look down as he retreated to his waiting bicycle. Harvey had barely ridden a few yards when he heard the women scream. The clicking from his peddling quickened as the boy pumped his legs harder, trying to put as much distance from them as possible. 
The cable was small, a few inches long and a few more inches wide. How could something so small upend people’s lives?
“Oh, it’s Hugh!” Shelly cried, “Oh no,” immediately running across the street, leaving Rod standing uneasily on the porch. The Waters were like family to Shelly.
At first, Rod wasn't sure what had happened. After a moment, he realized that Shelly’s neighbor had received word that their son had been killed. Rod was dazed. In an instant the warm glow of their time together had turned to ashes as the reality of the war invaded the sheltered place that they had occupied. 
Shelly needed to be with her friends. Young Pamela sank to her knees and buried her face in her mother-in-law’s apron. Rod, feeling helpless, turned to Shelly’s uncle and asked, “Harry, will you tell Shelly that I’ll write?” He wondered, “Which heart breaks harder, a wife’s or a mother’s?” The question had no answer.
For a few precious hours, they had shut out the war. Then this heartbreaking event smashed into their private world with a vengeance. Rod gave Harry a quick hug and left without another word. Turning up his collar against the morning’s rain, he looked back to see the three women locked together weeping, the telegram clutched in Pamela’s hand. 
The skies opened and the angels wept. 
Rod gazed at her through the deluge. Her soaked white dress clung to her tightly like a second skin confirming the fantasies he had about her figure. Now with her neighbor’s loss he felt self-conscious, almost guilty, about the way he’d lusted for her just minutes ago.
Shelly turned to find Rodney looking at her, but she could not see his eyes through her tears and the rain. Even in the rain she could still taste his kiss though. The white dress and what she said had lured him to her. There was never a thought of refusing him, and her knees had almost failed when his hands drew her into him. 
Rod waved.
Waving back silently, Shelly watched as he turned and walked away, his form fading in the gray of the rain. Would that be the last time she would ever see him?

What exciting story are you working on next?
The second book is titled, The Sins of Katherine Westbrook. Katherine is Shelly Westbrook’s mother, a spin-off character from When Angels Wept. She is smart, beautiful and has a head for business. However her personal life is ruins. She is an absolute failure as a mother and wife. After her husband’s death, she meets an American general and she is quite taken with him, however, her failures in her personal life haunt her. Her personal history with men is a disaster, so she can’t trust herself to open up to the general. Her willfulness is in opposition to her lack of trust in her own judgement and creates an interesting conflict that I felt I could develop.

 Thanks for being here today, David.