Sunday, June 30, 2013

For You - An Inspiration Moment - Or Two

by Bert Carson

Me and Harry rolled through St. Charles, Missouri a few minutes after 10 PM.  We were east bound, headed for Nashville, Tennessee, with 60,000 pounds of Washington State’s finest apples.  

There was a light mist in the air, and the temperature was dropping like the price of fireworks on July the fifth.  All the forecasts said snow, and we knew that our problem, if there was going to be one, would be in Kentucky.  Kentucky is a wonderful state, but no one there knows jack about snow removal.

Twenty-five minutes after blowing through St. Charles, we were crossing the Mississippi River, on I-255, just south of St. Louis.  Another fifteen minutes and Missouri was in the rear view mirrors, and we were clearing East St. Louis, Illinois, heading east on I-64.  Traffic thinned dramatically at that point, and I eased the throttle down, finally letting let the big CAT engine level out at 2100 RPM which works out to 78 miles per hour.

I glanced over at Harry.  He had come out of the sleeper box in St. Charles without so much as a "Hello, how are you?"  That's not unusual.  We sometimes go for hours without saying a word.  We've been together so long, there just isn't much left to say.

I met Harry at Fort Benning, Georgia, in December, 1965.  We were both fresh out of high school.  Harry was from Detroit.  I was born in Birmingham, Alabama.  

A judge told Harry either to join the Army or go to jail.  Harry chose the Army.   In the years since those days, there have occasions when I told him he made the wrong decision.  There have been days when he agreed.

My father kicked me out of the house the day after I finished high school.  He said he couldn't afford to raise a grown man and added that he had his hands full with six kids.  I was glad to move out, and the Army seemed a logical place to go.  At times, I would have taken a "do over" on that one.  But, there are no do overs in life.  What’s done is done and reliving it over and over doesn’t change a damn thing.

From Basic Training, we went to Advanced Individual Training.  After AIT, me and Harry went to Cu Chi, South Vietnam.  We survived our first tour with the Twenty-Fifth Division and, since neither of us had much to go back to, we volunteered for a second one, taking the Army up on its offer of a free thirty day leave anywhere in the world.  We didn't go to Europe or Thailand or Australia or any of the other exotic places we could have chosen.  Instead, we hitchhiked all over the United States for thirty days.  That wasn't always easy, since we are the odd couple of all time.

Harry is 6'5" and hits the scale at 240 plus.  I'm 5'10",  and on my best day, I might reach 145.  That's not the biggest difference.  Harry is about as black as a man can get, and, he has told me about ten thousand times, I'm the whitest white man who has ever lived.

Back in the late sixties, there weren't a lot people anxious to pick us up.  But we managed, and, somewhere during those thirty days, we decided that when we got of the Army we would buy a truck, a tractor-trailer, and we’d spend the rest of our lives driving it from coast to coast.  We also agreed that we would never pick up hitch hikers who looked like us.  

Though we didn’t talk about it, ever, neither of us thought we would see the dream come true.  Hell, we didn’t think we’d survive the next twelve months.

One night, two months short of our going home for good, Charlie overran our firebase.  There was no moon.  The world was as dark as it gets and then the
crickets hushed.  We knew what would happen next and knew it would happen quickly.   It did.  Minutes later the Lieutenant shouted retreat, and we began moving back, in an almost orderly fashion.  That's when the second wave of the attack began.  I took two rounds, one in my right thigh, the other in my right shoulder.  The force of the bullets slammed me into a tree.  My head bounced off the trunk, my steel pot hit the ground, and I was out cold.  I was also alone and bleeding to death.  The rest of the company continued to withdraw, unaware that I was down.

When they re-formed, about a mile away from the firebase, Harry realized I was missing.  Against orders, and in the middle of the heaviest attack we had ever faced, Harry came back for me.  I don't know how he found me.  I had regained consciousness, but I couldn't move.  I could hear the Viet Cong moving around me, and I knew I wasn't going to live to see the light of tomorrow.

  Then, without a sound, Harry was there, like some kind of angel.  He touched my lips with his forefinger, shook his head, and scooped me up like I was baby.   Against the odds, he worked his way through the VC and found our guys.   It's a wonder they didn't blow us away.  I guess they were so shocked at the sight of a giant running out of the darkness toward them they forgot to shoot.

   This is the sixth rig me and Harry have owned in the past twenty-five years.  It hasn't always been an easy way to make a living, but when the going is tough all we have to do is think back to that night in 'Nam, and one of us will laugh and say, "This ain't shit."  Then we both laugh and go on through whatever we up against.
Harry poured two cups of coffee from the fresh thermos and handed one to me.  I nodded my appreciation, keeping my attention on the highway.  That's when we saw them for the first time, two guys in a three or four-year-old, red Dodge pickup.  They had to have been going eighty-five when they passed us.  The air mass pushed by our rig rocked the pickup when they passed, but they didn't slow.  In a minute or two, they were out of sight.  Neither of us commented. 

We stopped at the scales just after they passed.  Five minutes later, we were back on the road and up to cruising speed.  Fifteen minutes after that, the red truck passed us again, still going over eighty miles an hour.  Harry took a sip of his coffee and made his first comment since emerging from the sleeper more than an hour earlier.  "I guess they have a full tank of gas now.  That should be the last we see of them."

Brilliant conversationalist that I am, I said, "Yep.  You're probably right."
A little less than an hour passed and we turned south on I-57 at Mount Vernon, Illinois.  Snow was beginning to fall, and we knew, without talking about it, we had to keep pushing.  As soon as we passed the last Mount Vernon exit, I picked our speed up to eighty-two.  Harry adjusted the sensitivity of the radar detector, and I said a silent prayer that all the Illinois State Troopers were drinking coffee someplace warm and out of the weather.

Ten miles south of Mount Vernon, I was thinking my prayer had been answered.  We had the highway to ourselves.  Then I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw lights approaching at a high rate of speed.  My first thought was,  Damn, it’s the Highway Patrol.  I backed off the throttle.  In seconds, the lights were close enough for me to see that it was the red pickup.  They swept by as fast as before.  Harry and I looked at each other for a second, and he said what I was thinking, "Those guys are up to something, and it's not something nice."

I nodded in agreement.

We didn't see them again until just south of Paducah, Kentucky.  It was a repeat performance.  Watching their taillights disappear ahead of us Harry said, "I've got a bad feeling about this.  Those guys are holding up convenience stores, or worse."

I stared straight ahead.  Harry's last words, "Or worse," echoed through my head.  There are some bad types on the interstates, but, in spite of being out there with them every day, we have never had a direct confront with a modern day outlaw.  We aren't geared for it.  We put our weapons away when we left Vietnam.  We don't even own a slingshot.  We both know that's best for us.

We rode in silence for a while.  The C.B. Radio had been quiet for almost an hour.  It was a few minutes after 2 AM.  Harry looked at his watch and said what one of us usually says at 2 AM, "Well, if Charlie is coming tonight, he ought to be here soon."

I saw an exit sign, and I backed off the throttle.  Again Harry knew what I had in mind.  "You’re going to call the Highway Patrol."

"Yeah, I don't know exactly what I'll tell them, but I think I should."

"You're right," he said.  Then he added, "I'll drive after you call.  Give you an extra hour of sleep to make up for talking to the man."  We laughed, and Harry pulled his cap low on his forehead and let his head roll forward.

I geared the Kenworth down and eased onto the exit ramp.  Harry’s head snapped up, and he reset his cap on his head and looked around.  "Convenience store on the right," he said.  I checked the traffic and rolled through the yield sign at the foot of the exit ramp.  I was concentrating on parking the rig when Harry said so softly that I barely heard him, "They're in the store."

I didn't ask who.  I said, "Anybody else in the place?"

Without looking at me, he said, "Nope.  Just their truck parked at the pumps and an old VW on the side.  It probably belongs to the clerk."

"You want to go for it? I asked.  I made it sound like a question, but we both knew it wasn't.

Harry grinned and said, "Let's rock and roll."

I passed the store and swung onto the diesel fuel island.  It was out of sight of the clerk but I noticed a video camera that I figured was hooked to a monitor at the cash register.  I locked the rig down and said, "We're on candid camera.  Let's try to look like truck drivers."

Harry just grinned.

As we came around the corner of the store, we saw one of the guys standing at the counter, his back turned toward us.  His right hand was stuck in the pocket of his jacket.  The clerk, a young girl who couldn't have been more than eighteen was facing the window.  Her eyes were the size of Frisbees and seemed to be locked in place.

As we neared the door I whispered, "Take him out when I let you know the other one is down."

"Done," was all Harry said.

The guy at the counter didn't move when we walked through the door.  Neither did the clerk.  Harry moved toward the candy rack, and I headed for the restrooms like a man on a mission.

I had almost decided that the second guy was in the restroom when I glanced up at the shoplifting mirror fixed in the corner of the store.  The second guy was crouched down on the opposite side of the aisle I was moving down.  He had a large automatic pistol in his hand.

I heard Harry say, "That's all right.  I'll wait for my partner."

I knew without looking he was standing beside the guy at the counter.  I took two more steps and saw the kneeling gunman began to rise, and I knew we were out of time.  I moved pretty well for a middle aged truck driver, slamming into the shelving that separated us with all the strength I could generate in my 145 pound frame.  

The instant I moved toward the shelf I called, "Take him, Harry."

I didn't know what was on the other side of the shelf.  Unfortunately it was paper towels and toilet tissue.  Not something that will stop a man for very long.  However, the shelf went completely over and slammed the gunman to the floor.  I was on top of him before the last roll of toilet paper came to a stop.  He had dropped the pistol and covered his head with his hands when the shelf toppled.  The pistol, lying beside him, was forgotten for the moment.  

I kicked it away, put my foot on his neck, and in my best Clint Eastwood imitation said, "If you move you'll die."  That Eastwood imitation is powerful stuff.  He didn't make another move.
I called out, "How about it, Harry?"

"It's done," he shouted, and then added, "But I think he might have broken his arm though.  He was in too big of a hurry getting his hand out of his pocket."

I realized I had been holding my breath, probably since we entered the store.  I let it out in a rush and gasped in another which I didn’t hold.

Instantly, I was back in the Mekong Delta, seeing the sunrise and realizing that I had lived through another night of war.  I had almost forgotten how good that felt. How in touch I was with life and living in those days when I knew I could die any given moment.

Standing in that convenience store in Corbin, Kentucky, I made a promise to myself never to forget that again.

Sheriff’s deputies arrived, and we gave statements which were written up.  We signed them and everyone said, "Thank you," so many times we were tired of hearing it.  Finally, an hour and a half later, were headed south again.  Harry tuned the radio to a local news station and we heard, "The big weather news is the storm is over.  That's right folks, no snow.  The storm is over..."

Friday, June 28, 2013

Collateral Damage - Reviews

Once upon a time, there were almost two dozen reviews, all four and five stars, posted on the Southern Investigation review page - now many are gone - stripped by a ruthless algorithm.  They became collateral damage.

Amazon, concerned that many book reviews weren't the "real deal," built a algorithm to purge those that didn't meet their guidelines.  Thousands, maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands of reviews were stripped away - no author was excluded from the scrutiny of the algorithm.

After the bombing, it was discovered that many, in fact, way more than many of the reviews were, in fact, legitimate, honest reviews and should have never been removed.  They were collateral damage.  However, there's no going back on an algorithm that has run.

I didn't complain because, at the time, the action had no direct impact that I could see.  Now, however, I'm very close to publishing the second in the series, Southern Investigation - Tucson, and I want to run some paid advertisements for Southern Investigation to generate interest for the new release - unfortunately, the platforms I've chosen to run the ads have rejected my ads because I do not have the required number of reviews.  Explaining that I did have them and Amazon inadvertently stripped them away doesn't carry any weight.

So, if yours was one of the reviews that was stripped away (you can check here) I'd sure appreciate it if you'd re-post your review.  If you aren't in that category but are curious about Southern Investigation - here's the prologue for Southern Investigation - Tucson.  It will give you a good feel for Southern Investigation.  Thanks and enjoy.

David and I met in 1969 on the way to our first tour of duty in Vietnam. We spent almost three years in Vietnam, and then we were "wounded out", together. I was released from the hospital a few months after David. The day after I got home, I joined him, and his lifelong friend, Shirley Jacobson, in Clinton, Alabama. Shirley, the widow of a Vietnam veteran, and David had just started a lawn care business. They called it Southern Lawn Care.
They invited me to join them, but I explained that I didn't have a lawn mower and added that I didn't want one. Without hesitation, David said, "Okay, then we'll just do something else."
Shirley said, "I don't know why, but I believe that it's important that we stay together." In truth, Shirley knew why it was important for us to stay together and so did David and I. Vietnam created a break between those who served there and those who lost loved ones there and the rest of the world. Everyone was on one side of the break or the other. Those on the Vietnam side of the chasm understood what war was about and didn't talk about it. Those on the other side didn't understand and talked about it incessantly, usually beginning their comments with, "I know exactly how you feel." Normally we just nodded at that remark and ended the conversation as quickly as possible. Then there was an extreme case that became a constant reminder to me and my partners of the gulf between veterans and non-veterans.
We were having lunch at Betty's restaurant when a preacher, totally unknown to us, joined us and immediately launched into a campaign to save our souls. Without introduction, he said, "I want you to know that I know you." He nodded toward David, Robert, and me, as he continued. "You are veterans of the war in Vietnam." He paused, looked at Shirley, and said, "And I know you lost your husband there."
He stopped speaking, looked gravely at each of us, and then said, "I'm not a Vietnam veteran, but I know just how you feel." He paused for effect, then said, "I was once addicted to pornography."
For two or three seconds nothing happened, and then David totally lost it. Between peals of laughter, he looked at Shirley and managed to say, "Did that son of bitch say what I think he said?"
Shirley, looking straight at the preacher, raised her voice to a level that Betty later said could be heard in the kitchen. "Yep, he said being a Vietnam veteran is like jerking off."
I thought the preacher was going to have a stroke or a heart attack. He sprang, and I mean sprang, to his feet. His chair tipped over and slammed into the floor. Everyone in the dining room was staring at him. I guess they had never seen a speechless Baptist minister before.
At that point, we totally lost it and had a laughing fit that brought tears to all of our eyes. The preacher didn't see any of that because he was long gone when we got to that part.
It was shortly after that episode that Betty gave us our own table in the small private dining room in the back of the restaurant. On the wall beside our table is a bronze plaque that reads, reserved for Southern Investigation.
When Betty escorted us to the table the first time, David read the plaque, looked at her, and in mock seriousness said, "This is because of our addiction to pornography, isn't it."
Betty, who is almost as funny as David, replied just as seriously, "That's it, David, and I don't want the rest of my customers exposed to that."
Then we all lost it.
We brainstormed for a couple of days before we returned to Shirley's first suggestion, "Let's be private detectives." It wasn't an unfounded suggestion. Immediately prior to partnering with David in Southern Lawn Care, Shirley had worked for three years for a local attorney. She knew that lawyers, insurance companies, and other businesses depended on private investigators.
We decided to give it a shot, and Southern Investigation was formed. That happened over ten years ago. Since then, we've built a solid business. For the most part, our clients are attorneys, insurance companies, medium-sized corporations and privately owned businesses. Occasionally we work for individuals, but only in special cases that do not include divorce or personal conflict issues.
Many of our clients have offices in Atlanta, a hundred and forty miles from Clinton. Every couple of weeks we go there to present reports or testify in court on their behalf. On April 1, 1985, we were returning to Clinton from a trip to Atlanta, when we stopped for gas, coffee, and a rest stop, at the Quick Stop, in Menlo, Georgia.
David went inside while I fueled my Jeep. When I finished, I moved the Jeep to the side of the store and parked it under the big oak tree that shades half the building. As I entered, I noted that we were the only customers in the store. I waved at Maggie Kirkwood, the owner and manager, and headed toward the coffee pot at the back of the store. A few minutes later, three men came in. As they came through the door, they pulled guns, and one of them shouted at Maggie, "Give me all the money and you might live through this."
I ducked low behind a shelf that was stacked high with merchandise. David was beside me in seconds. With whispers and sign language, we quickly devised a plan and began moving down separate aisles toward the front of the store. To make a long story short, we stopped the holdup. Three men died, and David was seriously wounded. The nearest ambulance service is in Summerville, Georgia, almost thirty miles away. I looked at David and knew he didn't have the time for that. I considered other possibilities and elected to take him to Clinton, less than twenty-five miles north of Menlo.
Maggie called the sheriff. When I was sure the store was secure, I helped David to the Jeep, strapped him in the passenger seat, and headed north. On the top of Lookout Mountain, about halfway to Clinton, I admitted to myself that we might not make it in time. David was losing a lot of blood and passing in and out of consciousness. There aren't words to describe how I felt knowing that I might fail the man who had saved my life more times than I could count. At that moment, a call came over the CB radio triggering my first and so far my only Vietnam flashback.
"Viper One, this is Blackjack, it looks like you could use a dust-off."
Without thinking the call was coming through my CB, which had been squelched to the point that I hadn't heard a single call on it all day, or that a dust-off ship wouldn't be transmitting on a CB channel, I picked up the transmitter and said, "That's affirmative, Blackjack."
Blackjack instructed me to pull over. I did, and immediately a helicopter landed in the middle of the deserted highway while a second one hovered over it, lighting up the area. In seconds, an army nurse and a medic had David strapped to a litter with a plasma drip running in each arm. I left the Jeep on the side of the highway and flew with them to the Clinton Medical Center. On the way, I saw the tail number of the second ship and recognized it as the one that had been shot down on Christmas Day, 1968, in South Vietnam.
On Christmas Day, 1968, fifteen men and one woman disappeared in South Vietnam. The sixteen were the crew members of two helicopters, a long-range recon patrol, and an army nurse. They remained missing for almost eighteen years.
First, a company of North Vietnamese Regulars captured them as the two helicopter crews, with Captain Julie Wilson, attempted an emergency extraction of the LURPS. The NVA, from Hanoi, had one objective, capturing Americans and taking them back to Hanoi. Their operation, initiated in retaliation for a recent American operation that captured a number of high-ranking Viet Cong officers, was executed flawlessly. However, the day after capturing the Americans, the NVA themselves were ambushed and killed, to a man, by Phan Van Khai, the most powerful warlord in South Vietnam. Phan then marched the prisoners south, to Rach Tau, a hamlet in Ca Mau, the southernmost province of South Vietnam.
Phan treated the prisoners decently, though they were always under guard. He set Julie up as the village doctor, building a clinic and insuring that she had the supplies and equipment that she needed to run it. Early in their captivity, Ken Davis, the LURP medic, tried to escape. His Achilles tendon was severed to dissuade future escape attempts. Besides hobbling the medic, Phan told the prisoners that should one of them try to escape again, one of them, not the one who attempted to escape, would be killed.
That night, Colonel Hank Jemison, the highest-ranking prisoner, told the group that he understood that they had all taken an oath to try to escape if they were captured by the enemy, and he wouldn't order them to do otherwise. However, he added, "We aren't in the hands of an enemy of the United States. We have been captured by a warlord that I believe the U.S. Army has no knowledge of. I'm sure that all attempts to rescue us were focused north of the landing zone where we were captured, and I'm equally sure that all efforts to find us have ceased." He paused, looked long at each of his fellow prisoners, and then added, "Phan has no concept of the Geneva Convention, and I'm convinced that should one or more of us attempt another escape, he will, without hesitation, keep his word."
The Colonel paused again before continuing in a softer tone, "We could all be dead. We aren't. I suggest that we stay alive and make the best of it. We have nothing to gain by antagonizing Phan."
The Colonel stopped talking. There wasn't a sound in the long-house that was their home when they weren't working. Then Lieutenant Green, the commanding officer of the LURPS said, "I concur, sir." Within seconds, everyone in the group agreed.
Freedom was always in their thoughts, but there were no more escape attempts. Their life became one of routine and work. Julie, assisted by Ken Davis, ran the clinic. The others worked the fields and rice paddies and cared for the livestock alongside the villagers. They became proficient in the language and melded into the lifestyle of the hamlet.
Every night, in their long-house, they took turns sharing their memories of home, childhood, and their lives before the army. Then, on Christmas Day, 1983, fifteen years after their capture, an amazing thing happened. Julie was telling the group about Christmas in Yancy, North Carolina, when, with no warning, they were flying over Yancy, all of them, in the two, long ago destroyed Hueys.
Their first flight didn't last long, maybe thirty seconds, when Julie exclaimed, "There's my house. See the Christmas tree out front…" Before she finished the sentence they were back in the long-house in Rach Tau. Julie's first thought was that she had experienced a hallucination. That notion vanished when Sergeant Wilford Beam, the LURP NCO in Charge, looked at her, grinned, and said, "Julie, that's sure a nice Christmas tree."
The following night, they "flew" again. This time they were over Yancy and the surrounding countryside for five minutes. The next few weeks were a time of exploring and refining their flying experience. Their first thought was to use their new skill to escape. Immediately they realized that their "flying" was, in fact, an experience of being in two places at the same time, and it wasn't a vehicle for their escape since part of them remained in captivity as they flew. On the heels of that realization, they discovered they could only fly in the United States and then only in areas that were familiar to at least one of them.
Later, they found that they could "fly" any time the group focused on flying – even when they were working. When they were flying, their other self continued working, giving no sign that anything unusual was happening. Sergeant Will Tall Tree, the Colonel's crew chief and a lifelong student of religion and esoteric teachings, told The Band there were many well-documented cases of sages and groups of esoteric teachers appearing in two places at the same time.
Will said he believed they had unconsciously followed the route of the sages by giving up their individual egos and melding into a group consciousness. Will had no other explanation; however, the Colonel pointed out they had taken the way of the sages to a new level by adding two helicopters.
Soon after they started flying, the group discovered their attraction to Vietnam veterans who were in trouble, and there were quite a few of them. On their third flight over the Yancy area, they saw a tractor-trailer slide off an icy mountain road, crash through a guardrail, and plunge into a ravine. They didn't hesitate. In minutes, they removed the driver from the truck, raised him to the roadway, loaded him on one of the choppers and headed for the nearest hospital. On the short flight, the driver told Sergeant Beam he had been with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. He added that when he heard the choppers, he knew he was going to be okay.
Over the next two years, The Band, as they called themselves, rescued many Vietnam veterans. That's how my partner, David Hendricks, and I met them.
A couple of months later, Dan Wheeler, a north Georgia sheriff, Kirk Robbins of the DEA, Shirley, David, David's dog, Mojo, our new partner, Robert Hightower, and I were investigating a suspected illegal drug sale on Lookout Mountain, near Clinton. For the second time, Blackjack contacted us on the Jeep's CB radio. This time there was no flashback, I knew who it was.
"Southern Investigation, Blackjack One, you are walking into a trap."
Thanks to The Band's intervention, we were saved, and a number of people went to jail. The following day, at our invitation, The Band returned for a meeting with Shirley, David, Robert, Sheriff Wheeler and me. At that meeting, we determined that we would do whatever it took to get The Band out of Vietnam.
A series of planning meetings followed that one. Six weeks later, Southern Investigation, with the assistance of Sheriff Dan Wheeler, Gerald Wells, Kenny Thompson, and Kirk Robbins of the DEA, and President Ronald Reagan, we did exactly that.
On their return to the United States, each member of The Band was promoted one pay grade, retroactive to Christmas Day, 1968. Each of them received eighteen years of back pay, plus interest. The North Carolina legislature passed a special bill that allowed Julie Wilson to sit for the North Carolina general practitioner medical licensing examination, which she passed with a perfect score. Ken Davis was given full credit for his experience and military medical training and allowed to take the North Carolina registered nurse examination. He scored ninety-eight, and Julie never lets him forget the difference in their test scores.
The Band, to a person, elected to remain together. The Small Business Administration gave their business loan applications priority, and two weeks after their return to the United States, their three companies were funded. They are, Yancy Medical, in Yancy, North Carolina: partners Julie Wilson and Ken Davis. San Diego Choppers, a company that buys, sells, and maintains helicopters, located on a small private airfield just south of downtown San Diego. The partners are Hank Jemison, James Conley, Ted Ferguson, Louie Harkin, Daniel Hatfield, Will Tall Tree, Clinton Tibbets, and Michael Walker. The third company, Tucson Salvage, is a commercial garage and wrecker service located just off Interstate 10, a half mile east of the junction with Interstate 19. Its partners are David Green, Paul Bates, George Belanger, Michael Dampier, Roberto (Juan) Ramirez, and Wilford Beam. Sergeant Beam, the LURP’s senior NCO, was killed in an accident during The Band's captivity. His share of the partnership dividends are paid into a trust fund established for his niece and nephew.
It's been two years since The Band returned to the United States. Before they left Washington, D.C., for their new homes, they made Shirley, David, Robert, Mojo, and me honorary members of The Band. David was quick to point out that we are the "non-flying" members. We get together at least twice a year. One of the gatherings is held at Christmas in Yancy, North Carolina, the second either in San Diego, Tucson, or Clinton, Alabama.
With that short version of our history, the following story, Southern Investigation – Tucson, will make more sense than it would otherwise.

Bill Simmons, Southern Investigation, Clinton, Alabama

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Writing Lesson From Robert Crais

A few weeks ago I discovered Robert Crais.  The best selling author wasn't hiding, we just hadn't crossed paths before.  That was my loss but I'm quickly making up for lost time.

Finding Crais was an accident.  No one recommended his books, which is the normal way I "discover" authors.  I was looking for a Kindle book, in a genre I enjoy, that had Whispersync for Voice - if you aren't familiar with that, it's simply the possibility of adding an audible book to your Kindle book purchase.  When you elect that option the two versions of the book are synced as you read.

I stumbled on Suspect, by Robert Crais, and because it met the Whispersync requirement I bought both versions of the book.  I was immediately smitten with both Whispersync and Crais' writing style and his characters.  I don't know how many of his books I've read now, but I do know I'm already sweating the day when I will discover that I've caught up with him.

Without giving away any plots, I tell you two things about Robert Crais' books that might inspire you to take a look at them (if you aren't already a fan):

First, they are novels and they have more customer highlights than any novels I've ever read - of course, I raise the number of highlights on every one that I read.

Second, when I began the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books I pretty much started at the beginning and advanced by date published.  The first one was great and every subsequent one has been better than the one before.  I've never experienced that before.

Here's an example of what readers underline -

"He believed the answers were here in this place, so his task was to recognize the signs.  If he found them, he could re-create the events, and then he would know what happened.  The same as reading the words in a book.  Reading each word and adding it to the next to build a sentence, then connecting the sentences to learn the story.  The task was to find enough words.

Pike felt the pieces begin to fall into place.  The words began to feel like a story.

Each new thought was a word, and the more Pike tested the words the better he liked the story.  The signs were here.  He just had to read them correctly and in the right order.  There were still holes and questions, but he saw it unfolding and liked the way it felt."

In addition to reading a great thriller, when you read a Robert Crais novel you will be exposed to a generous dose of practical philosophy and the occasional writing lesson.  That's a combination that's difficult to beat and one I'm working to emulate.

Robert, thanks for the great body of work.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Writing Like the Duke of Earl

"As I walk through this world,
nothing can stop the Duke of Earl..."

During the fall of 1961, Gene Chandler recorded The Duke of Earl, a song he co-wrote with Earl Edwards and Bernice Williams.

I was nineteen years, in my first year at St. Johns River Community College, thinking about... well you know what I was thinking about.

In November 1961, Duke of Earl was released.  In 1962, it held the number one spot on the charts for over three weeks.  Today the song is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.

In 1962, I finished my first year at the local community college, and Daddy, so impressed with my grades, let me enroll at Alabama College (now known as The University of Montevallo) about thirty-five miles south of Birmingham and five hundred miles from our home in north Florida.

Gene Chandler still sings, tours, and walks through the world like the Duke of Earl, because he is the Duke of Earl.

I lasted only one semester at The University of Montevallo (too many diversions and too few monitors).  Today I'm seventy years old.  I've been a professional speaker, and a minister.  I've been married four times and divorced three.

I am a student of all things esoteric, a runner, a businessman, a writer,  and a husband (the best one I've ever been, and I appear to be getting better).

A few minutes ago, while cutting the grass and listening to my iPod, The Duke of Earl blasted through my headset and into my head.  This time I really heard it, even above the sound of the lawn mower.

Everything we do matters, and everything we do not do matters as much.  It all leaves a trail, our history, whether we are aware of it or not.  Why not do it all well, knowing, like the Duke of Earl - "Nothing can stop me."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Writing - Marketing - Author Marketing Club

Writing a book isn't difficult for me, and I bet isn't for your either.  I'm not saying it's easy.  You know it isn't.  I'm saying it's not difficult.

Selling the books I've written, on the other hand, is proving difficult, and I'll bet it is for you too.  A few months ago, I signed up for the free membership on Authors Marketing Club, however, I was too busy trying to sell my books to pay much attention to the regular emails I received.  I know now that was a mistake.  I know because my friend, Caleb Pirtle, told me it was a mistake - he'll do that.

Christina and I have been meeting weekly, by way of Google Hang Outs, with Caleb and his Venture Galleries partner, Stephen Woodfin.  Our objective is to explore ways to sell our books - the fact that we've become good friends in the process is a bonus.

At our meeting Monday, Caleb said, "Have you tried Author Marketing Club Premium Membership?"

I said, "No, I'm too busy trying to sell books."

Caleb shook his head and said, "That's a mistake.  The AMC Amazon Description Maker Tool alone is worth the price of membership."

Sometimes I think Caleb is psychic.  As I mentioned in the opening line, writing books is easy.  What I didn't say and should have is, describing my books is a talent I do not have.  Well, all of that has changed.  Caleb doesn't recommend anything he isn't sure of, so when we got through talking, I went to Author Marketing Club and signed up for Premium Membership.  The first tool I tried was the Amazon Description Maker (after reading the .pdf paper and listening to the instructions). Here's my first Author Marketing Club assisted book description: click here

The description I had posted for the book wasn't a description at all, it was a synopsis.  I've now proved that a synopsis will not sell a book.

After you've read the new description, I'd appreciate your comment on whether you think it will sell books or not.

The description generator is only one of many tools available to premium members, and I will check out every one of them.

Jim Kukral, the creator of AMC, has done a fantastic job, and he isn't finished yet - The premium membership, according to Caleb the Wise, is just getting better and better.  Check it out - you won't be disappointed.

Writing - Bert Carson's Second Rule

by Bert Carson
Writing - Bert Carson's First Rule is:
You Cannot Write If You Do Not Read.

My second rule is a continuation of the first.  To Learn To Write You Must Read Like Evan Gattis Plays Baseball.

Proper reading for you, an author begins with proper book selection.  That means, read authors who write the way you aspire to write.  Do not waste your time reading authors who are selling the number of books you want to sell unless they write the way you intend to write.

I want to write like Nevil Shute, Robert Parker, and Robert Crais, all rolled into one amazing author.  So I read Nevil Shute, Robert Parker, and Robert Crais.  I intend to sell more books than Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and J.A. Konrath put together and multiplied by two, but I don't read them (That doesn't mean I haven't bought their books - I have).  I read Shute, Parker, and Crais.  

I love Evelyn Woods.  Legend says she dropped a book in a stream, quickly retrieved it, and immediately began flipping the pages to brush off the water.  A moment into the task, and she realized that regardless of how fast she moved her hand across the pages, she could still read every word.  That was the beginning of what became known as the Evelyn Woods Speed Reading System.  Today the company that has evolved from that incident is called Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics.   Years ago, I forked over the tuition fee and attended the seminar, raising my reading speed by more than 600 words a minute in one afternoon.  I continue to use what I learned, and I continue to push my reading/comprehension level higher.  However, speed reading is a way to gather the most information in the shortest period of time.  Speed reading isn't a tool for fiction writers.

Among them, Shute, Parker, and Crais have written almost 200 books.  In spite of the volume of their work, speed reading isn't a tool that I use to learn from them.    Before I begin reading one of them, I pause, take a deep breath, and slow down until I've brought my full awareness into the moment.  Then, like Evan Gattis, the Atlanta Braves' rookie catcher, I bring all of my attention to the pitcher.

You see, when I'm reading to learn to write, the experience is a ball game.  A game with only two players, the pitcher and the catcher.  The pitcher is the
author, I'm the catcher, and the ball is the story.  Like Evan Gattis, I squat down behind the plate, as the first batter steps into the batters box.  I flash a sign to the pitcher, give him a target with my mitt, and shift all of my attention to the ball - the story.  Like Evan, I expect the story to go the way I signaled, however, also like Evan Gattis, I know the author can throw the ball anywhere, at any speed.  Hell, he might bounce it two feet before home plate, so I'm ready for anything.  I'm one with the story.  I'm totally focused on it.

Total focus precludes speed reading and distractions.  When I'm in that state of awareness, nothing gets by me, I catch every nuance, every technique, every slight movement, and I learn.

Writing - Bert Carson's Second Rule - To Learn To Write You Must Read Like Evan Gattis Plays Baseball.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Writing - Bert Carson's Rule One

by Bert Carson

The following passage is both bad and boring, not normally what you would expect from a best seller:

“Look,” said Dick.
“See it go.
See it go up.”
Jane said, “Oh, look!”
See it go.
See it go up.”
“Up, up,” said Sally.

“Go up, up, up.”

However, this particular best selling series is the exception to Bert Carson Writing Rule One (which I haven't shared yet) because the long running (1930 - 1960's) Dick and Jane Series wasn't about writing.    

Dick and Jane's objective was to teach us how to read using the Look-Say Method which worked, and would still be working today had Dick and Jane not landed in serious legal difficulty in the '60s.  Ultimately, they lost their final court battle to phonics.  Shortly thereafter, Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot, retired to Tahiti, bought a small inaccessible island, and today locals often report sighting the two children and Spot running along the beach and shouting:

"See the children read,
read children, read."

The Tahiti part may be a myth, but the Dick and Jane story is absolute fact.  If you would like to know more, click here.

Everyday I think of Dick and Jane and wish them well.  Though they often made me crazy and constantly bored the hell out of me, they taught me to read, and in so doing, they taught me to write.

They also taught Ernest Hemingway, Beryl Markham, John Grisham, and Amanda Hocking to read and to write.  They taught Robert Crais also, and he used the reading skills they imparted to write this:

...even your bravest young man didn't stand there and die for little Sally back home or even for the Stars and Stripes.  If he stood at all, he stood for his buddies beside him.  His love for them, and fear of shame in their eyes, is what kept him fighting even after his sphincter let loose, and even when his world turned to hell. It took a special man to stand there all alone, without the weight of his buddies to anchor him in place, and Aimes was looking for young warriors that he could train to move and fight and win alone.  Die alone, too, if that's what it took, and not just any man was up to that.  But poets were different.  You could take a poet and fill his heart with the notions of duty and honor, and sometimes, if you were very lucky, that was enough.  Aimes had learned long ago, perhaps even in an earlier life, that a poet would die for a rose."  from L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais

Thanks, Dick, Jane, and Spot, we owe you a debt that is too enormous to define.  A debt that can be repaid only through using the skills you taught us.

Writing - Bert Carson's Rule One: before you can write, you must learn to read.  When you've mastered the basics of reading, you must continue to read, and read, and read.  You cannot write if you do not read.

Watch for Writing - Bert Carson's Rule Two

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Writing, Eating, and Hanging Tough

by Bert Carson

This post isn't about writing, at least not totally, and it isn't about eating, at least not totally.  This post is totally about hanging tough.

I've been losing weight for over sixty years.  In the course of that time I've tried everything you can imagine and probably some things that even you can't imagine.  A couple of things that have stuck, but not proved to be the end-all-cure-all, are vegetarianism and running, both of which I've been a practitioner of for more than thirty-five years.   In spite of that, until a couple of months ago, I was carrying more weight than I wanted to carry, and I was still a slave to my appetite.

Now, twenty pounds later and with satisfying my appetite far down my to-do list, I know that I've finally found the answer to the weight thing.  The answer was so simple; it still boggles me - stop eating sugar.  Since I'm not writing about eating, I'm not going to go into detail about it; however, if you want to know more about eating sugar free, read Christina's blog:  How Sweet It Is To Be Sugar Free.  

Here's my point about eating.  It's easy for me to say things like: "Just stop eating sugar." Or, "Sugar is the only diet issue you have, cut it out."  Or, "Go sugar free and live to be a zillion,"  and a lot of other things like that.  However, easy has nothing to do with going sugar free.  Sugar is added to almost everything I've eaten since I was two years old.  Check a few food labels, and you'll see what I mean.  Which is my point.  If you're going to eat sugar free, you have to be serious.  You have to be committed.  You have to "hang in there."

So what does eating and hanging in there have to do with writing?  It's the same issue.  It's easy for me say, "Just write."  Or, "Make time everyday to write at least (fill in the blank) words or pages every day."  Easy to say, but what about the days when you have a zillion things to do, and at best, you figure you aren't going to get half of them?  What do you do on those days?

You guessed it - you hang tough.  You put whatever IT is: sugar free eating, writing daily, running, walking the dog, whatever, in the front of your mind, and
you keep it there.  You don't let anything take it away.  You hang tough.

If you can't hang tough, don't name the IT in the first place, then you won't be adding, beat-myself-up-for not-hanging-tough to your list of things to do today.

Here's a hint - tattoo the words of my new favorite novel character, Joe Pike, on the inside of your eyelids -

"If it were easy it wouldn't be fun."    

Joe Pike

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Eternal Legacy of Buddy Stone

Buddy Stone at work
by Bert Carson

Buddy Stone passed away November 22, 2012.  At least that’s what his obituary reported.  But I’m sure he’s still here.  Oh, I know he’s physically not among us, but I also know that he is right here, right now, right beside me, looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear as I search for the right words to tell you about him.  I know that’s true in spite of the fact that I never physically met Buddy.    

If you wonder how that can be, let me explain.  Buddy left a legacy of people, the only kind of legacy that amounts to anything.  After you read this, more than likely, you’re going to discover that you have become part of the Buddy Stone Legacy – a legacy of love, compassion, commitment, and integrity.   And trust me; you could do a whole lot worse than to be part of the extended Buddy Stone family.

I’m part of the legacy because of my association over the past twenty-eight years   
Brandon (sitting) & Aaron Stone
with one of his nephews, Danny, and two of his Grand Nephews, Brandon, and Aaron, all barbers of the highest order.  Here’s a link to the blog I wrote about them a year ago:

Early last December, I climbed into Brandon’s chair at Taylor’s Barber Shop.  We did a few minutes of catch up as he prepared me for my monthly clip.  

I told him about our hectic Christmas photo season which was winding down.  

He listened attentively, and then said, “I have some bad news to share with you Mr. Carson (I’ll never break him of that respectful habit).
“What is it, Brandon?”

“Uncle Buddy passed away.”

Before I could say anything, Ollie Taylor, the co-owner of the shop, cutting at the next chair, said in a quiet voice, “We all went down to Alexander City for the service.”  Then he added, “Buddy conducted it.”

That gave me something to say.  “Buddy conducted his own funeral service?”

Brandon, who still thinks the Stone Family is no different from everyone’s family, said, “Yep.  He knew that the cancer was going to get him, so a couple of weeks before it did, he got his preacher to record him conducting his own funeral service.  He delivered the message, which was simply him telling how he always tried to do the best he could in everything that he took on, including his relationships with his family, friends, customers, and strangers.”

“Did the preacher play Buddy’s tape at the service?”

Brandon laughed at my question.  “No sir, what Buddy recorded was the whole service, he even sang all the hymns.”

Ollie, with as much respect as I've heard in any man’s voice, said, “I have never heard anything like it.  Never.”

Buddy Stone was one of twenty-one children.  Early on, he realized that he only had two career choices: work for Avondale Mills, the principle employer in his home town, Alexander City, Alabama, or learn a trade.  He took the latter course and became a barber, a master barber who was more than willing to share the trade with anyone who wanted to learn.  

Today there are fourteen Stones cutting hair and sharing Buddy’s love and commitment to life.

I don’t know how many lives those fourteen have and will touch, but I know they've touched me and unconditionally included me in the legacy of love and commitment established by Isaiah “Buddy” Stone.  

Even if  it were possible for me to sit in Buddy’s barber chair today, there wouldn't be words for me to tell him how I feel about being part of his legacy, but I know that he knows that – knowing is an integral part of the legacy, the part that connects us all.

Uncle Buddy, thanks for including me.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Write Like Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison waiting for the words.
by Bert Carson

I started to call this post Happy Birthday Harlan, but that implies that I know him, or at least know far more about him than I do.  So I gave up that first title and went with Write Like Harlan Ellison.

Before I explain why, you should know that until fifteen minutes ago, I'd never heard of Harlan Ellison.  Imagine that!  And I call myself a writer.  How can one be a writer and not be aware of Harlan Ellison?  For me, it was no problem.  I've lived at our present address more than three years, and I only know the names of three or maybe four of the neighbors and that only because our mailman is willing to share information with me.

Harlan Ellison and I never crossed paths until tonight, and then we just barely crossed.  Two or three weeks ago, I discovered Robert Crais, and that was by accident.  Now I've read six Crais books, including the one I finished this evening.  Not wanting to be without Joe Pike, or Elvis Cole, or a Crais standalone character, I frantically entered the Amazon Kindle Store and selected The First Rule, bought it, turned on my Kindle and watched it open to the 4% mark.

I've never been one to knowingly miss anything, so I sent my Kindle back to the cover and began to work forward through all of the disclaimers, copyrights, threats, and testimonials, finally stopping on the dedication page where I read:

for my friend,
Harlan Ellison,
whose work, more than any other,
brought me to this place.

I turned to Christina and asked, "Have you ever heard of Harlan Ellison?

She said, "Sure," and I knew I had some serious catching up to do.  I Goggled Harlan Ellison and discovered, among other things, that he just turned eighty last week, May 27th to be exact.  His published works include more than 1,700 novellas, short stories, screen plays, teleplays, and essays.  He has been married one more time than I have, and since he and his current wife have been married since 1986, I have to assume that, like me, after a shaky start in the matrimonial arena, he has found the woman he knew was out there waiting.

I put Robert Crais and Joe Pike on hold and went back to Amazon.  For some reason, maybe destiny or fate or maybe it was just the way Amazon chooses to list books, I selected Web of the City, downloaded it to my Kindle, backed up to the cover, and began moving forward.

A couple of pages south of the cover, I opened a new page with the title: Introduction:  Unnecessary Words.

I read it, then read it again, this time aloud to Christina, and now I'm going to share it with you.  After you've read it you'll understand why I called this post, Write Like Harlan Ellison

There's really no point to writing an introduction to a novel.  A book of short stories, sure, okay.  A collection of essays, definitely.  A scholarly tome, naturally.  But what the hell should one have to say about an entertainment, a fiction, a novel?  Nothing.  It should speak for itself.

And I intend to let it.

Even so, I'd like to make one brief statement about the book.  Bear with me; I won't be long.

There's a story about Hemingway - I don't know if it's true or not, but if it isn't, it ought to be.  The story goes that he was either on his way to France or on his way back from France, one or the other, I don't recall the specifics of the anecdote that well.  He was on shipboard, and he had with him his first novel.  Not The Sun Also Rises; the one he wrote before that "first novel" that made him a literary catchword almost overnight.

Yes, the story goes, Hemingway had written a book before The Sun Also Rises, and there he was aboard ship, steaming either here or there; and he was at the rail, leaning over, thinking, and then he took the boxed manuscript of the book... and threw it into the ocean.

Apparently on the theory that no one should ever a writer's first novel.

Which would mean - were all writers to subscribe to that theory - we'd never have had One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding or The Catcher in the Rye or From Here to Eternity or The Seven Who Fled or The Painted Bird or Gone With the Wind or...

Well, you get the idea.

I don't know whether to argue with the theory or not, but I suppose I'm lobbying against it by permitting (nay, encouraging) this reprint of my first novel, Web of the City.  It was my first book, written under mostly awful personal circumstances, and I'm rather fond of it.  I've re-read it this last week, just to find out how amateurish and inept it is, and I find it still holds the interest.  I even gave it to a couple of nasty types who profess to being my friends when they aren't sticking it in my back, and even they say it's worth preserving.

So the book is alive once more.

The time about which it speaks is gone - the early fifties; and the place it talks about has changed somewhat - Brooklyn, the slums.  But it has a kind of innocent verve about it that commends it to your attention.  I hope of course, that you'll agree with me.

In case you might wonder, I began writing it around the tail end of 1956 and the first three months of 1957.  I was drafted in March of 1957 and wrote the bulk of the book while undergoing the horrors of Ranger basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  After a full day, from damned near dawn till well after dusk, marching, drilling, crawling on my belly across infiltration courses, jumping off static-line towers, learning to carve people up with bayonets and break their bodies with judo and other unpleasant martial arts, our company would be fed and then hustled into a barracks, where the crazed killers who were my fellow troopers would clean their weapons, spit-shine their boots, and then collapse across their bunks to sleep the sleep of the tormented.  I, on the other hand, would take a wooden plank, my Olympia typewriter, and my box of manuscript and blank paper, and would go into the head (that's the toilet to you civilized folks), place the board across my lap as I sat on one of the potties, and I would write this book.

After the first couple of fist fights, they stopped complaining about the noise and let me alone.  But Sgt. Jabowski called me, in his dragon's voice, "The Author." The way he pronounce it, it always came out sounding like The Aw-ter.

The editor who bought the book originally, who took the first chance on me as a novelist, was a wonderful guy named Walter Fultz.  He was the editor at Lion Books, a minor paperback house that gave a lot of newcomers a break.  Walter is dead now, tragically, before his time, but I think he would have liked to've seen how long-lived this book has become, and how the kid he gave a break has come along.

Lion Books went out of business before they could release Web of the City, and the backlog of titles was sold here and there.  Pyramid Books then bought the manuscript.

It was almost a year later, in 1958, while I was serving out my sentence as the most-often-demoted PFC in the history of the United States Army, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, when this book finally hit print.  I was writing for the Fort Knox newspaper, and getting boxes of review paperbacks for a column I was doing, when the August shipment of Pyramid titles came in.  I opened the box, flipped through the various products therein, and almost had a coronary when I held in my hands, for the first time in my life, a book with my name on the cover.

Except, the book was titled Rumble.

Nonetheless, it was an experience that comes only once in a writer's life, the first book, and I was the tallest walkin' Private in the Army that week.

Maybe I should have taken sides with old Ernie, dumping this book in the Pacific as he dumped that first novel in the Atlantic; but I cannot forget the hot August afternoon in Kentucky during which I realized my life's dream and became, for the first time, an author.

And even if Web of the City isn't War and Peace, you just can't kill something you've loved as much as I love this book.

So read on and, with a little compassion on your part, you'll be kind to the memory of the punk kid who wrote it.

                                                                        HARLAN ELLISON

That doesn't need further comment from me.  Hell, if you don't know by now why I called this, Write Like Harlan Ellison, it's because you didn't make it this far.


The Stockholm Syndrome and You

by Bert Carson
Wikipedia says this of the Stockholm Syndrome:
"...a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors or abusers, sometimes to the point of defending them, and sometimes the feeling of love for the captor shows.  These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness."

That and more is what Wikipedia says about Stockholm Syndrome.  Here's what I say.  For as long as I can remember, and that covers almost seventy years, I've been a student of all things esoteric.  Any serious study of the esoteric quickly involves research into the "ego," and there is no lack of information and opinion on the subject.  If you're curious, one of the best books I've found on the topic is The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts.

Ego is the collection of unproven
beliefs, third-party opinions, and biases that we weave and mold into something we call "our self" or "who I am."

I am never far away from thoughts of ego and the immensity and intricacy of it.  That's why, when I read the definition of the Stockholm Syndrome, I realized it isn't a "psychological phenomenon." The Stockholm Syndrome is a simple, yet profound, explanation of the human condition.

I wasn't "who I am," and you weren't "your self" the moment you entered this human experience.  We were pure spirit, universal energy, encapsulated in a human body.  Our first reaction on discovering our dilemma was to scream and then cry.  The next few years were erased from our ego memory by our captors as they began indoctrinating us with the a new story - our "who I am" story.

Consider this, with the exception of a few hard-wired details (gender being chief among them), the only difference between you and me or either of us and anyone else on the planet is the story we have accepted about who we are:  it's not only a story we've totally accepted, it's the story that runs every moment of our lives.  It determines every decision we make and every step we take: unless we see through it and remember the time before our capture.

We speak glibly of "freedom" yet until we free our self from the story our captors sold us, we are victims of the Stockholm Syndrome.