Friday, May 29, 2015

The right priorities? My books, now and in the future

I'm thankful every day for so many wonderful friends who support my books. I cherish you. Because of you, I get to sit here and write. Nothing could be better.

I'd like to bring you up to date on the status of my books.

Current books:

"HITLER'S TIME MACHINE," my alternate history/science fiction "take" on World War II, is the only book I'm actively promoting. It's my very first title in the new world of self-publishing. It's getting excellent reviews and shows promise of developing legs and reaching new audiences. I'm especially  thankful for your help in getting the word out, especially to Kindle users. It's available here or get it directly from me.

"365 AIRCRAFT YOU MUST FLY THIS YEAR," my guidebook to the world's important planes and helicopters, is due this month. It's my very last title in the old world of commercial publishing. It's a fun book intended as a gift for the casual aviation buff, richly illustrated in color. This is a fun look at flying, in Kindle and hard copy and can be pre-ordered here.

Future books:

"CRIME SCENE FAIRFAX COUNTY" is a murder story set in my locality in 1947. Watch for news about this crime novel.

"FEGELEIN'S TIME MACHINE," the sequel to "HITLER," will be along at the end of the year.

"AIR POWER ABANDONED" is the history of how Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served from 2006 to 2011, decapitated the Air Force, canceled the F-22 Raptor fighter, and betrayed America's airmen. I have a superb cover design from Victor Rook but am still writing the book. I need to hear from those who can help and am trying to make a list of those who might be interested in getting the book when it comes out.

Books that are going away:

"AIR FORCE ONE" (2002), about presidential aircraft, is now out of print. I still have a few mint copies in the basement. When they're gone, it's over. It had a great run.

"HELL HAWKS!" (2008), co-authored with Thomas D. Jones about a fighter group in Europe, is nearing the end. It won't be possible to get copies signed by both Tom and me after May 31.

"MISSION TO BERLIN" (2011), about B-17 Flying Fortress crews in Europe, is the title in this category I want most to save and to keep in print. I need your help to keep it from going completely out of print.

"MISSION TO TOKYO" (2012) about B-29 Superfortress crews bombing Japan will be out of print soon. I have a few copies available here as of now.

"FIGHTING HITLER'S JETS" (2013), a history of the development of jet aircraft on both sides in World War II, is a great narrative but has a very limited future. I have a few copies available as of now.

Oh, and as for the other seventy-some books I've published over the years, they're all out of print. Used copies are available on the Internet.

That's the status of my books, my dear friends. Tell me if you think I have my priorities right. And as always I want to hear from you whenever you get the urge to talk. Again, thank you so very, very much.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Where were you that day?

The first-ever Armed Forces Day event, at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C. on May 20, 1950. That's me, age ten, on the right. It's a month before the Korean War.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Adverbs, Writing Well, and "Hitler's Time Machine"

Lose the adverbs.


Good writing should be lean.

This November, I'll mark 60 years of being paid to write by publishers of books, magazines and newspapers. When seeking to write well, the challenge is not what to put on paper. It's what to leave out.

Until joining a writers' group a year ago, I spent little time talking or reading about writing. I'd read a book by Edwin Newman but didn't know the work of William Zinsser.

My main influence was eighth grade English teacher Miss Bingaman, to whom I owe a lifelong debt. Another influence was Foreign Service supervisor Donald L. Ranard, famous in events in Washington in the 1970s and the best boss I ever had.

Zinsser, author of the book "On Writing Well," put it this way:

"The secret of good writing," Zinsser wrote, "is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components."

Sentences needn't always be short but short is good. One of the most effective sentences in the English language contains two words:

Jesus wept.

The sentence provides no description. Yet when we read it, we see it. The picture is clear in our minds. No adjective or adverb would help. The sentence would not be improved by adding profusely, or any other adverb.

Elmore Leonard asked:

"In Ernest Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants,' what do the 'American and the girl with him' look like? 'She had taken off her hat and put in on the table.' That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight."

I'd like to claim that my writing improved between my debut in the November 1955 issue of Air Force magazine and efforts in May 2015 to publicize my new novel, "Hitler's Time Machine."

The truth is, in most respects I probably peaked in the 1960s when writing for the men's adventure magazines or in the 1970s when writing about North Korea for Don in the State Department.

I had more to learn. I didn't know style manuals existed until 1990. Writing a newspaper column for Air Force Times, owned by Gannett, for twenty years from 1993 to 2013, taught me that newspaper work is different from magazine writing.

Like Leonard, like Zinsser, like so many others, my model is Hemingway. I worship John D. MacDonald and James Lee Burke. I'll never be able to write a sentence like Hemingway, MacDonald or Burke.


Except for myself, of the people I've named here only Burke is alive today. No one can write a sentence like Burke.

No one.

Don't even try.

Pore through "Hitler's Time Machine" and you'll see some good writing. You'll also see writing that's not so good. In the book, I occasionally lost sight of Rule Number One, which is:

Lose the adverbs.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The First Decade: To Fly and Fight

During the Air Force's first decade, from 1947 to 1957, I was a child and teenager growing up in Washington, D. C.

No one remembers why, but since I was old enough to talk, I was interested in only two things---airplanes and the Air Force.

A congenital hearing defect kept me from applying to become an Air Force pilot or a cadet at the new school they were building in Colorado. I was the right age to be in the Air Force Academy's third class.

A 1957 recruiting song, "Air Force Blue," sung by Ed Herlihy, struck a chord then. Today, in its original form and as revised, it sounds corny---just like the simple beliefs we held about defending freedom during the Cold War.

The song began with a reference to "the men" who wear "the blue from the skies, and a pretty girl's eyes, and a touch of Old Glory's hue." You can find the original version on the Internet at:

In today's world where gender is taboo, the song, rarely performed any longer, has revisionist lyrics that no longer mention "the men" of the Air Force. That change needed to be made. But the revisionists got rid of something else, too. In my America, no one found anything wrong with admiring "a pretty girl's eyes."

I'd like to live in that America again.

My father believed that government, including the Air Force, had a great story to tell citizens.

In December 1945, he took me to Bolling Field in Washington to see the XB-42 Mixmaster, a most peculiar experimental bomber with a pusher propeller situated behind a cruciform tail.

Leaving aside the fact that the XB-42 crashed the next day with all three aboard parachuting to safety, I remember running my hands over the distinctive glass nose of the bomber and being impressed that people in uniform talked openly about it. There were guards, but their only job was to keep order. Anyone could visit Bolling, any time.

I'd like to live in that America again.

In 1947, Dad took me to the other base in our area, Andrews Field, Md., to see a visit by three Lincoln bombers of Britain's Royal Air Force. It was a festive event. We merely slowed down at the main gate. Dad's driver's license---like mine, a few years later---was simply a piece of paper. Military people had identity cards but among citizens the concept of a "photo ID" did not exist.

I'd like to live in that America again.

Just months before the Air Force's 10th anniversary, at age 17, I raised my right hand and became a wearer of---well, not blue, but sage-green fatigues, the most practical attire the Air Force ever had.

Many months later, I stepped off a transport plane in South Korea and was greeted by this sign: "WELCOME TO OSAN AIR BASE. YOU ARE AT FREEDOM'S FRONTIER."

Those words still give me a chill. In the 1950s we faced a clear choice between freedom and tyranny. Today, no militant group or rogue nation can realistically plot to destroy the United States. In the 1950s, men in Moscow did.

It is easy to forget, today, that in our time of greatest danger, it was the Air Force that kept us free.

It was a time when Americans had clear goals and shared purpose.

I'd like to like in that America again, too.