ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Why I Want to Go to War

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AFGHANISTAN VOL_3-2018. Why I Want to Go to War (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

I’ve been asked many times why I’m in the military. I have several pat reasons I can monotone deliver with a thousand mile stare that will satisfy most folks:

Patriotism.

The flag.

Founding Fathers.

Apple pie.

Grandma.

‘Murica.

Words that makes people nod, experience brilliant red, white, and blue rainbows, and become filled with warm fuzzy jingoistic electric feelings of goodness and belonging. Those reasons are all appropriate, I suppose, but they don’t get to the soul of my belief system.

Who I am can’t ever be represented by an NRA sticker.

Nor can it be codified by a mantra shouted at a rally.

Nor is it represented by your favorite stove-piped news channel.

Trying to define why I do what I do is like attempting to quantify the feeling one has when petting a dog or climbing to the top of a hill and looking out at the far horizon.

In order for you to completely understand my belief system you’d have to extract and study it. The problem is, once extracted, what remains would dissolve into a noxious bowl of primordial dross, destined to eventually swirl down the drain into irrelevancy. So, you’ll have to take my few words on the subject as the Gospel According to Weston.

Bottom line is that I am a humanist. I spent the entire introduction of my military story and essay collection FUBAR explaining what that means to me, but for you ne’re-do-wells, here’s the CLIFF NOTE version for those of you who don't have it.

  • I believe in the idea of good and evil;
  • I believe in the little guy, those who can’t protect themselves. This is not only exemplified by me helping a person, but it extends to societies helping those who can’t help themselves- what the French once called Noblesse Oblige;
  • I believe in my brothers and sisters in arms and will do whatever I can to protect them. I fight for them and my family. I rarely find myself fighting for politics.
  • I believe that as human beings we have an obligation to do what we can to protect every other human being and the planet where we exist.

I can see some of you shaking your heads. You either think I’m a simpleton or a romantic. If it makes it easier to swallow, call me a simple romantic. I’m fine with that. It’s just who I am. I can also see you equivocating and pointing out that some of my beliefs might contradict each other. To that I ask what doesn’t contradict? I didn’t pretend to be simple, that was a label given to me. Actually, I am very complicated.

Enough of the background. You want to know why I’m in Afghanistan. Why is a successful author intentionally knee deep in hand grenade pins instead of knee deep in wine corks in America?

I blame it on my grandfather.

I blame it on my mother.

Most of all, I blame it on my father who introduced me to Shakespeare. Never has there been someone more attuned to what it means to love one’s fellow man than Shakespeare, even when his characters pretended to be women (because at the end of the day, we are all human). And never has he expressed it so well, as in the St. Crispin’s Day speech spoken by King Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, where the English were massively outnumbered and held little hope for victory. The gist of the speech is that all those who weren’t in the battle will have wished they were a part of the battle, because the outcome was going to be so magnificent.Let's take a moment so that you may listen to it. The speech is magnificent. Some of you might remember a certain chapter in Grunt Traitor where my hero promises his team that he won't so the St. Crispin's day speech, but then ends up doing it anyway.

The irony of it all, I suppose, was that it wasn’t originally Shakespeare who introduced me to the St. Crispin’s Day speech, but rather it was Danny Devito in Renaissance Man. Ever see the movie? It’s about a down on his luck advertisement exec who finds himself training Army privates who have learning disabilities. The scene where actor Lillo Brancato Jr. recites part of the speech while standing in the rain at the bivouac site while a drill sergeant played by Gregory Hines watches on is classic. I actually love that movie. In fact, if you look at my beliefs, they are central to the plot, with Devito’s character learning to embrace them as a placeholder for ourselves.

But not everyone appreciates those beliefs. Even more don’t even like the military. They don’t understand what we stand for and think of us as nothing more than jingoistic arm pumpers ready to kill indiscriminately for the pure joy of it. Although, like in any segment of society, there are those who take matters to extreme, the vast majority of the military doesn’t ascribe to such nonsense. I’ve never been around a band more professional than the military. Period.

That didn’t keep Pico Rivera City Councilman and high school history teacher Gregory Salcido from recently commenting on those who would join the military. His comments went viral, not for their efficacy, but for their idiocy. When confronted by the fact that the reason one of his students wore a Marine Corps shirt was because of his intent to join, Mr. Salcido, who’d also been elected as mayor, verbally whiplashed the young man. The boy wore his shirt out of pride for his uncles and father who’d served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

"You’re freakin' stupid Uncle Louie or whatever,” Salcido began. “They're dumb shits. They're not high-level bankers. They're not academic people. They're not intellectual people. They're the freaking lowest of our low."

It’s clear that Mr. Salcido does not ascribe to my beliefs. He feels that the opportunity the military provides to young men and women through their subsidized college and vocational programs isn’t worthwhile. He also doesn’t understand what it truly means to serve, treating his election as if it was something to be won rather than something to be earned. Finally, he doesn’t understand the fellowship engendered by those who decide to serve in environments hostile in order to help those less fortunate remain safe in their beds is a bond that cannot be bought or sold. And he will never understand because he is an opportunist rather than a patriot.

So to Mr. Salcido, I quote from William Shakespeare, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse. We would not die in that man's company, nor would we want to.

That is not to say that someone cannot disagree. Hold your anti-war signs high. Shout for all wars to end. Make it be heard to the heavens that we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan or Iraq or Korea. You’re voices are your weapons and I respect your fight. My nation was founded on dissent and it should always be held in high esteem. There is no one who despises war more than those who live it. But until you win your war, we have to fight ours. Still, we root for you. I root for you.

To my fellow warriors, those with whom I am currently serving, I say:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen (at home) now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. 

Danny Devito’s character understood this, as well did his wards.

I understand this, and revel in the words, knowing that my manhood is not held cheaply.
My friends and family understand this, although they might not like it, they respect me for my feelings.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Why do I do what I do?

I suppose I do it for my brothers.

What about you?

Why do you do what you do and why do you do it?


~ ~ ~

To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts:










Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Preparing Myself for War - The Hearts of Men

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Afghanistan VOL2_2018. (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

The military trained me. They reminded me how to fire and move and threshold brake. They showed me CQB and other battle drills and how to get off the X. They drilled into me first aid, the proper uses of tourniquets, and how to deal with the heightened anxiety of mass casualty events. They even asked me if I was ready and I said yes.

But was I?

I'm a true believer in the power of fiction. I'd downloaded a book (The Hearts of Man by Nickolas Butler) a few weeks before I left and was going to read it on the airplane over the thirty hours of my trip to help me prepare for what I was going to do and who I was going to be in Afghanistan. And I did. Starting with the first flight, I began reading and didn't finish the book until I was well over Afghanistan, giving me just enough time to digest the experience before we landed.

I've only been here 44 hours, but I've already worked 30 of them, so forgive me for using the cover copy to describe the book:
Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is
the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.
Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery.
The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality—and redemption.
The Hearts of Men is a grand novel, well-chosen for its purpose. It's a story about a changing time, when the idea of being a Boy Scout is becoming less and less significant. It's about ethics and what to do in bad situations. It sometimes painfully puts its characters in too real places that make you want to stop reading, but just as the characters are performing for you, out of respect, you have to stay through their performance. 

It's a book about the complexity of always trying to do the right thing.

I cherished this book and it indeed prepared me for Afghanistan. I feel it in my chest. I feel it in my head. I was once a Boy Scout. I made it to Life. My father was an Eagle Scout and was a scoutmaster. Both of these things prepared us in our lives. A little reminder helped rekindle those memories and reminded my that being Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent were things to which we should all attain, despite those around us who would devalue these traits. 

Finally, its about being your own man and accepting yourself for who you are.

Yes, this is a book for me. It's a book for war. It's a book for Afghanistan.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Going to War - A la Carte

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AFGHANISTAN VOL_1-2018. Going to War - A la Carte (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

It used to be one didn’t have to worry about getting to the battlefield. The generals and the logisticians would take care if it all. The soldier only had to worry about staying in line. With the other soldier and all they did was march in formation for days, weeks, or months, then finally get to a place where they’d spend their blood in service of a country an idea or their family. Trudging shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow warriors, there was a certain comradery that would develop as warriors surged towards an uncertain but hopeful destiny. Even in more modern times, warriors would travel by sea, long voyages of pissing and shitting and puking, developing lifelong friendships through the military idea of shared misery. This is still true for large units surging into combat, coming from an indigenous organization and moving as one unit on MIL AIR, but for smaller units and folks like me, it’s purely a la carte.

Like ordering an extra helping of veggies at Outback Steakhouse or a rasher of bacon at Dennys. But instead of food you get a soldier or a contractor or someone else working the military industrial machine.

I remember when I read the DD214 of my dear departed father-in-law. We knew that he’d been picked up by the MPs for something or the other before departing for Korea, but we never really knew what it was. Through anecdotes and a fair deciphering of his DD214 by a VA expert, we were able to find out what the mysterious codes and numbers were.

As it turned out, he was drafted into the army as a tank mechanic. After basic and tech school, they sent him to Seaside, California, awaiting a troop ship to come pick up he and his closest two thousand friends for a free ride to the Land of the Morning Calm. He waited and waited and said, screw this, and took a train back to Chicago where he went back to work as a car mechanic. When the MPs came and got him for AWOL, he said something like, “I wasn’t doing any good waiting in California for the boat to come. At least this way, I was doing something.” And then be began about four months of touring an 8 by 8 cell in a brig somewhere.

Sadly, he didn’t know that the army didn’t care if it wasn’t doing anything. When it did do something, it did it in a big way which is why right after he was released, he boarded a ship to Pusan and helped push the North Koreans and invading Chinese all the way back up to the 38th Parallel.

When I asked what he did in the service, he was keen to say, “Up a hill and down a hill.“

“What next?” I’d ask.

He’d level his flat Irishman’s stare at me and repeat, “Up a hill and down a hill.”

Although he wouldn’t talk about what he did over there, he did say one word about his experience aboard the ship and it was miserable, the words coming out as if he’d just finished eating a live worm wrapped in a jellyfish burrito. 

Thank god, I didn’t have to travel by a troop transport ship. There’s nothing glorious about such a thing.

Except maybe economy class on a 24 four hours of flying.

Okay, not really. It doesn’t even come close. But that’s the only barometer I have, So I apologize to all of you who have traveled by troop transport.

So, they wanted me in Afghanistan. Just me. An old soldier who’s forgotten more than he remembers. They gave me a one-way plane ticked. It’s like they saw me on a menu, loved the special low price, and ordered up one Weston Ochse. Hello Houston and Frankfurt and Dubai and Bagram. Twenty-four hours of flying with twelve hours of layover in between. I was beside myself with excitement to wedge my ass into pre-formed plastic asswear.

Here are some things I noticed along the way:

  • The difference between economy and economy plus is that the back seat in front of you is nineteen inches from your face instead of twelve, which is a lot;
  • A two-hundred-dollar non-reimbursable upgrade for a ten-hour flight allowed me to stretch over three empty seats;
  • The seven-hundred-dollar non-reimbursable upgrade to business class was probably awesome, but this guy from a trailer park can’t afford that kind of lifestyle;
  • When you tell the flight attendants that these will be your last drinks in six months, it overfloweth;
  • Airplane food is still airplane food no matter the country;
  • Houston hides it’s access to The Centurion Lounge in the back of the Duty Free store near a closet that is really the elevator;
  • You can’t walk anywhere in the Frankfurt, Germany airport in less than thirty minutes;
  • I might have panicked when I saw that the man I was sitting next to in the exit row for a 7 hour flight was twice my size and his shoulders took up half my space;
  • When you panic and are super nice about it flight attendants miraculously find you open aisle seats with empty center seats (Go Lufthansa);
  • During call to prayer in airports in Islamic countries, the airport bathroom sinks are used to wash feet out of respect to Allah;
  • Arabic Quarter Pounder with Cheese tastes amazingly like the American version;
  • The last leg of any trip is the worst.

I have a vision of the future that is much like a Jetsons cartoon. I know, I’m dating myself, you can actually Youtube the entire series for a little fun about what the future would look like from the 1960s. I can see a general, pressing buttons and out comes a solder, recycled and remolded and sent off to war by himself to meet the others of his kind.

We tend to get someone new every day the a la carte way, here in Afghanistan.

Make a selection, press a button, and we’ll find our own way to war.

Just please oh please, if you have any say in it, make sure your deploying warriors fly at least economy plus. It's the very least you could do.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Coincidentalism - Plagiarism - Or Zeitgeist

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One of the reasons I started writing was because I kept coming out with these great plot ideas. They'd often come fully formed to me. I just had no way to put them down on paper-- or so I thought. Then six months to a year later a book would appear with my exact same plot and even with some of the  same characters I would have written. I was like, WTF? Is someone reading my brain? And it happened over and over and over. And most of these were best sellers. Finally, I was like... if I'm ever going to be able to capitalize on these ideas, then I need to learn how to write; and fast!

James Davis Nicoll pointed out in a recent article on Tor.com that this isn't a new thing. It seems that it happened to icons of Sci Fi Charles Sheffield and Arthur C. Clarke.

One of the more remarkable examples of this type of unfortunate concurrence occurred in 1979. Working on opposite sides of the planet in an era long before everyone had email, Charles Sheffield and Arthur C. Clarke wrote novels about…well, let me just quote Mr. Clarke’s open letter, which was reprinted at the end of Sheffield’s book…
Early in 1979 I published a novel, The Fountains of Paradise, in which an engineer named Morgan, builder of the longest bridge in the world, tackles a far more ambitious project— an “orbital tower” extending from a point on the equator to geostationary orbit. Its purpose: to replace the noisy, polluting and energy-wasteful rocket by a far more efficient electric elevator system. The construction material is a crystalline carbon filter, and a key device in the plot is a machine named “Spider.”
A few months later another novel appeared in which an engineer named Merlin, builder of the longest bridge in the world, tackles a far more ambitious project— an “orbital tower,” etc. etc. The construction material is a crystalline silicon fiber, and a key device in the plot is a machine named “Spider”…
What blew me away when I read Nicoll's research was that even the name of the machine was the same. And look at the first names and occupation of the main characters. How can these have been so similar in ages before digital anything? You should go read the article. Nicoll does good work.

Another thing Nicoll mentioned that I was already aware of because of my love of late silver age and bronze age comics was that X-Men ripped off Doom Patrol. There I said it. Or did they? Could it have been the same situation as Sheffield and Clarke? We don't even know what that is? You be the judge as you look at the original covers over in Nicoll's article. Note that Doom Patrol came out three months before X-Men. 


Here we have two teams, their leaders in wheelchairs, who are shunned by normal society. On one hand we have mutants who were born with their powers and on the other hand you have mutants who obtained their powers through accidents. This coincidentalism (new word) takes place a lot in comics. What about Black Cat and Catwoman? Or Scarecrow and Scarecrow? Or Boomerang and Captain Boomerang? The one I love is Hawkeye and Green Arrow. It's also a rare piece of coincidentalism that Hawkeye was paired with Mockingbird, while Green Arrow was paired with Black Canary. You can go on over to Screenrant to see more comic coincidences.


Disney conducted a bit of coincidentalism of their own with the Lion King. Feel free to go and read the whole salacious article over on Cracked, but let's see what you think by this image alone. 


Fast forward to November 2012. Two books were published that month. My SEAL Team 666 book and Alex Shaw's Delta Force Vampire. In fact, my book was published 5 days after Shaw's. Does that make me a plagiarist? Is it coincidentalism? Like I could have come up with the idea, written the novel, and had it published in five days.

Then there's Evan Currie's book SEAL Team 13. That had to be a total ripoff. I had a host of fans come shouting to me that Evan plagiarized my idea. After all, it came out almost exactly a year later. Delta Force and SEAL Teams fighting monsters. Holy Fragmentation Grenade, Batman, there's a whole lot of cheating going on. Get the cheating police! Lock them up!

But it wasn't like that. It wasn't like that at all. If you've read Nicoll's article, which you should, you'll see that Clarke didn't think so either. And me, that guy who was WTFing before he knew how to write because something or someone was stealing his ideas right out of his brain, didn't think so either. While the comic industry tries to keep current with each other and commits coincidentalism on occasion, that's not what Me and Shaw and Currie and Clarke and Sheffield did. Instead, we were victims of the zeitgeist.

Or at least that's what I call it. I've heard others refer to it as the universal unconsciousness or the global mind. Whatever you call it, this zeitgeist is out there. It's entirely possible for people to come up with the same ideas at the same time without knowing each other. It's cultural. It's economic. It's scientific. It's based on learning the same information. It's the way our brain works. I'm sure that Clarke and Sheffield heard something or read something new and being sci fi authors, What Ifed it. Although I haven't talked with Currie and Shaw about this, I'm convinced that we near simultaneously thought about how cool it would be to have special military units dealing with supernatural stuff. And we just put our heads down, digital pen to paper, and came out with something that was popular. Zeitgeist.

Look at the 1950s. Where did all the monster movies come from, especially those who became a monster because of exposure to radiation. The zeitgeist. The world was in fear of a nuclear war so they found ways to express this fear in many ways that were similar.

I contend that this is a thing. My wife and I talk about it all the
time. She comes up with great ideas and I tell her to jump on them. Sure enough, if she isn't able to get her creative juices flowing in time, within six months to a year, some short story or novel will come out with her exact idea. As she says, "It's infuriating!"

Writers, artists in general, are a great tribe to belong to. We don't go around stealing ideas, frankly, because there are enough out there for all of us. But on occasion, a good idea presents itself in the zeitgeist. A few of us are able to pick up on it. An even smaller few are able to do something about it. It's what we do.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

S.T. Joshi - Literary Bully

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I hate bullies of all types. I was bullied when I was a kid. For a brief time, I was a bully, unable to deal with some severe emotional distress I was having at the time. Then I was bullied so bad I was put in the hospital. So when I see bully-like behavior, I stand up.

S.T. Joshi is a bully. Period. He pretends to be an academic critic, but his delivery is pure bully. He wears his Lovecraftian credentials on his sleeve, much like a Worshipful Master of a Masonic Lodge. But that's all he has. The fact that he's steeped himself in everything Lovecraft doesn't make him a reputable critic of the horror field as a whole. In fact, his obtuse specialty should minimize his authority regarding popular fiction, yet there are those of the tribe who don't realize this. So I guess it's up to me to shine the light of reason on the bullying this man is endeavoring and his attempts to create a caste system in the horror genre where everyone he doesn't like becomes the antithesis of his Brahminism - an untouchable.

I've thought of S.T. Joshi as a peripheral member of the genre, someone who pops up like a Butterball timer whenever he retells or re-shells a Lovecraftian treatise. I mean, how many times does Lovecraft need to be re-packaged? As far as I know, Joshi hasn't written a body of work separate from that and a few other dead white guys, so it's on the back of an impoverished Rhode Island writer that he's established himself, like a Lady Godiva of Cthlulu.

He recently came to my attention when he began to write about some of my friends, and no one bullies my friends. He's decided to write a treatise on 21st Century Horror, not realizing, I guess, that the American Library Association already covered the first decade of the 21st Century in their Readers Advisory Guide to Horror. I would trust a platoon of librarians over one hate-filled Lovecraftian guru any day. Go Librarians!

And they managed to do it without hatred. Because lacking in any credentials beyond Lovecraft, Joshi resorts to hatred. When I read the essay on my friend Laird Barron, titled Laird Barron: The Decline and Fall, I could not believe Joshi's gall at even declaring the so-called "fall of a writer" when that writer's career is just past its nascent stages. Is the man so shallow that he must fill himself with someone else's demise in order to prematurely ejaculate it in an essay? And let me set the record straight, there is no fall in Laird. He's rising like a spring wind.

Then I saw the piece Joshi did on another friend, Brian Keene.
For the past two or three weeks I have been in misery. In short, I have been reading the novels of Brian Keene. Were I not driven by my sacred duty as a literary critic to assess the work of this grotesquely prolific blowhard for my treatise, 21st-Century Horror, I would have been relieved of this excruciating agony; but the job is done, as is my chapter on Keene, which can be found here.

(Pro tip, Joshi: when you use the word blowhard in your thesis, it invalidates everything you're trying to say, unless you truly are a bully, in which case your Bulldydom is fixed and mortared.) Take this from this professor of creative writing. If his duty was truly sacred, his charge would be to present an impartial review, but by reading the above, you can clearly see it's anything but. Having read the work, it's so far from being academic, it could be something I'd grade in ENG 226.

Joshi went on to question the plots and actions of the characters in Keene's books. (Seriously, Joshi, have you read Lovecraft?) I held back editing Joshi's continuous abuse of past and present tense in the piece, mainly because I want readers to see it for themselves. The lack of writing ability paired with words such as blowhard, schlocky, and plebeian, demonstrate that Joshi is just a man holding onto Lovecraft's belt with one hand and smacking wildly at the universe with the other.

In the current culture of bullyism, it's easy to succumb. But remember this, we are all on this planet together. We do better for ourselves by propping each other up rather than knocking each other down.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Nick Petrie and PTSD

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First off, thanks to Ricky Grove for sending me a copy of The Drifter. It sat on my desk for a couple
months as I cleared out some projects and read some other books. Ricky sent it to me because of a conversation we'd had at STOKERCON this year on the Queen Mary. He knew that I'd spent the better part of three years and twelve hundred pages highlighting PTSD as a major plot point in my Grunt series (Grunt Life, Grunt Traitor, and Grunt Hero). He felt that, besides my works, new author Nick Petrie had it down what it was like to hae PTSD.

And he was fucking right!

Boy am I glad Ricky sent that book. I opened it and Petrie got me right away. I totally dig Nick's narrative voice. He has this hard-edged yet-thoughtful style. I was grabbed by his description of a dog he encountered early on in the book:

It wasn't a pit bull, actually. Those dogs bred for fighting were beautiful, in their own way. Like cruise missiles were beautiful, or a combat knife, if you didn't stop to consider what they were made to do.

This dog, on the other hand, was a mix of so many breeds you'd have to go back to the cavemen era to sort it out.

The result was an animal of unsurpassed hideousness.

It had the bullet-shaped head of a pit bull, but the lean muscled body and long legs of an animal built for chasing down its prey over long distances. Tall upright ears, a long wolfish muzzle.  Its matted fur was mostly a kind of deep orange, with matted polka dots.

An the animal was enormous.

Like a timber wolf run through the wash with a pit bull, a Great Dane, and a fuzzy orange sweatshirt.

I just love the way he parses words.

I've since bought books one and two in hardback. Book three comes out in January in hardback and it's on pre-order. This guy is good. You're going to want to read him.



Thursday, October 26, 2017

My Foray into Comics - DC House of Horror 1.0

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The day is finally here. As a kid who grew up reading comics (Eerie, DC, Marvel, Savage Sword of Conan), finally being able to be a part of a major endeavor has always been a bucket list item. So when I got the opportunity to participate in DC's attempt to relaunch its horror brand from Keith Gifen and Brian Keene, I leaped for it with both hands. I was asked to do a Shazam story. So with Keith Giffen's velvet glove guidance, I produced something that everyone seems to be talking about.
From Comic Crusaders. They "by far" loved Brian Keene's and Bryan Smith's Harley Quin story, Crazy for You. They also dug Mary SanGiovanni's Man's World, saying that "this story of possession is one of my top selections in the book." They dug my story too, saying, "The way Weston Ochse has this story unfold is fun and really made me want more. I can’t think of a better ending to this story, or this comic."
From Comic Obsessed: Another possession story comes from Weston Ochse, this time about a rebellious Billy Batson and is quite mysterious in a lot of ways, I wouldn't mind reading more about this particular incarnation. Howard Chaykin's pencils get the job done. Overall, this was a quite entertaining one-shot and is one of the most creative thing that Giffen has delivered in years. I think this kind of format is better for him since his lack of plannification is not so affected by it. 
From Weird Science DC Comics: Billy Batson is a badass. He’s got a leather motorcycle jacket, an earring in one ear, and an attitude that could wither a rosebush. Worse yet, he’s been cursed with some nagging power, a dervish of murder that threatens everyone he knows—if he says the secret word—which is why he has to break up with his girlfriend. She doesn’t take it well, but Billy’s got other problems to deal with. This word, keeps gnawing at him, pressuring him to be spoken aloud so he can unleash carnage on the world. This story might be the best of the lot, and the ending is especially good from a spookiness standpoint. So I’m not gonna reveal it!
In other news, it appears that I have my own dedicated page on Comic Vine, which means I've definitely leveled up. They actually refer to me as a person. 

From Horrortalk.com: With the success of things like Afterlife with Archie, I would absolutely love to see any one of these stories expanded upon as an ongoing Elseworld's title. I'd be happy if this anthology became a yearly event too. DC House of Horror is evidence that the publisher can do horror and do it well. Pulling on our deep and long-standing connection to these characters and putting them in harrowing situations is only going to make for fun and amazing horror stories.

In other news, I also discovered that I have a page on the Comic Book Database. Many of you might not remember, but back in 2005 IDW Comics was putting a short story in the back of many of their comics. My ghost story Blue Heeler appeared in F. Paul Wilson's The Keep #2, Shadowplay #2, Shaun of the Dead #5, and CSI: New York - "Bloody Murder" #4. To the database, I am known as Creator 6097

I'm very pleased with the whole thing. Have you got your copy yet? Tell me what you think.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Say Hello to My Little Friends - A Tale of Being Stationed in Korea

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I just thought of something I hadn't thought of in years. I think writing the earlier post about the Palpable Fear in Korea triggered it. Let me begin the tale with, There I Was, because all good stories start that way.

So I was pretty newly stationed in Korea, knee deep in hand grenade pins, a T-72 tank coming over the hill and all I got was a P38.
 
Front Gate of Camp Page Circa 1985
Whoops. Wrong story. Before I begin, this is the true story of what happened on a morning back in the winter of 1985. The rules of decency were different then. We didn't know what we did about human trafficking and sex slavery, or if we did, it wasn't dealt with. As a young man still in my teens, I had no idea. So please read this with the appropriate time and distance applied. Then read the afterward for some more information.
 
So there I was, newly stationed in Korea, it's the winter of 1985, cold as hell outside, and we're about to get a lesson in skoshi jingus from our hard-as-nails Polish American platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Pavarnik. I'd already been out in the local 'ville and met some club girls. Nights were usually fueled by combat bottles of soju and OB beer as we club-hopped the five small clubs mapped out for us GIs in the village of Chun Chon. 
 
Morning PT runs were always fun. Most people were still drunk by the time we fell into formation at about 6 AM. Most of us had Cinderella Passes the night before, meaning we had to be back on post by Midnight. Overnights were a rare thing, especially if you were a private, like me. Our platoon sergeant had the special ability to discern who the drunkest of us was. He'd put them in the front of the formation; especially those who'd drank porta-a-ju the previous night-a vile concoction of port wine and soju. That way, about a mile in when they started puking, the formation would end up looking like the Pie Eating Contest in Stand By Me. We did this mind you, out in the 'ville, so I can only imagine what the locals thought of us.
 
 

One winter morning, the guy running beside me couldn't stop scratching his crotch. I'm not talking subtle hand movements that might not attract attention. I'm talking major muscle movements that a pilot might mistake for landing instructions.

Finally, the platoon sergeant can't take it any longer. He halted the formation in the middle of a Korean village alley. Vendors were rolling up the tin covering their frontages and grocers were putting out their vegetables. It's cold enough we can see our breath, but not cold enough for our platoon sergeant to allow us to wear sweats. We're still in tshirts and shorts and the running was all that was keeping us warm.

typical village street
"Private Brady, what the hell is going on in your pants?"

Brady was a narrow kid from Chicago who didn't get out much. "I'm not sure, sergeant," he said.

"Then why are you scratching down there? You got an STD?"

"I ain't got no STD, sergeant."

"Then what the hell is going on?"

"My girlfriend says that I have skoshi jingus."

This stops the sergeant. "Did you say skoshi jungus?"

"Yes, sergeant." Brady looked like he was about to cry.

"Drop your pants. I want to see if she's right."

"But sergeant." He looked around at the old Korean men and women surreptitiously watching us. "I can't do it here."

"You can and will do it, private. This is a serious business." The platoon sergeant parts the ranks and we sort of cluster around Brady. "Now, drop them."

Brady's expression implored the platoon sergeant to not make him do this, but after a good ten seconds, he reached down and pulled his shorts to his knees. He's wearing whitie tighties underneath which the platoon sergeant commanded to be pulled down as well. Brady eventually did this, then went to attention, closed his eyes, and balled his hands to his sides.

Now, I'm not the sort to go about staring at another man's junk, but I gotta say, on that day, me and everyone else in the platoon was staring at Brady's junk. Not really the junk, but the many little things around the junk.

Let me flash back three months earlier. I was at Fort Gordon Outprocessing Center, getting ready to PCS to Korea. I bumped into an old Spec 7 (when they had them), and when I told him where I was going, he got all serious like, and told me, "Whatever you do, don't let them take you to the Black Island." Now I was used to old timers messing with me, so I grinned. But he shook his head firmly. "This is not a joke, son. This is for real. Don't let them take you to the Black Island. If they do, you'll never see your family or the Land of the Big PX again."

"Why would they send me to the Black Island?" I asked, now nervous and unsure if he was messing with me or not. 

"They got all sorts of VD over there. Some of it is as bad as it gets. Rot your dick right off. But there's a special kind of VD called Black VD. You get that and you might as well call home and say goodby forever. Make sure you check the girl's VD card. Make sure it's up to date."

And then he left the smoke pit and I never saw him again.

Now, fast forward to us staring at Brady's junk and the hundreds of little black spots moving around it.

The platoon sergeant knelt down and got eye level to the junk. Then he nodded. "Sure as shit," he said. "Brady, you got skoshi jingus."

Then someone asked, "Is he going to the Black Island, sergeant?"

My head and several others jerked towards the guy who asked. No one ever talked about Black Island like no one ever talked about Fight Club.

We jerked our heads towards the platoon sergeant who had straightened up and was lighting a cigarette with a zippo, both brought along for PT. He inhaled, then exhaled. Brady's eyes were open and wide as he stared at the platoon sergeant. The platoon sergeant waited until he finished the cigarette before he answered slow and low, like the Martial Artist Jim Kelly in Enter the Dragon, when John Saxon and he are bilking a betting man by pretending that John can't fight. The platoon sergeant shook his head and said, "No, we're not going to send him to the Black Island. Right now, he's got worse problems than that."

"Wo--worse problems?" Brady stuttered.

"You have unauthorized pets all over your crotch. They are not allowed on Camp Page. Commandant forbids it. We're going to have to get rid of them before you can return to base."

"Wha--what?"

"Skoshi jingus. Means Little Friends. Your girlfriend gave you crabs, son."

At this we all started to itch a bit. We didn't know which club girl was his girlfriend, but chances were, she'd been one of our girlfriends for a night or to as well.

Then the platoon sergeant ordered Sergeant Slaughter to run back to base, grab the red ammo can by the platoon sergeant's desk, and return, pronto. It took about fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of us freezing our asses off while the platoon sergeant smoked and stared at Brady's shriveling junk, all the while shaking his head. The only thing he said the entire time was a single sentence. "Brady, the sheer number of those skoshi jingus you have is impressive."

To this day I can't hear the word impressive and not think of those crabs.

By the time Slaughter returned, we were all shivering and shaking violently. During this entire time, the Koreans were shaking their heads. This was certainly something they hadn't seen, but I did hear several of them laughing about skoshi jingus, so I guess it was definitely a thing.
 
Slaughter handed the red metal ammo can to our platoon sergeant, who then placed it on the ground, opened it, and began taking out several items: a can of Zippo lighter fluid, a box of matches, and an ice pick. 

"This is something you have to do, son. I can't do it for you. Against regulations."

"Wha--what is it that I ha--have to do, sergeant?" Brady stuttered.

The platoon sergeant frowned. "Isn't it obvious?"

"I--I don't understand."

"Private Brady. You cannot and will not bring unauthorized pets onto our military base. It's against all regulation.You have to get rid of them here, now, in this alley." Then he added, "And you better do it before we all freeze our balls off."

Brady reached down and grabbed the can of lighter fluid and the book of matches. He stared at them much like a pig would looking at a wristwatch. He just couldn't make sense of it. Eventually, he began to cry. Not gentle-weepy-I-just-saw-a-chick-flick-tears, but huge sobs wrenched from the depths of his soul that made us all feel uncomfortable. But I was with Brady. I couldn't figure out at all what he was supposed to do with those three items. 

The platoon sergeant lit another cigarette and let Brady ball for a full minute, before he finally said, "For God's sake. Sergeant Slaughter, will you please explain to Private Brady the tried and true and only trusted method of getting rid of skoshi jingus."

"Yes, sergeant," Slaughter said. He went over to Brady and placed all three items in his hands. "Stop, balling, son. This is important."

Brady wiped his eyes with the back of his hands then held the items out in front of them. "Truly, sergeant, I want to do this right. I just don't understand."

Slaughter nodded gently. "It's alright, private. Everyone understands. What you got to do isn't hard, but you have to be quick and resolute."

"Quick and resolute," Brady repeated. 

"Step one is you take the lighter fluid and spray it all over your crotch, making sure to soak into all that hair down there."

Brady's eyes narrowed.

"Step two is you light a match. Now step three has to happen immediately after step two so you have to be ready. Match in one hand ice pick in the other. Are you right handed, private?"

"Sergeant?"

"Which hand do you jack off with?"

"The right."

"So light the match, place it in your left hand, then put the ice pick in the right hand. You're going to want it to be in the hand with the greatest dexterity."

"Dexterity," Brady said, turning the word into its own question.

Slaughter grabbed the book of matches out of Brady's hand. "So step 2 is to light the match." He did this, then dropped the box of matches on the ground and switched the lit match to his right hand. Then he grabbed the ice pick out of Brady's other hand. "No, remember what I said about dexterity?" he asked.

Brady nodded. "Quick and resolute. Dexterity."

Slaughter smiled. "You're going to get back on base yet. So step one is douse your crotch with lighter fluid."

"Making sure to get my hair down there," Brady said.

Slaughter nodded. "Step two is to light the match, step three is to light your crotch on fire," then Slaughter made hard fast stabbing motions with the ice pick as he said, "And step four is to stab as many of them little fuckers as you can running out of the flames because you don't want to have to do it again."
 
I looked from Slaughter's face to Brady's who was just beginning to figure out what he was supposed to do with the three items.

Were they for real? That was the most insane thing I'd ever heard.

But the platoon sergeant and Sergeant Slaughter never cracked a smile.

"Do you want to practice it, or just go for it?" Slaughter asked, stone-faced.

"Pppractice?" Brady stuttered.

"Just get it over with," the platoon sergeant said.

Slaughter handed the lighter fluid to Brady and said, "Commence step one."

Brady stood there. 

"Open the god damned lighter fluid and spray, yourself, private?"

Brady stood there, silent tears, now sliding down his face.

I didn't want to be there. This was becoming awful super fast.

"Spray yourself with the lighter fluid, private!" Slaughter screamed, face now inches from Brady's. "Do it or I'll do it for you."

Brady gripped the lighter fluid with shaking hands and opened the top of it. Then he turned it down and sprayed his crotch, the wet liquid causing him to jump as it hit him. But he squeezed the can until it was dry. Ice crystals immediately began to form.

Slaughter took the empty can and tossed it on the ground. "Now move onto step two, private!"

"I don't want to light it."

"You don't have a choice."

Now in tears, "Please don't make me set my penis on fire, Sergeant Slaughter."

"Then why'd you sleep with a club girl who had crabs?"

Brady blinked several times.

"I didn't know she had crabs."

"Did you check her VD card? They don't give VD cards to women with crabs."

"I--I didn't check her VD card."

"Well, doesn't that make you look like an idiot. And now you're standing out here in the middle of the goddamned 'ville, shorts around your ankles, shwanz all shriveled and wet, ice pick in one hand and a match in the other, about to burn your fucking dick off because you didn't want to be impolite and ask the nice club girl if she had skoshi jingus. Who's the fucking idiot now?"

"I am," Brady said in a soft voice. 
 
"Now, hand me that ice pick, pull up your fucking shorts, and let's get the rest of you idiots back to post."
 
Brady handed the things over. "What about the lighter fluid?"
 
Sergeant Slaughter shook his head. "That wasn't lighter fluid, private. That was water. By now your skoshi jingus are frozen in nice little ice crystals that will kill them. What we didn't just kill, the medic will take care of."
 
The platoon sergeant finished smoking his cigarette, rolled the pack back in the sleeve of his short sleeve PT shirt, then formed us up. Soon we were running back to base, silent and serious, the only sound was occasional clang from the red ammo box that Brady had been told to carry back. 



Afterward: Since the 1990s, the US Military along with the Korean goverment began to crack down on prostitution, recognizing it for what it was. I saw the prostitutes in Itaewon decrease from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s until they were almost gone entirely. Historically, many of the girls at the clubs were third daughters or unwanted daughters and given over to a mamasan for a sum of money that they would then have to work off (see the buying out term above). The mamasan, or Hajima, ran the club and ensured that the girls were paid for their time. I was 19 years old when I was first stationed in Korea and didn't know any of this. It was only later that I learned. I actually bought out the contract of one girl, hoping to free her from the club system. But when it became clear that I wasn't planning on spending my life with her, she went back to work at the very same club. It was a different time. For more information about the history of prostitution in South Korea, go here.

And what became of Brady? He stopped going out to the 'ville entirely after that.