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.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

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

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."


"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?"


"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.

DC House of Horror and Resurgence of Horror in Comics

DC Comics reached out to eight popular horror authors to write DC House of Horror Vol1, which is an 80 page comic that they are hoping will be the resurgence of horror to comic books. My guess is that they reached out to me because the American Library Association honored me by labeling me one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. That and my recent literary success, I suppose. And probably because Clive Barker and Stephen King were too busy. Still, they picked me to be a part of it and I'm stoked. Also writing in the comic are Edward Lee, Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Bryan Smith, Nick Cutter, Wrath James White, and Ronald Malfi. We were paired with artists Rags Morales, Bilquis Evely, Howard Porter, Scott Kolins,  Howard V. Chaykin, and Dale Eaglesham. It also features the maniacal Keith Giffen riding herd over us all. If I told you some of the conversations I had with Keith you'd crack up.

You see, back in the 1950s, EC and Eerie Comics had titles like Tales from the Crypt, Tales of Terror, Weird Tales, etc. Then came a resurgence in the 1970s when DC published supernatural fiction and occasional horror stories in such titles as Ghosts, The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, Secrets of Haunted House, Secrets of Sinister House, Swamp Thing, Weird Mystery Tales, Weird War Tales, and Tales of Ghost Castle. I broke my eye teeth on those when I was a kid. By the late 80s, though, these titles were all gone with the exception of Swamp Thing. Then in the 90s, Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics began to bring it back. Then comics like Jonah Hex, Ghost Rider, and Constantine made horror in comics even more popular.

DC House of Horror is an attempt to bring horror back to DC. This is Vol 1 and if it's a success, then we might see Vol 2 and some resurrections of their old titles. I'm personally hoping that Weird War Tales comes back because of my military background. You know I could write some bad ass weird war scripts.

In DC House of Horror, all of us were given a DC franchise character and told to put our own spin on them. I was given Shazam and I placed the events in the 1970s. Others were given Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, etc. What makes this great is that we were pretty much told to do with these characters what we wanted to. The stories wouldn't be cannon, so the sky was the limit. We had a load of fun. And I got to bring in the movie The Exorcist and a quote from Hunter S. Thompson on the first page of my piece to start the party off. See if you can spy The Exorcist movie posters on the subway wall.

This isn't my first foray into comics. Many of you stalwart fans might remember that I had a short story in the back of several IDW comics, including The Keep, CSI, and several others I don't remember. But this is my first time writing a comic script and having it published. I'm beyond honored.

So how can you help? Have you ordered a copy? Then go to or call your local Comic Book store. If you don't have one, then call Liz Scott at Phat Collectible in La Habra, CA at  (714) 680-3760. Tell her Weston sent you. I know they ordered a bunch of extra copies.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Secret to Selling eBooks

Here's my secret to selling eBooks. Change my name to Amanda Hocking, Selena Kitt, or Joe Konrath. That's me trying to be funny, but actually, I'm in awe of these folks. Not only are they immensely talented, but they've managed to break the eBook code. According to Joe's blog post Ebooks Slowing? Yes And No, he's made $26,000 in six weeks, Amanda Hocking sells 1200 eBooks a day, and Selena Kitt made $120,000 this year on Kindle books.

Maybe if I knew what the secrets to marketing them was I could do it. Right now, my eBook only books are with Crossroads Press. The books did really well in the beginning, but now I get a trickle of sales for all of them.

The the eBooks for my other books are controlled by publishers. Those include the SEAL Team 666 books (SEAL Team 666, Age of Blood, and Reign of Evil), my collection FUBAR, as well as the Task Force Ombra Books (Grunt Life, Grunt Traitor and Grunt Hero). Let's not forget about Halfway House and Ghost Heart. Those all do decent, but nothing like the numbers some of those I mentioned are getting. Hell, I'd love 10% of those numbers.

I'm thinking about trying something. I have two Special Unit 77 novellas (Cold War Gothic and The Bohemian Grove) that have appeared in two of Cohesion Press's SNAFU anthologies. The novellas are closely linked. Think special undercover civilian clothes wearing military unit placed in 1970s San Francicso to fight supernatural entities posed by the Red Menace. I'm thinking about doing a third. Maybe if I can get an artist to help me brand the covers, then I can try some of the tactics I've been seeing. I'm thinking a pen name might help like Joe Konrath or Amanda Hocking. Too funny. I just crack myself up. But seriously, I'd publish them under my own name and see if I couldn't get some solid numbers. 

Something to think about.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Palpable - The Fear of North Korea

My first trip to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) took place in 1985 when a then young army private got his first posting. I was assigned to a special weapons unit in Chun Chon. I thought being in Korea was going to be all about club girls and parties. Then I was told within five minutes of arriving that we were within seven minutes of missile attack from North Korea. It was then that I knew this was serious business.

I took advantage of my year there. I spent many a night atop one of the many mountains near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) looking out across the range to North Korea and wondering what they were all about. Sometimes we'd get some soju and get wasted, tossing the bottles down the mountain and trying to blow up the landmines that had been placed there to protect us. 

Then I went to the Joint Security Area (JSA) near the DMZ. I traveled the Bridge of No Return. Once crossed, you know that if anything happens no one will save you. I was able to stand face-to-face with a North Korean soldier, standing at attention right across a line painted on the ground. He stared at me. I stared at him. I didn't hate him. But I feared him. He wanted to kill me. He wanted me dead. All I wanted was to stay alive. There's a difference.

I learned about the North Korean Axe Murders. Back in Aug 1976, less than ten years from when I was there, some Americans went to cut down a tree in the DMZ that was blocking a critical view. North Korean soldiers came at them and killed them with axes. Thus began Operation Paul Bunyan. You can read about it here and here.

I've spoken with friends of mine who'd been in Germany when there was a wall seperating the country into a free West Germany and a soviet East Germany. Those who had also been to Korea said that the pervasive feeling of fear in Korea was far worse than anything they'd felt in Germany. No one really thought the Soviet Union would attack, but one could never tell with North Korea. It's a common belief on the ground that if North Korea ever felt like it was backed so far into a corner that it couldn't get out that they'd just say 'Fuck it' and fire everything they had. We're talking over 10,000 artillery pieces, each capable of reaching Seoul. Imagine living in New York City and having 10,000 high explosive rounds hitting Manhattan. Yeah. That's the sort of devastation I'm talking about. And that's just the first volley. What if they fire again. And again. I'm not even talking about any nuclear options.

That's why the feeling of fear is palpable. You become accustomed to it, but it never goes away. Walking the streets of Korea is much like walking in Afghanistan. You never know when you're going to get hit. I've consistently tried to put this feeling into my military fiction novels. From SEAL Team 666 to the Grunt Life books, I've tried to imbue it with fear. But it's hard to do. You almost have to be there.

Many years later, back to participate in a military exercise, I was afforded the opportunity to see one of North Korea's tunnels. It seemed as if NK was always digging tunnels under the DMZ in the event they wanted to surprise attack the south. I'm not talking small tunnels either. There are those, but there are also tunnels tall and wide enough that three tanks side-by-side could come through. The tunnel I went to wasn't one of those. It was built by North Korean commandos to allow them to infil and exfil the Republic of Korea (ROK) as they came and went, killing and kidnapping. The tunnel was ominously close to the DMZ. The tunnel was still in use.

It took well over five hundred steps to reach the tunnel, down a dark slash in the earth. Myself and my companion wore headlamps and as we descended it became colder. When the stairs finally stopped, we leveled off into a tunnel that had a light powered by a battery that illuminated a sad nimbus of area, showing me that the tunnel was about ten feet wide and seven feet high. Several batteries sat next to the light. Other than ourselves, there were two living beings in the menacing space. One was a young ROK soldier on a flimsy stool, sitting behind a .50 caliber machine gun on a tripod, the barrel pointing north. The other living being was a yellow bird in a cage that sat on the ground right at the edge of the light.

I turned to my left towards the Republic of Korea. We weren't at the end of the tunnel. We were
somewhere in the middle. I turned to my right and tried to see into the darkness of North Korea. I couldn't help but imagine what would happen if NK commandos decided they wanted to attack us. The fear I'd felt years before on the DMZ came back to me in a sickening wave. Claustrophobia began to set in and I hunched my shoulders. It was then I realized that the young ROK soldier hadn't addressed us or said a word, so intent was his gaze on the darkness of the north.

"What's the bird for?" I asked my partner.

"It's a canary. If the north decides they want to get rid of the guard, they'll gas the tunnel. The canary will die first."

"And that tells the soldier to escape right?"

My partner looked at me then. He'd been stationed in Korea for years. He knew the truth of it. "No. That tells him to fire and he'll keep firing until the gas gets him."

I stared at the young soldier.

He remained steadfast, unblinking, peering into the dark, awaiting his own demise.

It was halfway back up when we took a moment to breath that I asked, "It doesn't ever happen like that, does it?"

Again I got the look. "It happens more often than it should," he said.

Then I remembered the bird. It had been as silent and as intent as the ROK soldier.

Author Interview - Talking about FUBAR, Grunt Series, and Burning Sky

I think this interview slipped through the cracks. I was recently interviewed about everything from the writing process, to FUBAR, to the PTSD-suffering grunts in the Task Force OMBRA series, to my new series which starts with Burning Sky. I wanted to make sure everyone saw this.

If you want to read the whole article, go to this link!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Brief Notes on "A Little Life" - Here Be Dragons

I'd planned on writing an epic blog post about a book I'd read that took up the first four months of 2017. My intent was to break out each character -- Malcolm, JB, Willem, and Jude -- and tell you what each one meant to me. I wanted to relay the aching sensation I had every time I returned to read the book and the intense joy I felt with being in love with the character Jude. But in the face of Hanya Yanagihara's epic words, mine would seem but unintelligible whisper. 

This is not a book review. I'm not going to tell you the plot, except only that it is about a not so little life. What I will tell you is that this is not only the best book I've ever read, but it is my favorite book of all time.

Allow me to share my journey to this book. 

In 2016, I'd read about this Pulitzer Prize winning novel called The Goldfinch (2013) written by Donna Tartt. Although I write horror, thriller, and science fiction, I don't generally read a lot in my chosen genres. I spend most of my time toiling through the sub-genres of literary fiction, such as neo-romanticism and  meta-fiction. I dabble in the classics, love a good detective novel, and when I see a list of best of books, I tend to try them out. 

For instance, the three great books I read in 2016 were The Goldfinch, The Secret History (1992), and A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). The Goldfinch lived up to its reputation and was a magnificent journey through a life that began with an explosion, a theft, and a promise. I chose to read The Secret History next, because it was also written by Donna Tartt and advertised as being a modern A Catcher in the Rye. I thrashed through that novel gleefully, enjoying the academic bildungsroman journeys of its cast. Because I'd read The Secret History on my iPad, Amazon's sagacious algorithm advised me to read A Gentleman in Moscow next. I enjoyed it as much as the other books, even though the bildungsroman was completely different. I found in this book a new soul and an idea that was was old can always be new. I loaned a copy to my mother, because we often enjoy the same sort of books. She didn't read it right away and I was worried that she hadn't liked it and was too gracious to tell me. Then the other day, I received a short succinct Facebook message reminiscent of a teletype from last century that read: You are correct. A Gentleman in Moscow is one of the great novels of our time. Thank you for introducing me to it. Hard Stop.

What does one do after that? What does one read? As it turned out, I'd also read A Gentleman in Moscow on my iPad, but because I'd loved it so, I bought a hardback. There were parts that were so brilliantly written that I wanted to mark them, go back and reread them. This is what I loaned to my mother (hoping one day to get it back). Because I'd also read it on iPad, I returned to the Oracle of Amazon and asked what I was to read next. That's when it introduced me to A Little Life. Sometime in January, after I turned in my latest novel Burning Sky to Solaris Books fulfilling my contract, I sat down and began reading A Little Life on my iPad. 

At over 700 pages, this is a serious book. I hadn't known how long it was and had I known, the length might have scared me away. The first fifty pages or so was a bildungroman of four characters, fresh out of college. This was the getting to know them phase of the book and then things changed drastically.
"The clearest sign that A Little Life will not be what we expect is the gradual focus of the text on Jude’s mysterious and traumatic past. As the pages turn, the ensemble recedes and Jude comes to the fore. And with Jude at its center, A Little Life becomes a surprisingly subversive novel—one that uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, and the difficulties of recovery. And having upset our expectations once, Yanagihara does it again, by refusing us the consolations we have come to expect from stories that take such a dark turn." (The New Yorker)

It is in the author's unflinching delivery, her reluctance to let us lick our own tattered wounds, that
sends the emotional narrative sizzling. There were moments reading this book that I wondered if I wasn't going to need a support group once I was finished.
If A Little Life's heart is the push-pull of individual annihilation, then its heart is friendship.  Notice in the quote below that it mentions friendship as solace, because everything else that happens is so terrible.

"Friendship is the solace in A Little Life, as it is in any life riven with anxiety, and it is rendered so exquisitely lifelike here – replete with beauty and dark currents – that it almost approximates the real thing. The characters’ friendships represent the type of love known as agape, described by CS Lewis in The Four Loves as the highest level of love known to humanity: “A selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the well being of the other.” Most books are still caught up in a world where romance and sex takes precedence, but we’re now in a cultural moment in which relationships – romantic, sexual, platonic, polygamous, online, all this together and more – are accepted as much more fluid and complex than they used to be. A Little Life succeeds and connects because it is willing to explore those nuances. We mightn’t be able to recognize ourselves in the darker material – the cutting, the urge for annihilation – but something rings true and real about the love between friends in an anxious world." (The Guardian)

Not for nothing, A Little Life had some recognition:

    2015 Man Booker Prize, shortlist
    2015 National Book Award for Fiction, finalist
    2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, shortlist
    2015 Kirkus Prize in Fiction, winner
    2017 International Dublin Literary Award, shortlist

Recently, I reached out to a book dealer in New York and bought a signed first edition for a sum I wouldn't normally pay. The most I'd paid for a first edition previously was for my third favorite book, China Mieville's The Scar (This is a middle book of a trilogy, as is my second favorite book, The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy. Funny that I like middle books.). The signed first edition of A Little History cost even more than The Scar, but then, what is one to do if one might want to sit in a chair, hold a book, and reminisce about one's journey through it. 

My experience with A Little Life might be different than your own. But unless you read it, you will never understand the frustration and joy one can simultaneously experience. Just know this. Do not do so gently. Be wary. There was once a belief that on the edges of old paper maps where the cartographer didn't know what was there would be written the words Here Be Dragons. Unless you have traveled through a black soul and seen the other side, you have no idea what you are about to experience. So I'll leave you with this. In A Little Life, Here Be Dragons.

Friday, July 28, 2017

After Action Report for NECON Guest of Honor Appearance



1. SUMMARY: NECON is an annual horror writers convention that takes place at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. The convention has been continuously run for thirty-seven years. Founded by the late great Bob Booth, the Booth family continues to run it through multiple generations. Although this is a classic literary event, the convention is unlike any other writing convention. Imagine if director Wes Anderson, author Stephen King, and Anheuser-Busch hosted a weekend camp for itinerant authors and fans to come together, drink, chat, break bread, and refresh depleted creative resources. NECON is frequently referred to as Camp NECON because of its similarity to a summer camp. This year there were three guests of honor: Laird Barron, Gemma Files and Weston Ochse (me).

1. Saugies

a. TOPIC: Regional Sausage-based Meat Dog

b. DISCUSSION: NECON has a tradition of providing every camper Saugies at 10PM on the Thursday before the convention officially begins. The Saugies must be burnt. They must be consumed in the semi-dark and in the quad. Saugies are again provided under similar circumstances after the Roast (see below) on the Saturday night of the convention. Saugies have a unique taste. The skin snaps when you bite into them. Although they are filling, they are known to cause flatulence and coma-like symptoms.

c. RECOMMENDATION: Retain Tradition.

2. Humidity

a. TOPIC: Water-Filled Air
b. DISCUSSION: Being from Arizona, I am unfamiliar with this environmental phenomena. Evidently, there are places on planet earth where there is enough liquid in the air that one can sweat by only breathing. I verified this with SNOPES. Locals refer to this bizarre effect as humidity. This humidity also draws liquid from the human epidermis, frequently causing severe loss of body fluid. Continual intake of replacement fluids are necessary, often in the forms of  fermented beverages. Much like tornadoes are to Oklahoma and hurricanes are to Florida, this environmental phenomena is something to be considered before traveling through or to the region known as Rhode Island.
c. RECOMMENDATION: Although humidity can be unpleasant and even cause comas, in some cases if not treated with fermented beverages, this is a necessary evil if one wants to attend this convention. Wear appropriate attire. Prepare to consume liquids.

3. Unicorns

a. TOPIC: Masturbating Unicorns

b. DISCUSSION: As unlikely as it sounds, masturbating unicorns made several appearances at this year's NECON. Unleashed by new camper Allison Pang, these masturbating unicorns are often found in underwear drawers. Evidently, they are the miniature versions, which is good, because a continuous flow of cryptid semen from a regular-sized unicorn would be awful, even if it comes out as a rainbow.

c. RECOMMENDATION: Avoid masturbating unicorns.

4. Roast

a. TOPIC: The Roast

b. DISCUSSION: A continuous NECON tradition is to roast someone on Saturday night of the convention. This roast is defined as a meeting in honor of one or more people (I was dually roasted with Yvonne Navarro) who are then subjected to offending, yet good-natured ridicule. The roastee is usually kept secret. The roastee never learns until it's too late that they are being roasted. If Christopher Golden approaches you at any time during the weekend, avoid speaking with him at all costs, seek shelter and hunker down. This years roastee was author P.D Cacek. She survived the roast medium rare. Being roasted is one of the prerequisites to becoming a NECON Legend.

c. RECOMMENDATION: Retain tradition.

5. Whores

a. TOPIC: NECON Whores

b. DISCUSSION: NECON has their own coterie of whores. They dance and sing. They do not do this well. They dress strangely. If you see one, I recommend doing the same thing I advised if Christopher Golden approaches you. I do not know in what form they are paid. I do not know what other services they perform. They also have a queen. She is Mary Booth. Do not look into her eyes or play cards with her. 

c. RECOMMENDATION: Reconsider necessity of whores. Seek temp agency for replacements.
6. John McIlvine's Daughters

a. TOPIC. Danger Will Robinson

b. DISCUSSION: Longtime NECON camper John McIlvine has made it a tradition to bring his daughters to NECON since his first attendance. These daughters are considered handsome by many and should be avoided at all times. If one approaches you, I recommend doing the same thing I advised if Christopher Golden approaches you--avoid speaking with her at all costs, seek shelter and hunker down. Jack Ketchum wasn't present this year, so this year's designated daughter was considered to be safe.

c. RECOMMENDATION: Retain Tradition, but be wary.

7. Single Track Paneling.

a. TOPIC: Individualized Attention

b. DISCUSSION: NECON has single track programming. This means that panels are not competing against other panels. This forces attendees to sit together and participate in the convention.

c. RECOMMENDATION: Retain Tradition.

8. Swimming Pool

a. TOPIC:Synchronized Drowning

b. DISCUSSION: John Skipp had made it a tradition to put together yearly performances of synchronized drowning. This cannot occur anymore because the swimming pool was stolen and replaced with a sunken room that lacks air conditioning.

c. RECOMMENDATION: Find new pool. Fund Skipp to NECON.

9. Guest of Honor Treatment

a. TOPIC: Guest of Honor(s)

b. DISCUSSION: NECON currently invites three guests of honor. They are provided travel expenses, room, and board. They are waited on hand and foot, unless they get to the convention early when they are forced to unload all of the trucks amidst the phenomena referred to as humidity. Guest of Honor are taken out to dinner and are treated like royalty.

c. RECOMMENDATION: Retain Tradition.
10. General Comments. I have attended probably seven NECONs over the last fifteen years. This one was the best one yet. I was honored to have been invited as a Guest of Honor. I immensely enjoyed meeting new people and getting more FOWs (Friends of Weston). I was also honored to meet and share the air with Gemma Files and Laird Barron, two incredibly talented and wonderful human beings. 

11. Point of contact for this AAR is Weston Ochse. He can be contacted at www.westonochse.com.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Best Western I've Seen In Years - In A Valley of Violence

So, In A Valley of Violence was on one of my pay-per-view channels and I DVRd it. We watched it last Sunday and I was so impressed, I immediately went out and bought the Blu-Ray. 

The director didn't set out to do anything special or different with the plot. It's a stock plot we've seen many times. Drifter comes into town, runs afoul of the local marshal, gets in trouble, then comes back to get his revenge. High Plains Drifter, right? Two things make this movie different. The first is the is the dialog. Instead of stock characters doing stock thing while a squint-eyed stranger spouts one liners, these characters were self aware. And when I say self aware I mean it in a Shakespeare-type self aware where they have asides or monologues, talking about the violence and how it affects them. The movie starts with a slow burn that eventually gets to an ending that is as violent as any western you've ever seen. The second thing that makes this movie different is the dog.

"I also really love the absurdist nature of many great spaghetti westerns, and while I think In a Valley of Violence has plenty of those fun elements, it also tells a story about how violence affects different people in different ways. It is a movie much more about characters than it is plot. It takes a group of archetypes and sorta flips them upside down and forces the characters to confront things not usually seen in westerns." - Director, Ti West (from a Filmmaker Magazine interview)

Also, the opening and closing credits were a total homage to 1970 Spaghetti Westerns with their garish colors and blocky lettering. I just loved it. I recommend you give this a try. I might like it more than you, but this isn't your average Western.

What it's like working with a dog: “Jack Lemmon, who I worked with when I was younger [in 1989's "Dad"], said it was like working with Marilyn Monroe,” Hawke continued. “They were always going to use the take that Marilyn was good in, never the take that you were, so you had to be good all the time. So that’s what it’s like working with a dog.” - Ethan Hawke (from an LA Times interview

Friday, June 2, 2017

How The Publisher Almost Didn't Publish My Book

I have a new interview that's pretty thorough. I get more into detail about writing a sci fi trilogy, the craft of it, and why I chose PTSD as my subject matter.

But did you know that the books almost weren't published?

Both the publisher and I were worried about the amount of PTSD in the books. Something like this had never been done before. I mean we took it to the next level, describing suicides, how people wanted to hurt themselves, what it was that caused them to have PTSD in the first place. All of it. In technicolor.

We asked ourselves, were we doing something bad? Were we doing a disservice? Would readers appreciate it or would they think we were exploiting the issue? Moreover, would the reading public it? 

We felt a responsibility to not monetize other people's pain and asked ourselves, should we really publish Grunt Life and the follow on books?

Our decision didn't come lightly. As it turns out, we made the right decision.

To read more, check out the interview at My Life My Books My Escape.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Grunt Hero Smashes to Earth

I'm so pleased that I can finally say that Grunt Hero has been published and it looks amazing. Solaris Books did an incredible job with the production (like they always do). Writing the series was so cathartic. Coming to terms with my own issues, realizing what kind of PTSD I have while writing about others, hearing from fathers and daughters and fellow veterans that I was getting it right have fueled me beyond belief.

I was also extremely pleased that I was able to tell the story of invasion and the after effects over three books. So many characters and so many loose ends to tie up. Quite a few of my loyal readers came up to me at PHX Comiccon and thanked me for wowing them. They were equally surprised I was able to answer all of the outstanding questions. And that, my friends meant the world to me because there were so many loose ends that I had to address without pulling the readers out of the story.

Back and 2015 I wrote an article for Sci Fi Bulletin about writing the first book. The title was Necessary Evil: PTSD in Military Sci Fi.  I wanted to write it to explain why I was writing the book and about how tired I was about soldiers being able to kill in fiction without any emotional cost to them.  Here's how it begins:  

I wanted to write a series of books about soldiers with PTSD and I wanted to get it right. I didn’t want my characters to be some lone gunmen, but to rather show them in a PTSD-positive light. But where would I start? How far could I go? How far should I go? After all, writing about PTSD is a trigger all unto itself. What is the line that separates entertainment and harm?
I recently wrote a few more blogs celebrating the release of the third book. 

One was also at Sci Fi Bulletin titled This is What Happens When a Horror Author Writes Science Fiction. Although my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I wrote it, I did want to point out that there is a need for more darkness in some science fiction.  Here's how I began the blog:

My science fiction publisher told me that my last three military sci fi novels were the bleakest books they’ve ever published and that’s a good thing. Let me explain.

I also wrote a blog for Sci Fi Now. This one was about the craft of writing and was titled The Ancient Art of Writing Trilogies. I wrote it because I felt that I failed to write a trilogy for SEAL Team 666 and took my lessons learned when I approached the Grunt Books. I spend a lot of it disambiguating between trilogies and series. Here's how it begins:

I grew up reading The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift Jr, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys. These mysteries were packaged by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and specifically targeted kids. Like many of my contemporaries, I liked reading these books because they were about kids like me solving fantastic mysteries. I fell in love with the characters, following them from book to book. I was especially fond of Frank and Joe Hardy, adventuring with them in The Sinister Signpost, The Phantom Express, The Ghost of Skeleton Rock and so many more. Reading them was like reading about old friends and I never tired of it.

Finally, I have an interview up at The Quillery where they posed some hard questions and put me on the spot. 

I Blame It On The Green Power Ranger

By now everyone knows that a crazy man from Mesa, Arizona came to Phoenix Comiccon thinking that he was the Punisher and that he needed to kill bad cops AND the Green Power Ranger. Not sure where the Green Power Ranger fit into it, but you can't explain crazy. Seems the 'Punisher' had three loaded pistols, a shotgun, a knife and ninja stars. Yes. Now pause a moment to imagine when and where he thought he was going to use throwing stars.

Because of this, numbers were down. That still didn't keep the wait on Friday from being 1.5 to 2 hours to get into the hall. Chewbaccas were passing out left and right in the desert heat. I didn't anticipate the heightened security and I sauntered over from my hotel at 1030 thinking I was going to make my 11:00 panel. The line had at least 4,000 people in it. I walked up to who I discerned (correctly) as the head of security, showed him my guest badge, then was told to get to the back of the line. I pressed, pointing out politely that I was a guest of the con and had con business I had to get to and he let me in a side door where Don the Maintenance Man patted me down and escorted me into the convention center. I doubt Don the Maintenance Man was part of the backup security plan... or was he.

Still, the con handled the situation and by Saturday, the lines weren't as long.
Great convention this year. I'll give a full report later in the week.