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.

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.