Friday, August 21, 2015

Straight from the Mouth of Paulita Kincer, author of The Summer Of France

Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

 I don’t remember not wanting to be an author. Since I was in the second grade or so, I’ve been writing stories and looking for adventures to write about. During summer vacation, I’d get up, pack a peanut butter sandwich and roam the neighborhood with my notebooks so I could write the down. I remember in fifth grade when we had to tell the class what we wanted to be. I was so embarrassed to say an author. Why did I know at age 10 that it seemed presumptuous to write books and have people read my words? I worked as a journalist, a job that paid the rent and allowed me to write every day, but I felt novels percolating that needed to get out. So I let them, and hopefully, readers find nuggets of wisdom or emotions that they can connect to in my writing.


Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

Perks? On Wednesday afternoons I get to put aside all my other work and head to the local coffee shop to write along with other writers. I get to go places in my imagination that I might never visit in real life. And the places that I love on vacation, I get to live in them even when I’m not there by sending my characters there.

Sometimes I hear from fans, actual fans of my book, and that is gratifying. And the other day, I received an email from an author whose book has sold millions and he congratulated me on my novels, so I suppose that’s a small level of fame.

As for the demands, if I don’t sit down and write that novel, it won’t happen. Writing alone can be a little tedious. Also, the editing and the marketing, the social media and the press releases are all on my shoulders since I self-published.  


Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

I self-published and my books are available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback. You’ll also find paperbacks at Barnes & Noble along with other booksellers.

When self-publishing, the most important thing is to make sure the book is ready. Readers will judge the author based on the book. If the story isn’t entrancing, if some punctuation is incorrect, if the cover is cockeyed, readers may put the book away. All the writing, editing and marketing falls on the author.

And, of course, self-publishing doesn’t come with the perks of traditional publishing. Our local newspaper, which I’ve written for, won’t review my novels because I self-published. I imagine that wall will come down someday.


What’s the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry (e.g. rejections, the long wait, etc.)

I once got a teeny tiny rejection from an agent. The whole paper fit in the palm of my hand, but I can appreciate saving resources.

The reason I decided to self-publish came after a response from an agent and her assistant. They were in New York, and I figured they were around 22 years old. They loved the plot, my writing, the characters, but… they didn’t think people would be able to relate to the problems the main characters had. In the midst of dealing with teenagers growing up, going off to college, dropping out of college, making bad decisions, the women weren’t sure what to do with their own lives. The agent and her assistant’s responded that they thought that was kind of sad. And I blew up. Yeah, it’s sad, but it’s also reality for so many women who’ve devoted themselves to raising kids and suddenly find their nests’ empty. That’s when I decided maybe New York agents didn’t understand the average, aging woman, and I self-published.


Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

My kids are older now, and my husband is a saint about helping around the house, so they don’t complain. My dad reads my novels, and each time he’s convinced that I’m writing about myself and he feels too much pain for the characters.


What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

Because I self-publish, I need to have strong editors and proofreaders to make sure my books meet high standards. In my most recent novel, I preset the publication date on Amazon and added a document with mistakes to be a place holder. I planned to replace that file with my perfect manuscript after my final edits. I had hired a proofreader who told me she would be finished by a certain day. I set the publication date for a week later. She updated me and said it would definitely be ready a few days late. You’ve probably guessed by now that she never completed the proofreading. When I ran to Amazon to change the publication date, the deadline had passed and I couldn’t even replace the mistake-ridden file.

In tears, I realized that people who had pre-ordered my novel would get that draft. I watched the clock, waiting for the novel to be published so I could replace it with a cleaner version. That taught me about hiring reliable editors, and not to promise my novel before it’s ready.


How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

Blogging and connecting to book bloggers seems the most helpful. I made those connections before I published my first book and a few complimentary words from a book blogger can help boost my book sales. I also have an author Facebook page and run ads with links to my book, which helps. On Goodreads, I’m able to connect to readers more easily, which is always fun.


Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

 Yes, book sales are exciting – for both the money and the proof that people are actually reading my words. Most of my sales come from Amazon, so when I set up my novel to sell there, I carefully researched the subcategories. When my book pulls up into the top 10 or top 25 in a subcategory, more readers will notice it and that will increase my sales.

My book is listed with Amazon Prime as well, which means that members can get it on their Ereader free through Amazon Prime. In the past, I got notified how many times people downloaded my book. Just this month, Amazon Prime started keeping track of how many pages people read. Seeing people read thousands of pages in a day feels so exhilarating. I keep checking my numbers. 


What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

I’d love to jump on the roof and scream with excitement that I have moved to the South of France, and someday, maybe soon, I will. I’m obsessed with France and anything French – books, movies, food, blogs, the language. My husband and I plan to move to France, and maybe we’ll even run a bed & breakfast like the characters in my novel The Summer of France, but that will be the only similarity.




About The Book




TitleThe Summer of France
Author: Paulita Kincer
Publisher: Oblique Presse
Publication Date: July 1, 2013
Format: Paperback / eBook / PDF
Pages: 255
ISBN: 978-1300257332
Genre: Women's Fiction / Travel / Adventure


Buy The Book:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Summer-France-Paulita-Kincer/dp/1300257334/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1437011077

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-summer-of-france-paulita-kincer/1113110596?ean=9781300257332

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16089591-the-summer-of-france?ac=1


Discuss this book in our PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads by clicking HERE


Book Description:

When Fia Jennings loses her job at the local newspaper, she thinks she'll have the chance to bond with her teenage twins. As she realizes she may be too late to create the perfect family, she's saved by a phone call from her great Uncle Martin who operates a bed and breakfast in Provence. Uncle Martin wants Fia to venture to France to run the B&B so he and his wife Lucie can travel. He doesn't tell Fia about the secret he hid in the house when he married Lucie after fighting in World War II, and he doesn't mention the people who are tapping his phone and following him, hoping to find the secret.


Book Excerpt:

Fia



The quiet of the house mocked me as I rummaged through the Sunday paper looking for the travel pages. I ignored the meticulously folded “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper and the yellow highlighter that my husband had placed on the counter to remind me that I’d been unemployed for two months and needed to find a job – soon. The ring of the kitchen phone saved me from isolation and from a job search as the thick accent of my aunt came across the crackly line inviting me to move to France.
After a few sentences in the language that Aunt Lucie considered English, she handed the phone to my great uncle Martin, and I heard his booming voice.
“Fia?” he called as if using a bullhorn rather than a telephone.  Uncle Martin, the baby of my grandfather’s family, ventured overseas as a teenager to fight in World War II, found a French wife, and stayed.
I’d never traveled to France to visit him, but Uncle Martin always came home for the family reunion at the beginning of summer.
Hearing his voice on the phone, I glanced at the wall calendar, assuring myself it was late June and Uncle Martin’s visit had ended nearly two weeks before.
“Uncle Martin! What a surprise. How’s life in France?” I asked in a quiet voice meant to encourage him to lower his volume.
Uncle Martin continued to bellow. “Look, Fia, let me get right to the point.” He hadn’t lost his American directness.  “Lucie and I are tired.
We need a break, maybe a permanent break.”
“What?” I gasped my voice growing louder to match his. “You and Aunt Lucie are…but you can’t be…you can’t break up?”
“No,” I heard his old man grunt across the phone lines. It sounded as if he said something like “Zut!”
“Listen. Don’t jump to conclusions,” he chastised me. “We’re tired of working so hard. We’re old and it doesn’t look like any of Lucie’s relatives are gonna step forward and take over. That’s why I’m calling. Will you and Grayson come over and run this place?”
“This place” is what Uncle Martin always called the eight-room bed and breakfast that he and Aunt Lucie ran in a small village in Provence. Lucie’s family had owned the home for generations, wringing olive oil from the trees and wine from the grape vines. But as big cities and ample education called, the younger branches of the family moved away. When Uncle Martin and Aunt Lucie found themselves the only ones living in the big, old house during the 1970s, they decided to capitalize on a tourism boom and turned the house into a bed and breakfast. They encouraged American and English tourists to stay, and, after A Year in Provence came out in 1990, their business exploded with people who wanted to see the land that Peter Mayle described.
“We thought you could take over,” Uncle Martin blared, “obviously, since you’re not working.”
Thanks, Uncle Martin, for reminding me again of my current jobless status.  When a huge conglomerate bought our local newspaper and combined resources with the paper in the next town, I became superfluous. So, after years of writing about home design, I sat staring at my own shoddy decorating. I tried to look on the bright side. Now I actually had time to try some of those design tips. To add depth to the alcove next to the fireplace, I painted it a darker color. Next I added crown molding around the opening from the living room to the dining room.
So far, mostly, I spent my time trying to stay positive so an amazing job would find me, and I watched cable TV shows about happy families. Who knew The Waltons was on five times a day? Mix that with the Duggars, that family with 19 kids on TLC, and my days just flew past. I slowly realized that driving my kids to sporting events and extracurricular lessons did not count as quality time. Inspired by those TV families, I amplified my efforts to pull my 14-year-old twins closer. When they ambled home from school, I’d suggest some family activities. “Let’s draw a hopscotch on the driveway!” I’d say. Their eyes rolled wildly in their heads like horses about to bolt. “How about making homemade bread together? We can all take turns kneading? Or maybe an old fashioned whiffle ball game in the backyard?”
They suggested we go out for pizza or visit a sporting goods store for new soccer cleats or swim goggles. I declined, picturing the credit card bills I juggled now that I didn’t have an income.
Bills. Ooh! I couldn’t see Uncle Martin’s invitation to France winning approval from my husband, Grayson, who had just been complaining about money.
As a two-income family, we had paid bills on time and planned our next extravagant purchase. Of course, my pragmatic husband, the almost accountant, never used credit cards. But with my own income, I wasn’t that concerned about using credit cards. When I started to run a balance, I made the minimum payment every month. No need to inform Grayson who would’ve disapproved of my indulgences. Not that I bought things for myself. Nothing but the best for our kids with their private swim clubs, technologically engineered swimsuits, travel soccer teams, and state-of-the-art skateboards. I hadn’t bothered to save for an emergency but spent and charged as I went along until the bottom dropped out of journalism.
“Uncle Martin, you know we’ve always dreamed of visiting you and Aunt Lucie, but without a job now, I just… I can’t see it working financially.”
“I’m not talking about a visit,” his voice grew agitated. “I’m talking about you moving in here and running the bed and breakfast. I’d send the plane fare to get you here. You, Grayson and the twins.”
I sat stunned for a moment, so Uncle Martin repeated himself.
“I’ll send you the tickets. I’ll just buy them online for you, Grayson and the twins. Both of them.”
My kids were always “the twins,” as if sharing a womb 14 years earlier made them one entity for the rest of their lives.
“Whoa. That is heavy stuff,” I slid onto the swiveling bar stool. “We can’t just move. Leave our house, school, Grayson’s job.”
Even as I said it, I felt hope rising in my chest. Yes! I waited for a job to come to me and it did. A spectacular opportunity. I pictured myself in a flowing skirt and low-heeled, leather sandals walking along a dusty road away from the market that would line the village streets. I’d carry a canvas bag with French bread jutting from the top as I headed home, the pungent fragrance of a cheese wafting from the bottom of the bag. Although I’d never been to France, I watched any sunny movie set in Europe. The women always wore skirts and had leisure time to linger along the roadside, smelling the lavender.
I heard the front door slam and my husband’s heavy footfall in his casual Sunday topsiders as he came in from the office. Even on a Sunday, the work at Grayson’s accounting firm was plentiful.
I turned my back on my approaching husband and said into the phone, “When are you thinking, Uncle Martin?”
“I’m thinking… NOW. Last week,” Uncle Martin’s voice rose again. I cupped my hand over the phone to try to smother the sound of his bellowing. “I’m tired of dealing with these snippy tourists. I want to roam around the world and give other innkeepers a hard time.”
“You make the job sound so enticing,” I tried to laugh lightly so Grayson, who was drawing nearer, wouldn’t realize the importance of this conversation. The idea began to form in the back of my mind: We could make this happen -- with a little cooperation. I shot a hopeful glance toward Grayson as he walked in the room. I quickly raised my eyebrows twice, which I thought should give him an indication that good news was on the phone. He looked grim and tired – the horizontal line between his own eyebrows resembled a recently plowed furrow.
“Look, I’ll have to call you back later,” I hissed into the phone and punched the button to hang up as Grayson threw his aluminum briefcase on the island. His look turned from grim to suspicious.
“Uncle Martin,” I said with a blasé wave toward the phone. “He has a business proposal…”
I tried to sound nonchalant, but I guess my eagerness showed because Grayson dropped his head on top of his briefcase for just a minute before he stepped toward the cabinet over the refrigerator. He opened the door and pulled down a bottle of Scotch.
This conversation might prove more difficult than I’d anticipated.
       




About The Author




Paulita Kincer is the author of three novels, The Summer of FranceI See London I See Franceand Trail Mix. She has an M.A. in journalism from American University and has written for The Baltimore Sun, The St. Petersburg Times, The Tampa Tribune, and The Columbus Dispatch. She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three children.

Connect with Paulita:
Author Website: paulitakincer.com





Virtual Book Tour Event Page




Thursday, August 20, 2015

Straight from the Mouth of 'Flight of the Blue Falcon' Jonathan Raab

Jonathan Raab is the author of Flight of the Blue Falcon, a post-modern novel about the war in Afghanistan. He served with the United States Army from 2004 – 2013, and based the novel on many of his experiences.

Check out Flight of the Blue Falcon on Amazon. 

Check out the author's website.

Questionnaire:

Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

Sure. Ever since I was a kid, I knew that books held a special power. I thought it was amazing that one person could tell a story that so many people would get to experience. That they got paid for it was all the more amazing.

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

Writing is time-intensive. It’s hard to fit it into your schedule if you’re a busy person. Really good writing often comes at the expense of social time, or even sleep. Still, when someone reads your work and responds to it in a positive way, that makes it all worth it.

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

I went with a small press—The War Writers’ Campaign—because I had previously published a few small pieces with them and had done some editing work on a couple of their projects. I’ve self-published short stories as part of larger collections that have others’ work, but don’t see myself self-publishing longer works anytime soon. While I know and respect many successful self-published authors, I don’t see that as the route for me. I would caution first-time writers against self-publishing until they’ve got a few credits under their belt. There are exceptions, of course—and I know a few of them.

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

My wife is very supportive, but she lets me know when she needs my attention, or when I need to focus on other things. We’ve struck a good balance. She’s very proud of me, so she knows the work often pays off. She understands that this is something I need to do, and encourages me every step of the way.

Do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?

Egon, our pitbull/mutt, always gets fed on time. He lets me know when it’s time to eat!

In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?

“Real life” always takes priority. I try to write when I’ll be free of distractions or other responsibilities. It’s hard, but you can make it work. Sit down to write rather than sitting on the couch, and you’ll suddenly realize you do have the time.

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

I sold a pre-release copy to a more senior, career NCO who happened to be at the convention at which I was set up. He loved it—I figured a guy like him would hate it!

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

I really, really hate Facebook, but a writer friend of mine recommended I re-join for promotional purposes. It’s extremely helpful in that regard, but I often use it to waste lots of time and get in stupid arguments with people, because I’m an idiot. GoodReads is probably the best social network for authors—especially their giveaway program. It’s great.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

It’s been great working with a publisher, as they help share the promotion duties. Most sales come from in-person events, honestly. I set up tables at different conventions and community events, and get to talk to my audience directly. People are more likely to buy a book directly from the author, especially if that author is local.

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

I don’t want to draw attention to myself like that. I’m crazy enough as it is.

Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

Getting published by a third party is very validating, of course. I’d be lying if I said that recognition and publishing credits were irrelevant. But I would keep writing, even without them, sure. But I write for myself, and to share my stories with others. It’s a balance. That said, I hope to continue to build my audience. I have a lot more stories to tell.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Straight from the Mouth of Larry Laswell, author of Vows To The Fallen

Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

I had to. My entire life, I had the itch to write. I think I got that from my mother. I’ve always wanted to write, but my career and other obligations constantly got in the way. At last, when I retired, I had the time to do what I had always wanted to do, so I sat down and started writing.


Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

Writing is the hardest work I have ever done, and I was the chief executive officer of a corporation with offices in fourteen states. I have a love-hate relationship with writing. I hate writing; it’s hard. I love writing when I get it right and say something that makes a reader think, laugh, or cry. It’s a lonely life very few people can understand, and it’s scary to expose my ego to the sword of literary judgement: the reader’s review.

Is it worth it? You bet. I feel that I have accomplished something, and when my readers say “good job,” that’s all the payment I need.


Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

I’m self-published and it sucks. I have to be not only an author but also a business manager, webmaster, marketing executive, and sales manager. I don’t have enough heads to hang all of my hats on.

The other thing that sucks is that the Internet provides mountains of advice on how to self-publish and get your book to be a number-one bestseller. I believe ninety percent of that advice is crap—the problem is determining which ten percent isn’t. That takes time and money. As far as I can tell, there’s no magic technique that guarantees success except persistence.

It’s great to be on your own. It sucks to be in it alone.


What’s the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry (e.g. rejections, the long wait, etc.)

Publishers are in the failure-avoidance business. They look out for several things they know (or think they know) increase the risk of a novel not selling well or not getting good reviews. This is quite different than being in the success-maximization business, which requires living on the edge and taking risks.

I dare say the works of Hemingway and Steinbeck and the later novels of Tom Clancy would never make the cut with publishers based on their risk-avoidance list of “rules.”

In my first novel, The Marathon Watch, I deliberately broke many of those rules, not because I didn’t like them, but because the story required it. I have hundreds of rejection letters in my file for that manuscript. I self-published, and my worldwide reader rating on Amazon is 4.5 out of 5 stars. Stick that in your rule book, publishers!


Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

My family consists of three dogs, a mother-in-law, and my wife, Marsha. My dogs don’t care as long as they get fed. My mother-in-law . . . well, let’s skip that subject. Marsha is wonderful and actually works with me. She is my sounding board, toughest critic, and strongest backer. We make it a point to spend quiet time alone, with or without the dogs, and as long as we keep that up, she’s happy with me writing because it makes me happy. I couldn’t be luckier.


What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

I had my book cover designed through 99Designs. It’s a great service, and you get a lot of talented people with great ideas working on your book cover. However, in every crowd there are those few who drive you up the wall. Some of the designers who wanted to work on my cover were so clueless and skill-deprived it hurt. Also, there was one designer, from Romania, who needed some anger-management classes.

He would submit a design, and I would provide feedback on what I thought might improve his design. Initially, he replied with some snarky comments that made no sense, such as, “You know that your suggestion will make the black type clash with the white background.” Honestly, that was one of his comments. And I went, “Huh?”

After we went back and forth three or four times, he sent me a 3,000-word e-mail rant. He attacked me, my ancestors, my dogs, and their ancestors. He called me every name in the book except Sir, Larry, or Mr. Laswell. Then, on the last line, he said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said these things, I look forward to continuing our collaboration.” But then he sent it anyway! It only took me one click to disqualify him from my design contest.


How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

The jury is still out on that for me. I’m working with Twitter a lot and doing a little bit on Facebook, but I haven’t seen much in the way of success that I can connect to either network. One author told me that social media works for chick lit and how-to books, but I am not in those genres.


Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

As best as I can determine, so far my sales have been organic, based on word-of-mouth and reviews. For Vows to the Fallen, I am taking a proactive approach in the hope I can get a big early bump that will lift my Amazon rank so my book will get noticed.


What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

There are numerous sources on the Internet claiming to have the formula for getting book sales. However, if you ask for proof that these systems works, you get the civil service salute. The blogosphere is knee-deep in advice. Unfortunately, all of this advice came from five or six blogs written by people with questionable qualifications. Ever since then, bloggers have been rewriting those same blogs over and over again.

In all cases, my advice to them is, if you can’t verify it, don’t print it. Oh, I’m sorry—I forgot everything on the Internet is gospel truth. Verification not required.


Can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

When someone asks me how I got into writing, I suggest they should be asking how writing got into me. As I said earlier, I think I got the itch from my mother, who was also a writer. A Star Trek maxim should be, “A life-form has to do what a life-form is.” That’s the way it is with me—I have to write, because that’s who I am. I’m happiest when I’m writing.



      About The Book 

   Vows To The Fallen   


Title: Vows to the Fallen
Author: Larry Laswell
Publisher: Marshell Publishing
Publication Date: August 14, 2015
Format: Paperback - 277 pages / eBook  / PDF
ISBN: 978-0986385322
Genre: Historical Fiction / Military / Sea Story


Buy The Book: 



Book Description:


Vows to the Fallen
An Officer’s Journey Through Guilt and Grief
Another techno-thriller from the author of The Marathon Watch

August 9, 1942, 01:42 hours
USS Green on patrol off Red Beach, Guadalcanal
Bridge Officer: Lieutenant Patrick O’Toole

Lieutenant O’Toole’s goal is simple: someday he wants to become an admiral. But in a few moments, his life will change . . . forever. Yesterday, the marines stormed the beaches of Guadalcanal. Today, the Japanese Navy will strike back. The sudden and horrific carnage scars O’Toole for life and throws him into the abyss of survivor’s guilt and posttraumatic stress.

The Pacific War does not wait for O’Toole to heal. Duty calls, each new assignment brings more responsibility, and the roll call of the fallen grows. At the Battle of Mujatto Gulf, O’Toole faces a superior battle-hardened Japanese fleet and discovers the strength within him to climb from the abyss and find his true life’s mission. To the fallen, he vows never to abandon that mission no matter how high the cost.
 

Book Excerpt:

Chapter 1

August 8, 1942, 2346 Hours
USS Green; 45 nautical miles northwest of Red Beach, Guadalcanal

Lieutenant Patrick O’Toole considered himself a career naval officer, and someday he hoped to be promoted to admiral. At Annapolis, his teachers had taught him the horrors of war, but he had never experienced combat. That was about to change and it would change him forever.

The steel ladder rattled as he clambered to the wheelhouse deck to assume the midwatch. On the wheelhouse deck, the port fifty-caliber gunner slouched with his back to the sea and chatted with the lookout on the flying bridge one level above. The helmsman faced the starboard bridge wing and had but one hand on the wheel. Dim red lights above the chart table and the polished brass compass binnacle added little illumination to the wheelhouse, and the men, gray smudges in the dark, seemed unconcerned. O’Toole’s concern bordered on anger, but he remained silent.

Find out what’s going on then fix it.

A man on the flying bridge lit a cigarette. This was way out of bounds. “Snuff your butt. The enemy can see that for miles,” O’Toole said, hoping his voice had a bark to it.

O’Toole had seen this before. Captain Levitte ran a relaxed ship, but this wasn’t peacetime. They were at war in enemy waters. O’Toole read the message dispatches, the captain’s night orders, and the chart. None of it good news, especially the report of a Japanese battlegroup headed south.

He located Lieutenant Karl, the officer of the deck on the port bridge wing. Karl’s life jacket vest was open, revealing a sweat-soaked khaki shirt, and sweat beaded on his brow.

Karl slouched on the bridge railing as O’Toole approached “What’s your status?” O’Toole asked.


Karl rubbed his day-old stubble. “At Condition III. Fire in all four boilers. Superheat lit, and the plant is cross-connected. Starboard steering motor, port steering engine” Karl droned as he went through the standard litany of the watch change. “On course zero-seven-zero at ten knots. Straight line patrol between points Able and Baker on the chart as per the captain. You have about ten minutes before you turn around and head back to point Baker. Received a report of Japanese ships headed south five hours ago. Told the captain, and he said Intel couldn’t tell the difference between a cruiser and a sampan. Besides, nothing will happen before dawn. Aircraft overhead, told the captain, he says they’re from our carriers. That, and the captain said to cut the crew some slack; they’re tired. I just ordered the cooks to make a fresh batch of coffee; you’re gonna need it. That’s about it.”
“Why aren’t we zigzagging?”

“Captain’s orders. Straight line patrol between points Able and Baker is what he wanted.”

“With an enemy force headed south we should be at Condition II at least.”

“I don’t know about that, but the captain wants to give the crew some rest.”

“Do we have star shells loaded or at the ready?”

“No.”

“Which gun mounts are manned?”

“Mounts 51 and 55.”

“Only two?”

“Yes, and before you ask, one-third of the anti-aircraft batteries are manned, and I told those gun crews they could sleep at their stations.”

“Are the crews in Mounts 51 and 55 asleep?”

“Probably.”

Out of professional courtesy, O’Toole didn’t challenge Karl, even though he would have been justified in refusing to relieve Karl of the watch until Karl corrected the battle readiness of the ship.

O’Toole saluted Lieutenant Karl and said, “I relieve you, sir.”

Karl nodded. “This is Mister Karl, Mister O’Toole has the deck and the conn,” Karl said to the bridge crew.

“This is Mister O’Toole, I have the deck and the conn,” O’Toole replied.

Karl handed O’Toole his life jacket, helmet, and gun belt and walked to the small chart table in the forward port section of the wheelhouse to complete his log entries. O’Toole brushed back his flaming red hair and put on the helmet, life jacket, and gun making sure all straps were cinched tight.

“Boats, over here,” O’Toole said to the boatswain mate of the watch as he headed to the starboard bridge wing. It was a lazy night: clear sky, high overhead clouds, calm sea, a slight breeze, and the ship plodding forward at ten knots. A night like this could dull the senses of the best of men. He couldn’t let that happen.

“Boats, square your watch away. We are in enemy waters, and there are reports of a column of Jap cruisers headed our way. I want everyone on their toes.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Messenger, over here,” O’Toole said, beckoning the watch messenger.

“Go below and wake up the chiefs and tell them there are enemy ships in the area. I want them to make sure their watches are alert and ready. Tell the gunnery chief I want him on the bridge.”

“Yes, sir,” the messenger said and headed for the ladder.

A few minutes later, the gunnery chief appeared barefooted and in a white T-shirt. “Yes, sir, you wanted to see me?”

“Jap ships are headed our way. Check your gun crews; I want them alert with their eyes to the sea. Bring six star shells to the ready with one round in the mount. If we come under fire, I want Mount 51 to fire three star shells in a 180-degree spread without orders from the bridge.”

“What’s up, sir?”

“Not sure, chief, except we are in dangerous waters and the crew is asleep.”

“Will do, sir. Should I stay with the gun crews?”

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea, chief. Do what you think is best, but be aware things might get worse at dawn.”

“Yes, sir.” The chief trotted to the ladder and disappeared.

Lieutenant Karl finished his log entries and left the bridge. O’Toole stood next to the quartermaster at the chart table in the forward port section of the wheelhouse. He retrieved the sighting report. Five Japanese cruisers and four destroyers headed south at thirty knots. O’Toole plotted the ten-hour-old sighting location on the chart and walked the dividers across the chart to estimate the current location of Japanese forces. They would have passed the Green an hour ago and would now be on top of the northern defense line around Red Beach.

The receding drone of an aircraft off the port bow caught his ear. They were too far from the Japanese airbase at Rabaul for them to have planes this far south at night. It didn’t make sense: he didn’t think the carrier aircraft could operate at night, but spotter planes from a cruiser could.

Nothing had happened. Maybe the Japanese column had slowed or diverted. Naval doctrine taught officers to avoid night attacks since it complicated the battle, and everyone knew you couldn’t shoot at an enemy hiding in the darkness. Still, everything added up to a night counterattack against the Guadalcanal invasion force.

“Get the captain up here on the double. I’ll be on the flying bridge,” O’Toole said the watch messenger.

He felt better on the flying bridge where he had an unobstructed view of the sea and sky. He swept the horizon with his binoculars: nothing but a black night.

The crew was exhausted from the invasion of Guadalcanal the prior morning. The shirtless bodies of a hundred sleeping men escaping the oppressive heat and humidity of their berthing spaces lay on the dark main deck. Not regular navy, O’Toole thought, but he couldn’t object because the crew needed the sleep.

“What’s up, Pat?” Captain Levitte asked as soon as his head popped above the flying bridge deck level.

“I think we have trouble, Captain. The Japanese column sighted in the intelligence report should be on top of the northern defense line right about now. We should be at general quarters or at least Condition II and be zigzagging. There could be subs in the area.”

Levitte rubbed the back of his neck, then put his hands in his pockets, and walked in a tight circle with his eyes on the deck. “Look, the Japs aren’t that smart, and you should know not even the Japs are dumb enough to attack at night. Nothing will happen until the sun comes up. In the meantime, cut the crew some slack; they’re tired and need their sleep.”

“I’m sorry, Captain, but that doesn’t make sense. The sighting said the Japs were at thirty knots. They wouldn’t do that and then slow down to wait for the sun to come up.”

“No matter what happens we’ll kick their ass,” Levitte began. “We kicked their ass in the Coral Sea and Midway. Now we’re kicking their ass off Guadalcanal. The marines ran the Jap garrison into the jungle before lunch. They can’t stand up to us no matter what, so there’s no reason to get worked up about it.”

“To be safe, let me take the ship to Condition II and zigzag. It won’t hurt anything.”

“No, lieutenant. My night orders said to cut the crew some slack, and there is no need to waste fuel zigzagging. You read my night orders, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Follow them, and let me get some sleep.”

The shirtless lookout stiffened. “Sir, light flashes, port beam.”

Both men turned. Staccato bursts of light above the southern horizon illuminated the sky.

Another voice called out, “Flares off the port beam.”

The night erupted. White-golden flashes close to port blinded O’Toole. Captain Levitte’s chest exploded into a mist of blood. Shells exploded against the mast, and men dove to the deck.

On his stomach, O’Toole fought his life jacket as he rolled to the starboard edge of the deck. Crawling under the railing, he let himself over the side. He was about to let himself drop the last three feet when a jolt catapulted him to the deck below. His head hit the deck, and despite his cinched helmet, the blow stunned him to the precipice of unconsciousness. O’Toole fought to bring himself back to the present as he wobbled to a crouched position.

Concussions from explosions aft the wheelhouse punched at his chest and abdomen. He had to go through the wheelhouse to the port side to see the enemy ship. In the wheelhouse, only the quartermaster was up, crouching in the corner by the chart table. Sparks and flashes of incoming fire covered the aft bulkhead and enveloped the wheelhouse in smoke, shrapnel, and debris. Broken, screaming bodies littered the deck.

He fought his way through the wheelhouse across shattered glass that slid like ice across the blood-drenched deck. The Green’s guns hadn’t returned fire.

He turned to find the phone talker. A flash memory of the phone talker’s body falling next to the captain made him stop. The phone talker was dead along with most of the bridge crew. He was alone; he had no bridge crew, and there was no one left to command. To anyone who could hear, he yelled, “Tell the gun crews to return fire.”

On the port bridge wing, he peered over the railing. A thousand yards away, two searchlights blinded him, and a torrent of tracer fire arched toward the Green. Muzzle flashes from the enemy ship’s heavy guns ripped at the darkness, and spasmodic explosions on the Green followed each flash.

On his stomach looking aft, he tried to understand the hell erupting around him. Black smoke spewed from golden fires, and smoke boiled across the fantail near the depth charge racks. Antiaircraft rounds raked the Green’s main deck, tearing men apart; the lucky ones leapt overboard.

In the forward boiler room, the port bulkhead ruptured three feet below the waterline in a flash of light, wrenching the keel. Shrapnel pierced the two Babcock & Wilcox boilers, which exploded upward, shredding the main deck overhead. A half-second later, a second explosion severed the keel, and a third tore the shattered hull of the Green in two.

Sheets of water vaulted into the air, and the explosions pushed the Green hard to starboard and lifted it upward in a death spasm.

Torpedoes. The word lingered in O’Toole’s mind until he understood, then it vanished. He pulled himself to his feet. Ruptured boilers roared beneath clouds of steam.

The Green hinged aft the deckhouse. The stern rose and began its slide beneath the surface. When the cool seawater reached the aft boilers they blew a ten-foot mound of white water to the surface. The mound collapsed into a steam haze low above the water. As the first wisps of steam dissipated, they dragged O’Toole from his stupor.

The gunfire stopped. The searchlights were gone. Screams, moans, and the sound of rushing water welled up to fill the silence. He strained his eyes for an enemy invisible in the night. They had vanished. The battle was over.

There was no time for thinking or words; the conclusions flashed through his mind fully formed.
When the armed depth charges on the sinking fantail detonated, anyone in the water would suffer intestinal hemorrhaging and a slow, excruciating death.

To the men below he yelled, “Stay with the ship! Don’t go in the water; depth charges! Get everyone in the water back aboard!”

O’Toole took inventory. The forward part of the ship, though sinking, seemed stable. The wheelhouse was a confusing mass of shadows cut against golden fires, and the smell of blood and noxious nitrate gasses filled his head.

He entered the wheelhouse and stumbled. His knee landed on something soft. He looked down at the chest of a headless body. O’Toole’s stomach wrenched.

A figure appeared. “Sir, we took three torpedoes. No water pressure to fight the fires, no power, and we are flooding forward.”

One by one the sinking depth charges designed to sink submarines began to detonate, sending tremors from each concussive blow through the ship. When the explosions stopped, O’Toole took a deep breath, and the acid-laced air burned his lungs. “Get below. Pass the word to abandon ship.”

O’Toole turned his attention to the main deck, and released the one remaining life raft stored just below the bridge railing. Not waiting for orders, shirtless survivors leapt overboard. It seemed to take hours, but soon the decks were empty and the survivors were off the ship. With nothing left to do, he wondered if radio managed to send a message. He doubted it. He turned to the quartermaster and said, “Let’s go.”

The quartermaster collected the ship’s logs and joined O’Toole.

As he prepared to jump the last ten feet into the ocean, the quartermaster yelled, “Stop! Your helmet, sir.”

O’Toole had forgotten he was wearing it. Going overboard with a cinched helmet would break your neck. He tore it off, and they jumped together.

There was no past and no future, only the immediate need to survive. O’Toole swam from the sinking bow section, demanding his muscles move faster before her sinking hulk sucked him under. His muscles grew tired from the frenzied effort until a voice yelled, “She’s going down.”

He stopped and turned to what remained of the Green. Out of breath, he bobbed in the one-foot swells and coughed to clear the salt water from his lungs. The Green’s prow swung skyward while the hulk of the remaining bow section backed into the depths. The sea extinguished the fires as she slid under.

She died a silent death. After the tip of the bow disappeared, his eyes lost focus and he stared at the empty sea for several seconds, unable to grasp the meaning of this moment.

He linked up with a small group of survivors, and they linked up with other groups. They located two floater nets, lashed them together, and placed the injured in them. They found several of the watertight powder canisters used to protect the five-inch brass powder casings while in the magazines. The crew used empty canisters to stow stable dry food and water with the floater nets. He ordered several men to attract scattered survivors by yelling into the night.

At first, groups of four would swim toward them. Now an occasional lone survivor would show up. O’Toole gathered the surviving officers and chief petty officers. The group of seven rolled with the lazy sea, clutching the floater net to stay together. Three wore life jackets; the other four relied on the floater net.

“Someone said there is another group with a floater net south of us.” Pointing to Ensigns Carter and Fitch, O’Toole said, “Swim to the south floater net, if there is one, take a count, and tell them to swim their way to us and lash-in. While you’re at it, round up volunteers to scavenge for debris we can use. The men should also collect all the powder canisters and bring them here.”

Turning to Chief Brandon, he said, “Make sure the injured are wearing life jackets, and get those with serious wounds in the floater nets.” Brandon swam off.

To Ensigns Parker and Adbury, he said, “You two make the rounds and get a head count of the healthy, injured, and critically wounded. After you report back, take charge of the injured. Collect the morphine ampules from the crew.” O’Toole reached into his trouser pocket and handed over two morphine ampules. “Bring the wounded together, especially those with bleeding wounds. Get them in the floater nets and get the bleeding stopped; the sharks will show up soon enough.”

To Chief Zies, O’Toole said, “Chief, make the rounds, talk to everyone, and make sure their heads are on straight. Find anyone who might lose it and buddy them up with someone. We don’t want panic or men going nuts.”

Chief Zies swam off, and O’Toole reached underwater to remove his shoes. He tied the laces together and draped them over his neck.

Chief Zies made his rounds and returned to O’Toole’s position.

“You get a head count yet?” O’Toole asked.

“My count is fifty-seven, including you.”

“Just fifty-seven?”

“Lieutenant, the aft two-thirds of the ship sank like a rock. From the time the Japs attacked to the time the stern sank wasn’t more than a minute. I’m surprised we have this many left.”

O’Toole’s chest went hollow, and his mind went blank. Visions of shattered bodies and blood-soaked decks, the sound of dying men flashed through his mind. His gut radiated the hollowness of failure.
The dark corners of his mind whispered, “You’ll never be the same.”

“Three-fourths of the crew is missing,” O’Toole said.

“There has to be more out there,” Zies said.

“Yeah, there has to more out there,” O’Toole said.

As the deck officer, he was responsible for the safety of the ship and crew.

He had scanned the horizon, and he had jacked up the lookouts and the bridge crew. It hadn’t been enough. Either way it was his responsibility. It takes three minutes to get a torpedo firing solution, and one zigzag might have destroyed their firing solution and saved the ship. He hadn’t seen his options; the wall had blocked him again. His grandfather’s words stabbed at him.

You’re not adequate.

It was the story of his life; he always fell short of adequacy. There was always one more thing he might have done, but he could never see it until it was too late. The wall was always there to stop him and hide the solution. His wall had damned him to failure again. The wall was always there blocking his way a single step short of success.

Ensign Parker swam over to him. “Got the head count. Fifty-seven men. Twenty-one wounded. Six critical. That includes the south floater net we got lashed-in.”

“We’ll wait till dawn to find the others,” Zies said. “What the heck happened, sir?”

“Wish I knew,” O’Toole began. “A column of Jap ships were headed to Guadalcanal to counterattack. I suspect they left a destroyer behind to ambush us once the fight off Guadalcanal started.”

“That means they spotted us, but how did that happen without us seeing them?” Zies asked.

“That part is easy. We weren’t looking, but I still can’t figure out how we missed them once we did start looking. I should have zigzagged despite the captain’s orders.”

Zies looked at O’Toole for a long minute. “You’re not blaming yourself for this, are you?”

O’Toole didn’t answer.

“Are you?”

The question tore at O’Toole, but he had to look forward, and swore the wall would not stop him. “For now, we’re not losing any more men, Chief. Keep the men together. They’ll start looking for survivors tomorrow; they’ll find us.” O’Toole said.

Voices shouted. Zies turned. A searchlight from an approaching ship probed the surrounding sea. When it reached the far end of the floater nets, gunfire erupted. Spikes of water shot up around the Green’s survivors.

Both O’Toole and Zies screamed, “Everyone down!”

O’Toole shed his life jacket, took a deep breath, and dove. He figured five feet would be enough. He pivoted his feet beneath him and tried to maintain his depth. When the burning in his lungs became unbearable, he kicked hard to reach the surface. When his head cleared the water, he sucked in a chest of air, preparing to dive again, but the gunfire stopped.

The searchlight now centered itself on his small group, and a Japanese heavy cruiser loomed over them. With his hand, he blocked the searchlight so he could see the bridge. He studied the bridge and a man with a patch over his left eye. By his position on the bridge wing, his carriage, and the separation between him and the other officers, O’Toole guessed he was the captain.

They locked eyes. Neither man flinched. After several seconds, the Japanese captain walked away. The cruiser picked up speed and disappeared into the night.

Zies asked O’Toole, “What was going on between you and the guy with the eye patch?”

“I wanted the bastard to know we weren’t defeated,” O’Toole began. “The Japs won this battle not with equipment but with smarter officers and sharper training. How they pulled it off was brilliant: at night, torpedoes first, guns second, no star shells. They mauled us with their guns, but knew that wouldn’t sink us. Once the Jap ship saw the torpedoes hit, there was no need to continue a gun battle and endanger their ship; they knew they had sunk us, so they vanished into the night.”

O’Toole shook his head; he would have to figure out what happened later; he put it out of his mind.
“Okay, Chief, have the men with life jackets chain up. Make sure they lash in each chain to a floater net. As you make the rounds, make sure everyone is secure for the night. By God, we’re not losing any more men.”

“Aye, sir.” Zies swam away, yelling, “Everyone chain up and lash in!”

Men formed spiral chains. One man would loop his arm through the hole below the high collar of the next man’s life jacket, burying the arm to the shoulder. The chains provided security, extra buoyancy, and a way to sleep without drifting away.



About The Author
   

    Larry Laswell    


Larry Laswell served in the US Navy for eight years. In navy parlance, he was a mustang, someone who rose from the enlisted ranks to receive an officer’s commission. While enlisted, he was assigned to the USS John Marshall SSBN-611 (Gold Crew). After earning his commission, he served as main engines officer aboard the USS Intrepid CV-11. His last assignment was as a submarine warfare officer aboard the USS William M. Wood DD-715 while she was home ported in Elefsis, Greece.

In addition to writing, Larry, a retired CEO fills his spare time with woodworking and furniture design. He continues to work on The Marathon Watch series, an upcoming science fiction series titled The Ethosians, and an anthology of over eighty humorous sea stories titled A Ship-load of Sea Stories & 1 Fairy Tale.

You can visit Larry Laswell’s website at www.larrylaswell.com

Connect with Larry Laswell: 

Author Blog:  larrylaswell.com/blog 

     

Poetry Contest

Win a dinner for two, a night on the town, or whatever you want to do with $250!

Enter Larry Laswell’s Vows to the Fallen Poetry Contest!

Pre-release sales of Vows to the Fallen will begin on July 1, 2015 for release on August 14th. One of the characters in the book has a habit of reciting excerpts from classic poems. If you are the first to correctly name all of the poems you win! $150 for second place and $100 for third place.

Here are the rules:
1. Order Vows to the Fallen in Amazon’s Kindle store.
2. At midnight (EST) download Vows to the Fallen and read it to find the poetry excerpts.
3. Leave a review on Amazon (How you rate the book has no bearing on your eligibility to win.)
3. Go to http://larrylaswell.com and click on “Contest.” In the form tell Larry under what name you left the review, and then list the poems by name and author. (Watch your spelling – it must be exact!) 4. The first correct entrant who left a review wins a dinner for two, a night on the town, or whatever they want to do with $250!
5. If Larry cannot identify the entrant’s review they will be disqualified (don’t use an anonymous name!)
6. If Larry receives more than one entry at the same time stamp, Larry will hold a drawing to determine the winners.
7. Any organization, or individual who received an advance review copy, their employees or family are ineligible.
8. Larry is the contest judge, and his judgement is final.
9. Larry is not responsible for delivery delays in the Amazon Kindle system.
10. Larry will post the winners on his website at 8AM EST on September 1, 2015.

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