Thank You for reading my work!

January 1, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,Thank You from a writer

From reading passages of my latest novel, Johnnie Come Lately, on “The Author’s Corner” on Public Radio, to seeing my work on display in a museum on Long Island, New York, 2015 proved good to me as a writer. Thanks to each one of you who invested your time and emotion in my writing. I appreciate all the reviews, interviews, blog posts, word of mouth recommendations, book club selections, and sharing your copies of my books with your family and friends. I’m  working away on my third novel, Seven Wings to Glory, due at my publisher by July 1, 2016. 

Happy New Year and Blessings to All!

Kathleen

 

To read my full bio, click here.

Johnnie Come Lately by Kathleen M. Rodgers wins Gold Medal for literary fiction from Military Writers Society of America 2015 Book Awards

September 27, 2015

The moment I I learned that my 2nd novel, Johnnie Come Lately, won a Gold Medal from Military Writers Society of America 2015 Book Awards.
The moment I learned that my 2nd novel, Johnnie Come Lately, won a Gold Medal from Military Writers Society of America 2015 Book Awards.
Johnnie Come Lately released from Camel Press, February 1, 2015. The novel took six years to write. I am working on the sequel, Seven Wings to Glory.
Johnnie Come Lately released from Camel Press, February 1, 2015. The novel took six years to write. The sequel, Seven Wings to Glory, releases April 2017.

 

On Point: A Guide to Writing the Military Story

September 2, 2015OnPointCover

By

Tracy Crow

In her poignant memoir, Losing Tim, iconic writing instructor Janet Burroway writes about the death of her son, a former Army ranger and government contractor. “Every suicide is a suicide bomber. The intent may be absolutely other—a yearning for peace, the need to escape, even a device to spare family. Nevertheless, the shrapnel flies.”

A few years ago, I was struck by shrapnel, and I’ve been carrying a heavy chunk of it inside me ever since.

We’re all aware of the startling statistic, twenty-two veteran suicides a day, but the statistic never hit a personal note until the violent suicide of a Marine Corps friend. In the wake of that tragedy, my friend left behind two teenaged daughters and a slew of Marine friends who wondered what we could have said or done that might have made a difference to a friend who had become so disillusioned with his civilian life he ended it with a gunshot.

Eyes_RightHis suicide came shortly after the release of my memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine. For several months, I’d been answering a number of emails and Facebook requests from veterans who were eager for writing advice. Everyone has a story, and every story matters, whether that story is written for self-reflection, a family legacy, or for publication.

But after my friend’s suicide, I stopped the cutting and pasting of advice snippets from one email to another and began to develop On Point, the first writing guide for veterans and their families. Frankly, I was searching for a way to make a difference—for a way to reduce that 22-a-day statistic that sent shrapnel flying into the hearts and psyches of twenty-two families and countless friends every, single, day.

It’s no secret that getting an appointment with a health professional at a VA can sometimes take so long that a veteran gives up. It’s also no secret that transitioning from the military into civilian life is more difficult for some. But could a writing guide, I wondered, written by a veteran for fellow veterans and families, fill a gap? After all, most mental health professionals use writing, and other forms of art, in their programs for cognitive processing therapy.

My gut said yes, and here’s why. Writing about our military experiences, even if we decide to turn our true stories into fiction, helps us develop a deeper understanding about our life, our decisions, and the motives behind our decisions because meaningful writing comes from identifying meaningful patterns. Meaningful writing requires a self-awakening. When we write, we’re training ourselves to search deeply for motive behind choices, whether we’re writing about ourselves in a memoir or essay or about the characters within our military short story or novel.

In On Point, Brooke King, a soldier who served in Iraq and who admittedly suffers from post-traumatic stress, shares how writing helps. “It helps to make sense of what is happening to you,” she said. “In Cognitive Processing Therapy, a veteran with PTSD is asked to confront their traumas head-on by writing down the incident, and then connect the feeling associated with it. I didn’t think writing was helping at first, but I kept doing it because it was the only way I knew how to express myself.”

Spring 2014 MWSA Recommended Reading List
Spring 2014 Military Writers Society of America Recommended Reading List

Over time, she said, the nightmares decreased, and the feelings of guilt and shame lessened. “I began to understand that surviving the war was a blessing and not a curse.” Today, King is the author of a chapbook of poetry about her war experiences. Additionally, she has published a short story in the military anthology, Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand (Press 53, 2013), and in my anthology, Red, White, and True: Stories from Veterans and Families, WWII to Present (Potomac Books, 2014).

When I first shared the premise for On Point with friends and fellow writers, most assumed On Point would be a guide exclusively for the military veteran with a war story. Not so. Not every military story is a war story. I never saw combat in the 1980s, but my story of overcoming self-limitations, gender bias, and abuses of power still found its way into the world.

Crow-RedWhiteTrue_high_resOn Point is a guide for writing the military story. If you are serving in the military today, or have ever served, On Point is for you. If you are, or have been, a member of a military family, On Point is for you. In Red, White, and True, I included a number of true stories from spouses and grown children, and their essays are just as compelling as the essays from Iraq War veterans. And if you are the parent of a military son or daughter, you, too, have stories about how military service has affected you; at times you have probably felt pride, worry, fear, betrayal, resentment, anger, and other strong emotions.

On Point may have been born out of grief over losing my Marine Corps friend, but over time, the book grew as a wish to inspire a cross-generational sharing of the military experience–and where needed, a healing.

– 30 –

Tracy's bio photoBio:

Tracy Crow is a former Marine Corps officer and an award-winning military journalist. While assistant professor of journalism and creative writing, her essays and short stories were published widely and nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. She is the author of the first writing text developed for military veterans and their families, On Point: A Guide to Writing the Military Story (Potomac Books, 2015); the award-winning memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine (Nebraska, 2012); Red, White, and True: Stories from Veterans and Families, WWII to Present (Potomac Books, 2014); and An Unlawful Order under her pen name, Carver Greene. She can be reached through her website.

 

 

Kathleen M. Rodgers signed books at Barnes & Noble, Hurst, TX

Posted June 27, 2015

Click each photo to enlarge the image. 

Southern Writers Magazine presents “The Journey to Johnnie” by Kathleen M. Rodgers, author of Johnnie Come Lately

Posted May 4, 2015

Kathleen M Rodgers - SW May 2015 teaser
Click the photo to enlarge the image. If you aren’t a subscriber to Southern Writers Magazine and you’d like to read the entire article, please click here to order the May/June print or online edition with my story featured on page 30.    

 

01 SW Cover May 2015 (1)
Honored to see my name featured with other contributors on the cover of the May/June 2015 issue of Southern Writers Magazine.
Signing copies of my latest novel, Johnnie Come Lately, at Hastings Books in Clovis, New Mexico. To read more about my work, please visit my website @ www.kathleenMRodgers.com
Signing copies of my latest novel, Johnnie Come Lately, at Hastings Books in Clovis, New Mexico. To read more about my work, please visit my website @ www.kathleenMRodgers.com

Featured author in Southern Writers Magazine:blue

 

Getting my books in the door at Barnes & Noble…a dream come true

B & N postcard announcing Johnnie Come Lately book launch

  A month before the official book launch of my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, I stopped by the Barnes & Noble in Southlake, TX, to meet with the Community Relations Manager, Casey Dickey, and go over last minute details for the Feb. 7, 2015 event. Not only was this Casey’s second day on the job (she served as the CRM at the Midland, TX B & N until her recent move back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area), she had things under control and made me feel welcome.

Barnes & Noble Community Relations Manager Casey Dickey (Southlake, TX B & N)
Barnes & Noble Community Relations Manager Casey Dickey, Southlake, TX B & N

What a feeling as an author. To be treated with professional courtesy in a major bookstore, to be considered “good enough” to sign copies of my books, is heady stuff. I’ve been writing professionally for over thirty-five years. For much of that time, I was a frequent contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. My essays, poems, and short stories have appeared in anthologies published by McGraw-Hill, University of Nebraska Press, Health Communications, Inc., AMG Publishers, and Press 53. Even after my first novel, The Final Salute, won a national book award and was featured in USA Today, I had never been asked to sign copies of my books at a major league bookstore.

Until today.

Kathleenmrodgers signing copies of The Final Salute at Barnes & Noble, Southlake, TX
Signing copies of the 2nd edition of The Final Salute at Barnes & Noble, Southlake, TX

After Casey showed me to a table and provided me with my choice of pens, I signed copies of the second edition of The Final Salute, repackaged and released by Deer Hawk Publications. Then Casey placed an “Autographed” sticker on each cover.Autographed copy of The Final Salute at Barnes & Noble, Southlake, TX

 

 

Copies of Johnnie Come Lately should arrive any day now at the store, and I’m looking forward to Saturday, February 7 at 2 p.m., when I’ll greet the public and sign copies of my second novel, a novel that took six years to write. 

Johnnie Come Lately kathleenmrodgers, camel press 300Book Launch for Johnnie Come Lately, Barnes & Noble, Southlake, TX

Date: Saturday, February 7, 2015   

Time:  2-4 p.m.

Where: 1430 Plaza Place, Southlake, TX 76092 (Southlake Town Square)  

817-442-0735

I’ll also be signing copies of the 2nd edition of The Final Salute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Fighter Pilot to Book Publisher…RIP Lt. Col. Neil Levin (USMC Ret.)

My former publisher passed away on January 1, 2015, in Oceanside, CA. The day after his passing, I reflect on what this man did for my writing career. Before 2008, I was a longtime freelance writer with multiple credits in national publications. But my one dream…the dream that eluded me for nearly two decades…was to get my first novel into the hands of a traditional publisher, i.e., a publisher who believed in my work enough to invest time and money into my work.

“My favorite TOP GUN, fellow warrior, author, and friend - Neil was truly a man’s man and the very living image of a Leatherneck! He and I had many long engaging conversations over the last decade - about books, the Vietnam War, life, spiritual matters and family. He will not be forgotten by me and those who had the pleasure and honor of getting to know him.” Rev. Bill McDonald, Founder of Military Writers Society of America
“My favorite TOP GUN, fellow warrior, author, and friend – Neil was truly a man’s man and the very living image of a Leatherneck! He and I had many long engaging conversations over the last decade – about books, the Vietnam War, life, spiritual matters and family. He will not be forgotten by me and those who had the pleasure and honor of getting to know him.” Rev. Bill McDonald, Founder of Military Writers Society of America

On June 29, 2008, Neil Levin, Founder and CEO of Leatherneck Publishing, said YES to my first novel, The Final Salute. After sixteen years and over one hundred revisions and that many rejections, I finally found that one person in the universe who believed in my story enough to publish it. The novel was released in paperback that October, just in time for my 50th birthday.

Looking back, I don’t think Neil had any idea what he’d just set into motion.

About nine months after my book came out, Neil decided to leave publishing and closed his business, but he didn’t leave me hanging. He switched from being my publisher to becoming a supportive friend, and my book continued to sell on several online retailers.

"Giving Voice to these ghosts" appeared in all the editions of Military Times. Similar stories ran in USA Today and The Associated Press.
“Giving Voice to these ghosts” appeared in  Military Times. Similar stories ran in USA Today and The Associated Press.

Four months after Neil shut down Leatherneck Publishing, my book won a national book award from Military Writers Society of America. That same year, Army Wife Network selected it for their monthly book club pick. In early 2010, USA Today, The Associated Press, and Military Times carried the story of my sixteen-year journey to bring the novel to life, and the book hit #2 on Amazon’s paid bestseller list for Military Aviation. In 2011, Navigator Books released the Kindle edition with a new cover, and in 2012, the book hit #1 on Amazon’s Top Rated War Fiction. In 2014, my literary agent and I signed a contract with Deer Hawk Publications, and the second edition of The Final Salute once again soared to the top of Amazon’s bestseller charts for several days in December. To date, I have 137 reviews and most of them are five and four stars.

My only regret is that I never met Neil in person. But he knew that I never stopped being grateful. The last time I heard his voice was on my home answering machine last April when he called to check on us after my husband underwent major surgery. I can still hear Neil’s voice in my head. He was a big old gruff teddy bear. He was my hero.

From Neil’s daughter’s Facebook post moments after his death: “Talk about a lovely exit. My sister and I opened a bottle of champagne and went into my Dad's room. Turned on some jazz music and raised our glasses in a toast to Neil Levin and the grand life he led. We left the room for a couple of minutes and when we stepped back in he was gone. Good-bye Daddy Boy, now go dance with your Laurie in heaven!” Debbie Clolinger, Neil’s daughter
“Talk about a lovely exit. My sister and I opened a bottle of champagne and went into my Dad’s room. Turned on some jazz music and raised our glasses in a toast to Neil Levin and the grand life he led. We left the room for a couple of minutes and when we stepped back in he was gone. Good-bye Daddy Boy, now go dance with your Laurie in heaven!” Debbie Clolinger, Neil’s daughter’s Facebook post moments after his death.

Because of Neil Levin, I became a published novelist. He was the catalyst that started everything in motion. My second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, has just released from Camel Press, and I’m currently working on the sequel. When I started my first novel in 1992, I had no idea that a retired Marine fighter pilot would become my publishing angel.

To read more about my work, please click here:

Kathleen M. Rodgers

 

 

Building a Scene: One Writer’s Process

One day soon, these scribbles on leftover notebook paper from my grown sons’ school days will grow into a polished scene in my third novel, Seven Wings to Glory

The Seven Wings to Glory bracelet was designed by my dear friend, Starlene DeBord, owner of Scarlett Sage Designs. Even when I'm not wearing the bracelet, I carry it with me everywhere I go during the process of writing this next novel. It serves as a talisman for me and keeps me motivated and focused on the work at hand.
The Seven Wings to Glory talisman bracelet was designed by my dear friend, Starlene DeBord, owner of Scarlett Sage Designs. It helps keep me motivated and focused on the work at hand.

Writing is a messy process, but after nearly forty years of writing for publication, I’ve learned to trust what works for me. Every article I sold to Family Circle Magazine, Air Force/Army/&Navy Times, and many other publications started out like this: first thoughts scribbled on whatever paper is at hand.

Sometimes I use legal pads or journals given to me by family members or friends. I joke that my first novel, The Final Salute, was cobbled together using sticky notes and index cards.

For Johnnie Come Lately, releasing from Camel Press February 1, 2015, my first thoughts were captured in a spiral notebook for a novel writing class I took at Southern Methodist University. Once I get a few words down, then I move to my trusty laptop. My job is to turn chaos into what I hope is an entertaining story.

If you’re a writer, what is your process? I’d love to hear. I’m always intrigued how other authors get their stories down. Whether you’re new to the business or you started out like me, tapping away on a manual typewriter, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Update: Dec. 1, 2016

seven_wings_300Seven Wings to Glory releases from Camel Press April 1, 2017

Johnnie Kitchen is finally living her dream, attending college and writing a column for the local paper. She adores her husband Dale and chocolate Labrador Brother Dog, and they reside in a comfortable home in the small town of Portion in North Texas. Their three children are thriving and nearly grown.

But Johnnie is rattled when her youngest boy Cade goes to fight in Afghanistan. The less frequent his emails, the more she frets for his safety. On the home front, Johnnie learns that Portion is not the forward-thinking town she believed. A boy Cade’s age, inflamed by a liberal bumper sticker and the sight of Johnnie’s black friend Whit, attacks them with the N-word and a beer bottle. After Johnnie writes about the incident in her column, a man named Roosevelt reaches out with shameful stories from Portion’s untold history. More tears and triumphs will follow, as Johnnie’s eyes are opened to man’s capacity for hate and the power of love and forgiveness.

The sequel to Johnnie Come Lately.

 

The Final Salute lives on in this second edition from Deer Hawk Publications

New back and front cover for 2nd edition of The Final Salute published by Deer Hawk Publications.

For sixteen years I believed in this novel. Snarled at rejection. Revised. Raised two sons. Sold stories to national magazines. Stayed true to my dream of finding a traditional publisher. And then it happened. On my 50th birthday. Then USA Today, The Associated Press, & Military Times took notice. And now almost six years after the original publication, my little book that grew wings and learned to fly is back in paperback and e-book. 

The Final Salute, a story of honor, integrity, dedication and survival, is now available: Amazon  BAM!  Barnes & Noble Powell’s Books  Wheelers Books

ENDORSEMENTS AND REVIEWS:

“A realistic yet heartwarming and reaffirming assessment of life and love and dedication by the very people who guard our own lives.”

—    Parris Afton Bonds, New York Times bestselling author of Deep Purple & cofounder of Romance Writers of America and Southwest Writers Workshop

***

“Gripping Insider’s Story of A Fighter Pilot’s Life Out of the Cockpit. The story pulls you in from the very beginning.”

—    Dwight J. Zimmerman, New York Times #1 Bestseller writer of Lincoln’s Last Days, President of Military Writers Society of America

***

USA Today ~ Air Force wife’s novel set at fictional England AFB.

Military Times ~ The Final Salute: Giving voice to these ghosts.

Mobile, Alabama Press-Register ~ Rodgers has created richly layered characters that compel readers to keep flipping the pages.

Midwest Book Review ~ I recommend this novel as a good description of the military life and the inner works of the way things are done, including the cover-up process.

Fort Worth, Texas Magazine ~ Until the very end, readers are intrigued by her colorful cast of characters that bring everything from love to betrayal amid the added struggle of military life.

Winner of the Silver Medal for fiction from Military Writers Society of America

Amazon’s #1 Top Rated War Fiction

“Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” republished in a new anthology from Potomac Books

Fighter pilots.

I’ve written about them often over the years. About their hell-raising good times at the Officers Club, living life to the fullest…on the edge of the envelope at a speed faster than the rest of us.

I’ve written about them at other times, too, when they have slowed down to a snail’s pace. When a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black veil because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. A young wife is widowed, a child left fatherless, an older couple wandering around confused, their future of grandchildren and the good life destroyed in a fireball. “Weren’t we supposed to go first?” they ask.

So when my essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” first appeared in the pages of Air Force Times, March 16, 1992, I felt a sense of joy mixed with sadness. Joy because I was happy to have another byline in a national publication that treated me like a professional, but the sadness came from the fact that once again I had written about loss­­––the loss of fighter pilots dying in peacetime training missions. This subject would be the driving force behind my debut novel, The Final Salute, first published in 2008.Remembering Forgotten Fliers in AF Times & Red, White & True anthology kathleenmrodgers

Fast-forward twenty-two years later and the republication of my essay in a prestigious new anthology titled “Red, White, & True,” released from Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. Edited by Tracy Crow, a former Marine Corp officer and an award-winning military journalist and author nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, this provocative and powerful collection presents thirty-two true stories about the enduring impact of U.S. military service from WWII to present. The writers include a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a novelist with a New York Times Notable book award for 2012, and a writer seeing his name in print for the first time.

Today, I take pride in the fact that my story made the final cut as it “passed for review” in front of Tracy Crow and her editors at the University of Nebraska Press. Sometimes my job as a writer is to give a voice to those who are no longer living. In my own small way, I help keep their legacies alive. In Chapter 3 on pages 16 – 20 of “Red, White, & True,” I give a voice to the names of too many good men who flew west before their time.

This collection of powerful true stories would make a great gift.

To order, please visit potomacbooksinc.com or call 800-775-2518

Amazon

Amazon Kindle

Barnes and Noble online and in some bookstores around the country:headlines from anthology and origianl

 

 

 

Stories In Uniform: One Editor’s Perspective on Military Short Fiction

Editor Jeffery Hess
Editor Jeffery Hess

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffery Hess in 2009 at the annual Military Writers Society of America conference in Orlando, FL. Jeff was there to receive a Gold Medal for his anthology of short fiction  Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform published by Press 53. That same year he appeared on The Dennis Miller Show. In 2013, Press 53 released Jeff’s second book Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand. An excerpt from my latest novel Johnnie Come Lately appears in this edition. In the following article, Jeff explains his criteria for selecting the stories that appear in both anthologies. 

 

By Jeffery Hess

cg56 moored bowThe proudest moment of my Navy enlistment came on the morning of December 7, 1989 as I stood in my dress blues on the bow of the USS San Jacinto, looking at the row of other ships pier-side at Norfolk Naval Station. Our ship had only been back a few days from a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean and Black Seas. I was due to receive my Honorable Discharge the following week and my task that morning was to raise the Union Jack, which I did, as the sailors aboard the other ships did at the same time. All these years later, I’ve never forgotten that moment. It was a routine, daily task, but one that I’d never been assigned until that day. Even then, I knew it was a way of honoring my service while also honoring every sailor at Pearl Harbor forty-eight years earlier.

As I write this, it is June 6, 2014 and I have a similar honor, because as you may know, today happens to be the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Instead of raising the Union Jack, I’ve been asked to write a few words about how I came to select the stories included in a pair of military-related anthologies. It’s a fitting occasion to discuss all things military, which I’m always happy to do, in a humble effort to honor and remember everyone who has worn a uniform, as well as anyone who has been affected by someone who has.

press 53 logoThat was my hope in publishing the two Home of the Brave anthologies of military short fiction with Press 53.

As a reader, writer, editor, and teacher, some of the most fulfilling work I’ve been lucky enough to have done involves assembling and editing stories for these two anthologies.

Over the years, people have asked why I enjoy sticking to the military theme. For me, it seems the stakes tend to be higher in stories of this sort. Hemingway said, “War is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all kinds of stuff you have to wait a lifetime to get.”

 

2009 Gold Medal Winner from MWSA
2009 Gold Medal Winner from MWSA

I don’t read military journals exclusively, but I do enjoy finding military stories in regular journals and collections. I’m always amazed by the way in which writers interpret the topic.

Writing military fiction, myself, I learned from the stories I read. My stories focus on the Navy, Cold War era, mostly, but as an editor, I was given insight into a world of military experiences I had no way of knowing about first hand. This is another reason people read.

In addition to securing reprint rights to well-known stories by Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, James Salter, and Tobias Wolf, I sought out other great stories from writers who aren’t as well known, but should be—writers like Pinckney Benedict, Benjamin Percy, Fred Leebron, Amber Dermont, Tracy Crow, and Court Merrigan, to name a few. But I also worked with up-and-coming writers, some I’ve known for years, many others I’ve never met. For both volumes, I received submissions from all over the country. Not all of them were perfect. Many had potential, but needed polishing. A number of stories I chose needed a lot of work, sometimes, more than I bargained for, but there’s just something magical about the excitement of finding a character in a situation that people need to read, no matter the shape the manuscript might be in, and helping the writer achieve his or her vision and then sharing it with the world.

 

Spring 2014 MWSA Recommended Reading List
Spring 2014 Recommended Reading List from Military Writers Society of America

I put together the second anthology in the aftermath of Seal Team 6’s killing of Osama Bin Laden. There was a lot of “heat of battle” stories flooding in. It seemed battle-front stories were everywhere during this time. But, violence is only one segment of the equation. I’m also curious about the other portions of the conflicts.

Tolstoy famously wrote, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Everyone in uniform has a family and friends and neighbors. I’m interested in a mother’s reaction. In how the wives feel. How new fathers fear what might become of their sons.

During my selection of stories, I recalled favorites I’d read in the past and I contacted the authors to get permission to include their stories, often this involved contacting publishers. I sent emails to every writer I know telling them what I was looking for. Some offered me stories. Others sent people my way. Some did both.

Narrowing the search quickly became an issue. So much material was being generated on this topic, I could pick and choose. My main criteria was based on Interest and Impact.

To gain my Interest, the stories have to convey a sense of authenticity. Whether stories about direct military action or a civilian’s reaction to what they see on the news, I need evidence to prove (or, at least, provide the illusion) that these people and these worlds are absolutely real.

Aristotle said, “For the purposes of story, a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility.”

 

HOTB:SITS launch party in WInston-Salem, NC. Pictured are: Jeffery Hess, Jim Walke, Paul Strobel, Robert Wallace, Tracy Crow, and Joseph Mills.
Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand launch party in WInston-Salem, NC. Pictured are: Jeffery Hess, Jim Walke, Paul Strobel, Robert Wallace, Tracy Crow, and Joseph Mills.

To make an Impact on me, I have to care about the characters. I look for the stakes Hemingway mentioned, as well as how each character deals with their situations. As this is fiction, I willingly grant creative license, because it’s the emotional truth that we’re after. This requires a connection to the characters, their physical, emotional, and intellectual selves.

The stories that received an automatic rejection were the ones that were faked or half-assed.

Ultimately, I looked at how each story made me feel when I finished—if it made me say, Wow, Damn, or Oh no, or if it just left me shrugging and reaching for another one. And, most importantly, did the story make me think about it after I put it down?

The one element I found in common with all the stories I selected is passion. Whether about a wounded warrior or a worried widow, or about a mother or children, or overcoming enemies on either side of the wire, or any of the other scenarios that appear in these stories, each of them separated themselves from a number of stories that lost out due to the writers having a good idea, but not a true passion for the topic. During the process of finding these stories, I came to learn that the passion for the characters and their situations is contagious.

Tell us something, we’ll forget it. Show us something, we’ll see it. Makes us feel something and we’ll remember it.

This approach isn’t limited to stories about military events. The notions of authenticity and specificity make characters memorable no matter if they’re war heroes, gangsters, housewives, siblings, psychopaths, depressed boomers, or a Harry Potter wizard or whatever he is. My goal, with the forty-six stories selected for inclusion in these two volumes, is that they become memorable to readers for years to come, because, as Calvin Coolidge said, “The nation which forgets its heroes will itself be forgotten.” That won’t happen on my watch.

About Jeffery Hess

Jeffery Hess is the editor of the award-winning anthology Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform, and the recent follow-up, Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand (both from Press 53). Prior to earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of South Florida, he served in the U.S. Navy aboard the fleet’s oldest and then newest ships. He’s published a number of short stories that recall this period of his life in print and online journals. He’s held writing positions at a daily newspaper, a Fortune 500 company, and a university-based research center. He lives in Florida, where he’s completing a novel and has, for the past six years, led the DD-214 Writers’ Workshop for military veterans.

Helpful links:

-Home of the Brave anthologies website:

http://www.press53.com/HomeoftheBrave.html

-Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/HomeOfTheBraveStoriesInUniform

-Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/HomeOfTheBraveSomewhereInTheSand

-Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform – Amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Home-Brave-Stories-Jeffery-Hess/dp/0982441606

-Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand – Amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Home-Brave-Somewhere-Jeffrey-Hess/dp/1935708856/ref=la_B00DIEBKMM_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401910392&sr=1-1

-DD-214 Writers’ Workshop website:

http://www.dd214writers.org/

 

Jeff appeared on The Dennis Miller show June 10, 2009 and again on June 4, 2013.
Jeff appeared on The Dennis Miller show June 10, 2009 and again on June 4, 2013.

-Dennis Miller Interview – June 10, 2009

https://www.dennismillerradio.com/b/Jeffery-Hess-Interview/6373.html

-Dennis Miller Interview – June 4, 2013

https://www.dennismillerradio.om/blog?action=blogArchive&blogTag=Jeffery%20Hess

-Tampa Tribune article about Anthologies and Workshop:

http://tbo.com/list/military-news/out-of-navy-veterans-labor-of-love-new-anthology-is-born-20130624/

-Interview with Jeffery Hess

http://rkvryquarterly.com/interview-with-jeffery-hess/

Kathleen's author bio as it appears in Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand
Kathleen’s author bio as it appears in Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand

Author Kathleen M. Rodgers named a Distinguished Alumni for Tarrant County College/NE Campus 2014

kathleenmrodgers:2014 Distinguished Alumni Tarrant County Community College

When I walked across the stage at Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth, TX to receive my diploma in May 2007, I felt ten feet tall in my cap and gown. I was also one of the oldest graduates at 48. With my husband Tom, our two grown sons and my mother looking on, I graduated with highest honors, a total victory considering I feared I would flunk college biology my first day in lecture and lab. Most people complete an AA degree in about two years, but then I’m not most people. It took me 30 years to earn a college degree. In that time, I attended one university, two community colleges, recovered from a life-threating eating disorder, wrote numerous articles for national and local publications, completed one novel, followed my Air Force fighter pilot turned airline pilot husband from base to base, and raised our two sons. I also raised one puppy dog and served as a nanny to my three young boy cousins while their mom worked as an attorney in downtown Dallas.

By the time I earned my associate degree, I’d already enrolled in Southern Methodist University’s noncredit novel writing course. With one completed novel The Final Salute under my belt, a second novel began to take shape. That novel grew up to become Johnnie Come Lately and will be published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press, February 1, 2015.

Being named a 2014 Distinguished Alumni for Tarrant County College/Northeast Campus is one more affirmation that I’m on the right track with my new novel. My protagonist, Mrs. Johnnie Kitchen, goes back to college later in life. In my own little way, I’ve tried to shine the spotlight on community colleges. Tarrant County College inspired the fictional Portion Community College in the novel.

Although I didn’t need a college degree to become a writer, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Regardless of my many successes in the writing profession, earning a college degree thirty years after I graduated from high school gave me a boost of confidence like nothing else.

No matter what level of education we all achieve, we are all students of the world. Every day we have a chance to learn something new and to apply it to our lives.

Here’s the announcement I received from the President of Tarrant County College/NE Campus:

Greetings Kathleen Rodgers,

As president of Tarrant County College Northeast Campus, I would like to congratulate you for being named as one of the Distinguished Alumni of the campus for recognition in 2014!

Recognition of graduates who have made a difference in the community is a relatively new endeavor for TCC Northeast.  Twelve years ago I established a committee of faculty members with the goal of developing guidelines for this project.  The committee decided to ask departments to name outstanding former students who had graduated from TCC Northeast at least five years ago with associate degrees or certificates.  In the last few years, we also wanted to include students who had attended TCC Northeast for a substantial portion of their college course work, but who may have transferred to another institution to finish a degree.  Each discipline chose one person to be recognized in a ceremony that will take place on campus in May during the Faculty Luncheon.  As a member of this group of Distinguished Alumni, you will receive a certificate that will be presented during that ceremony.

We have scheduled the recognition ceremony/luncheon to take place in the Center Corner (NSTU 1615A) in the Student Center Building.  You might remember that this is the building with the clock tower.  It will begin at approximately 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 and should be over by 1:00 p.m.

The photo and a short bio will eventually be transferred to our Distinguished Alumni Wall of Recognition housed in the J. Ardis Bell Library on the Northeast Campus.

Again, congratulations, and I look forward to seeing you next month.

Larry Darlage, PhD

President| Tarrant County College Northeast Campus

 

 

ADVENTURES IN THE PUBLISHING TRADE: An excerpt from Dwight Jon Zimmerman’s new autobiography

Dwight J. Zimmerman, Adventures in the Publishing TradeIn Part I of my interview with Dwight Jon Zimmerman, we discussed his long writing career working with Bill O’Reilly, Marvel Comics, and more.

http://siteblog.kathleenmrodgers.com/?p=1737

In Part II, Dwight exclusively shares here an excerpt from his upcoming autobiography for RED ENGINE PRESS tentatively titled “Adventures in the Publishing Trade: and a Little Bit More about Life, Love, and the Pursuit of a Dream. It’s the story of a young man with a dream and the unlikely and impossible-to-plan path he took to achieve it.

Kathleen: You grew up in North Dakota and started out as a printer. How old were you when you moved to New York City, and where did you get the courage to make such a drastic change?

Dwight Jon Zimmerman: Oh, boy, the question you just asked! Joyce Faulkner and Pat Avery, fellow members of the Military Writers Society of America, own Red Engine Press, a small publishing company. Over the years at the organization’s annual conferences they heard many stories of my experiences in the publishing industry. One thing led to another and I’m presently writing my autobiography for them. With your permission I’d like to answer your question by providing this unedited draft excerpt of the chapter dealing with that event, because there was a lot of history behind making the decision I did. I should warn everyone, it’s not a happy anecdote.

Chapter 3

I Cross My Rubicon

                        “I am not a bum.”

—Dwight Jon Zimmerman, circa. 1976

            The distance between Grand Forks, North Dakota, where I worked, and Devils Lake, where I grew up, is 90 miles. One weekend in July 1976, I headed west from my apartment on a Sunday drive that I didn’t want to make, but had to.

Dad1972
Dwight’s dad 1972

Too many years have passed for me to remember anything about that day except the meeting I had with my father in the living room where I broke the news. I know that it happened sometime after lunch and that dad and I were alone. I had decided to tell the news first to him, because even though I knew he wouldn’t like hearing what I had to say, I thought he’d be a little more sympathetic than my mother. He was in his easy chair and I was sitting nearby on the couch when I said I had something I needed to tell him.

I said I was planning to quit my job at the UND Press in one year and travel to New York City and try to make a go of things at Marvel Comics where Dave [Kraft my high school friend] was working. I explained why I was making this decision—that I was young and single, and that I didn’t want to have the “what would have happened to me if” question hanging over my life. If things didn’t work out, then I’d know and move on with my life as a printer, as that was a skill I could use anywhere. In the meantime, I needed to store my possessions at home.

Dad was sixty-two and his health had been bad for several years, the consequence of alcoholism, bad eating habits, and no exercise. He’d already had one heart attack and two strokes. He was overweight, diabetic, and suffered from high blood pressure; in short, he was a sitting pathology. After I finished my speech he looked at me for a moment. Then he said, “Well, if you want to go out and be a bum, that’s your business.”

That’s all that I remember about what happened that day. I don’t remember telling my mother, and I don’t remember the drive back to Grand Forks that afternoon.

I do remember being hurt—and angry.

 David Anthony Kraft (right) and I (left) showing off the latest issue of our science fiction and fantasy fanzine, OMNIFAN, circa 1970.
David Anthony Kraft (right) and I (left) showing off the latest issue of our science fiction and fantasy fanzine, OMNIFAN, circa 1970.

Since my sophomore year in high school, my relationship with my parents had been essentially a truce punctuated by arguments, invariably about something that I liked and wanted to do. With the exception of my decision to go to North Dakota State School of Science in Wahpeton where I learned the printing trade, they pretty much opposed everything. NDSSS had a reputation for being a “suitcase college.” On Friday afternoon, almost the entire student body would get in their cars and drive home for the weekend. Not me—home was the last place I wanted to go. I stayed at the near-deserted campus, enjoying the quiet and solitude. In fact the only time I went home was during the holidays. After that first year, I found an apartment with some friends. The habit of not going home carried over after I had moved to Grand Forks. Trips home were usually once-a-month affairs.

I thought that now being on my own, and with my sister recently married to Joel, I wouldn’t have a fight on my hands to do what I wanted to do. It turns out I was right, I didn’t. With his one-liner Dad had done something worse: he threw one of his guilt trips on me.

My father had led a hard life. The oldest of four children, two boys and two girls, he grew up on a small farm in Wells County. He was in his mid-teens when his father committed suicide or was murdered (I’ve heard differing accounts) during the Great Depression. His younger brother Gordon was mentally retarded. (I knew all of dad’s siblings. Gordon died in 1963. Margaret married, lived on a farm near the homestead, and died of accidental self-immolation in 1982. Connie, the youngest, married and moved to Idaho where she still lives.) He quit school after the eighth grade and knocked around the West working at a variety of jobs, one of them being a carnival barker. His first wife was a young woman looking to escape her family. That marriage soon ended in divorce. He married his second wife shortly before he enlisted in the Army about a month after his 28th birthday on April 25, 1942.

His MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was Parts Clerk 348. After training in Camp Sutton, North Carolina, he was assigned to Company G, 255th Infantry Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division, rising to the rank of Tech Sergeant. His campaigns included Tunisia, Southern France, the Rhineland, and Central Europe. He received his honorable discharge on October 8, 1945. In addition to his campaign ribbons, he received the Good Conduct Medal.

Mom1972
Dwight’s mom 1972

Not long after he returned to North Dakota, his second wife divorced him. In a tale all too common during the war, she had married him for his service paycheck and death benefit insurance. When the latter didn’t happen, she was gone. Neither marriage resulted in children. That would come with dad’s third wife, my mother. In March 1953, Morris Zimmerman and Darlene Stolt eloped to South Dakota where they got married. On June 2, 1953, at a hospital in Harvey, North Dakota, I was born. My mother was twenty years old. Dad was thirty-nine. My sister, Mary, was born four years later; and in 1960 my brother, Chris, was prematurely born, delivered by Caesarian section.

Now, with the exception of some general statements about the war, and a couple of passing mentions of minor events, my father rarely talked about his life, and never mentioned the fact that mom was his third wife. The facts recounted here came from his mother, my Grandma Mabel, before she died in the early 1970s, and from his discharge paper, which I saw years after his death in 1981.

(An aside here. The circumstances of my father’s death have proved a constant source of amusement for me whenever I have to fill out the family history section of medical forms. When I get to the father section, after checking the “Deceased” box I proceed to the “Cause of Death” section where I write: “Surgery.” Invariably whenever the doctor gets to that answer, the physician’s brow furrows and I get a quizzical look. I then proceed to explain that while my father suffered from acute coronary disease that caused him in 1981 to undergo high-risk life-saving surgery, when the doctors opened up his chest they discovered there was nothing they could do. His heart was too damaged to repair. So, while the contributing factor of my father’s death was a bad heart, the form wasn’t asking for that information. It was asking for cause. And “cause” was surgery. He went into the operating room alive, and came out dead. QED. None of the doctors have been favorably impressed with me about that.)

So, though gaps existed, I knew things about my father’s life that he didn’t know I knew. Grandma Mabel’s statements about dad explained a lot of why he acted the way he did to us kids, specifically his paternal guilt manipulation of us.

Here I am on my Honda 100 circa 1972.
Here I am on my Honda 100 circa 1972.

In the past when he played the guilt card, even when I carried through with what I wanted to do (like buying my first motorcycle) it was only after a lot of emotional soul-searching and agonizing. Not this time. Dad had pushed me too far. The emotion I was dealing with wasn’t guilt. It was anger.

Once in my apartment, I grabbed some paper and a pen and began writing him a letter. I began with a short recap of my decision to go to New York City, my reasons why, and his response. I concluded that first paragraph with the sentences: “You called me a bum. I am not a bum.”

With the second paragraph, I let him have it with both barrels. I wasn’t profane, and I didn’t reveal any of the facts about his life I had learned, but years of accumulated fury were behind the sentences that stated this was my life and I was going to live it my way.

Years of accumulated fury were behind my sentences. I had my first attack of nervous exhaustion when I was twelve years old. I remember lying on the couch one evening. Suddenly my heart started racing, my body started trembling, I had repeated heat flashes, and I started crying uncontrollably. I thought I was going to die, and said so. Dad rushed me to the hospital where I stayed for three days. When I got home I asked my mother what had happened to me. She said, “It was just nerves.”

I felt ashamed of myself for being weak. I endured two more attacks in senior high school. The second incident occurred in German class while I was taking a test. Now familiar with the symptoms, I managed to maintain sufficient control to finish the test and exit the class at its conclusion. I rushed home, skipping the rest of the school day. Mom also worked, so I was able to ride the spell out alone. The third bout happened at the end of school one day, so it was easier to for me to go into seclusion.

It was one day near the end of my junior year in high school that my mother kicked the parental support chair out from under me. She had a stock response whenever we complained about something: “You think you have it so bad? The kids in [name of a handy third world country] have it worse.” This time she raised the ante.

My parents and I had been going through a particularly stressful period. I was leaving for school when she looked up from the breakfast table and said, “You know, Dwight, you’re a disappointment to us.”

To use modern parlance, that was when Dwight Jon Zimmerman 1.0 died and Dwight Jon Zimmerman 2.0 was born. Though I still lived at home, from that point on I was both alone and on my own.

As I was writing, I realized a larger reality—that the roles of parent and child had become reversed and that I now had something that put me in control of our relationship from this point on: I had me.

And here I am on my Norton 850 Commando, circa 1978. I'm having a Coors in the front yard of my aunt's house in Idaho (this at a time when Coors was only available in the West). Dave Kraft's Norton 750 Commando is in the background. We were on a road trip to California--one of the best vacations I ever had!
And here I am on my Norton 850 Commando, circa 1978. I’m having a Coors in the front yard of my aunt’s house in Idaho (this at a time when Coors was only available in the West). Dave Kraft’s Norton 750 Commando is in the background. We were on a road trip to California–one of the best vacations I ever had!

Though the statements I was writing of my plans to go forward and the storing of my possessions at home were clear enough, I was also sending a between-the-lines message: “If you fight me any further on this, you will never hear from me again.”

I didn’t want to explicitly state that sentence, because that was the ultimate hammer I held. I didn’t want to use it because if I did, both sides would lose. Also, the threat of using it made it more powerful than its actual use.

The next day I dropped the letter in the mail.

The letter created uproar back home—so much so that my brother-in-law wrote me a blistering letter calling me, amongst other things, an ingrate and demanding I apologize to my “wonderful parents.” My sister’s first husband (she’s now on husband number three) was sticking his nose into business that didn’t concern him. But, knowing that I had made my point, a couple of days later I called home and when my mother answered the phone, apologized.

One year later, I was on a plane flying to New York City to start a new adventure.

BIO:

DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, television and movie producer, and president of the Military Writers Society of America.Lincoln's Last Days

He co-authored the #1 New York Times bestselling young adult book, Lincoln’s Last Days, an adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s New York Times #1 bestselling history Killing Lincoln. Lincoln’s Last Days won the 2013 Branson Stars and Flags Book Awards Grand Prize. It is the second year in a row Dwight has won the organization’s highest honor.

He penned a series of World War II 70th anniversary articles for the Defense Media Network website that chronologically recount that conflict, available at www.defensemedianetwork.com.

He is the author of Saga of the Sioux, the award winning, critically acclaimed young adult adaptation of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Saga of the Sioux won the 2012 Gold Medal in the Young Adult Non-Fiction category from the Military Writers Society of America and the 2012 Branson Stars and Flags Book Awards Grand Prize, the organization’s highest honor.

Dwight is the co-author, with John D. Gresham of Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Six Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq which received the Military Writers Society of America’s most prestigious honor, the MWSA Founder’s Award for 2010.

First CommandHis first book, First Command: Paths to Leadership, which has a foreword by James M. McPherson, presents the pivotal challenges and events that occurred in the early careers of generals from George Washington to Colin Powell and how they overcame them. Dwight was the co-executive producer of the cable television miniseries based on his book. The miniseries debuted on the Military Channel in 2005 and has been regularly aired on the channel ever since. It won the 2005 Aurora Platinum Best of Show Award for Historical Programming. In 2009, the book received the Branson Stars and Flags Gold Medal Award in the Reference/Technical category. First Command is on the U.S. Army Chief of Infantry Recommended Reading List: Junior NCOs.

He’s written two acclaimed popular surveys of wars and weapons through the ages. The Book of War is about pivotal battles, leaders, and strategies from ancient to modern times and received the 2009 Gold Medal Award for Reference by the Military Writers Society of America. The Book of Weapons is a critically acclaimed sequel about important weapons, weapon designers, and arms manufacturers throughout history.

Dwight’s authored two graphic histories. The Vietnam War: A Graphic History, illustrated by Wayne Vansant, is a groundbreaking book that for the first time recounted the entire Vietnam War in the graphic novel format. The Vietnam War: A Graphic History received the 2010 Gold Medal Award: Artistic/Graphic from the Military Writers Society of America and the 2010 Branson Stars and Flags Gold Medal Award in the photography/graphics category. Military Review, the official journal of the U.S. Army, placed it on its recommended reading list. The Hammer and the Anvil, also with art by Wayne Vansant, is the critically acclaimed graphic biography of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Dwight’s young adult biography, Tecumseh: Shooting Star of the Shawnee received the 2010 Bronze Medal Award: Young Adult from the Military Writers Society of America and was a finalist in the young adult category in the 2011 Western Writers of America.

His book The Day the World Exploded is the critically acclaimed young adult adaptation of Simon Winchester’s bestselling Krakatoa.

Dwight is the co-author, with John D. Gresham, of the critically acclaimed history of seven pivotal special operations from the Vietnam War to present day, Beyond Hell and Back.

He’s written numerous articles on military subjects for Faircount Media for its military-themed print publications and its Defense Media Network website, and other publishers. His article, “Maritime Mobility,” for The Shield of Freedom, an annual publication about the Coast Guard, was selected by the Naval War College for use in its curriculum. And his article about a special operations mission during the Korean War led by the theater’s surgeon general that had high-stakes diplomatic consequences, originally published in The Year in Special Operations 2009 was selected for re-publication by the Journal of Special Operations Medicine.

Dwight has lectured at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Naval War College, and has appeared on the FOX programs DEFCON-3 hosted by K.T. McFarland, and AMERICA NEWS HQ discussing military subjects.

“Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Caputo (right) and me holding the 2006 Connecticut Center for the Book award for 10,000 Days of Thunder. I had a great time collaborating with him on that young adult history of the Vietnam War. Since my name couldn't go on the book, he insisted I attend with him the event at Hartford. Thankfully we won.” ~ DJZ
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Caputo (right) and me holding the 2006 Connecticut Center for the Book award for 10,000 Days of Thunder. I had a great time collaborating with him on that young adult history of the Vietnam War. Since my name couldn’t go on the book, he insisted I attend with him the event at Hartford. Thankfully we won.” ~ DJZ

He was the host of “At Ease,” an hour-long program about authors and their projects, part of Veterans Radio Network. Information about the program is available at www.veteransradio.net. Guests on his program have included Rick Atkinson, Robert M. Edsel, Larry Bond, Thomas Fleming, Craig L. Symonds, Jake Tapper, and Stephen Coonts, amongst others.

He was a producer for the independent film, Trooper, which received the Bronze Remi Award at the 2010 Houston International Film Festival.

Dwight was the researcher for the critically acclaimed The New York Times Complete History of the Civil War, edited by Craig L. Symonds and Harold Holzer with a forward by former president Bill Clinton, and The New York Times Complete World War II edited by Richard Overy with a forward by Tom Brokaw.

He collaborated on a series of award winning young adult histories published by Atheneum. The authors of record included such Pulitzer Prize winners and bestselling authors as James M. McPherson’s Fields of Fury (Civil War) and Into the West (Reconstruction and settling of the frontier), Philip Caputo’s 10,000 Days of Thunder (Vietnam War), Stephen Ambrose’s The Good Fight  (World War II), and Benson Bobrick’s Fight for Freedom (the American Revolution).

Dwight with a lot more hair--and darker!--sometime in the 1980s, doing balloon placement on a comic book story.
Dwight with a lot more hair–and darker!–sometime in the 1980s, doing balloon placement on a comic book story.

Dwight began his career in publishing at Marvel Comics, where he held a variety of editorial and staff positions. Among his Marvel comic book writing credits are stories for Spider-Man, The X-Men, and The Hulk, and other super heroes. In addition to his comic book stories, he has written a wide variety of children’s book adventures based on licensed product toy lines, most notably the Transformers. In 1992, he became executive editor of Topps Comics, a division of The Topps Company, and was responsible for the editorial and art direction of its lines of media tie-in comics based on The X-Files, Mars Attacks, Jurassic Park, Zorro, Xena: Warrior Princess and other movies and programs. In addition, Dwight was the writer, editor, and art director of Princess Diana the graphic novel biography of Diana, Princess of Wales published by Topps.

MWSA_Logo copyDwight is the current president of the Military Writers Society of America. A native of Devils Lake, North Dakota, he presently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Joëlle. They have two adult children.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes of a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author

Hometown boy makes good! Dwight was the guest author at his hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota, during their centennial celebration in July 2008. He was front page news on my hometown newspaper.
Hometown boy makes good! Dwight was the guest author at his hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota, during their centennial celebration in July 2008. He was front page news on his hometown newspaper.

A candid interview with Dwight Jon Zimmerman: author, producer, radio host, and former writer/editor at Marvel Comics

Kathleen: Welcome, Dwight.  Congratulations on hitting the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestselling list for LINCOLN’S LAST DAYS. I understand this is a young adult adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book, KILLING LINCOLN. If you are comfortable, please discuss the details of how you came to work on this project.

Dwight: Thank you, Kathleen—happy to be a guest on your blog! LINCOLN’S LAST DAYS was a great experience. As to how the project happened, Bill O’Reilly and I share the same publisher, he on the adult side, I on the kids’ side. KILLING LINCOLN had been a huge hit for Holt’s adult division and the adult publisher contacted his counterpart on the kids’ side about doing a young adult adaptation. At her next meeting with her editors, the kids’ publisher asked who among their stable of writers was a good candidate to do the adaptation. A year earlier I had written SAGA OF THE SIOUX, an award-winning adaptation of Dee Brown’s American West classic BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE. The publisher contacted my agent who contacted me. I got a copy of KILLING LINCOLN to read over the 2011 Christmas holiday. I thought it was an exciting story and signed on.Lincoln's Last Days

Now, the crucial thing was that they wanted the manuscript fast—by April 1, 2012, because they wanted to release the book in August! Yes, that essentially made this an instant book. I had a meeting with the publisher, editor, and head designer in January and discussed work details—I was also asked to do image acquisition.

I got a digital copy of the manuscript and immediately went to work condensing a 93,000-word manuscript down to about 36,000 words. And, because this was for kids, I was asked to write additional material that described life in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. Condensing was a challenge, as you might expect, because in addition to deleting so much text, I then had to revise passages to maintain story flow integrity and make the vocabulary age appropriate.

The publisher also wanted to have at least one image on each two-page spread. One of the things I truly love on projects like this is image acquisition. Most of my books are loaded with photographs. LINCOLN’S LAST DAYS has more than 150 photos, if I remember correctly.

I’m proud to say I submitted the first draft and image package one week before my deadline. LINCOLN’S LAST DAYS debuted in mid-August in the top five on the New York Times bestseller list and by the second week had shot to #1.

KMR: I was honored to read an advanced copy of UNCOMMON VALOR: The Medal of Honor and the Six Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book you coauthored with John D. Gresham. In my review, I led with this question: What makes a person deliberately fall on a grenade, charge into a line of fire, sacrifice his life to save another? Please share what is was like to interview the families of the fallen and to delve into their backgrounds.

DJZ: Writing UNCOMMON VALOR was an extraordinary experience and one of the most difficult books I’ve ever written because of the responsibility of telling the stories of these brave young men as accurately as possible—particularly the stories of those who received their Medals of Honor posthumously.Uncommon Valor

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons neither John nor I were able to interview family members. The one relative we were able to contact (a recipient’s father) demanded $5,000 before he would talk or allow other friends and relatives be interviewed. As the information we could obtain from him and the friends and relatives was about the late recipient’s childhood and pre-service background that had been extensively covered in a series of newspaper articles, we declined. We discovered later he used our interview discussion as leverage to secure his own book contract about his son.

What fascinated us about the stories of the recipients in UNCOMMON VALOR was the diverse background of the recipients. They came from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds. For some, the military turned their lives around. Others, with Ivy League and upper middle class backgrounds chose the military out of a sense of obligation to the nation. And, all were young—the youngest being just nineteen when he died. Doing the research on their lives was one of the most rewarding experiences I had.

One of the most humbling experiences John and I had concerning the book occurred up at West Point where we did some lectures and a book signing. At lunch we were brought up to the poop deck, an elevated platform in the middle of the mess hall. When we were introduced the entire Corps of Cadets, 4,700 strong, gave us a standing ovation. We asked the first captain of the class of 2011 why we received such an enthusiastic reception, he replied, “You tell our stories for us.”

KMR: How many books have you coauthored with John D. Gresham? I understand he worked closely with Tom Clancy on several projects.

DJZ: UNCOMMON VALOR was our second book. BEYOND HELL AND BACK, which is about seven pivotal missions that led to the creation of Special Operations Command, was the first. I’ve known John for several years, and we’ve worked together in a variety of editorial and writing capacities on books and articles. John collaborated with Tom Clancy on the series of guided tour non-fiction books about military units, ships, and airplanes.

KMR: Do you have a literary agent? If so, does this agent represent all of your work?

DJZ: I do have an agent, but he only handles my young adult books.

KMR: You have led many lives in your publishing career. What is your typical day like? Do you keep office hours?

DJZ: If you saw me, you’d think me probably one of the laziest people in the world. And, in one sense you’d be correct. Since I write military history, and have had to write on a variety of subjects ranging from U.S. Navy Dentistry to battles and wars throughout history, I do a lot of research. I’d say the ratio of research to writing is two-thirds research, one-third writing. So, I spend a lot of time reading.

There’s no real typical day, but rather typical periods. Research involves a lot of reading and Internet searching. I will pull out stacks of books from my library and do printouts of documents I’ve found (sometimes entire books) and then, pen and yellow highlighter in hand, will then mark up and highlight passages.

There are periods where I don’t do any writing at all. I grab a notepad and pen and try to put down words, but nothing really happens. I’ve been a professional writer long enough to recognize this sort of situation; that it’s best not to fight it. When it happens I do anything and everything else but physically write. What’s actually happening is that my mind is working on the stories. The longest such period took three weeks, which did start becoming a concern during that third week—when I’m not writing, I’m not making money. Then, one morning, the words just started flowing out and within a week I had written three small and one big article.

I do have an office where I do a lot of my work (and where I’m answering your questions). But when the weather’s nice, I’ll take my reference material and notebook (I handwrite my rough drafts) and sit down at the table in our back yard. Though the yard is small, my wife’s done an excellent job creating a flower garden and it’s a great pleasure to take little breaks looking at the flowers and stretching my legs walking down the backyard path.

KMR: How long did you work at MARVEL COMICS and what did you do there?

Dwight with a lot more hair--and darker!--sometime in the 1980s, doing balloon placement on a comic book story.
Dwight with a lot more hair–and darker!–sometime in the 1980s, doing balloon placement on a comic book story.

DJZ: I broke into the publishing industry in 1977, working in production at Marvel Comics. And most of my career, about twenty years, was in the comic book industry where I held a variety of staff positions in addition to being a writer. I was a journeyman writer at Marvel, and wrote every major character in the company’s stable, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, amongst others. In 1992 Topps, the sports and entertainment trading card company and manufacturer of Bazooka bubble gum, hired me from Marvel to help start up Topps Comics, their new comic book division. The crowning moment of my career was that of Topps Comics executive editor.

KMR: On September 11, 2001, you were working as an acquisitions editor at a mid-size publishing house in New York City. As a novelist, I am intrigued by the inner workings of a New York publishing house. How long did you work there and would you elaborate on your job? Give us some inside scoop.

DJZ: The comic book industry collapsed in the wake of Marvel’s bankruptcy in 1998. Though Topps Comics was still making money, the company decided to fold the comics division shortly thereafter and I was laid off. I joined Byron Preiss Visual Publications, a mid-size publishing house and book packager, in 1999 as a senior editor, originally responsible for its line of licensed novels based on Marvel Comics characters. I later became responsible for the company’s military history books, and that opened the door to my military history-writing career, starting with ghost writing young adult histories for Stephen Ambrose (THE GOOD FIGHT), James M. McPherson (FIELDS OF FURY and INTO THE WEST) and Phil Caputo (TEN THOUSAND DAYS OF THUNDER).

KMR: What was the hardest part of your job as a book editor? Was it reading proposals, sending out rejections or simply finding the time and energy to read through mounds of manuscripts?

DJZ: Since I edited both comics and books, I’ll include my experiences in both fields. As a comic book editor, my most difficult experiences occurred at comic book conventions. Over time I came to hate doing portfolio reviews.

Aspiring comic book artists would attend comic book conventions hoping to get their work noticed by editors. Showcasing opportunities were usually formalized by convention organizers who arranged with publishers scheduled portfolio review times in a room or area set aside for that purpose, or they were informal with the artist approaching an editor at the publisher’s booth and asking if the editor had a few minutes to conduct a portfolio review.

I saw all kinds of work from artists ranging from high school kids to men in their thirties. The kids were easy to critique because they were obviously just starting out. It was pretty obvious who had talent and who didn’t. Regardless, I stressed the need to practice. A lot of artists with marginal talent became successful in the field more through their persistence than talent, and sometimes that’s what it takes.

There were two types of artists that were real difficult to critique: the ones on the cusp, and the ones incapable of letting go of their dream. The artists on the cusp had to be given specific instruction, a challenge because you could see the disappointment in their eyes because they thought their talent level was ready. The others, usually men in their late twenties or early thirties, had to be lied to. The best example of the latter occurred at a small convention in the South. This guy in his late twenties confidently approached me at the portfolio review table and gave me his portfolio. As he did so he told me to give me an honest appraisal, assuring me that he knew how to take criticism. I opened the portfolio, and saw that this guy would never make it as a professional comic book artist. The quality was that of an artist in his late teens. I pointed to a figure and began a general comment about what was wrong with the anatomy. The man’s expression became one of panic. And, this was a mild negative comment about the figure’s anatomy. So much for him accepting criticism. I immediately went into my set speech about practice and made some nice comments about things that I thought were good in the art samples, and wished him luck.

After a while I found myself seeing too much bad art, I decided I would no longer look at portfolios. Though at one convention I wound up making an exception to that rule. This artist came up to me and asked if I would review his portfolio. Accompanying him was his girlfriend—his exceedingly hot girlfriend. I opened up his portfolio, and saw some of the worst art I had ever seen in my life. How this guy ever thought he had artistic talent is beyond me. But he had this absolute babe of a girlfriend. So, that artist got one of the most detailed critiques I ever gave. He went away walking on a cloud because of my comments. That was the only time I had fun doing a portfolio review.

On the book side, it was editing manuscripts of writers who had contracts to write novels of Marvel Comics characters. My predecessor had given contracts to his science fiction and mystery author friends—and most of them had no feel or knowledge of the Marvel Comics characters. Some were just downright bad writers. This contributed to his being fired. I was hired because of my knowledge of the characters and I found myself tearing my hair out over some of the ridiculous things I encountered. Things like Spider-Man sporting a pistol, and advising a major supporting character in the Spider-Man universe to use it to “shoot to kill.”

Another novel had a morally reprehensible act as its driving element. It was Professor X physically taking over the body of a young man with mental retardation, now called intellectual disability, and repeatedly putting the young man’s body in harm’s way—actions completely out of character for Professor X. While there was nothing I could really do about the “body snatcher” part of the storyline, I did have a trump I could play which the author couldn’t fight. Basically, the author’s depiction of the young man revealed he had no experience with anyone having that condition. And I did—one of my uncles had intellectual disability, as did one of my neighbor’s sons in my hometown. So, I was able to chapter and verse him on what he did wrong in scenes involving that young man and how they had to be rewritten. If the author didn’t, I would rewrite them myself (an advantage I had because it was a licensed product). He did the rewriting as instructed. 

KMR: You currently serve as president of Military Writers Society of America. How long have you served in that capacity and what are your duties?MWSA_Logo copy

DJZ: I’ve been president for almost two years now. My responsibilities include setting the goals and agenda for the organization, managing operations, am the organization’s representative at official functions, oversee the annual conferences, amongst other duties. I particularly like welcoming new members at our annual conference. I’ve recognized that my varied career has given me more experience than what most people in the industry have received, and as such I feel an obligation to give freely to members any and all information that I have to help them in their writing.

KMR: You reside in Brooklyn, NY. Are there advantages to living in the same city where most of your publishers are based?

DJZ: Yes. I can enter the subway and visit editorial offices in Manhattan within an hour. Though the Internet has made contact between writers and editors a lot easier than ever, face-to-face contact is still important. And, it gets me out of the house.

KMR: Please list all the titles of your books and your many awards.

DJZ: You had to do that to me, didn’t you? Okay, here goes:

Books:

LINCOLN’S LAST DAYS (with Bill O’Reilly), Grand Prize 2013 Branson Stars and Flags Book Award

Saga of the SiouxSAGA OF THE SIOUX (with Dee Brown), Grand Prize 2012 Branson Stars and Flags Book Award; 2012 Gold Medal Young Adult Non-Fiction, Military Writers Society of America

THE HAMMER AND THE ANVIL: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America (art by Wayne Vansant)

UNCOMMON VALOR (with John D. Gresham), 2010 Founder’s Award, Military Writers Society of America; Silver Medal Non-Fiction 2010 Branson Stars and Flags Book Award

THE VIETNAM WAR: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (art by Wayne Vansant), 2010 Gold Medal Photography/Graphics Branson Stars and Flags Book Award, 2010 Gold Medal Artistic/Graphic Military Writers Society of America, Recommended Reading: Military Review, the official journal of the U.S. Army

TECUMSEH: Shooting Star of the Shawnee, 2010 Bronze Medal Young Adult Military Writers Society of America

THE BOOK OF WEAPONS

THE BOOK OF WAR, 2009 Gold Medal for Reference, Military Writers Society of America

BEYOND HELL AND BACK: How America’s Special Operations Forces Became the World’s Greatest Fighting Unit (with John D. Gresham)

THE DAY THE WORLD EXPLODED: The Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa (with Simon Winchester)

First CommandFIRST COMMAND: PATHS TO LEADERSHIP, 2009 Gold Medal Reference/Technical Branson Stars and Flags Book Award; Chief of Infantry Recommended Reading List: Junior NCOs, 2005 Aurora Platinum Best of Show Award for Historical Programming (three-part Military Channel mini-series based on my book, I was co-executive producer)

Chief Researcher:

THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPLETE CIVIL WAR

THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPLETE WORLD WAR II

Faircount Media Group:

Assorted web and print articles on a wide variety of military history subjects. Web articles can be found at www.defensemedianetwork.com. Dwight’s article on “Maritime Mobility” was selected by the Naval War College for use in its curriculum.

Stay tuned for part two of Kathleen’s interview with Dwight where he’ll share an exerpt from a new autobiography he’s writing for Red Engine Press.