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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review

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Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman is a gripping suspense novel where a young woman discovers a nefarious truth at the heart of the CIA’s operations in postwar Berlin and goes on the run for her life until, years later, she’s gruesomely murdered along with her husband, and her daughter begins to chase down the startling secrets from her past.
Dan Fesperman is no stranger to thrill and intrigue. A longtime war correspondent with tours in Baghdad, Sarajevo, Berlin, and Kabul, his work is layered with the particular hues of darkness that can only be found in the shadowy gray line between good and evil. He came late to fiction but is no stranger to success, having won the John Creasy Memorial Dagger Award for Best First Novel, The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for Best Thriller, and The Hammett Prize. Safe Houses showcases a lean, muscular prose that is able to deliver plot points as cleanly and quickly as a switchblade’s twist.
The success of Fesperman’s novel depends on our understanding of what a safe house is both in real life and in metaphor. A safe house can be found being operated by a friendly government in an unfriendly place and is often, as its namesake indicates, a safe place to hole up or do business. These are usually places that blend into the neighborhood and could easily be the home of a model neighbor who doesn’t make noise or cause any problems. A safe house remains safe as long as the enemy doesn’t know where it is.
Helen Abell is a young agent working for the CIA in the 1970s. The Cold War is on, and nowhere is the dark spotlight of intrigue brighter than in Berlin. But young women in the 1970s were supposed to know their place in the world’s intelligence community hierarchy. You could be a secretary or an archivist or even a safe-house keeper, but you could never be an actual agent who deals with the supposed masculine business of intrigue. Unless, of course, the intrigue is thrust upon you during your boring job of maintaining a safe house when you have two unplanned encounters: one that clues you into a global mystery and another that makes you an accessory to the murder of a young woman. For Helen Abell, both of these are true, and she soon finds herself at odds with an agency who would rather her sit behind a desk than solve one mystery, much less two.
Fesperman’s safe house is also a rural home in Maryland where a family of four grew up, with the mother, father, and son still living there. It’s not merely a house; it’s a home. And it’s a place where violence should only be visited by television or movie stars. But when the mother and father are brutally murdered and it’s believed that the son committed the crimes, the house no longer can be categorized as safe.
This is where Safe Houses gathers steam as the two stories, interwoven through time, begin to collide. As Helen unravels her own clues to become the agent for which she was trained while dodging those who would bureaucratically stop her, her daughter must find the true murderer of the couple in the rural Maryland home, gaining the attention of the same people who had been after Helen all of these years...
*     *     *
To check out the rest of the review, please pop on over to Criminal Element.  Bottom line is that it's a great book. If you do go over to Criminal Element, they also have a great sweepstakes going on if you want to get a free book. The sweepstakes ends July 17th and it's free to participate. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Book Review - The Darkest Time of Night

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The Darkest Time of Night by Jeremy Finley is a fast-paced debut thriller full of suspense and government cover-ups, which explores what happens to people’s lives when our world intersects with the unexplainable.
We had an event called the Pinewood Derby back when I was in Boy Scouts. We were encouraged to build a car from balsa wood to an exact form, add weights, wheels, and paint it to our liking. Then, we’d race our creation to see how well it could do against the other balsa creations. I’d watch each race and become more and more excited as my turn came closer. Then, when it was finally the moment to place my car at the top of the track and let it go, my heart would beat so furiously that I couldn’t imagine it beating any harder. My car started slowly, then picked up speed until it was seriously booking down the decline, moving faster than I could have imagined it would.
So does the plot of Jeremy Finley’s debut novel, The Darkest Time of Night. It starts slow at the top of the run, giving you enough time to observe the characters and see them in real time doing real things, which is how all great thrillers set things up. Then, it picks up speed until it’s finally hurtling down the track. This metaphor wasn’t chosen at random. At the heart of the matter are people who disappear from places all around the globe, many of whom are children. And it is this idea of childhood lost that gave me a moment of childhood remembered, not only with the Pinewood Derby of my own childhood but of the setting of Finley’s plot. The lushness of the Tennessee woods, the otherworldliness of fireflies blinking in the night like earthbound stars, and the idea that the woods behind the house are safe are all things I grew up with. But Finley changes all that and makes the familiar not only suspect but deadly.
Lynn is not your normal heroine. She’s a mother of more secrets than children. She’s the grandmother of a grandson who won’t speak because of what he’s seen and another grandson who’s disappeared, which thrusts them all into the middle of a media blitz—because she’s also the wife of a Senator with presidential aspirations. Her best friend is the sort of friend we all need: someone who won’t take any guff, who might be the sort to sell some pot to a neighbor in need of pain relief, and who will be there when you need her most. Lynn has a green thumb. She runs a greenhouse and raises plants. All in all, she’s a normal woman thrust into an abnormal situation...
*     *     *
To check out the rest of the review, please pop on over to Criminal Element.  Bottom line is that it's a great book. If you do go over to Criminal Element, they also have a great sweepstakes going on if you want to get a free book. The sweepstakes ends July 17th and it's free to participate. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

My Fourth of July, Star Wars, and Patriotic Butter Molds

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This is the second Fourth of July I've spent in a War Zone. The first was 2013 and in Kabul at ISAF Headquarters. I remember the celebrations. I remember that Ollie North took over the top deck of our National Security Element for a press conference. I remember how majestic our flag waved in the cool July night. I also remember later on that evening when I was rucking around the compound. I happened upon General Dunford, commander of all forces in Afghanistan at the time. Our course intersected. He asked me how my Fourth was. I said that it was great. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to work off the great food I had by exercising. He asked, so late? I said, yessir. Then I asked him where he was going. He said to his room so he could finally call his family and wish them a Happy Fourth, after his sixteen hour day. He told me to continue working out. I told him to enjoy his family. He said Huah! I said Huah! Then we parted and went our own ways. I'm sure he forgot our meeting, but I remember ours, and it was the civil simplicity of the moment in the middle of a war zone that stayed with me.
Five years later I found myself at RS (formerly ISAF) Headquarters during the Fourth of July once again. Much of it hasn't changed a bit. It's the same set with different actors. During the day, after several meetings, I had an Italian pizza and a Coke at Cianos and a latte at the coffee shop. The feeling now is different than back in 2013. There's less of a visceral threat. We've just come off a ceasefire and many of those fighting are tired. But the sheer amount of armed and armored men and women wouldn't illustrate that. But there is a different feeling in the air. Either the fear is less, or we've just become that used to it.
During the evening, our cooks prepared what they termed to be a Patriotic Meal. We had roast and ribs and hotdogs wrapped in bacon. We had fruit and vegetables. We had breads and cookies. We had six kinds of ice cream. We even had a butter mold in the shape of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. As wonderful as everything was, we weren't home. We weren't with our families, sitting somewhere on lawn chairs near green grass that has never been dusted with the remnants of a bombing. We didn't tip a beer or a glass of wine or a scotch sitting in a yard that has never had bullets flying through it. We didn't get sunburned playing lawn games with our children or grandchildren near a road where there's never been an IED buried. We didn't even have fireworks. Although had we, watching explosions in the air commemorating a battle in 1812 in a war zone 206 years later would have been a grave punctuation for an uncertain testament on the martial history of our country. Then, later that night, after doing military work, I returned to my room and watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi, an immensely popular and profitable series of films (now owned by Disney) that also promulgates the idea of an intergalactic war, celebrating the sacrifices of those would put themselves in harms way so that the good guys can have a chance to beat the bad guys.
Still, what I remember what resonates with me most this Fourth of July was the butter mold. I found it charming that our foreign staff took the time to try and make our country's birthday memorable and as close to home as possible. They truly went over and above all of my expectations. Patriotic colors were everywhere, from the flags, to the banners, to the red, white, and blue cake that was our centerpiece. But the four foot by two foot butter mold of Mary and Joseph holding a baby Jesus stays with me. Many didn't notice it because on first glance, it wasn't out of place. To add this to our American celebration begged the question whether or not our staff felt that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were American. Truly, our voice has been loud enough for many to believe it is. But in this case, delving deeper, their supposition could have been that Christianity was an American export and something we brought with us to Afghanistan.
If I was a writer, I'd find something interesting to say about that, but instead of Academic critical disassembly, I merely enjoyed the idea and was charmed by the gigantic efforts of our staff to try and make us feel at home. One reason is that I realize how lucky I am. Many of you (and I appreciate it) and many strangers send me emails, texts, letters, cards, etc thanking me for my service and for the hardship I'm putting myself through.
Is it hard? Hell yes.
But it's harder for so many others. I'm an older, pretty senior fella stationed in a city that is the capital of our current war zone. So many are at other sites where an MRE was last night's meal and cold water was all they had to drink. They didn't go back to their room to watch Star Wars. They went back to their bunker to watch for attack.
As I record these thoughts, a movie plays in the background - We Were Soldiers --based on the Vietnam War novel called We Were Solders Once... and Young. The novel, as the movie, isn't a glorification of war, but a reminder of how we thought war was until we actually were part of it. I'm aware that the events of both the movie and the book take place in 1965, the year that I was born.
As it turns out, I am a writer. One of the ways I pay it forward is to write realistic military characters who aren't cliched t-shirt advertisements. I don't write walking patriotic memes. My characters, like those with whom I serve, are multi-dimensional, layered, complex human beings-- as complex as anyone you know -- who just happen to have served in the military and like anything of substance one encounters, are changed by it.
My characters, like real people, begin their military careers highly energized and fight for so many reasons. But no matter how one prepares, they aren't prepared for the toll being in a war can take, both on the mind and the body. Some things one encounters are so terrible that the images of them echo through one's life. Other things are so wonderful that they serve as touch points to a military career.
So when one is presented with a giant butter mold of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as a thank you for protecting their country and a commemoration of everything it means to be an American, I gladly accept it in the spirit in which it is given. And I say, Happy Birthday, America. Keep trying to do what is right. Keep working at being that shining city everyone is trying to get to. And keep trying to protect those who need protecting.
(Copyright 2018 - Weston Ochse)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

It's Buy a Book From Your Favorite Deployed Author - Or Just Me If I'm The Only One You Know

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HAHA. But seriously. It's an actual day here in Afghanistan. I saw it on a poster. Really.

Thanks to Julia Vee for taking the time to read Grunt Life. You are one discerning and awesome fellow writer! For those of you who want some more fiction, she's a budding author herself. I love the description of this- Princess, Outcast and Space Mechanic: Girl on a Kraken. Give her a try.

Here's what she had to say about Grunt Life:

Sometimes you read something that is so good that you can hardly believe it.  It reaches right in and just yanks every raw emotion. That doesn’t happen a lot for me.  I mean, I love a good space marine romp.  Maybe there are MECH suits, maybe there are fancy plasma weapons.  (I just finished Halo: The Fall of Reach, which was exactly like that and interspersed with some spaceship battles too.) And then there are books which are a cut above:
  • Grunt Life by Weston Ochse
  • All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
When I read Grunt Life: A Task Force Ombra Novel by Weston Ochse, I was drawn in to the intense emotion of the characters. We meet the protagonist, Benjamin Mason as he is trying to end his life.  Instead, he is recruited to a secret task force to fight an alien invasion.  During his wild journey, we experience his suffering, the PTSD that he and his fellow squad members are all tormented by. It’s heavy. It’s such a powerful read. I loved it. The aliens are complicated and they are winning.  Humans being the underdog is definitely the trope that all these wonderful alien invasion books have to deliver.  This particular alien has the power of mind control over humans. The 3rd book in the series, Grunt Hero (Task Force Ombra) just launched  and so you know as a reader that you get at least 3 books of this visceral action packed space marine reading.
If you're interested in Grunt Life or the complete trilogy, click on the links to the left or shop at your favorite bookstore. And remember what day it is today!!!  Lol. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Luminaries - Organization, Construction, and Victorian Plot Devices - A Writer's View

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As many of you already know from reading my blog, I most often read outside of my own genres of science fiction, horror and thriller. It's not that I don't love my genres because I do. I heart them magnificently. It's just that I want to see other styles and other voices and perhaps in the end bring something new back into my genres that wasn't necessarily there. But what books to read? Where do I go?
Well...

I cheat.

I look for award-winning books and read them to try and understand why the book won an award. I read Pulitzer Prize books and Man Booker Prize Books. I read National Book Award Books. I read books that are shortlisted. I read books that booksellers tell me are similar to books that won awards. For the most part, these books hold my attention. About half the time I can see and appreciate why the books won the award they did. And sometimes, like in the case of The Goldfinch and what has become my favirote book of all time, A Little Life, I find myself just overjoyed with the privilege of reading an amazing book.

I recently read Luminaries: A Novel by Elizabeth Catton which won the 2013 Man Booker Prize. This prize is awarded annually to the best book written in English and published in the UK. At 28, she is the youngest to have won this award.

Laura Miller of Salon.com breaks it down like Donkey Kong for us. "From the first five pages of "The Luminaries," it's evident that Catton's model is the Victorian "sensation novel," in which middle-class characters were suddenly confronted with alarming, inexplicable and uncanny events whose true causes and (usually scandalous) nature are gradually revealed in the course of the story. The best-known examples of these are "The Woman in White" and "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins, and it's safe to say that if you are one of Collins' avid modern-day fans, you'll be in clover with "The Luminaries." But if Collins' novels are rich in reversals and twists, Catton's is a veritable Gothic cathedral of plot, so complex and intricate that most readers will find themselves doubling back to make sure they've got it all straight. "The Luminaries" might have been written with the sole intention of disproving the canard that literary fiction is short on old-fashioned storytelling. There's enough plot here to fill four novels.

And there is. There's plot galore. Every character has their own complete arc and you learn, for good or bad, who they are, why they are, and what happens to them. Just look at the character map below. This means that the book is a big book. 

And it is. 

The question you are asking was did it drag. And that's an excellent question. 

To that I will answer yes and no.

Yes, it dragged because of two reasons. 1) I needed time to get into the writing style. The first third of the book is written in a Victorian style that gets its power from revolving narrators and their ability to dramatically deliver rumor and gossip. In fact, much of the plot is propelled by gossip, one character detailing what another character is doing and so on. Once into it, I found the narrative style both intriguing and engaging. and 2), also, because of the order that the author chose to present the plot-- basically the organization structure of the novel.  It took me a few literary moments to Grok what she was doing, but once I was, I enjoyed the way the plot was presented.

John Mullan of The Guardian asks: Has a novel ever been more strangely yet elaborately organised?  

I don't think so. What I do wonder is what the book looked like when it was turned into the editor. Was it the editors idea to organize it in such a way or was it the authors. I can almost see the novel presented for publication, only to have an editor with a grand scheme choose to reorganize it. In fact, you'll note that much of the action in the book goes in reverse.

Additionally, the book has been organized around astrological symbols. I didn't get this. Maybe I just didn't get that part of it. I didn't miss anything, but it appeared to be more of an organizational gimmick than was necessary. Of course, the idea of astrology and mysticism does buy into the Victorian ideal, so it was fitting as a plot device. I'm just not sure if it worked as an organizational device. 
 
Mullan goes on to explain: Some reviewers have been exasperated: how could such hocus pocus provide the ground plan for a serious work of fiction? (Though literary critics forgive Chaucer for organising Troilus and Criseyde by astrological principles and Spenser for using the zodiac in The Faerie Queene.) Others were admiring but befuddled: were we expected to comprehend the notes about celestial precession or work out which sign of the zodiac had been allotted to which character? Readers of James Joyce's Ulysses should know their way around The Odyssey; are Catton's readers expected to make narrative sense of the astrological charts that preface each part of The Luminaries?

Exactly. If I was expected to understand, then the failure was in the presentation, because it appears I was not alone. 

Mullan further explains, The astrological scheme also controls the novel's chronology ("In deference
to the harmony of the turning spheres of time"). The Luminaries is divided into 12 dated parts, spaced at almost monthly intervals. We begin on 27 January 1866, but in Part Four, dated 27 April 1866, we also go back to the events of a year earlier, and the remaining eight parts replay the events of 1865, moving phase by phase through the zodiacal pattern. This is the most elaborate machinery of all, because the decreasing lengths of the succeeding parts mimic the waning moon, each part being half
the length of the one before it.


After reading this last bit of Mullan's explanation, now I understand how the novel's chapters became shorter and shorter. In retrospect it made complete sense. Maybe I am coming to understand the organization after all.

My only issue with the novel was its lack of a sense of place; and maybe that's because I've been to many gold rush towns so I am not the common reader. In this case, the author who hails from New Zealand set the work in her home country. I thought I'd find the sense of place stronger, but I didn't. I think the failure, here, if it can even be called a failure--seems too strong of a word-- is that the sense of place was concentrated on a Gold Rush Mining Town rather than New Zealand. The town could have been picked up and placed anywhere on the planet. Everything about it would have fit in Deadwood or Tombstone with the exception of the shipping and tall ships. Intriguingly enough, I felt more a sense of place at sea in the novel than I did in the terra firma of Hotitka.

For readers, I'd give this a four and a half out of five Donkey Kongs.

For writers, I'd give this a five out of five Donkey Kongs. Not that you'd copy the style, but understanding that there are highly successful ways to organize the plot rather than straightforward narrative is worth the 848 page journey.

About the book's author: Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 in Canada and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. She won the 2007 Sunday Star-Times short-story competition, the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the 2008 Louis Johnson New Writers' Bursary and was named as one of Amazon's Rising Stars in 2009. Her debut novel, The Rehearsal, won the Betty Trask Prize, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Prix Femina literature award, the abroad category of the Prix Médicis, the University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize 2010 and Stonewall's Writer of the Year Award 2011, and longlisted for the Orange Prize 2010. In 2010 she was awarded the New Zealand Arts Foundation New Generation Award. (Granta)




The Bagram ICU Staff, Scott Sigler and Two Free Nights Stay

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There's not much I'm going to share about this but suffice it to say that I had need of the ICU out here in Afghanistan for a few days. The men and women who staff it are the very best at what they do and come from all over the planet from different Air Force hospitals and clinics to save those nearest harm's way. I read somewhere they have a 99% survival rate for all gunshot wounds, which is a definite statistic to have in your favor in a war zone.


I also received a care package from friend and fellow author, Scott Sigler (Thanks Scott and AB). He and his team went out of their way to curate a box of mostly wholesome goodness. In case you're wondering, Jalapeno Turkey Jerky makes a terrific midnight snack I decided to share the wealth. So, instead of engorging myself on the great stuff Scott sent from SoCal, I brought it to the ICU and shared it with the staff, because I know that's what Scott would have wanted.


Seeing battle casualties is a terrible thing and nothing like what you see on television. The smell, the energy in the room to save someone, and the quiet professionalism displayed by all is wondrous to behold. I'm glad I had a moment to watch this as it unfolded and to remember what it is that people do. The moment the medivac crew chief showed up in his space-looking helmet and full battle rattle was about as sobering an experience as one could have. The warriors out here are in great hands.

Thank you, Scott. 

Thank you ICU staff!

You all are the best.


PS. Don't ask me what happened.

PSS. I am just fine.

PSSS. Why are you still reading?


.









Monday, April 2, 2018

An Open Letter to My Daughter On Her Birthday

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Dear Alex,


The irony of today is not lost on me. Twenty seven years ago I was in Desert Storm and wasn't there for your first tremulous breaths. Now, twenty seven years later I am in Afghanistan. Not much has changed with me, but a whole lot has changed with you.
I am so very proud of you. You have become an incredible woman who could be an example to so many. Through drive and determination you've found ways to succeed. We've provided you strong and significant role models and you have followed them. From your academic achievements, for which there are many, to your personal achievements, for which there are many more, you constantly make me a proud father and Yvonne a proud, Evil Step Alien Mother.

All that said, you will most always be that young girl, precariously balanced on high heel shoes, wearing the dress we bought for you from Chinatown in L.A.

You will always be the ravishing girl in the super soaker green prom dress.

You will always be my daughter and I am so happy for it.

Happy Birthday, Alex.

We love you most dearly!


Love,

BTAM and ESAM


Ezekial 25:17 - On Inequities of Fact and the Tyranny of Moments

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Evidently, Joshi wrote something about me a week ago. I'm deployed to Afghanistan, so I must have missed it. Thanks for those who pointed it and thanks for standing up for me.

I read Joshi' s Blog Post. You can find it here if you search for his March 24th posting.  He wrote it in response to my defense of two of my fellow authors (here). I noted the inequity that Joshi did not include a link to the post to which he is responding and that in itself is telling. Please take a moment to read both posts so that you can then read what's written below in context, rather than be hostage to the tyranny of the moment.

But first let me address this. Joshi said, "Mr. Ochse believed that speaking about me behind my back was a more admirable course than addressing me directly." This is a common literary ploy to try and achieve the pedestal of the aggrieved. Neither of us are aggrieved. We both understand the game we are playing. He's being intentionally disingenuous.

I addressed Joshi in the same way he addressed Laird Barron and Brian Keene. He wrote an article about how terrible they were and published it without fanfare on his blog. In Laird's case, he proclaimed that Laird had already achieved 'A Fall as a Writer' before his career had barely even begun. In turn, I wrote an article about a man who I felt was a literary bully, who used words like blowhard, schlocky, and plebeian to describe my peers, and posted it on my blog. There was nothing behind his back nor was there anything hidden in the way I responded. I was up front, I was honest, and I was obvious.

But then again, because Joshi didn't link my article, his readers only have his word on the subject, so his comments about me seething with hatred and whining like a baby go uncited, as they should; another example of his attempt to tyrannically own his reader's moments. If you've only read Joshi's article about me and have stumbled onto this article, please take a moment and check out the link I provided for some context. Although you can tell I had some good-natured fun in the article (e.g. ...so it's on the back of an impoverished Rhode Island writer that he's established himself, like a Lady Godiva of Cthlulu), the sentiment of defending my fellow authors from attack was clear.

As I said, I read his post. I actually read it three times. Once as I woke up this morning on my cell phone because many of my friends, fans, and peers were coming to my defense on Facebook. In Afghanistan, we work at least fourteen hour days, so I was pretty bushed after working all of yesterday and last night. I read Joshi's post again after I took a shower, less bleary eyed and almost awake. Then I read it a third time right before I went to work, this time fueled by my coffee and my getting old vitamins.


What amazes me about a supposed academic is that he seemed to limit his research about me to Wikipedia, which has always been a verbotten source to scholars because of its very nature as a source adrift to the whims of its authors. The very fact that Wikipedia isn't anchored in academia makes it a source even this former adjunct professor from a community college, now current professor from a state university, wouldn't allow. But then perhaps this suits Joshi. After all, his slatternly approach to scholarship is evident in his assertion that half of a PhD from Princeton is better than my Master of Fine Arts from National University. Let me just point out that there is no such thing as half of a PhD. Anyone and everyone can drop out or be kicked out of any institution, so claiming achievement from failure is an interesting twist of fact. In his defense, Joshi does indicate that he dropped out rather than was kicked out, so I will not impinge his character, yet he still pathologically claims honors. I hope Joshi understands that half of a PhD is equal to half of a marathon. For those who start either one and don't complete, they receive a DNF beside their name, standing for Did Not Finish.

Still, his scholarship missed the fiction I've had published in peered academic journals as well as my assistant professorship at a New England university. Or did the Half PhD really miss it? After all, a literary bully achieves more by his ability to curate the nature of facts than to deliver the actual magilla. Have I ever had an article in a peered journal? To that, I can say no. I've also never submitted to one for publication, unless you want to call Soldier of Fortune a peered journal, in which I have appeared. My guess is that the global subscription of that single issue in which I appeared was more than all of the issues of Joshi's peered publications combined. And yes, those who publish and read Soldier of Fortune are my peers, the whole ramshackle, bruised, sweaty, soldierly lot of them. Other evidence of Joshi's sloppy scholarship is in his failure to learn that the American Library Association tagged me as "One of the major horror authors of the 21st Century." But then I can't be sure. Is that sloppy scholarship or selectively choosing facts that only appear to support his thesis? Or does he not feel that librarians have earned a position of trust among the hallowed stacks?

My earlier musings over his attacks must have been festering for quite awhile. I'd been anticipating an attack from Joshi for sometime, although I thought he'd wait until I'd redeploy. I found it regrettable, however, that he decided to ignore the more salient points I made in order to present slants that barely resemble my comments. But then it appears he was forced to in order to try and make the points he tried to make. For instance, the title of his article about me is Weston Ochse - World Class Hater. Please go and read my comments and tell me how I am a world class hater? Did I espouse any hate or did I defend those who had been trodden upon by the hob-nailed boot of a self-celebrated half-PhD? I suppose World Class Hater was easier to attack than World Class Defender, because those who know me and my work know that this is me to the core.

Now, I can almost see the Joshi apologists whom we've seen previously populate responses like congratulatory spiderbots now eagerly hunched over their keyboards and madly typing that Joshi is using academic critique, therefore his bullying is acceptable. He is in fact not using critique in his article about me. There is no academic criticism. He doesn't provide any literary criticism to Scarecrow Gods and its attempt to negotiate and explain the onerousness of the Judaeo-Christian imagery associated with our everyday lives, nor does he even mention my attempts to create PTSD-positive characters in my Grunt Life series in order to plumb what it takes to be human. In both, I think I did well, but certainly didn't master the form. No, he doesn't comment on any of my award-winning, award-nominated, or bestselling works, but instead, responds to my comments defending my fellow authors and attacks me as a credible source of information, using his chosen method of layering invenctives as his solitary strategum.

So this was merely an attack.

His counter punch.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

Whatever.

I could spend all day disassembling Joshi's latest personal attack but that would be a waste of my time, and frankly, yours. Let me just leave with this. If at any time anyone wants to attack me for standing up for my friends or fellow authors, leave out facts, adjust the narrative to better align a point of view that better favors them, call themselves a half a PhD, or make fun of the fact that I actually completed a graduate school while serving in the military full time, then please give me your best shot. I'm open for all comers and I've had better attempts to besmirch my character than this. Because here is the rub, folks. This is about character. His character and mine. You can judge his for yourself, but as to mine, I have spent a lifetime defending those to whom harm would be done.

Now, you'll have to excuse me. I need to get to work. Joshi chose to attack me while I am deployed to Afghanistan, but then based on his self-proclaimed superiority in academia and his hard-earned half PhD from Princeton, I'm sure he realized that and still decided to attack me.

Again... character.

I have serious work to do. There are bad people here who want to travel to my homeland and do worse things to those whom I love. I aim to stop them as best I can. I continue to defend even now, so I know you'll understand that my time has to be spent elsewhere.

Now please go out and read a good book.

Thank a teacher.

And hug a librarian.

I'll leave you with the words of Lil' Kim - "I like to live righteous. And I just want everyone to know I'm not trying to get out of anything."

Peace out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shoutout: Janz, Sangiovani and Hirshberg

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I've had my nose to the war machine out here in Afghanistan so I apologize for not being keyed in and part of the community like I usually am. I do want to take a moment and talk about three folks.

First of all, big congrats to Mary Sangiovani. I was there when she was talking about submitting her new novella to Cemetery Dance early in 2017. Now that she's actually taken the time to write it, get it edited by an army of garden gnomes and then turn it in, I'm happy to say that the powers that be at Cemetery Dance have gladly accepted it and it will be part of their prestigious Novella Series.

Second, I wanted to make sure everyone was tracking Jonathan Janz. Who is this guy? Jon and I were both guests at Scares That Care last year and I had the honor of listening to him talk about his works in progress. It brought me back to when I was first starting out and I couldn't wait to tell everyone about the demons crawling with ice picks and hammers through my mind. Jon had that same energy. If I'm not mistaken, today marks the first birthday for Janz's 10th novel, Exorcist Falls. Janz writes with a certain violent glee reminiscent of Richard Laymon. Not that they are even the same author, but Janz's characters' naive rollicking through darkness can't help but remind me of how one of the greats approached his own spiked walls of fear early on in his career. Not sure if Exorcist Falls was or is on your radar. If it's not,then it should be before it passes you by.

Finally, I'd love to give a shutout to Glen Hirshberg. His collection The Ones Who Are Waving was born a few days ago from Cemetery Dance Publications. Glen is a writer's writer. I love reading his work. He's won the Shirley Jackson Award and the International Horror Guild Award and even gets consistent love from Publishers Weekly and that never happens unless the words Oprah Book Club appear printed on the front cover of one of your books. Oh, shit. Now I've done it. All of you are going running because you think Glen is a Bridges of Madison County sort of writer. He isn't, but so what if he was. He writes beautifully and dark and his sentences take me wholly unexpected. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of his newest collection.

So there you have it. Reporting from Afghanistan. Three folks who are doing awfully well. Do the world a solid and go read something of theirs, especially if they have something that just came out. Remember, what sells in the first two weeks of publication matters to the future success of authors. So go do your thing and support them.

Now back to the War Machine.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

February Tried To Knock Me Off

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AFGHANISTAN VOL_5-2018. February Tried to Knock Me Off. (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)


February has been a beast and shows no signs of letting up. We’ve gone twenty two rounds so far and I’ve been pummeled and kicked and head-butted crotch-smacked. For some reason she doesn’t want me around. I’m not sure if it is here in Afghanistan or life in general. Whatever her reason, I will not go down without a fight. Still, as I sit here and write this I am punch drunk with trying to defend myself. I’ve been close several times to being medivaced out of the war zone and I won’t have it. As I told one supervisor, “you’re going to have to strap me down to a pallet to get me out of here because I will not go willingly.”

I arrived at Bagram, Air Force Base at the end of January. Bagram has been a base in Afghanistan since the Soviets (for you Millennials- those were all the countries that used to have been banded together by Russia who wanted to kick the Western World’s ass). They left behind tons of broken junk, not to mention the usual cauldron of toxic metals associated with air bases worldwide. Now Bagram is a U.S. and NATO base and we've brought our own brands of toxicity. 

And it’s winter. Why does that mean anything? Because in winter the weather is cold. Afghans do not have a great electrical grid. Families find it continually challenging to heat their homes. So what do they do? They burn anything that doesn’t move—feces, tires, garbage, dead animals, did I say feces, etc. This adds to the crazy toxic hydrocarbons in the air creating a lovely aromatic cocktail for your lungs. So what did I get? Some type of rare Venetian Bronchitis exacerbated by the horrendous quality of the air. I coughed and hacked my way through my first ten days in country. Some call it The Crud, but by the way I got looks, I had The Exponential Crud

This is from an article in Wired Magazine called Leaked Memo: Afghan 'Burn Pit' Could Wreck Troops' Hearts, Lungs: Any visitor to the sprawling Bagram airfield knows the burn pit – if not by sight, then by smell. It's an acrid, smoldering barbecue of trash, from busted furniture to human waste, usually manned by Afghan employees who cover their noses and mouths with medical breathing masks. Plumes of aerosolized refuse emerge from what troops refer to as "The Shit Pit," mingle with Parwan Province's already dust-heavy air, and sweep over the base.

With my lungs already compromised, I resorted to wearing the mask the government assigned to me and the affects were immediate. I’ve sat in traffic on the 405 in L.A. with a marine layer and 90 degrees in the shade and know what pollution is. I’ve driven New York, Chicago, Phoenix, and any number of U.S. cities and know what the smell of pollution is. I’ve been to Beijing in the winter where you can see the black specks of coal dust in the air and can’t help but breathe them. I’ve even been to Kabul, having deployed there in 2013. Here’s a missive from Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) to then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012 describing what a scabrous shit hole Kabul really is:


For all of you who think you know what this is like based on something you've experienced in the States, let me just say that no matter how bad it has been for you, this is worse in spades. Not trying to one up anyone. Just stating fact.

So what else did February do to me, you ask.

I had a dark bloody night of the soul. I'm not going to get into it, but by the end of the night, I was all but packed and ready to go, knowing that my evacuation would be swift and efficient. It was a terrible twenty hours, but in the end, everything corrected itself.

Then I sprained my knee. I've tweaked my knee and wrenched my knee, but never really sprained it. I suppose this is what happened. I'd worked out in the gym a couple of times. Once my cough went away, I knew it was time to get down to business, so I began to hit the treadmill. I wasn't running. I was walking. Impact was virtually zero. To crank my heart rate up I increased the elevation to five. In front of me young military studs were running on setting eleven and I was barely walking at setting four. It seemed like something I could do.

I felt a twinge on the side of my left knee. Think more a quick slice from a back alley switchblade that was there one moment, then gone the other. I finished working out. I went back to work. Afterwards, I went to bed. Then I woke up and could barely walk. Okay, this was something new.

My base is long and narrow. It's roughly two football fields from my hooch to my work. It's another football field from my work to where we generally eat. And my left knee? I could barely put any weight on it. The first thing I did was hobble to the med clinic. They gave me an elastic brace, which I wore religiously. Then I began to hobble around.

I knew enough about my body that I needed crutches, or at the least, a cane. But this is a war zone. Such things draw attention and if I need crutches, then maybe I shouldn't be here. So I perfected the art of the hobble. Bless those who went to chow with me because they walked at my speed. I could only take the stairs one step at a time and distances seemed to take forever. I began to chew great gobs of 800 mg Motrin. A senior civilian came by and asked if I needed medivaced. He's the one I told would have to chain me down to get me out of here.

For nine days I hobbled, then on the tenth my knee began to get better. After roughly four more days, my knee was mostly fine.

Then I got part two of the bronchitis. This one starred a crusty cough that loved to bring up bits of
multi-colored phlegm. What began as the plague, leveled out and became a morning and evening cough. I still can't shake it. Just when I think it's gone, I cough up a few crusty molecules. The boss made me go back to my hooch for eighteen hours, during which, they sanitized my work area. Still, it lingers.

But it's March now and I truly feel like I've survived something.

I still have a crusty cough, but that's bound to eventually go away.

My knee only hurts a bit and that's a dull pain. In fact, I'm almost ready to get back to working out.

And me... what about me? I've lost 20 pounds so far and have a very healthy appreciation of my own mortality. I'm aching to get back to where I can run and do yoga, but I know it's one step at a time. Just as I know that February tried to kill me, I also know that March could be a sleeping assassin. I want to keep it that way. Quiet. Sleeping. Looking the other way. Until, finally, I can sneak away and start doing what I came here to do.

Live well.

So I can live more.

~ ~ ~



To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Afghanistan Food Supplement: Mexican Food

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AFGHANISTAN VOL_4-2018. Afghanistan Food Supplement: Mexican Food (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)


A little bit about the food here in Afghanistan. I’ll probably come back to this topic a few times as interesting things come about; people always want to learn how other people eat. Let me also assure you that I am not suffering in Afghanistan. The food provided by the military here is far more than what most folks in the world are able to eat. Please know that I realize that my comments here are purely first world problems, so take them as such.

The last time I had the luxury of an all-expenses-paid tour to Afghanistan, I was stationed in Kabul and had the pleasure (sic) of eating at the Supreme Dining Facility at ISAF Headquarters. My normal meal was to have soup and salad for lunch and then at night, eat something light like baked chicken breast with a vegetable and a salad. I supplemented the food from the dining facility with my absolute favorite brand of canned salmon, fruit, and various crisps (chips for you dorky Americans). The meals were predominantly fine except for Wednesdays, which were deemed Mexican night.

Admission: I might be a Mexican food snob. I think I’ve earned it from living in Southern California and Arizona. Okay. Fine. I am a Mexican food snob.

When I think of Mexican food, I don’t think of the Chimichanga or Fajitas. The Chimichanga was allegedly accidentally invented in Tucson in 1922 at El Charro Restaurant and Fajitas were cattlemen food in South and West Texas at the turn of the 19th Century. These are Tex-Mex dishes and aren’t real Mexican food. Basically, if it’s served at Taco Bell it’s not what I consider Mexican Food; although if someone wanted to open a Taco Bell in Afghanistan, I’d be the first one in line because it’s scrumptious food in general—just not what I consider Mexican.


What do I consider Mexican food? Because I live just north of the Mexican states of Sonora and am close to Baja, consider that those are my major Mexican culinary influences. So think fish tacos and shrimp burritos. Meats including carne barbacoa, cabeza, and adibado (my favorite). Birrierias that specialize in lamb like the ones in Aguascalientes, Mexico, are incredible. My sister’s unbelievable Red Chili Posole is definitely on the list. Any variation of a grilled meat or fish with pickled vegies on a small soft tortilla makes a great street taco, especially the ones at Lechón Mi Güero in Aguascalientes.

Taco from Lechon Mi Guero
Too often we think of Mexican food as heavy, weighed down after a plate of deep fried chimichanga with fries and refried beans. Although platters of green or red sauced enchiladas can be found at virtually every Mexican family get together, these are paired with grilled meats, limes, lemons, various chilis and both fresh and pickled vegetables. I find most Mexican food to be bright, simple, and terrifically tasting.


Even back in 1991, when I was in Beijing, I managed to find the only Mexican restaurant in the city
(maybe the country). Back then (was it 26 years ago?), China was just beginning to throw off its communist yoke and beginning to embrace the parts of Western Culture that would allow it to eventually become the economic superpower it is today. Back then, I hung out a bar called the Mexican Wave. Owned by Peter, son of the exiled crown prince of Uganda, this was a place for expats to come, socialize, let our hair down, and on Friday nights, eat Mexican food cooked by a Mexican woman who spent her days cleaning for diplomats. I remember the tacos tasted like they were in Mexico, small, using soft tortillas, but bright and light and succulent. I never did ask the provenance of the meat. Probably better that way.

My family at Lechon Mi Guero
This is my long way of getting around to talking about eating Mexican food in Afghanistan. For Supreme Dining Facility, Wednesday nights were Mexican food night. Tacos and enchiladas were the mainstay. They also served grilled chicken, which is a universal taste, dependent on what is added to it. In the case of Supreme, they added a homemade salsa/hot sauce that had a weird funk to it. I remember a tang that I could not place that wasn’t at all pleasant. And they poured this salsa on everything, topped with sour cream, and finished with handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese. All of my NATO friends ate this version of Mexican food with gusto. I might have stuck with it had the sauce not had that funk. I could have maybe toughed it out had one night's taste resulted into seventy-three visits to the bathroom.

So Mexican nights became Pizza Nights. We were fortunate to have the Italian PX called Ciano’s on ISAF which imported all of their ingredients from Italy and cooked the best real Italian pizzas. My favorite was their Gorgonzola pizza. I’d order a large, eat about three huge pieces, then take it to the office and leave it for the rest of the folks. Mexican night soon became Weston Is Bringing Pizza Night, because that’s how I rolled. (Except for that time we were traveling and had Cianos in Herat -  I could have moved into the bathroom the amount of time I spent in there. I know. It's the water.) 

Currently, there's a dedicated Mexican night at a nearby dining facility that I can go to. But I've heard that their Mexican lasagna, tacos, and enchiladas were questionable. I've heard the sauce has a funk to it. And alas, there's no Cianos. So, I guess I'll have to wave Mexican nights and let the rest of the folks fake the funk.

Until then, I'll eat the other things on offer. But one thing I will do as a nod to my beloved Mexican food is add metric tons of jalapenos to whatever food I am eating. God bless the folks at the dining facility. They don’t scrimp on fresh jalapenos. I add them to my tuna melts, to my salads, to my spaghetti, and to my soups. I add them to about everything.

I guess until I get back to my corner of the world that’s the closest I will get to Mexican food. Until then, I will pine for a Filliberto’s shrimp burrito, an adibado taco with lemon, my sister's red chili posole, and pork tacos with my family at Lechón Mi Güero.

Those are memories I can culinarily embrace.


~ ~ ~

To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts: