The Holy Lance Listing on Goodreads

The Holy Lance is just days away from being released. Even though the book's not yet available and can't be ordered until July 4th, it does have a Goodreads listing and can be marked "Want to read." Take a look, check it out, kick the tires, and if you like what you see, mark it as "Want to read" and don't forget to come back on the Fourth of July to order it. Oh, and be sure to tell 100,00 of your closest friends!

A Few Thoughts About the State of American Democracy

While contemplating the degradation of America's political institutions, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about where we've been and where we seem to be headed.

There are three fundamental principles of American representative democracy. The first two are descriptive, the third is aspirational and protects against the tyranny of the majority. Those principles are: the people are sovereign; the people exercise their sovereignty through elected representatives; and the majority cannot harm the minority.

The first principle is an abstraction that requires a mechanism for realization. The second principle is that mechanism. It requires rules to fairly implement, and it assumes fair and even implementation of the principle is desirable and possible. The third, simple enough on its face, is at once highly problematic and absolutely necessary. In its absence, as noted above, democracy is simply a tyranny of the majority. We have struggled, often violently, over the third principle for all of our history.

For two centuries the majority rationalized its unceasing harm of the minority. The majority now correctly perceives its inevitable transition into the minority, and it suddenly insists on a perverse application of the third principle, that protection of the minority should equal ascendence of the soon-to-be minority over the emerging majority. (By the way, that application is similar to protections John Calhoun sought in antebellum America for an increasingly politically outnumbered slave-owning class.) Additionally, that application, many in the fading majority hope, will result in de facto and de jure permanent minority status for the emerging majority.

Three institutions, one informal, one formal and largely immutable, and one formal and subject to only those changes it is willing to undergo, are manipulated for the long-term benefit of the fading majority: redistricting, the electoral college, and the Senate. SCOTUS can eliminate the gerrymandering that occurs under the first; the states can eliminate the second; and only the Senate can reform itself. If none of those reforms happen, our representative democracy will continue on its present path and eventually resemble South Africa under apartheid.

What, if anything, happens after that is a crapshoot. 

New Nick Temple File Takes Shape

While I work on getting The Flemish Coil, Nick Temple File No. 4, published, the germ of an idea for No. 5 has started to form. I've settled on a location - the Bavarian Alps. My wife was TDY from Field Station Berlin to the U.S. Army Russian Institute (USARI) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the last six months of 1984. I made the trip to Garmisch several times (flight from Flughafen Tegel to Munich, bus from the airport to Munich's Hauptbahnhof, and then a train to Garmisch) during that fall. Garmisch will serve as the geographic center of the action. I also plan to include a number of other cities and towns in the general area, places such as Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Berchtesgaden.. I've settled on the outline of a plot. I'm going to have Sheridan Barracks in Garmisch, which became the home of USARI, formerly Field Detachment R, in May of 1964, serve as a central repository for all information regarding U.S. military and civilian espionage and counterespionage activities in Europe. This fictional repository is targeted by the Soviets when they learn of its existence in late 1964. I've started an outline and my research, which includes sifting through my own archives, photographs, and memories. The photograph below was taken in Garmisch in October of 1984, about 4 months before Kerry and I were married. Garmisch holds a special place in our hearts, and it will be a delight to write about it as ground zero for my next Nick Temple File.  

On the streets of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1984.

On the streets of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1984.

What's in a Cold War's Name?

When World War I ended, it was not referred to as such. It was given many names, such as The Great War and the War to End All Wars, but no one at the time decided that another World War, maybe even bigger and better, was just down the road so we should call this one World War I. It wasn't until the Second World War that the earlier conflagration got its label as the First World War. I hope we can all agree on the foregoing as being accurate. Fast forward to 2017.

Many observers have taken to calling the tension of the last few years between the U.S. and Russia a new Cold War. I'm not sure I agree with the description or assessment, but who am I to buck a trend? So, following the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," I'm joining those referring to our current difficulties with Russia as a new Cold War. With that in mind, I'm going to take a page out of the hot war-renaming playbook. From this moment on, I'll refer to the Cold War that I participated in and that presumably ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union as Cold War I. Naturally, I'll refer to the Cold War in which we find ourselves currently engaged as Cold War II. In my view, the label makes it easier to distinguish one era from another in a way that is less cumbersome than other styles. We'll see if I'm out in front on this one or, as is usually the case, simply out in left field.

Do Putin & Trump Hold the Keys to Each Other's Dreams?

I learned Russian at the Defense Language Institute during the last decade of the Cold War. With two exceptions, my teachers were native speakers, men and women who either fled the Soviet Union or were allowed to emigrate for one reason or another. In general, they were demanding, professional, patient, kind, and always interesting, exactly what good teachers should be. One lesson from our mutual interaction was the age-old realization that getting to know someone as an individual works to erode preconceived notions about them as a group. After leaving the Institute, especially during three years in Berlin when I helped keep tabs on the Red Army, I never forgot the fondness I had for the Russians I'd met and worked with in Monterey. As is often the case, most of us in the intelligence line of work realized that ordinary Americans and Russians would probably get along quite well given the chance to do so by the leadership of the two countries. Many of us also believed, in a pollyanna sort of way, that the development of lasting ties between ordinary Russians and Americans might provide a way out of the global conflict that had been ongoing since the end of World War II. That was the early 1980s.

Fast forward to early 2017. The rapprochement that appears to be on the horizon between Russia and the United States is being carried on at an elite level, a level that has no use for or interest in broad-based cultural understanding and exchange. While any easing of tension between two geopolitically important nations is normally cause for optimism, this current version seems aimed not so much at bringing the two countries and their people closer together as serving the economic and political aspirations of no more than a handful of men. Frankly, I don't believe for a minute that our soon-to-be president is seeking close ties with Putin to mount a successful challenge to ISIS in Syria. Nor do I believe that close cooperation between elites in the two countries will, or is meant to, create an impetus for meaningful democratic reform in Russia's autocratic state. Trump's search for opportunity in Russia is, I believe, focused on amassing personal wealth. Putin's quest for American ambivalence about Russia's irredentism is a search for personal power and acclaim. They both seem to believe that the other holds the key to achieving their personal goals without regard for the general interests of the people in whose name they claim to lead. What's occurring, if I'm right, has nothing to do with leadership, and everything to do with different versions of greed. 

The Heraklion Gambit Gets a Thumbs Up!

U.S. Army vet Joe Munoz has written another review, this one for The Heraklion Gambit. Looks like Joe's a fan of Nick Temple. Always great to hear from a satisfied customer. Here's his review:

"The Heraklion Gambit, the second novel from the Nick Temple File is just as exciting as Switchback. Again, readers are taken into intelligence operations from different locales. From Berlin, to DC, to Crete, and the characters are just as different as the places described. Readers get to become familiar with Temple’s supporting cast. As they battle the KGB in their sinister plot. There is action on every page with it all leading into the climax between good versus evil." Joe Munoz

An Army/Berlin Vet Reviewed Switchback!

Joe Munoz, a Army veteran who was on active duty in Berlin during the Cold War, had this to say about Switchback. Thanks, Joe. I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

"Switchback, by Jonathan Dyer is a must read for people who enjoy the Cold War period. This book is a thriller, and having served in West Berlin myself, I can tell you that Dyer shows his readers the true landscape of Berlin. His imagery makes the storyline even better. The Nick Temple character is shown with all his flaws, but he’s a man that puts his country above all else. The plot is fluid and Dyer gives his readers a view of how intelligence operations unfold from various perspectives. People who want to know how the spy game operated during this time will not be disappointed with this novel." Joe Munoz

Goodreads Giveaway Ends but Free Kindle Copies Still Available - Let Me Explain

Wow! 890 people entered the Goodreads giveaway for a shot at winning a free copy of Let Me Explain. The publisher will now send the lucky winner his or her paperback copy. But, for the other 879 readers, a free Kindle copy of the book is still available for a limited time. Click here for the American version. If you're a Brit, click here. So, if you didn't win, not to worry. You can still get the book for no charge at all. What a great way to start 2017!

A Nick Temple Christmas

I created the Nick Temple character when I was working as an intercept op at Field Station Berlin. Our shifts, especially mids, were at times quiet affairs with little to do. During the quiet moments I created Nick Temple, one paragraph at a time. The character at the time was more a parody of espionage novel heroes than anything else, and the snippets were fun to write. Our local area network allowed me to post the paragraphs for all to see. The men and women of Field Station Berlin thus became the first to be introduced to Nick Temple. The selection below is from Christmas of 1985. It's a favorite, so I repost it from time to time. It's raw and overdone, and I hope you like it.

"Nick froze in place. Not a muscle of his finely tuned body twitched. There was some sort of noise coming from the top of the building. 'A clumsy intruder,' Nick thought to himself. There had to be more than one of them. Nick checked to make certain that the P-38 hidden under his smoking jacket was fully loaded. He climbed the first flight of stairs of his luxurious Chevy Chase home with the swiftness and ease that came with years of constant training. He walked undetected to the emergency exit that led out to the helipad that he'd had installed on the roof at the president's request. 

"When he reached the snow covered roof he saw what he was up against. There were eight of them. With a quick reload he could take them out before they knew what had hit them. He crouched low behind the central air conditioning intake duct and waited for his moment.

"He leaped out, firing with his right hand, diving to his left. The clip was empty and six of them were dead. He reloaded in less than two seconds and he came up firing. Two more rounds was all it took.

"Nick walked over to the scene of death. He recognized them from the file: Dasher, Dancer, Donner, Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Prancer, Vixen. One was missing. . . "  

Let Me Explain and Steinbeck

The second half of Let Me Explain is set in Monterey, California. I lived in Monterey for 18 months back in the early 1980s. If you spend any time at all in Monterey you'll feel a natural pull to the works of John Steinbeck. Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row are his best known works set in Monterey, and they were the ones most familiar to me when I arrived in August of 1981. By then, I'd been living in California for the better part of 4 years. And while Monterey is a unique expression of the California experience, the contrast between it and New England is much sharper. Harry Taft, the narrator of Let Me Explain, arrives in Monterey after a cross-country bus ride. It's his first, fresh encounter with the west coast in general, and with Monterey in particular. I tried to imagine the sensation of seeing and feeling that wonderful place for the first time. Harry's first impressions are below. When I wrote these and similar passages, I was aware of Steinbeck's towering presence. My aim was not to simulate his prose; my aim was to do justice in my own voice to a spot that has since my arrival had a profound, enduring, and even romantic influence on much of my adult life. I hope you enjoy what I've done.  

"I was a mess. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in about a week and, with the exception of a single shirt change, I had been wearing the same clothes for the last four days. I didn’t care. I was here in Steinbeck’s Monterey, and I wanted to see if there was anything left of it. The sun was bright and it was a perfectly clear day. I noticed that the quality of light is somehow different from the light back east; it has a crisp, blue quality with its own soft shades that would never come through in the thick light of the eastern woods.

"I sat on a bench down by the docks for a few minutes and looked out at the bay, at the dunes off to the east and north, at the jetty heading east into the bay, at the hills rising off to the west, Danny’s hills. The air was thick with the smells of fish and salt and strange plants I had never smelled in the east and the water sparkled with this new light of the west. 

"After about half an hour on the bench I grabbed my pack and started walking west and north, following the line of the bay. I came to a tired wharf packed with restaurants and shops. I followed the smells of steam and fish and crab and found a small, cheap seafood restaurant on the east side of the wharf. I had a quick lunch of chowder and crackers, and while I ate I remembered what I could about what I’d read, and as I sat by this bay I was still not far enough from what had brought me to this point. I was considering my lessons. No one sat near me, but the waitress was friendly enough.

"After lunch I continued on along the bay. I passed a slight, shallow beach just the other side of the wharf. About fifty yards out from the beach were a few small sloops tied to moorings. I followed a sidewalk through dry pines and around a small salient in the peninsula. Traffic passed on my left along a road that follows the wrap of the bay. I soon passed a large jetty, the same one I had seen from the bench. A Coast Guard cutter was tied to a pier along the jetty and the jetty beyond the pier was covered with seals whose lazy calls mixed with the Monterey light to produce an utterly new sensation of place.

"The sounds, smells, and light were welcome gifts at the end of my long ride. I found excitement without dread in the unfamiliar, in the nearly exotic. I found a strong surge of joy in the fresh aspects of this place haunted by nothing more than recent traditions to which it must still be linked. I wanted to use it all to scrub away my eastern decay, to be cleansed by things Pacific. At the same time, I ignored a strange sense of infidelity.

"I kept as close to the sparkling water as I could. I passed beneath the hill of some Army base, just to the bay side of another busy street that made me think of a Mediterranean dream. I headed down toward the bay again.

"By staying close to the water I found Cannery Row and some of its relics: the Chinese Market, Kalisa’s, and some closed tin factories, all surrounded by new traps replacing the fading dream. I kept on walking and I passed some sort of ocean studies institute set out by itself on a point. Eventually, I came to a village named Pacific Grove where it looked like the bay was giving way to the Pacific. I walked with the water on my right, along paths through more strange plants, past tide pools and dunes, by a rocky coast full of the smell of ocean life and death, until after three or so miles, I found the beach that sits in the title of Bardolph’s poem “Asilomar.” I walked over the rocks, past more tide pools, and onto the beach where I rested and watched the ocean."

The Flemish Coil Cover Begins to Take Shape!

It's been a busy week. Let Me Explain was released on Wednesday with promotional pricing for the paperback and a free copy available via Kindle. My copies arrived this morning, As I've noted elsewhere, there is no greater thrill for me as an author than holding a completed and published work in my hands. There's just something deeply satisfying about it. On top of all of that, Coline LeConte, the artist who is putting together the cover for Nick Temple File no. 4, the Flemish Coil, emailed a number of mockups, one of which is below. We're now working to get the color combinations right, and the back cover copy, including a short review from a retired special force three-star General, formatted. With luck, that book will be out before the end of the year. The Flemish Coil has been a long time in coming. I put it down for nearly two years as I was unable to figure out a couple of perplexing plot points. It all came together this summer, and the result is, at least in my view, another solid entry to the Nick Temple collection. I hope that readers agree.

 

First crack at a cover for The Flemish Coil

First crack at a cover for The Flemish Coil

Thinking About Monterey and Let Me Explain's Release

The publisher of Let Me Explain sent me the photo below. The proofs are all done and the book will be released next week. In the meantime, I was asked to write a brief bit about Monterey and its connection to the book. It's going to be posted on my publisher's blog, but I thought I'd post it here as well. So, here it is. 

I first saw Monterey in the late summer of 1981. The Army sent me there to learn Russian at the Defense Language Institute. The Institute occupies a long, meandering hillside commanding a magnificent view of Monterey Bay. From the moment I arrived, I was hooked. I still am. 

The rhythmic sense of eternity in Monterey is at once haunting and exhilarating. Its rugged, spontaneous past manages to mingle seamlessly with its more reserved, scripted present. The power of the endless, wild Pacific pounding at its outer edges is as mesmerizing as the silent calm of a summer fog on its cold, gentle bay. And it’s always surrounded by the smells of the sea, its life and its refuse, as I imagine it has been forever. 

I left Monterey in 1983, but I keep going back. I’m drawn there as if it were my childhood home, a place I wish I’d never left. I hope I’ve done it justice.

 

Let Me Explain in Print.jpg

The Effect of Technology on the Quality of a First Draft

There's something inherently interesting about being on both sides of an important technological change. The change from writing on a sheet of paper with pencil or pen to using a sophisticated word processor which is one part of a powerful, portable computer is one I've happily witnessed. 

I want to start by acknowledging that writing is hard work, no two ways about it. From start to finish, it's hard. It's work, and like other forms of work, how one goes about it has changed as the tools available to do the work have changed. I've been writing for nearly 40 years in one form or another. I took my first shot at writing creatively in the mid-1970s, and I came back to it about 15 years later. By that time, word-processing was generally available as a writing tool. I used that tool during Law School for academic writing, but I hand-wrote creative pieces as I had 15 years earlier.  

Gradually, I switched to word-processing for all of my writing, and I have reflected a number of times on how that switch has influenced my creative writing process. Simply stated, my editing process is entirely different now, When I wrote out pieces by hand, I'd do some mild editing as I went. I'd rethink a word, cross out a phrase, move a sentence or paragraph around, and eliminate entire sections that proved unsatisfactory in some manner or other. The result was visually messy, but creatively satisfying. And the result was a rough first draft and nothing more.

The switch to word processing has meant more instant editing, more thorough revisions the first time around, more scrutiny resulting now in significanlty more technical and substantive changes as I produce the first version of a piece of work. Honestly, at least as far as my own work is concerned, word processing means a far more developed level of work on the first go around than writing something out by hand. The ease of making minor and major changes with a word processor has resulted in bringing a more critical eye to my first effort than I ever brought to a first stab at a hand-written piece. Additionally, the research tool available via the powerful computer driving the word processor means many thorny issues can be resolved instantly rather than, as in the past, having to put down pad and pen and head to a library.

I'm not claiming that a first draft produced on a word processor is good enough to go to print. I am, however, convinced that such first drafts are much farther along towards a final product than anything I ever produced by hand was. And, as a result of all of the above, I don't seem to suffer from the angst that so many have over the quality of their first drafts.  

Promoting Let Me Explain

The publisher of Let Me ExplainLittle Acorn Publishing, tweeted some promotion of the book this morning in anticipation of its release date about two weeks hence, not unusual or unexpected. The great thing about the tweet was the image attached to it, which is set forth below. It looks for all the world like a giant poster on a London street advertising the book. Photoshop is a wonderful thing!

 

How great is this?

How great is this?

A Sample of Let Me Explain

Let Me Explain is scheduled for release on or about December 14th! It's obviously gratifying to see this process moving successfully forward. In the meantime, just to give readers an idea of what they'll find in the book, I've decided to print this small excerpt. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you want more. Stay tuned.

"So here I sit, in the middle of my third fall in a row at Sudsbury. Like I said, the setting for the school is spectacular in a postcard sort of way. It sits in the middle of a small valley that runs northwest-southeast right along the banks of the Wopatcong river, named after some Indian tribe wiped out about 350 years ago by pious killers and small pox. The river is fast and shallow where it borders the school, and the water, no matter what time of year, is pretty damn cold. You can fish the river if you’re so inclined, but it’s too fast and shallow to put anything but a kayak on it. In fact, there’s a kayaking club at Sudsbury that a handful of students run. They keep their equipment in the gym basement, which is a short walk from the river. I thought about signing up for it last spring instead of playing lacrosse again, but the multi-page, single-spaced waiver that Sudsbury’s legal counsel cooked up was so far beyond my comprehension that I was more than a little suspicious. The upshot of the document was, I think, that if you’re nuts enough to go kayaking on the Wopatcong then you’re on your own and we don’t want to get any legal beefs from your folks if you croak and, oh yeah, even if you do croak while kayaking, your family doesn’t get any of the tuition or room and board they’ve paid refunded and that’s final. Besides, the members of the club had to buy their own equipment, including their own kayaks. I just couldn’t see the point of interrupting one of my dad’s few sober moments to ask him a dumb-ass question like, 'Gee, Dad, will you buy a kayak and a bunch of other neat looking shit for me even though I’ve never kayaked a minute in my life and might not even like it? Huh, Dad? Will ya?' On the other hand, he might have paid for the stuff. He thinks I’m a pansy and he might have seen it as some character building deal. I guess we'll never know."