This would be the WWII novel, which concept came to me in a dream last July, at a point in the morning that when I woke up, I remembered the whole thing – the concept, the names of characters, the whole whackadoodle. So – nothing much else to do, what with the restrictions placed on us by the Commie Covid Crud… we actually had only two autumn and Christmas markets this last year, when we would otherwise have participated in at least half a dozen or eight. So, what better project to work on, than another book? I knocked it out in six months – about twice what it took for the first draft of Truckee, but that I was working on full-tilt for three months. I have heard of certain Golden Age of Science Fiction writers who could knock out a decent 70,000-10,000 world novel in a month, but that was out of pure necessity and they were under contract to a publisher and chained to a typewriter for about eighteen hours a day.

Frankly, I can’t really understand those writers determined to produce The Novel of the Century, and who squeeze out an exquisitely perfectly perfect sentence or two a day, over the course of ten, fifteen or twenty years. It suggests to me that if you have to pummel your writing wits that freaking hard for a decade and a half, maybe you don’t really have a gift for producing appealing content and should perhaps take up poetry, or maybe painting scenic landscapes on a grain of rice, or something. Writers write. Poseurs … pose.

Anyway, the novel is done – and having come up with no better a title than “My Dear Cousin: A Novel in Letters” – there you are. It’s not entirely in letters, though – this is an interesting and challenging conceit, most lately displayed in a best-seller like “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, but it has a long, long history, dating from the original epistolary novel, held by most old-fashioned students of the English novel to have been the first pure novel – Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson. It has been noted, though, that characters in some of the more wordy and later epistolary novels must have spent so much time writing lengthy and exhaustively detailed descriptions of their travails that they must have hardly had any time to undergo them, what with having a pen and ink bottle in hand, twenty-four-seven.

I have a facility for writing letters in the period-appropriate voice of my characters. One of the beta readers for “Truckee” marveled at length over how I managed to perfectly replicate the period tone of the diary and letters, thinking that I had actually located and copied a period diary. “No, Dad – I made it all up,” I said.

So the book will be launched around and about the 20th. It’s not all in letters – there is a good chunk of straight narrative, as well. The general plot, as it will appear in various retail outlets.

When Peggy Becker married Englishman Tommy Morehouse in San Antonio in the spring of 1938, her cousin and best friend Venetia “Vennie” Stoneman was her bridesmaid. After the wedding, Peg and Tommy traveled across the Pacific to Malaya, where Tommy managed his family’s rubber plantation. There they expected to raise a family and live a comfortable and rewarding life among the British expatriates in the tropics, while Vennie returned to Galveston to continue training as a nurse.

The start of the Second World War changed those comfortable, settled lives: Tommy Morehouse became a prisoner of war, Peg barely escaped the fall of Singapore with her small son, and Vennie Stoneman was a nurse in the US Army Nurse Corps, tending to battlefield casualties in North Africa, Italy, and France. In Australia, Peg waits out the war, wondering if her husband will survive brutal captivity by the Japanese, and Vennie risks her own life as an air evacuation nurse. Throughout all, the two women write to each other, of their lives, loves, of Vennie’s patients and comrades, and Peg’s children and the woes of running a wartime household among rationing and rationings of shoes for her children.

There is something more – I’ve been quite a bit frank with regard to other topics. From the historical notes appended at the end:

In the interests of fidelity to history and racial attitudes of the 1940s with regard to the Japanese and to a lesser extent, the Germans, the current social climate requires me to add the following caveat; yes, the general attitudes of American and Australians towards the Japanese were by current standards, viciously and unrepentantly racist. However, this book is, as nearly as I can make it, written with an eye to fidelity to the historical record. I will not cut and tailor my fictional cloth in accordance with current fashion. ‘Presentism’, wherein the accepted fashionable attitudes and conventional opinions of the current day are retrofitted, however unsuited and historically unlikely, onto those characters living in past decades and centuries, is a grim transgression against the art of bringing a past era into life, warts and all. Writing a so-called historical novel merely by placing 21st century characters in different costumes and strange technological shortcomings is a disservice to the past, and a hampering to complete understanding. It’s the past – they did things differently, back then.

As for wartime feelings, Americans, Britons, Australians, Chinese and other participants, even the ‘inadvertent by reason of geography’ had no reason to think well of the Japanese who made bloody, brutal, and imperial war upon them and plenty of excellent reasons to think ill. A brief list of those reasons begins with the war in China, including the ‘rape of Nanking’ and similar atrocities, the attack on Pearl Harbor while diplomatic negotiations were underway, the opening of aggressive hostilities throughout the Pacific theater of operations, extreme brutalities inflicted on those with the misfortune of living in Japanese occupied countries, and the horrific treatment of interned civilians and captured military by the Japanese. The most charitable comment which one can make on this all is that at least they were ecumenical in administering barbaric treatment to all those unlucky to experience the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere at first hand. Americans are, or at least used to be, conversant with the Bataan Death march, but that was just one of the gruesome atrocities against Allied POWs during the war front in the Pacific. Even ghastlier than the Bataan forced march of POWs was the Sandakan Death March, a series of forced marches which took place towards the end of the war on Borneo. Internees and POWs were forced by the retreating Japanese Army to abandon a massive camp at Sandakan airfield and retreat 160 miles through the jungle with them. Of 2,500 British and Australian POWs at the start of those marches, only six men survived by escaping during the confusion. Ritual cannibalism, medical experimentation on living prisoners, mass forced prostitution of women, the deliberate sinking of the AHS Centaur by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Brisbane, massacres of medical personnel and patients at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Singapore, mass executions of native military there and in Hong Kong, the execution of civilian and military personnel on Bangka Island, the executions of American POWs at Palawan towards the end of the war when all seemed to be lost for the Japanese, the horrific treatment and the death rates of impressed civilian laborers and POWs on the Burma-Siam railway, the wanton destruction of Manila… All of these and even uglier accounts of Japanese brutality were publicized in the last months and weeks of the war, just as the reality of German concentration and extermination camps emerged earlier in 1945. Knowledge of these horrors was why contemporary opinion approved with mild reservations the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even if many were startled by the suddenness of the events, baffled by the science, and apprehensive regarding the implications of atomic weapons.

A further element had to do with knowing how fanatical Japanese resistance had been in New Guinea, on Guadalcanal, on Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. An invasion of the Japanese home islands could only be much, much worse. And yet, planning for such an invasion went forward. Part of that planning involved a massive order of 1.5 million Purple Heart medals, in expectation of a huge number of American casualties. That backlog of medals was not drawn down sufficiently for another order until 2008; this after the end of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and two wars in Gulf and the many pinprick casualties from random terrorism over the following seven decades. Knowing that the cost in blood and human lives would be almost unbearably high for a ground invasion of Japan, among the invading troops, the defending Japanese and the hapless Japanese civilians, the choice for atomic bombing was a necessary albeit cruel calculation. Japanese cities were being pounded unmercifully by American bombing, with destruction and death by many conventional bombs equal to a single atomic bomb … I’m on the side of those historians who believe that turning segments of Nagasaki and Hiroshima into radioactive glass saved lives. A cruel calculation, but one which saved the lives of Allied soldiers who would otherwise have died in an invasion, the lives of Japanese civilians who would have been thrown into the maelstrom and saved the lives of prisoners and internees all across the Japan-occupied territories who were about two weeks from being killed by starvation or hours and minutes of being murdered outright.

Imagine, if you will; how it would have gone if President Truman had let the invasion of Japan go ahead – with all the casualties; the massive deaths of soldiers, civilians, prisoners, and internees … and then finding out that all that torment could have been avoided by dropping two bombs on Japanese cities (cities already being systematically destroyed by conventional bombing). No, the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, as many of these historical choices come down to – the least worst choice of the lot. This is why practically everyone who would have had a real stake in this choice – their lives, the lives of those whom they loved and who would now survive because of it – heaved a sigh of relief at the outcome of a mushroom-shaped cloud over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A perilous choice and one with regrets attached. Because of that decision, they and the ones whom they loved – would live.

About those new house projects for this year – the main one now outstanding is the windows, and I hope to hear from the installing company sometime next week. I have already made a down payment on the windows, and the holidays are done, and all the holiday ornaments put away, so someday soon …

The thing is that the big window in the front bedroom will be knocked out entirely and replaced with a pair of French doors. Early in this new year I want to put a short run of privacy fence with a gate in it from the corner of the garage to the gatepost to my next-door neighbor’s yard – a gatepost which was built out of the same bricks as the brick trim on my house. I can only think that there must have been half a pallet of bricks left over from by house, and the original owner of my neighbors’ place had the builders use them for ornamental gateposts to their house. This would enclose a small private patio, opening from the front bedroom, which would about double the living space in the front bedroom – that is, when the weather is temperate. (Which it is, for seven or eight months in a year, Blue Northers notwithstanding.)

Because the window installers will be knocking out the wall underneath the existing window – well, what better time for us to take out the drywall all around that window and see about installing more bookshelves between the studs on either side and above the new French doors, as we did this last year in the hallway. This is a household of books – a great many books and a relatively small house, so efficient use of space is always appreciated. Although it’s an outside wall, the outside side is brick throughout – so, no biggie, insulation-wise. We’re interested to see how much is lacking as regarding studs on that wall, having tried to hang curtain rods over that window, and failed to find a stud at one corner to secure the curtain rod into. (We suspect there were corners cut in building this house. I have utterly failed to find any studs in the wall between my bedroom and the walk-in closet on the other side of that room. Yes, I did do a series of exploratory holes with a pin-hole sized drill, and never did find a stud … that wall is going to be another floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, eventually.).

You see, my daughter is going to give birth to a child in late May, or early June – a grandson, whose name will be James Alexander Page – Jamie, for short. Until my daughter has her real estate license and has done enough business to afford her own place for herself and Jamie, they will have to share that room, which is nice enough for a woman and baby – but the Daughter Unit has determined that she must have her own place by the time Jamie is kindergarten age. Until then, the front room and the little patio will be their space. Other families live quite happily in even smaller spaces, so we’re OK with this. We have a single bed and a nice crib already on the way. Since we’re committed to the French doors and patio, no better time to redo the whole room – cover the nasty popcorn ceiling texture with bead board and cornice molding, and the floor with a continuation of the vinyl flooring that we used last year in the hall. A project indeed. Maybe even repaint the whole room while we’re at it. Although since we’ll be working with Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy, whose’ work schedule is erratic and subject to constant rescheduling, I suspect this project will take at least a couple of weeks.  

For all the fans who have been waiting breathlessly on the new book – behold my comp for the cover!

Well, let me get this out of the way once and for all – 2020 was the year from (obscenity deleted) (theoretical location of the bad hereafter deleted) and I hold out no great hopes for 2021, save even more of the depressing same in the outside world. As for my inner world – grounds for relative cheer, considering my ‘to do’ list from last year at this time, In the spirit of setting goals for the year and working to achieve them, now and again around this time of year, I look forward and goals, and backwards to see if last years’ were achieved.

As of this time last year (remember way back then? No masks and social distancing a thing unheard of) I had resolved to –

  1. Start on replacing the decayed original contractor-grade windows, and the sliding patio door. Still not quite achieved, alas, although it is in hand. I made a down payment to a company to order new windows and slider door in November, hoped to hear from the installer in mid-December (It supposedly will take a day or two to install, all the way around.) This is something that we are still waiting on – say, halfway done.
  2. Actually, item 1B – the siding and paint. All done, and beautifully. An Austin company specializing that kind of work and application of a special grade of heat-reflecting paint guaranteed for decades once applied, had a hireling walking the neighborhood and trolling for business on the day that the Daughter Unit and I were putting out the Halloween ornaments. Yes, the siding and trim was a worry of mine, as it was a contractor grade pressed-wood with a known propensity for not lasting nearly as long as originally advertised. They came, they saw, estimated … and now I have new cement siding/trim all the way around and a gorgeous exterior paint job all the way around. A long-distance project, done and dusted ahead of schedule.
  3. The Chicken Abode – replacement of same, and addition of four young laying hens: Done and Done. A nice metal-framed wooden coop from Tractor Supply and four Red Sex-link hens, procured in about May for the back yard. The Daughter Unit and I went halfsies on that purchase. They were older pullets than the original two, and straightaway began producing eggs. They were bred as commercial laying hens, though – and will burn out somewhat faster. They do have extra vitamins, and all the kitchen veg and fruit peel scraps they can scarf down, so there is that.

As for the other items listed on my list of goals – my size in jeans remains about the same. Considering that most people chose to sequester at home, and the gym was closed entirely for several months … well, that is the reason that the Daughter Unit and I walk with the dogs for at least three miles, three times weekly.

The garage door was replaced, early on – and we were able to clear out enough of the detritus in the garage that I could park my car in it. All thanks to the small local company whose’ card I had saved, after seeing them doing a couple of bang-up jobs in the neighborhood. Which is nice, as the sunroof has a leak in it; most discouraging, as it is now also an elderly car, and it turns out that parts for it are nearly unobtainable.

As for the books completed and loosed into the wild – Yes, Luna City #9 was done, and released into the wild as expected, and the third Luna City Compendium. But the Civil War episode That Fateful Lightening is as of now about half -finished. I got distracted by a particularly vivid dream one early morning in July, a dream which mapped out a concept for a novel set in the WWII period, told partly in letters, about a pair of cousins from the families established in my series of historicals set in Texas. They are friends and close confidants; one has married an Englishman, gone to Malaya to set up housekeeping and raise a family with him, and the other to be an Army nurse … and thereafter during the war, they write letters to each other. That work is all but done and farmed out to the beta readers. Still tentative about the title to it – but it should be loosed to the world by mid-January.

Then at that point, back to the Civil War setting of That Fateful Lightning, and another Luna City episode, wherein Chef Richard comes to a couple of fateful decisions…   

18. December 2020 · Comments Off on Daring Colors in the Neighborhood · Categories: Uncategorized

The outlaying suburb where I live began being developed from open land on the far north-east sector of San Antonio in the late 1970s or early 1980s, as nearly as I can judge – a rolling tract of meadows, dotted with oak trees – many of which still survive, and cut through with a small creek feed by small natural seeps and springs. Most of the older houses are small tidy bungalows, although one segment of older houses in the development are a bit larger, and on lots considerably larger than the bare quarter acre or smaller. Few houses are rentals – most are lived in by owners; a good range of small young families, working professionals and retirees.

The development went through several different development companies, or so I have been told – the last of them was still filling in empty lots when I bought my house in 1995; there were still two model homes, and a construction trailer parked on a lot at the top of the hill for some years after that. Given the natural run of things, a lot of the older homes have been remodeled; owners have upgraded from the original contractor-grade fixtures, and a violent hailstorm in 2006 or so ensured that practically everyone got a new roof. A handful of houses now have the metal roofs, which cost about two-thirds more than the usual run of asphalt tile.

But the main thing that I have noticed lately are the colors that houses are painted. The series of development companies seem to have had a pattern book of house plans for a vaguely neo-Palladian/mid-Victorian stick-built one and two-story houses with various degrees of brick siding, ranging from all the way around in brick to just a few ornamental pillars on the corners. There seem to have been about twenty or thirty basic designs, and about the same number of colors of brick … and most homeowners had the exterior of their house painted in something that match the prevailing shade of the brick trim. Which came down to a neighborhood palette of colors exploring the whole exciting and vivid range of off-white, creamy-beige, yellowy-beige, beige-brown, pinky-brown, plain old brown-brown, and various shades of grey. A few non-conformists ventured daringly into houses painted in various shades of blue, from navy-blue to a cheery Caribbean light blue with white trim. But the iconoclasts – ah, yes; we iconoclasts broke away decisively from fifty-shades of neutral beige conformity! Our houses are painted green; shades of green ranging from light green, through olive, and into leaf-green! And they look very nice, and stand out, making easy for strangers to locate them, too, although I have my doubts about the taste of the family who went with brilliant Kelly green and yellow trim.