After a lot of hype and hooplah, the big day is here. The digital edition of One Fate For Failure is now available on Amazon Kindle. This is the culmination of a long road filled with endless stops and starts. The end product is something I believe in and really want to put out into the world. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did writing it. As I sit looking at the first few pages of my new project for NaNoWriMo, seeing the polished result of what has honestly been about two years worth of work available for purchase really fills my soul with a warmth I’m not accustomed to in these late months of the year.

For those of you who stumbled onto this page at random, maybe through hashtags or some other wacky internet magic, you may not know the story of One Fate For Failure and wonder why you should bother giving it a read. The short version is that it is an inversion of the tropes found in pulp spy stories such as the James Bond series that serves to stay true to the genre while subverting most of the conventional ideas. First and foremost our hero is a female, and there is something to be said about filtering the hyper-masculine world of special operations and espionage through the lens of a lady protagonist. The story follows Madeline McCallister, a SAD/SOG (Special Activities Group/Special Operations Divison) operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Madeline, or Maddie as she is more affectionately referred to, finds herself caught up in a massive government conspiracy after a sanctioned operation in Mexico leaves her in hot water. She is forced to travel across the globe trying to take down the man responsible for soiling her name and staying one step ahead of the government agents who want to see her taken down.

I cannot emphasize enough how much fun the book was to write and how much fun the story is to read. Maddie is probably my favorite creation and I really hope that folks latch onto her because she definitely deserves some love. I implore you to give the book a chance. It’s only $4.99 to own, and if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can read it for free. You don’t even have to have a Kindle to read it. You can get the Amazon Kindle app on Apple or Android devices and read away!

For fans of hard copies, fear not, a physical edition is still in the works for December, so you can still stuff some stockings with a spiffy print edition this holiday season as well.

Thank you for the support, I hope you enjoy the new book.

Click Here to View ONE FATE FOR FAILURE on Amazon.


“So, what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.”

I think about those lines, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi quite a bit when it comes time to start writing something new. Whose point of view am I telling the story from? Are they reliable in their narration? What is their voice? Is it the best means of transmitting the story in my head to my readers.

In One Fate for Failure, I made the decision to write in the first person. I felt like a great deal could be added to the narrative by filtering it through Maddie’s perspective. The entire tone of the story depended on her voice being an ever present force in the text. Take for example this bit of expository inner-dialog that we get from her in the first chapter;

Rick was ex-Delta and I was Naval Intelligence. We were as different as two people could be, but we had a mutual respect that made us gel in ways that lots of people wished they could. There were plenty of people in the intelligence community who didn’t care for me much at all for one reason or another. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could but I won’t because it’s crass and I don’t have the stomach for it. I come from a family that was always big on being proper. My parents were New England blue blood through and through. Cape Cod in the summer type of folks. They raised me to have manners and be respectful like a lady should. Then they died in a boating accident like the worst kind of east coast cliché and in my adolescence discovered a lot of things about myself while rebelling to manage my grief.

If I were to try to re-write that same excerpt of text from a different perspective, the same information would be conveyed but it is the fact that the details being relayed are being voiced by the character herself that lend it the appropriate tone. She is making these observations about herself and that somehow, to me at least, makes the whole passage more legitimate and serves the character better. While Maddie is telling us what is going on in her head, feeding us information, the fact that she is divulging this sort of backstory lets us know that she has a self-analytical mind and thus the layered distribution of information makes for a deeper reading experience.

I have only written in first person once before, in 2012’s Grave Danger. I’m not sure if a pattern is emerging or if my two recent writing exercises demanded a first person narration due to the conventions of their genre. At its heart, Grave Danger is a detective noir, albeit filled with paranormal elements, and the whole thing played out in black and white with that growly voice over narration that was ever present in those early detective films of classic Hollywood. One Fate for Failure’s first person perspective was driven by my desire to round out my central character. There was a central motivation there. It didn’t so much have to do with convention, seeing as it was a take-off of Fleming and his progeny.

So how do you make that final decision as to what perspective to write from? What is the best way to tell your story?

The truth is that it depends on authorial purpose. As a teacher I try to explain authorial purpose to my students and some of them rebel at the idea because they say “well how the hell would I know what he was thinking?” But as a writer your purpose should be clear in your head before you ever sit down to write. I knew when I began outlining One Fate for Failure that I wanted to subvert tropes found in the spy genre and make a comment on those same conventions. I knew that I would want to throw some winks at the audience and the best way to do that was to have the narrator make them for me. That only works within the context of the genre if the narration is first person. Add that to the fact that I wanted my prose to have the rich, layered delivery of information that I mentioned earlier and the choice was practically made for me.

Ask yourself why you want to write and what you are seeking to accomplish. Then you can make the decision as to what perspective to write from. If you can answer those questions, it should be a fairly easy process. If you can’t answer those questions, your story probably isn’t ready to be written yet. I’m already prepping my next project. It’s outlined and ready to go. I know that I want to tell a story that, again, subverts a particular genre, but I want to play within those conventions and as such I know that this time around I will be utilizing an omnipotent third-person narrator. My aim with this is to give the proceedings a feel akin to a folk-tale, as if the story is being related years down the line from someone who heard it from someone else.

A writer needs to be self-analytical to be worth a damn. It is a primal urge to get our stories onto the page but we also have to resist the urge to let the story control us as writers. The story works in service of your own authorial intent. Never lose sight of that.

I have detailed the long journey One Fate For Failure took to arrive in its final form in multiple blog posts in the last two years. A majority of those came earlier this year when the book was nearing completion and I knew it was no longer a promise in danger of never being kept. This was definitely happening. And now, the proof edition of the final novel has arrived and is in the process of being finalized. Once we have that locked down, I will have an official release date for the print edition. It will be available through Amazon.Com, BarnesAndNoble.Com and other locations as well.

But I wanted to preview exactly what it looks like for those who might be interested, and give my thoughts on what all went into creating the final product.


There’s the official front cover. Pretty isn’t it? I spent a lot of time working out a design for this book because I wanted to imply a tone for the writing before the reader even cracked the front page. My central character is female, and I wanted that to be perfectly clear but I didn’t want to fetishize or overtly sexualize her on the front cover. I didn’t want this to be like one of those books you see with the generic female heroine in a pair of painted on leather pants gazing off into the distance.

I also didn’t want it to be a desaturated nightmare. I wanted some vibrancy, hence the contrasting white with pink/red color scheme. I think it really pops out at you and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.


Here’s the back cover. The color scheme is carried over and I tried to use imagery that is connected to the narrative without giving away too much of the story. You can probably assume that Maddie will end up in Paris because of the photo of the Eiffel Tower, but I didn’t want to spoil the circumstances. I also tried to be as vague as possible with my synopsis because so much hinges on the reader discovering the twists for themselves.


But here’s my favorite page in the whole damned novel. I’ve already got a few pages of notes for the sequel (title forthcoming) and I hope everyone is as enthusiastic about Madeline’s debut as I am. I seriously have never been as proud of a work of fiction as I am with this. I feel like I accomplished everything I set out to do and Madeline is a character I hope to continue writing for a very, very long time.

Official release date announcements coming soon, guys! Thank you for all the support!



Over the last few days, I have been outlining heavily for my NaNoWriMo entry this year. I’ve spoken a bit about how One Fate For Failure took a very long time for me to complete and the reason for that is due to my reluctance to spend too much time outlining and instead allow my boundless creativity to take me in new and exciting directions.

Of course what happened was I would write myself into a corner and would have to toss aside dozens of pages and rebuild from scratch. That’s why when the book first came about it was about someone named Alyssa who couldn’t be any more dissimilar from Maddie as a character if I tried and the title was No Fate For Failure which in retrospect makes very little sense at all. The point is that I put a great deal of faith in my ability to write extemporaneously and I have come to understand that I am not the sort of writer who can pull off such a feat.

Luckily, my renewed dedication to the world of outlining has borne some nutritious fruit. I am often waffling back and forth on the way I structure my narratives. One of the things I have debated with myself over time and time again is the very concept of the prologue. When is it appropriate to use one? Is it cheating to include it? From the meager research I’ve done into the concept, the prologue is derived from Euripedes and the purpose was to replace a perfunctory, exposition-heavy first act.

Looking at the type of novels I have written, and examining the stories I have tried to tell, I cannot really look at a single one and argue against not only the inclusion of but the necessity of a prologue. In A Dark Tomorrow I utilized a vignette to set the mood and tone of the piece, introducing a character and the setting. I could have utilized this space in order to do some world building in order to eliminate some more exposition heavy chapters in the middle of the book, but as a rookie novelist I made many mistakes in that particular story. I am still insanely proud of it because, hey, it’s my first novel and its like my child that I can never truly stay mad at.

With The Song Before Nightfall, I wanted to make sure that readers had an understanding of the geography and history of the fantasy world I had created. This was doubly important because I didn’t shill out the money necessary to have a graphically inclined person draft a map of the locations that would be included in the narrative. There is no clearly drawn illustration of Adacia and the surrounding kingdoms the way there was for Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Martin’s realms in A Song of Ice and Fire. I had to utilize my words in order to set the stage. To do this within the context of the narrative would take forever. It would have ballooned massively out of control. That is not something I wanted to happen.

One Fate For Failure does not have a prologue. The thing jumps right in. I made a conscious choice to do this in order to work within the conventions of the genre. Now, the first chapter acts like a prologue in the same fashion that most of the pre-credits sequences for a James Bond film do, but I don’t consider it to be a prologue in same way that I do the first few pages of The Song Before Nightfall.

What is my point you may ask? Well, for anyone wondering whether they need a prologue to begin their story, you really have to ask yourself some questions;

  1. Can this information be worked organically into the narrative?
    • Sometimes it truly is better to hit the ground running, and a prologue can feel unintentionally inhibiting to a reader. If the prologue you have crafted doesn’t give them a sense of understanding, it likely needs to be rethought or excised.
    • Remember, a prologue serves the purpose of replacing what would normally serve as a first act. Depending on the type of story you’re writing, a prologue can enhance the feeling of entering the narrative in medias res, even if it truly is the beginning of the arc you’re wishing to tell.
  2. Does it fit with the genre of writing I am working in?
    • Some genres just work better without a prologue. Sometimes you want to be careful not to give too much away. The piece I am currently working on absolutely requires a prologue in my opinion because the reader may need the historical context to understand the story. Working in historical fiction, readers will often need that context in order to feel comfortable with the story you are attempting to tell.
  3. Does it MATTER?
    • This is the big one. Is it a big ol’ waste of space or does it contribute something. I am a firm believer that it is better to have a shorter final product than have a bloated end product that suffers at the expense of appearing bulkier. I know people want to get their money’s worth but always remember that every decision you make should be done in service of the narrative.

The big deal here is really context. Does what you are offering up in the prologue provide necessary context for your reader? Do they gain something from that information? If not, then why are you bothering to include it? When you are writing it is important to keep your audience engaged. Nobody will come back to read your next book if they felt you wasted their time with your last effort.

You spend a lot of time writing, make sure you make it worth their’s to read it.

I’m doing it again.

I don’t know why. I’ve only successfully finished an entry one time (in 2011, which gave the world GRAVE DANGER). I’m not an especially fast writer. Hell, I’ve been clawing at One Fate For Failure for close to two years now, in various forms.

That said I want to push myself. I want to write. I always do. I always am, so why not give myself a deadline and some sort of motivation. Conquer what has always been a challenge and reap the rewards. At least that’s how I’m looking at it.

As such I’m setting some goals for myself this year;

  1. Write in an unfamiliar genre.
    • I’m not tied to any one genre nowadays. I’ve done fantasy (The Song Before Nightfall), horror/mystery (Grave Danger) and thriller (One Fate For Failure). I suppose I could write a romance this time around, although I don’t think anyone wants to read that sort of thing from me. There are people who are far better suited to writing in that world than I am. So instead I’ve decided to write a western. A genre that I love in film but haven’t ever written in or even read extensively in. There is a general prevailing thought that you shouldn’t write in a genre you haven’t read ad nauseum, but I am hoping that by not catering to convention I can present something different for that particular category of fiction.
  2. Write with careful attention to tone and voice
    • I spent a lot of time inside Maddie’s head for One Fate For Failure and while I loved her as a character it also meant that the way I told the story was shaped by her perception. There were words that Maddie just wouldn’t use if I wanted her voice to feel authentic. With this project I am hoping to give the narrator a full range of verbiage by making him omniscient and all-knowing. It should allow me to stretch literary muscles I haven’t exercised in a long time.
  3. Finish on a strict deadline
    • This is pretty self explanatory. I don’t write particularly fast and I just want to see if I can meet a deadline again. In order to do this I’m doing a couple of things. Mostly I’m going to do an ungodly amount of pre-writing. I’m outlining and doing character analysis up front so that when it comes time to do the nitty gritty of writing I am not slowed down.

So if you’re a fellow writer looking to buddy up feel free to check out my NaNoWriMo profile and send me a message. I’m looking forward to a hectic and productive November.

As an English teacher as well as a writer I often times will draft literary analysis examples on the fly to show how to examine different genres of writing. Today I looked at a poem by Robert Frost entitled Acquainted With the Night and drafted a quick analysis essay that I figured I would share so that I can refer back to it the next time I need something similar.

Poetry is often used to elicit empathy from the reader. The poet crafts words and phrases into rhyme and meter in an effort to elicit a response from his audience that is commensurate with his own emotional state. In the poem “Acquainted with the Night,” poet Robert Frost seeks to create empathy for the speaker of the piece, who is largely coming to terms with his own struggle with depression and internal darkness.

In the poem, Frost utilizes a structure that is not altogether dissimilar to a Shakespearean sonnet. He gives us four stanzas, three lines each, followed by a rhyming couplet. The scheme of ABA, BCB, CDC, DAD, AA allows the reader to follow the pattern of Frost’s thought process and aids the reader in understanding his meaning; that struggling with depression is like wandering alone through a dark and stormy night in the wrong part of town.

Frost’s tone here is bleak. He uses imagery to paint a picture of darkness and help the reader understand the feeling of being completely underwhelmed. A good example can be found in the first stanza when he writes “I have outwalked the furthest city light” (line 3), positing an existence and struggle that extends beyond the illuminated world of what is known and into a dark place where only uncertainty remains. Frost’s examination of internalized depression continues, elaborating and further emphasizing the emptiness and isolation that such a situation can impress upon a person. “I have looked down the saddest city lane./ I have passed by the watchman on his beat/ and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain” (lines 4-6). Here Frost is specifically talking about the emotional weight of depression, passing the “watchman on his beat,” representing the collective figure of possible protection or salvation from his condition, and the guilt and burden that is often associated with living with depression. He is “unwilling to explain” his condition because he fears what reaction it might provoke.

Frost wraps his entire theme in the blanket of a major metaphor. The “night” is meant to represent depression and his speaker is slowly coming to terms with those feelings. In the final stanza, in a rhyming couplet Frost writes that the world, here personified by the moon shining in the night sky, has “proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right/ I have been acquainted with the night” (lines 13-14). Here, Frost is making a declarative statement that there is no objectivity to the concept of darkness and depression, it simply is. He has sought, thus far, to allow us to empathize with those who might be struggling with such emotions, here he is concluding my reminding those who do not suffer that there is no place for judgment.

Poetry is a form devised to deliver and convey emotions. No rule exists that says the emotions conveyed need be positive. Robert Frost writes about the darkness that many people face, and how on a long enough timeline it ceases to be anything but a regular part of their life, sad as it may be.


Final Cover Art Subject To Change

Coming Winter 2015 (exact release date forthcoming), ONE FATE FOR FAILURE is headed to the presses. Look out for pre-order opportunities as well as giveaways and special events.


An apology is meaningless if the words are not then followed by actions of penance. In America, the driving principle behind the criminal justice system is that of rehabilitation. The goal of incarceration is two-fold; to punish the crime and to correct the behavior.  A prison term itself means nothing if the former convict falls prey to recidivism. It is only if the criminal emerges on the other side as a changed man that society is willing to forgive the sins of the past.

Tyron Edwards famously stated “right actions for the future are the best apologies for the wrong ones in the past.” This is a philosophical statement that affirms the idea of the duplicitous nature of mankind; that we as a species tend to say one thing while doing another. Edwards is arguing that only by aligning our moral compass with the physical deeds we perform can we hope to truly atone for our mistakes. There is another old idiom that states “practice makes perfect.” As such, we may only perfect ourselves through true and honest practices. Words alone have no value. A man may apologize to escape the tension of a moment but if he does not engage in the active practice of atonement he is doomed to find himself yet again in the tense situation he thought to use his words to escape. This exemplifies the idea of yet another philosophical idiom; “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Society will always place higher stick in deeds than words. One need only look to the media portrayal of cultural idols to find this to be true. One mistake, if not properly a toned for with a change in actual behavior, can lead to that individual’s doom in terms of relevance and cultural visibility.  Celebrity is fleeting and actions carry more weight than words. It is why one man can go from being perceived entirely as a cocaine addled criminal to an A-list multimillionaire by practicing actual reform of his character while another may be endlessly mocked for paying lip service to the idea of penance while making no true change.

Society craves honesty. In order to truly prove the value of a statement it must be followed by faithful action. Society tends to operate on tangible evidence over faith alone. As the song goes, “deeds not words/you should have told the truth/you’re a liar and a traitor/and now we’ve got the proof.”


Almost a week ago, on Labor Day, my grandfather whom I had always affectionately called “Paw Paw” passed away at the age of 90. The following week was a rough ride of emotions and as with all things I felt the need to work through my feelings by putting them down on paper. I don’t write autobiographically much at all, as I tend to stay on the fictional side of things with my writing but I felt like I needed to get this out of me and so here it is. I don’t think it’s anything that could be called enjoyable but it is very much the most honest thing I’ve ever written and so I figured I might as well share it. A peek inside myself that few people ever really get to see.

It’s the little details of things that will stick with me after the longest time. At the funeral the thing that sticks in my mind is the attendant, handing out the leaflets with my grandfather’s obituary to the people who wandered in through the door. It’s a small town, filled with citizens of a certain age and I’m sure he knows a majority of these folks by name. He is an intrusive figure, a rotund ball of a man, similar in shape to a water balloon fit to burst. His pallid face is drenched in sweat and he waddles up and down the hall, shifting from foot to foot like an impatient duck with clubbed feet.

My hand gets lost in his when he shakes it and tells me he is sorry for my loss. His skin is a physical hypocrisy, dry and flaky but damp and clammy. He has psoriasis and bites his nails. He is off-putting to me in a multitude of ways and yet I offer a polite smile before turning away, trying to tune out his presence. My discomfort in the company of death is palpable enough without this repellant figure wedging himself into the situation. I know there are stages to the grieving process. Perhaps this is the anger that I had failed to endure up until this point. I told myself I couldn’t be angry at his passing, because not many of us ever live to see ninety years. Common sense told me that this day was an unyielding eventuality. Still, the human mind processes things the way it wishes and something within my cerebral cortex was telling the rest of my physical self to feel anger about something, God damnit.

My brother is silent beside me. I don’t know what is going on inside his head. He will converse with me when prompted but I do not believe this to be the day to nudge. I have seen him crying. Seen him try to hold them back. Watched as his glasses fog and he takes one tissue to clean them as he dries his eyes with another. We are waiting to be ushered into the parlor. We had been escorted out by the fat man minutes earlier, had boutonnieres pinned to our shirts and been instructed to wait for a signal to enter and be seated. Myself, my brother, and six other men, pallbearers for the man lying in the casket on the other side of the wall. I know the six other men, though I cannot remember their names. One is a cousin, my father’s sister’s son. Another married to the daughter of a different sister to my father. The rest I have seen at family gatherings, Thanksgivings and Christmases past and I feel a twinge of guilt that I do not know them by name and also feel no compulsion to ask. After this day it is unlikely I will ever come face to face with them ever again, my connection to this tiny little rural community severed with the passing of my grandfather. There will be no more Thanksgivings or Christmases together. He was the lynchpin. His den was the gathering area for our extended family, a beacon shining in the night drawing us all together when the time was right. That light is dark now. That dwelling where we shared so many mediocre holiday meals and wonderful memories now dormant, soon to be listed for sale and only tangible in recollections on days gone by.

The funeral director waves us in, the first two pews reserved for the eight of us. I take a seat beside my brother and two of the men whose names fail to materialize in my mind on the very first row, eyes locked on the now-closed vessel containing the remains of my grandfather which surrounded by bouquets of plants and floral arrangements. A wreath of red, white, and blue flowers adorns the top of the casket, perched lovingly on top of that arrangement is the all-too-familiar sight of my grandfather’s Stetson hat. It is everything that my grandfather was in life; vibrant, colorful, and country as can be.

The man I had always called Paw-Paw was a United States Marine and a carpenter by trade. He also raised cattle and other assorted livestock, the inhabitants of his ranch an ever-shifting menagerie of different animals. As far back as I can remember that ranch about an hour and a half away from Austin, situated on a little branch off of County Road 141 was a veritable zoo of rural animal life. I remember him leading me by the hand as a young boy out to the chicken coop and helping me toss feed to the hungry birds. Overly aggressive poultry would squawk and fly in my face and he would laugh as I ran from the fat little feathered bastards. We would ride together in his beat up old Chevy pickup as we traversed the trails that ran the length and breadth of his property, checking on the cattle and making sure they had enough to eat. As I grew older I came to associate Paw-Paw’s ranch with the relaxed southern ideal of freedom, a place where I could lean hard on the throttle of an ATV through the trails in the back of the property, a quiet oasis that stood in stark contrast to the suburban tedium that was my day to day existence.

The service moved with a quickness I have never associated with anything surrounding my grandfather or the sleepy Texas town he had called home for as long as I had known him. Friends and loved ones sat in mourning while country gospel songs filled the hall and a tiny wisp of a preacher spoke of all the things he had come to learn about my grandfather in his conversations with the family in preparation for the service. Some of these things rang true, like a bell struck in a silent room. Others felt divergent from the things I knew of my grandfather, the cracks in his liberty bell. Maybe the diminutive man of God felt he had to fill a certain amount of time, a theory I cannot discount due to the oppressive length of the songs chosen between readings from the gospels and sermons about the solace to be found in the kingdom of heaven.

At the conclusion of the service the fat man opens the doors to the parlor and the doors leading out onto the street. He ushers us outside, four to the right and four to the left of the entryway. The funeral director wheels the casket our way and we lift it from its carriage, delivering it into the back of the waiting hearse with quiet resolution. I turn to find my father standing in the doorway, his eyes wet with tears and his face wrecked with emotion. It is a sight I have seen precious few times in my life. My father has always been a quiet man, who kept his feelings hidden away like a treasure in an old chest, securely bolted and squirreled away in the dark. I turn my eyes to the sky and wrap an arm around him. My mother is crying beside him. I feel the tears sting my cheeks before I am mentally cognizant that I am crying myself.

My brother and I ride together to the cemetery. The cemetery that bears our family name. The place where our great-grandfather is buried. The man whom neither of us had the pleasure of meeting but whose namesake he bears. The woman I love sits beside me in the car, clutching my hand and giving me what comfort she can give. I tell her how much I appreciate her being there. I try to make dumb jokes with her and my brother to deflect from the aches that I feel in my heart. My subconscious compels me to at the very least attempt to distract myself and those in my immediate vicinity from emotional discomfort. I have a recurring dream where I am a prisoner, condemned to die on the gallows. In my dream they march me up the thirteen wooden steps and they loop the rope around my neck. A man wearing a black suit with white gloves asks me if I have any final words and I start making jokes, hoping that I can filibuster my way out of my inevitable fate. Suddenly the face of the white gloved executioner morphs into the visage of an old ex-girlfriend, or a professor who hated every assignment I ever submitted, or in one instance simply a yellow frowning faced emoji. The trap springs and I’m left to twist in the wind, my neck unbroken and my words still choking out, convincing no one.

When we arrive at the cemetery we emerge into the cloying humidity and approach the hearse. The fat man tells us that the ground we are preparing to traverse is somewhat uneven and to take our time and be sure of our footing as we go. In my mind the possibility of stumbling and dropping the casket repeats in my mind in slow motion a thousand times over in the span of a second and suddenly a dry lump rises in my throat and I force myself to swallow it and bury it in the tumultuous sea that is my stomach. We take hold of the casket and guide it to its final resting place, a plot beside my grandfather’s first wife, who died thirty nine years earlier to the day. We stand back and I look to my right to see a cadre of men assembled in formation with rifles at their side; an honor guard of local veterans. I know what is going on, it registers with me but my mind starts thinking of things totally dissociated from what is happening in front of me. I wasn’t expecting this. I should have been, but I wasn’t, and for some reason it hits me hard in the chest like a battering ram and suddenly my sternum is a splintered door.

The thin wisp of a preacher again reads from the gospels, I don’t hear any of it. I’m suddenly in a vacuum, the sound sucked out of the air violently leaving only a vague sensation of moist detachment; the physical manifestation of a dull shade of gray.

The sound of the gunshots bring me back to the real world.

Seven men fire three shots. Twenty one shells hit the ground. A lone bugler plays taps as my family weeps behind me. The fat man unpins my boutonniere and ushers me towards the grave. I place the small white flower among the others draped atop the casket. I stand back and watch as one of the honor guard hands a folded American flag to my uncle, the oldest of my father’s brothers. He nods in acceptance and stands in quiet resolution. He is putting on a brave face. He lost a daughter only last year. He is all too familiar with the feeling of grief and sorrow. I allow myself some tears for his sake, and my own too. The service is over, but the grieving is not.

The grieving is still not over. As I type these words I still grieve. Because grief is not a simple thing. Grief is complex and confusing. Grief is a bastard who slides a knife between your ribs in the night when you least expect it. Above all, whatever else it may be, grief is necessary.


When I have trouble working on my longer, more involved work, I sometimes sit down and try to write short fiction. Usually trying to find a style of writing I don’t normally practice. Earlier this year I completed a piece entitled “In The Eyes of the Emerald King” which is a sort of historical fiction story chronicling a battle waged by an Irish king going by the name of Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid who upon his death in November of 862 was referred to as “king of all Ireland.” There is a lament for this man listed in The Fragmentary Annals which reads;

There is much sorrow everywhere;
there is a great misfortune among the Irish.
Red wine has been spilled down the valley;
the only King of Ireland has been slain.

This story tells the story of his encounter with a fictional Norse warlord named Brynjar Asmundsson. Máel had numerous encounters with viking raiders but the battle described here is (to my knowledge anyway) entirely fictional. Details of his early life and familial squabbles are historically factual however although his characterization is also a creation of my own devising, as historical records that hew towards fact as opposed to hyperbole seem to be lacking.

Anyhow, seeing how today is my birthday and I’ve received several wonderful gifts I am presenting this story as a gift to the world, because I’m feeling generous and honestly I like the story. It’s not like my usual work and I hope people enjoy it.


In The Eyes of the Emerald King
By J. Goodson Dodd

The King stood on a grassy hill that overlooked the sea. Blue waves crashed against white sand and the fine, grey, salty mist splashed his face as he looked out across the sea. His mind was a tempest to rival the raging of the waves. His rule was in contention. There were those who sought to usurp his reign as rí hÉrenn uil, “King of All Ireland.” Blood had been spilled to earn the title. He had taken the life of his brother, Flann, and taken even more land by force following the death of Niall Caille mac Áeda.

The dreamscape of his mind was awash with red fire. The Norsemen who so often plagued his lands and pillaged his treasures had amassed in grand numbers to take the isle in its entirety. Vikings, brandishing stolen swords and shouting war cries in foreign tongues stormed the beach below and beat out a pounding rhythm against their shields as they fell into a tight formation. The Norsemen were warriors, true. But the men of Ireland had a fury in their veins that the Viking intruders could never match. This was their land, and they had fought Saxons and Welshmen and all manner of attackers to protect it.

King Mael was a warrior born, unafraid of battle or the possibility of death. He had come to prominence years earlier, gaining fame after striking down his own cousin to protect the kingship of the lands of Mide, which he would later take for himself. He knew how to fight and would lead the vanguard against the invaders on this day. He had experience fighting the Norsemen. He had two years past defeated Thorgest, also called Turges or Turgesius, a violent Viking raider. Mael, not yet the King, had taken Thorgest captive and in a show of dominance that spread his legend far and wide, drowned the bastard in Lough Owel.

The man leading the raiders today was unknown to him. He was a burly man, with pale hair the color of rough ash and a beard that hung low to his belly. He looked a fearsome sight, his pock-marked face wet and flecked with sand. He bellowed in his native tongue and the men he gathered shouted back, a cacophonous symphony of impending violence. King Mael knew that sound well. He had faced it down enough times that it no longer turned his guts to fluttering sparrows but instead burned the blood in his veins and pushed him forward to war.

He turned on his heels and approached his own men, an assemblage of tested warriors who had fought behind the shield wall many times over. It took strength to fight in a shield wall. Courage. It was not a common thing to find men who could count the number of times they had stood in a shield wall on both hands. Those who had were lucky if they had both hands. The wall was a proving ground for young warriors. Those that lived were made stronger and those who did not suffered a harsh end. It had taken time for the men of Ireland to adapt to the shield wall. They preferred a more frantic attack, to keep the minds of their enemies scattered. The wall was structure, solid and impregnable if manned by hearty warriors. It was logical. Mael spat into the dirt. Logic did not win wars, tactics did. Courage did.

He could see the Norsemen building their shield wall. They kept their left flank to the beach so that Mael’s men could not circle around to that side and break through that exposed area. The right flank curved to provide protection on the opposite end. It was a strong wall. Their leader stood at the fore of the wall and beat his shield with the pommel of his sword.

“We will drive a wedge through their wall,” Mael said. “Break them in the middle and penetrate outward. Let them know what sort the men of Ireland are.”

The captain of his warriors nodded in approval. He was a tall man, lean and dark, sporting a face crisscrossed with scars from fights long past. He barked orders at his men who lined up and brandished their axes and short-swords, eager to draw blood from their Norse enemies. Every one of them was a hardened warrior. Each man in the ranks had faced Viking steel before. It would be foolish to say that they did not fear their opponents, that they did not have to ready themselves for the oncoming carnage. A few men vomited, their half-digested breakfast splattering upon their boots and leather armor. A few prayed, but not all. Every man  had a ritual, and though there was some overlap they were often undertaken in solitude, independent of the man beside him.

“These men,” the King shouted to his men with the thundering authority of the crown in his voice, “wish to take our land! Our home! Will you let them?”

There was no intelligible reply. The men roared, a fiery rage of defiance echoing and crashing back against the sound of breaking waves. The King did not allow a smile to cross his face. He was proud. Proud of the Irishmen who had assembled before him, ready to fight and die to repel the foreign bastards who dared to insult the beauty of his kingdom. Mael had fought to become rí hÉrenn uil. The whole of the land belonged to him and he would be damned before he saw any fraction of it under the thrall of Norse usurpers.

The King drew his own sword, a short steel blade with a keen edge sharp enough to shatter lesser weapons. “Cuimhnigh I gconai,” he shouted. “Nil ach braon beag fola ort!” Always remember. It is only a little blood. That was always Mael’s cry, always his creed, and his men took it to heart.

The Irish raged forth, shouting and howling like banshees, the noise of their fury rising over the sound of crashing waves. The Norsemen held fast and stood their ground, bracing for the impact of the attack against their shield wall. They dug their feet and locked their shields, ready to repel the onslaught. Mael let loose another blood-curdling scream of righteous fury and from his rear a pair of men rushed forward, ahead of their king. One stopped mid-sprint and knelt, exposing his back to the other. The second stepped up the man’s spine, and the kneeling man stood, launching his ally into the air and over the front ranks of the shield wall. He came crashing down, slashing with a short sword in each hand, drawing blood as he tore at the Norsemen from inside their own ranks.

There was panic now, as men in the front rank turned to face the danger to their rear. And it was in their panic that Mael found his victory. His men crashed against the shield wall, shattering it inward and raining violence down upon them. Men in the viking rear rank rushed forward to repel the attack but such actions were folly, as the glorious Irish trod over the bodies of fallen Norsemen to drive them back toward their fleet. The fighting spread outward, expanding rings of violence leaving a trail of spilled crimson lifeblood in its wake, staining the sand beneath the battling warriors into a swampy muck of rust colored drudgery.

Mael scanned the crowd for his enemy.As he had made an example of Thorgest he would do the same for this new would-be usurper. He would take his sword and take his life. For a viking warrior there is no greater shame than to die without a sword in hand, for they could not reach the halls of Valhalla and feast with their fallen comrades if they did not die a warrior’s death. Mael had no intention of giving this man a warrior’s death. He had not earned it. He was a slithering eel who sought to take what was not his own and for that he would be punished and humiliated.

He finally caught a glimpse of his foe from across the field of battle. The King locked eyes with the man and turned to face him. He stalked across the beach, stepping over fallen vikings, his boots sloshing through blood-rich mud. “Who is it that dares to face King Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid?” he shouted at the viking, teeth gritted and anger flaring in his eyes. “Who is it that came here to die this day?”

“Brynjar Asmundsson,” the man called back. “And I still breathe! My men still fight!”

Mael laughed.“They will soon be lost souls wandering without purpose after death,” he shouted. “Or slaves to plow my fields and reap my corn and they will all remember the day King Mael laid low Brynjar Asmundsson, the worthless whore who thought he was strong enough to defeat the men of Ireland.”

“The men of Ireland are worthless dogs,” Asmundsson replied. “who should have been drowned as pups.”

They stood a swords breadth apart now, staring each other down and waiting for someone to make the first move. The fighting around them scattered and the men fell into groups. The norsemen fell back against the shoreline, watching as their leader stared down the Irish King. The Irishmen backed away as well, forming a semicircle behind Mael and cheering him on in bursts of shouted gaelic.

The viking moved first. He lept forward, slashing with his sword, hoping to cleave his enemy’s head in two like a ripe melon. Mael stepped aside and let the sword swoop where he had stood moments earlier. He did not block, he did not counterattack. He waited. The norseman cried out and swung again, a wide arcing attack meant to spill Mael’s guts and leave them steaming on the wet mud below. Again Mael sidestepped the attack, choosing not to counterstrike but allow Brynjar to tire himself. The Norseman carried a heavy sword, long and encumbering. Mael’s sword was light and swift, with a keen edge. He did not fear to pair it against the blade of his enemy but he would wait for his moment.

“Why do you not fight, you coward?” the viking spat.

Mael remained silent and again dodged the Norseman’s attack. He did not rise to the position of High King by talking. He did it by winning. By going for the kill. The viking was afraid. Mael could sense it in the wild manner of the man’s attack, the desperation in every swing. Mael was far from desperate, he was relishing the moment.

At long last Brynjar did something unexpected. He dropped his sword and lunged at Mael, grabbing at the King’s throat and tossing him into the muck. Mael lost grip of his sword and found himself for once on the defensive as the viking warlord rained thunderous closed fists against the side of his head. The Irish King drove a knee upward, hoping to catch his enemy in a vulnerable area but the blow simply glanced off the man’s thigh.

The viking grabbed Mael’s head from the sides and jammed his thumbs into the sockets of the King’s eyes.Mael wrenched his head free and drove his elbow repeatedly into the side of his attacker’s face. Bone cracked on bone and Brynjar Asmundsson spat blood and teeth into the mud as he stumbled to his feet. He staggered toward his sword as Mael found his footing. As he knelt to retrieve his weapon the Irish king leapt through the air and crashed down upon the man’s back, sending him face first into the mud and blood. Mael reached for the Norseman’s fallen sword, but the viking kicked out with both feet, driving the heel of his boots into the King’s stomach and doubling him over. With a mighty cry Brynjar rushed forward, tackling Mael and tumbling them both into the muck. They rolled and they tussled, fighting and clawing each other with violent ferocity, a primal battle not unlike two wild predators sparring for dominance.

Brynjar Admundsson found his feet but his opponent swept his legs from under him with a swift kick of his legs, and the viking warlord crashed against the beach onto his back with a resounding sloppy thud. Mael stood and took hold of the Norseman’s leg, raising it vertically as the man lie on his back. Standing above the man’s head and still holding fast to his leg, the King cried out and kicked forth driving the heel of his boot against his opponent’s knee, the sound of bone shattering muffled by the warlord’s screams of pain and anguish. The crowd of Irishmen cheered, for their King was victorious and their enemy had been felled. Brynjar Admundsson crawled through the mud, desperately grabbing for the hilt of his sword, knowing that there was no outcome but death in his future but refusing to be denied a warrior’s defeat.

King Mael arrived at the weapon first and grasped it by the hilt. He raised it high and in a smooth motion flung the blade into the ocean, watching as it sunk beneath the waves. Brynjar Admundsson cursed the Irish King under his breath and rolled onto his back, staring into the grim, grey sky that lingered overhead like an all-enveloping cloak of despair.

Mael grabbed the man by the scruff of his hair and pulled him to his knees, resting the invader on the shattered leg and causing him to cry out in pain. From his belt he drew a small dagger and held it to the viking’s throat.

“Slán go fóill,” he whispered to his enemy. “An nì a thig leis a’ghaoith, falbhaidh e leis an uisge.”

What comes with the wind goes with the water.

The King slit the Norseman’s throat and stood back as the blood spurted from the wound. The warlord fell in a heap at Mael’s feet and the man’s warriors watched as their leader died a terrible death. He died without a sword and would never join his ancestors in Valhalla.

“Go now,” the King shouted. “And never return.”

He turned and faced his men, who knelt and parted as he passed. Behind him, the few remaining Norse invaders trudged toward their boats, looking over their shoulders at their fallen leader lying in the dirt. Mael could have had them all killed, or enslaved, but he let them go. Let them sail far and wide to tell the tale of how King Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid spilled blood to preserve his kingdom, of the grisly and humiliating defeat of Brynjar Asmundsson and of the glory of Irish victory.

Buy My Books!

One Fate For Failure
Song Before Nightfall
December 2015
« Nov    

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 256 other followers