Tarnished Brass

Page Publishing LogoI’m pleased to announce that I have again signed with Page Publishing, Inc. of New York to publish and distribute my latest book, Tarnished Brass. A release date has yet to be determined, but I’m hoping everything will be completed either by the end of this year or the beginning of 2019. There is much yet to be done. In the days ahead I’ll be working closely with a Publication Coordinator regarding editing, page formatting, and cover design.

Tarnished Brass looks at America’s involvement in El Salvador’s ten-year civil war (1980-1992) and its consequences for both countries. Today, twenty-six years later, socio-economic conditions remain unchanged for the vast majority of Salvadoran citizens while gang violence has replaced and, in many ways, surpassed the brutality of both the Salvadoran military and the guerrilla factions during their prolonged conflict. Though a work of fiction, the book also speaks to the current divisions in our own country over immigration policy and the rise of gang violence (notably MS-13.) Tarnished Brass will definitely resonate with readers looking to understand current events in the context of history.

I want to thank Page Publishing for its continued support of me as an author. Writing is a craft that requires many things, not the least of which is someone willing to represent your efforts to potential readers. Name recognition greatly aids such consideration, and many books found at book stores, retail outlets and online are by writers or public figures whose fame ensures sales. But for the aspiring author, it is the willingness of those within the industry to take a chance on your book and go through the publication and marketing process with you.

 

The Smoke at Dawn: My Review

The Smoke at Dawn Book Cover“The Smoke at Dawn” is the third novel by Jeff Shaara focusing on the campaigns fought in the Western Theater of operations during America’s Civil War. It picks up in the summer of 1863. The fall of Vicksburg, the Gibraltar of the South, has given the Union Army complete control of the Mississippi River, setting the stage for the Army of the Cumberland under the leadership of William Rosecrans to capture the crucial railroad hub in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Temporarily victorious, Rosecrans over extends the Federal forces under his command and suffers a disastrous defeat at Chickamauga Creek. He is relieved by President Lincoln and replaced by Ulysses Simpson Grant who must now come to the relief of Rosecrans’ forces besieged at Chattanooga by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Much of Shaara’s book focuses on the battles at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and the commanders and common soldiers who fought there. In addition to generals Grant and Sherman, George Thomas emerges as the primary force behind the eventual Union victory. Self-effacing, deliberate in his preparations and actions, he will be criticized by his more famous contemporaries for his attention to detail that, while successful, doesn’t allow for a rapid advance against the enemy.

The dynamics of strategies, tactics, and leadership are also central to understanding the Confederate defeat at Chattanooga. Braxton Bragg sees no failing in himself, yet his subordinate commanders have little respect for their leader and even less loyalty. They petition Jefferson Davis for his removal. Bragg, of course, sees everything through the lens of a conspiracy against him and places blame for every failure on someone else, notably General James Longstreet who he believes is responsible for the criticisms against him. He will order Longstreet to Knoxville, removing a thorn in his side but significantly weakening his own army.

In contrast to the disastrous lack of leadership by Bragg, Patrick Cleburne will be recognized for his extraordinary defense against Sherman’s troops. He will be blindsided by Bragg’s capitulation and by his orders to abandon the ground that his soldiers have so tenaciously defended. Instructed to cover the Confederates’ withdrawal, his men will act as the army’s rear guard tasked with holding off any pursuit by the victorious Yankees.

“The Smoke at Dawn” was meant to be the cornerstone of a three part series by Jeff Shaara. But like the war, another chapter was yet to be written in Atlanta, Georgia. That story is told in his companion book, “The Fateful Lightening.”

I’ve previously expressed my admiration for Jeff Shaara’s work; he is my favorite Civil War author. If this four-star review reflects a somewhat less glowing critique, it is probably because I’ve tried to accomplish a re-reading of this tetralogy in too short a time frame. Just as the war would extend over four bloody years, Shaara released each of his four books a year apart. That spacing allows the reader a fuller understanding of the momentous historical events that transpired as well as a better appreciation of the detailed research that went into each installment.

Cognitive Hope

Completed Book CoverAlmost 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form. My father succumbed to its insidious progression. He passed away July 31, 2006.

Following his death I wrote my book Silver Taps, an attempt to come to grips with his passing and a  reflection on our relationship and the disease. It’s important to recognize that Alzheimer’s affects not only the individual but family members and friends who provide support and also struggle to understand and cope with the loss of a loved one’s cognition (see my previous post Sixth Leading Cause of Death,  dated March 15, 2017.)

As of today there is no cure for the disease, and the number of cases is expected to triple by 2050. Drug trials have shown promise in the past, but up until recently that promise has failed to materialize. The individual affected by the loss of memory knows what is happening but is unable to do anything about it, while caretakers are also faced with the certainty that in spite of their efforts the individual will eventually be unable to do anything on their own and may even forget even their closest relations. Multiple health related complications are common and they almost always result in death.

However, a new discovery provides hope. The drug is not FDA approved and much more testing is required, however, the Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment is encouraged by the initial study. 856 patients from the United States, Europe and Japan were involved in the clinical trial.

For the first time a drug has shown the ability to clear plaque from the brain and actually improve cognition. This is a potential milestone in the efforts to eventually find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Having experienced the pain of loss of someone who was a pillar of strength within my family before the onset of this disease, I continue to advocate for continued research leading to a cure. “Hope,” in this instance, is the expectation of success in finding a remedy that will impact anyone affected by Alzheimer’s. I can’t change my experience, but I continue to hold onto that hope and encourage others experiencing similar circumstances to be optimistic.

 

 

The Edge of Over There: Author Interview

 

THE EDGE
OF OVER THERE

The Day the Angels Fell, Book 2
by
SHAWN SMUCKER
  Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: July 3, 2018
Number of Pages: 384
 
Scroll down for Giveaway!
The captivating sequel to the award-winning The Day the Angels Fell
 
Abra Miller carries a secret and a responsibility she never expected. 
 
Before the Tree of Life, everything in Abra Miller’s life had been predictable. Safe. Normal. But after the Tree, everything has felt fragile . . . like holding a soap bubble in the palm of her hand. After years of fruitless searching for the next Tree, she begins to wonder if it was nothing more than a vivid dream.
 
Now sixteen, Abra finds a clue to the whereabouts of the next Tree of Life when an ominous woman—who looks exactly like a ghost from her past—compels her to travel to New Orleans where she’ll find one of seven gateways between this world and Over There. But she’s not the only one interested in finding the gateway. There’s also a young man searching for his father and sister, who escaped through it years before. As Abra enters the Edge of Over There and begins her pursuit of the Tree once more, she doesn’t know whom to fear or whom to trust.
She’s also starting to think that some doorways should never be opened.
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Praise for The Edge of Over There:
“Blending Biblical elements and urban myths, Smucker creates an enthralling story of supernatural battles between the forces of good and evil.” — Publishers Weekly


“The Edge of Over There is a mesmerizing, menacing fantasy. Shawn Smucker fuses New Orleans lore, Christian themes, and dystopian landscapes in a thorough exploration of love and its unintended results.” — Foreword Reviews (Starred Review) 

AuthorInterview

INTERVIEW WITH SHAWN SMUCKER

Why did you choose to write in your particular sub-genre?

I love how imaginative kids and young people can be. It’s inspiring to me, and I think someone with a well-developed imagination is better at critical thinking. We are all hardwired with these amazing imaginations, but in most people, they go untapped and eventually fade. So, writing mystical realism feels to me like partnering with other people who also have imaginations they haven’t forgotten about.

 Which character from The Edge of Over There is least like you?

Abra is definitely least like me – she is adventurous, spontaneous, sometimes reckless, and she doesn’t let her fear become a barricade. I am the opposite of most of those things.

Did you first experience rejections when submitting this manuscript for publication?

For the first book in the series, yeah, there were a lot of rejections. I couldn’t get an agent for years, and then when I did, and we submitted The Day the Angels Fell, we got 15 – 20 rejections, mostly from acquisitions editors who loved it but didn’t know where to place it. Is it religious? Is it secular? Is it for adults? Is it for kids? It’s hard when you write a book that doesn’t check all the boxes. But eventually we got there.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

I’m a full-time writer. Most of my income is derived from co-writing books for other people. I’ve been doing that for about ten years and have found it very rewarding. But it does sometimes wear down my writing muscle. I find I only have a certain number of words per day, so when I’m busy with co-writing, I have to find other times (evenings, weekends) to work on my own things.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  Have any of them impacted your writing?

Well, the writing doesn’t always pay the bills. I’ve painted houses, worked at farmers’ markets, sold baked goods, worked at fairs, and most recently driven for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. You can read more about those adventures by searching the #RideshareConfessional hashtag on Twitter or Facebook. But I think it’s good to be involved in other things. Writing can be a lonely endeavor.

 

Shawn Smucker is the author of The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There. He lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him on his website, where you can also sign up for his newsletter in order to find out when and where the Tree of Life will turn up next.

WEBSITE   FACEBOOK

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GRAND PRIZE: Both Books in the The Day the Angels Fell series + Color Changing Tree Mug + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
2ND PRIZE: Both Books + Tree of Life Journal
3RD PRIZE: Both Books + $10 Starbucks Gift Card
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  July 17-26, 2018
CHECK OUT THE OTHER GREAT BLOGS ON THE TOUR:
7/17/18
Author Interview
7/17/18
Book Trailer
7/18/18
Excerpt
7/19/18
Review
7/20/18
Review
7/21/18
Top 10 List
7/22/18
Notable Quotable
7/23/18
Author Interview
7/24/18
Review
7/25/18
Guest Post
7/26/18
Review
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A Chain of Thunder: My Review

A Chain of Thunder Book CoverJeff Shaara continues his Civil War narrative with the second book in a series focused on the pivotal battles and campaigns fought on the Western Front. Book One, “A Blaze of Glory,” chronicled the Battle of Shiloh, a confrontation that resulted in the combined loss of over 23,000 lives.

Both sides will claim victory. However, as Book Two begins, Federal forces have been replenished while Confederate manpower continues to steadily diminish. After months of combat the Union Army under Major General Ulysses S. Grant has gained the upper hand forcing Confederate forces under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton to retreat. The next pivotal engagement will take place at Vicksburg, Mississippi, the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.”

As he always does, Shaara recreates the strategies and tactics of both armies. He lets the reader inside the minds of leaders whose names we all know. But, unlike most authors, he actually gets inside the psyches and egos of these generals, letting us understand the hopes, fears, personal animosities, friendships, and political pressures that determined their decisions and the eventual outcome of the war.

These insights are fascinating studies in leadership. However, it is his descriptions of common soldiers and their contributions that truly anchor our understanding of what it was like during the war. Their suffering is gut wrenching, as is their devotion to duty. Many had no inkling of the horrors they would face or what their reactions would be. Some rose to heroics, others fled the field. All fought not out of any great hatred of their adversary, but for the love and respect of the men around them.

One such individual is Private Fritz “Dutchie” Bauer of Wisconsin. Bauer knows the disgrace of courage lost. At Shiloh he loses his to the unending waves of Confederate soldiers that almost succeed in breaking him and the entire Union Army. Somehow, however, he and his fellow comrades in blue regroup to turn the tide, their baptism of fire turning them into veterans. Bauer transforms from a scared raw recruit into a soldier. He comes to believe in fate, that nowhere is safe on a battlefield, that good men die simply because their time has come. If God has decided your destiny, there is no reason to succumb to fear. The fear is constant, but controllable. At Vicksburg he again survives two failed assaults against the city’s fortifications before the decision comes to lay siege and starve the Confederates into submission. Bauer becomes a sharpshooter, patiently picking off any defenders unfortunate or foolish enough to expose themselves from behind the barriers.

The brutality of war is not limited to soldiers. Civilians are also tragically caught up in any conflict. Credit Shaara with his depiction of the citizens of Vicksburg forced to leave their genteel lifestyles, abandoning their mansions to huddle inside caves, trapped by the constant bombardment of Federal artillery, witnesses to the slaughter, and participants in the hunger that will in the end bring Vicksburg to its knees.

To tell their story he focuses on nineteen year old Lucy Spence. She endures starvation but volunteers as a nurse. While many only gripe about their circumstances, she tries to comfort men whose bodies have been ripped apart by cannon and musket balls. Initially scorned because she has no experience as a nurse and must also bear the malicious comments of her neighbors who believe that a decent Southern woman has no place among soldiers, she eventually wins both admiration and respect.

“A Chain of Thunder” is Shaara at his best! He makes us experience the siege by voicing all aspects of the battle and the experience of all participants. And, he also recreates another pivotal moment in history. The fall of Vicksburg will reverberate throughout the South, dealing a monumental blow to the Confederacy by cutting off the Mississippi River as a vital artery for transport of troops and supplies.

Witness to History

A Blaze of Glory Book CoverA recent broadcast on CBS Sunday Morning, entitled “Witness Trees,” caused me to once again reflect on this nation’s Civil War and the tremendous cost in human lives that became the price to preserve our Union.

There are, of course, no living veterans or immediate descendants of that conflict. However, there are trees, some over two hundred years old, that existed at the time and managed to survive the monumental clashes between Confederate and Federal forces. At Gettysburg alone over seven million musket and cannon balls were fired over a three day period. One image from the broadcast was a tree trunk embedded with munitions. It vividly brought to mind the horrors faced by the men who fought on both sides. If a tree could be so riddled and scarred by these shells, you can only imagine the carnage that was dealt to the human body.

Because of the show I returned to my favorite Civil War author, Jeff Shaara, and began re-reading his trilogy on the Western Theater campaigns. It begins with his recreation of one of the war’s bloodiest engagements that took place at Shiloh Church in southwestern Tennessee. There were over 23,000 combined casualties.

Shaara’s meticulous research recreates the battle “with a stunning you-are-there immediacy.” You get inside the minds of key commanders on both sides, their strategies, and their crucial decisions (often flawed) that result in both victory and defeat, but more importantly, unprecedented loss of American lives.

It is those lives, the thoughts and voices of the ordinary soldiers, that are the strength of Jeff Shaara’s prose. It is his ability to find the humanity in war that elevates his work and makes us rethink what it is to be so dedicated to a cause that you are willing to give “the last full measure of devotion” towards its achievement.

Modern society has distanced itself from the motivations that turned father against son, brother against brother. It doesn’t endeavor to view life through their eyes. It judges the past by today’s standards. Today veneration of anyone who wore the grey uniform stirs national controversy. However, as a soldier, I cannot help but admire the bravery of all combatants regardless of their allegiance.

Both sides claimed victory at Shiloh, but while Union forces will continue to grow to almost one hundred thousand troops, Southern forces dwindle to one-fifth that number. Though the war will continue, it has been said that “after Shiloh, the South never smiled again.”

 

God Save Texas: My Review

God Save Texas Book CoverPulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright has written what can best be described as a meditation on what it is is about Texas that makes it so unique and influential. His thoughts are presented with a great deal of wit and humor, and contain insightful information on everything from history to culture to politics.

Politically, Texas has always influenced national discourse and policy. Three of its favorite sons –  Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and George H. W. Bush were elected to the presidency of the United States. And today, its leaders in Austin have made it one of the most conservative states in the Union, not only aligning Texas with the nationalistic policies of the Trump administration but leading the fight against illegal immigration and the establishment of sanctuary cities.

Wright voices his misgivings about the direction of this leadership both in Washington and Austin, but does so in an introspective contemplation on why he loves Texas so much. Obviously, when you’re searching for the “soul” of what makes Texas… Texas, you have to look beyond political differences to examine everything that sets it apart from every other state.

Oil magnates, cattle barons, musicians and writers have all shaped our conception of the Lone Star State, and Wright covers them all. He journeys from Austin to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso (and all places in between from the Rio Grande Valley to the plains of West Texas.) He discusses the oil boom from its beginning at Spindletop to today’s fracking in the Permian Basin and the role oil, cattle and cowboys have played in forging the image of Texans to the rest of the world. He looks at NASA and our place in space exploration, the influence of Texas musicians from Buddy Holly to Willie Nelson, and the contributions of authors like Larry McMurtry with his ode to the great cattle drives (Lonesome Dove) and his description of life in an isolated and dying Texas town (The Last Picture Show.)

Wright also describes the beauty and diversity of the land from the pine forests of East Texas to the deserts of the Trans-Pecos. He finds serenity in Big Bend National Park, and relishes the quirkiness of places like Marfa, Texas that attracts artisans and tourists with its emergence as a cultural center smack in the middle of nowhere, its linkage to one of the most influential films ever made about the state (the 1956 movie “Giant” starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean) and, of course, the eerie phenomenon of the Marfa Lights that fuels speculation about extraterrestrial visitations.

There’s really no way to encapsulate all the ground covered by Wright in this book, nor his ability to truly entertain readers as he does so. I’ve lived in Texas almost fifty years, but wouldn’t know where to even begin to attempt to articulate why Texas is so extraordinary. My hat is off to Lawrence Wright who manages to educate, intellectually stimulate, and delight readers with a thoroughly engaging portrait of a state that I also happen to love.