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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

PROMIS: Viet Nam

Jack Murphy's novel Reflexive Fire is due to come out any time, now, and I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, he's begun a series of short stories which comprise the mercenary career of his Reflexive Fire protagonist's father, Sean Deckard. In Issue #1,we find Sean Deckard on a SOG team snooping and pooping in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, during the post-Tet chapter of US involvement in the region.

The innocent-sounding "Studies and Observation Group," more widely known by the SOG acronym, is surrounded by far more secrecy than I once assumed: I heard some of the old-timers talking about it (though never in specific detail) when I was a lowly grunt. Now I wonder if those people had any actual knowledge of it, or were just passing on vintage scuttlebutt from the pseudo-mythical CIA operations in southeast Asia.

Both the CIA and Special Forces branched out from Wild Bill Donovan's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of WWII fame. During the tragic fiasco in Vietnam, the two organizations came full-circle to reunite in the form of SOG. As I mention in my Elite Forces pages on my website, special operations/unconventional warfare forces are most effective when operating with their own intelligence-gathering capabilities organic to their organization(s). Futile sacrifices of the lives of elite warriors like Pont du Hoc; or just plain wastes of effort and resources like the Son Tay raid demonstrate this principle. SOG, therefore, should have been a force to be reckoned with. Though still shrouded in secrecy, by all accounts, they were. But like the entire Vietnam experience (and, arguably Korea and other military misadventures), tactical success after resounding tactical success all are rendered meaningless, along with their cost in human lives, when the command structure that put our men in harm's way is not committed to achieving strategic victory. Jack Murphy gives us a short glimpse into this insane mess through the eyes of Sean Deckard.

Deckard was recruited into SOG from the LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaisance Patrols--later organized into Ranger companies), and he is a hard-charger. Whatever his inner motivations might be, he is the ideal soldier, dedicated to his mission at the cost of most everything he might hold dear. However, he is on his way to some hardcorps disillusion when he proves just a little too effective at what he does.

In the interview segment below, the author provides a link to some information about PROMIS. It is spooky stuff, if true, and evidently not easy to explain well in simple terms. This process, shrouded in even more mystery than SOG, provides the subsurface impetus for the surface action in this series. I'm already fascinated to watch how this technilogical monstrosity is unveiled throughout the series.

But even without all that, Issue #1 of PROMIS is a great read. I would have finished it in one sitting if life hadn't got in the way. The action is fluid, visual, and at no point made me groan in disbelief. Jack did his research well enough that I had nothing to nitpick. On top of that, he's a veteran and knows how to write about combat operations without sinking into shellshocked introspection. He knows how to tweak real-world scenarios to make an entertaining read without interrupting our suspension of disbelief.

PROMIS is short, but packs a wallop. At 99 cents, you can't beat it. I've spent much more for fiction not nearly as good. I plan to buy the whole series as he writes it.


2FB: Let's start with some biographical info.

Jack Murphy: I’m originally from New York and enlisted in the US Army at age 19. I went straight from infantry basic training to Airborne school and then to the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP). Upon graduating, I was assigned to 3rd Ranger Battalion at Ft. Benning, GA. While there, I served as an Anti-Tank gunner, Sniper, and Team Leader. After my second deployment with Ranger Battalion I attended Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) and got picked to go to the Special Forces Qualification Course. After about a year of training I was assigned to a HALO (military free fall) team with 5th Special Forces Group at Ft. Campbell, KY. I completed three combat tours and graduated from Ranger School, Sniper School, SERE, HALO, and other courses too numerous to mention here. Last year I decided to leave the military and attend college. Currently, I’m working towards a degree in international business.

2FB: First of all, thanks for your service to our country, Jack. BTW: The man I dedicated my first novel to was in 5th Group during Vietnam. He was an old-school NCO, and probably the best one I've ever known. Anyway, though there have been some notable combat veterans who authored books about war, it's still kind of unusual to encounter an action-adventure writer who earned both Ranger and SF tabs and served back-to-back tours in Injun Country. How does that happen?

Jack Murphy: I started writing when I was a teenager, mostly short stories. I was a big fan of action-adventure novels and started writing about the types of things I would want to see in one of those books. I suppose not much has changed in that regard. I wrote a little here and there while I was in the Army but it wasn’t until I left that I felt comfortable really sitting down and hammering our fiction for public consumption. Special Operations has it’s own type of culture and none of us really talk to civilians about what goes on “behind the fence” so to speak.

2FB: It strikes me that you've noticed some of the same sad states of affairs I did in our military.Few Americans could even imagine it--especially those who support our deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jack Murphy: Most Americans try very hard to ignore that we are even fighting a war, or if they do, have no idea how it impacts them. I can understand the second point because I’m not sure that it does. Sadly, I have to say that the US military has put career advancement ahead of victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. The bureaucracy and risk adverse attitude of commanders, even in Special Forces units, is completely unreal. That’s a message you won’t be hearing from the mass media anytime soon.

2FB: And it was surprising to me how far back it goes. Even our "great patriotic war," WWII, the last declared war we fought, when everyone from the top down was earnestly seeking victory, some of this garbage was going on. But nowadays it's the rule, not the exception. Ahem. Were SOG operators still on US Army (or whatever branch) payroll, or were they "officially" civilians working for the CIA?

Jack Murphy: From what I have read it appears that SOG operators were always under the Army's chain of command.  SOG was commanded by an Army Colonel and fell under the Army's Table of Organization and Equipment.  However, SOG drew from all branches of service and combined them with the unique capabilities of the CIA.  This fusion of Special Forces combat troops and intelligence gathering seemed particularly effective, and to be frank, well ahead of it's time.

2FB: Back to you and your books: Tell us about your fiction.

Jack Murphy: I wrote a novel called Reflexive Fire which I am still preparing for release, but what I have out as of now is a short story called PROMIS. It is the first issue which I hope to serialize into a longer plot that follows the career of a professional mercenary through the 70′s and 80′s. I was inspired to write this series because of the research I have done into unconventional warfare, a hobby as well as my former profession. Through my research I discovered some of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of Special Forces, accomplishments that the public at large has little if any knowledge of. In this sense, PROMIS is like historical fiction and brings factual events and histories to new audiences, or so I hope.

2FB: How would you classify this series, and how does it differ from other work in the genre?

Jack Murphy: If I were to assign a genre to PROMIS, I would put it under military fiction. It is an action-adventure short that follows the career of a Sergeant serving in America’s Studies and Observations Group (SOG) , a highly secretive Special Forces unit that conducted cross border operations during the Vietnam War. Very little has been written about SOG, and if you read between the lines of what has, I suspect a lot of their activities are still highly classified to this day. PROMIS is unique because it draws upon source material and speculates on subjects related to espionage and Special Forces missions that most people have never even heard of.

2FB: Where does the title PROMIS come from?

Jack Murphy: PROMIS is the name of a controversial computer program developed in the 1980's by a company called INSLAW.  PROMIS stands for Prosecutors Management Information System.  Back in those days the Justice Department was losing cases because they couldn't keep track of the files in the primitive computers they had.  PROMIS was developed and sold to the government to allow various computer systems to cross talk and communicate between each other.  The software was eventually stolen by the CIA and allegedly used to launder millions of dollars of drug money.  This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the PROMIS software scandal and any investigation into this subject will inevitably lead down a road that takes the researcher into subjects like Iran-Contra, the October Surprise, and the murder of a journalist named Danny Casolaro to keep it all quiet.  I can't do the subject justice here but those who are interested should read "The Last Circle," by Cheri Seymour or for a primer read the following article: ""

I named this series PROMIS because the over all story arc will cover the development and intrigue surrounding the PROMIS software scandal.  In issue one we see the very beginnings of a fictionalized PROMIS in Leon Petraska's formulas.

2FB: Every book presents a challenge of some sort when writing it. What was that challenge with this one?

Jack Murphy: My greatest challenge in writing PROMIS was getting the details correct. Although I served in Special Forces, things were a little different back in 1970 when this short story takes place. I went through great pains to “get it right” but really I have Paul over at to thank for really keeping me honest. His group does Vietnam reenactments, including SOG, and has spent a huge amount of time communicating with Vietnam vets and putting together uniforms and equipment with an extreme degree of attention to detail.

2FB: Expound, if you would, on the scene where Sean flips out on the top brass. Not just their reaction to Petraska's predictive algorithm, but the business of the Soviet military advisors in the COSVN.

Jack Murphy: The existence of Soviet military advisers and the Viet Cong's headquarters, called COSVN, is highly controversial to this day.  From my research, I believe that SOG came damned close to catching up with several Soviet advisers.  If you read about the dirty little wars of that era, you find communist advisers from Russia, China, Cuba, and East Germany all over the world.  Western intelligence agencies were playing chess with the Third World and it would be naive to think the Soviets were not doing the same.  In regards to COSVN, I think it existed, SOG certainly did, but probably not the way I wrote about it in my short story.  COSVN was probably a fairly small command and control element that stayed highly mobile and coordinated certain actions along the Ho Chi Minh trail.  We see the same thing happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan where the enemy maintains a command and control node across a border into an adjoining country, hopefully out of American reach by their logic.  Although terrorists operate in a decentralized manner, they still have some higher functions coordinated by well placed individuals or groups.

In PROMIS, the brass reacts poorly to Sean Deckard's discoveries, in regards to the subjects mentioned above, because they are in denial and also because acknowledging the issue would mean having to do something about it.  In 1970, something that explosive could have potentially led to World War Three.  The sub-context of course, is that such a discovery could have led to the end of the Vietnam War, something that certain vested interests were in no hurry to have happen.

2FB:  It surprises nobody, I'm sure, to hear that Vietnam was a dirty war. Still, every time I hear or read about specific dirty details of it, I get pissed all over again. I'm gonna cut myself off right there or I will turn this blog post into an ugly, angry rant.

Thanks, Jack, for taking the time to answer my questions.

Jack has his own blog, Reflexive Fire, linked in the blog roll to the left, with many posts of interest for military/paramilitary enthusiasts. You can buy the PROMIS ebook by clicking the links on his blog. And, of course, you can click on the one below.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

I Went There!

 Where I went was into the zany universe of Robblogger, in his smashing debut ebook, Don't Go There. But it's not really the debut ebook that's smashing. The smashing you hear are household appliances and other objects being hurled at Robblogger by his girlfriend, after he has frustrated her beyond the threshold of domestic civility yet again. Evidently, this happens quite often. In fact, Don't Go There grew out of one such Robbloggerish episode.

It seems the (extremely patient/longsuffering and saintly, I'm sure) Significant Other in question wanted to venture out beyond the smokey interior of the crib. The silly gal even suggested traveling somewhere outside Canada. This ebook gives you an idea of the logic and methods he used to talk her out of it.

It's not really a travel guide; it's an anti-travel guide. Armed with info gleaned from Google, Wikipedia and the US State Department, our cynical soothsayer slays the reputation of many potential vacation spots/travel destinations, doing his dangdest to dissuade daunting daredevils from endangering themselves from attacks of international lameness.

Here's an excerpt from the Switzerland chapter:

A land of mountains, more mountains, and to break up the monotonous mountains, some more mountains. They also had a couple of big tiffs in Europe awhile back and the Swiss chose not to get involved.
I don't like that. The Germans showed a little initiative, wanted everyone to wear brown trousers, and shiny boots. The rest of the world wasn't keen on high stepping so we spanked them a bit. They've been quiet since, and I think they apologized for the inconvenience.
Where were you, Swiss Miss? You could have been a big help with all those Swiss army knives. You could have shortened the whole Germany Strikes Back, The Return of the Fatherland by a couple weeks anyway.
You had a lot of nerve selling those army knives of Swiss when you did the equivalent of hiding under the bed during the storm. I liked you better when I thought you were fictional. I had one of your multipurpose cutlery dispensers when I was young. I can't remember if it had a white flag in addition to the cork screw. It probably should have.
I'm going to try and remain neutral, however. I'd hate to offend the Swiss and find they had become apathetic towards me. If I spark an international incident I'm sure their total lack of involvement and ambivalence would be crushing.
Actually I'm rewarding a point for this. Why, dear readers? Well I figure if I get caught fooling around with a buxom Swiss watchmakers wife, and she yodels and wakes her husband, he likely won't want to fight.

This is a great book to keep in the bathroom. And I don't just mean for those times when you run out of toilet paper (it's an ebook, anyway). Robblogger took me on a virtual rollercoaster of reactions from grinning to giggling to guffawing. His humor has such an appeal to me, I'm willing to forgive him for not knowing that The Sound of Music took place in Austria.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Six Easy Pieces by Walter Mosley

I didn't read the description carefully and assumed this was another Easy Rawlins novel. It is actually a collection of Easy Rawlins short stories, as the title hints.

The year is 1964 and Easy is in his '40s now, with a full-time job as custodian at a public school. He is drawn back into the business of trading favors and unofficial detective work and once he starts, he can't stop during the course of these adventures. The stories are loosely connected, mostly by two themes: 1. Guilt over the death of his crazy friend Mouse, and the incredible rumor that he might still be alive. 2. Suspicion of infidelity by Easy's Stewardess girlfriend Bonnie.

I like Mosley's novel-length stories better, but these did improve as they progressed. And Rawlins meets and reacquaints with some fascinating (or sometimes grotesque) characters along the way, just like the old days. I also liked the Easy Rawlins character better before he became so respectable with the full-time job, adopted kids (Jesus and Feather) and white picket fences. But he's still likable and has the same moral strength that always legitimized his extra-legal endeavors. This reminds me a lot of an anthology of Dashielle Hammett shorts I once read. About the same entertainment value.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Grayton Beach Affair by James Harvey

This is the second tour for the Two-Fisted Blog. This time, I'm featuring author James Harvey and his debut novel, Grayton Beach Affair. Here's some details on the author and his book:

Returning to Berlin after being educated but disenchanted with America, Christian Wolfe finds that he and Germany are on a collision course with destiny. Because of his skills in English and knowledge of America, he is coerced by the German military to board a U-boat bound for the Gulf of Mexico to locate and extract a high level German officer imprisoned in a POW camp near the coast. Christian's mission runs smoothly until he witnesses an unusual and violent act by Maggie Neal, a young woman living in Grayton Beach, against a man who had taken advantage of her and her servant. Suddenly their lives collide, resulting in a death and involvement with the local police. He and Maggie discover they need each other to survive. Sparks fly and they have a brief and passionate affair, leaving each with deep but unsettled feelings for the other. Upon returning to France, Christian relies on his instincts when an opportunity arises to reconsider his future. He joins the French Resistance and when he saves an American flyer who offers him a new start in America after the war is over, he seizes it. Arriving in Atlanta, he is determined to find Maggie, but with their relationship founded on death and deception, could they possibly build a future together?

James Harvey was born in a small textile and farming town in South Alabama just a few miles from the town portrayed in To Kill A Mockingbird. His family was a poor, but genteel southern family more resembling a Tennessee Williams story than Margaret Mitchell. Harvey’s grandparents owned a home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida where he spent summers and heard stories of World War II German submarine activity in the waters off shore in the Gulf of Mexico.

Upon graduation from Troy State College, Harvey borrowed enough money for a one way ticket to Key West where he taught for a year at Key West High School. During this time, he fell in love with Florida and especially Key West where he enjoyed fishing, diving the reefs and navigating the local bars. In the spring of that year, Harvey met his wife-to-be, Marie, on a Friday and asked her to marry him the following Monday. He courted her on his only means of transportation - a motorcycle – and they will soon celebrate 43 years together.

Realizing that he would rather be in the jungles of Vietnam than the high school class room, Harvey attempted to join the military as an officer, but due to a military oversight, was given a deferment. He reluctantly left the Keys and began a successful career with IBM, first in Boca Raton and then in Atlanta. During his IBM career, he went to law school in the evening and was awarded a Juris Doctorate in 1984 from Woodrow Wilson College of Law. Realizing that most new lawyers barely make a living, Harvey used his degree to leverage advancement in the business world. After taking an early retirement from IBM, he began a second career in commercial real estate brokerage and development in Atlanta, advancing to Vice President of one of Atlanta’s largest office park developers.

The stories of German submarine activity that he heard growing up continued to intrigue Harvey, and in 2007, he began work on his first novel, Grayton Beach Affair in his spare time. In 2009, he made the decision to write full time and is currently working on his second novel. 

Harvey and his wife live in North Georgia where he fly fishes the North Georgia and the Rocky Mountain trout streams when not writing. Living in Key West opened Harvey’s eyes to the beauty of the area and influenced him to pursue sport fishing, diving and sailing throughout the Keys and Bahamas. They also live part of the year in the Panhandle of Florida where he fishes the Gulf waters.

After starting on the review copy sent to me for the blog tour, I had some questions for the author.

Two-Fisted Blogger: What is the inspiration behind Grayton Beach Affair?
James Harvey: I grew up in the area of Grayton Beach and learned of German submarine activity off the coast during the war.  I then learned of German POW camps that were established in Florida and the SE U.S.  I realized that a lot of people were unaware of both and thought it would make a good story .  I was able to incorporate an actual U-boat voyage and a German POW camp that existed near Grayton Beach to add depth to the book.  I started with the idea that it would be a war, action and danger story for the male reader, but when I introduced the female character and made her very strong and willing to take control of her circumstances,  the book evolved more into one of war, action, danger, sex and romance.  
Two-Fisted Blogger: How much has Grayton Beach, Florida, changed since WWII? Is it still as isolated as you describe in the book?
James Harvey: Grayton Beach is still a small community of approximately 240 residents at the end of a two lane road.  There are only 3-4 businesses, including The Red Bar, a popular restaurant and meeting place for visitors in the area.  The Red Bar was previously known as Butler's store, a grocery store and bar, referred to in the book as Bailey's store.  In the 1970's, the residents were able to establish prohibitions against high rise condos and as a result, maintains an old world charm. There are new homes, but most are contructed to maintain the old "Florida cracker" style of architecture that I tried to describe in the book.  Nearby Grayton Beach are large developments such as Seaside, Watercolor, etc, but Grayton Beach is on 18 mile "scenic highway' 30-A that prohibits highrises, billboards and fast food chains. 
Two-Fisted Blogger: How many ships did German U-Boats actually sink off our southeastern coasts?
James Harvey: I don't remember.  I did a lot of research on U-boat activity on the Gulf Coast and there are some really good non-fiction books that would easily answer that question.  Once I found U-67 and determined that her voyage would perfectly suit my needs to get my character to Grayton Beach, I focused on that.  U-67 sank 8 ships in the Gulf in the months of June and July, 1942. 
Two-Fisted Blogger: It surprised me that Christian experienced such anti-German prejudice so long after the First World War, and yet well before fear of Germany's ambitions broke out again in the United States after Pearl Harbor (and quickly reached a fever pitch). Is this one of those trends in history that has been swept under the rug?
James Harvey: Growing up in the deep and segregated south in the 40s and 50s, I saw prejudice on all fronts;  Religion other than christian (even catholic), race other than white, etc.  A lot of the people were uneducated, struggling to make a living during and after the depression and distrustful of anyone not from the south.   I used that general distrust and prejudice only to move the story along, not because people were focusing on Germans.

Thanks, James, for taking the time to answer my questions.


I've been fascinated with all aspects of WWII since I was a teenager, so when approached to join this blog tour for a wartime novel, I made room in my schedule.

Grayton Beach Affair, as the title implies, is about an affair that takes place in the Florida panhandle, and how that chance connection affects the involved parties for the duration of the war. Despite the sex scenes in the book, I found the romance between Christian and Maggie to be presented quite innocently. This is love at first sight, pretty much. I once knew a gunbunny from the Aleutian Campaign who met his wife at the USO. When he first laid eyes on her, he told his GI buddies she was the one. Sixty years later, they were still together. So that kind of storybook stuff was not unheard of in that generation.

I've read/watched wartime romances about Americans trapped inside Fortress Europe (in fact, my first abysmal effort at a war novel had such a scenario), but not too many about Germans hiding out in the USA. Christian is not a Nazi, but there's no love lost between him and Uncle Sam, either, having lived in the Southeast USA and suffering some perhaps anachronistic anti-German bigotry. He's a civil engineer, which gives him a military deferment in the Fatherland despite being of draftable age. Nevertheless, his fluent American English makes him a candidate for a mission to rescue a Nazi rocket scientist from an American POW camp in Florida, near the title location. Even a loyal German citizen would balk at such a mission, but der SS haff vays uff makink you this case, the threat of conscripting Christian and shipping him to the Eastern front.

What I found most thought-provoking in this book was Maggie's dilemma. She intuits that Christian is basically a decent guy, sees some evidence to support that, and there is a physical attraction...yet she knows he is a German agent, on a mission for a foreign power her nation is at war with. His life is in her hands. Should she do her patriotic duty and dime him out, or trust her heart/hormones and hide him? I wonder what choice real life people would make in her circumstances.

Well, Christian is a decent guy, after all. The plot takes an interesting turn when, instead of returning to Berlin after his mission, he joins the French Resistance. He has opportunities to bed other women in France but doesn't, usually because he's still smitten by Maggie. As very well should happen in such a story, the two do meet again...but Maggie is engaged to a Georgia attorney. You'll have to read the book to find out what happens from there.

You can buy this book at Amazon or here. My thanks to Florida Book Bloggers and James Harvey for the review copy.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Read An E-Book Week @ Smashwords

Smashwords is an online bookstore with thousands of e-books for sale, available in all the major E-Reader formats, as well as some of the minor formats. In fact, if you don't have an E-Reader yet, you can download a PDF to your computer, or just read your purchase on the site.

Mark Coker, who started Smashwords, has a great thing going IMO and is also a pleasant guy to deal with.

From March 6-12, there is a promotion going on at Smashwords, with a lot of titles half-off, 3/4s off, or even free. I'm participating, so you can get Virtual Pulp there for about $1.50 or Hell & Gone for $2.00. If you like to read, you should really visit and search for books in the genres that interest you. I'd definitely read the blurb and sample first before buying, though--it often gives you a clue as to how well the book is written.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More Sample Covers

If you suspect I'm going crazy with all this e-book cover might be right. Here's a couple more variations.

And then...

Well, it's simple alright. But it doesn't really look like a book cover to me. All the design tweaks I have in mind would make it "too busy" probably. Sigh.

Oh, what the blazes...might as well showcase the cover that will be on the paperback come April, too:

Doubt if you can read it, but I quoted from Jack Badelaire's review in that top bar.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

E-Book Cover Ideas

Well, I did 5 of these with different backgrounds.

These are the only ones that don't get murky when reduced to thumbnail size.

I don't like the one with the map very much. But then maybe it would look better with a topo map? I like the mushroom cloud, but it's probably too colorful. So I guess the top one is the best of the batch. But does the Sudanese flag imply that the soldier (silhouette) is Sudanese?

Nobody's commented yet, so I'll add one more:

I just bought this off of iStock, stuck my name/title on it and voila: the easiest cover I've made, to date. Simple enough? Looks OK as a thumbnail? Anyone? Bueler?