Imagine yourself a young man living in Cairo, Egypt. You’re an airplane mechanic with a pilot’s license, an ordinary guy not affiliated with any political causes or terrorist organizations, just a guy trying to get ahead. While with your girlfriend in a café, you’re picked up by two thugs, taken to the hills of Mokattam and tortured. You escape and learn that a major subversive group, the Egyptian police, and the American CIA are trying to find you.
Marine Lieutenant Colonel Nick Palermo is brought to Cairo from the war zone and, because he has lived in Cairo and speaks Arabic fluently, is told by the Special Agent of the CIA to bring you in for questioning, hinting that releasing you afterwards might be a problem.
After fighting off the secret Egyptian police and the subversive thugs, Nick finds you and learns that complying with the CIA demands is not as simple as he had expected.
is an intelligent, riveting drama by Jim Ingraham whom Jan Burke called “a master craftsman.”
Check out the Kirkus review of Sahara Dust
SAHARA DUST (reviewed on October 15, 2011)
Suddenly, Cherokee City, Fla., is chock full of folk in sheep’s clothing, and it’s up to Detective Sergeant Randa Sorel to defrock the wolf.
Randa has much to cope with these days. Her blowhard boss, for instance, never saw a TV camera he didn’t want to cozy up to. He doesn’t like Randa, and she doesn’t like him. Domestically, there’s trouble, too. Attractive, charming, marriage-phobic Lee Fronzi is everything a woman could want in the boyfriend department, provided Randa isn’t listening nervously to her biological clock. But that’s the sort of stuff that tends to get shoved to the back burner when a homicide cop gets a whiff of a really juicy homicide. Who killed retired NCIS agent Woodrow Barstow, what was he doing in Cherokee City and why are so many Federal types trying so hard to persuade local law enforcement—namely Sergeant Randa, who’s gotten the case—that national security is involved? Are the Feebies playing mind games for some special reason, or just out of habit? Specifically, what’s Randa to make of enigmatic Native American FBI Agent Tyonek Horse? She doesn’t trust him. Actually, she doesn’t trust any of them. And soon enough a crop of bumps and bruises will vindicate her judgment.
Sure-handed Ingraham (Remains to be Seen, 2008)
spins a satisfying tale whose greatest triumph is flawed, sympathetic Sergeant Randa.
How I fell in love with the Navy
"You’ll be sorry!" sailors yelled from the rails of the warship while their big guns blasted shells over our heads and loudspeakers played 'The Marine Corps Hymn.' We were in choppy water leading the first wave of Marines toward the beach. It was L-Day on Okinawa, April Fools Day, 1945.
We crawled onto the island without incident. The Japanese commander had decided to let us in unopposed, a very different reception from what we had experienced on our previous assault—Peleliu, arguably the bloodiest island battle in the Pacific war.
I was a 22-year-old sergeant in charge of the first platoon, 'A' company, 3rd Armored Amphibian Tractor Battalion, III Amphibian Corps attached to the First Marine Division.
For most of the campaign our amphib tanks (LVTAs) were used as artillery, firing 75 millimeter howitzers over the heads of advancing troops. We had it easy, encountering few problems beyond struggling through thick mud and dodging stray bullets from overhead dogfights. In late May we were assigned to shore patrol where Japanese forces attempted a counter landing. But in early June near Itoman on the southern tip of the island, we were given an assignment that would have blown us off the earth if it hadn't been for the navy.
Captain Wilfred S. LaFrancois, battalion executive officer (recently an advisor on the filming of the movie "Gung Ho"), was given an assignment to destroy Japanese coastal gun emplacements. This led to sending my platoon of five tanks to a small coral reef from which we were to blast away at an artillery piece that was several hundred yards from us, fifty feet or so above sea level in a cave in the face of a cliff. Apparently the captain didn’t realize that if we could fire directly into the cave, the Japanese could fire directly at us—and they had a bigger gun.
The reef was about the size of a football field, located offshore maybe three hundred feet. The toward-land half was sheltered by an eight-foot coral mound. The outer half, where we lined up our tanks, was flat and unprotected.
Before we could train our howitzers on the cliff, the Japanese turned their gun on us. The explosions frightened the few men who had stayed on the tanks to crawl and stumble to safety behind the mound where all of us huddled, looking worriedly at each other, wondering what the hell we were going to do.
When the tanks were disabled—two of them destroyed—the mound became the target. Our tiny reef shook with every blast. We watched metal and coral fly over our heads and knew that the mound would eventually be demolished and we would be annihilated. Some prayed, some just waited, some eyed the shallow water between us and the mainland, calculating how long it would take to wade to shore. A few tried. They plunged into the water, realized they were visible from the cliff, and turned back.
I can still hear the man out there whose hand was sliced off by shrapnel running toward us screaming "My head is blown off! My head is blown off!" Without realizing that his hand was missing, he had reached for his face and couldn’t find it. Men pulled him to the wall and bound his arm to stop the bleeding. We all watched him, frightened for him.
Except John Flanagan, our signalman, who was sprawled at the edge of the mound, beckoning to me. I lay beside him while he sent an SOS to what seemed to be a gray island several miles in the distance. It was a battleship.
Neither John nor I thought it would come to our aid: we were only a handful of marines.
We couldn't believe it was turning, slowly moving toward us. I yelled at the men to stay down. I watched and waited and saw fire from those 16-inch guns and felt the blast as their shells peeled off the front of that cliff, destroying the gun position and everyone manning it. I told the men what was happening. We waited through five minutes of silence, then helped our wounded cross the shallow water to marines watching us from the shore.
I will never forget the awe I felt at the majesty of that massive battleship coming to rescue a few beleaguered marines. But it did. It saved us.
And that's why I fell in love with the United States Navy.
For a different kind of war story by Jim,
check out ARAB on Kindle
There are people of recent wealth who never allow themselves to enjoy anything that is popular. They're called "snobs"--English is said to be the only language that has such a word. You can find them at expensive colleges where they watch polo and squash, never football, basketball, or baseball. They never read books off racks in drugstores and supermarkets. They seem to think that looking bored is admirable. In 1602, according to Joe Gores, the librarian at Oxford University was told not to include the writings of William Shakespeare: his work was too commercial and trashy. The separation of fiction into categories like mystery, suspense, and romance, is for marketing purposes that have nothing to do with quality of writing. Booksellers want to know what shelf to put them on.
One hundred and fifty years ago Abraham Lincoln ordered his armed forces to fire on American citizens who had declared their right to separate themselves from the United States government in Washington, D.C. These rebellious citizens did not seek to overthrow the government in Washington. They sought to separate themselves from its jurisdiction.
Clearly Abraham Lincoln was an honorable man. Clearly Muammar Qaddafi is a monster.
That aside, what is the difference between what Qaddafi is doing and what Lincoln did?
At the beginning of the Civil War Lincoln did not believe he had the right to free the slaves, and he did not recognize the legitimacy of the Confederate government. So it cannot be said that he was killing foreigners or that he was fighting to free the slaves. He stated repeatedly that he was fighting to hold the nation together, the same goal Qaddafi claims to be fighting for, even though Qaddafi is fighting to keep himself in power and Lincoln had no such agenda, although he did want to be re-elected.
So how today should we look upon Lincoln’s actions?
I have just returned from a seven-day voyage to Alaska. I had originally planned to keep a journal or perhaps a diary so that I would remember events of the trip. I described the flight from Florida to Seattle (truly uneventful) and the marvelous experience of having dinner on the rotating restaurant on the Space Needle. After boarding the ship that was to carry us north, I set the journal aside and just enjoyed what I was witnessing. I do not intend to write “Murder on the Alaska Cruise.” Agatha did that about a train ride, and one’s enough. But I did give a lot of thought to the value of travel to writers.
Somerset Maugham traveled for story material and came up with good stuff like “Rain.” Hemingway and Flaubert and Graham Greene, among flocks of others, made productive use of travel. Alternatively, the legendary editor Max Perkins discouraged a woman from traveling to Paris for atmosphere. “It’s better to use your imagination,” he said, or something like that.
So what do writers gain from travel?
Because description in fiction should be restricted to what has provided the POV character an emotional experience, and not be a wearisome listing of what the character pays little attention to, the impact of that experience is what is memorable.When describing the Havana waterfront in To Have and Have Not, Hemingway didn’t describe the square. He gave us the “bum” drinking from the fountain as his character walked from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco Café.
Seattle was bigger and more developed than I had expected: lots of hills, unlike here in southwestern Florida where you rise above sea level only on bridges and in buildings. Mount Rainier like a giant ghost looming in distant mist gives my memory something it will never surrender. As the restaurant atop the Space Needle made its slow turn to provide a view of all parts of the city, I recall little but rooftops and city streets as I waited for the reappearance of the lovely Mount Rainier.
An excursion ship is a place to sleep and eat and get your picture taken, to figure out which elevator will bring you to a theatre where you can sip sweetened alcohol so that you may endure the funnyman they hired to keep you laughing.
As the ship threads its way up the narrow passage of a fiord, you open the morning curtains of your stateroom and are stunned by the looming granite cliffs that rise hundreds and hundreds of feet above you, patches of green and occasional conifers sneaking out of crevices in polished stone.
And you see the glacier poised above the granite shoulders of the mountains it dominates, crushed blocks of ice luminously blue, brutally powerful as though waiting to slide down the cliffs to overwhelm you.
Images that cause emotional reactions remain with me. Will I use them in my work?
If I am true to myself, they will be in the meat and gristle of what I write.
Labels: Jim Ingraham
Why do people say "their" when the antecedent is singular? Why not say "his or hers" or "he or she?" Laziness I call it. Maybe one day this illiterate expression will be acceptable, as "normalcy" has become. President Harding, not our most literate head of state, used "normalcy" instead of "normality." So it was deemed acceptable. Let's hope that "refudiate" doesn't follow the same path.
SAY WHAT YOU MEAN
While watching a movie, we are spectators. While reading a book we are participants. As readers, we don’t see action. We see words that we translate into action. The more accurate the words, the more immediate the experience. If words don’t say what the writer means, our minds are forced through a process of interpretation that dilutes the experience.
An expression like the following commonly appears in fiction: “From the top of the hill he could see the ocean.” Does the writer mean he saw the ocean or that he was able to see it? He said the latter but probably meant the former.
“She only danced for an hour.” What else might she have done? Yodeled? Or did the writer mean “She danced for only an hour.”
“I will find out if he’s interested.” What won’t I find out if he isn’t interested? Or does the writer mean “I will find out whether he’s interested?”
Say what you mean!
One hears people say, “I wish to thank everyone for….” Why not just thank them?
“Every evening he would go to the movies.” Does the writer mean “he would go? Or he went? Probably the latter. So why not say so?
“I would appreciate it if you would pick that up.” You would appreciate what? Presumably “it” stands for the action of picking something up. Why use all those words for the reader to untangle? Why not say, “I would appreciate your picking that up.”
“I suppose you don’t like this, do you?” demanded George. George didn’t demand “I suppose you don’t like this.” The writer is trying to say too much at once.
Commonly one hears “I wish he would have gone” when what is meant is “I wish he had gone.”
“I had seen that thing before.” Is “before” necessary?
“Something fell between the cracks” is commonly meant to mean that something fell through a crack. What’s between the cracks is solid. If the writer said, “Something fell through the cracks,” how many cracks are involved?
And his eyes didn’t “drop to the floor” unless he went blind.
Never cared much for the works of Robert B. Parker. Read some years ago and found his stories somewhere between interesting and ordinary. But he died and, because he had become so popular, I decided to take another look. I picked up a western, APPALOOSA, and an eastern, NIGHT AND DAY, and found myself unable to put them down. Among other things, I was tantalized by the snappy dialogue and pleased by his elimination of stuff not essential to the telling of his story. At times I wanted more—more description, more characterization--, but if lean writing is what you’re looking for, he gives it to you in spades. He cares about his characters enough to make you want to see what becomes of them. And without that, no stories are worth reading. In his own way he was a master story teller, and you can run right through the writing without noticing the words. We lost a great entertainer. I’m glad I took a second look.
People who disparage history, the writing about the past, calling it "bunk" or "a tissue of lies," seem to assume that a true history, the actuality of what happened, exists somewhere out there, hidden beneath the stories we've been told. Their criticism implies that more diligent scholars and story-tellers than Tolstoy and Plutarch and Francis Parkman, could find the actual past and reproduce it if they really tried.
They seem unaware that the past doesn't exist. Yesterday is gone. It's not out there to be found. All we have are stories about what happened, guesses derived from the examination of bones and stones and stories. The selection and interpretation of the artifacts necessarily reflect opinions current when the historians develop their stories. We have no idea what ancient Greek sounded like. There is no way to find out. The sounds we make when we read the writings of Aristotle and Plato are the inventions of scholars, not replications of actual sounds that have forever disappeared.
History gives us the assurance that we are part of a long chain of meaningful events affecting the lives of people who are now dead. It serves our desire to know what happened before we got here. It helps us understand what we have. It cannot possibly be true to the actuality of the past, but it is the result of disciplined scholarship. It’s the best we can do, and it deserves our respect.
It's not how age affects me as a writer that's important. It's how it affects me as a man. Because I have shed many illusions about myself and my life and have accepted who I am and who I have been, my relationship to people and to my work is more sensible than it once was. I am no longer crippled by fears that I won't "make it." I know that "making it" is an illusion. The only important result of writing is the work itself.
I liken it to playing golf. Winning a tournament is fun, but trying to is not what keeps me playing. The real reward is striking the ball well, that feeling coming into my hands when I watch the ball sail down the fairway, when I watch it fall into the hole from 30 feet across the green.
If the reward of your work is something other than finding the right word, building a solid paragraph, turning out a well-crafted story, then you miss the true rewards of being a writer.
If I am true to myself, the results of my work will reflect the gains I have made over all the adversities that have plagued my life. I hope that readers grow from my work. It pleases me that others enjoy my stories. But I write, not to please others, but to please myself.
Fabled editor Maxwell Perkins (and isn't it wonderful that a person can become famous just for doing his job?) was informed by one of his authors that she would like to visit Paris to research a scene in her novel, and he asked her not to go, to stay home and use her imagination. I've often wondered about that. I find research into locales valuable not so much to provide authenticity but rather to make me comfortable when I place a scene in that locale. I remember writing about Cairo, which I had never visited but had read a hundred books about, including the novels of the great Naguib Mahfouz. I knew about the streets and the crowds and the odors in Old Cairo; but it wasn't until I found an Egyptian man and wife and sat down at lunch with them and talked about Cairo that I felt comfortable writing about it. I discovered that the man and his wife were no different from me, that Cairenes were not aliens in a strange place but were as familiar to me as folks strolling in Times Square. I'll go to Paris and soak up atmosphere but only to make myself comfortable when I write about it, not to bring back the detritus of sightseeing.