Anoter Test Post

test post to facebook

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A noval approach

One author speaking with another, offering fabulous advice in a delightful read. — Dan Poynter, author of SUCCESSFUL NONFICTION, IS THERE A BOOK INSIDE YOU?

I’ve written and published four books and working on a fifth (book). I WISH I’D RUN ACROSS THIS BOOK A LONG, LONG TIME AGO!  Jack’s understanding of writing, his easy manner of sharing his knowledge, and the value of his creative writing insights is worth much more than the low cost of his book.  Brian Utermahlen



Posted in A Novel Approach | Leave a comment

Autumn 2017

My Autumn is filling up.  Here is where I’m scheduled to speak and to give classes and presentations during Autumn, 2017:

September 7, 2017:  Writing Your Story, a one day program for veterans who want to learn to write a book, at the Audie Murphy VA Center in San Antonio, Texas, with my friends Don Helin and Valerie Ormond

September 8, 2017:  Writing the Serialized Novel, MWSA Annual Meeting, Menger Hotel, San Antonio, Texas

September 9, 2017: Writing about the War that Didn’t End all Wars, a panel on the stories, research, and legacy of the United States in World War I. MWSA Annual Meeting, Menger Hotel, San Antonio, Texas

September 22-23, 2017: ‘Writing Bygonese:’ Techniques to write historical fiction that makes the reader feel he or she is there.  Historical Writers of America Convention, Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort, Bernalillo, New Mexico.

Among the other participants are Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, and George RR Martin, author of the Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) novels.

November 2: Life after Law:  My Literary Life, State Bar of Texas, Austin, Texas.

I do hope you’ll join us. It will be nice to see you and catch up.  – Jack


Posted in Jack's Articles, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the Nightstand: Summer 2017, and the living is easy.

Nothing says summer like a fish camp on the river, or an American flag on the 4th of July, or curling up with a good book.

Welcome to On the Nightstand, where I mention a few of the books on my nightstand.  I review those I’ve finished and rate them by the watts they generate in my reading lamp – a 100 watt book keeps me awake all night but a 20 watt book puts me to sleep faster than, well, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of a house on the Pearl River.  I also mention what I’m reading right now and, of course, the books that are, on my nightstand.  I hope you enjoy my reviews and find something to keep you up reading all night.  Here we go.

Just finished:

Tribe, by Sebastian Junger, author of A Perfect Storm and director of the Afghan war film RestrepoTribe lays out the sense of belonging that a tribal society builds for its members, from the best hunter-gather-warrior to the least captive white woman who prefers to not be rescued back to a society that values possessions and passes judgments.  Junger contends that modern soldiers suffer more and longer PTSD from returning to a country that does not embrace them with jobs and care than they would by staying with their platoon, his tribe.  A willingness to die for one another isn’t compensated by the hollow words of strangers who say ‘Thank you for your service.’ 90 watts.

1066, by Andrew Bridgeford, a study of the Bayeux Tapestry with the view that its enigmatic cartoons of swords and shields and boats bearing William the Conqueror to invade England was really created as a series of hidden iconic messages that tell those who knew how to read them that William was not the fair winner.  Good history, uncertain evidence.  80 watts.

A Change of Climate, by Hillary Mantel before she was Hillary Mantel of Wolfe Hall, is the story of Anna and Ralph, British missionaries to South Africa whose child was abducted and sold for body parts.  A painful, tragic story, it is the biography of a family that unravels in the soul-less aftermath of such a loss.  It also is a foretaste of what a great story-teller Hillary Mantel will become.  90 watts

Birth of a Nation, by Julian Rathbone, is one of the funniest books I have ever read, the memoirs of a somewhat deformed man who stows away on Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos, petty thieves his way into Santa Ana’s army at the Alamo, then into Sam Houston’s army at San Jacinto, flees justice on a Mississippi riverboat, becomes part of an Indian tribe, and goes on to witness both the treasonous takeover of California by American settlers and the somewhat more human scale of takeover of fellow travelers by the Donner party cannibals, and….  100 watts.  Seriously.

Blitzed, Norman Ohler, is a fascinating history of Pervitin, a wonder drug discovered by the Third Reich pharmaceutical industry and tested first on housewives, then on soldiers, then on doctors, and became the wonder drug of Hitler’s war effort.  We know it as methamphetamine, or speed.  It ambitiously explains why soldiers could stay awake for days on end to blitz Holland and Russia, how Hitler depended on it personally to keep him working around the clock and, perhaps, why they lost the war.  80 watts.

The Keys of Redemption, Mark Bowlin, is the fifth in what started out as a trilogy of the 36th Infantry Division in World War II, a series of novels that follows two Texas cousins through the horrific grinds of Salerno, Naples, the Rapido River, and in this book, Anzio.  If I find myself stranded on a desert island, I want all of five of books in the box that floats up to me.  Bowlin has created a cast of soldiers, Italians, a few Germans, and occasional Irish priests, spies, and café dwellers that draw you in and keep you awake. 100 watts.

Reading Now:

The Undefeated, George Horvath, memoir  of a Hungarian who fled when the Nazis invaded but who  nevertheless was imprisoned by the Stalinist government after the war.

The Birthday Boys, Beryl Bainbridge, a novel written as the tales of the men who went on Scott’s fatal expedition to the South Pole in 1910.

Where my Heart Used to Beat, Sebastian Faulks, the novel of a lonely British psychiatrist who receives an invitation from a stranger, a French doctor, to join him because the Frenchman supposedly served with his father, who died in World War I.

 And, what’s On the Nightstand:

A Fable, William Faulkner

Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer

A Hero in France, Alan Furst

The Corfu Trilogy, Gerald Durrell

Summer is just too short.  So much to read, so little time….

Posted in On the Nightstand | Leave a comment

Spring Bookstand Cleaning

It’s Spring again.

My roses are growing up into the oak branches and the irises have blossomed for the season.  Our lawn is (temporarily) green and …

the sounds of hammers and saws and boomboxes pound in my ears, the smell of paint fumes fills my study, and there is chaos in every corner.  We have chosen to live through the renovation of our home.  Even reading is hard, with more books in my queue than on my nightstand.  Let’s review one or two of them.

If this is your first On the Nightstand, I rate the books I review on watts:  a 100 watt book keeps me awake all night, a 20 watt book puts me to sleep right away, and there are lots of watts in between.  So, here’s what has kept me up nights:

William Boyd, Sweet Caress, is the story of Amory Clay, a woman who was born while her father was away at the war.  Amory becomes fascinated with photography and documents the world that unfolded around her – Hitler’s Blackshirts, France during the war, American fashion, and Vietnam.  It is a solid 100 watt read.

Patrick O’Brian, The Yellow Admiral and The Hundred Days, are the stories of sailor Jack Aubrey and his friend, spy-surgeon Stephen Maturin, extraordinary men who can sail a worn out three-masted ship around the world and spy out Napoleon’s double agents but who also are utterly incapable of caring for their homes and families.  Aubrey wins his war but loses his deck in the first novel; Maturin foils Napoleon’s spies but loses his wife in the second.  Intimate, detailed, and brilliant 100 watt novels of the period.

But, David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas, let me down with Slade House.   It is the supposedly-scary story of people who disappear in a haunted house that disappears for years at a time until, every ninth October, its ghouls need to replenish themselves with fresh souls.  Sigh…. 60 watts, tops.

Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars, is a different history of World War I, of the people who opposed the war and tried to bring world leaders to a peace table before they destroyed civilization.  They were rewarded with isolation, imprisonment, and even the firing squad yet, in the end, the leaders they had tried to persuade came to accept that they were right.  90 watts.

In the Queue:

I’m excited that my friend Mark Bowlin now has the fourth book out in the Texas Gun Club series.  The Keys of Redemption should arrive any day, and I can’t wait to read it.  I’m also gearing up to read Blitzed, by Norman Ohler, the role that the German pharmaceutical industry played in WW2 medical experimentation and its ancestry to modern drug companies.

I’m returning to Oxford in July to resume work under Professor Miles; The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson will be my source for course work in creative writing, setting out the fine line novelists follow in separating facts from making things up.  And, in the meantime, I’m reading Birth of a Nation by Julian Rathbone, the story of an … unusually hairy… man who might be the Duke of Wellington’s bastard, or the child of a Spanish priest, or of a French camp follower, or…

And, neither last nor least is A Fable, by William Faulkner, winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

My nightstand is full, and what a great problem to have.

Posted in On the Nightstand, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Year for Travel……

December, 2016:

2016 was a year of travel. It took me to Maine and Colorado and Montana but most of my best travels were on my nightstand.

If this is your first On the Nightstand, I review and rate my reads on watts – a 100-watt book keeps my night light on while a 20-watt book puts me right to sleep. This is my year-end list so I won’t watt the books here, but none would be here if I didn’t enjoy them and if I didn’t think you would as well. So, where did I go in 2016? Let’s start with Binge Fiction.

Elena Ferrante took me to Italy. In My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child, she led me through gritty Naples, fashionable Naples, factory Naples, and side trips to artful Florence and upper crust Genoa.


Sometimes breathtaking, sometimes infuriating, and never put down, these four novels take us through post-war Italy in the company of two little girls and their friends and family: the mafia, the poor, the elite, and the miserable. These are my Books of the Year. Literally, I could not put them down. Read these books, then give them to someone and make a friend.

Hilary MantelWolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies brought me to Tudor England. She writes with lyric grace, humanizing a villain, villainizing Anne Boleyn, taking the gloss from Sir Thomas More’s bonfires of Protestants and unfolding the intrigue by which a blacksmith’s son despised by nearly everyone conducted the affairs of Henry VIII. Superb!

Patrick O’Brian sailed me across the seven seas during the wars between Napoleon and England. Just this year I’ve read Master and Commander, (Mediterranean), Post Captain, (France and Sussex), HMS Surprise, (the Indian subcontinent), The Mauritius Command, (South Africa and the Indian Ocean), The Ionian Mission, (Greece and the Aegean), The Reverse of the Medal (London), and The Wine Dark Sea, (Chile and Peru). Engrossing!

There are thrillas  on my nightstand as well. In The Assassins, Gayle Lynds takes us into Washington and Maryland and by private jet to North Africa and Baghdad to track down who is killing whom to get their hands on Saddam’s lost treasure, while in Dark Angel Don Helin races through the Pentagon, a suburban DC hospital, and a sleepy beach town to find out who is murdering soldiers – and who is trying to hack into a drone. In An Event In Autumn, Henning Mankell (Wallender series) digs up a body in a Swedish farmhouse near the Baltic Sea, while in Marina Carlos Ruiz Zafon, (Shadow of the Wind) creeps with me through a gothic mansion and an abandoned cemetery looking for spirits in BarcelonaPaula Hawkins took me for a ride in London’s suburbs with The Girl on the Train, who sees a murder in a backyard as her train rolls by (or does she?). And, in this wonderful cross-over fiction, Alana White walked me through medieval Florence in her Renaissance fiction The Sign of the Weeping Angel, where Guid’Antonio Vespucci must find a killer, a kidnapper, and a priest who is making a painting of the Virgin Mary seem to cry, all just to save the Florentine Republic from the clutches of conniving pope Sixtus IV.

Non-Fiction: In A Week at the Airport, Alain de Boton leads us into parts of airports we never see. We learn why there are airport chapels (installed back when planes routinely dropped out of the sky), meet bookshop employees who don’t read books, bask in luxury lounges that ordinary us can never enter, and commiserate with exhausted employees who can’t find lost bags or lost children or who have mental breakdowns when telling families that the plane they are waiting on has crashed. If you fly, you MUST read this book.

My favorite non-fiction author is Norman Lewis, who discovered that he was assigned to the British intelligence corps in WWII solely because he had blue eyes. In A Tomb in Seville, he walks us through Spain to look for the lost grave of an in-law, just before the civil war. And, also in Spain, Adam Hochschild gives us Spain in our Hearts, a history of the mostly-American Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish civil war and of the mostly-American expats who volunteered for that dress rehearsal for WW2. It is a chilling prelude to World War II and a good look into the souls of a hardy band of Americans who wanted to defeat fascism eighty-odd years ago.

And, my non-fiction book of the year: The General vs. the President, by H.W. Brands. When the swaggering elitist MacArthur wanted to use nuclear bombs in the Korean War, and the soft-spoken president Truman refused, the stage was set for the greatest clash of wills the American public could envision. Dr. Brands is a brilliant writer. His history of the Korean War, of the early Cold War, and of carefully guarded secrets that kept a third world war from erupting in the atomic age is a gripping book, very well-written. Given that current President-Elect doesn’t want to read intelligence briefings, it also is very timely.


I hope these help you with your reading list.

See you in April.



Posted in On the Nightstand | Leave a comment

From Tet to Tet in Vietnam: March 10-11, 1968



The last North Vietnamese attack of the January Tet offensive began on March 10, 1968, when NVA soldiers scaled a cliff at Phou Pha Thi, Laos, to destroy an American radar site that directed airstrikes on North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Lima Site 85 was manned by the Air Force 1st Combat Evaluation Group. They were ordered to continue operations despite intelligence that said an assault was imminent.After an artillery bombardment and commando assault on the radar transmitters, more than 3000 North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao overran the site. Facing impossible odds, the Americans displayed unimaginable courage to destroy their equipment rather than evacuate; almost every one of them died. The only American survivors were one forward air controller, five technicians, and two CIA personnel.

The destruction of this site made freedom of movement on the Ho Chi Minh trail much easier and enabled North Vietnam to organize a second offensive, called Tet II, that struck all over South Vietnam, beginning in May.
While the Tet offensive was a brutal military defeat for the communist forces, Tet had unintended consequences. Rather than agree to begin peace negotiations, the North rejected diplomacy because of a perceived weakness in the American public’s support of the war. And, more immediately, American combat units wanted revenge.
On March 16, this story of revenge, titled Courage, and Hope, will be published for subscribers to First Draft. If you don’t already subscribe to First Draft, sign up here or send me an email at and I’ll make sure you get it.  – Jack

Posted in Jack's Articles | Leave a comment

Hope, and Courage. On this day…

The Tet, February 29, 1968

The Tet attack on Huễ became the longest battle during the Tet offensive of 1968. It began when Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops stormed the citadel, or fort, of the city of Huễ on January 31, 1968, and overwhelmed the local authorities and South Vietnamese defense forces. American marines rushed up from Phu Bai air base, which also was under attack, and American army forces of the 101st and 1st Cavalry Divisions joined the battle that was to rage for 26 days.

Hue citadel 1968

When on February 29 the battle was deemed over, the city had been destroyed. By this day no enemy troops were alive in Huễ. However, the attackers were found to have murdered more than 3,000 residents who failed to join a hoped-for uprising. Four hundred eight Americans and over three hundred South Vietnamese troops died; communist forces sustained at least 2,500 deaths and unknown numbers of wounded. However, Walter Cronkite reported on television that the war was not winnable and would be a stalemate. The last vestiges of public support to continue the war in Vietnam turned against it.


First Draft will publish a special edition on Hope and Courage on March 16, 2016.  Don’t miss it.  If you don’t yet subscribe to First Draft, click on the subscribe button at this site or send me an email at


Posted in Jack's Articles | Leave a comment

Hope and Courage

On this day in 1968, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, American marines defended the assault on Khe Sanh that had begun with the Tet Offensive. North Vietnamese and Viet Cong attacked the marine air base with trenches and artillery in position as close as 200 yards from the perimeter fence. Surrounded, the marines could only be resupplied by aircraft that ran the gantlet of anti-aircraft fire to land and take off, often without completely stopping.


Bravo Company 1st battalion 26th Marines, patrolled the perimeter that day but were misled into chasing a North Vietnamese patrol and wound up being drawn into crossfire. Twenty-seven marines were killed and dozens were injured. Some were captured and imprisoned in Hanoi until 1973. The Tet Offensive would continue until the end of March.


Next month, read a special edition of First Draft, and the story of the particular courage shown by three Americans in Viet Nam. If you don’t already subscribe to First Draft, send an email to and I’ll be sure you get it, without charge.



Posted in Jack's Articles | Leave a comment

On the Nightstand: A Verdugo Winter

verdugoThe word verdugo is, of course, from the Spanish office of torturer for the Inquisition. That group’s work was much admired in England by the Tudors (Henry VIII, Queen Mary, Elizabeth…), who set about to stretch the limits of the human body with such things as the rack, the wheel, the unsparing use of heat and, of course, the noose and sword. Even though official torture declined in the Age of Reason, the best verdugos knew more than anyone about the limits of endurance of the human body and so went on to become the fathers of modern-day physical therapy.

This is close to my heart since,  after I used it for decades to run marathons, climb mountains, and jog simple loops around our local trail, my knee was ripped from my body in December and replaced with an artificial one. Two modern verdugos have racked and ruined me since my knee replacement surgery December. I spent that month and this with Henry VIII and his henchmen on my mind. Is there a silver lining to all this morbid reflection?  Yes, of course.  Immobilized and feeling sorry for myself in the holiday season, I read a lot of books, especially about the Tudors.

Thus, on to another episode of On the Nightstand. If this is your first visit to On the Nightstand, the books we review are rated by how well they keep you awake. A 20 watt book helps you drop right off but a 100 watt book keeps you awake all night, turning page after page after page. With that, let’s see what’s …

On the Nightstand

Just Finished:

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. With time on my hands (and torture on my mind) I chose to fill in some of the gaps of books I had never gotten around to reading, especially this first of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels. As best I can remember, I never put it down. While her subtle hiding of Cromwell’s acts, thoughts, and speech behind the device of referring to him only as ‘him’ took some sorting out, her writing is brilliant and point of view superb. Her Cromwell wove a complex web, not only to do Henry VIII’s difficult bidding but also to settle some scores of his own. For the first time, I cared about Cromwell instead of Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, and, most assuredly, the Howards. Off with their heads….100 watts isn’t enough.
The Watchers, by Stephen Alford, is a non-fiction history of Queen Elizabeth I’s spies who, for more than forty years, worked in the shadows to save her from the many religious plots against her life, usually by Catholic adherents of her sister (Bloody) Mary or her cousin Mary (Queen of Scots). It is a masterpiece of research into the hidden histories of men of whom we’ve never heard who went throughout Europe to spy on English ex-patriots who were plotting to overthrow the queen. We learn of the rack and screw, the broken limbs, the confessions, and the bonfires. Unfortunately, Alford’s prose is no match for his research, somewhat overwritten and prone to giving away the stories in the first sentences. 80 watts for the obscurantists of history.
Dissolution, C.J. Sansom. This novel about an obscure lawyer sent to an obscure monastery to ferret out who was killing Cromwell’s representatives is more murder mystery than historical fiction, using late medieval names and places and religious conflicts to hide the fact that it is just one big game of Clue (was it the Abbot with the candlestick or the bursar with the poison?) Sansom is a bit too proud of getting on paper the obscure terms of monastic life (precentor, pittance….) and architecture (redorler) on the way sorting out a lot of mysterious deaths, impossible obstacles, and characters who don’t seem any more real then than now, even though he does check in with the late Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Jane Seymour and, of course, Thomas Cromwell. Dissolution is an 80 watt mystery bulb, but if you want well-written historical Tudor fiction, Hilary Mantel has already co-opted the field.

To escape this gloom, I turned to:

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro.  It is a shift to pre-Tudor England (by about eight hundred years). Set in an apocalyptic post-Roman era, at the dawn of the Viking invasions, this is another of the author’s brilliant but enigmatic ventures in which the heroes are always searching for something that is just out of reach and not clearly understood. Axl and Beatrice leave their village of twig huts and idiots to seek their long lost son, encountering treachery, imprisonment, monsters, and … well, you should read it for yourself. 90 good watts.
The Children Act, by Ian McEwan, author of Atonement and Saturday, is the story of a law that provides that a child’s welfare shall be judges’ paramount consideration. The law seems to be common sense, indeed easy to understand, but in Judge Maye’s first case she must decide whether to order a hospital to separate conjoined twins, one of whom will die if separated, both of whom will die if they are not. What is the paramount consideration for the child who inevitably will die? And this is the easiest case Judge Maye faces. It is a thoughtful book, one that reminds us that even the simplest conflicts are never black and white. 100 watts.
Letters from Liberia: The Adventures of an Ebola Medical Volunteer, Dr. Joe Spann, MD. Nothing to do with Tudors or the English or anything close, Letters is the work of a physician who walked away from the comforts of home, practice, and security to go to a country where the norm was to pass dead bodies in the road on the way to such unknown destinations as Bong County.  His clinics were grim places where there were essentially no lab or medicines. In Monrovia, at the Golden Beach Club, a devil dances to help immunize the bodies that wash up on shore. Dr. Spann ultimately spent most of his time in Fish Town where he helped set up an Ebola unit to work with US Army medical volunteers. It is safe to say that every single page paints a picture of both the Africa we expect and of an Africa beyond imagination, both very sad but also very funny. 100 watts.

In the queue:
One of the great things about having awful impediments is the growth of my book stack. I’m currently reading or wrapping up for your next installment these great light bulb reviews:
Ghost Mountain Boys, James Campbell, about the 32d Division’s impossible crossing of New Guinea’s mountains to attack the Japanese in Buna.
Ghosts of the Mountain, by Mark Bowlin, the continuing adventures in WWII Italy of the Texas Gun Club and the only book I expressly requested to have by my side during my brutal and unfortunate convalescence.
Down to the Sea, Bruce Henderson, a narrative history of the US Navy’s largest loss of destroyers in WWII, and not at the hand of the Japanese…,

and maybe (if I finish) the

Neapolitan Novels of Elena Ferrante. This four volume set is brilliant, disturbing, penetrating, and absolutely un-put downable. I have finished the third volume. Ferrante is remarkable in her detail of the relations, internal as well as external, of two life-long friends, their families and enemies, in a changing world.  Without saying more, the story so evenly yet completely praises and ravishes people in post-War Naples that the author writes only under a pen name, and wisely so. The writing is superb!

But wait – there’s more!
First Draft, by Jack Woodville London. This is my literary newsletter, a personal-to-you missive of what I’m up to. It includes short bits about what I’m writing, the progress of my next novel, my news (such as publication of the Military History article I wrote about the American battle of St. Étienne-à-Arnes in World War I), and people and places I’ve visited for research.

And, in First Draft and nowhere else, you can read my serialized novel about Bart Sullivan, the scoundrel and black marketer who made life miserable for everyone in Virginia’s War. Titled ‘The (very) Brief War Diary of Bart Sullivan,’ I publish it for you in First Draft, one chapter at a time, and nowhere else. It’s free.
To subscribe to First Draft (and read Bart’s wartime diary), send me an email at or follow this link  to the subscription pop up. I hope you’ll subscribe and share my journey.

See you soon.

Posted in On the Nightstand | 1 Comment