how to story, in sixty seconds.

Yeah, it’s a commercial for a beer, but it’s also a perfect master class in storytelling. Setting, characterization, conflict/motivation, peril, emotional climax, satisfying resolution, denouement. Themes: friendship, loyalty, love. All squeezed into one minute. Not a second is wasted on anything that doesn’t drive the narrative.This is how you do Story.

on the holocaust and self-deception.

The BBC flew a drone over the Auschwitz concentration camp, and the footage is, as you might expect, profoundly haunting.

Of all the conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers piss me off the most, because they blithely try to minimize or outright eradicate from history the industrialized extermination of eleven million people–men, women, children, infants, the infirm. And I’ve often asked myself how people can completely close their minds to reality and cold, hard evidence. I mean, we have footage of the camps. We have survivor testimonies and admissions of guilt from the perpetrators. We have overwhelming physical evidence: hundreds of thousands of clothing items, eyeglasses, dentures, suitcases, just from Auschwitz alone. We have dozens of tons of human hair. And we have official records, because Germans are fastidious record keepers. They tallied all the victims, and they catalogued everything they kept, down to the last gold filling. We have order forms and receipts for the many tons of Zyklon B pesticide they used. Those who survived the war admitted to the scope of the atrocities and their part in them after the war. So there’s a mountain of solid historical evidence that a.) the Holocaust really happened, and b.) Nazi Germany really did kill millions of people in purpose-built extermination camps.

So how can an otherwise functional intellect close itself to all this irrefutable evidence and claim that the Holocaust was either a hoax or nowhere near as large in scope as claimed?

The answer, of course, lies in the nearly unlimited human capacity for self-deception. We are really, really good at both rationalizing our own preferences, and “explaining away” evidence that points to something we don’t want to be true. Denying Auschwitz is a piece of cake for someone with conviction when you consider that people can deny, on the spot, the reality of things that happen right then and there. That’s how you can have 9/11 truthers. That’s how you can have people claiming that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were a false flag operation perpetrated by a sinister race of “magical Jews” who can shape-shift. That’s why it doesn’t even matter if police officers wear body cameras–because you can videotape the most justified shooting of an armed perpetrator, and there will still be people who will watch the video and claim that the police officer executed someone in cold blood for no reason.

It’s because when you are invested in an ideology, you have to make reality subordinate to that ideology. And when the physical evidence points to the possibility that your ideology doesn’t match reality, then you have to deny that reality, or face the possibility that you ideology is wrong. It’s much easier to dismiss historical records or claim that a video was doctored than to examine your beliefs and concede that everything you believe is wrong.

But reality doesn’t go away when you deny it. Those buildings and crematoriums at Auschwitz still stand, and every time someone denies what they were used for, they deny the humanity of all the people who died there. And just as importantly, they deny the human ability to commit such atrocities, which in turn paves the way for a repeat of those atrocities. To borrow my friend Kathy’s words, there’s a world of difference between “Never Again” and “It can’t happen here.”

Because if a society of civilized, educated people, the nation of Goethe and Schiller and Beethoven, can build and staff a place like Auschwitz and systematically murder millions of people in just a few years–if orderly, fastidious Germans can go from bookkeeping to putting on a uniform and herding women and children into gas chambers at gunpoint because they perceive the approval of society and enjoy the power they are given–then it can happen anywhere, at any time.

Auschwitz happened. Auschwitz is real. And we must constantly be on guard to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We must make sure others don’t fall into the same cycle of denial and self-justifiying savagery, but it’s equally important–and maybe even more so–that we don’t fall into it ourselves willingly. And every time someone blithely suggests that we just wipe out all the members of a religion or ethnic group for the actions of a few of its members, I know that there will always be people willing to put on a uniform and man a guard tower if they perceive the approval of their peers, and if they convince themselves they’re acting for the good of their own people. And I will not stand for it or tolerate it, not now, not ever. Because if you don’t speak up when it isn’t dangerous, you may not get a chance to do so later, and your silence when you could have spoken up is a form of consent.

update from castle bleeearrgh.

Emails regarding the Space Marine naming rights will go out today. I meant to send them yesterday, but the Wandering Pestilence visited Castle Frostbite early yesterday morning. One of the kids started barfing at 4am, and it all went downhill from there. All four of us were laid up with one of those nasty 24-hour bugs that make you nauseated and fatigued, so I didn’t have the energy to spend much time in front of a computer last night. Just getting a bucket of warm water out to the chickens had me worn out afterwards.

Today’s all better. kids are back in school, and I’m back to the usual routine, so expect emails later today. Thanks again for participating!

the “be a space marine” charity tally.

You crazy kids wasted no time claiming the naming rights to the Formerly Anonymous Squad in the Bad-Ass Platoon of Badassitude. We ran over the count a wee bit, but I’ll make some space on the platoon roster because you shouldn’t be penalized for my lack of orderly system when it comes to tallying contest entries.

Together, you have donated a total of $630 to the Semper Fi Fund today. I will match the donated total, so this little naming rights sales bonanza raised $1,260 for a worthy charity in the space of just two hours. Not bad, ya misfits…not bad at all.

I’ll send out individual emails to confirm name choices tomorrow FOR SURE. Until then, pat yourselves on the back, and imagine the wonderful ways in which you will earn glory, get blown to stardust, or possibly both, once I get to writing you into CHAINS OF COMMAND. DISMISSED, you knuckledraggers.

 

want to be a space marine in a frontlines novel?

I am currently writing what will become the fourth Frontlines novel , titled “Chains of Command”.

Without giving away any plot details, I can tell you that Chains of Command will feature a group of folks I’m calling “the Bad-Ass Platoon of Bad-Assitude”. I’ve filled the command slots with some recurring characters that you may remember from the first or second novel, and some you will meet in the third novel. But a platoon has a lot of members (the NAC Spaceborne Infantry platoons have three squads, and each squad has three fireteams of four enlisted grunts), and that’s a lot of names to make up.

So I thought I should have some fun and do something worthy at the same time. To that end, I will fill the roster of enlisted members with names supplied by you. Here’s how it’s going to work:

–Claim a slot in the Comments below. First come, first serve. I have 9 enlisted slots to fill, and 1 squad leader position.

–Make a donation to the Semper Fi fund. (The Semper Fi fund is a top-rated non-profit organization helping injured, wounded, and ill members of our Armed Forces.) $25 will give you the right to name one of the enlisted grunts in one of the squads of the Bad-Ass Platoon of Bad-Assitude. I also have a squad leader slot to fill, but if you want that slot, it’ll cost you $50 at least.

–Forward me the donation receipt via email to marko.kloos@gmail.com.

–First come, first serve. I have 9 enlisted slots to fill, and 1 squad leader position.

For your donation, I will a.) name the character as desired by you, and b.) mention the character in the story at least once. You may live through the story, or you may die a glorious death for the NAC, but your name will be in the book. (Caveat: the character name can’t be out of place in the story–no celebrities etc.)

I will also match all donations dollar for dollar.

So here is your chance to be a Spaceborne Infantry grunt and see your name in print, all for a good cause. Nine squad slots for $25 a piece in donations, or be a squad leader for $50! SUCH A DEAL.

Now get to it, trooper!

UPDATE: All the slots have been claimed. That was quick, folks. Thank you, and I will send out verification emails later today!

UPDATE THE SECOND: Haven’t sent out emails yet, but everyone who donated and sent me the receipt via email today is going to get a named character. We ran over the count a little, but that’s OK. I’ll make some room in the platoon roster.

obligatory 2014 recap.

I really like it when I type up an end-of-year retrospective blog post and find that I really didn’t have a damn thing to complain about in the past twelve months.

2013 was great. 2014 was even better by every measurable metric except for the fact that I didn’t get to see my family in person again this past year. Other than that, things have continued to go swimmingly here at the Castle Frostbite Magic Daycare & Novel Factory. I had a novel published in January (Lines of Departure), and both Frontlines novels have continued to sell exceedingly well all year. Robin quit her job in the spring to stay at home and be my support staff full-time, and we find that we both really enjoy this arrangement, because MY GOD WHO WOULDN’T. I am keenly aware just how damn lucky I am that my writing can support a family of four when most writers I know have day jobs and often spouses with day jobs. THANK YOU, old and new readers, for buying all these books, because it means I don’t have to do anything else to fill the pantry, and I’ll get to crank out more books more often.

I got to do a writing retreat with friends for a week down in North Carolina, which was a booze-soaked week of fun and a nice tribal gathering of sorts. I went to Boskone in February and Readercon in August, both local cons where I get to hang out with friends and recharge the social capacitors. Then I got to do my first ComicCon in October in NYC, which was a lot of fun and also a little overwhelming, but mostly awesome. I signed books, met new fans, and connected with old and new friends.

(Side note: sipping cocktails on your publisher’s dime while chatting with your writer pals at midnight just a few blocks away from Times Square will definitely serve to make you feel like a REEL WRITUR for a little while.)

Also in October, I got to hold a little talk at the Army Chief of Staff’s Strategic Studies Group down in Washington, D.C., and that was certainly a novel experience. It went very well, the SSG fellows seemed to enjoy my stay, and I found that a.) I’m not bad at talking to a room full of people for a few hours, and b.) I want to do this sort of stuff more often. Like a reading or a signing, it’s a public performance of sorts, and even though I am an introvert, I enjoy having to switch on the performing persona for a limited and predictable amount of time. My convention dance card isn’t full yet for 2015, but I am leaving myself room on the schedule for a BEEG EEMPORTANT RESEARCH TREEP sometime in the second half of 2015. I will, however, be at Readercon in Burlington, MA in July just like every year, and I’ll be an adjunct instructor at the Paradise Lost workshop in San Antonio in April.

So, yeah–2014 was all sorts of sweet, especially on the professional front. I hope 2015 continues the trend. I’ll have another novel out on April 21, and there’s enough stuff in the works right now that it’s possible you may see another novel from me in 2015. Let’s see how it goes.

I hope your 2014 was a good one, and if it wasn’t, may 2015 crank the Awesome to 11 for you. Happy New Year to all of you.

the hazards of winter.

A few days ago, I took the corner at the bottom of our driveway in a slightly-too-spirited fashion, and side-scraped a frozen snowbank. This is what I managed to do to the passenger side sliding door of the new Frostbite One:

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The frame took the hit without damage, but the thinner sheet steel of the door bent inward at the bottom where it scraped against the icy snowbank. The paint is chipped off, naturally.

I’m guessing that’s a $1,000 oopsie when all is said and done, and a good lesson in watching the damn corners even when you’re trying to keep momentum to make it up your icy driveway. Man, I can’t wait to build a house on a flat piece of land somewhere. With a paved, heated driveway. 

invasion! der! sterne!

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There’s a cover for the German-language edition of Terms of Enlistment! And a release date: June 15, 2015, from Heyne. Here’s the link to the German Amazon page.)

They shortened Andrew’s name to “Andy” and took some creative license with the title. (“Invasion of the Stars”, presumably to sound Star Wars-y. The German name for the Star Wars franchise is “Krieg der Sterne”.) The blurb for the book is also a little fuzzy on some of the plot details unless the translator did some major surgery on the story. But hey–German translation, from one of the major names in German publishing. This is sort of a big deal for me.

(In other news, I still really dig Marc Simonetti’s capital ship design on the cover of Terms of Enlistment. It’s not quite the way I had pictured any of the ships in my head, but it’s so cool that I find this design popping up in my head when I write about the NAC warships now.)

you should totally support this anthology.

I’m a big fan of crowd-funded fiction anthologies. In fact, my second professional fiction sale ever was to a crowd-funded anthology, Alex Shvartsman’s “Unidentified Funny Objects”. (That was the short story “Cake Whores From Mars”, written on a dare from Chuck Wendig, and a crowd favorite at readings.) The UFO sale was a major motivation boost for me at the time, so I’ll always have a warm and fuzzy feeling when it comes to SF/F anthologies.

Allow me therefore to draw your attention to just such a crowd-funded SF/F anthology. This one is called “Athena’s Daughters: Women in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Vol.2”. My good friend and fellow Viable Paradise XII alum Tiffani Angus has a short story in there, and if the anthology has writers of Tiff’s caliber in it, I can assure you that it will be worth the money. Go check it out and see if it’s something you may want to drop some coin on, and support some great up-and-coming writing talent.

Athenas Daughters 2

relics.

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The idea for the different beret colors for the service branches of the NAC military in my Frontlines novels isn’t unique to my fictional universe, of course. Every military that issues the beret as headgear has a color-coding system for the particular branches and military specialties. In the Frontlines universe, the NAC issues midnight blue berets to the Fleet, green ones to Homeworld Defense, and maroon ones to Spaceborne Infantry.

Maroon is the standard international color for airborne troops. Everyone except Russia issues maroon beanies to their paratroops. (The paratroopers of Russia have inherited the old Soviet Union airborne color, sky blue.) The beret in the picture above was one of my two issued berets when I served in the German Bundeswehr from 1989 to 1993. When it was time to turn in my gear, I turned in one beret and reported the other as lost and paid for it so I could keep it as a service souvenir.

In the Bundeswehr, combat troops wear green (infantry), black (armor), or maroon (airborne) berets. (Sound familiar? I also cribbed the Bundeswehr rank insignia and made up slightly modified versions for the post-reorganization NAC ranks. Authors steal literally everywhere and everything.) Logistics troops and combat support troops, such as artillery or engineers, wear red berets. The medical corps wears dark blue berets. The badge on the beret denotes the particular branch: airborne has a diving eagle, artillery has two crossed cannons, signals has a lightning flash, and so on. The beret I wore has the badge of the Fernspäher branch on it. The eagle stands for airborne capability, the lightning flashes for signals, and the marking flags for the reconnaissance mission.

The beret color still exists, of course, but the badge and its associated branch are no more. The Fernspäher branch was dissolved, and its personnel formed the nucleus of the new KSK (Kommando Spezialkraefte) special operations branch. Two of the three Fernspäher companies in existence were eliminated outright, and the third one was turned into a teaching and demonstration unit for spec ops training. With the loss of their distinct beret badge, the men of the FSLK200 were supposed to wear the new beret badge of the consolidated “Reconnaissance” arm of the army (two crossed marking flags without the eagle or the lightning flashes), but I’ve been told that FSLK200 personnel continued to wear the old Fernspäher badge on their berets in defiance of paper regulations, which is of course exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from troops with a high esprit de corps and a branch history dating back to the beginning of the Cold War.

It’s kind of strange to look at that beret and know that the branch it represents is no more. The barracks where I had my basic training is now a civilian apartment complex. The building where I used to stand in formation every morning for three months in the cold Southern German weather from January to March of 1989 still exists, but it has been renovated and fitted with modern insulation and windows, and it looks very little like the old “A-Building” that had our boot platoon housed on the second floor. That’s when I have to remind myself that the first day of basic training was almost 26 years ago. Things sure have changed in the quarter century since. My four years of service spanned the historic time from the tail end of the Cold War to the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and few four-year stretches have been as eventful. Thankfully, it all happened without any of us having to fire a shot in anger, which is a major privilege in and of itself.

A very small number of the soldiers I served with–my former peers–decided to go Pro and make the military a career. One’s a helicopter pilot who is now a Lieutenant Colonel. The other is a Stabsfeldwebel, which is the second-highest enlisted rank, equivalent to a Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8). I find myself thinking that when I was in uniform, the Lieuteant Colonels and Master Sergeants were old dudes. And then I consider the possibility that I am now an old dude as well. Had I stayed in, I’d have close to 26 years of service time, and I’d be an E-8 or E-9 now. That is one scary-ass thought, and it makes me want to listen to some Britney Swift and do some rap-hop dancing or whatever it is the kids do these days for fun at their sex parties with their hoverpants and their video games.