High School Football

Rose's Fans Flood the pitch

My nephew-in-law, Justin, is in his first year as offensive coach for the J.H. Rose high school football team. A few of us drove to Greenville, NC, last evening to watch his team take on their local rivals in the quarterfinals of the NC State 4A Football Tournament. Conley–top seed–had beaten Rose earlier in the season, and the game was a real nail-biter as the teams traded scores all night.

Rose came out deserved winners when their defense made a gritty 4th down stop with fifteen seconds remaining on the clock and the score at 49-47.

There was real quality on both sides of the ball. But what impressed me most was how Rose, despite having two punt-return touchdowns taken away because of minor infractions in the backfield, never let their heads drop. The team’s self-belief and desire proved strong enough to overcome not only the eleven opponents on the field, but also four flag-happy officials. There’s no quit in these kids!

The win means they will play in the semi-final match next Friday night away at New Hanover. It also ensures that the sarcastic banner Rose’s cheerleaders held up for the Conley players to see before the match: “Tell your girlfriends you’ll be free next Friday night!” was tellin’ it like it is.


Austin’s Letter Opener

Austin's letter opener

Although I never use it, this letter opener sits in a pencil case on my writing desk. Don’t be fooled by the color. It’s made of plastic not ivory. The inscription on the handle reads: “With the compliments of Mecca LTD.” It’s a cheap giveaway. Probably picked up at a business conference by my stepfather. It used to sit on his desk also, which makes it at least sixty years old.

It’s the only possession of his that I own.

We didn’t really get on, my stepfather and I. Although ours wasn’t an ugly, combative relationship, we practiced studied indifference. Whenever he introduced me it was always: “This is my stepson, Peter.” I was twenty before I asked him why. “I just thought you’d prefer it that way,” he said. But for me each stepson stung like a paper-cut. The title diminished me. I called him Dad. What else? He was the only father I ever knew.

He was happy when I left home, and I felt no pull to return even when life took a difficult turn—home for me was not a refuge. When Austin died I was in my early twenties—still too young to appreciate the sacrifice he had made when he took in a four-year-old boy (me) and my nine-year-old sister.

Now I’m a stepfather, I think I understand some of his reticence. It can be a delicate balancing act navigating a path through a combined family. But I will never forget how full my heart felt on the day that my step-daughter started calling me Dad. Perhaps Austin taught me something by omission.

Maybe that’s why I keep the stupid letter opener.



When A Warrior Comes Home.

Generally, I write stories driven by a question: “What if?” In my thriller, NanoStrike, I asked what if a terrorist organization got hold of nanotechnology and turned it into a deadly weapon small enough to hide in a hint of perfume. In my romantic suspense novel, Love Poison, I asked what if a chemical could trick a man’s brain so that he fell head-over-heels in love with the first woman he met. When A Warrior Comes Home had a different genesis. I believe it warrants a short explanation.

In 2012, I read an article about autonomous military robots. Not the R2D2 type, but tiny devices the size of a butterfly that operated as a swarm directed by a shared (networked) “brain.” What if they went rogue? Or what if their communication system was compromised and they turned traitor on their inventors. That sounded like an interesting topic for a thriller.

To gather background, I read books on military robots, watched documentaries, and searched the web. But at every turn, I bumped into reports about the psychological effects of warfare, robotic (drone operators) and traditional (ground troops), on the soldiers who were operating at the sharp end of our military stick. Information from memoirs and articles I read and snippets from blog posts written by those tasked with caring for the injured soldiers started to color my characters. And eventually, just as they do in military families struggling with the symptoms of these illnesses, war-related PTSD and TBI hijacked the lives of my fictional characters.

So that was how this novel came about—an organic creation driven by the human collateral of warfare. I still have a nod to robotics in the tale but only as a linking mechanism–a thread to connect the military and civilian worlds—because comprehending military life is very difficult for civilians. And without understanding the unique pressures bearing down on psychologically damaged soldiers who live in fear of being discarded as “bad gear” or dismissed as “slackers,” the story might seem too far-fetched.

I did my best to stay true to the characters in my story, to their experiences of PTSD and of TBI and of the military command structure’s attitude to these problems. But I’m a civilian, and my characters were drawn from research not from personal experience. To say I was nervous about releasing the novel would be a significant understatement. Although When A Warrior Comes Home is pure fiction, it deals with events that are very real in the lives of many military families. The last thing I wished was for the story to appear unfair or offensive to those families or to the US Army.

The novel has been available on Amazon since mid-March, 2015. I’m particularly grateful to those readers associated with the military who have reached out and assured me that my treatment of this difficult subject was fair. Sadly, I’ve also received a number of emails from people who confessed that they can’t read the story because the problems with which it deals are too personally painful for them.

When A Warrior Comes Home does deal with a “What If.” What if two soldiers returned from active duty one suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and one with a Traumatic Brain Injury, but unlike my other stories, the consequences are not purely a figment of my imagination, they are an amalgam of real events that have taken place and continue to take place today. I placed this quote at the beginning of the novel. I think it sums up the story.

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth—Albert Camus.



Bat Shit Happy

We recently moved house, and among other chores, I’ve been clearing out my old computer files. I came across this post, written a couple years ago when we still lived on a small farm in the foothills of western North Carolina. I thought it might be fun to revisit. For sure, moving bats is easier than moving house!

bat2A few years back, a family of bats moved into the cedar siding on our house. I wanted the bats–one brown bat can eat 1,000 insects in a single night–but didn’t approve of them scraping around inside the walls of the home. So I offered them an upgrade to a purpose-built bat house (the black box).  Proving themselves to be sophisticated creatures, they upped sticks and moved quite willingly to their new home. However, they also thrived, and the quantity of bat shit accumulating on our deck from a colony of a hundred brown bats, and of more concern, the heady aroma on a hot summer’s day, forced me to think of an alternative.

The bats had to move!



So, in late winter, once they hibernated. I moved them. How did I know they had hibernated? I’m glad you asked . . . no droppings on the deck, of course (see this really is all about batshit). Anyway, once they were all sleepin’, I bolted together a couple twelve-foot long 4x4s to make a twenty-foot pole, screwed some 3/4 inch ply on top, and attached it to the side of one of our barns.







I’m proud, and not a little astonished, to tell you I then secured a ladder with rope so it didn’t slip. Those who know me well just sucked in a deep breath, shook their heads slowly, and muttered something to the effect of: “Pete’s gettin’ soft in his old age.” And they’d be batshit-right. That pole was shakin’ more than my knees!







With the new home base in place, I screwed a big-ol’ eyehook into the siding above the old bathouse, ran a double rope through and hooked it to the top. Then Joyce lowered the houseful of bats down the wall. Oddly, both Joyce and I were whispering so we didn’t wake them. Oh, yeah, I duct taped the opening at the bottom in case they fell out. Only later did I wonder what I’d have done if the bats had woken, panicked and tried to escape, only to get stuck on the duct tape–what a way to go.







I tippy-toes across the yard. Yes, that’s an old piece of toilet chain attached to the house–so sue me, I’m writin’ my own rules here.










Up the ladder, put the rope through a pulley, and Joyce hoisted up the house and held it in place while I attached it to the new backboard. Yes I look scared . . .So, what’s ya point!!!




So why the title: Batshit Happy?

Well, we had a tough winter. There was less protection in the new location than on the side of the house. Come March, Joyce and I switched from hating all the batshit, to looking for it every day at the bottom of the pole. If they’d frozen, how would I get a hundred dead bats out of the house–more to the point what would that smell like?

If I cleared out the dead, would other bats move in, or would the new house be the bat equivalent of Freddy Kreuger’s pad?

bat8Then, in mid-March, Joyce came running into the house (our house not the bat house) shouting. “We have shit!” And here’s the cool part. The new location was just below our gazebo. So fifteen minutes after dusk, as we were sippin’ on a cocktail, we’d watch the bats swooping out of their new home like miniature dive bombers (they come out headfirst). Who needs TV?


The Boy Who Lived.

The Boy Who LIved 001So, I watched the Harry Potter series of movies back-to-back recently. Somebody thoughtful bought me the box-set for Xmas.

Anyway, in one episode Harry asks the Dark Arts teacher to show him how to fight Dementors. If you’re not a Potter-nerd, then this would be the time to lie (by clicking ‘Like this post’) and move onward and upward into The Cloud, free of guilt.

Bu-bye 😉

For those still engaged, in order to repel a Dementor, Harry must conjure a moment from his past so deeply personal and emotional that it fills him up and  repels the negative energy projected by the evil wraith.

Good fiction stirs deep feelings, and as I considered what I would use to face a Dementor, my mind flipped to an event I hadn’t thought of since I was a child.

If you will forgive a smattering of back-story: at age almost-six, I was hit by a fast-moving truck. Yeah. No. Not a Silverado-type truck, but a big-mother-hauling-tons-of-stuff truck.

Long story short, I lived—obviously–but only just. Terrible injuries hospitalize me for eight months. Most of the time, I was confined to a plaster cast–a shell molded to the back of my body from shoulders to feet, legs apart and raised.

Incidentally, if any of you have a six-year-old, or, if you plan to have one, and you force them to lie still for seven months, don’t be surprised if they have flashbacks when they get older.

Anyhow, eight months after the road accident, the surgeon–whom I later discovered was the one who decided not to amputate my left leg even though the femur was broken in seven places–appeared at my bedside. This grizzly man with overlong gray hair, whom I had never knowingly met, unhooked my chart from the bottom of the bed, checked my name, and said, “Peter Barber?”


“Well? Get up!”

I’d love to describe my face. Of course I can’t–because I didn’t see it. But I was in an all adult male ward, and I do remember the face of the man in the next bed who had his foot amputated earlier that morning (gangrene, I think). He was wide-eyed. It must take a lot to shock a guy who just lost his foot.

“I can’t walk,” I said.

After eight months on my back, shitting in a pan and pissing in a bottle, I assumed that was the truth.

The crazy guy pulled back the covers. “Get up!” he said.

When you’re really ill, folk don’t normally shout at you, but he sounded angry, and I was scared.

So I swung my legs over the edge: the left, white-wrapped from my groin to my ankle, the right from thigh to knee.

I remember the floor, cold under my bare feet.

Terrified, I glanced at the man in the next bed who had been wailing all night because his foot hurt. He was crying, but not in the same way. He nodded, and smiled, and somehow his approval steeled me.

I eased off the bed and rocked forward.

Standing upright for the first time in so long it was as though I had never stood before. I’d forgotten how.

My confidence slipped and I teetered toward the bed.

Before my ass hit the covers, crazy-surgeon-guy gripped my arm. His hand was bony and his determination hurt. I shirked from his grip and crabbed around the bed, hands on the mattress, legs stiff, ass in the air. I had on a stupid hospital gown, displaying my scrawny seven-year-old butt.

When I reached the end of the bed—an old style bent tube–I gripped with my left hand and straightened and steadied myself as though I were standing on a high wire.

Facing away from gangrene-man and the crazy doctor, I let go.

For the first time in eight months, I stood, swaying, unsteady.

And all those sick men, laying and sitting in their beds in the long ward, applauded.

Thank you, Harry Potter, for reminding me.