The day was perfect! The intense blue of the sky brought smiles and comments from all who looked upward into the heavens; the air was crisp but not cold, ideal for March. The wind co-operated just enough to make the new growth of grass rustle at the feet of all in attendance, and the flags at the entrance waved in a majestic fashion that punctuated the solemnity of the occasion. It was a perfect day, except for the fact that the event was a funeral.
At least two hundred were in attendance at the graveside service. The men were solemn, dressed in everything from dark suits with polished black shoes to denim overalls and work boots. The women were much the same, their dress reflecting the solemn attire of the wealthy to the Sunday best of the poorest in town who wanted to pay their respects to a good man. Jack had been laid to rest in a dark gray suit from J.C. Penny, holding in his hands a church hymnal. He looked at peace, and he was.
The coffin was closed now, and draped with an American flag. Jack was a veteran of World War II, but many in the small town were unaware of that fact because he never spoke of the war or his role in it.
Townsfolk had known him as a local businessman who had always treated them with fairness and compassion, as a devoted husband and father who was a big supporter of the local school and its extracurricular programs for the kids, and as a Christian man who devoted much time to his church as volunteer director of church music for the last 50 years, an active deacon who took great interest in the operation of the church, and a hands-on Christian who was always there to visit the needy and hold out a hand to help whenever it was needed.
Some of the older folks remembered him going off to service during the war. A few even remembered that he had been wounded and spent time in a hospital before coming home, but most had little or no knowledge of Jack’s service because he never spoke of it. Even his wife of almost 60 years and his grown children had little knowledge of his activities in the war.
The most he would ever say when pressed with questions was, “That part of my life is in the past…I don’t dwell on it…I don’t even remember it.”
Just before the service was to begin, two blue vans with United States Air Force insignias pulled into the cemetery. A group of young men dressed in Air Force uniforms emerged and began moving to an apparently prearranged staging area several yards away from the group of mourners.
The funeral director met them at the designated spot, spoke briefly with the officer in charge of the honor guard, and returned to the small pulpit that had been placed at the head of the coffin for the service. As the Air Force group was preparing for the service, onlookers noticed a bagpiper formally dressed in a kilt, sporin, and gillies, emerge from the Air Force van. He assembled his bagpipes at the van, then walked to an area on the other side of the gravesite from the honor guard.
Whispers and looks of astonishment erupted within the group of mourners. “Who are these people?” seemed to be the question of the hour.
“Is that a real military honor guard? Why are they here? And is that a real bagpiper? I’ve never seen one before, except on television!”
World War II veterans were dying at a rapid rate in those days and people everywhere were accustomed to funerals with flag draped coffins and honor guards from the local VFW, but these were honest to goodness U.S. Air Force airmen. The closest airbase was over 300 miles!
Why did they travel that far? And the Scotsman? Where did he come from and why?
This week here at BooksGoSocial, we’re talking with Steven Abernathy, the author of Unspoken Valor.
Tell us something unexpected about yourself!
Along with being a writer, I am also a general aviation pilot with over 2000 hours logged as pilot in command, and an ASA certified sailor. In my past I have been a candidate for U.S. Congress (thank goodness I lost the race), have survived a heart attack, and have walked away (actually limped a little) from an airplane crash. I have dined under a farm wagon while taking a break from a $5 per day job with fellow farm laborers, and have shmoozed with Bill Clinton during more formal meals. I even had lunch one time with Connie Kreski (Playboy Playmate of the Year, 1969). She was infinitely more interesting than Bill Clinton. That’s all I’m saying.
What people seem to find most unbelievable for a fiction writer, however, is the fact that I am also a practicing dentist, doing root canal treatment 2-3 days per week. Until recently I commuted weekly from my office near Memphis, Tennessee to a group of dental clinics around Tampa Bay, Florida, where I provided root canal treatment for their patients as well. Actually, two of my heroes are Zane Grey and Doc Holliday. Both were dentists who found gainful employment in other fields (Grey as a writer and Holliday as a gunfighter). I have finally been able to retire from the long commute and spend as much or more time writing and publicizing my novels as I do dental treatments.
My lovely wife of 42 years and I have two sons. The oldest is also a writer and a publisher, and teaches at a small university. The youngest son is a scientist, a nanoengineer who is busy developing submicroscopic structures that may someday help sick patients reverse such devastating diseases as diabetes, Altzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer and more. What he does sounds like science fiction, but it’s real! When not writing or doing root canal treatment (ugh!) I enjoy spending quiet time with family and sailing the usually calm waters of Choctahachee Bay in Northwest Florida. I also enjoy travel, and find that my favorite way to promote books is face to face with readers at old fashioned signing events.
What kind of books do you write?
Since 2004 all of my books have been fiction. I haven’t really settled into a specific genre, but my last two novels, Unspoken Valor and Ghosts of the Siege, are historical fiction. I find I really enjoy the research into actual historical facts as a framework around which I can build a story. Earlier novels, A Question of Character and its sequel, Nikita’s War, were political thrillers based loosely on current events. A fifth novel, Noah, is a story about a pilot who crashes an airplane (I had first-hand experience in that) in Eastern Europe and discovers Noah’s Ark. All that supports the fact that ‘genre,’ is a pretty fluid term in my mind. One book I am currently outlining is a self help book on how to get a better job. What kind of books do I write? I’m all over the map.
What inspired you to write?
The need for income. When my wife and I were first married and in college, we lived in a low budget mobile home park for students, both attended classes full time, and both worked nights and weekends at minimum wage jobs to pay the bills. A fellow student introduced me to the publisher of high school level textbooks. Luckily for me, the company needed some educational materials (Spirit Master textbook supplements, if you are old enough to know what that is) for health and science books. Never having been smart enough to be afraid of any challenge, I promised them I could crank out a book every 30 days. They gave me the job. I found I really liked writing. The rest is history.
What makes your writing stand out from the crowd?
I have no doubt what makes my writing stand out from the crowd is my broad life experience. I had a great childhood growing up poor in a rural farming community in the 1950s and -60s. Everyone worked. Everyone understood the need for work and the value of work. It sounds pitiful and sad, but my father worked at least three different jobs at the same time. My mother used to take me with her to pick cotton and do other seasonal farm related work. My first job (in elementary school) was picking cotton. I later graduated to cutting and bailing hay, driving a tractor, working at a cotton gin. Over the years I was a carpenter, a truck driver, a retail salesman, a hospital orderly, an apprentice electrician, a museum display artist, a schoolteacher (both high school and college), a military officer, a dentist, and a writer. I probably missed some things, but the point is I have worked with and have a pretty good understanding of people from just about all walks of life. I write in a way that farm laborers and CEOs can understand and enjoy my works. My latest book, “Ghosts of the Siege,” might even qualify as a young adult novel, with a bonus that they might even learn some American history while reading an entertaining story.
What is the hardest part of writing – for you?
The hardest part is what comes after the writing. Finding agents, publicists, publishers and people who will help market my books is completely foreign to me. I loved working directly for a publisher in the 70s. I did the writing; they did the marketing and sales. It worked great. Working as an independent novelist is a different animal. No matter how popular a previous book might be, the next book starts all over at the bottom of the pile, with the author looking for new agents or publishers all over again.
Where do you like to write – what is your routine?
I have a wonderful balcony overlooking the harbor in Destin, Florida. It’s in a quiet part of town and the view is nothing short of idyllic. I often sit out there with my laptop and a glass of peach iced tea. Once I have an idea and a story structure, the peacefulness of that balcony seems to make the words flow onto the page. I don’t really have a routine. Sometimes I do not write at all, but am always searching for an idea for the next book. If I have no firm story idea, I never try to force words into a sham of a story just to have something in print. When I do find a sound idea, however, I create a very open structure for the story and let the words take me where they will.
What do you do when you are not writing – do you have a day job?
As I stated earlier, I still work a few days each week as a dentist. I have always felt my patients deserve the very best treatment available, so I spend several days each year traveling to continuing education classes to the latest and best techniques of dental care. For the last few years I have done almost all root canal and related treatment with a surgical laser. It is the cutting edge of dentistry, and being new technology is always changing in regard to specific techniques. Sometimes during my education travels I am able to arrange book signing events for my novels as well. That’s a great way to use my time efficiently.
Do you work with an outline or just write?
I do not physically write an outline, but I do have a very broad general outline for all of my stories. My latest two books are historical novels. That allowed me to use the historical facts as an outline and weave my fiction within that framework. I discovered I really like that structure, and plan on using the technique more in the future.
What advice would you have for other writers?
I see two kinds of writers out there. My oldest son has a degree in creative writing from a very fine school. Throughout his education I was amazed at the creative technique and the craft of writing he learned in school. If your goal is to create fine literature, I recommend you find a good school and get an MFA in creative writing. What I write is a different animal. I see myself as a simple storyteller. I look to writers like Louis L’amour, Clive Cussler, and even Mark Twain, none of whom had college degrees but all of whom were (are, in the case of Cussler) consummate storytellers. If you are that kind of writer, like me, you just need to write. When you think you are finished, find a professional editor, who will doubtless rip your story to shreds and reduce you to a quivering pile of literary jelly, but will make your story more interesting and readable.
How important is marketing and social media for you?
I have a suspicion that social media is very important to book marketing, but I have never learned to use it efficiently. My approach is more old-fashioned. I really prefer face to fact marketing at book signing events or educational venues.
What’s your next step?
There are two elements to every writer’s next step: First, keep writing. That’s what I do. Right now I am working on two different ideas for historical novels and one structure for a self help book. One of those ideas will soon ‘flesh out’ better than the other two, and that will be my next book.
Unspoken Valor by Steven Abernathy is available here.
If you are interested in book promotion, please visit http://thebookpromoter.com