Friday, March 24, 2017

The Opium-Eater by David Morrell

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: October 21, 2016

Thomas De Quincey--the central character of Morrell's acclaimed Victorian mysteries, Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead--was one of the most notorious and brilliant literary personalities of the 1800s. His infamous Confessions of an English Opium-Eater made history as the first book about drug dependency. He invented the word "subconscious" and anticipated Freud's psychoanalytic theories by more than a half century. His blood-soaked essays and stories influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. But at the core of his literary success lies a terrible tragedy. In this special-edition novella, based on real-life events, Morrell shares De Quincey's story of a horrific snowstorm in which a mother and father died and their six children were trapped in the mountains of England's Lake District. Even more gripping is what happened after. This is the true tale of how Thomas De Quincey became the Opium-Eater, brought to life by award-winning storyteller David Morrell.

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David Morrell's Thomas De Quincey series is one of my favorites. Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead blew me away, but I didn't realize the series included a novella until I went looking for book three, Ruler of the Night. I'm not sure how I missed the publication of The Opium-Eater, but I couldn't resist snagging a copy for my personal library.

At only sixty-seven pages, the piece is hardly intimidating, but the content itself is nothing short of brilliant. Those new to the series get a taste of the style and tone of the larger volumes, while established fans get to satisfy their curiosity by learning what makes Thomas De Quincey tick. 

Dark and emotional, The Opium-Eater packs a powerful punch and fleshes out Morrell's enigmatic antihero. Complete with photos, the volume also gives singular insight to the world De Quincey knew and memories he couldn't escape. 

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“There’s no such thing as forgetting, but perhaps I can force wretched memories into submission if I confront them.”
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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Boy of My Heart by Marie Leighton

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Open Library
Read: August 10, 2016

A mother's remembrances of the son she lost in WWI. Published anonymously, Boy of My Heart was penned by prolific romance novelist Marie Connor Leighton after the death of her son Roland Leighton, the British poet and soldier portrayed in Vera Brittan's best seller Testament of Youth.

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Roland Leighton
My taste in movies mirrors my taste in literature so it should come as no surprise that when I manage to catch a film, it's inevitably a period piece. In this case, the film was Testament of Youth and since I couldn't get my hands on a copy of Vera Brittain's memoir, I settled for Boy of My Heart by Marie Leighton.

Written after the death of Leighton's beloved son, the book is an intensely sentimental tribute that can only be described as over-the-top. The style and tone are in keeping with the trends of the day, but to modern eyes the verbiage is excessively flowery and overdone. I understand the emotion behind it, but I personally had trouble staying engaged in the text.

I wouldn't say the book much genuine detail about Roland, but it does offer interesting insight to his mother and the grief experienced by a generation of parents who watched the war take their children before their time.

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"But is he wholly mine? Is there there somebody else who wants him even though he is hardly more than a boy? There floats before my eyes the vision of a girl: a small, delicate-faced creature with amethystine eyes, who is dreaming dreams that have got him for their centre. What a forcing power for sex this war has been, and is!"
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Cover Crush: Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Heather Webb & Hazel Gaynor

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I'm a sucker for jackets with a vintage feel which is awesome because I'm a die hard World War fiction fan. The red accents pack a punch against the sepia tones of the backdrop and the end result is nothing short of eyecatching. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired


Wishlist: March 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

This month's theme was inspired by the movie Parkland which I decided to rent after reading Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye. The movie is based on Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi which I'm trying to track down as we speak, but the events of November 22, 1963 are on my mind and I figured it make a interesting if intense topic for this month's wishlist. 

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During the reading of her mother’s will, Sheila Baker discovers that she has inherited everything her parents ever possessed, including their secrets. A mysterious safe deposit box key leads her to the answers to one of history’s greatest conspiracies: who killed John F. Kennedy? Not only does she have the missing film, revealing her mother as the infamous babushka lady, but she has proof that there was more than one shooter.

On the run from people who would stop at nothing to keep secrets buried, Shelia turns to billionaire sleuth Jason Hammond for help. Having lost his own family in a tragic plane crash, Jason knows a thing or two about running from the past. With a target on their backs, can Jason uncover the truth in time, or will this shooter finally make their mark?






O! Jackie explores the private life of Jackie Kennedy, her heartbreaking struggles, difficult relationships, and deep desire to end JFK's wandering ways. As a faithful wife devoted to an unfaithful husband, Jackie knew humiliation well. Living in the public eye intensified her disgrace. Through the years, Jack Kennedy's lustful escapades grew in carelessness and frquency. When his trysts with Marilyn Monroe threaten to become public, Jackie must decide how far she'll go to save the presidency and her marriage.






In "one of the most deliciously high-concept thrillers imaginable" (The New Yorker) a young JFK travels to Europe on a secret mission for President Roosevelt

It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy.

It’s a surprising selection. At twenty-two, Jack Kennedy is the attractive but unpromising second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Roosevelt’s ambassador to Britain (and occasional political adversary). But when Jack decides to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy. The president’s goal: to stop the flow of German money that has been flooding the United States to buy the 1940 election—an election that Adolf Hitler intends Roosevelt lose.

In a deft mosaic of fact and fiction, Francine Mathews has written a gripping espionage tale that explores what might have happened when a young Jack Kennedy is let loose in Europe as the world careens toward war. A potent combination of history and storytelling, Jack 1939 is a sexy, entertaining read.




On November 22, 1963, the First Lady accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas dressed in a pink Chanel-style suit that was his favorite. Much of her wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft the memorable outfits. 

While the two never met, Kate knew every tuck and pleat needed to create the illusion of the First Lady's perfection. When the pink suit became emblematic, Kate's already fragile world--divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her insular neighborhood--threatened to rip apart.

Moving from the back rooms of Chez Ninon to the steps of Air Force One, The Pink Suit is an enchanting, unforgettable novel about hope and heartbreak, and what became of the American Dream.




Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Two Cent Musings: Where the BLEEP has Erin Been?

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Okay, I’m not actually crazy enough to believe people are worried that a book blogger took an extended leave of absence, but I have been gone awhile so I think it appropriate to offer some sort of explanation.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.” I’m not a huge fan of altered Austen, but Helen Fielding’s effort haunts me, largely because it’s so applicable to my own existence. I’m not going to go into the details, but I am fairly certain that there is a daytime soap opera writer who follows me around and plagiarizes my life experiences to amuse the masses. I think it’d be a much better arrangement if I were paid for providing such great material, but my stalker is likely quite happy as is.

Anyone who knows me understands that I read the way most people breathe. That’s probably an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Books are my escape, but when things get really bad, I suffer the kind of anxiety that makes it difficult to focus on page after page of text. In short, I stop reading and feel a little lost, and then I have to sort out all my emotions without my favorite coping mechanism which is all kinds of fun. Long story short, I actually didn’t pick up a book for several weeks. I fell behind in my reading challenge and my reviewing and for a while there, I actually didn’t care. Then of course the world stopped spinning, I started feeling a little guilty, and I fell right back into reading because as we all know, books are absolute magic and who doesn’t need a double dose of that in their life?

So what have I been reading? Lots of this and that actually and I’ve loved every minute of it. Flashlight Commentary is now dedicated solely to historic fiction and nonfiction and while a few of these titles meet the criteria, most don’t so I wont be offering a full review on any of them. That said the books are actually pretty interesting so I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on each before getting back to our usually scheduled programming.



When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

It’s specialized reading to be sure, but I found it fun. I’m WWII junkie anyway, but seriously, it’s a book about the power of books! How freaking awesome is that? There are also some great facts about the publishing industry and how reader response influenced the powers that be to change the way books were made, marketed, and written.

“Authors whose books were selected as ASEs were rewarded with a loyal readership of millions of men. Word spread quickly about the titles that were perennial favorites, even reaching the home front. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was written in 1925, was considered a failure during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. But when this book was printed as an ASE in October 1945, it won the hearts of an army of men. Their praise reverberated back home, and The Great Gatsby was rescued from obscurity and has since become an American literary classic.”



Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner with David Fisher

This one was okay. I don’t think it measures up to Nimoy’s I Am Spock which I highly recommend to everyone whether or not they like Star Trek, but that’s just me. Leonard was a nice effort, but something about it didn’t feel entirely genuine and I often felt there was an undertone of comparison rather than camaraderie.

“What made the show work, in addition to the relationships between the members of the crew, were the stories we told each week. Star Trek was a tribute to the great tradition of science fiction, in which future civilizations were used to tell contemporary morality tales, tales about subjects that couldn’t be addressed for various reasons at the time.”



As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

I was denied a review copy of this one and in retrospect that is all kinds of awesome as I ultimately downloaded the audio from my local library. For those who aren’t aware, the book is narrated by the author and if that isn’t fun enough, several of the cast and crew also contribute their voices to the narrative. Love the film? You’ll love the book, but trust me on this, you’ll love the audio more.

“So when you see Westley fall to the ground and pass out, that’s not acting. That’s an overzealous actor actually losing consciousness.”



American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice

This was a spur of the moment impulse selection. I hadn’t seen the movie, but I was interested enough in the military aspects to try my luck and actually enjoyed a lot of the material. It was insightful, but down to earth and I liked the lack of pretention in the author’s tone.

“The joke was that President Bush only declared war when Starbucks was hit. You can mess with the U.N. all you want, but when you start interfering with the right to get caffeinated, someone has to pay.”



American Wife: Love, War, Faith, and Renewal by Taya Kyle with Jim DeFelice

American Sniper ends before Kyle’s death, so finishing the story with his wife’s memoir felt appropriate. Reading the books back to back was interesting as there is such contrast in the way they remembered various events, but when push comes to shove, I think American Sniper stronger and would have difficulty promoting American Wife with the same enthusiasm.

“When life brings you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray.”



American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle with William Doyle

I mentioned that I liked Kyle’s tone in American Sniper so I took note when the book referenced a second publication and set about tracking down a copy. American Gun includes a lot of mechanical jargon about firearms, but I found the context original and liked how the book related gun technology to memorable moments in United States history.

“There will always be good. There will always be evil. There comes a time when honest debate, serious diplomatic efforts, and logical arguments have been exhausted and only men and women willing to take up arms against evil will suffice to save the freedom of a nation or a continent.”



Flags of Our Fathers by James D. Bradley with Ron Powers

I’m actually amazed it took me so long to read this one, but the timing actually put the subject matter into interesting perspective. The book follows the lives of the flag raisers at Iwo Jima and the cultural legacy created by the famed photo, but as it turns out, the man who inspired the book. I didn’t actually know that until after I finished the book, but I found it appropriate considering John Bradley’s aversion to his own inadvertent fame.

“Heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others. Their actions involve courage. Often, those heroes have been indifferent to the public's attention. But at least, the hero could understand the focus of the emotion.”



Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

I don’t think this one needs explanation, but much like As You Wish, I recommend getting the audio of this one. Fisher’s writing is hilarious in and of itself, but her verbal expressions are absolutely hysterical. I was literally biting my tongue to avoid cracking up while listening to this one.

“Now I think that this would make a fantastic obit- so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”



The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward

This one was actually inspired by a recent trip to the Nixon Presidential Library and is partially responsible for my desire to make a return trip. Woodward’s writing is fascinating and I love his phrasing, but the insights afforded by the book put interesting perspective on both Watergate and the trial that followed. I'm not sure I'd recommend it as casual reading, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it.

“’When you’re in the White House,’ Butterfield said, ‘everyone lies. You can sort of get feeling immune.’”



Being Nixon: The Fears and Hopes of an American President by Evan Thomas

Remember what I said about The Last of the President’s Men being partially responsible for my wanting to revisit the Nixon Library? Being Nixon represents the other half of that equation. Thomas’ illustration is even handed, but his interpretations made me think more about key moments in Nixon’s presidency, his legacy, and why history paints him the way it does.

“Nixon’s inclination toward the dark side has long been a cliché. Less understood (possibly even by Nixon himself) is his heroic, if ill-fated, struggle to be a robust, decent, good-hearted, person.”



Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

I don’t think I should have to explain my interest in this one. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book with an insane looking racoon on the cover? Lawson’s writing is all kinds of random, but in the best possible way and is well-worth looking into.

“Like my grandmother always said, ‘Your opinions are valid and important. Unless it’s some stupid bullshit you’re being shitty about, in which case you can just go fuck yourself.’”



The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

This one was actually inspired by the realization that I will actually be listening to Neil Gaiman from the cheap seats in a few weeks. I thought it apropos so I jumped into the collection of essays and fell in love with every single one of them. I also remembered why it was that I love blogging about books, so if you feel the need to attribute my return to anyone, send that gratitude to Gaiman.

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story.”


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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Wishlist Reads: February 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

I've been quiet this month, but in my defense my 2017 is off to a fabulously dramatic start and I needed some time to work through a few things. Needless to say I'm looking forward to March, but that said, I'm kicking off my return with February's Wishlist. 

I had a little trouble coming up with a theme this go round, but I finally landed on something and had a little fun in the process. I follow a wonderful group of book bloggers and they are forever posting books that tickle my fancy so I decided to dedicate this month's post to shared wishlist reads. The list is diverse, but I love what it represents and how it exhibits the friendships we've forged since coming together. 

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A perfect debut novel is like a perfect dress—it’s a “must have” and when you “try it on” it fits perfectly. In this richly patterned story of sisterhood, ambition, and reinvention Sofia Grant has created a story just right for fans of Vintage and The Dress Shop of Dreams.

World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.

Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancé she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town. But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.

Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.




Hilarious and heartfelt observations on aging from one of America’s favorite comedians as he turns 65, and a look back at a remarkable career.

Billy Crystal is turning 65, and he’s not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like “Buying the Plot” and “Nodding Off,” Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him.

He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards. Readers get a front-row seat to his one-day career with the New York Yankees (he was the first player to ever “test positive for Maalox”), his love affair with Sophia Loren, and his enduring friendships with several of his idols, including Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali. He lends a light touch to more serious topics like religion (“the aging friends I know have turned to the Holy Trinity: Advil, bourbon, and Prozac”), grandparenting, and, of course, dentistry. As wise and poignant as they are funny, Crystal’s reflections are an unforgettable look at an extraordinary life well lived. 




Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of “A River Runs through It” that he is “haunted by waters,” so have readers been haunted by his novella. A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70, Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1976, A River Runs through It and Other Stories now celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, marked by this new edition that includes a foreword by Annie Proulx.

Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the twentieth century. As a young man he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. The two novellas and short story in this collection are based on his own experiences—the experiences of a young man who found that life was only a step from art in its structures and beauty. The beauty he found was in reality, and so he leaves a careful record of what it was like to work in the woods when it was still a world of horse and hand and foot, without power saws, “cats,” or four-wheel drives. Populated with drunks, loggers, card sharks, and whores, and set in the small towns and surrounding trout streams and mountains of western Montana, the stories concern themselves with the complexities of fly fishing, logging, fighting forest fires, playing cribbage, and being a husband, a son, and a father.




Thomas De Quincey is beginning to control his opium addiction when the excitement of his current case threatens to unravel his grip on reality once and for all. On their way home to the Lake District, the De Quinceys become unwitting witnesses to a truly historic murder: the first to take place on one of England's newly constructed railways.

The railways changed everything in the Victorian era, transforming the English countryside, revolutionizing modern industry, and as the De Quinceys discover, providing the perfect escape. Giving chase in a cat-and-mouse game unlike any that have come before, the De Quinceys uncover a dangerous secret that reaches all levels of English society.




Nellie Clay married Hobbs Pritchard without even noticing he was a spell conjured into a man, a walking, talking ghost story. But her mama knew. She saw it in her tea leaves: death. Folks told Nellie to get off the mountain while she could, to go back home before it was too late. Hobbs wasn’t nothing but trouble. He’d even killed a man. No telling what else. That mountain was haunted, and soon enough, Nellie would feel it too. One way or another, Hobbs would get what was coming to him. The ghosts would see to that...

Told in the stunning voices of five women whose lives are inextricably bound when a murder takes place in rural Depression-era North Carolina, Ann Hite’s unforgettable debut spans generations and conjures the best of Southern folk-lore—mystery, spirits, hoodoo, and the incomparable beauty of the Appalachian landscape.


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INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Stephanie at Layered Pages
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court


Friday, February 17, 2017

Two Cent Musings: Male Protagonists

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I’ve made a stink on social media about the lack of male protagonists in historic fiction and it’s fair to say that my comments ruffled a few feathers. A number of authors jumped to defend themselves and while I feel a little sorry for issuing an unintended insult, I have to admit the rebuttals I’ve heard do not come close to emulating the kind of fiction I want to see in the mainstream market.

  • Not to put too fine a point on it, I want Ernest Hemingway staring down the barrel of a shotgun, weighing his options and considering his legacy.

  • I want Winston Churchill in ankle deep mud, seeking atonement for his involvement in the planning and devastation of Gallipoli.

  • I want Michael Collins serving as aide in the Easter Rising, hearing his mentors have fallen, and committing himself to continuing the war they started. 

  • I want Gad Beck, marching into a deportation camp for his lover knowing that if he were caught, he’d be incarcerated for both his faith and sexual orientation. 

  • I want Henry Flipper facing down intolerance as he fought to graduate from United States Military Academy at West Point.

  • I want Clark Gable working his way through a string of lovers only to be blindsided by woman he never expected.

We’ve enough militaristic alpha males and aloof bachelors of good fortune to last a lifetime folks. I want men with depth and complexity, men who struggle, men who are the solo stars of their own stories, men with personality, men with purpose, and men who are in some way, shape, or form emotionally vulnerable.

So what are you waiting for?

Get writing.

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