Archive for the ‘American Sulla’ Tag

The Conversation Continues   Leave a comment

Christian AnarchyLast week, Thom responded to my double-post and this week we continue the conversation on interventionism.


Thom Stark is the author American Sulla, an apocalyptic thriller series. Lela Markham is the author of Transformation Project, an apocalyptic dystopian series. Both these series look at America following nuclear terrorism.

Thom Stark on Centrism   2 comments

In our continuing conversation, Thom Stark and I are discussing what radical centrism means and our view of politics and Plato’s Republic. See last week’s installment here.

My ending volley was: So which type of centricism are we talking about here?

Thom StarkLet’s start with my objection to The Republic. It isn’t its elitism to which I object as much as it is its advocacy of repression as a routine tool to stifle dissent and individuality. In that, it’s much more like the Soviet model of Marxism than Marxism, pura. (I doubt most people have read The Communist Manifesto, or that they know enough about the history of the Soviet Union to understand how far that top-down system of government by an elite political class was from the “spontaneous revolution of the proletariat” that Marx and Engels envisioned.) The elitist notion that philosophers, of all people, are inherently wise enough to rule benevolently is, for me, belied by the very system that Plato proposes: one predicated on ruthless suppression of dissent, the death penalty for non-conformism, a rigid caste system, and a ubiquitous secret police force spying on every citizen.


I’m less of an idealist than I am a pragmatist, but I’m also very much a student of history. It seems clear to me that any system of government that relies on repression and fear to maintain itself in power is doomed in any but the short term, because all such systems are essentially designed to foment dissatisfaction and unrest – not to mention corruption, careerism, and intrigue among the elites.

When I say I believe elected politicians have a duty to protect the rights of the minority, I mean “against the tyranny of the majority.” You’re concerned about minority groups ganging up to impose their will on those who are not members of their coalition. I’m not, because, once such coalitions achieve sufficient voting power to advantage themselves against the remainder of the population, the principle of protecting minority rights should kick in to even the playing field.

Mind you, I’m not talking about a legal duty here. Rather I mean there’s a moral obligation on the part of elected officials to ensure that the laws they make deal fairly with everyone, rather than favoring the powerful and entrenched interests. As an example, the USA began as a slaveholding nation. The law favored the interests of slaveholders over those of their chattels. That changed after the Civil War, not for economic or political reasons, but for moral ones. Holding that all men were created equal and simultaneously blessing the ownership of a significant number of men and women by others was always the very rankest kind of hypocrisy. One or the other precept had to go – and I, for one, am glad it was the former that triumphed.

As for calling myself a “radical centrist”, that’s actually a bit of snark on my part. As I define the terms, a centrist is one who believes that the political solutions that benefit the greatest number of one’s fellow citizens usually emanate from the center of the debate, rather than from its fringes. Meanwhile, a radical centrist is one who’s convinced that public discourse would benefit enormously if the loudest, most hysterical voices on both extremes were lined up against a wall and shot.

Note: I don’t in any way advocate or approve of the use of summary execution to stifle dissent. It’s just my way of calling attention to the fact that the public debate in this country has devolved into a pointless, partisan shouting match – and only the biggest mouths benefit from that.

Bill Clinton is, in fact, a political centrist. Otherwise, for instance, he would never have signed the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. I thought it was a mistake for him to do so at the time, and the events of 2008 proved I was correct about that – which only goes to show that we centrists aren’t some lock-step monolith. There’s as much room for disagreement between us as there is between the extremes. We’d just rather focus on solving common problems than on waving our arms and shouting.

To me, the purpose of government, economically speaking, is to do the things private investment will not do – mostly because they are not immediately profitable enough to attract investment on their own. The interstate highway system is a classic example. It radically changed American life for the better, but it could never have been constructed by private capital. The military is another. Without it, Philip K. Dick’s The Man In the High Castle would have been history, not fiction. But the financial barons would never have spent their money to raise, train, equip, and supply a global, four-year military effort to defeat hegemonic totalitarianism. It took a powerful central government to do that.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI think it’s the job of the government – of all three branches of our particular government – to protect human rights. That’s another task that’s simply beyond the purview of capitalism to accomplish. There’s no profit to be made (no short-term profit, at least) in combating slavery, protecting speech, or ensuring religious liberty, so the monied class won’t do any of those things. There are roads to be maintained, crime to be suppressed, traffic to be managed, and so on, and none of those things is best done by private interests. I think making potholes, parking, and policing the province of government is the least undesireable solution to those needs.

My reply next week!

Stay Tuned for Thom Stark   Leave a comment

Thom StarkThe conversation continues ….

Thom Stark on Research for Writing   Leave a comment

LELA: In last week’s conversation with Thom Stark, writer of the American Sulla trilogy, we got to talking about research and how Ray Bradbury (and his wife Ginny) precisely worked out the time it would take to get to Mars because they felt that the strength of their science would make the book more believable. I completely agreed, using some examples of my own research efforts. I then asked Thom “What research went into the American Sulla trilogy?”

For readers unfamiliar with May Day, it begins with a nuclear explosion that takes out much of the Eastern Seaboard. I was personally in awe of the scientific detail Thom employed there.


Thom StarkTHOM:
The ratio of hours I invested in research versus hours I spent actually writing May Day was about three or four to one. Virtually every chapter demanded research of some kind, on a dizzying variety of subjects. For the first chapter of the prologue, for instance, I spent hours tracking down every document I could find on the layout of the new World Trade Center in general, and One World Trade Center in particular. I read about the radiation detectors incorporated into the complex’s security precautions in a press release. I pored over Google Maps to trace the turn-by-turn approach to the service level off Washington Street to make sure the traffic flow was correct. I called on my own experience delivering audio-visual and computer equipment to skyscrapers in the San Francisco Bay Area for the part describing how the bomb travels from the stolen van to the service elevator. In an early draft, Aziz delivers the copier to the 64th floor. A friend of mine who reviewed it pointed out that the building plan called for that floor to be a sky lobby, so I changed the elevator stop to the 63rd. I looked up industrial collating copiers, and picked Canon as the manufacturer, and Imagemaster Advance as the product line. Obviously Canon would have revved the model number by what was, at the time I wrote the chapter, eight years in the future, so I awarded that to the year 2020 itself. Again, Aziz and “Randy Carlson”’s passage through the security door was based on my own experience with standard security measures working for Wells Fargo Bank. All that went into just the first chapter.

Did I mention there are more than 175 chapters in the book?

LELA: Oh, my! That’s a lot of research!


#amwriting, #thriller

Writer Sweat Equity – Research   1 comment

Thom Stark and I began a conversation following his author interview with me here and here (which I intend to run in its entirety some Wednesday when I need an author interview. It was far ranging, from writing topics to politics and religion. I intend to share these with my readers on Thursdays.



Thom StarkLELA: I enjoyed the part of May Day by Thom Stark that I’ve read so far, by the way. I could definitely see myself as a fan of the series. I like political thrillers when they’re well done. You clearly have done your research and you present some very striking images of what such a terrorist attack would look like. My hat’s off to you for a phenomenal work of future fiction.

THOM: Thank you. Like most writers, I love it when my work is praised by other authors.

Research is something I strongly believe should be a critical element of the writer’s tool chest – one that he or she should use early and often. It’s every bit as important as, say, a thesaurus, a spell checker, or a dictionary. Or a knowledge of proper grammar and punctuation, for that matter. The keys are to learn enough about a given subject to know how much to tell the reader about it, and to make sure that what you tell them is as factually correct as possible. That helps build the bond of trust between you that allows the reader to let go of his or her skepticism and enter fully into the world you’re creating.

In Robert A. Heinlein’s classic juvenile novel The Rolling Stones, he and his wife Virginia painstakingly worked out the orbital mechanics of a Hohmann Earth/Mars transfer orbit, using the Moon to slingshot the Stone family’s spacecraft into the proper trajectory. It was a major job of calculation at a time when there were no desktop computers, or even scientific handheld calculators. They did it all using slide rules and an astronomical ephemeris (and it’s worth noting that Ginny did most of the work, because, as Heinlein frequently noted, she was the better engineer of the two). They certainly didn’t expect his teenage readers to check their equations – or even to understand them, for that matter – but they put in the necessary skull sweat, because Bob Heinlein was convinced that getting the mechanical details right would help make the 21st Century human civilzation he was painting all the more believable to his readers. And he was right, too. As someone who read that book in 1959, I can attest to that.


DSC01494LELA: I definitely agree with the importance of research. My only published novel is a fantasy. Many people think that fantasy is just made up in the writer’s head, but I’ve researched Celtic mythology, poisons, hawks, horses, cheeses, clothing, hot springs, railroad tunnels and a whole host of other subjects in order to build the world of Daermad so that it makes sense. Whether a horse can see in color matters if one of your characters can actually talk to the horse and, while it might not matter to most readers, to the one reader who knows something about horse vision, it will be the difference between willing suspension of disbelief or spending the rest of The Willow Branch watching for my next mistake.

Heinlein is an example of a writer who never disappointed me with his writing and now I know why. I did not know that story and I am very impressed.

What sort of research went into writing The American Sulla trilogy? 

Interview with Thom Stark, Part 2   1 comment

Thom StarkWe’re returning with Thom Stark, the author of American Sulla. Thom has been gracious enough to lend his wit and intellect to my blog both to promote his book and to talk about some further ranging topics. This is the second part of the author interview, but I plan to run our conservation on Thursdays for a while. I have Writing Wednesdays. These are Thom Thursdays, I suppose. Lela

Part 1 of the Author Interview is here.

Tell us about American Sulla. The series is a political thriller that postulates a nuclear attack on New York City and the action takes place in aftermath, examining the consequences and coping strategies of the country and particularly the US government. How did you come to write on that topic?

In 2011, once I regained the ability to type, I began work on a science fiction novel called The Deluge. It’s set in 2053, so one of the things I had to do as a setting-up exercise was to create a timeline of important historical events between then and now that would give shape and substance to the kind of world my characters would be inhabiting 40 years in the future. That, in turn, led me to the events of William Orwell Steele’s presidency. As I began to explore them, I realized that they deserved a novel of their own. Since, according to my future history, the act of nuclear terrorism that triggered the cascade of changes that followed took place in 2020, I decided that I needed to write that novel first, because I might not get around to it before the real calendar caught up with my fictional one, otherwise.

So part of my reason for writing American Sulla is sheer serendipity. I was just building a future history for one story, and discovered a whole other novel in the process. The other part, however, is what happened to America in the wake of 9/11.


American Sulla


I love it when a character asserts himself and becomes so interesting that I must tell his story. That’s the best kind of writing. What was going on in 2011 and going forward that encouraged your writing of this trilogy?

I really hated what my country became after Al Queda’s attack. Yes, it was a horrific event, but the way my fellow Americans and our elected representatives reacted to it was what truly appalled me. We were living in Mariposa County in the Sierra Nevada foothills at the time. The eponymous county seat is an unincorporated Gold Rush town with fewer than 2,200 residents as of the 2010 census – and still fewer back then. And yet, the people there were almost literally pissing themselves in fear that Al Queda was going to attack that flyspeck burg with nukes! The utter panic and craven cowardice of those people was just sickening to me. And we’re talking about a very, very rural area, where the population is, at least theoretically, somewhat self-reliant and unpampered.

What happened with our national legislature was even worse. Congress fell all over itself to flush the Constitution down the toilet in pursuit of “security”. And two years later – by which time you’d think they might have regained at least a modicum of sense – they endorsed the invasion of Iraq by an enormous majority. This was a country that had had nothing to do with 9/11, that had abandoned its program of developing weapons of mass destruction, and that, moreover, was the only meaningful bulwark against the expansion of Iran’s influence in the region. And the Cheney government insisted on invading with an army that was easily capable of defeating Saddam’s Republican Guard, but profoundly inadequate for the task of occupying and pacifying Iraq afterward.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of people say that things would have been different if Al Gore was president, rather than George W. Bush.

I’ve heard that. I don’t believe it! I think neither of them was equal to the task they faced, just as President Obama is inadequate to the task of dealing with ISIS, and particularly ISIL, now. I wish we had some truly great presidents during this era, but it hasn’t happened.

So, part of the thought experiment that led to American Sulla was exploring the notion of how things might, indeed, be different if a classic liberal Democrat were in office when an terrorist event infinitely worse than 9/11 occured. Given the economic crash and the physical and financial damage this country sustained thanks to 9/11, it seemed clear to me that a nuclear terrorist attack would create far greater havoc, and whoever was unfortunate enough to be President at the time would be faced with some really ugly problems, and a critical shortage of clear solutions to them.

Given that reality, the next obvious question – at least, it seemed obvious to me – was “What happens next?”

Where does the title American Sulla come from?

Lucius Cornelius Sulla was a Roman general and member of the patrician class. He’s best known as the first man to be elected Dictator of Rome for an unlimited term. Prior to Sulla, the Dictatorship was never awarded for longer than a single, six-month term, and then only in times of national emergency. The emergency, in Sulla’s case, was the capture of Rome by Gaius Marius. He agreed to save the city from the Marian army on condition that he be made dictator for an indefinite period. Once Sulla defeated the Marian army, he set about eliminating the “enemies of Rome” and undoing the populist reforms that Marius (and the Gracchi brothers before him) had instituted. He also made changes to the Roman political system that he believed would ensure the Republic’s return to its former glory. Once he had accomplished those things, after only slightly more than a year in office, he resigned as Dictator and restored control of Rome to the Senate.

It seemed clear to me that any President would immediately declare martial law – effectively making himself dictator of the USA – in the wake of a nuclear attack, so the parallel between William Orwell Steele and Sulla was inescapable.


May DayMay Day is the first in a three-part series.  It came out in 2013. When is War – Book Two of American Sulla scheduled for publication?

Well, since May Day took around 18 months to write and edit, I’m aiming to publish War sometime in summer of 2015, but the only honest answer is, “It’ll be done when it’s done.” I’m not going to let it escape into the wild until I’m certain it’s fully baked, regardless of how long that takes. This novel is going to be my legacy, and I need to make sure I get it as close to perfect as humanly possible.

It’s a really complex tale, requiring three installments to tell. You’ve intimated on Facebook that there will be some surprises in the subsequent books as the character and the events continue forward.

By now, anyone who’s paying attention has probably figured out some of what will happen over the course of the novel … but, believe me when I say that there are plenty of twists in the tale that you will definitely not see coming. I can tell you that some of the characters I introduced in May Day will not make it to the end of the story. Some very unpleasant substances will definitely hit the fan in War – and still more ugly things will splatter in Revolution, the third and final volume of the novel. One thing I can promise my readers is that I will do everything in my power to make sure the time they invest in American Sulla is time extremely well-spent.

Where can we find May Day? Do you have a website?

The American Sulla home page (which includes a downloadable 38,000-word preview edition of May Day in a variety of ebook formats) is:

There’s also an American Sulla Facebook group:

More importantly, you can buy May Day in Kindle format here:

or, for British readers, here:

It’s also available in a handsome, durable, 596-page 7”x10” trade paperback here:

(Okay. I lied about the “durable” part. It’s a paperback. Don’t read it in the rain.)

You can buy American Sulla swag here:

My Author page is:

My LinkedIn profile is:

I’m on Twitter as:


And, if you’re interested, you can check out the CD I released in 2003 here:

and listen to a song I recorded fairly recently here:


Interview with Thom Stark Part 1   1 comment

Displaying Thom Stark.jpgThom Stark is the author of The American Sulla and a Book Trap (Facebook) friend. What began as an author interview has expanded into a larger conversation, which I’m going to highlight on Thursdays for a while, starting with the author interview, which was long enough and entertaining enough to run as a two-part series. Lela


Tell me about yourself, Thom!

They tell me I was born in Pittsburgh, PA – and I believe them, because that’s what it says on my birth certificate – but I’ve never had any sense of attachment to the Iron City. I was an Air Force brat, so I grew up all over the USA. I learned to read in Japan, and almost immediately discovered and began to devour science fiction at a rate most black holes would envy. Even at the age of six, it was clear to me that someday I’d eventually wind up as a writer, but I certainly did everything in my power to avoid that fate – and I was sufficiently skillful or lucky enough to avoid the curse for almost four decades.

My wife and I spent 23 years living in California, so, if there’s any place I think of as home, it’s the Golden State. Since mid-2008, we’ve lived in Chillicothe, Ohio, where we moved so that Judy could be close to her mother while she was being treated for breast cancer. (She’s been cancer-free for more than 5 years now, for which I am pathetically grateful, because, quite frankly, I’d be completely lost without her.)

I sing, write, play, and record music as a hobby. I’m an okay guitarist, a pretty good producer/arranger, and a decent singer with a limited range, but a distinctive vocal style.

We’ve been Persons of Dog since Valentine’s Day, 2001. That was when Wolfgang Amadeus Dogzart, our beloved American Staffordshire Terrier came home with us from the Mariposa County Animal Shelter. Puppies have been part of our lives ever since. Wolfie died of leptospirosis in early 2008 – as you can imagine, that was a rough year for us – but we still have his first companion, a bullmastiff mix we named Miss Watson. Currently she shares Doggie Island with a year-and-a-half old Grand Pyranees/Saint Bernard mix named Wanda. She’s a rehab project we took on because she has an irrational fear of strangers that we have the experience to help her overcome. Wanda has been slowly improving, and we have great confidence she’ll eventually learn to leave her anxieties behind.

How did you first start writing?

With a pencil, on loose sheets of unlined paper. (At first I just drew individual letters, but after a few weeks, I progressed to entire words …)

Very funny! I meant writing stories, of course.

Actually, I wrote my first piece of fiction at the age of six. It was just a little plotless scenario about three teenage boys who race their jet cars to the launch pad where their rocket ship is waiting to take off, but it taught me the first Unfortunate Reality of Prose: that writing is hard. As it turns out, good writing is very hard.

I submitted a terrible short story to Analog when I was 11 or 12. Legendary editor John W. Campbell’s rejection letter was kind, and he encouraged me to keep writing, but it was already clear to me that I needed a lot more experience of life before I was going to have any chance of being good at it. So I stopped doing that and did other things for the next few decades – although I did write or co-write several dozen pop and rock songs in the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve kept that habit up ever since, although, as is true of my prose output, the process of songwriting is a slow one for me.

I’ve worked at a wide variety of jobs, from newspaper typesetter to aspiring rock star, with stints in between as everything from carnival roustabout to professional videotape editor. In the mid-1980’s I got interested in personal computers, eventually became a senior research analyst for Wells Fargo Bank, and then went into independent consulting. That, in turn, led me into becoming a professional writer (by which I specifically mean “one who gets paid for it”).

I had gotten very interested in the Internet as a resource for networking professionals. This was in the early 1990’s, when the Web was only just beginning to emerge from the high-energy particle physics community, and using the Net basically demanded a set of skills that most people simply didn’t have. But there was an already-rich – and rapidly growing – collection of resources for the sort of job I was doing at the time, and I thought it was important to spread the word about them to my fellow PC networking professionals. So, at a San Francisco Novell User Group Christmas party I cornered Susan Breidenbach, who was then the editor of LAN Times Magazine, and pitched her on the idea of running what I described as “a Baedeker’s Guide to the Internet” for people in our line of work.

What I didn’t anticipate was that she’d offer me the opportunity to write it. And that, if I didn’t agree, it wasn’t going to happen at all. So I decided to take a swing at it.

The result was @internet, a column that would outlast LAN Times as a going concern, and bring me a whole new career as a writer. I ended up at Boardwatch Magazine, a truly unique and wonderful publication that featured an incredible collection of top-level geeks as monthly columnists. John Dvorak and I were the only actual career writers there, when I started in 1997. Everybody else was busy inventing the technology that ran the Internet, and just did their columns as a side gig. It was pretty darned heady company in which to find myself, and I was deeply grateful that Boardwatch’s fanatic readership immediately took me into their hearts. It’s important to understand that many of those readers actually paid perfectly good money for their subscriptions – and a surprisingly large percentage of them read every issue of the mag from cover to cover. That was something that simply didn’t happen in the computer trade press, where the dominant business model was “qualified subscriber” distribution … but it happened with Boardwatch.

Anyway, I learned a lot from my experience in computer journalism, and I swiftly acquired a reputation for turning in ready-to-run copy. Some of Boardwatch’s most important contributors needed a fair amount of help from the editors to massage their columns into readable shape. I didn’t. A lot of that is because I had spent almost my entire waking life doing nothing but reading from the age of six until I discovered girls at around thirteen, and I managed to thoroughly absorb the rules of grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling in the process. Some of it is also due to the fact that that I’m kind of a perfectionist, and I can’t stand to to submit sub-par work. (Just as an example, my verbal contract with Jack Rickard, Boardwatch’s publisher and Editor Rotundus, specified that my montly column was to be 1,000 words in length. I don’t think anyone at the magazine ever noticed, but, for five years, every column I turned in was exactly 1,000 words long, to the syllable.)

Oh, my! That is precision! So what happened then?

Then the dotcom economy imploded. Over the course of six months or so, the computer trade press shrank from over 800 titles to around 150. And because Boardwatch had been purchased for a squidillion dollars by Philistines who systematically dismantled every single thing that made it such a special animal, it went gurgling down the drain along with the rest of the industry.

I had to find something else to write, because now the infection had really set in, and I no longer had any choice but to produce prose. I did a couple of newspaper and magazine pieces, but my major focus became authoring an academic reference book called Plutarch’s Alexander – The Complete Reference. I had been under the impression that writing for the computer industry had taught me to do research, but that project made me understand what really mastering the literature on a subject was all about. It’s a skill that has proven invaluable in writing my novel.

Anyway, in mid-2008, my wife was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. We were living in Las Vegas at the time, and I immediately put her on a plane for Ohio, because Vegas is not even the place you want to be treated for a potentially fatal illness. A set of plastic boobs, or a nose job? They’re good at that. Curing cancer? Not so much. Meanwhile, Ohio has two fully-accredited National Cancer Centers, and to live here costs half of what it would to live in the Bay Area – which is pretty important, when the economy is right on the verge of collapse, as it was in June, 2008.

So we moved here, and I turned my attention to being my wife’s primary caregiver. Once she emerged from cancer treatment – she took the full ride: lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation, one right after the other – I found that I’d lost interest in the Alexander project. Writing a book like that is an incredibly immersive experience. To do it right, you have to live and breathe the subject full time. I’d been away from it long enough by then that I had lost the motivation necessary to get back up to speed on the literature. Then I broke a tendon in my left bicep. That triggered a rather hideous condition called adhesive capsulitis (aka “frozen shoulder”) that, combined with a ruptured disc in my neck, made it impossible for me to write, or even read for the next year-and-a-half. All I could do was grit my teeth and wait for it to pass … which it finally did, in mid-2011.

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