Yesterday’s book review is today’s interview!
Yesterday I reviewed the first two books of By The Hands of Men, Author Roy M. Griffis’ historical epic series, which shows the horror and world-changing impact of the global conflicts of the first world war, revolution, and social changes in the first part of the twentieth century. [check out my review here to see what I think makes this a 5-star series!] Today Roy is my guest. Please join our conversation as we discuss his life, writing, and the worst movie ever.
1. What was your first car? 1953 Chevy BelAir. Three on the tree, purchased from a retired farmer in Bellevue, Nebraska in the late 70s. I thought the car was old then.
2. Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly? As I’ve aged…Firefly. Although if it had gone through as many hands and “Now, for a new generation” as ST and SW (Lord preserve us from whatever ate George Lucas’s artistic drive and integrity, resulting in the Prequels), “Firefly” might fall off the list.
3. Worst movie ever? Depends on the day. Probably “Pretty Woman.” Of course someone is going to fall in love with hunky billionaire Richard Gere. You want to make a story about real love, the gorgeous chick would have fallen in love with the schlubby accountant (if he had been written as a decent human being). To see an enjoyable (and unexpectedly funny) movie about love, watch “Just Friends” with pre-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds.
4. Best guilty pleasure ever? Warm chocolate crossiants, coffee, a cat on my lap, and a good book.
5. Who would play you in the movie? My son. He looks a hell of lot like me.
6. What is the one thing you can’t live without? Purpose. Meaning. Goals.
7. As a child (or now!), what did you want to be when you grew up? As a child, before age ten, all the usual stuff (cowboy, scientist, astronaut). At 10 I decided I wanted to be a writer, and that was it.
8. What is the single biggest challenge of creating the settings in your novels? To give a sense of place and time and culture that felt authentic, logical, and lived in, while at the same time not overwhelming people with every fact or by having someone stop the action, strike a pose, and give a lot of exposition about the time period. I always tried to prime my subconscious to be on the lookout for the “telling detail” in my research and reading, often tiny and insignificant ones, that would make the world feel real.
9. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard? “Write.” Harlan Ellison actually told me that, bless his heart. But a more practical reminder was one used by the old screenwriters. “Seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” You can’t write if you’re not writing. And, the other thing no one mentioned was that by building the habit of writing, it trains your mind. I began to find that the more consistently I applied “Seat to seat,” the more the words were right there when I sat down to begin.
10. What are you working on right now? I am working on edits to the sequel of my first professionally published novel, “The Big Bang, Volume One of the Lonesome George Chronicles.” The editor sent me his most recent suggestions, and I’m toiling through those. Editing (and marketing, to be honest) aren’t nearly as much fun as telling the story. When I get BTHOM3, “The Wrath of a Righteous Man” back from my copyeditor, I’ll begin prepping it for release in May. As soon as I’m done with my revisions to “The Fire This Time” (Vol 2 of the aforementioned Lonesome George Chronicles), I’m going to get to work on BTHOM4. I have a shelf of reference books/source material nearly four feet long immediately to my right, which I am going to dive into. By the Hands of Men was originally going to be a single novel, but, darn it all, stuff just kept happening in the characters’ lives. I’m pretty sure I’m going to finish up this part of their story with the fourth book.
Born in Texas City, TX, the son of a career Air Force meteorologist. Attended a variety of schools at all of the hot spots of the nation, such as Abilene, Texas and Bellevue, Nebraska. Sent to my grandparent’s house in Tucson, Arizona when things were tough at home. I was pretty damn lost, as my grandparents were largely strangers to me. My older brother, a more taciturn type, refused to discuss what was going on. Fortunately, like so many kids before me, I was rescued by literature. Or, at least, by fiction.
In a tiny used bookstore that was just one block up from a dirt road, I discovered that some good soul had unloaded his entire collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series in Ballantine Paperback. Moved by some impulse, I spent my RC Cola money on the first book, “A Princess of Mars.” I think what struck me was how these books were possessed of magic: they were able to transport me far from this dusty land of relatives who I didn’t know and relatives pretended not to know me to another dusty land of adventure, heroism, nobility, and even love. It was the first magic I’d encountered that wasn’t a patent fraud, and when I closed the stiff paperback with the lurid images on the cover, I decided it was the kind of magic I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to mastering. And, thus, I was saved.
Since then, I’ve never looked back. I’ve written poems, short stories (twice runner-up in the Playboy college fiction contest), plays (winning some regional awards back East and a collegiate Historical Play-writing Award), and screenplays. I’m a member of the WGAw, with one unproduced screenplay sold to Fox Television. Along the way, I’ve done the usual starving artist jobs. Been a janitor, a waiter, a clerk in a bookstore. I was the 61st Aviation Rescue Swimmer in the Coast Guard (all that Tarzan reading wasn’t wasted). I’m also not a bad cook, come to think of it. Currently, I’m a husband, father, and cat-owner. I’m an avid bicyclist and former EMT.
I live in Southern California with my lovely wife. My friends call me “Griff,” my parents call me “Roy,” and my college-age son calls me “Dadman.” It’s a good life. By the Hands of Men, Book Three: “The Wrath of a Righteous Man” will be released in May, 2016.
Excerpt: By the Hands of Men, Book One: “The Old World”
Lieutenant Robert Fitzgerald has managed to retain his sanity, his humanity, and his honor during the hell of WWI’s trench warfare. Charlotte Braninov fled the shifting storm of the impending Russian Revolution for the less-threatening world of field camp medicine, serving as a nurse in the most hopeless of fronts. Their friendship creates a sanctuary both could cling to in the most desperate of times. Historical fiction about life, loss, and love, By the Hands of Men explores the power that lies within each of us to harm – or to heal – all those we touch.
There was no bombing that evening, which allowed Charlotte to sleep almost ten hours. Even so, it seemed she had merely closed her eyes only to open them again immediately. The weariness she felt transcended sleep. . . she swore she would never again take rest for granted.
Having foresworn stockings, Charlotte tugged on clean socks and her boots. Huddled in blankets on the edge of the cot, Alice was awake and smiled nervously at her. “I couldn’t sleep,” the new girl admitted. “I was too eager!”
“Come along, then,” Charlotte said in a low voice, so as not to awaken Kathleen. “I’ll show you the loo.”
The new nurse drew on her great coat over the nightdress, slipped into her own boots, and followed Charlotte. There were few about that morning, save for the sentries on patrol round the perimeter of the hospital camp, and the nurses were either on duty or still asleep. To Charlotte’s surprise, the girl sensibly kept quiet as she tottered along the duckboards behind the other nurse. The latrine lay toward the rear of the camp, and Charlotte led her down the path toward it. As they slipped and stumbled on the uneven pieces of wood laid upon the ground in the usually forlorn effort to create a more secure surface upon which to walk, the new girl lifted the hem of her nightdress in some long ingrained habit to prevent the mud from soiling it.
Alice halted at the sight of the wooden privy. A shack with ill-fitting doors, it was like something you’d find on a farm. Charlotte had seen many on her family’s estate, and most of them had been in better shape than this one. It was unlikely a well-brought up young lady, such as Alice obviously was, had ever used such rough accommodations, or in such a public setting.
Charlotte tugged her forward, and Alice resisted. “But the common – the soldiers…won’t they look?”
The question struck Charlotte as largely idiotic, since there were no men actually in sight. “No,” Charlotte answered firmly, urging the girl into the dank interior and pulling the door shut after them.
An unwelcoming vista of four seats separated by wooden partitions confronted them. Slits high overhead let in some of the faint early morning light and, more importantly, fresh air. “The soldiers are most gentlemanly,” she said as she began to perform the necessaries. Beside her, she could hear Alice lowering herself with reluctance to the seat. “They are a queer bunch,” Charlotte went on in a conversational tone, trying to make this awkward moment less so for the girl. “The boys will queue up to see a bare ankle…yet they give us every bit of privacy we require.”
Alice didn’t reply, so Charlotte stepped outside to allow the girl a bit of solitude, perhaps even a moment to gather herself together. The more experienced nurse turned to the trough of reasonably fresh water that was outside the privy. She found the grayish slab of soap and took the opportunity to thoroughly scrub her hands. Alice slipped out of the latrine, and joined her. She noted with approval the fastidious care the young girl used when washing up.
They both shook their hands to dry them as they walked. “Come along,” Charlotte ordered. “If we miss breakfast, you’ll faint before mid-morning.” She debated a trip to the hospital buildings for a hurried sponge bath, but a glance at the brightening sky turned her from that thought. No time. “Madame will bring us breakfast. She usually has extra, so don’t worry, you’ll get something.”
“Madame?” Alice asked, laboring in her wake. The young girl had not yet acquired the near sprint of a stride the other nurses assumed without thought, even over the variable surface of the duckboards.
“That’s what everyone calls her, just ‘Madame’,” Charlotte replied, forging ahead. Already, there was a kind of clock running in her mind as she reviewed the work ahead; the dressings to be changed, the equipment to be cleaned. “She’s a lovely old French woman. Both her children and her husband were lost to German bombs. We pay her a few pennies a day, and she brings us breakfast. Fresh bread, tea, jam. It’s just the thing to give you strength for the day.” Actually, they paid Madame a few pennies a week, but Charlotte was willing to allow Alice (a complete stranger to poverty if one were to guess by her speech and her fine clothes) to pay the old woman more. Feeling a tinge of guilt at this small dishonesty, as well as at her harsh judgment of a young girl she hardly knew, she added, “Oh, she takes in washing, as well.”
Alice merely nodded behind her, a bit breathless from keeping up, focusing on her feet. She’d hate to tumble into the mud before her first day began.
Madame was outside their tent when they arrived, a rather forbidding woman with a thick mane of white hair framing a seamed face. When she smiled at the two young nurses, her forbidding nature receded like a cloud on a sunny day. “Bonjour!” she cried merrily, swinging a sack from her back and holding it open for them. She chattered at them in a refined French which Charlotte could follow only by focused concentration, an expenditure of energy she was loathe to allow. She listened long enough to introduce Alice and procure the girl a hefty, still warm length of bread and jam. Kathleen, who was upright if not entirely awake, rounded up an extra mug, and Madame poured a draught of hot tea for Alice.
The two more seasoned nurses sat on the bunks and ate their breakfast while Alice dressed, shivering a bit in the morning chill. “You have never worked as hard as you will here,” Charlotte warned.
“Yep,” Kathleen agreed. “And you can’t go wasting your energy.”
Charlotte took another bite of the baguette. How did the old woman manage to make such delicious, fragrant bread under these circumstances? Had she found a dwelling amidst one of the ruined farmholds? In Charlotte’s far-distant land, the bread was black, thick and grainy. She turned her attention back to the immediate moment, and the need to impart useful wisdom upon young Alice as quickly as possible. Base Hospital No. 12 needed good nurses. “You must learn to become as efficient as possible. Never take two steps when one will do.”
The American nurse drank her tea loudly, and added, “When you’re feeding the boys, relax your whole body except for your hand. When you feed them, sit on the beds instead of bending.”
Alice stole a glance at them, her porcelain blue eyes widening. “On the bed? Is that really proper?”
Charlotte snorted into her own tea. “Those poor lads in hospital – many of them are going to die. Most of them worry about their families, their mothers especially. None of them have ever made an improper suggestion to me.”
“Or me,” Kathleen added. “Girl, you don’t want to end up like some old, blown draft horse with bad knees and a back that aches in the winter.”
Alice looked dubious. It seemed she was still considering the implications of sitting on a strange man’s bed. Charlotte tried another tack. “You must learn to save your energy, Alice. The shifts are long. If you do not take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help anyone.”
Outside, there came the sound of boots hurrying along the duckboards. The steps halted outside the tent. Both Kathleen and Charlotte stood, while Alice hurriedly covered herself with the greatcoat. “Miss?” came a young boy’s voice. “Miss, er, Bran. Bran – Brannie…”
Kathleen glanced at her friend, the mangled pronunciation of the last name a sure sign it was she they sought. “Yes, one moment, please,” Charlotte called, loosening the laces on her boots. Fourteen hours of standing and walking would cause her feet to swell, and tight boots would be an agony.
The runner spoke again from outside. “Beg your pardon, Miss, but Doctor Hartford needs you right away. There’s a big push at the front, and the CCS is being overwhelmed.”
Doctor Hartford was the Senior Physician, the Medical Head of Base Hospital No. 12. It was the boy’s information about the CCS that induced Charlotte to stop looking for her nurse’s hat. The thing was a nuisance, anyway, and required large pins to keep in place. At the look on Alice’s face, she explained, “Casualty Clearing Station. They’re very close to the front.” She raised her voice to the waiting runner. “I’ve not served at one before. Am I to bring anything?”
“No, Miss. Doctor H told me all the supplies would be in the lorry. But, please hurry.”
So, it must be bad. It was always bad, but this must be worse than usual.
She found an old fur hat, a gift from one of her father’s troopers when she was younger. It would keep her warm on the drive as the skies threatened rain. Kathleen held out Charlotte’s heavy coat and helped her into it as Alice watched with an expression of great unease.
“Come along,” Kathleen said to the new girl. “If they need Charlotte at the CCS, that means we’re going to be busy as a one-armed paper hanger very soon.” The American nurse was fond of such strange sayings. She gave Charlotte a rough kiss on the cheek. “Hurry back, Cheri.”
Charlotte purposefully shoved the fur hat a trifle askew over her thick black hair. She knew it made her look ridiculous, like a little girl playing dress-up. She hoped it would lighten the fear on Alice’s face, and might mask her own uneasiness at the new assignment. “I should be back in a day or two. These things are usually over quickly.”
Over quickly, yes. The assaults burned through men’s lives as if they were the driest tinder thrown into a furnace. She slipped out of the tent into the purplish dawn where the runner was waiting. He was a boy of sixteen or seventeen, with bad spots on his face, and scars from the pox. She’d seen him before, usually with a cheerful smile, but now his mouth was small and pinched.
Book Title: The Old World (By the Hands of Men, Book1)
Author: Roy M. Griffis
Genre: Epic Historical Fiction
Length: 263 pages
Release Date: December 25, 2013
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Excerpt: By the Hands of Men, Book Two: “Into the Flames”
Charlotte Braninov, traumatized by loss and her service as a frontline nurse, returns to war-torn Russia to find her family. Captured by the Red Army, she exchanges one hell for another. Her still-loyal Lieutenant, Robert Fitzgerald, believing the woman he loves is dead, struggles to recover from the ravages of combat and typhus. In a desperate bid to rediscover himself, he commits to serve his country as a pawn in distant Shanghai. Forging their destinies in a world reeling after The Great War, Charlotte and Robert will learn anew the horror and the beauty the hands of men can create when they descend into the flames.
Robert Fitzgerald sat gazing out the window of his second-floor room at the Oxford and Cambridge University Club on Pall Mall. He was playing a game of sorts, hoping he might see someone.
He was looking for a girl.
In the afternoon’s growing twilight, pedestrians hurried along the walk in front of the Club. Fall had arrived, and the evenings could take a sudden turn from crisp to cold with no warning. He could make out the figures as they passed: children running ahead of tired mothers, dawdling young men loping along with no destination in mind, schoolgirls clutching bags of books.
He wasn’t looking for just any girl. He had only ever seen her, he realized with a mirthless smile, in the uniform of His Majesty’s nurses from the Great War that had so recently passed into history. He rubbed absently at a sprinkling of scars along his cheekbone…the Great War would not ever pass into mere memory for him. The distant forms on the street hurrying past his eyes, he mused that nor would the Nurse move quickly into memory. He could not abide the suggestion that she would become an abstraction, less than a reminiscence but a rote story he told himself that served in place of the living, breathing presence he felt within him. For mere stories fade, lose their power; become bleached of their essence like watercolors carelessly left to ruin in the rain. As happened often without his consciously willing it, his hand touched his chest, the fingers pressing until they made out the shape of a small cross under his shirt.
He would know her form. She was barely five feet, with thick black hair that reached to her shoulders, those lovely locks restrained beneath her nurse’s hat. Stray strands would playfully curl around her ears, as if to remind one that this most accomplished and steady nurse was still a comely young woman. Her eyes were a brilliant blue against a faintly olive complexion. He would not be able to see such details from this distance; still, he would know her by the determined set of her shoulders, and perhaps, if he were to allow himself an ungentlemanly admission, by the sway and contour of her hips.
Her name was Charlotte Braninov, and Robert Fitzgerald loved her.
Her name was Charlotte Braninov, and she was dead.
Yet Robert looked for her as the light faded from the world.
His man, Orlando, let himself into the small room. Orlando, a small, gnomish fellow, had been Robert’s batman at Base Hospital No. 12 during the war. A batman was a combination of servant, butler, valet, and, in Orlando’s case, occasional bodyguard. It was a position of both honor and responsibility that baffled American officers when they had first encountered it. Fitzgerald had taken ill with the typhus near the end of the War, and Orlando had remained in His Majesty’s service to aid Lieutenant Fitzgerald’s recovery in London. The small man’s countenance fell to see Fitzgerald again by the window. Putting his best face on the moment, Orlando said, “The last of your baggage has been delivered to the docks, sir.”
“Thank you, Orlando,” Robert said, not turning from the window.
“May I bring you something from the kitchen, sir?”
“No, old boy, thank you.”
“I’ll retire then, sir. Let me take your suit…I’ll tidy it up for tomorrow.”
Now Robert did turn from the window. “Mr. Pyle, there is no need. You should go home now.”
“Home?” The man echoed the word as if it were some foreign term whose meaning he did not entirely grasp.
Fitzgerald was holding out his hand. “Yes, home. Your old Da must want to see you again.” Robert knew little about his servant, but had heard of his old Da and a tale or two about the sheep they had raised.
Orlando leaned closer and perceived that Robert was offering him a cheque. The small man drew himself up with great dignity. “Am I to be released from you service, sir?”
Abashed, Fitzgerald laid the check upon the sill. This was not developing has he had imagined. “No, of course not, but you must…you must know I am cut off.”
Of course Orlando knew. He had been there when the elder Lord Fitzgerald had stormed in, passions inflamed at the unspeakable idea that his elder son had dared to defy his father’s wishes. There followed a veritable typhoon of attack and accusation, punctuated with liberal cries of “This will not do, sir, this will not do!” Orlando, who would never utter such a thought aloud, had mused behind his implacable aspect that perhaps Master Robert, when younger, had been cowed by such ill-treatment. If so, Master Robert was no longer as young, for three years in the trenches can age a man in ways beyond the conception of a blustering Lord safe in London. Master Robert had roared back at his father, with the end result that he had been disinherited, cut off from all society of his father. No great loss, that, Orlando had allowed to himself.
Knowing all this, Orlando said to the younger Lord Fitzgerald, “Yes, sir. What of it?”
“I’m a lord without lands or rents. I have a title, and nothing else. I’m as useless as one of Bismarck’s counts.”
“I would not say that, sir.” Orlando had seen Master Robert pursue a fear-maddened nurse out into a night lit by falling bombs and bring her back to safety. Such a man would never be useless, not to those who knew the value of a man.
“But I cannot pay you, Orlando. I am near to penniless and it would not be proper of me to abuse your good nature by continuing a pretense of employing you.”
Orlando looked round the room. Even though Lord Robert had been here nearly a week, the quarters felt empty, unlived-in, as if Fitzgerald were merely a pale spectre inhabiting the world of the living out of rote habit. The loss of Miss Charlotte had struck Robert hard, as it had Orlando. The small man tugged upon his jacket to ensure that he was presentable, then strode to the sill and took up the cheque. It was made out to him, and for the staggering sum of 1000 pounds.
“Sir, my people have been freemen since the time of King Richard.” He smiled thinly, as if embarrassed to have to say this, and in that steely curve of the lips Robert saw a faint echo of the hard-muscled Picts of legend, feared warriors who painted themselves blue and fought naked, bringing terror to even the hardened Roman legionnaires and those who would enslave the Britons. Orlando crisply folded the cheque once, twice, then tore it into several neat pieces before dropping them back onto the sill. “We give our service to whom we will, and we will not be compelled. I have given my service…my word and my honor to you, sir.”
Robert realized he was gaping at the man. Charlotte had told him of Orlando’s deceptive strength, even going so far as to call him her Dwarven Warrior, praising the unassuming servant for his heroic efforts when Base Hospital No. 12 had been ruthlessly bombed by the Bosche in violation of all the rules of war and civilization. He made one more attempt to dissuade the man. “But…I cannot afford to employ you.”
“Then we’ll both be penniless, sir. I doubt His Majesty would allow two of his servants to starve playing the Great Game.”
“Indeed.” There it was, out in the open. The Great Game upon which Robert was to embark, in service to the needs of His Majesty’s government, somewhere far from England. “Well, then, it will be an early start, I suspect.”
“As do I, sir.”
They nodded at one another, and took their leave.
Book Title: Into the Flames (By the Hands of Men, Book 2)
Author: Roy M. Griffis
Genre: Epic Historical Fiction
Length: 440 pages
Release Date: November 14, 2015
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