Tuesday, December 25, 2012

White Christmas Hanford 2004, OKC 2012

White Christmas, from dense fog in Hanford, California 2004, to snow and ice in Oklahoma 2012. Nothing much has changed in the past eight years. Christmas Day is still a day for balancing the books, a time for contemplation.

I wrote A WHITE CHRISTMAS IN HANFORD on my last Christmas in California before moving back to Oklahoma. I repeat it every Christmas, creating my own tradition.

By Pat Browning

Christmas Day, 2004: That white stuff is ground fog, not snow. But this is Christmas Day, so the town was pretty much closed down anyway.

There are interesting Christmas stories in the papers, both print and online.

From the war in Iraq:
An online Washington Post headline: Fear Dims Christmas Eve in Baghdad. Steel barricades are up at the Virgin Mary Church of Palestine. Iraq's 800,000 Christians have lived peacefully among Muslims for centuries, but now they are afraid to come to church. Ah, Babylon ...

From World War I:
The Post also has an interesting story on the Christmas Truce of 1914, when British, French, Belgian and German soldiers came out of their trenches to sing, exchange food and tobacco, play soccer, bury their dead. Cultural historian Modris Eksteins is quoted as calling it "the last expression of that 19th-century world of manners and morals, where the opponent was a gentleman."

From World War II:
In The Hanford Sentinel, local businessman and Sentinel columnist Bob Case tells the special stories of two local people.

One, now a retired teacher, was in the first wave of Marines to hit the beach at Guadalcanal in 1942. He spent Christmas Eve in a jungle hospital, under blackout conditions. But after the patients had sung carols, the C.O. allowed them to light one match for just a moment as they sang "Silent Night."

In the second story, a local woman recalls Christmas Eve 1943, when a local church group went to a nearby POW camp to sing carols to Germans who had been captured in North Africa. After the church group finished singing, there was momentary silence behind the barbed wire fence, and then the sound of 400 German prisoners of war singing "Silent Night" in the original language ... "Stille Nacht!Hiel'ge Nacht! Alles schlaft ... "

Small, bright lights in the darkest of times.

Photo: This World War I cannon, a reminder of the "war to end all wars," sits in front of the Veterans Memorial Building in Hanford, California, wrapped in dense fog on Christmas morning. Copyright 2004 Pat Browning.

Update: Christmas 2012
Another White Christmas, this one  in Oklahoma, and that white stuff really is snow. It’s pretty, but treacherous. It has been eight years since I wrote about my last Christmas in California. Has anything changed? Yes and no.

For openers, the world didn’t end. I didn’t expect it to but many people did. Don’t blame the Mayans. They didn’t say the world would end. They merely marked off the end of an era, and the beginning of the next one. One can only hope that the new era will be an improvement.

There is still war and unrest in the Middle East. Another American -- a civilian U.S. adviser -- has been killed by a member of the “friendly” Afghans, this one a policewoman. Syria is a bloodbath. Political and religious hatreds are alive and well in Israel, Palestine, Egypt.

In this country we reel from tragedy to tragedy. The most staggering are Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. And yet good triumphs over evil.

From various news reports:
The Troy family in New York lost their home to Hurricane Sandy. Along comes a businessman who offers to build them a brand new home. No ulterior motive. He’s had some close calls in his lifetime and believes God saved him for a reason. Within 24 hours the businessman and his contractors show up and go to work. The Troys will spend Christmas Day in their new home.

Meanwhile, food, toys and money keep pouring into Connecticut after the school massacre. There’s no more room in freezers for the food, the money is being turned into foundations and a hall is stacked with teddy bears and toys of every description. Generous people are being asked to “pay it forward” by giving their donations to charities of their choice, in memory of the children and teachers who died at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Here in the Oklahoma City Metro, soup kitchens and food banks give hope and sustenance to hundreds of local folks who need it. And a worldwide movement, Random Acts of Kindness, has arrived in my local WalMart store.

At the checkout counter this week I had a small purchase from the pharmacy department. The total was $6.52 and the woman in line behind me said, “I’ll pay for that.” The WalMart clerk said, “We’re seeing a lot of that this year.”

I was dumbfounded. It wasn’t much, but it made my day. I’m looking for a chance to do the same thing for another stranger.

Small acts of kindness, paying it forward, piling up some good karma. Like a candle in the window, the spirit of Christmas still shines, even in the worst of times.

Resurrecting an old slogan from World War II -- "Is this trip really necessary?"


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Offbeat, fast-moving and a world class thriller

Offbeat and fast-moving, BEWARE THE JABBERWOCK is the first book in a trilogy of espionage thrillers inspired by the real-life adventures of an FBI agent.

Author Chester D. Campbell knows the intelligence community first hand. He was an Air Force intelligence officer in the Korean War and afterward in the Air National Guard, retiring from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel.
He also had a long career as a reporter and editor. As editor of
Nashville Magazine he interviewed a former FBI agent with a fascinating
story to tell. They talked about putting his adventures into a
non-fiction book but the agent had second thoughts. The statute of
limitations was still running on some of the things he had done.

Campbell writes: “I lost contact with the ex-agent before we got to the point of putting anything on paper. I learned he died several years ago. It makes for quite a story.” He based his character Burke Hill on the agent, and tells the story on his blog, Mystery Mania, at http://tinyurl.com/7dkczpv


Time and place: Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv, May 1992

“Burke got out of the taxi near the Franciscan Monastery of St. Peter,
which stood above the blue waters of the Mediterranean, commanding a
magnificent view of Israel's largest city. Modern hotels rose above a
sprawling hodgepodge of architecture as diverse as the origins of its
people, all accented by the curving Mediterranean coastline.

“He looked up from paying the fare just as a slow moving car crept
past. He had only a quick glimpse of a face on the passenger side, but
it gave him a hard jolt. Hooked nose and heavy brows, short black
beard. The man from the flea market. The realization that he was being
followed hit him like a slap in the face.”

The protagonist, Burke Hill, is an ex-FBI agent currently working as a
professional photographer. As a favor to Cameron Quinn, an old CIA
friend, he lets himself be drawn into a Byzantine scheme that will
shock the world.

It has begun in October in Vienna when two Russian and American
intelligence agents plot a power grab by assassination. Disgruntled by
liberal-leaning leaders in their respective countries, the agents look
ahead to an American-Russian summit in June, scheduled to take place
in Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Canada. They sketch out Operation
Jabberwock, named after a Lewis Carroll story.

The plot is bizarre but apparently possible. The team they assemble
will pose as employees of a Texas TV network providing live coverage
of the American-Soviet visit to Toronto. They will purport to provide
live feeds by satellite transmission, the uplink to be generated from
a transmitter truck parked near the Toronto City Hall.

Establishing a base on an island off the coast of Florida, the two
plotters pull in spies from several countries and begin to procure,
modify and test equipment they will need.  When Cameron Quinn gets an inkling that something suspicious is underway, he enlists Burke Hill
to ferret out the details.

BEWARE THE JABBERWOCK delivers step-by-step excitement in a thriller marked by cross and double-cross. Burke Hill and three close friends defy death to stop the operation before it’s too late.


Chester Campbell says:
(Quote) I got hooked on mysteries back in 1947 after I went to work as a reporter for The Knoxville Journal (I was also a journalism student at the University of Tennessee at the time). At the library I picked up a copy of Horacy McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and then his No Pockets in a Shroud. The latter involved a newspaper reporter researching corruption that involved murder. I found it so fascinating that I soon parked behind my portable typewriter and hammered out a murder mystery about a reporter solving a murder. It didn't get published, but I knew some day I would make it as a novelist. About fifty years later, I did. (End Quote)

Chester won the 2012 Magnolia Award given to a SEMWA member who has shown exemplary service to the Mystery Writers of America, Southeast Chapter, which covers the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. SEMWA’S purpose is to further the writing, publishing, and marketing goals of our chapter’s members by organizing, sponsoring, and promoting activities to that end.
Chester is the author of two mystery series featuring private investigators. The Sid Chance series includes THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MURDEROUS (2011) and THE SUREST POISON (2009). Chester has also written five Greg McKenzie novels featuring a retired Air Force investigator and his wife: A SPORTING MURDER (2010), THE MARATHON MURDERS (2008), DEADLY ILLUSIONS (2005), DESIGNED TO KILL (2004) and SECRET OF THE SCROLL (2002).

THE POKSU CONSPIRACY, Book No. 2 in the Burke Hill thrillers, takes place mostly in South Korea, and is now available on Kindle. The third book will be titled OVERTURE TO DISASTER.
Chester Campbell lives in Nashville. For more about him and his books, see
Mystery Mania Blog: http://chestercampbell.blogspot.com
and his web site at http://www.chesterdcampbell.com