Tuesday, September 19, 2023


As of the end of this month, I am officially retired from my career as a diplomat! It feels good. I'm happy I did all I did over all these years (I began in 1993), but I'm ready to move on and pursue my own personal dreams in what remains of my life. I want to write more books, act in more movies, play chess and basketball, and generally try to get healthier from reduced stress and more exercise. My very first tour as a diplomat was to Moscow, Russia. October 1993, just when the big coup attempt happened and Yeltsin managed to retain power after blasting the Duma with tanks.
Burned Duma building

I met and married my wife Victoria there, for which I'll always be grateful.
Victoria in Moscow

And I played chess against four world champions. My first tour was perhaps my most memorable.
Me playing Anatoly Karpov

I went on to live in eight other countries, including Croatia, China, Iceland, Azerbaijan (twice!), Hungary, The Bahamas, Italy, and Luxembourg. I've had amazing memories in each of these places. I'll never forget this life, but I'm a little exhausted from traveling so much, and I'm ready for a more settled life near our oldest son in Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Newly-Released Novelette Free!

 Many years ago I wrote a novelette called Dragon Play that was published in the anthology called The Dragon Chronicles. I decided to publish it as a stand-alone, and since it is new and has no reviews, I have made it free for Amazon Kindle through Monday, hoping to entice people to read this fairly short story and hopefully leave a review. Anyone who loves fantasy, Vikings, or dragons, please give it a try and tell your friends! Here is the blurb:

All their lives the group of young Vikings had heard of their clan's past glories, but all they have known is the terror of being relegated to living within the shadow of a dragon's mountain. When the chieftain's daughter finds an ancient scroll showing a hidden back entrance to the dragon's lair, she and her three friends decide to sneak in and retrieve the lost talisman that holds the luck of their clan.

Artwork by Shane Tyree

Sunday, January 1, 2023

What I Read in 2022

 At the end of each year I do a summary post of what I read throughout the year. I find it interesting to see my reading habits, and to make note of what the best books were each year. I read only 28 books this year, which is much worse than last. I use a standard five star rating method with five stars meaning I loved the book so much I intend to re-read it throughout my life, so there are rarely any five star books.

1. A Perfect Union of Contrary Things by Sarah Jensen ***

2. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens **

3. Tigana by Guy Gaviel Kay ****

4. The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay *****

5. Infiltrator by C.T. Phipps ***

6. Men of Bronze by Scott Oden ***

7. Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons ***

8. Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley *****

9. Swan Song by Robert McCammon **

10. Contact by Carl Sagan ****

11. Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith ****

12. Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. ****

13. The Iron King by Maurice Druon ****

14. The Saints of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton ****

15. The Strangled Queen by Maurice Druon ****

16. The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 1 edited Neil Clarke ***

17. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir *****

18. 36 Streets by T.R. Napper ****

19. Cold Summer by Gwen Cole ***

20. Lily Narcissus by Jonathan Lerner ****

21. Memnon by Scott Oden ****

22. The Fireman by Joe Hill ***

23. Tomorrow, the Killing by Daniel Polansky ****

24. Cemetery Road by Greg Iles ****

25. The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay *****

26. Sleep No More by Greg Iles ****

27. Use of Force by Brad Thor ***

28. The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay ****

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Release Day! The Shattered Spire


It is finally Release Day for my latest novel, which is a prequel to The Shard, the first novel I ever wrote. Both stories are written to be able to stand alone, though they also mesh well with each other, though set 800 years apart. They do share some characters, such as the wizard Xax, and some long-lived elven characters. Here is the blurb:

The magic of the Spire of Peace has banished evil from the Known Lands for more than twelve hundred years. When a dragon destroys the spire and murders the king, the realm is thrown into turmoil. As civil war looms, can the royal Kaldarion family regain control over the kingdom and restore peace?

Livia, 20, is the eldest child of the slain King Varun Kaldarion. Though the wisest and most learned of the surviving family members, tradition says she cannot inherit the throne.

Balmar, 18, is too feeble-minded to rule, but his uncle, Duke Erol, crowns him anyway in order to appoint himself regent.

Darus, 17, was exiled by the spire's magic due to his bitterness that his father never named him heir. By force of personality and skill at arms, he has risen to command the army of exiles at the fortress of East Gate. Now he plans to invade the realm and take back what he feels is rightfully his by birth.

Imric, 13, was disavowed by his father after his mother died birthing him. Raised by his sister Livia, few in the realm even know he exists. Little more than a pawn in the conflict between Duke Erol and his brother Darus, Imric may hold the key to reuniting the fractured realm.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Summer Move to Luxembourg

 I don't write about my job much, mainly because I prefer to concentrate on my writing. But my career as a diplomat is soon coming to a close, as I intend to retire after one more year, thus allowing me to focus full-time on being a novelist. Since 1993 when I first moved overseas to work at the American Embassy in Moscow, I have been moving every 2-4 years to different countries. It has been exciting, but the process of constantly moving also wears on a person after many years of doing it. So this year, after moving from Rome to Luxembourg, I decided I've done enough with the Foreign Service, and now it is time to try to simply be a writer.

My wife and I left Rome in mid-July and had to do what is called 'Home Leave' in the United States. It's a requirement for US diplomats, so that we don't lose touch too badly with our home country. Home Leave typically lasts about a month and a half. Since our two sons were in Wisconsin, but I was also trying to figure out places that might be interesting for my retirement, we settled on St Louis as the place to stay. It was close enough to Wisconsin for us to easily drive up to visit our sons, but it allowed us to check out whether or not we would like St Louis. This city has the most famous chess club in America, which was a big consideration for me, as I'm passionate about playing serious tournament chess. The photo below is me at the World Chess Hall of Fame, across the street from the famous St Louis Chess Club. 

We were surprised at how much we liked St Louis. I don't think we'd have had such a great experience, except that we lucked out and happened to stay near the fabulous Tower Grove Park. There is a reason this is the one US city park to be designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is easily the nicest park I have seen, and the idea of living nearby (there is also a botanical garden adjacent to it) and getting to walk there every day is highly appealing. There is no guarantee we will settle on St Louis as the place for us to retire, but I'm definitely checking out houses in the park area.

In late August, we arrived in my final overseas diplomatic posting of Luxembourg. It's a nice way to cap my career. It's one of the wealthiest and safest countries in the world. I absolutely love that it has such a brilliant public transportation system, and it is completely free.

The first weekend, a new colleague from work drove my wife and me to see the ancient Bourscheid Castle in northern Luxembourg.  It was a great way to start life in a new country.

Our apartment is very near the center of the small city. The photo below was taken just a short walk away, and it highlights how gorgeous the city is. It is built over multiple levels and everywhere you look there are ruins of old castle walls. You can click the photos to get a better look at them.

My wife and I are definitely happy to get to spend our final year overseas in such a lovely place!

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Closure/Continuation by Porcupine Tree

 Since my previous post rating the top songs by Porcupine Tree (which I posted because I'm about to see their concert in Amsterdam) did not include any of their latest album Closure/Continuation, I'm going to rate the new album now. I did not rate it before, because I had not listened to it enough at that point to have fully formed an opinion. I've been listening to the album nearly every day now, so I have a pretty good idea of how each song stacks up. Having said that, I know from past experience that even after a hundred or more listens, I tend to change my mind about songs later due to tiny nuances that begin to stand out to me.

So, I think this new album is probably my second favorite of all of their albums now, right behind The Incident. There may be individual songs I love more from other albums, but it is the overall strength of nearly every song on this album that makes it so good. 

My favorite song so far, after about seventy listens, is Rats Return. It rocks pretty well while also having some really beautiful choruses. I had Harridan second for quite some time, but now I'm moving Herd Culling into second place. There are bits of Herd Culling that don't suit my taste as much as most of Harridan, but there is a vocal section of Herd Culling that is so astonishing and lovely that I find myself listening to this song more often just so I can hear that part again. That means, of course, that Harridan is my choice for third best song. I like so much about Harridan, though it also contains a bit that I really dislike, so that colors my perception a bit. I rate all three of these songs with five stars in my iTunes.

Dignity and then Of the New Day are the next two, both rated as four stars. None of the remaining songs are less than three stars, so the album overall is very strong.

The album can't beat The Incident, though, because I don't rate a single song on that album below four stars, and it contains a bunch that are five stars. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Top 20 Songs by Porcupine Tree

 It's often said that Porcupine Tree is the greatest unknown band, and there really is some truth to that. They are no one-hit wonder. They're a band with numerous five-star and four-star quality songs that, for some unknown reason, simply flies below the radar for the majority of rock lovers. It doesn't help that they essentially vanished for more than a decade before returning with their latest album "Closure/Continuation". 

Anyhow, I feel very fortunate to finally get a chance to see them live in concert in early November in Amsterdam. In honor of this event, I decided it was time to give my personal top 20 songs by the band.

1. Black Dahlia, from The Incident, 2009

To be honest, this song and the next are basically a tie for me. They both have similar quiet, atmospheric beauty and touch the same heart strings. Some people may find them morose, but I love them.

2. Flicker, from The Incident, 2009

You're going to see a lot of songs from this album, because every single song on The Incident is great. My favorite album by far of theirs.

3. The Incident, from The Incident, 2009

An amazing song that really can be broken down into a string of distinct songs that mesh together. The overall song is more than 55 minutes long and is well worth hearing in its entirety, though my favorite sub-tracks are Drawing the Line and The Incident.

4. Anesthetize, from Fear of a Blank Planet, 2007

Another long song, at nearly 18 minutes, but lush and filled with cool changes, including a crunchy rocking section.

5. Drown With Me, from Futile, 2003

A punchy pop/rock song with some cool choruses. The live version from We Lost the Skyline is also amazing.

6. Remember Me Lover, from The Incident, 2009

A companion piece to Black Dahlia--they really go well together played back to back.

7. Bonnie the Cat, from The Incident, 2009

An uber-cool, slightly twisted song that my eldest son turned me on to. It took a bit to grow on me.

8. Futile, from In Absentia, 2002

Blending heavier rock with lovely vocals.

9. Lazarus, from We Lost the Skyline, 2008

I'm not a big fan of the recorded version, but this live version is beautiful.

10. Even Less, from Stupid Dream, 1999

A lot of these cool songs from the middle rankings could easily swap places with each other depending on my mood.

11. So Called Friend, from Deadwing, 2005

A rocker that slows for a gorgeous chorus.

12. Fear of a Blank Planet, from Fear of a Blank Planet, 2007

13. Fadeaway, from Up the Downstair, 1993

To be honest, I can't tell which version I enjoy more, the recorded version or the live version from 2005's XM II album. The latter version is sung by guitarist John Wesley, while the original is sung by band leader Steven Wilson.

14. Trains, from In Absentia, 2002

15. Lightbulb Sun, from Lightbulb Sun, 2000

16. Waiting, from Insignificance, 1997

17. Where We Would Be, from Lightbulb Sun, 2000

18. Wake As Gun I, from Insignificance, 1997

19. Shallow, from Deadwing, 2005

20. Nine Cats, from Insignificance, 1997

Like I said, a lot of these songs lower in the list are not essentially any less worthy than ones I've ranked above them, so here are some honorable mentions that easily belong alongside some of the ones mentioned above: Hatesong, Gravity Eyelids, Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, Mellotron Scratch, Shesmovedon, Stars Die, My Ashes, Blackest Eyes, Nil Recurring. Of course, Porcupine Tree are so good that these are just my five- and four-star songs--they have tons of good songs that I personally only rank as three-stars due to not wishing to listen to them quite as often. Some of the songs from the new album are worthy of being on this list, but I simply haven't listened to them enough times to tell where they belong.

If you are one of the legions of people who have unfortunately not heard of Porcupine Tree, do yourself a favor and give them a good listen. If you only wish to try one album, then try The Incident in its entirety.