Hope things are going unreasonably well.
I was thinking about something recently.
It happened about ten or eleven years ago, when I was still in the Chair Force.
(I started calling it the Chair Force after they took away my airplane and gave me a staff job :).
I had just driven from Langley up to the Pentagon. That commute usually lasts between three and nine hours, depending on traffic. I made the trip once or twice every week for just shy of three years. On this particular day, the trip had taken just a bit over four hours.
Unfortunately, that was more time than I had available. And even more unfortunately, it wasn't the kind of meeting I could be late for.
I was a lowly lieutenant colonel, which meant that I couldn't actually park in the Pentagon parking lot, and I had to park a couple of miles away.
It was one of those frigid DC days. I grew up in Colorado, but somehow the wet, clinging DC air and...
I hope it's an unreasonably good day in your neck of the woods.
I've been thinking of a story recently, one with a very controversial ending.
It goes like this:
A boy is born into a middle-class American family in the early 1970s.
They live in a bright, yellow people-box in a proto-suburb at the fringe of a mid-sized city.
The dad likes martinis, landscaping projects, and the Green Bay Packers. He knows computers -- the kind with punch cards and such -- and owns a consulting firm. He does lots of work for the space program.
The mom likes crafts, romance novels, and iced tea. She does bookkeeping and has a side hustle selling cosmetics.
The boy is bright but shy. He is small for his age and feels awkward at birthday parties.
At night, the family sits together on a burgundy couch in their yellow house.
Well, that whole Afghanistan thing didn't go entirely as we planned it 20 years ago.
It's not clear that we've left Afghanistan any better than we found it. But neither is it clear that we've made it worse. Reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
It took us 20 years to learn what the Soviets learned in 10 and the Brits learned in 4.
Or, from a different perspective, maybe we can say that we lasted twice as long as the Soviets and five times as long as the Brits.
But no matter how you slice it, I think Afghanistan is a tough place to flex muscle, even (especially?) if you're a superpower.
So why do countries keep trying?
Well, I think we try for a couple of reasons.
First, from a purely geographic perspective, Afghanistan is a natural skirmish site for conflict centered around Russian influence.
You might remember that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 looking to expand their reach, hoping to snuggle right up...
Howdy! Lars here - friendly neighborhood spy thriller author, at your service.
Many of my Sam Jameson thrillers feature CIA agents behaving badly. This is a little bit unfair, because most CIA agents play by the rules and serve their country with a great deal of dedication.
But not all of them do. And it doesn't take but a few rogue actors to make a giant mess of things.
And sometimes, serving your nation with dedication and honor...
Means doing some pretty terrible things.
I have an acquaintance whom we'll call Mark.
He spent 20 years as a CIA case officer. His job was to insinuate himself into communities (usually in trouble spots around the globe) and gain the trust of people who belonged to organizations and governments that we considered hostile to the US.
Mark's job was then to lie, cheat, steal, bribe, entrap, and otherwise coerce these people into betraying their communities, families, religions, and causes.
In the process, many of these people...
It’s a beautiful day here in Colorado. I’ve been lucky enough to live all over the world, and there’s just no place quite like the mountains. Same mountains every day, yet I’m always amazed by how different they look as the hours and seasons change.
Anyway, I hope things are equally terrific in your neck of the woods.
I have a quick story for you today.
In a prior life, I used to do a good bit of work in the national defense world here in the US, and I spent a lot of time in DC as a result. You’ve probably noticed that a couple of my characters have a… particular view of the Beltway ('jaded' might be the right term), and I’d be a liar if I claimed their outlook wasn’t at least a little autobiographical.
During one particularly long day full of mostly pointless meetings, I had a conversation with the Secretary of the Air Force (sorry if this sounds like...
Before I started writing thriller novels, I flew for the US Air Force. We lived all over the world and were lucky to have a ton of amazing experiences.
Some of those experiences were — and pardon the dramatic tone here — quite life-changing.
Some of them completely altered my beliefs.
Here’s one I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.
First, some background:
It was 2001 in Sumter, South Carolina, which is in the United States of America, where (we are accustomed to hearing it said) people are completely free to pursue the life they dream of living.
It doesn’t matter where one begins in life. If we work hard, we can make a better life for ourselves.
Nothing can stop us, and nothing will stand in our way.
Those were my beliefs in 2001 when I arrived in South Carolina on an assignment in the Air Force. Nothing in my experience so far had challenged those beliefs. I had worked hard and had achieved satisfying...
I write thriller novels. Many people love them and give me great reviews.
But not everyone.
Some people HATE them. And they’re not shy about it.
And sometimes, those negative reviews are HILARIOUS.
Other times, they hit me right between the eyes.
And it smarts.
I thought I’d share a few of my favorite negative reviews with you, for our mutual entertainment:
“This author needs a psychologist.”
Hmm. Maybe she has a point, I reflect.
I am, on occasion, a little bit off my rocker.
“Creative,” I believe, is the clever PC euphemism.
Anyway, in real life, I followed her advice.
Guess what my psychologist said:
“This is all normal for someone with your condition.”
I didn’t know whether I should feel better or worse.
She also suggested this:
“You should write thrillers.”
I’m no less confused than ever, but at least it seems that...
I live in suburbia and don’t get out of the bubble too often, so when I manage to sneak out for a night or two and meet interesting people, I’m excited to share those experiences with you.
But I’m thinking I should maybe stop telling you the names of the people I meet.
Because it’s not clear that I can trust all of us to be adults about it.
Last week I mentioned a conversation I’d recently had with a particular public figure, and I received a veritable vat of venom and vitriol from a very large volume of verifiably venomous viewers.
(That was fun, wasn’t it? :)
Many of you were appalled that I would even speak to such a shifty so-and-so because he once said such mean things about your favorite politician.
And also — get this! — this particular son-of-a-so-and-so secretly wants to…
Destroy. This. Country.
And we know this about shifty so-and-so because the CNN...
Hello! Lars here.
It's another one of those "behind the scenes" stories that some readers tell me they enjoy reading.
I can't tell if they're just being nice, or if people are really interested...
But I'll prattle on bravely in the hopes that this stuff is even remotely interesting to you. :)
So... here we go...
My family was quite religious, and there were bright, black-and-white moral lines criss-crossing all over the place in my world as a kid.
Not much in between.
Except that it's impossible to live in an environment like that without seeing more than a few glaring inconsistencies...
Which led me to start, as someone smart once said, "keeping two sets of books."
So I wound up being the skeptical sort.
Which means that I saw a lot of bad faith and bad intent that existed only in my head.
But I was also reasonably well equipped to detect the real thing, too.
One time, when I had just finished Undergraduate Pilot Training and was waiting around...
I used to do some interesting stuff under the ‘National Security’ banner.
I was allowed to talk about a good bit of what we did.
But there was some stuff that I would be thrown in jail for disclosing.
That’s not news to anyone, I don’t think. Most of us are familiar with the idea that militaries and intelligence agencies have secrets, and we generally accept that those secrets exist to protect our personnel in harm’s way, and also to protect particular technologies, processes, or relationships.
But there are two interesting spinoffs that occur as a result of this secrecy.
First (and I think this comes as a surprise to many people): in certain circumstances, we are required to lie to you.
It’s not optional. We can’t decline to answer the question. We have to answer, and the answer has to be a lie.
I have lied to my wife because the government made it...