My guest today is Stefan Vucak. Hello, Stefan! Welcome to Writing in the Modern Age! It’s such a pleasure to have you.
Strike for Honor is a pretty intense contemporary political drama with naval action. It’s about an admiral whose son is killed by a North Korean missile attack during a naval exercise. With the U.S. administration unwilling to upset nuclear limitation talks with North Korea by taking a tough stand, the admiral decides to strike North Korea’s nuclear enrichment plant. This, of course, creates an international crisis and upsets the American President. I had to do a lot of research for this book, but that was part of the fun. I did not apply everything I learned, but it broadened my horizons.
Strike for Honor was released this March and is available from Amazon and Smashwords.
Is there anything that prompted Strike for Honor? Something that inspired you?
When I conceived this project, I really wanted to concentrate on my main character, Admiral Pacino, and his problems with the White House administration and how it treats, or fails to look after the veterans. Largely, the book still does, but having opened the door on North Korea, there was no turning back, and during my research, I found out far more than I anticipated – surprisingly more. We all know how North and South Korea were created. What many people don't know is that after the armistice was signed, America housed nuclear weapons in South Korea in direct contravention of the Non Proliferation treaty, which over time, directly led to North Korea developing its own nuclear program. America and North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program, and in return, America would provide N. Korea with a water cooled reactor to meet the country's energy needs. It did shut down its program on three occasions, but America failed to deliver on it promises. It is a complicated and tortuous history, and made for fascinating reading.
Great! So, when did you know you wanted to write? Or has it always been a pastime of yours?
Do you have any favorite authors, Stefan?
During my science fiction phase, two authors stood out: Roger Zelazny and Keith Laumer. When his writing was good and before he descended into sorcery and mysticism, Zelazny had an evocative, deceptively easy style that was a pleasure to read. When I can reread a book several times and still enjoy it, that’s my view of a great book, and Zelazny had several. Keith Laumer had an irreverent, sardonic writing style that blasted my sensibilities and often amused me. Some of his stuff was terrible, but a lot was extremely entertaining.
Since my sci-fi days, I sampled writers from other genres: 19th century sea warfare, techno thrillers and others. I like Stephen Coonts, at least his early works. Sadly, he descended into trash popularism, culminating with Saucer, a truly terrible book. But a couple of hundred books later, the techno thriller genre gave me a solid grounding into the workings of governments, spy agencies, the military, and war machinery of all kind. It was a good launching platform for my own contemporary novels.
Do you write in a specific place? Time of day? What works for you?
I am a morning person, a result of having to get up early over many years to go to work, and that’s when I like to write. That discipline hasn’t left me and I still get up early. I am fresh and my mind is charged, ready to
go – most of the time. I find I am most productive during the first half of the day. In the afternoon, I spend transcribing material from my notebook into the computer and doing initial editing. Although I don’t normally write in the evening, sometimes I do. It all depends on inspiration and what I am writing about at the time. There are also moments when I wake up in the middle of the night when an idea pops up and I simply have to jot it down. When I don’t do that, I wake up knowing there was something important I needed to write, but it’s gone. Frustrating.
I know exactly what you mean, Stefan!
So, are there any words you’d like to impart to fellow writers? Any advice before you head off?
If there is one thing I learned over the years as a writer, if anyone is contemplating taking this on seriously, he should be prepared to spend many lonely hours with a pencil and paper, and sitting behind a computer screen. There will be disappointments, frustration, angst...and moments of sheer exhilaration and satisfaction when the words flow and the creative process produces something wonderful. Writing is a gift, but it can also be a curse. But once bitten with the urge to create, there is no cure.
Okay, so there you have it, folks. Stefan has a great book out. You can get it on Amazon and Smashwords.
Here is the blurb of Strike for Honor.
In a joint exercise with the Korean navy, Admiral Pacino’s son is one of the casualties from a North Korean missile strike. Enraged that the President is more interested in stitching a deal with North Korea, forgetting the lost American lives, Pacino decides to make a statement by bombing military facilities in both Koreas. Appointed as the CIA Director, Mark Price is plunged into a plot by dissidents to overthrow the North Korean Supreme Leader, bringing the country closer to the West. Pacino’s attacks don’t make his new job or the President’s any easier. Wishing to avoid embarrassing the Administration, someone decides to remove Pacino – permanently. Strike for Honor is a stunning geopolitical thriller that examines American foreign policy and national values.
Now, for the good part. We’re giving you a sneak peek of Strike for Honor. Enjoy!
As they neared the docks, he could see tall loading cranes cluttering the harbor docks. Navy personnel were everywhere: officers, ratings and toiling gangs. Across the water, two tugs crowded the sleek 567-foot length of USS Shiloh, CG-67, a Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruiser, getting ready to depart. Her functional boxy superstructure and rear helicopter housing didn’t make her graceful, but her business was dealing out death, not stand in review.
Linda pulled the car to a stop before a guarded gate and switched off the engine. She looked at him and her brown eyes turned misty. He reached for her. With a strangled sob, her arms were round his neck.
“There, my sweet. It’s only an exercise,” Vin murmured softly into her short hair after swallowing a lump.
She pulled away and dabbed at her eyes. “I told myself I wouldn’t get emotional.”
He smiled and brushed her cheek with a finger. “It’s all right. You can be emotional for both of us.”
“Just don’t be a hero, okay?”
“You’re talking like I’m off to a war.”
“With North Korean boats shadowing you, no one can tell what they’ll do.”
“I’ll have a powerful ship under me with all the missiles I want to fire. They’d be crackers to try something.”
“If they do, make sure you duck. And that’s an order, Lieutenant.”
“Aye aye, ma’am.” He pulled her tight and their lips met. Her soft mouth opened and the first touch of her velvety tongue made him feel all prickly. Joined in a dance of abandon, he wondered what the hell he was doing trading her for the sea.
Having to come up for air, he broke the moment and looked deep into her eyes. “Keep that thought,” he said and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
She tittered and fisted him on the shoulder. “Dirty old man.”
“Always, my sweet.” He glanced at the digital watch on his right wrist and sighed. “Got to go. Love you.”
“Me too,” she said, clearly distressed despite the brave little smile she gave him.
He wanted to say something comforting and endearing, but words would only make it trite. Abruptly, he unclipped his belt, opened the door, stepped out and slammed it shut. As he made his way to the rear of the car, its trunk lid popped open. He retrieved his dark blue duffel and walked toward the guard post without looking back. He heard the Honda accelerate away behind him.
Saying goodbyes had never been his strong suite.
A marine, the semi-automatic on his right hip within easy reach, stepped out of the small windowed shack and saluted.
A second marine inside the shack watched them both. Vin could see three M16A2 rifles mounted on the back wall. He returned the salute, slid the duffel to the ground and dug out his wallet. He handed the ID card to the guard who passed it to his buddy. After a computer check, Vin got his card back and the marine saluted again.
“Give ’em hell, Lieutenant.”
Vin grinned and returned the salute as the gate rolled back on its tracks. “Cocked and locked,” he said as he picked up the bag. He paced slowly into his world and breathed deeply. The green water was smooth and there was hardly any wind.
Walking down the pier, he was barely aware of background noises permeating the air like a pervasive blanket: cars, forklifts, trucks, prime movers, and the constant hum of machinery—a harbor readying itself for a major deployment.
Tied portside, a thin thread of gray smoke lingered above USS Curtis Wilbur’s rear stack. The warship’s sharp clipper bow cleaved the air as it rose into a clear sky. Massing 6,900 tons and 505 feet long, painted drab gray, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer was a powerful ship. Armed with multiple Mk 41 vertical launch cells that could launch Tomahawk or Standard attack missiles, Evolved Sea Sparrows for defense, VL-ASROC antisubmarine missiles, five inch/54-caliber main gun, torpedo tubes and a Phalanx CIWS close in defense system, the ship could hold its own. Two MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters housed in a stern hangar extended its reach when sub hunting. Pushed by four GE gas turbines powering two shafts, going better than thirty-six knots, the ship was also demonstrably fast.
Admiring the sleek lines, like he told Linda once, he couldn’t wish for more.
Behind his ship, tied along its starboard side, lay a sister destroyer, Mustin. Lassen and Fitzgerald were laid up for major maintenance and would be missing the scaled down FTX, no doubt to the chagrin of their skippers. Apart from them, everybody else was going, except the carrier USS George Washington. She’d be missing this one, a deal to appease the North Koreans. As the Fleet’s Deputy Commander, Rear Admiral Kenneth Pacino—due to get his third star in the fall according to the grapevine—would be running the exercise from his command ship, USS Blue Ridge, LCC-19. Vin wondered what his old man was doing now. Probably giving his chief of staff ulcers, he mused sardonically.
Despite the fact both of them were at Yokosuka, he’d had limited contact with his father. Their respective duties simply made socializing on a grand scale impossible. To make up for it, his mother visited when he was in port and Linda valued being under the wing of an admiral’s wife. It wasn’t patronage, merely taking practical advantage, and Vin would have been nuts not to take the social benefits his father’s position offered. That’s as far as it went, and neither would have it otherwise. His father’s rank was never used to advance or influence his career. Still, it was nice to know he had one admiral in his pocket if needed.
As he approached the destroyer, its arching side looming beside him, the offset gray-black DDG-54 painted prominently on its bow, Vin figured life could be a whole lot worse. He paused beside the gangway guarded by two marines and returned their salutes. Without being asked, he held out his ID. The marine looked at it carefully and made a tick on his clipboard.
Vin shouldered his bag and climbed up the gangway. Reaching the weather deck, he looked up, saluted the colors and then saluted Lieutenant JG, Mike Couper, standing his stint as Officer of the Deck. The boy looked confident; a far cry from his initial eager, trusting phase when he first came on board. Wanting to make a good impression, he micromanaged, driving his team to distraction, forcing Vin to remind him that he was there as a manager. The chiefs were there to look after the sailors.
“Permission to come aboard, sir,” Vin said formally. Couper returned his salute.
“Permission granted, sir.”
Vin stepped on the steel deck and quickly looked around. There weren’t many people about, most of the activity being below decks.
“What’s the word, Mike?”
“Set to shove off at ten hundred, as per the advertised schedule. You’ve got the afternoon watch in CIC.”
“Everybody on board?”
“Just about, but—”
“I know. Koslov hasn’t reported in.”
“Not yet, and Commander Linnen is something pissed,” Couper agreed equitably, clearly not overly agitated at the prospect of Koslov getting a reaming.
“Well, it wouldn’t be a deployment if the Exec wasn’t pissed at somebody,” Vin said comfortably and walked toward an open hatchway leading into the ship’s bowels.
Commander Deron ‘Sheet’ Linnen was a good officer and cut the crew a lot of slack, but he didn’t have much time for any prima donna. Senior Chief Koslov’s last minute departure antics definitely fitted into that category. Every ship had a character and Koslov was Steel Hammer’s, as the ship was commonly referred to. How people came up with such names, Vin couldn’t figure. They might as well have called her Glowing Hammer after the Fukushima reactors went into a meltdown. Curtis Wilbur and several other ships happened to be in port at the time and it was rumored everything in Yokosuka received a dosing, although according to the official poop, tests showed nothing. The men still joked about it and he was told other ships had requests for transfers, but no one from Wilbur went. The men liked how Captain Tyler Woods ran things. For that matter, so did Vin.
After squaring away and raiding the wardroom for a coffee, he went topside. Standing beside the ASROC torpedo launcher, he watched the hands single up the bowlines. At ten a.m. sharp, the ship’s horn blared, sending up a plume of white steam from the forward stack and tugs eased the warship away from the wharf.
It was time to do some paid business.
Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of seven techno sci-fi novels, including With Shadow and Thunder, which was a 2002 EPPIE finalist. His Shadow Gods Saga books have been highly acclaimed by critics. His book, Cry of Eagles, won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award.
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