credit: lousybookcoversdotcom

Cover Story

To my colleagues in the foreign affairs community, known and unknown, I regret that the artwork of my novel about your service has misrepresented the truth.

“BOO-ring,” LousyBookCoversDotCom hooted. “Showing you just how dramatic diplomacy can be.”


2 Pumps hi rez

The offending cover.

What an insult my cover must seem to those of us who serve our country. What an insult to those who’ve worked in places of difficulty, chaos, and danger. Ankara. Sana’a. Jeddah. Karachi. Peshawar. All of the scores of cities where our missions have come under attack in the last twenty years alone.

Benghazi.

I did not mean to bury the drama of your work two decades ago in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, or longer ago in Beirut and Tehran. And I apologize now for misrepresenting the drama of our profession.

To those who’ve worn flak jackets and boarded helos and fully-armored vehicles to get to work, and those with a Sig on the hip and a rack full of Colts ready to hand. To those of us who’ve installed barricades and jersey barriers and other deterrents against protestors and terrorists and zealots seeking targets for their hatred. To those of you who presently stand upon the ramparts in crisis cities around the world, risking ruined marriages and happy homes in dedicated service to America: sorry to have let you all down.

My cover, a reflective skyscraper façade reaching toward a higher, blind authority, stamped to denote the hostile territory within Saudi Arabia, just cannot convey the drama of life on the front line of the war on terror. The effort missed its mark on the unimaginative.

I am sorry.

credit: lousybookcoversdotcom

credit: lousybookcoversdotcom

Certainly, it’s true there are some among us for whom the life is BOO-ring. Some do pass dreary hours as visa stampers and grommet punchers. But even these jobs are done behind explosion resistant glass for a reason. Even these jobs—eye-to-eye with deceit and terror on the front line of one crisis or another—provide more drama in a two-year tour than any lifetime spent as a book cover critic, peddling his services over the Internet.

So, while I regret the lacking drama on the surface of my book, I am grateful for the drama that lies beneath, and for the profession that gives us all a taste of it—more often than not unrecognized—in service to our country.

Peace Corps Writer’s Crime Debut

Congrats to fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Chris Orlet (Poland, 1992-94), who’s debut novel In the Pines came out this month from New Pulp Press. New Pulp is home to many other fine noir and crime writers like Mark Richardson (see my review of Hunt for the Troll–2015). NPP released my neo-noir satire, Two Pumps for the Body Man, this past spring.

Read what other RPCVs are up to at PeaceCorpsWorldwide.

in the pinesIn a small southern Illinois town, Emily Ahrens, a rather plain, unexceptional 17-year-old girl, dies suddenly, horribly and inexplicably, at home. There appears to be no rational explanation for her death. Tests soon confirm that Emily died of kidney failure due to arsenic poisoning. Tests also confirm that she was not pregnant. A coroner’s inquest, called to decide whether her death was suicide, accident, homicide, natural or undetermined concludes the death is undetermined. With no evidence of foul play, local authorities are reluctant to investigate. The girl’s father, Walt Ahrens, a local car dealer, refuses to let the matter drop and begins obsessively seeking answers, even as his family begs him not to, even as the townspeople seek to put the tragedy behind them. Stonewalled, Walt hires a shady private investigator from the city to look into the circumstances of his daughter’s death, but he too fails to turn up any answers, only more questions, before dumping the case back into Walt’s lap. When the desperate father turns up the screws on one rather unsavory suspect, a fatal accident ensues, and circumstances begin to spiral out of control.

Chris Orlet was born and raised in Belleville, Illinois. He has worked a multitude of dead-end jobs, including bartender, sportswriter, gun seller, Peace Corps volunteer, tech writer, salesman for a trailer parts company, and other occupations too unsavory to mention. He lives in Saint Louis, Missouri with his wife, son, and dachshund.

this is what i do when… #4

Summer fantasy surf quest 

ARE-YOU-HERE-by-Brian-Booker-9781942658122

In Episode 4 of this is what i do when i should be… we recap skateboard and bike camp, move operations up to the beach, and take a stab at that notorious dragon, Smaug. True to form the conversation allows escape from what we really should be doing, which is reviewing Brian Booker’s outstanding collection of short stories about broken minds and their cure: Are You Here for What I’m Here For? (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016). We should also be out catching as many waves as possible off New Jersey’s Long Beach Island in this week of perfect wind. Appropriately, the sea features prominently in Booker’s work, but the weather’s too hot and the waves too shapely for such a mental exercise.

Instead we riff on The Hobbit and contemplate E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, our audio book selection over the course of two long summer road hauls. It’s been a great season for reading, biking, and surfing—both land and sea.

NB: Between recording and publishing this episode, Vikram found his sea legs and stood up on the old man’s 7’6″.

A Wry Ode to Clusterf***ing

Joyless House posted this generous review of Two Pumps for the Body Man. See what else they’re reviewing with a click on the image.

“…Two Pumps is a page-turner, baby, and it takes some real balls to satirize the great Christian crusade of our times.”


JHP

Two Pumps is set in the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the action centers around a ragtag crew of Americans waging the War On Terror in the Godforsaken desert. Oh boy, Mr. East, those are some shark-infested waters!

At worst, we might have ended up with a typically glib, macho spy-thriller violence party. A lot of ruggedly-handsome American boys curb stomping swarthy Middle-Easterners. Luckily, Mr. East’s novel is informed by his time spent in the Peace Corps, teaching in Africa and Paraguay and a State Department stint in the Kingdom itself. Two Pumps ends up being a wry ode to the cluster-f*** of confusion that is the WOT. How do you wage a war on terror, anyway? East understands that this is a question without an answer. And he understands the evil of those who build violent careers on lies, vagaries and non-answers.

East avoids offering a straight-up political polemic, though the administration in question is taken to task. We are treated to cartoonish cameos by G-dub’ya and Dick Cheney, who are, after all, more unbelievable than any fiction. The pace is fast. Some of the side characters are not drawn very deeply. But Two Pumps is a page-turner, baby, and it takes some real balls to satirize the great Christian crusade of our times. Bravo, I say. Truth is stranger than fiction. That’s why we need good fiction writers; because if you simply tell people the truth, they’ll take you for a liar every time.

Ryan Rejects Trump Endorsement

Soars in polls

Still opposes policies that would help ordinary Americans

Still the best Eddie Munster look-alike on either side of the congressional aisle

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) yesterday refused to accept the endorsement of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, saying he’d rather not sacrifice his own presidential prospects on that candidate’s altar of bigotry, ignorance and general disenfranchisement.*

“We would prefer to use our own altar of bigotry, ignorance and general disenfranchisement inpaul-ryan promoting the Speaker’s brand down the road,” a spokesman for Ryan said.

Ryan, who insists on protecting the time he gets to spend with his own family (for example, benefiting from taxpayer funded visits from Washington to Wisconsin every weekend that Congress is in session) opposes the rights of ordinary Americans to enjoy family time.

Ryan’s budget proposals seek deep spending cuts, including for child care subsidies and other policies that help poorer families and working single mothers. In general his policy prescriptions would impose the kind of work requirements on low wage earners that limit the amount of time they can spend at home.

While Ryan enjoys a job that allows him to be at home with his children, many of the lowest earning Americans survive without paid sick leave, including maternity and paternity leave, holidays, and annual leave.

And, because he loves his family so much, he has decided to spare them the ugly reality of a Trump endorsement, choosing instead to reject it.

*Some of the above is more fiction than fact. But as with the work of all right-minded novelists, the entirety conspires toward truth nonetheless.

Previous thoughts on Ryan

Trivial Armchair Protest #2

Is this really necessary?!

tieI believe in pants. Pants are good, modest clothing. Call them trousers if you like: trousers are just as good as pants.

Socks, to prevent blisters. Shoes, black or brown. Keep it simple.

A belt to hold up your pants or trousers is a common-sense approach. Black or brown, as with your shoes. If you must wear them, suspenders also serve to hold up your trousers or pants. Just please follow the guidelines on underwear (not covered here, this is a modest blog) and keep them out of sight.

An undershirt is a smart idea to prevent sweat stains, particularly in the armpits. Add a nice, blue button down shirt and there’s all the glossy exterior you’ll ever need.

Put on a jacket of some kind if mustard drops off your hot dog onto your shirt, or if your sweat glands are too powerful for your undershirt.

Pants or trousers, check.
Belt, socks, shoes, check.
Shirts, check.
Jacket, check.

Am I missing anything? No.

Ever since I was a kid, a schoolboy with a clip-on tie, I have wanted to know: why do so many otherwise sensible people cinch a strip of cloth—silk, cotton, polyester, whatever—around their neck? What purpose does this serve? Are we such peacocks, we men, that we need a colorful calling card to brighten our day, a dash of design to bring attention to our presence? Are we such slobs, in need of a napkin on hand—so gauche! What evolutionary reality has brought us to such a low state of self-awareness that we must wear ties?

There is no good answer.

Next week on Trivial Armchair Protest we examine high heels and general shoe clutter beneath the desk at work. Our previous protest is available here: Trivial Armchair Protest #1

My Speech for the DNC

imagesI wasn’t surprised to learn the DNC would go with President Obama instead of me last night. And in some ways I’m glad they did. It was an awesome speech about our great Republic.

Bravo.

Had I been given the chance to let my own voice ring out in Philadelphia, this is what I would have said:

I do not like Hillary Clinton. I am not with her. But I am a realist, and she will get my vote, anyway.

I will hold my nose and vote for Hillary.

One alternative is worse. The other hopelessly plays to the first alternative’s hand.

How embarrassing for Donald J. Trump, in the first case, that Vladimir Putin favors his ascension. How embarrassing for our Republic, in the second, that we are painted into the awful corner of a two-party system.

Of Trump I ask: what does it say about your validity as a leader that Vladimir Putin is actively working to get you elected?

And because you are Trump and too full of your own ego to know the answer, I will reply. It says that you are the weak candidate. The foolish candidate. The candidate more likely to lead this country to destruction. Vlad would rather go head-to-head against the least capable person, not the most capable, and for that reason his spooks are at work against Hillary. Putin fears Hillary. He does not fear you. Putin would love to get bare-chested into the ring with you. And I believe he would tear you up, like a bear with an orange rag doll in its mouth.

And now, Mr. Trump, will Gowdy and Chaffetz investigate you, now that you have publicly expressed support for a foreign intelligence service? Treason.

How shameful for our Republic that at a time when we should be reflecting on a milestone—the nomination of the first female to head a major party ticket—we are instead shamed by how one of those parties conspired against the democratic process to make it happen. How embarrassing that the DNC has, like Bill Clinton before, shamed our highest office. What a wretched state for our democracy that the DNC has taken a candidate many already distrust and made her seem even less trustworthy.

How embarrassing for me, today, to stand before you all and admit that come November, I will vote for Hillary.

And I will be holding my nose while I do it.

Thank you. Long live our Republic.

this is what i do when… #3

Papa, Pirates, & Pork Booty

LesChen_Main

lakelandboating.com

In Episode 3 of “this is what i do when i should be…” we explore Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, not far from Hemingway’s boyhood haunt of Walloon Lake near Petoskey. Other side of Mackinac Bridge in Lake Huron lie Les Chenaux Islands, where we were graciously hosted by Nina Abnee, daughters Louise Keshaviah & Ellen Abnee, & son-in-law Mayank Keshaviah—who also happens to be a cousin and L.A.-based playwright.

We passed a week on the channel between U.P. & La Salle Island in a legendary family cabin called Big Cottage among the good company of LCI regulars (most notably Uncle Duker and his campfire pancakes, & Peter Allen & Susan Heuck who lodged above Captain Bing in the nearby boathouse to make room for our large gathering of cousins, nieces, nephews… & Bocci champs).

best 10 minute playsIn this episode Vikram speaks “Giddish”, recounts a treasure hunt, and narrates a fish tale, while Mohan tells us how pirate booty can be used to make pig booty. The literary discussion at minute 4 turns to a production of “The True Story of the Big Bad Wolf” as written, directed, & performed by the younger cousins, and at minute 10 Mayank K. tackles difficult questions on the life of a playwright. What is the process, how long does it take, and what role do actors play in the final version of a work? Mayank’s success so far includes bringing six of his plays to production, and seeing three published in The Best Ten Minute Plays series (2012, 2013, 2015, Smith and Kraus, Inc).

Hope you enjoy this week’s podcast, “this is what i do when i should be… leaving Cedarville” (complete with breakfast background noise). As always, we welcome your feedback and look forward to responding in the next episode.

This is what i do when i should be… 2

Welcome to the second installment of “This is what i do when i should be…”

the-bfg-roald-dahl-wall-stickerThis week the author’s family gathers in the kitchen to answer fan mail from Mysuru (Mysore) in India and from both coasts here in the U.S. Mohan describes our podcasting layout while Vikram talks about his diorama of The Indian in the Cupboard.

At minute four the literary discussion turns to the film treatment of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Hope you enjoy our late night episode of “This is what i do when i should be… Getting ready for bed!”

And Don’t miss the program’s first installment, in which we discuss MatildaAs always, comments, feedback, and questions for the producers are welcome. We hope to feature your content in the next episode!

The first readers

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It’s almost twenty years since I first shared my fiction beyond the confines of family or classroom. I found three trusted readers during the months of pre-service training as a Peace Corps Volunteer. What else to do on the dusty plains of Central Malawi beneath the boiling sun, the cloudless sky? I wrote my first novel.

I wrote by hand on copy-books, small blue rectangles, the sheets bound with staples.  Grit, dust troubled the flow of ink from the cheap pens we had. The novel fit on six books and is nestled now in an old cigar box. Two decades ago, I troubled three companions to take an interest. They were kind to read my amateur rubbish, worse than boredom itself.

One reader became my wife. Another remains a friend we still see now and then–we owe a visit. A third, Rand Wise, recently reviewed my debut novel—a thoughtful and comprehensive look at Two Pumps.

“…layer after layer of wry humor and irony, much of it stemming from pressure from “the fourth branch” (a secretive entity high up in the U.S. government, clearly a nod to Dick Cheney) to produce intelligence to further the case for invading Iraq…”


Two Pumps for the Body Man (2016) by B.A. East… is the Catch-22 of the war on terror. Set in a U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia (post 9/11 but before the invasion of Iraq), the novel features a large cast of characters including an attractive and narcissistic Consul General, intelligence officers, visa-denying clerks, and logistics people.

2 Pumps hi rezThe closest thing the novel has to a main character is Jeffrey Mutton, the chief of security for the consulate who has to reconcile his security concerns with the demands of the CG to host high profile parties (and she holds a moment of weakness involving the titular shoe fetish over him).

The story develops slowly, fleshing out the cast of characters while adding layer after layer of wry humor and irony, much of it stemming from pressure from “the fourth branch” (a secretive entity high up in the U.S. government, clearly a nod to Dick Cheney) to produce intelligence to further the case for invading Iraq. (More great fiction about the former Veep in “Dicked“)

East deftly handles the comedies of errors that result from the miscommunications, manipulations and power plays between characters, with perhaps the funniest example being an investigation of one of the consulate officers who is suspected of having undue access to the POTUS, even though his intelligence reports are manufactured and mostly plagiarized from news magazines.

The novel takes a serious turn when the consulate is attacked, and the aftermath features the key insights of the novel and its most impassioned prose. Whether you are looking for a comic sendup of consular life or an insightfully cynical look at the war on terror (or maybe both), this book is for you.