Thursday, March 05, 2009

Craig Fugate is the new head of FEMA

The President announced yesterday that he was nominating Craig Fugate, the Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, to be the Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. I have known and worked with Craig for over ten years. His appointment to FEMA is a great loss to Florida but a gain for the country.

We received an email yesterday morning stating that Craig had called an "all hands" meeting at the State Emergency Operations Center at 1 P.M. We had heard the rumors that he was up for the job and assumed that this was the big announcement. Over lunch the secret leaked into the media and by the time Craig arrived at the EOC the room was full and expectant.

There were still a number of us in that room who had endured that grueling six weeks in 2004 when the state was hit by four straight hurricanes. The following year we were hit by another four hurricanes, plus the large deployment of Floridians to southern Mississippi after Katrina. But there were a lot of new, young faces in that room, and the hurricanes are still just as big and dangerous, but Craig won't be there with us this summer if the storms come back.

Craig doesn't make long speeches, whether he is praising us or yelling at us. He was full of praise for all of us and for the rest of the State Emergency Response Team. We are recognized around the country as the Super Bowl Champs of state emergency management. There were some old hands, no longer with us, that I wish could have been in that room to hear that speech.

All too quickly Craig was finished and walking out of the room, to a standing ovation from everyone present. I am sad to see him go. When he walked through the door I could feel a part of the burden that he carried shift on to my shoulders. Even Super Bowl Champs are only as good as their last game.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Lion of Babylon - the Novel

After four years of work, multiple drafts and rewrites, I have judged my novel, the Lion of Babylon, ready to face the public. All I need now is an agent, publisher and contract. If it only worked that way.

In case anyone has checked the bestseller list lately, there isn't a lot of Iraqi war fiction on there. There isn't much Afghanistan war fiction either. Evidently, the American public is not interested in those kinds of stories. That's all right. Someday they will be. In the meantime I have entered my novel in four contest. Contests are good in that if you win you can add the credit to your query letter to an agent. Contests are bad in that you might lose, because there are a lot of good writers out there. That's okay. I'm a good writer, too.

In February I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel, sponsored by The top 500 entrants will be announced on March 16th, and an excerpt from their novel posted on the Amazon web site. By April 16 the 500 will be cut to 100 and by May 16 the 100 will be cut to three. The following week the grand finalist is named, and that person gets a publishing contract with Penguin. Such a deal.

To enter the ABNA contest I had to submit a 300 word "pitch" on my novel. All of the initial entrants are narrowed down to two thousand based on this pitch. They read an excerpt of the first 5,000 words of the novel for these two thousand and select the 500 based on the excerpt. So the pitch is important, only until you make the two thousand, when the excerpt becomes important.

If I make the top 500 on March 16, you will be able to read my excerpt. In the meantime, here is my Pitch:

"The Lion of Babylon", an 83,000-word novel, is a fable of men and women, Muslims and Christians, Americans and Iraqis, who look into their futures during a time of war to decide what will become of their lives. Haider, an Iraqi boy who can see the future, foretells the coming of the American Army and of a man who will help him complete his lifelong dream. The Lion of Babylon, a statue in the ruins of the Biblical city, is the source of Haider's power and the key to unlocking the secret of his past.

Haider meets Dan Murphy, a soldier with a personal mission to win the war, but can't tell if he is the man foretold by the Lion. In desperation, Haider teaches Dan to see the future, but the man and the boy envision two different versions of life and death for Murphy and his fellow soldiers. Haidar's quest has its parallel in the wartime struggles of an ensemble of characters that includes an indecisive Army colonel, a young lieutenant out of her element, and a religious soldier with a crisis of faith. As they navigate both personal and military battles in a war zone, they discover the humanity that lies within the Iraqi people and their own reserves of strength. The Lion of Babylon touches their lives and grants Haidar the answer to his past and his future.

This novel will resonate with readers of "The Kite Runner". My inspiration for this story came from the ten months that I served as an Army officer near the ruins of the city of Babylon. My essay on the Iraq war was selected and recorded by the "This I Believe" Project, and was featured on National Public Radio's web site during Veteran's Day in 2007 and 2008.