William Dietrich Home


Ink by the Barrel

by bdietrich on February 18, 2017

One of my early jobs as a newspaper reporter brought me to the opening ceremonies of the Washington State Legislature in 1975. The Olympia press corps was seated at a table at the head of the chamber at one side of the podium, fully on display, and when the self-congratulatory clapping of the new lawmakers, families, and officials began, I figured it was polite to clap too.

“Don’t you clap for those S.O.B.s,” growled veteran AP reporter John White. “We’re the press!”

Ah, yes. Unelected and unappointed, journalists nonetheless served (and serve) as a fourth branch of government. We had the role of watchdog, communicator, snoop, and critic. A dozen of us sat on our hands while everyone else applauded.

Yet we were given the best seats in the House. Why? Political news sold newspapers, and favorable newspaper coverage could help a politician’s career or pass a bill. Each side used the other.

Leaks and gossip were not just fodder for scandals. They were a way for government to float trial balloons, get around bureaucratic feuds, air dissenting opinions, and in general lubricate society.

The media was never really liked, but usually respected, and occasionally courted. A platitude of the political class was, “Never […]


2017: The Preview

by bdietrich on October 20, 2016

After three presidential debates, the polls show Hillary Clinton the likely next president. I’m relieved, but I can’t pretend the arguing has created a national consensus. Both candidates are about as popular as a 45-minute drugstore wait for a flu shot from a crochet needle.

So after a grisly political year (has it only been a year and not, like, eternity?) what next? Having consulted the entrails of chickens and the alignment of stars, let me soothsay:

The distrust of Clinton will perversely help her initially by setting low expectations. We’ve become unhappily accustomed to gridlock, acrimony, and politicians who put party above country. When Clinton accomplishes something – and she will – the surprise and relief may result in her getting more credit than President Obama, a charismatic speaker who was initially expected to walk on water.
The unblemished winner of 2016 is Michelle Obama and her soaring speeches. At the very least she’s improved her chances of a lucrative book deal. More intriguingly, she may be the next first lady to run for something, should she so choose.
If Democrats unexpectedly win the House of Representatives the progressive wing will overreach and lose it again in two years. Yes, progress progresses, […]


Author Perseverance

The book industry loves stories of writers who persevere until finally getting published. So do I. Writing can be a tough trade, and the authors who pound away until the door finally opens deserve admiration.

So I was intrigued to receive a first novel mailed by a former editor of mine, Rick Horgan, who is now with Simon & Schuster. The book was written by a Colorado newcomer with the (could this be true?) wonderfully authorial name of Erik Storey.

Storey’s revenge and gunfire novel, Nothing Short of Dying, was rejected by twenty-five agents. That had to hurt, since hero Clyde Barr is a Rocky Mountain outdoorsman like Storey. A barmaid is the love interest. Storey reconnected with the schoolmate who became his wife when she was tending bar. (She’s now a schoolteacher.) Clyde and Erik had some of the same jobs, and hiked and rode the same high country, and both are good shots. The milieu is the kind of rural, depressed, meth and pot capital Storey lived and worked in.

No takers.

So he sent it to twenty-five more agents. They didn’t like it either, but a few had suggestions. Less profanity. Get the non-stop violence under control. Get rid of […]

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Trump Vs Napoleon

Given that Donald Trump has been routinely compared to Hitler and Mussolini, contrasting him to Napoleon might seem a compliment.

Unfortunately for The Donald, he tends to match up with Bonaparte in all the wrong ways while falling short in the right ones.

Accordingly, while the superficial similarities between the French dictator and the American developer might encourage Trump’s followers to believe he’s the strongman they’re looking for, they likely will wind up frustrated.

Having studied Napoleon in some depth for my Ethan Gage adventure novels and my collection of his aphorisms, “Napoleon’s Rules,” I think it’s instructive to look at ways the two men are alike and – more importantly – how they differ.

Bonaparte did “make France great again” – for a while. He ruled for roughly fifteen years and was extraordinarily successful the first half of his reign. But then came disastrous embroilment in Spain and Russia. By the time Napoleon was finally exiled in 1815, millions were dead and French boundaries were back to their 1791 pre-revolutionary origins. Europe was so exhausted that it didn’t quarrel as catastrophically again for 99 years, until World War I broke out.

Now Trump wants to “make America great again” without any detailed policy […]

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General Savage, Easy Rider, and Game of Thrones

As a historical novelist and historian, I believe the past is key to understanding the present. As a movie buff, I believe films are a time capsule of the era in which they are made.

The Peter Pan theme of never growing up would be an example from recent cinema, in which man-child 30-somethings with a habit of slobbery and instant gratification resist adult responsibilities. They postpone parenthood and mortgages in favor of party-on in ways both immature and enviable.

I’m thinking of actors like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, and Hugh Grant, and movies such as Wayne’s World, About a Boy, The Hangover trilogy, The 40-year-old Virgin, and Failure to Launch, to mention just a few. Often funny, sometime exasperating, their scripts reflect the difficulty some young people have of getting started in our era of tumultuous economies, uncertain role models, and student debt.

It was a contrast, then, to catch 1949’s World War II bomber classic, “Twelve-O’clock High,” on TCM. Gregory Peck plays Army Air Force General Frank Savage as the Eighth Air Force begins its daylight bombing campaign against Germany in 1942.

This was a bare bones black and white production, with a Florida airfield filling in […]

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Ethan Gage Is Back!

Ethan Gage thanks you for your patience.

My dogged rascal of a hero is back, with his wife Astiza and son Harry, in a daring and terrifying quest for “The Trojan Icon,” an object from the Trojan War that can control the fate of empires.

The book is available as a $15.99 trade paperback edition and $9.99 Kindle edition on Amazon.com as well as a $9.99 eBook on iBooks, Kobo, and (soon) Nook.

This is the eighth in the Ethan Gage series of Napoleonic-era adventures, this one set in 1806-1807 when the French emperor was at the height of his power. Publication was delayed when my original publisher dropped the series, I explored alternatives, and finally decided to publish independently.

“The Trojan Icon” is the best one yet, by the way. The paperback is 424 pages, similar in length to others in the series. Designer Victoria Colotta has given it a splendid, polished look.

Now my problem is getting the word out, a struggle for all independent authors. I hope you will read it, review it on-line, and alert your friends.

The action starts in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital, where the Gage family has gone from refugees to the favorites of the Tsarina and […]

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Good News for the Holidays

Happy holidays! 2015 had its share of tragedy, absurdity, cable news pessimism and presidential candidate complaint, but compared to most of human history – or even just American history – it was a year with a lot of good news.

Given what now seems to be our habitual grumpiness and orchestrated outrage, I thought I’d pluck a few examples to buck up our spirits.

Speaking of spirits, when scientists at the University of Alberta announced that the health benefits of a glass of red wine are equal to an hour at the gym, how bad can 2015 be?

Beer, chocolate, and naps get similar health praise in a variety of studies. And a 2013 survey of 188 countries found global life expectancy up by six years just since 1990. What’s not to like?

Polio didn’t show up in Africa this year, meaning the only two countries that still have cases of the disease are Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Gates Foundation estimates global measles cases are down two thirds since 1988.

And the early use of an Ebola vaccine has had promising results.

Money? After the United States lost 8.7 million jobs from 2007 to early 2010, it has added 13.7 million since then, at a […]

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Ethan and ISIS

History’s heavy hand is evident in the parallels between the world of my Napoleonic-era hero Ethan Gage, circa 1807, and the Islamic tumult rattling the world today.

As I read about societies Ethan might explore, from Istanbul to India, similarities are plain. Just as research for “Napoleon’s Pyramids” in 1798 Egypt reminded me of American frustration in Iraq, the fragmenting and reactionary Muslim world of Napoleon’s day reminds me of today’s Islamic fundamentalists.

In both periods, economic hardship and military defeat led to messianic and apocalyptic Islamic cults that rose and fell alongside Muslim warlords and dictators. In Napoleon’s era, the unrest allowed European powers to begin colonizing part of the Islamic world and redraw the rest, with today’s disastrous results.

A brief overview: In the wake of devastating Mongol invasions in the 1200s and 1300s, three great Muslim empires emerged.

The Ottoman Empire occupied the Balkans, the Near East, and North Africa. The Persian (Iranian) Safavid Empire was to its east, and the Mughal Empire occupied much of present-day India and Pakistan.

By 1700, all three were beginning to weaken from problems such as war and plague, plus social strains caused by trade with Europe and an invasion of new ideas. Western powers […]

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A Book for Everything

Years of oddball book buying have turned my home library into a treasure hunt for titles I forget I ever had. It’s a reminder of the unsung passionate projects that authors tackle, often with little hope of fame or fortune.

Scattered on three floors and five different clusters of bookshelves are not just mainstream reference works for my novels but quirky books that might have informed a single paragraph. I’m wary of giving them away lest they prove useful once again.

Examples include “Scalping and Torture: Warfare Practices Among North American Indians,” or “The Sex Life of the American Indian” (not as racy as hoped), or, “Indian Use of Native Plants,” or, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Voodoo.”

The first three were consulted for The Dakota Cipher, and the fourth for The Emerald Storm.

Some are fairly obvious for my Ethan Gage series of Napoleonic thrillers, such as “Walks Through Napoleon & Josephine’s Paris,” or “Soldiers at War: Firsthand Accounts of warfare from the Age of Napoleon.”

But others are singular works, occasionally self-published, that illuminate corners of my novels in odd ways. Internet book searching has made it far easier to find such help.

“Napoleon and the Jews” was used for The Three Emperors, […]

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An Ethan Gage series summary

Recently, some readers have asked me about the order of the seven Ethan Gage books, with an eighth on the way.  While the books can be enjoyed as stand-alone reads, history progresses and Ethan ages and matures in the series, so it’s understandable that many prefer to read them in order.

For those unfamiliar with my Napoleonic hero, Ethan is an American adventurer and one-time protégé of the aging Benjamin Franklin who is caught up with Bonaparte and his tumultuous times. Gage is a sharpshooter, gambler, and “electrician” who has a self-deprecating sense of humor and a wry view of humanity. He struggles with his own very human faults. Circumstance sometimes puts him in league with Napoleon, and sometimes against.

Inspirations for this character would include Indiana Jones, Hans Solo, Victorian rascal Harry Flashman, lighter treatments of D’Artagnan and Robin Hood, and fictional historical observers such as Jack Crabb in Little Big Man.

The books are carefully researched, and readers can learn a great deal. A supplement to the series is my nonfiction book, Napoleon’s Rules: Life and Career Lessons from Bonaparte.

Here’s a quick summary, with a warning of mild spoilers if you read the book descriptions. Much more detail is available […]

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