William Dietrich Home


Gays, Flags, Race, and Rights

History moves in mysterious ways.

This none-too-original thought occurred after a supposedly conservative-dominated Supreme Court upheld Obamacare and gay marriage, much to my satisfaction.

As a Baby Boomer trying to name our place in history after following the Greatest Generation of the Depression and World War II, I’m struck less by the technological progress of my lifetime (space travel, computers, wireless) and more by the social progress. Ideas of equality and peace that started in the 1960s are still playing out in the 21st Century.

In little more than a week we’ve had reexamination of Confederate heritage because of its ugly white supremacist side, confirmation of a major expansion government in health care, and a huge step toward equal rights for the lesbian and gay community. Being on the liberal-progressive side, I approve, but I also marvel.

I grew up in a white working class culture of the 1950s and 1960s when casual racism and sexism among relatives and construction workers was taken for granted. You could hear some of the same jokes on national TV: Sinatra’s Rat Pack made unthinking mockery of Sammy Davis Jr. What seems mean-spirited now was ‘all-in-good-fun’ then.

Those attitudes haven’t gone away. Exhibit A is Donald Trump’s recent insults […]

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Napoleon’s Rules

First I was intrigued in Napoleon the conquering icon. Then I grew fascinated with Napoleon the flawed human being.

The result is a new nonfiction book, “Napoleon’s Rules: Life and Career Lessons from Bonaparte.”

The book grew out of my research for my Ethan Gage adventure novels. Ethan is an American embroiled in the Napoleonic period, and Napoleon is the blazing sun around which characters and plot revolve.

Unlike other Napoleon books, “Rules” is about YOU. Bonaparte’s dizzying ascent and plunging fall – and his many pronouncements about life – are mined for advice, or rather fifteen “rules,” each a chapter that explores an aspect of the emperor’s success or failure.

The book is deliberately provocative, brisk, and concise, about 150 pages. Included is a timeline of Bonaparte’s life and suggestions for further reading.

Napoleon had an amazing life that draws us in because he is so humanly recognizable. He was extraordinarily brilliant, frenetically ambitious, and emotionally dissatisfied.

The Corsican kid rose from nothing, always speaking French with an accent, and yet came close to mastering the world. He also didn’t know when to quit, overreached in Russia, and ultimately was crushed.

The Greeks would call it hubris and fate. Spectacular rise and fall always fascinates […]

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The Jungle of Good and Evil

My wife and I dipped our toe into the beauty and mystery of southeast Asia recently, and encountered such a mix of modern and ancient, of the serene and the horrific, that the region floats in the mind like the rafts of hyacinth floating down the Mekong River.

I was fortunate to miss the Vietnam War (high draft lottery number) and my personal images of that place and time had come from news broadcasts and Hollywood. Now, half a century after the first American combat troops landed, we found the region has transformed at a frenetic pace – but past conflicts cast a long shadow.

Museums in Singapore and Hong Kong had major exhibits on the unforgotten horrors of Japanese Occupation in World War II. Our Vietnam guides had typically lost fathers, uncles, or grandfathers in their war. And our Cambodian guide, Arun, was a survivor of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. His father was executed by the communists, his mother sent to work in the rice fields and he, as a baby, was put in the care of an old woman too weak to hoe rice. Of thirty babies put in her care, twenty-eight died. The […]

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Napoleon and the Seahawks

Napoleon Bonaparte has a lot to say about Sunday’s improbable NFC Seahawk victory over the Green Bay Packers that sent Seattle to its second consecutive Super Bowl.

As in, “If courage is the first characteristic of the soldier, perseverance is the second.” My home team offense stunk for 55 minutes of a 60-minute game, but gosh darn it, they did hang in there.

And, “Great men are rarely known to fail in their most perilous enterprises. Is it because they are lucky that they become great? No, being great, they have been able to master luck.”

Napoleon was not a member of the Twelfth Man but he did have a lot of experience with success and failure. He’s a recurring character in my Ethan Gage series of historical novels, and I’ve compiled many of his maxims for a book I’m preparing called Napoleon’s Rules: Life and Career Lessons from Bonaparte.

Think of the parallels. A surprising rise: the Corsican loner, and Seattle’s roster of unheralded draft picks. An average height quarterback: Napoleon was 5-6 in American inches, normal for his time, and Russell Wilson is 5-10. Numerous comebacks: Napoleon from disaster in the Holy Land and Russia, the Seahawks from that 3-3 […]

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Pleistocene Park

Amid the football and Hollywood award shows this weekend, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Andy Bunn, a scientist at Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, who described science fiction turned science fact: Pleistocene Park.

This is a real-life experiment by Russian ecologist Sergey Zimov to convert forested tundra in Siberia to a Pleistocene-like grassland to keep permafrost frozen. The restored landscape would help prevent a catastrophic loss of carbon to the atmosphere and runaway global warming.

Andy was a colleague when I taught environmental journalism at Huxley, and he visited my classes to talk about climate change and his research in Siberia. Since 2014 appears to be the warmest yet on historical record – and since another Jurassic Park movie is scheduled for 2015 – his talk in my town of Anacortes was timely.

Bunn has been traveling for a decade to a remote area of Siberia near Alaska called Chersky, researching how melting permafrost is pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For those who have played Risk, the nearest city – a four-hour flight away – is Yakutsk. Chersky is a former gulag area that now is almost complete wilderness, and its simplistic […]

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The Year of Four Books

There are good years, bad years, and weird years. I’ll remember 2014 as the Year of Four Books, and it was good, bad, and weird combined.

The seventh Ethan Gage adventure, The Three Emperors, was published on schedule in May, along with the paperback edition of The Barbed Crown. That would typically be it for my annual publishing calendar.

But HarperCollins decided not to contract for the next in the series, leaving me with problem and opportunity. The problem was not the standard one-book-a-year routine I’d grown accustomed to. The opportunity was to expand my writing.

Already in the works was The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Meaning in the Wild Nearby, by the Braided River imprint of Mountaineers Books. I contributed to what was very much a group coffee-table-book effort, and the photo-rich work came out at the end of September. It’s gorgeous, and I’m privileged to play a part.

About the same time my first experiment with independent publishing arrived. It’s a young adult thriller and environmental parable called The Murder of Adam and Eve. I used my forced hiatus from Ethan Gage to finish that stewing story, and have been pleased with the response to date. It’s nice to believe […]

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Genesis and “Murder”

My new novel “The Murder of Adam and Eve” is an allegory loosely inspired by an allegory, as well as the scientific explanation of our species’ origins.

The allegory is the Genesis story of the Bible, and even non-believers are generally familiar with Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the infamous apple. Such a fruit wound up on the cover of my book, although there are no apples in my novel’s text.

But parallels are fairly obvious. My teen heroes, Nick and Ellie, are catapulted by a time wormhole to a prehistoric East Africa that is Eden-like as wilderness: little changed yet by the primitive humans who live there.

When I visited Africa and witnessed different species peacefully drinking side-by-side at waterholes, I was reminded of pictures from a Childrens’ Bible.

Scientists know how resonant this story is. They got a lot of media attention by naming their hunt for our genetic ancestors after the religious Adam and Eve. My own characters fill those roles in more ways than one.

In my book, humankind’s impending leap from the African continent to the rest of the planet, and from a simple hunter-gatherer existence to civilization, are echoes of the Biblical expulsion from Eden […]

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Goodreads Giveaway Contest

Great early reviews for my young adult thriller! I’m offering twenty copies of my Young Adult novel, “The Murder of Adam and Eve,” is a Goodreads giveaway that ends Nov. 3. Here’s a link:

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The Murder of Adam and Eve

If space aliens attack mankind to save our planet from environmental destruction, why not avoid a lot of present-day mayhem, death beams blazing, by traveling back in time to wipe out our caveman ancestors?

That was the genesis (pun intended) of my new novel, The Murder of Adam and Eve, my first foray into Young Adult fiction and my first adventure in self-publishing.

My mission was to write a thriller that would engage teens and adults with provocative questions about our past and future.

And to have fun with a survival adventure in prehistoric Africa!

Like many stories, it was pulled together from fragments that popped into my head. I wondered what it would be like to wake up and find everyone missing. Or how long any of us could survive if thrown into the wilderness with little preparation?

The result is what I think is my most intriguing novel. It hopefully leaves the reader pondering if its 16-year-old hero, Nick Brynner, makes the right decision about the fate of humankind. It’s a survival story, war story, love story, and fable.

Publishers were encouraging when I shopped the book around, but not enough to buy it. Their reaction to a teen novel with an eco […]

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The North Cascades

As an author, contributing to a gorgeous collaboration like The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby, is a (sorry, I can’t resist) peak experience.

I finally got my hands on an advance copy and am thrilled by the result.

The 190-page paperback coffee-table book, with two hundred or so glorious illustrations, goes on sale about October 1. I’m the lead author, but it’s very much a group labor of love by eight writers, twenty-eight photographers, two artists, and with several historic images.

Some thirty organizational partners and more than forty donors helped make publication possible by Braided River, the conservation imprint of Mountaineers Books. That keeps the retail list price to $29.95, a real bargain for a book of this quality, and makes it the best Christmas present ever.

The North Cascades are also known as the American Alps, and the book has the kind of stunning panoramas you’d expect. But the book’s pictures also zero in on people, animals, plants, insects, leaves, rocks…it captures the full sensual glory of this range in northern Washington State.

Writing contributors include Pulitzer-winning poet Gary Snyder (who was a North Cascades fire lookout in the 1950s), Richard Louv, author of the bestselling Last […]

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