Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"The Broadcast" interview

Yeah! The link has been posted from by interview on "The Broadcast." Here it is for all those who didn't get a chance to watch the show live.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A guest on "The Broadcast"

 Thursday morning I was invited to be a guest on KTXD Channel 47’s “The Broadcast” show to talk about my new book, “Crosswinds.”
What a great experience — and an opportunity to represent Waxahachie, which host Dawn Neufeld made sure to point out at the beginning of my interview. I want to thank producer Colleen Horning for all of her assistance, as well as the show’s hosts Dawn, Amy, Lisa, Meghan, and the entire crew of “The Broadcast” for providing such a memorable experience.
And to answer the question that the dozen or so people asked who called me after the show aired, no, it wasn’t my first time in a television studio.
In fact, I began my journalism career in television. Granted, I didn’t work on such an elaborate set — nor did I have the high-tech cameras and switching equipment that I got to see when Colleen gave me a tour of the Channel 47 studio.
My studio was a 10-foot by 8-foot armor-plated room next to the aft five-inch gun. (Believe me, you didn’t want to be in the studio when the guns were being fired. I was usually topside with a video camera). During my broadcasts, the studio pitched and rolled with ship’s movement as we steamed through the waves. I had one portable camera, one studio camera, a switching unit and five auxiliary input devices for my nightly broadcast, which I wrote, produced and directed all by myself as I delivered the nightly news to the 350 crewmen aboard the USS Buchanan, DDG 14. At sea, when I wasn’t delivering the nightly news, I was producing training videos (and videos of anything the Captain wanted a video of), climbing to the top of the mast to take spy photos of Soviet vessels and writing press releases for submission to Stars and Stripes and the Navy news service. In port, I guarded nuclear warheads.
While I was proud of my nightlight newscasts at sea, I admit, there weren't on the same level the KTXD team delivers for "The Broadcast" show. For starters, they didn't have to contend with their chair sliding across the deck when the ship took a heavy roll right when I was delivering a story on President Reagan's new military initiative in War on Drugs. Or the time the ship rolled and I dove to catch the studio camera before it hit the deck — all on live television. Or the time the captain wanted me to video a test launch of the ship's surface to air missile system and told me to stand on the deck outside the bridge, which was 10 meters from the missile launcher. I had no idea to expect. I had never seen a missile being launched up close. So, like a good sailor, I did what I was told. The video turned out great — except for the audio. I had to dub that out. After the explosion from the missile launch, all you could hear on the tape was this long string of profanity as the flames from the launch nearly engulfed me. Although it "startled me," I have always been pretty fearless with a camera in my hand. For what it's worth, all the officers in the wardroom thought thought the raw footage was pretty funny. "Petty Officer White will make sure and take the sound out before we send the tape to the admiral, right?"
"Aye, aye, sir!" I replied before doing an about face and exiting the wardroom briefing.
I admit, Thursday’s experience brought back a lot of memories — and provided the answer to a question I had all those years ago when I sailed the Pacific wondering what it would be like to work in a “real” television studio.
It wasn’t close to what I had imagined.
It was better.
Thanks to everyone at Channel 47 for a great experience and thanks for allowing me to talk about "Crosswinds." I’ll post the YouTube link on Facebook as soon as it’s available for those who didn’t have a chance to watch but would like to see it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Television interview Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014

My television interview has been rescheduled. It will now take place tomorrow on KTXD Dallas Channel 47's The Broadcast. The show is broadcast live from 10 - 11 a.m. I won't know until tomorrow morning what time I'll be on — but please tune in! The show is also simulcast on the Internet at ktxd.com and will be rebroadcast again at 4 p.m. I'm looking forward to talking about Crosswinds. I have know idea what questions I'll be asked, but I know it will be a great show.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Latest review for Crosswinds

I just received notice of another review for Crosswinds posted on Amazon.
Here's the review:

"I love it when a book surprises me with unexpected insights and wisdom about the human condition. When a book also makes me look at my own life, then...it's a keeper.

"Crosswinds is a story about two men stranded in an airport because of circumstances beyond their control. The time together generates enough thoughtful energy that they eventually turn inward and recognize the only thing that they could ever control - their reaction to the events and people in their lives. And that shift in perspective makes all the difference.

"There are stories within stories that will leave you wondering about life. There are many anecdotes that seem as if they were written just for you. And there is a message of hope that will leave you smiling long after you have turned the last page.

"As a side note - this book makes a great gift to anyone who has ever served in the military. They will resonate with the stories, the images and the descriptions of military life. And they may just peek behind a door to self-awareness at the same time.

"Well done!"

Wow, what a great compliment.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

TV interview and book-signing event scheduled

With much appreciation to Colleen Horning for her assistance, I'll be doing an interview on KTXD - Channel 47 on Dec. 10 to talk about Crosswinds.
I've also been booked for a signing event at the DeSoto Library from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 10.
Please tune into the broadcast on Dec. 10 (or set your DVR) and I look forward to seeing everyone at the DeSoto Library on Jan. 10.

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Lincoln Crosswind


As part of my day job, I write a syndicated auto column that's picked up in several hundred newspapers throughout the U.S. Last week I was assigned to evaluate the new Lincoln MKC and Ford Motor Company challenged me to come up with a video based on their current ad campaign starring Matthew McConaughey. With much appreciation to my videographer Scott Dorsett, here's what we came up with. I tried to work in a few subtle plugs for Crosswind as well.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Commendation from a fellow Admiral

Yesterday Jim Barnhill sent me a note that have to share. What an honor from a fellow newspaper colleague and Admiral in the Texas Navy. Below is Jim's letter:

Hello  Admiral Neal

My phone call several weeks ago to offer you my congratulations on being named
an Admiral in the Texas Navy was no doubt a "crosswinds" moment in our lives.

Had I not made that phone call, I would not have become acquainted with you,
 nor would I learned about your soon to be published novel: CROSSWINDS.

Twenty four hours after we received it in Saturday's US Mail, I just completed the book
....except for a couple of time outs going to bed late, .....a two hour six mile walk along
the Yakima River  Greenway, and watching Wall Street Journal Report....then the final
twenty pages! For a 34 year Army guy, I really enjoyed the young Navy recruit and
and the older sea dog and their story line. Gripping...compelling....a real grabber that
you don't want to put down!

Neal, it was a superb novel.....it exceeded my wildest expectations. Great story lines!
 Now I want to be first in line to buy your second book in the series. Please keep me posted.

I also want to extend a congratulatory message that I handed out to staff members who
produced exemplary work for the Yakima Herald Republic. When great things I happened,
I usually scribbled D.W.D! on the published story or the correspondence.

CROSSWINDS has to be one of the best novels I've read in years. By the way I was
5 year term Library Board Trustee. with three years as  President of the Yakima Valley Libraries.
The Library quit counting my books after reading  1000 books in just over three years.

So today Admiral Neal White, aka N.R.White, here's your  well deserved D.W.D!

Jim Barnhill

Admiral in Texas Navy
Commissioned: 8 July 1965
by Governor John Connolly

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Admiral, there be books!

The books are here!!! The first shipment of Crosswinds was delivered today. Everyone in the office couldn't wait to take a look.
The books arrived just in time for Saturday's book signing events. Hope to see everyone there.
• Noon – 2 –p.m. at the Ginger Bread Station Book Store, 4450 FM 1387 in Midlothian
• 3-5 p.m. at Hastings Entertainment in Waxahachie.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

When sleep won't find me

I haven’t slept much the past two weeks. Insomnia is a frustrating condition. The body craves rest but the mind just won’t slow down long enough to cross the border into slumber. There are too many thoughts — various scenarios being played out in my head trying to anticipate the next move knowing full well the outcome is beyond my control. That realization only sends my mind into overdrive.

Most nights I sit out on the patio and gaze into the sky, hoping to find serenity in the moon’s glow. But for the past two weeks there has been no moonshine to bask in, nor the opportunity to reflect in its illuminating glow. Instead, I tilt my head back in the chair and gaze at the stars the filled the night sky praying that soulshine will find me somewhere down the line.

The stars in the Southern sky really are quite beautiful. With my headphones on and the iPod set to shuffle, a gentle breeze pulled back the quilt of humidity that covered the lawn as I leaned back in the chair and hit play. As soon as the music began to play my mind switched gears faster than a racecar driver at Road America. The scenarios that had been playing out in my head were instantly replaced with memories with the music serving as the soundtrack to my life. The images were so real and vivid it was almost as if I could extend my hand into the starlit sky and touch them. As Huey Lewis began singing in my ears I was catapulted back to the night my oldest son was born. I left the hospital in La Jolla around 2 a.m., took the top off my Pontiac Fierro and cranked up the volume on the radio. That song was playing as I cruised down Pacific Coast Highway to the apartment in Carlsbad. At the first red light, I stood up, poked my head through the open sunroof and shouted, “I have a son!” at the top of my lungs.  I remember being overwhelmed with the feeling of absolute jubilation and stark terror at the realization I knew nothing about being a father. Looking up at the moonless sky, those feelings came rushing back as my mind began thinking about the past three decades and my journey through fatherhood.  James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” starts playing and thoughts of home come to mind — so strong I can almost smell the pines that permeate the air near the home where I grew up. I remember the days of my youth sitting on the side porch with my friends on summer nights talking about baseball and argued over which one of us would be the first to make it to the Big Leagues. Summer nights in the heart of Carolina, the air is so thick with humidity you wear it like a winter coat. I’ve never complained about the heat, or growing up without air conditioning. To this day, I miss it. When I was in the Navy, that song brought me comfort my ship sailed across the Pacific, sometimes for months on end. There were many nights at sea I’d pop in the cassette into my tape deck, put on my headphones and let Taylor sing me back home as the ship’s movement rocked me to sleep. Song after song, each one refreshes a memory of my past that plays out in my mind as I stare into the night sky. I remember every detail, every word that was spoken, even how I felt at that exact moment in time. Good times and bad, they all are replayed, and with each memory, another opportunity for self-reflection on what I did, and what I didn’t. At time, the music made the memories a little to real, especially during a Jackson Browne song as he sings “… don’t confront me with my failures. I had not forgotten them." Thank God there is a skip button on the iPod, which made me wish that life came with a rewind button.

With each passing hour, I can feel my eyelids wanting to close. I so want sleep to come, but rest keeps passing me by. Through the music in my eyes I can still hear the internal clock ticking in my head, only the ticking becomes louder as I realize there’s not much time left before the alarm sounds. I try to make the clock stop ticking, but that only makes the sound louder.


Why can’t I sleep? Instead of a light bulb going off above my head from some great epiphany, instead I hear Robert Frost whisper through the headphones, “But you have promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep. And miles to go before you sleep.”


I know that time is running out before the alarm sounds. There’s lots of time to sleep after that, I tell myself. There’s so much to do – so much I want to do.


My eyelids are starting to get heavy and I can feel my mind slowly beginning to ease into that state between fully awake and the place where dreams are allowed to take form and take shape.

I hear my mom’s voice. “You’re no spring chicken anymore.” My eyes pop open and once again I’m fully awake.


John Denver’s “Annie Song” plays in the headphones, followed by a tune from Keb Mo. More memories play out in my head, more emotions, more reminders of things I could have done but missed the moment. Again I hear Frost whisper in my ears through the headphones. “I told you to take the road less traveled. But no, you had to do it your way. You’re no risk-taker, I’ll give you that. But where has that gotten you? Tell me. Have you gotten everything you wanted in life by staying on the main road with everyone else? Go on, tell me, I can’t wait all night. My horses are waiting by the snowy woods and they are anxious to get back to the barn.”


I just want to sleep. Where is the moonshine that fills my spirit and serves as a beacon to light my way through life’s dark moments? In the dark, moonless night, how can I find soulshine without it?


Fully awake, I had to laugh aloud when chorus began for one of my favorite songs by the Rolling Stones. I laughed because, while my dad despised rock music, he was constantly praising the wisdom and sage advice imparted in the song’s title. I could also find humor in the irony as Sir Mick sang, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” Again, I starred up at the stars as the song played in my headphones. I conceded to myself that the stars really are quite beautiful as I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to find me — or the alarm to sound, whichever comes first.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Glowing review from Books & Fandom

I don't know if it's common for author's to check the sales ranking of their book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but after yesterday' release I was curious. It's very heady (at least it is for me) to see my book jacket listed on these two major book sites. And then I noticed the sales ranking and quickly came crashing back down to earth. It's difficult to have a swelled head when seeing there's more than a half-million books selling better than yours. In a matter of just a few seconds my dream of being on a best seller list shifted to just being on a list period.

And then I saw this review posted on the Books & Fandom website. Please visit the site and check it out:


Here's just a few of the comments:

"The author's writing was flawless. Every story Jack told about himself easily was a segue way back in to the conversation leaving you thinking and wondering"

"I completely enjoyed this story. All the stories within the story had me intrigued and curious."

"Crosswinds is why I love to read and why it is one of my 2014 favorite reads."

Thank you Books & Fandom for reviewing "Crosswinds" and letting your readers know about the book. I know you could have selected thousands of other books to review. Again, thank you!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Blog Tour Schedule

I want to thank The Next Chapter Publishing and all of the wonderful, wonderful sites below for posting reviews and/or interviews and guest blogs during the national release of  "Crosswinds." The release date is only three days away!!!

Please visit the following book site to check out the "Crosswinds" Blog Tour 2014. Again, thank you to all the sites below for reviewing the book, hosting interviews and allowing me the opportunity to talk about the book.

Blog Tour Schedule

8/27/2014    Romantic Reading Escapes – Review, Book Spotlight

8/28/2014    Sherry Gomes Blog – Review, Book Spotlight

8/29/2014    Fandom Fanatic – Review, Book Spotlight

8/30/2014    The Pen Muse – Interview, Book Spotlight

8/31/2014    Multi-tasking Momma – Review, Book Spotlight

9/1/2014      My Fiction Nook – Guest Post, Book Spotlight

9/2/2014      Ashley Nemer Blog – Book Spotlight

9/3/2014      First Page to the Last – Book Spotlight

9/4/2014      The Next Chapter Publishing – N.R. White Interview

9/5/2014      The Next Chapter Publishing – Review Highlight

9/8/2014      My Reading Lounge – Guest Post, Book Spotlight

9/9/2014      Miss Ivy's Book Nook – Guest Post

9/10/2014    Miss Ivy's Book Nook – Book Spotlight

9/10/2014    Insatiable Readers – Book Spotlight

9/11/2014    The Next Chapter Publishing – Review Highlight

9/12/2014    Manic Readers – Interview, Book Spotlight

9/13/2014    The Next Chapter Publishing – Review Highlight

9/14/2014    Ashley Nemer Blog -- Review

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Texas Author's Association Interview

My interview on "Crosswinds" made during the Texas Author's Association convention has been posted on YouTube.

I thought it turned out a lot better than I thought it would. It was my first interview on that side of the camera and I was more than a little nervous.

Please check out the video at


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Starting somewhere

THE GOOD NEWS: My book is now being sold on the Barnes & Noble website.


THE BAD NEWS: It's ranked 446,238 in sales.

Everyone has to start somewhere. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Release date cometh

This is really a weird time for me. In a couple of days my first book will be released. On one hand, it's a day that I've been dreaming about since I began writing stories as a teenager. I've often thought about what that day would be like. I have imagined sitting at a table in a book store, signing copies and carrying on conversations with folks who wanted a personalized copy of my book. For so long those images have been nothing more than a fantasy -- an escape from the real world to a place I'd like to be. Now it's almost here.

The past few weeks have been a blur. I have promotional blogs and interviews (which I still have yet to complete). Then there is the scheduling for the first two book signings. I've been working with the publishing house in coordinating all those events. There has also been the promotion for the pre-orders of the book and this week, Nook, Amazon and Kindle launched advanced sales for the e-edition on their respective sites. It was a surreal experience when I opened the Amazon link and saw my book available for purchase from the largest bookseller in the world. While thrilled, I realized that folks still have to want to buy it.

While all of this is going on (plus by day job that pays the bills, which keeps me busy about 80 hours a week), I'm actively working on the second novel in the series, entitled "Wind Speaker." I truly love this book. Earlier this week I had a meeting with one of the partners at the publishing house. I had asked for some guidance on how to handle one of the chapters. Wind Speaker is a fictional character. In the chapter, I wanted Wind Speaker to tell the story of an actual event that I spent two years covering as a reporter. In the chapter, Wind Speaker tells Bobby (from Crosswinds) and DeWayne (one of the main characters in Wind Speaker) the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and the prophesy that foretold her return to mark the beginning of what the Lakota Sioux call the "cleansing," which will proceed the reunification of the four tribes of man beneath the tree of life -- who will then restore the balance and harmony of Mother Earth. It's a key element of the story line and helps set up the third and final book of the series, "Wind Shear." As we were talking, I filled her in on the ending of the book, which has Bobby trying to get in touch with Jack to enlist his help. So I'm explaining the ending, with Willie telling Bobby where Jack has been the past four years and my publisher literally shouts, "Neal,  SPOILER ALERT! Why did you do that! That's such a great ending but I can't believe you told me! Now I won't have the chance to be knocked off my feet when I read it because I know what's coming." Bottom line, she loved it, although she's a little peeved that I spoiled the surprise by telling her in advance.

The thing is, I'm really getting into the writing process for Wind Speaker. I don't know if any other authors have experienced this, but it is certainly weird for me. I'm very proud of Crosswinds and as I mentioned earlier, I've been waiting my entire adult life for this moment to become reality. At the same time, I'm moving full speed ahead on the next book, yet I feel like I have to stop and move backwards before I can advance because the success of Crosswinds will play a key role in whether or not Wind Speaker sees publication. It's a business. A very, very tough business. As I'm learning, there's a lot more to becoming a published author than just creative writing.

Without question, I want Crosswinds to do well. I suppose I'm like most (if not all) authors who receive a contract and imagine their book becoming a best-seller. I know I have. And then reality hits and I remember the publisher telling me their "best case" expectation for a first-time, unknown author was selling 10,000 copies for their first book. It didn't sound like very many copies to me, but using a baseball analogy to help me understand, said for a first-time author, 10,000 copies is like hitting a walk-off grand slam homerun in the seventh game of the World Series. While I would truly love for the book to sell well enough that I could get of debt, being realistic, my primary goal is for Crosswinds to do well enough that it will guarantee the publication of Wind Speaker. This is a story that I feel with all my being will be well received with readers from all walks of life. It's also a story that needs to be told.

So if it takes me a little longer to finish Wind Speaker than I had anticipated, it's because I'm doing everything I can to ensure the success of Crosswinds. So far the reviews for Crosswinds have all been glowing tributes.  I have been corresponding with Carol Toberny, the owner of the book store where I will hold my first book signing on Sept. 6. In all of the correspondences, she stated how much she was looking forward to reading Crosswinds. Because she was so gracious to host the book signing, earlier this week I sent her the galley for the book that had been sent to the printer. This is the email she sent yesterday morning:

"Neal - I finished the book last night!  I LOVED it!!!  Wish I could have read it in one sitting - it was that captivating - but I had to do it over several nights which may have been better, now that I think about it, because it gave me a chance to reflect on it between readings.  I just loved it.  It resonated with me on many levels.  And on the areas I'm not as familiar with, it really opened my mind so that I want to learn more.  Great job!  I can't wait for Wind Speaker!!!

"Thank you so much for sending me the galley.  I was excited before, but I'm over-the-top excited now!!! Neal - I'm having a hard time selecting just one favorite part.  I loved how you jumped feet first into the story with Jack asking Bobby "Do you believe in God?"  And Jack's explanation of crosswinds to Bobby and his experiences with Marco on the Baja Peninsula and with Willie in the Navy and beyond.  And Bobby's gleaning from Jack the story of his lost love.  And, of course, the ending. . .

"If I had to narrow it down further (on my favorite part of the book), I guess I was particularly moved by the lessons Jack learned from Marco's happiness with his simple life.

"But it's really tough to choose.  As I said, it resonated with me in so many areas.  And I'm dying to know what happened when Bobby called Donna."

Best regards,

I was tempted to respond and let her know what happens between Bobby and Donna, but I remembered the publisher's reaction about SPOILER ALERT, so all I can say is that you can find out in the second chapter of Wind Speaker.

I'm proud of Crosswinds, but the story really starts taking shape in Wind Speaker. Based on the feedback from the 50 or so Advance Copies for Review that were sent out, I know there is a large audience for Crosswinds. I just hope it is able to rise about the sea of titles that it is competing against for recognition. For those who have, or plan to purchase Crosswinds, thank you. If you enjoy it, please tell your family and friends about it and help me be able to earn the opportunity to have Wind Speaker published. It has the same flow as Crosswinds, with about ten times the goosebumps -- and lots of twists you didn't see coming.

Although it won't be released until Aug. 29, pre-orders for the book version of Crosswinds is currently being sold by The Next Chapter Publishing

Pre-orders for the e-book version are also being sold on Amazon

My mom also sent me a text this week letting me know it was also being sold on the Nook book store website.

From 12-2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6, I will hold my first book reading during a book signing event at Ginger Bread Station Books, 4450 FM 1387 in Midlothian, Texas.

I will also be holding a book signing event from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6 at Hastings Entertainment on Highway 77 in Waxahachie.

I look forward to visiting with everyone and sharing more about the Crosswinds series -- although I've been told I'm not allowed to divulge any key information about what's happening to the characters in Wind Speaker and the final book, Wind Shear. That's going to be really difficult for me because I love talking about it. 

In the meantime, I love hearing from readers. Please feel free to drop me a line, ask me a question or just visit. You can reach me at nrwwax@gmail.com.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Crosswinds" reading on Saturday, July 12

I will be doing a reading from "Crosswinds" followed by an interview at the Lexicon Writers Conference on Saturday (July 12). A video of the interview will be posted on the Texas Writers Association's page. While I've done a lot of volunteer reading for kids, this will be my first official reading of my work. I've been scheduled for a 10-minute reading and I still haven't narrowed down what part of the book I'm going to read. For those that have seen the advance copy, any suggestions?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summary: Stranded in an airport during a storm, a random act of kindness and an unexpected encounter leads to a life-changing experience for a young sailor on his way to his first duty station overseas. When Bobby walked into the airports only smoking lounge and asked to bum a smoke, Jack knew there was a reason a crosswind had unexpectedly blown the sailor into his path. It wasn't until several hours later that Jack realized the exact purpose of their chance encounter.

And NOW... Your first look at

Release Date - August 28, 2014

Join the Giveaway for your chance to win a $10.00 Amazon card and a digital ARC of Crosswinds. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author:
“Crosswinds” author N.R. White is a U.S. Navy veteran and an award-winning newspaper journalists. Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, his family moved to Columbia, S.C. at the age of 10 when his father returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam — at the same time South Carolina was in the process of integrating its public school system. The son of a career soldier, he graduated high school in West Germany before attending the University of South Carolina where he majored in journalism.
Having covered assignments around the world, those experiences are captured in the characters and settings of his manuscripts.
“Crosswinds” is the first of a three-book series. He is currently working on the second novel in the series entitled “Wind Speaker,” which he anticipates being released in 2015. The inspiration for the series originated during the two years he covered the birth of the white buffalo in Janesville, Wisconsin in the mid-1990s, and the Native American prophecy that foretold not only the calf’s birth, but its significance to people of all races across the world.

Visit N.R. White on these pages.

Blog - /http://nealwhite.blogspot.com/
Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/pages/NR-White/587102578055574 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Promoted to Flag Rank

I am now an Admiral in the Texas Navy. Today (June 26, 2014), Texas State Rep. Jim Pitts, on behalf of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature, presented me with the honorary title of Admiral in the Texas Navy during the Waxahachie Rotary Club's weekly meeting. What a tremendous honor from my adopted state. I am indeed humbled and greatly honored. Thank you Rep. Pitts, Gov. Perry and to everyone involved for making this honor possible. As U.S. Navy Capt. Pat Merrill said before presenting me with my first salute, it's rare that a Petty Officer becomes an Admiral, even an honorary one.


Monday, June 23, 2014

The story behind Crosswinds

Life is a journey.

A good friend once told me that we fill our basket with the experiences that are shared by those we encounter along the way.

The story behind the story of Crosswinds actually began on a crisp fall afternoon in southern Wisconsin in 1994. I was working as the city editor in the newsroom of a daily newspaper when a call came in from an area farmer wanting to know if we wanted to write a story about the white buffalo calf that was born on his farm.

It was just after 5 p.m. and my buddy Rob and I were the only two in the newsroom. I offered the assignment to Rob, but he had dinner plans with his wife that night and passed. So, I took the assignment sheet from the editor, grab my camera bag and headed out the door. During the 20-minute drive to the farm, I realized I knew nothing about buffalo -- only that a white buffalo was rare. I thought the story had a shot at making the front page of the next day's edition, and with a little lucky, might be picked up on the state wire.

I had no way of knowing that one assignment would change my life. The story not only made the front page, it was picked up on the international wire. I spent the next two years covering this story. Almost all of the stories I wrote about the white buffalo went international.

Because of this story, I met people I never would have chance to otherwise meet. I also learned a lot about the world, and a lot about myself.  And on that 30-acre farm along the banks of the Rock River, while observing, watching, listening and learning, I discovered the seed of spirituality that had been waiting for just the right moment to emerge into the sunlight and grow.

I found my voice as a writer on that farm. My stories sold out. I remember there being many editions when there were people lined up around the paper to pay 25-cents for a copy of one of my buffalo stories because the paper had sold out.

One of the stories that impacted me most was the one I wrote about the day the bull that sired the white buffalo died. I received a frantic call early in the morning from the farmer that his bull had died and I needed to get the to the farm as quickly as I could. When I arrived, he was waiting in the driveway, pacing back and forth and shouting comments about a "crazy Indian" and what he was going to do if he found out that someone had messed with his bull. After getting him to calm down, the farmer told me he had walked out to the pasture that morning to feed his herd and found the dead bull. He said the Saturday before, he had received a call late in the night from a man claiming to be the chief medicine man of the Lakota Sioux saying he had a vision that the bull would lay down its life for the white calf. He also said after he called me that morning, he had called a veterinarian to come out to do a necropsy on the bull to find out what had happened and if foul play was involved, well, let's just say he was pretty upset. The farmer had also called an Oneida elder from northern Wisconsin who had visited the farm several times since the calf's birth. When they spoke that morning, the elder asked the farmer if he would wait to bury the bull until he could arrive from his home eight hours away so he could perform a burial ceremony. The farmer agreed.

The vet arrived about an hour later. The farmer had placed a small, plastic snow fence around the bull's carcass and within minutes after we had stepped into the confines of the snow fence the entire herd circled us -- with only the small plastic separating these large, snorting, stomping animals from us. I watched as the vet cut into the bull's chest cavity and examined the heart. "Heart's fine," he said, matter-of-factly before turning his attention to the lungs. "Lungs are fine," the vet said, quickly taking his scalpel and cutting into the bull's abdomen. "First stomach is fine," he said. "Second stomach is fine." "Third stomach is fine," he said, routinely moving to the animal's fourth stomach. "Woah!" the vet shouted. "Here's the problem right here," he said, reaching into the animal's stomach and pulling out a softball-sized gelatin-like blob. "It's fourth stomach was blocked," the vet said, as I turned to look at the farmer, his jaw was nearly hitting the ground and all of the color had drained out of his face. I knew immediately something was wrong and I asked what was bothering him, knowing it was the necropsy because I knew the farmer harvested animals all the time. "Neal," he said to me, talking very slow and shaking his head at the same time. "It's just like that Indian said it would be on the phone when he called me Saturday night. He said he had a vision that the bull would lay down its life for the white calf. When I asked him what the hell he was talking about, he said 'I see a black blockage.' When the vet reached into the stomach and pulled it out, it was just like the Indian described it on the phone. I thought he was drunk. Now my bull's dead and, well, I don't know what to think anymore."

It was after dark when the Oneida elder arrived to conduct the ceremony. The farmer wanted to bury his bull on top of a hill on the edge of his farm. It was a moonless night. There were no street lights, no stars in the sky, just a couple of flashlights to guide our way as the farmer and his son hoisted the bull's carcass onto an end loader and began driving up the hill -- me walking on one side of the machine, the Oneida elder on the other. We were in the pasture with nothing separating us from the buffalo herd. I couldn't see them, but I could hear them snorting in the distance, just a few yards away as the end loader began making its climb up the hill. To be truthful, I don't know what I was more afraid of; the end loader tipping over on the hill, or the buffalo deciding they wanted to charge.

About halfway up the hill, the skid came off the end loader. Now I was petrified. Decided I was more afraid of the buffalo, I clung tightly to the tipped end loader as the farmer and his son worked to repair the skid. At this point, not only could I hear the buffalo getting closer, I could feel them. I had done a few dangerous, some would even stupid things in my career to get a good story. But that night, clinging to a broken end loader with a dead buffalo hoisted on the front on the side of a hill in the darkness of a moonless night surrounded by buffalo, well, I was thinking at that particular moment might have pushed the envelope just a little too far. About 20 minutes later, the farmer and his son had the skid repaired. The farmer climbed in the seat and started the machine while his son walked in front with the flashlight to guide the way. As the son raised his flashlight to guide the path, I immediately noticed a wall of glowing red eyes blocking our path. As he intensified the beam of light, we could tell the entire herd had gathered in front of the end loader, making a barrier between us and the top of the hill where the farmer wanted to bury his bull. I was frozen with fear. I didn't know what was going to happen next. But I had covered the story long enough to learn that buffalo could be very violent animals and you didn't want to piss them off. I don't recall seeing the Oneida elder walk in front of the end loader, but I vividly remember seeing the back of his body in the light of the flashlight and watching in amazement as he stood just inches away from the buffalo, speaking to them in his native Ojibwa. I don't know what he said. I didn't understand a single word. It seemed like he talked for an hour, but I'm sure it wasn't more than a minute or two. When he finished, he turned around and we all could clearly see his face in the flashlight's beam. "It's OK," he said to us. "They know what we are going to do. They will let us pass. We can proceed now." Before the last word had left his mouth, we could see in the flashlight's beam behind him the herd parting into two columns, clearing the path ahead of us. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I never would have believed it.

That is of scores of similar experiences I shared during the two years I covered this story. I learned the Sioux legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and the sacred pipe that reunited nations and the spiritual pipe that has been passed down for millennium from one generation to the next. I even met the current keeper of the Sacred Pipe. I learned about the prophesy foretold more than a century ago about the return of the white buffalo calf and why its return help spiritual significance to the four tribes of man who were entrusted to care for Mother Earth.

One fall afternoon in 1996, near the end of my coverage of the white buffalo story, I was sitting on a picnic table with the chief medicine man, the same man who had called the farmer in the middle of the night to tell him about the vision that his bull would die. He told me he had another vision earlier in the week. He told me that in his vision, he saw giant, towering buildings falling from the sky and crashing down to earth with thousands of people running to escape the rubble as the buildings fell. And then he saw great seas washing over the land sweeping buildings and cars and people out to sea as the tide returned to where it came from. Then he told me about the fires and how he saw large forest burning freely for as far as the eye could see with nothing to stop their path. Chills went up my spine as he continued, telling me about the famine, and the hardships and the wars that would follow. That was in the fall of 1996.

A little over a year later, I was recruited to take over the newsroom of another paper in Texas, and my life, well, I began a new path on my journey. Life happens. Things change. Our paths somehow move us in directions we could have never predicted.

In the fall of 2001, I was working in the newsroom when I received a call from a reader urging me to turn on the television. We had an old set that we used to watch college football games with on Saturdays. I turned the set on and watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center Tower. A few hours later, my entire staff was huddled around that set as we watched the two towers crumble to the ground and what appeared to be thousands of people running down the street to escape the rubble. I know all the color left my face because my staff asked if I was OK. It was just like the medicine man had described. Later on, I would also see as the news unfolded before me that he was also right on the mark about the tsunamis, the wildfires, the famine and the wars. For much of the next decade, hardly a week passed that I didn't recall that day on the farm and wonder, "how could he have know?"

There were so many stories to tell. So many messages, especially the most important message of all and that is the significance of the white buffalo calf's birth and what it means -- not just those hold dear to aboriginal spirituality, but to our species. Because, we all have a stake in this. We all have flesh in the game and most importantly, our future is dependent upon the outcome.

For years, I have "felt" this story more so than actually visualizing it. Certainly more than writing anything down. Life happens. I had a new job. New responsibilities. New commitments. New problems. Yet deep inside, I felt this "old story" still burning within, waiting for something -- what I didn't know -- but something to tell me it was time to take the next step.

That next step came in the fall of 2011 when an old friend from high school called me up out of the blue. "So what?" you're probably thinking. Well, for me, it's a pretty big deal. I grew up the son of a career soldier in the U.S. Army. I went to high school in West Germany. When our father's tour of duty ended and they were transferred to a new post, we were scatter to the four winds of the earth, most often, not having any way to stay in touch. This was long before the Internet or Facebook made convenient, if not simple, to reconnect with lost friends. If we knew anything at all, it was only the base our father's were being assigned to. Until they arrived and received housing, there was no forwarding address and no phone number.

When my friend called, she said she had been on the Internet and came across one of the stories I had written about the white buffalo. Taking a shot in the dark, she looked me up and gave me a call. We caught up, as old friends tend to do. She said she had decided to reconnect with her heritage and had moved back to the reservation where her father had grown up. She was a scientist and was working to get kids involved in the sciences, yet her biggest challenge on the reservation was just getting kids to graduate high school as the dropout rate and poverty level was astronomical. I told her about a project I had been involved in since 2006, when I was asked to serve on a committee to create a new high school in my community. It was unlike any high school I had ever seen or heard of. It is structured around project-based learning, with teachers working hand-in-hand to mesh classwork from one subject seamlessly into the next. It's primary focus is on math and science and the kids are doing college-level coursework while still in high school. I told her that while the school has no athletic teams and very few extra-curricular activities, the students show up at 6 every morning and every evening the teachers literally have to tell them to go home because they love going to school there.

Over the next few months I helped my friend put together a pilot program for students on her reservation. It was exciting. Along the way, we continued to catch up on what had happened in the decades since high school. She asked me if I was happy. I had to admit, at that particular point in my career, I was frustrated with the rapidly-changing newspaper industry and a career that I was beginning to feel had already peaked. She asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I had always wanted to write books. She asked why I haven't. I had a long list of reasons: Life happens. Bills to pay. Responsibilities. It's impossible for new author's to get published, etc., etc. She called "bull shit" on my answers. The next spring, as she secured funding for the pilot science project on the reservation, she invited north me to her house in the great woods near a wide river. While not working on the high school pilot, she told me I would have plenty of time to write. So I went.

Sitting in a rocking chair by a wood-burning stove with an old cat perched on the backrest of the rocker, I opened my laptop, stared out the window at the eight feet of snow on the ground and began writing. I had no idea what to write, where to begin or even what direction I wanted to take the story. I only knew there was a story inside of me waiting to be told. I remembered when my father first became sick, flying home to South Carolina to be with him. More times than not, I would fly through Charlotte Douglas Airport and there was a bar and grill that still allowed smoking. I also remembered my time in the Navy, especially when I flew to the Philippines to meet my ship for my first duty station after A School. I was nervous as all get out. I had a four-hour layover in St. Louis and I called an old friend to see if he could meet me. He did. I had taken leave and hadn't been paid in a month. I was flat broke. As I recall, he bought me something to eat and loaned me some money to buy a pack a cigarettes. I started thinking about those memories and the next thing I know the first chapter of Crosswinds had written itself. And then the second chapter. And then the third. And the fourth and even the fifth. And then my week-long writing  sabbatical was over and it was time to return to the real world. Life happens. Crosswinds sat on the shelf for nearly 18 months until one day I came home from work and said, "I'm going to finish this."

I spent the next two months reworking those first five chapters and continuing the story. I was on a roll. And then life happened again. I received a promotion at work. More responsibilities. More commitments. More everything but the time to I needed to write the stories and the characters that were coming to life inside my head. Although I wasn't writing, it doesn't mean I stopped thinking about the book. Far from it. I would have conversations in my head with the characters. In my mind, I could picture them -- their mannerisms, as well as how they thought and the quirks that made them unique. I had the "Willie" chapter written in my head for three months before I ever typed a single word. I know everyone at work got tired of hearing me talk about "Willie," because every idea that popped into my head I wanted to share.

But it didn't stop with Crosswinds. Crosswinds is only the first part of the story. In fact, it doesn't even get into the story -- it just sets up the story. While the writing part of the book was on the shelf, the project itself wasn't on the shelf. I was jotting down notes like crazy. Not only had I outlined the remaining chapters of Crosswinds, I had complete drafts for the next two books -- Wind Speaker and the final book in the series, Wind Shear.

Everything became clear to me. For the first time, I could conceptualize the "feeling" that had been burning inside me. Not only did I know what story I needed to tell, for the first time, I knew how the story should be told and the characters that would tell that story.

Crosswinds is about two characters, Jack and Bobby, who meet by chance in an airport bar and grill while all flights have been delayed by a storm. Jack is nearing the end of his journey. Bobby is just beginning his, on his way to join his ship on his first duty station overseas. During the 18 hours they spend together while waiting out the storm, Jack changes Bobby's life, proving the point that there are no "fluke winds" that blow us off course. Everything God does is for a reason, we just need to keep our eyes open and recognize what that reason is.

I finished writing Crosswinds in December 2013 and spent much of January 2014 polishing and editing before sending it off to a publishing house, fully expecting to receive a rejection letter several months down the road. No one was more shocked than I when Next Chapter Publishing put together a surprise party to announce they wanted to offer a contract to publish my book. Two edits (one extremely painful) later, I still can't believe this is really happening. On July 2, the publishing house is going to reveal the cover. I've waited my whole life for this moment and it seems so surreal. I catch myself daydreaming and have pull myself back to reality. I know the odds are stacked against first time authors. Heck, just getting published is a major milestone. As difficult as that may be, I know it's nearly impossible for a first-time author to breakout of the pack, especially when there are more than 1 million new books being released every year. Without question, I want my book to be successful. I want it to be read and I hope, appreciated for the story and the characters who tell the story. Most of all, I want it to pave the way for Wind Speaker and Wind Shear, because that's when the story really takes share and the message of what I learned during the two years I covered the white buffalo is presented in a way that, if I do my job right, will touch the life of every human on this planet.

I want to share that story.

As Crosswinds enters the final phases of production before its release, I'm a few chapters into the writing for Wind Speaker. While I loved writing Crosswinds, I feel I'm really hitting my stride with the second book. It begins four years after Crosswinds ends. Bobby's ship is in Diego Garcia and he's a few weeks away from getting out of the Navy when learns his buddy on the ship has been killed while on a temporary duty assignment. His buddy's last request to Bobby is that he make a stop in Oklahoma and visit his wife, who is expecting their first child. In my writing, I've just gotten to the point where Bobby arrives on the reservation and is looking for his friend's wife.

To be continued ....