“A must-read for any spy aficionado!” — Former Senior Operations Officer, CIA
“It is a profound book. One I won’t forget for a long while.” — Senior Military Officer, Pentagon
Someone is stealing weapons and ammunition from America's military bases. Who is stealing them and why? That is what CIA operative Eric Brent faces as he is being used by the CIA to flush out a secretive, "phantom" group hostile to a U.S. administration that threatens to destroy the American economy and shrink individual freedoms under the code name, Project Warrior.
Alexandra Hamlet’s first novel, The Right Guard, takes us on a suspense-filled journey through the world of intelligence and defense in the 1970’s. Over one million military weapons and equipment are missing from the U.S. military inventories across the country. Though set in 1978, The Right Guard resembles the present political and economic climate of the United States, giving the reader a sense that such a scenario is very conceivable even today.
Pondering our fates one evening, some friends gathered for a meal of comfort food. We tried to come up with one word signifying the "definition of life." [Okay, slow evening.] It took about 2 hours sparring over this then I said, “Simple. Life is ‘movement’." No one disagreed but we were tired and left it at that. Looking back now, that definition still serves me well especially after such a difficult year as 2020. Transition in cultures can also be needed change and growth. If you have knee problems, bone on bone or joints that are worn out you can either address the need or keep moving in pain and putting a temporary pain patch over the situation, tempting future agony. Cultures in crisis are no different. I think the moment we ignore the roots of conflict we fight life’s natural movement for change. Whether it is your human body, a machine that needs maintenance or a culture, its survivability involves transition and care. I wish you a great 2021. I wish you hope, growth, and easier pathways to your goals. Let’s sail this ship of life together before she will not sail at all.
How many times have we made plans and something unexpected threw a wrench at us and changed our direction? If we are true to our fiction writing outlines, it should happen to our characters regularly like in my novel, The Right Guard, a suspense thriller. Often, it is what holds the readers to our books. The unexpected journey, the road less travelled, the detour that changes a life forever. If it is in fiction it interests us, and we can enjoy the characters as they explore unusual remedies to their dilemma and teach us a lesson. When it happens in real life... it often throws us a curve because some of us rarely entertain the question, "What if?" Just as I place my characters in peril on occasion, I also make plans with backup possibilities in my own life. Nothing too detailed but something like this – “What’s the next step if this doesn’t work out?” It relieves some worry and gives me confidence that I will not fall to my knees in agony because, “I didn’t think it would happen.” If the unexpected occurs, my mind automatically reverts to the ‘plan’ and not panic. This 2020 year has thrown us in enough change to last a lifetime. Unexpected events? Absolutely. So, what is your backup plan?
For operative Eric Brent, going on a mission he may not return from... for a moment his thoughts go to simple gestures. One last look back at a relationship he could not move forward. Someone he thought he could be happy with then duty called. To have pushed forward would have jeopardized the one person in his life he wanted desperately to protect. Was it best left in place or does he see her one more time? What purpose would it serve? Often it is our smallest gestures in life that create the energy to reinvent our lives. A smile, a handshake, a sincere gift or a 'safe lunch' or a certain ‘look’. It is the same for our characters. They are fictional but we breathe life into them by giving them circumstances and bits of life in small gestures then dramatize the effects. After all, when you think of it, the most powerful words a man and a woman say to each other throughout their entire lives is, “I do.” Then they seal it with an affectionate gesture.
Every September 11th, before 10 am, I pause. I think about the 9/11 events at the Pentagon, in New York and in Pennsylvania. I pray for all those who passed that day and for those spared. I was working at my desk at my home office when my oldest brother, Chap, called. “Where are you?” he shouted. “I’m not working at the Pentagon today. Working from home, why?” I asked. “My god,” he responded. “Glad you are safe. “Go to the TV now. It’s terrible.” I watched and quickly called my husband, Head of Wargaming at a Virginia defense firm. He was in a meeting with his engineers. “Get to a television, we may be at war,” I said. They immediately scrambled out in time to watch the second tower fall. Some of his people were on their way to the Pentagon and his team tried to reach them before they got near. Rumors of a civilian flight downed were floating about, then verified. Military, Defense, and civilian neighbors called each other to find out who was in Washington now. They asked about kids in school and who needed picking up, or who was sick at home…has your loved one called home yet? No one cared about race, religion or political affiliation that day. We cared about each other.
Someone once said, we spend our adult lives trying to correct our perceptions as children. I think one of the most challenging things to do in families is to know, love and accept our parents and family members when we are grown and begin to face each other as adults. We finally get an insight into their struggles, fears, and personal histories. Maybe for the first time we understand their choices, courage, and challenges and why they faced the world the way they chose. In The Right Guard, Eric's father had to face a war-torn Germany and the raging madness. Throughout his own trials, Eric still hungers for his father's real story and why he made his own choices.
My husband has actually walked out of suspense, and military related movies in a theatre because, "they had the the colonel's insignia upside down," or "the captain's medals are in the wrong place," or "they mixed up the insignia of 3 services on one uniform," or "a general would never do that." I usually wait now until the movies come up on Netflix so I can go get coffee while he settles down with the opening scenes. But in his defense, when you author fiction, you are asking the audience to 'suspend reality' to get your story across. I can believe that an ET would land a spaceship on the White House lawn. However, when you have close to 25 million people in the U.S. who know military uniform insignia, get it right! Pay attention to the little things in your writing that will make a difference. Get someone to help if you don't know it. That's what research is for. You can stretch reality to a point in writing but you run the risk on some topics that a reader will just put your book down and never read another of your stories. Hollywood take note.
Writing is a passion and it comes from the soul. Whatever you are eventually emerges in your work. I’m not sure you could stop it anyway. Don’t be afraid of that. It makes you real. When times get tough and people challenge your writing, don’t give up. Listen to all people who read your work and ask them for honest feedback. Consider that all criticism is positive if you can take away something that will improve your talents in writing. Don’t be discouraged by overly harsh comments that may come from people who may have an ax to grind or perhaps are envious of your abilities or creativity. That has nothing to do with you. It could be they just don’t “get” you or they are dealing with their own difficult life situations they projected your way. Thank them and move on. What is successful writing? I got a call from a friend one night. She said her husband was in the bathroom tub with The Right Guard and had been in there reading for 4 hours and still no sign of coming out. I consider that a successful novel.
The passage about the dog Jager, in The Right Guard was real. He indeed existed and I miss him to this day. Now he will be unforgettable in my novel. I did not own him. He was a constant companion during a challenging time in my life. I used that episode to show a much-needed bond with Jill Warren in the book. I wrote it from the heart. I have had two special dogs in my life now, one a black Springador Spaniel and one, a blonde American Cocker Spaniel. When they both passed, I cried for three days and swore I would never be responsible for a dog again, but I knew was as much folly as saying, “I’ll never love again.” Without warning and when we’re ready, love seeps into our hearts and cannot be denied either from a person who is endeared to us…or from an animal who loves us unconditionally. Death does not remove the bonds with those special loved ones. I finally realized that when they leave your line of sight, they take up residence in your heart.
People ask me how do I know about various physical locations, or a certain technique or firing on a gun range. It’s because I've been there! As an anthropologist, field work was the norm. As a novelist, I'm still collecting information on locations and situations that I can make as real as possible for my readers. If I wasn’t there, I use diaries, interviews or research. Sometimes my imagination creates a scenario but if possible, I work from my background or travels. Readers seem to enjoy that in my work. Like other authors I write notes on napkins in restaurants, have writing note pads all over the house and in my car. You never know when an idea or a description of an experience takes place and once it is gone…it is gone. Jack London, “Call of the Wild” worked in the Klondike. Herman Melville, “Moby Dick” worked as a crew member on several vessels beginning in 1839. John le Carré [David John Moore Cornwell] “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” worked during the 1950s and 1960s for both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Interested in becoming a writer? What do you know?
Do we really have second chances? Lost loves, making a first impression, correcting something said in haste, approaching a former lover…is it possible to have a do-over? In The Right Guard, Eric previously chose duty and service to his country over love. It was a choice that could not involve Jill for her own safety. It still haunted him in his dark moments. If a person will not consider giving someone a “do-over” in life, that says more about them, not the relationship. Some cultures rarely give second chances thinking an act is set in stone, saying it indicates fate and cannot be changed or improved. Other cultures think people can learn from their mistakes, forgiveness improves your own wellbeing, and do-overs are practical and save time and energy in emotional investments. Then, there is everything in between. An author has great freedom in shaping characters. If you are writing to show compassion, your character will be willing to reconsider a former relationship. Forgiveness, in all its manifestations, gives the reader a quick inside track into a character, their future and the culture that shaped them. Oddly, it may also define us.
The mind-body relationship is one that is truly puzzling. Is there a brain and body connection that is more important than we think? Does our body react physically to what our brain contemplates or are we simply reacting to a present situation? The debate on this is an interesting split among biologists, philosophers, scientists, therapists and the clergy. In The Right Guard there is a character who questions what he is doing in a potential takeover of the U.S. “Showing” his reaction to the reality of the situation was going to be more powerful, so I wrote it that way. I also remembered that my university biology professor once told us, “You can’t fool the autonomic nervous system!” I’m beginning to think he was right.
Where does an author find his/her inspired creation for scenes in their work? Sometimes it's from a conversation throughout the day or a glimpse in a store window or like me, you approach a hallway in a government building and see a phone book fly out of someone's office and hit the opposite wall…followed by the phone and then an intensely upset government official. That exact mood was recreated in The Right Guard when Jill showed her frustration at being detained and broke a bank of windows at CIA Headquarters. Ideas come from everywhere including personal experiences and insights. When an author's creativity and life experience meet up with a passion to express it in fiction—art explodes on the written page. How well it compares to a real-life event and entertains, informs or illuminates us…defines its value as art.
The “New Normal” has upset many of our lives and devastated others during this Covid-19 pandemic. But it is also true that most of us have had a lot of time to take a lengthy look at what is working in our lives/careers and what is not. In my personal life, it has been difficult, but that adversity brought about new pathways, new ways of problem solving and releasing bad habits and practicing new ones. Daily success means something different now. These past two months, success meant lending a hand to friends and family members whose businesses are on the brink, mentoring, keeping up spirits and offering help. Do older neighbors have food or their medicine, can a friend make a final car payment and feed their family for the month…success and being able to help has taken on a more exhausting but satisfying feeling at the end of the day. I have mentored and been mentored. It’s a two-way street now. As Americans, the world says we are good at high levels of creativity and adaptability. Let’s don’t forget that it also includes high levels of compassion and personal commitment to making our own lives as well as others… better during a bad time.
Memorial Day is a remembrance day of those who died in the U.S. Military for our country. Originally known as Decoration Day after the American Civil War. In 1968, it was officially established as a Federal holiday and was gradually called, "Memorial Day" and was moved to the last Monday in May in 1971. It honors everyone who fought and died in battle or from wounds, in all armed services from World I to the present. Today,we also see it as a celebration day of what they died for. In the forward of The Right Guard, I dedicated the book as follows: "This book is dedicated to all those, known and unknown, who are now serving or have served in the service and/or protection, of the United States of America. My deepest appreciation and thanks for your service and sacrifices. May you always find safe passage home, be secure in the knowledge that your sacrifice was not in vain and find peace."
Once you read The Right Guard, you will never again ignore small details in front of you. Often, we just pass by landscapes in life and never really see what is there. Too often, we do the same to people as we do to the information around us. We get into habits and the rhythm of our own lives and lose our curiosity about what is directly in front of us. In The Right Guard, a small secret group within the intelligence community and government begin to piece together a scenario of hidden information and a movement within the American population and political scenes. Too overwhelming to believe, it is only within moments before happening that those inside the investigation see the entire picture from bits and pieces cleverly disguised. Stop it, allow it to move forward or conceal it? It’s a dilemma that we could face today.
Sometimes it is in our dreams that we learn who we are and what we deal with internally that rewards or haunts us. If not a stress or fantasy dream, the reverie sometimes uncovers an act, a symbol or a subtle reminder of a lesson we must learn. In The Right Guard, Eric Brent is a talented CIA operative anxious to leave the clandestine world and become the technical genius his father was. Yet, his struggle exposes the invisible ties that bind him to the intelligence agency and make leaving that world difficult. It also reveals a man who must put in place, his German father’s long-ago Nazi involvement and resettlement in the U.S. He is called to put his inventor’s dream and a long-lost love on hold and use his technical discovery to join forces and save his adopted country from an internal takeover.
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