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The Mingrelian: A New Thriller Novel

Set in the Republic of Georgia in Central Asia, The Mingrelian is the code name for a spy who is passing secrets about the Iranian nuclear weapons program to the United States.  Who is “The Mingrelian” and why is he risking his life and the lives of his family?  Will the Iranians catch him before he reveals all their secrets?  Is nuclear war imminent?

This is the set up for my latest novel, The Mingrelian but success depends on getting the background right.  Mingrelia(also called Samegrelo) was a principality on the coast of the Black Sea in western Georgia, last ruled by Prince Niko Dadiani in the middle 19th Century before all of Georgia was enveloped into Czarist Russia.  Mingrelians are an integral part of Georgian society and culture, but they have a dialect of their own and many Georgians suspect them as complicit in all manner of conspiracies.

I visited Georgia in 1998 on a military exchange trip and have been working elements of this plot since then.  Located at the edge of Asia, Georgia has been occupied and influenced by the Mongols, Turks, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Russians.    Georgians were among the first Christians, and the Georgian Orthodox Church is a part of the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church.  Persia (Iran) has been one of Georgia’s primary trading partners for a thousand years, but lately that partnership has expanded many fold as Iran uses Georgia as a conduit to the rest of the world for product and investment.  Could there be some illegal transactions in the Georgia/Iran partnership?  You know I love to write about money laundering and bank fraud.

Becky and I leave next week for Tbilisi, Georgia.  We will tour, talk to the locals, eat, drink and try to capture the essence of the place.  Boyd Chailland, my series character for thriller novels will return in this story, and his romantic interest in Georgia will be the deepest and most complete of his relationships.  I need to capture Georgian courtship and marriage customs and attitudes (is that a hint?).  Then we’re off to Zugdidi in western Georgia, the capital of the Principality of Mingrelia and location of the Dadiani Palace.  We’ll finish up at Batumi, where the Western Export Pipeline delivers Caspian Sea crude oil to tankers in the Black Sea.

Watch my Facebook page for pictures.

 

 

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Interview with Dr. John Prados, author of Islands of Destiny

INTERVIEW WITH DR. JOHN PRADOS

 

 

John Prados, PhD, is the author of Islands of Destiny:  The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun is a Senior Research Fellow at the National Security Archive at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.  He is author of over twenty books and has three times been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  He has graciously agreed to respond to questions today.

 

Please tell us about the National Security Archive and your work there.

 

We’re located in the Gelman Library of George Washington University here in DC. The National Security Archive is a private, non-profit organization which works to get secret U.S. government records declassified. Once they’re opened to the public we make them available to whomever wanted to use them. We also advocate for government accountability by recommending changes in regulations that control the classification of documents, hence secrecy. We may be the largest user of the Freedom of Information Act in the country. Probably 80 percent of the time, when you read in the newspaper of newly declassified U.S. documents changing our previous understanding of recent history, it’s based on papers the Archive has had a hand in bringing to the public. I’m a senior fellow at the Archive. I work on Vietnam, on intelligence issues, and on conflict, most recently Iraq and Afghanistan; plus the openness issues.

 

Explain what primary source documentation is and why it’s important.

 

Good question. Primary source documentation is material in which there is no intermediary between the source and the user/reader, and where the source is directly involved in events. It is the stuff of history—and most analysis too. Primary sources are fundamental and they are authentic. They contrast with “secondary sources,” which are works that compile and synthesize other material. Islands of Destiny is a secondary work, a history built upon primary source material. Government documents like the ones I was just talking about are primary sources but so are a lot of other things. People sometimes confuse “primary source” with “archival document” but that’s actually misleading. An interview is a primary source, for example. So is a memoir or a diary. A biography would be a secondary source. Sometimes a source can be primary and secondary at the same time. For example, a newspaper article would be a primary source for what the journal was reporting at that time but secondary for the content of the article. The best histories reach beyond secondary accounts to present new primary source material. Islands of Destiny does a lot of that.

 

As one who toils to release and archive government secrets, how do you feel  about Edward Snowden and his recent release of data about the National Security Agency (NSA)?

 

Islands of Destiny actually presents a story from the same world of communications intelligence in which Mr. Snowden worked. It’s an important historical account that shows the value of this very kind of information. I have a great appreciation for the NSA—and I have studied its work not only in World War II, but in Vietnam and the Cold War. I believe—and so does the Archive—that there are legitimate government secrets that need to be kept. But I will tell you that the strictures supposed to protect American citizens from NSA monitoring actually result from previous abuses—in the 1960s and 70s when the NSA was caught eavesdropping on Americans who opposed the Vietnam war. The regulations were not simply made up. In the period after the 9/11 attacks the regulations were thrown away in the heat of the counterterror war, and in a fashion that breaches the constitutional rights of citizens. In 2004 the entire top echelon of the Justice Department, including James Comey, recently nominated to be the next director of the FBI, were ready to resign over this program. It continued. Mr. Snowden reacted to that in the manner of a classic whistleblower. He felt that eavesdropping which threatens constitutional rights is not a legitimate secret. Efforts to demonize Snowden really represent attempts to “shoot the messenger” rather than to fix the problem. I think we need to deal with the problem, not paint a black hat on the leaker.

 

In your book Islands of Destiny you are dismissive of Army Air Corps efforts in the Solomons Campaign.  The interface between General MacArthur’s Area of Responsibility  and Admiral Nimitz’s was through the Coral Sea, yet the “Cactus Air Force” flew Navy, Marine and Army aircraft, and coordinated raids with long range bombers from Australia and New Guinea.  Was this an unusual example of “jointness” for that era?

 

I’d have to differ. I would say that Islands of Destiny is very appreciative of the Army Air Corps itself—especially in the Solomons. And, yes, I agree that the South Pacific Command represents a fine, early example of the advantages of “jointness.” I also think Army air was great over New Guinea. Where I would differ is at the command level. On the face of the evidence General George Kenney, leader of the Fifth Air Force, the aerial component of MacArthur’s theater, was inclined both to claim more than he actually achieved, and was less committed to inter-theater cooperation than he advertises. Islands focuses on the Solomons campaign, whose ultimate objective—MacArthur’s objective under the relevant JCS directives—was Rabaul. You don’t have to go much farther than to look at the level of Fifth Air Force bombing sorties aimed at Rabaul to see that Kenney was not doing that much to assist his comrades in the South Pacific theater. Now, he offers various reasons for this, and they can be debated, and his November 1943 effort against Rabaul was a real one, but the fact remains that between the August 1942 landing on Guadalcanal and the Fortress Rabaul battle, for fifteen months the Fifth Air Force was mostly a missing quantity in the South Pacific theater. Equally telling is the fact that after November 1943 the level of Fifth Air Force effort against Rabaul quickly trailed off to practically nothing.

 

I was surprised at the level of involvement of Emperor Hirohito.  I recall being taught that the emperor “didn’t know” of the aggressive plans of his army and navy.  Clearly, he did.  Was he just a tool, or was he the architect of Japan’s expansionist plans?

 

Hirohito’s involvement surprised me too. But the diary of his naval aide-de-camp makes clear his growing concern over the war situation. Nevertheless Emperor Hirohito was stymied by a governmental system, dating from Meiji days and even the Tokugawa shogunate, that sought to protect the emperor by divorcing him from actual decisions. This made military affairs the province of the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy commands and ministries. Hirohito could express preferences but, unlike Hitler, say; he could not issue orders. Islands of Destiny documents Hirohito’s preferences in some detail. I would not go so far as some historians—David Bergamini most prominently—and cast Hirohito as the architect of expansionism. I’d say my position is now somewhere between the view of Hirohito as figurehead and the emperor as mastermind.

 

Islands of Destiny is a beautifully crafted book; cover, maps, pictures, index, bibliography.  It’s a first class product.  What was it like working with Penguin on a big project like this?

 

It was very good to work with Penguin on Islands of Destiny. Our collaboration was smooth and very effective. On one piece of the book—the presentation of the carrier air strike on Rabaul in November 1943—I worked hard to meld the narrative with the photos plus a map in what I liked to think of as an “interactive” format. Editor Brent Howard at Penguin made a suggestion there which perfected our presentation. Before that we must have gone through half a dozen iterations trying to get it right. That’s just one example of our efficient functioning. This was a fine project and Islands of Destiny is a worthy book.

 

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Islands of Destiny, by John Prados: Book Review

This is a strong book. Written by an accomplished and experienced historian after exhaustive research of source material not available to previous authors on World War II in the Pacific, Islands of Destiny is an entertaining read; if you like history. If you’re looking for a summer beach book, this isn’t it. I bought it for research for a historical novel I might write one day, and I wanted someone else to read the volumes of memoirs and histories published in English since WW II, then wade through the recently translated diaries and journals of the Imperial Japanese Navy and their sailors and airmen, screen through the inflated after action reports each side produced after battles to count how many planes and ships were actually lost, lay out in reasonably concise terms the perspective of the various combatants, and tie it all together with maps, technical analysis of ships, planes, radar, secret codes and Japanese and American doctrine. Here it is. Other reviewers have criticized author Prados as providing excessive detail and not enough personal drama; get a romance novel, I say! This is the best chance we arm chair admirals will have to understand how it all went down.

The Solomons form the eastern edge of the Coral Sea, which borders Australia. At the beginning of WW II the Japanese took Rabaul, in the Bismarck Archipelago, which is just to the north of the Coral Sea. When they landed on Guadalcanal and began building an airfield, they threatened to encircle Australia and cut her supply route to the US. In July, 1942 American Marines landed on Guadalcanal. Thus begins this story of two mighty nations locked in mortal combat at the end of their supply chains. It went on for a year.

Every book review needs some quibbling. John Prados is positively toxic on the subject of General George Kenney and the Army Air Corps’ contribution to the Solomons Campaign. True, the Solomons was a Navy show, and the Navy did the bulk of the fighting and dying there, but the Army Air Corps held the eastern flank while protecting Australia from imminent invasion through New Guinea, and they did it on a shoestring compared with the firepower the Navy could muster. There are a lot of Japanese names in this book and I couldn’t keep them straight. The addition of their source material is critical to this document, but it made for some tough cross checking. Perhaps a graphic with the Japanese hierarchy could have been added.

Contrary to some reviewers, author Prados gives us many personal vignettes and human profiles drawn from diaries and published memoirs to personalize this tale. I don’t fault him a bit for being too dry. Insights I gained from this story include how our cracking of the Japanese code affected virtually every battle. It wasn’t just the strategic movements but the actual routes and timing of ship movements, and the fact that we maintained that secret until 1978! Both American and Japanese dive bomber pilots experienced 80% attrition during major battles; put yourself in that cockpit as the engine warms up.

This book, in its paper form for the maps, pictures, and reference materials, belongs in the library of all descendants, American and Japanese, of the brave men who fought The Solomons Campaign. They changed the world.  http://www.amazon.com/Islands-Destiny-Solomons-Campaign-Eclipse/dp/B00D9T9QA4

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Book club ideas

Road trip!  Author Ed Baldwin is planning a July promotional tour for his new book, The Devil on Chardonnay.  Put together a book group and let’s see if we can arrange a visit.  You provide a location and buy the books from Amazon in advance, to give members a chance to read it.  Ed will come to your location, read from his work, and sign the books.

If we can’t get together on the tour we could do it by Skype; not quite as exciting but still worth an evening.  Interested book clubs should contact me on the contact page of my web site.

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Book Expo America 2013

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Author Ed Baldwin will be attending the Book Expo America in New York City May 28-June 1 to promote his new book, The Devil on Chardonnay. BookExpo America is the premier promotional event for the publishing industry and will showcase bestselling authors (unfortunately, not Ed Baldwin this year), and newly released books. Agents, Authors, publishers, promoters, printers, editors, lawyers, marketers, advertisers, and anyone else wanting to make a buck off of books will be there hustling. Ed loves to hustle. Ed used to be a door to door salesman.

The Devil on Chardonnay, the second thriller in the Boyd Chailland series, takes Boyd to Africa and the Indian Ocean to kick off a page turner about a secret vaccine, and contains the inside dope on how America would respond to a biological threat, written by one who helped create part of that infrastructure. Like The Other Pilot, Boyd uses his brains to figure this one out, and flying various types of aircraft is his trademark, but The Devil on Chardonnay is also about a beautiful sailing yacht. Look for it in June.

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Review The Devil on Chardonnay before publication!

DOC_Kindle_LayoutAuthor Ed Baldwin is offering FREE COPIES of The Devil on Chardonnay, the second story in the Boyd Chailland thriller series, to readers who will agree to read it quickly and post a review on Amazon and Goodreads.  The Devil on Chardonnay is scheduled for publication release on June 15.  Interested readers should send an email to ed@nulledbaldwin.com with their request.

The Devil on Chardonnay is a sailing/flying/adventure novel in which Strategic Command orders Capt. Boyd Chailland back from his F-16 squadron to lead a team investigating deaths at a secret vaccine lab in the Seychelles.  He follows a trail of money, treachery and death from East Africa to Europe and then to South Carolina where he boards the century old sailing yacht Chardonnay for a transatlantic crossing during hurricane season with the notorious European merchant banker Michelle Meilland.  The action climax in the Azores will leave the reader breathless, and thinking about a trip there.  

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Wood Ducks

They came across the lake, a tight pair, and banked in front of my deck this afternoon to swoop down into the cove by the house where they landed by the dock; wood ducks.  They swam quickly to the point of the cove, to the left in this picture.  They went right up to the very point into shallow water.  He was resplendent in his bright mating colors, while she was just brown like any other hen duck.  She swam under a rocky overhang; really odd to see a duck swim under a rock.  They, or their parents raised a brood down there last year and the year before.  You can just see the hollow tree at the top center of the picture where they nested.  They’re a month later this year.

As recently as last week flight ducks were rafted up in the center of the lake paddling along against 40 mile per hour gusts, heavy rain and temps down into the 20’s at night.  I saw bufflehead, widgeon, shovelers, and pintail in one big clump.  They should have been gone a month ago.  The weather warmed up this weekend and they finally headed north.  But, the woodies nest here.

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Bookman free today!

bookmansliderAuthor Ed Baldwin is having a free promotion for the next three days offering Kindle copies of his first novel Bookman.  

 

Bookman is the story of a door to door salesman traveling the Mid-South during the turbulent 1960’s.  It’s about small town police and their jails, fast talking salesmen, big city fancy women, moonshiners, and rednecks and blacks struggling to get along as the Old South fades away and the New America emerges.

 

Get your copy of Bookman now at Amazon!

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The Other Pilot competing in the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards!

Brasfield Books has entered The Other Pilot, the critically  acclaimed political action thriller by Ed Baldwin in the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards. The 17th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards otherpilotsliderhonor the year’s best independently published titles.  The contest is presented by Jenkins Group and their book marketing website, IndependentPublisher.com, headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan.

The “IPPY” Awards were conceived as a broad-based, unaffiliated awards program open to all members of the independent publishing industry, and are open to authors and publishers worldwide who produce books written in English and intended for the North American market. We define “independent” as 1) independently owned and operated; 2) operated by a foundation or university; or 3) long-time independents that became incorporated but operate autonomously and publish fewer than 50 titles a year.

  • 75 subject categories in National awards
  • Regional awards for the United States, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand
  • E-Book Awards with fiction, non-fiction, children’s and regional categories
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Update review of The River War by Winston Churchill

In my review of Churchill’s book The River War:  An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan, I didn’t mention anything about editions or furnish a link.  I went to Amazon and discovered there are several editions of this book, and some come without maps.  So, get this one, which appears to be a reprint of the original plates:  ISBN 9781420933802

There were some really unhappy readers when they tried to make sense of this excellent account of the Sudan War without the maps that were in the original version.  The most unhappy readers were those who purchased the Kindle edition, as the computer format was done poorly and one reviewer said it was unreadable.  Buyer beware, the publishing industry is entering a phase of unreliability as independent publishers are looking for any way to get a manuscript into Kindle without having to actually write something.  I’ve been getting emails daily from people saying it’s “dumb” to actually write a book when it’s so easy to get someone else to “do the dirty work.”  Or, apparently, find something that’s in the public domain and submit it for publication.

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