Francisco A. Ojeda arrived in Miami, Florida, from Havana, Cuba, in 1968, and lived in South Florida until graduating from Miami Senior High School in 1985. He is a 27 year veteran with combined services of the United States Army and the Florida Army National Guard, retiring in 2011. He served as a Battalion Operations Sergeant during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2006 to 2007 and as a civilian contractor during Operation Enduring Freedom, while stationed in Afghanistan, from 2012 to 2013. He taught Military Sciences at Broward College in Davie Florida. He has a Political Science degree from Miami Dade College, a Business Management degree and Certificate of Project Management from the University of Phoenix. He still lives in South Florida. “The Spirits of Al Faw” is his first published novel. He has also published two collections of poetry, ‘Adore & Lament’ and ‘The Frightful Verses’.
Tee: How will you define your professional career as a soldier?
Ojeda: Overall, it was very satisfying. Besides the benefits of earning college funding and personal savings, travel throughout the world, receive specific education and training, and many other quantifiable rewards, there was also the cooperation and camaraderie of working with others, developing professional and personal relationships, and involvement in cultural experiences I would not have otherwise go through at home. It started out simply as the means to go to school. It later became apparent that the military was a route towards greater opportunities. In the beginning, basic training taught me more than just how to be a soldier but that I was really capable of doing what I wanted if I applied myself. I became much more grateful for the opportunity to serve my country. Even though there were many setbacks and challenges, I was able to work through them with determination, and at times with the assistance of others. I was able to travel to Europe, Asia, Central America, and throughout the United States, meeting many different people of various ethnic backgrounds and cultures. I learned many technical, tactical and strategic skills, the ability to work with others and to be led by experienced and proficient experts, and how to lead others to complete tasks and mission but also support soldiers in their careers. My career was very fulfilling in ways that go further than can be described.
Tee: Being a writer is a completely different field. When did you decide you wanted to write professionally?
Ojeda: I had been writing as a means to express myself since early in high school. I used writing as a simple way of recording events, people I met and things I experienced. It was a way to be imaginative in a tactile way. It also allowed me to revisit my experiences in detail. I felt that I was collecting a historical composite of my life. It eventually grew into expanding my thoughts into a much more entertaining aspect. Unfortunately, I was uncomfortable sharing my thoughts and writings with others. I did not have the confidence early on to allow others to see my efforts. As I gained confidence as an adult, particularly through the military, I was able to write comfortably professional. Over time, I was able to develop my abilities to write but in a more technical fashion. It was when I arrived in Iraq for my tour of duty, that I began to record my experiences again as I did when I was younger. After a few months and reviewing what I had written, the plot seemed to develop on its own. Being in a combat zone, like in Iraq, one experience the unique, the strange, and the absurd that I could only really be expressed in a fictional story like my novel.
Tee: What difficulties did you encounter in your writing process?
Ojeda: When it came to writing my novel, I had no real experience in writing fiction much less a thriller. I had already written short stories as classwork but those were simply to meet a curriculum requirement. Most of my experience in writing was in essays in accordance with established and acceptable writing styles. After reviewing my notes, I quickly realized that I needed a system to further build upon my ideas for a book. It was then that while I continued compiling notes that I studied plot development, styles of dialogue, and other required aspects of writing. Luckily, I had always enjoyed reading. Since my favorite genres of literature were mysteries, horror, and thrillers, ideas came to me regularly. Furthermore, due to some personal experiences I had with mental illness, emotional and physical disabilities, and the stressors that came with not only dealing with combat but conducting one’s duties and responsibilities at the highest level of professionalism and expertise, it suspected that a thriller with psychological and paranormal perspectives was in order. I further researched for literature that combined the elements that I wanted to include in my story. I discovered some but not much of military fiction that included the other elements I mentioned. Subsequently, with further research and much trial and error, it took nine years to complete my story.
Tee: How do you think your book will be able to influence readers into understanding the lives of those in the military?
Ojeda: In the development of the story, I set certain rules to allow me to continue writing but also to be effective in building the story. One particular rule was to write for both military personnel and civilians. I wanted the story to share aspects of what veterans can relate to while not alienating civilians who do may not have a background or understanding of military experiences and jargon. In addition, I did not want to take away from the rich and at times the ironic and seemingly illogical reasoning of both combat and the military as a whole. Thus, I needed to find the proper balance of representing the military, yet write the psychological and paranormal aspects in terms non-military can appreciate. There was also the consideration of not “dumbing down” the story to both military and civilians. This was a particular problem concerning I was attempting to find that balance I mentioned early. It was also a consideration of describing a combat zone solely from my perspective to others who experienced it in a much different way. Ultimately, the strategy of the story was for it to be written with a “storytelling” delivery that would be understood when the reader reaches the end of the novel.
Tee: How did you come up with the idea of a supernatural element in the plot?
Ojeda: While I was stationed in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, which was during the height of military operations, the environment was very stressed, volatile, and surely weird. Military combat is unpredictable no matter how much planning, training, and rehearsals are involved. I can admit that my lack of understanding allowed for imaginative perspectives and possible explanations. An example is while reviewing my notes, there were times which no logical explanation for why something had happened. Many experiences were random, sudden, eerie and unexpected. Even established rules for safety and security created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Light and noise discipline, which are best described as the mandated requirements to reduce the opportunity of the enemy identifying friendly targets created an environment of mystery, confusion, and ambiguity. Even the daily work discussions and personal conversations gave credence to opportunities for examining supernatural elements, like superstitions and religious beliefs. There were also personal feelings, such as loneliness, fear, and paranoia led to the opportunity to use paranormal and supernatural themes to give some explanations for the unknown. The story explores examples of what is hidden in darkness or under the surface, and the circumstances of when one does not have all the information for what may be happening.
Tee: Were you whimsical about anything in your debut work?
Ojeda: I attempted to address some of the strange aspects of military life in a combat zone with some humor. Some were purposeful at times, lighting up the atmosphere and other times to promote a sense of absurdity. The characters would observe events that did not contain fearsome elements but still had illogical considerations that one may only laugh at. In other cases, I examined the occasional clumsiness in carrying a weapon, wear of the uniform, and even traversing the landscape. There were situations depicted which one reacts in an exaggerated fashion and not relative to the situation. Those were to point out how the uncertainty of what is actually happening and required protocol can come in conflict. As a new author, I was cautious not to promote any overt sense of humor when it came to the possibility of psychological trauma. I tried to keep any wit away from describing or otherwise connecting to the possibility of mental issues. Otherwise, I tried to maintain the tone of mystery that went along with the possibility of the paranormal.
Tee: What are the other writing projects that are lined up for you in the future?
Ojeda: Six months prior to publishing the novel, I published my first work of literature. It was a collection of love and sadness poems titled “Adore & Lament”. While publishing the novel, I also completed various frightful poems and published them into a titled collection called “The Frightful Verses”. These two poetry books have motivated me to explore additional areas of literature such as non-technical essays, plays, letters, and even more poetry. During Hurricane Irma, my son Daniel and I wrote a screenplay for an action-comedy. The work has been registered through the West Coast Writers Guild. In July 2018, a collection of sensual and sultry poems will be published under the title “Our Sensual World”. The novel and poetry collections were all self-published through XLibris. In addition, I have begun several stories in themes of science fiction and the paranormal. One in particular addresses the current political environment and how it would react to an all-powerful mysterious entity. Another project discusses how the modern military and geo-economic consideration may come in conflict with religion, mysticism and the supernatural. I am very motivated to write a story without paranormal or supernatural elements that may include a love story. I would also like to create a collection of humorous poetry, which has been a challenge for me.
Tee: How can readers reach you?
Read the review of The Spirits of Al Faw Here
Title: The Spirits of Al Faw
Author: Francisco A Ojeda
Date of Publication: 15 June 2017
Simple yet sophisticated is the writing style of Ojeda’s The Spirits of Al Faw. Opening at the Baghdad International Airport, the novel recounts innumerable experiences in the working career of Master Sergeant Deveroe, the operations sergeant for a military intelligence battalion deployed in Iraq in 2006.
Looking at the Iraqi sky, he recalls his time in war torn Kuwait and the smell of burned ash, charcoal and diesel that spread through the air adding to the excessively hot climate. From the very first word of the first page, the eye for detail in The Spirits of Al Faw is incredible. Every tiny bit mentioned adds to building the scenes as well as the plot. The plot moves at a smooth and moderate pace. Reflective of Ojeda’s personal experiences, the book brings out the deeper conscience and understanding of someone who’s seen things closely.
Though written in the form of a fiction, it is the mark of personal experiences that adds to creating a real and believable atmosphere in which nothing seems out of place or proportion. Ojeda’s writing style also includes a knack for including only that which is necessary making the plot free of over cramming. It is a brilliant insight into the difficult lives of military personnel who trade personal comfort and safety for causes in favor of national security. Instances of camaraderie, personal individual issues and team work are emotionally moving but not overly sentimental. Ojeda maintains a resistance to over dramatizing things which helps to keep up the balance between the plot line and the multiple climaxes. As a result, the novel feels very much like a spine chilling thriller. Though not hurt in the ambush that Deveroe suffered, it is his desire to return to combat with his unit. It is this decision that proves to be life changing and life threatening for Deveroe. What follows are thrills unmanageable and conspiracies of superlative standards in this happening novel that takes its readers to the heart of some of the worst political crises involving the mystic, mysterious and magestic lands of the Middle East.
The information regarding fighter planes, tanks, trucks and other equipment is very interesting. Opposed to this is an officer’s devotion and dedication at stake in this thrilling and equally chilling novel of new perspectives that is bound to pin the reader down from the start. The multiple climaxes keep readers engaged but each flows into the other with ease so it is not too hard to digest or too sudden to comprehend. Climax after climax, the story only seems to get denser and more adventurous.
However, set at 426 pages, the book is quite lengthy and time consuming to read. The various plot twists make for a challenging read. The book does not have any chapter divisions and is written in a single go. Those who do not enjoy political thrillers or war fiction will have a hard time getting through the bulk of practical and scientific information. That is not to deny that it is an exciting comprehension of a world about which little is known. Ojeda’s writing style is his strong point and through it he is able to create miracles on paper that assuredly should not bore the regular reader. Also, the addition of a supernatural angle to the plot in the form of mental disturbances or hallucinations to the protagonist is a unique twist including other episodes of insurgency and wild animal attacks. Sadly, the book cover needs more work and is too plain in comparison to the contents of the story.
Author: Claire North
Date of Publication: 24 May 2018
“This is the daily diet on which Theo Miller is fed:
Bound in never ending plot twists is the story of life being defined by a single number. 84K is a dystopian thriller which revolves around the central character Theo. He is set against the world that surrounds him with its darkness encroaching on him like worms eating up a dead body. Bewildered and terribly shocked by the sudden death of his ex-lover Dani, Theo has his world turned upside down as he begins to question and ponder on the legitimacy of social systems.
This make believe world of his has severe punishment for every crime that is committed. The book goes on to enlist all the crimes and the punishments for each follow. Though a lot of readers will come with the excitement of reading a modern day dystopian novel, however, the writing style of the book can kill a lot of thrills. Constant shuffling between events and juggling of facts leads to an overload of information that is random, fragmented and scattered. It is not until a few chapters that the story catches some pace but that doesn’t do away with the fact that the way it is written is confusing making the book a difficult read. But if one can get past that, then the book has several highs and lows and enough matter to keep readers entertained.
Having to go through the first few pages over and over again to get a hang of what exactly is going on is rather frustrating. Passages are followed by single words mentioned one after another. This is followed by dialogues or other verbal exchanges in this confusing write up. Of the several themes are the important underlying ideas on capitalism that continuously forges its double standards. Class politics abounds in cases where the middle or lower classes are severely punished while the rich get away even after having committed some of the most heinous crimes by just throwing in huge sums of money.
Money speaks in this depressing, sci-fi world with nothing in the name of human rights or mass petitioning. The eye for detail is great as it allows for the creation of an other worldly world that is both interesting and astounding. But for readers familiar with more hard core dystopia this piece may not seem so original. For readers wanting to begin reading sci fi dystopic novels this is a good starter. The writing style is a barrier and multiple attempts may be required to try to grasp the happenings of the novel.
Title: Godfall and Other Stories
Author: Sandra M Odell
Publisher: Hydra House
Date of Publication: 18 April 2018
A collection of twenty two odd tales, Godfall and Other Stories by Sandra M Odell is an interesting read for lovers of short fiction. Varied with a tendency to be obscure and far fetched, this collection is brilliantly written to cater to the tastes of readers who are always on the go and do not have time to sit and read lengthy novels.
Just like the title of the collection, individual stories revolve around human and non human creatures who can leave the reader equally shocked and surprised with their funny ways. By funny of course, there is no reference to humour of any kind. The stories are murky, grim and slightly futuristic but based on places and locations of the present world. The stories move from one place of the globe to another and portray other wordly events that are apocalyptic and cataclysmic in nature. It can be well understood that if what is understood to be the Omniscient and Omnipotent Divinity that has its reach to the farthest corner of the earth ends of falling off from the sky then what will become of the events of this world? It is this chaos that is imagined up by Odell in imbibing a fiction that is one of its kind and very refreshing. Some interesting titles include Ink, Curtain Call and Lost in Translation.
Each story is followed by a brief explanation in short passages regarding its conception, the real life events that triggered them and the methods used by Odell to configure these into the stories that leave traces of bewilderment in the minds of the readers. Though largely the stories are indescribable that a sort of frantic mode of narration creates, they are filled with pathos and grab the reader’s attention immediately. There is also a mix of ancient mythology and mysticism in creating and naming the characters and their attributes. It all adds to an enchanting vibe to the collection that is rare considering the absence of multiple authors. Yet, every story is unique, highly speculative wonderfully thrilling in a close knit manner without any loopholes. What adds to the interest is the wonderful book cover that depicts a horned goat like figure leaning onto a soldier character who are rowing a boat over bones, skull, human remains and a fallen cross which shows the condition of religion in this make believe world.
Scary, quirky and mysterious.
Title: Look at Me
Author: Mareike Krugel
Publisher: Text Publishing
Date of Publication: 26 February 2018
All mothers are concerned about their children but some are a little too concerned. What happens when this over concern enters the realms of paranoia? Will it destroy the mother child relationship or will it create a whole new stance for motherhood?
Katharine is doing her doctorate in musicology and is a mother of two. More like a single mother of two as she receives very little support from her husband Costas who is away most of the time for work. They have had rough times in their relationship and are seeking separation. More like they’re separated, atleast in their hearts. But that’s not the only problem. Katharine is highly indecisive about anything and everything in her life. She is diffident and constantly confused about what could be done next or what the best next move may be. But that’s not the only problem either. She has to raise two kids Helli and Alex all by herself most of the time.
She wishes to be able to give more time to her children as she never received any during the phases of her life she most wanted parental guidance. She feels like a bad parent. When Alex announces about bringing his girlfriend home then all Katharine can do is hope that she knows how to act around them. Over thinking is a trait that she’s unable to let go. It is this that makes her situation all the more difficult. Looking at her teenage daughter Helli, she wishes to be able to share a positive mother-daughter bond that will allow Helli to confide all her worries to her mother instead of her friends. Generation gap and her own fears prevent her from engaging more closely with Helli who is all too confident and carefree. But that is not the problem too. Katharine misses her mother whom she lost to breast cancer and her sister Sissi is a well established musician and professional who does not understand Katharine’s dilemmas. But what will happen if history decides to repeat itself in the form of a lump in Katharine’s breast?
The novel is moderately paced by its the emotional appeal that will touch readers. As the story rolls out, readers are bound to feel as crippled, helpless and devastated at each point as Katharine. She is suffering not just from indecision but also severe depression. Most importantly, her physical health condition remains hidden from the rest of her family and friends. She buries herself under this paranoia and it is utterly hurtful for readers to see her get worse by the chapter.
To make matters harder, she enters into a consensual fling with an old acquaintance. This makes her more guilty and worrisome about her future and her daughter’s in any case that she doesn’t survive. Strangely, she never visits the doctor or seeks medical help for her physical condition and mental distresses. The whole novel is written in the present tense in an interesting manner of dropping climax after climax without much warning. Perhaps, it is only the title that screams for help as Katharine looks clearly disoriented and in dire need for some professional and personal support to sort out her life and work. But her concern for her daughter remains utmost. The novel has been translated from German into English by Imogen Taylor.
Refreshing and depressing at the same time.
Title: Priyamvada & Co.
Author: Sudha Nair
Publisher: Kalari Publishing
Date of Publication: 10 May 2018
Prithvi is a mechanical engineer who designs video games and has returned from America to India for good. His mother Vinodini is an actress from the early days of cinema. She is an old lady now confined to her wheelchair. Prithvi is also a film producer and ever since the death of one of his colleagues, the media has been behind his life chasing him everywhere he goes. Wanting to follow his grandfather’s footsteps and fulfill his passion for cinema, he wanted to work in Priyamvada Studios that had been set up by his grandfather. But his father’s anger had made him pursue engineering in the States.
Back in India, he divides his time between looking after his ailing mother and working on his passions. It is when the lady in white crosses his path and scrapes his car that things take a different turn in the story. Three sisters have lost their father. All they have left is each other and all the things that their father used. They cannot seem to part with those things. The story catches on pace and moves ahead quickly as drama is added on. It is set in modern locations; the first half in Bangalore and the next in the beautiful lush green God’s own country Kerala. It talks of people living in residential complexes and metropolitan existences. However, the novel is over loaded with characters. Characters keep getting added after almost every page.Nonetheless, the story doesn’t remain stagnant and keeps moving forward steadily. Remembering all the characters and details related to them is challenging at times. The constant switching over from persons and places adds to the thrill and the difficulty of the book though it is an easy read.
In complete contrast, Kerala brings in the mysterious character of fifty year old money lender Thomachan. In an attempt to beat his loneliness he considers asking Indulekha out. He fell in love with her the moment he had set his eyes on her and it is his belief that if he’s waited so long to find a bride then he should not settle for anyone less than her. She runs a vegetable shop as the story goes on to reveal the love lives of those belonging to not so well to do fragments of the society. Infrequent use of Malayalam words are seen here. What really comes out of it all is the intertwined lives of all the characters who are related to each other in some or the other way for work, as family connections or as new acquaintances.
But true love is never easy to find. When one character fancies another then there are several tensions and conflicts that come into play diverting there paths in other directions. Rife with emotions, the book is a light romance in the backdrop of an individual’s struggle to revive a film production company and live up to his grandfather’s legacy. The story spans at a length of 42 chapters and 161 pages with a sweet and delightful ending. As a sequel to the best selling novel The Wedding Tamasha, in this second book in the series of The Menon Women which glimpses the life of the second daughter Neha Menon, Nair goes on to show that love ultimately triumphs and being in love makes one feel complete.