Author Archives: tomburkhalter

About tomburkhalter

Tom Burkhalter lives in Hickory, NC. He volunteers at the Hickory Aviation Museum.

Interviewed by Laurence O’Brian

Last Monday I was interviewed by Laurence O’Brian of Books Go Social. Laurence is a really great guy and if any of you reading this are also writers, you should go and check out the Books Go Social website.

Anyway, this interview was a lot of fun to do, and watch this space for future interviews I’m conducting in concert with Laurence of other writers of historical fiction.

Here’s the link to the YouTube video:


Tom Burkhalter

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Check out The Author Show

I was interviewed for The Author Show in late September for my novel, Everything We Had. The interview is now live and you can find it by following this link:

Danielle Hampson is the founder and executive producer of The Author Show. Danielle created The Author show in 2005 as a professional interview podcast giving an expanding pool of listeners around the world access to news about authors and books. I would recommend to all my friends who are writers and readers to go by The Author Show and check it out!

Big shout out to the interviewer, Don McCauley, and of course to the wonderful Danielle Hampson, who created The Author Show! What a great bunch to work with!


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There’s an interesting low-budget scifi flick on Amazon Prime titled “Alistair1918”. It begins with Poppy, a young sociology student assigned to film a documentary on homeless people in LA. Poppy and her film crew come across a strange man in an old-fashioned English Army uniform, living in Griffith Park and feeding on squirrels. The man claims to have been transported to modern-day LA from 1918. He gives his name as Alistair.

Spoiler alert! If you like time-travel stories you might like this one, and like any time travel story, this one depends on surprises.

Despite some defects, most, I’m sure, due to the necessities of a low-budget production, I found the story quite charming and worth watching. I will also state that “defect” is my own word, and perhaps a bit strong. The story could have been handled differently, and because it’s my own opinion about it, of course it would be a better story if handled my way!

I found the initial setup of the story to be quite effective. A documentary film crew stumbling on something unusual? Sure. A man looking like an old-fashioned English soldier, living homeless in a park in LA? Could be any number of reasons for that. Maybe the uniform was thrown out of some bankrupt studio’s Costume Department and ended up at the Goodwill. I mean, shades of “The Blair Witch Project,” right?

Although…right down to the puttees? I thought those were a good touch. Puttees haven’t been worn by soldiers since World War II. That little touch of authenticity went a long way with me. However, in a later scene we see Alistair’s boots. Some attempt was made to make them look like the stiff hobnailed boots the British infantry wore; not entirely successful, but A for effort.

There were one or two other things that might have been done to increase the authenticity of Alistair’s character. I’ll point out that external appearance is key here. Alistair states he lost his “gun” (I would’ve preferred “rifle”; I doubt a proper Brit infantryman would refer to his Enfield as a “gun”) and his “papers” in an explosion. Yet other papers survived in an inner pocket, and I’m fairly (not totally) sure ID tags were used in the Royal Army by 1918. What about his equipment belt and harness? Also lost in the explosion, despite the fact that his uniform is in good shape, without obvious tears or stains one might expect after living through an explosion that tossed you into the air. Dropping your rifle and having your helmet blown off as you fly through the air is plausible, but if Alistair had pulled out his equipment belt and canteen that would’ve added to his appearance. Maybe, on second thought, a bit too much. There’s the issue of ambiguity required to keep a necessary conclusion at bay until the proper moment, after all.

So, enough authenticity of appearance without too much? Judgment call over which any two reasonable writers could easily differ. But imagine a scene where Alistair pulls out his equipment belt, to which would’ve been attached a bayonet at least a foot and a half long.

BRANDON: Uh…hey, man, a knife that big is illegal in California.

ALISTAIR: (offhand) It’s not a knife, mate, it’s a bayonet.

BRANDON: (puzzled) Bayonet?

ALISTAIR: You’ve not been in the Army, then?


ALISTAIR: (patiently) It goes on the end of your rifle. Very handy for keeping unfriendly blokes at a distance.

BRANDON: Well, it’s still illegal in California.

Or something like that.

I will say, and here comes a real spoiler, that the scene where the filmmaker, Poppy, reveals her sexual orientation to Alistair struck a false note with me. A provincial middle-class Englishman like Alistair might not have any idea what a lesbian is, and for Alistair to simply take it in stride was the moment where I thought, here’s where the writers reveal Alistair is a fraud, or for Poppy to think, wait, why didn’t he react differently? Or perhaps I’m the provincial; after all, there are indications that male homosexuality was not unknown in England at that time, even if it was persecuted and frowned upon. The question should also be asked, how much did this scene further the story? As far as I can see, all it did was create a bond between Alistair and Poppy, of two lonely people who have both experienced the loss of those they loved. Maybe that was all it needed to do, but it seems there was far more potential in the scene than ended up on screen.

The “handwavium” required to explain Alistair’s presence and SPOILER ALERT! to return him to his own time I found charmingly naïve, and yet, again, given the probable budget constraints, oddly effective. The gorgeous female scientist was a nice contrast to the usual scifi trope of a wild-haired middle-aged man no one listens to. Her being from Denmark was interesting; people forget that Copenhagen was once home to Neils Bohr, a pioneering nuclear physicist. But her accent? Sounded more French than Danish to me. The distortion effect in the air was the most convincing item in the film’s meager special effects arsenal. I also found the “magic laptop” the scientist used to track the wandering wormholes an interesting idea. Hey, it’s a laptop, surely there’s an app to track wormholes, I mean, why not? And the three little balls? Effective simply because they were so cheesy. You can’t hire Industrial Light & Magic on a shoestring budget, now can you? And who knows what a time machine would look like, anyway?

The only other major point I would raise regards the scene where Alistair figures out the wormhole is traveling “east” instead of “west.” The scene was in the sense of the hero gathering his forces for one last throw of the dice, the “final confrontation” with the forces arrayed against him, if you will. We learn Alistair was a journalist before the war, so the idea that he can ask the right questions and put together a coherent story isn’t too surprising. But how did a person from 1918 figure something out that the modern-day physicist overlooks? That needed a little more from Alistair’s character than I think the story to that point established he could give, and probably no more than a few lines of dialog would have been enough to plug the hole. The scene with Alistair playing football with the little kid could maybe have been used for this. Something on the order of the following:

POPPY: Wow, you really know where the ball’s going to be.

ALISTAIR: Oh, I can always see the direction things are going.

The ending: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. I thought the ending was absolutely fabulous, ending on a fascinating question rather than any sort of certainty. Poppy gives Alistair a GoPro to record his experience. Alistair promises to come to America and bury the GoPro under his squirrel trap. When Poppy strikes something in the spot where Alistair left his squirrel trap, she looks up with the most incredulous look of surprise. Then, FADE TO BLACK. We don’t know for sure what’s there, but something is there, and what story do we choose to tell ourselves about it? Wonderfully ambiguous!

To me, though, the ending raised another question.

Put yourself in Alistair’s position. What if you really did travel forward in time and then backwards? You’ve been in the future for 6 weeks or so. You have an email account and a cell phone. If you kept your eyes and ears open you could have learned a lot about history, and you have a major incentive to be curious, after all. When you get back to your own time, though, first you’re on a live battlefield, unarmed and unequipped, since you’ve returned to where you started from. You have to survive that, and the following six months of the war. Only then do you arrive at the rest of your life.

So my question is: what do you do with your life after the war? When you know a lot about what the future brings?

To put it mundanely: What do you say when your wife asks you, with great asperity, who this Poppy person you keep dreaming about might be?

It almost begs for a sequel, in my mind, with a logline something like “How do you live in the past when you’ve been to the future and returned?” Imagine explaining that in 1918! “Ah, you daft bugger, go on with your silly tales. Who do you think you are? H.G. Wells?”

Who was still alive in 1918…

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Recapturing the dream – memories of Apollo and a wonderful future

I remember Apollo. So should you. Matthew Wright captures the reason why in this post.

You have to have a dream. You have to work towards it. If you lost the dream, are you still alive?

Matthew Wright

It’s 51 years this coming week since Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. Just over half a century since the most stunning achievement in the history of the world. Think about it this way. Life has existed on Earth for around three billion years. For most of that time it was little more than single-celled protozoa and such creatures.

Launch of Apollo 11, atop a Saturn V booster. One of the readers of this blog’s Dad was the pad safety officer for Apollo 11. How cool is THAT? Public domain, NASA.

Around six hundred million years ago, multi-cellular life emerged, at first in the seas – then on land. And yet, for almost the whole time complex life existed, it was restricted to this planet. Suddenly – very, suddenly, when set against this span of time – a great ape turned up that had a facility with tools, and in…

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Much earlier this year I remember watching the trailer for “Greyhound” and thinking, golly, that sure looks like C.S. Forester’s book, The Good Shepherd.

I may have mentioned somewhere in this blog that I’m a long-time fan of C.S. Forester. I forget exactly when I first read Forester’s The Good Shepherd, but I was probably in my 20s. Forester’s books carried a blurb by Ernest Hemingway to the effect that, “I recommend Forester to every literate I know.”

Well, I’m going to recommend “Greyhound” to everyone I know.

Before watching it, I read some of the reviews. One thing that struck me, among the negative reviews, was a fairly consistent complaint that the film was shallow and lacked character development. 

I have no idea what the reviewers mean by that. Perhaps I’m merely a fly-over country Neanderthal who learned everything I know about writing by reading great writers. I’m not an MFA, so I developed whatever poor talent I have as a writer by writing and by osmosis, if you will. A lot of my favorite writers had their heyday before 1970. Again, maybe that makes me a Neanderthal, but because of that I have a different perspective on stories like this.

To me, the story is done very much in the style of what one might consider not merely movies of the early 1940s, but from a 1940s perspective, period. (You wonder what the movie would have looked like in black and white.) In that, Hanks’ adaptation was faithful to Forester’s work. People who grew up in the shadow of World War II may see more in this movie than younger folks, because of shared cultural context. Folks who study World War II will also get it. Perhaps, though, that lack of shared context underlies some of the negative criticism about character development.

For most people this movie may be something like opening a window back in time. That window will be the size of your TV screen. Through it, you can observe events as they happened aboard the USS Greyhound. In the North Atlantic. In February, 1942. Understanding and interpreting what you see, as well as the characters in the story, will depend solely on your powers of observation through that window, and whatever other knowledge you bring with you.

In short, don’t expect this story to tell you what is happening. It’s going to bloody well show you. My advice? Hang on and pay attention.

Via the story, you will witness a period of about 50 hours of extremely intense and unrelenting action and danger. During that time the captain and crew of the Greyhound aren’t focused on their feelies; they’re focused on doing their job. That job is protecting the convoy they are escorting from marauding U-boats while staying alive in a North Atlantic winter. In that situation “character development” focuses on how people do their jobs, what it costs them to do their jobs, and the choices they make to continue to do their jobs. 

I used the word “feelies” very deliberately. There’s a scene in the movie that illustrates my choice perfectly: a very young telephone talker, whose job is to repeat messages and convey information between the captain and various departments, sneezes and garbles a message at a crucial point. He asks for a repeat, causing a delay. After that, one of his officers takes him aside and tells him, quietly but firmly, that if he can’t do the job he will be relieved.

The officer wasn’t being insensitive or uncaring. Quite the opposite, in fact. In that context, the lives of the crew, and the success of their mission, which is the protection of a convoy from those who would destroy it, absolutely depends on doing your job, whatever it might be, whatever the personal cost, and doing it the way you’re trained to do it. You don’t do that job, people will die. What seems superficially insensitive reflects the reality of the situation.

I’m trying to keep you alive, sailor. That’s the underlying message. “Character development”? You’re looking right at it. I mean, right at it. As it is made.

You want to feel something, feel that. Feel what it costs you to be a teenager with responsibilities, even in a relatively “minor” job, that might mean life or death not only for you but for your shipmates. It’s not something that we, today, in 2020, understand all that well. That’s at least partly because those teenage kids in 1942 went out and shouldered that burden and bore that cost. They developed their characters, and those who survived came home and built the world we have today.

If you allow it, Tom Hanks and “Greyhound” will let you experience a little of what that was like for our fathers and grandfathers and, increasingly, sadly, our vanishing great-grandfathers.

So, shallow characterization? Maybe. I hope I’ve made it clear that there’s a different way to look at that issue in this story.

On a techie level, hope you have a big-screen TV with a good sound system, because the CGI is simply off the charts! Some critics found the CGI “unbelievable in places.” I’d like them to be a little more specific, since otherwise that’s just a cheap shot. Personally I think if I’d seen this in the theater, I would’ve found myself wishing I had a life preserver. That water looked awfully real to me.

One minor note: near the end of the film there’s a shot of Greyhound where her bow is visible, and so is her hull number: 548. Greyhound is portrayed as a Fletcher-class destroyer, but if you look it up (just google “DD-548”) you find that there is no destroyer with the number 548. For some reason the Navy didn’t use it. But that’s perfect. DD-548 is the Greyhound. She doesn’t have to be any other destroyer but herself.

Watch the movie. But maybe keep a life preserver handy, just in case. Even in the safety of your own home.


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Things you shouldn’t do

…early in the morning, before finishing your first cup of coffee, with a cat on your lap. And one of those things is to answer a comment on your blog about your stories!

A very kind gentleman wrote to me to express his appreciation for my novels, and to tell me a little about his father. I’m saying “gentleman” and “father” because the mistake I made was, somehow, to erase his comment! So instead of replying directly to him, I’m writing this post.

I guess I’m saying I should know better than to try and do too many things at once, especially early (-ish) in the morning.

There may even be some way to resurrect that comment, but I think I’m just going to have to own up to my mistake, say mea culpa, and move on with what I wanted to say, which was thank you.

What’s your name, pal? Stan, or Sam? Maybe you can tell I’m not too happy with myself. I read about your dad, who was with the 49th Fighter Group in the SW Pacific. He wanted to fly, like so many youngsters of his generation, and only poor eyesight kept him out of the cockpit. But he still followed his dream; if he couldn’t fly himself, he could keep ’em flying.

I understand the modern USAF has a saying, “No Air Power without Ground Power.” Imagine this guy standing under a hot sun. It’s the tropics, so that sun shines down from directly above, and New Guinea? Guys who were in Vietnam might compare notes with guys who served in New Guinea for which theater qualified as “Boonies Numbah Ten Thou.” Further, bad chow, no fresh meat, fruit, milk, or vegetables, for months on end. Some accounts even say the medical staff of the 5th Air Force worried about scurvy. That’s how bad the situation was from a supply standpoint.

My commenter also mentioned his father was at Dobodura. “Dobo” has an interesting place in the history of the theater. Before the Japanese landing at Buna (July 1942) the Allies scouted the north coast of Papua New Guinea near Buna for a forward landing field. The region between Dobodura and Popondetta was selected, but in the event building an airfield at Dobodura had to wait until the Australian Army could push the Japanese back over the Owen Stanley Mountains to their start line at Buna and Gona.

My commenter’s father was there for that. How I wish I could have spoken to him!

In the event the man in question continued to serve our country until finally retiring from the reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel. That’s pretty awesome.

So, pal, I hope you read this, because I really want to know your name, and maybe we could exchange emails and you could tell me a little more about your father? I have an ulterior motive, after all. He was there in the time frame I’m writing for book six in my series, Shoestring’s End. I’m not a historian, but I try to keep my fiction as true to history as I can.

Some people would say I need all the help I can get. Hope you see this and respond, but anyway, thank you, and my thanks to your father for his service.


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Looking Forward

Writing a series, for me, is an evolutionary process. The work changes you; you change the work. It’s a constant learning experience.

Right now, with The New Kids published, I’m looking forward not only to the next book in the series, but those that come after. I’m far from done with Jack and Charlie, their families, and the friends they make along the way.

For the immediate future, I’m working on a novel I originally called CARTWHEEL, with Jimmy Ardana among others involved in the fighting centered around the reduction of the Japanese base at Rabaul. However, at the time of the story’s setting, that operation was named ELKTON.

ELKTON is not as cool a name as CARTWHEEL. So now I’m in search of a new name. At present I’m torn between Cheap at the Price or Shoestring’s End. It’ll probably come clear to me as I work.

It won’t be too much of a spoiler to say that 1943 will be an interesting year for my characters. Other than the above at least three other novels will be set in 1943. Hopefully I might get those done within the next two years!

That’s all for now. I’ve got to plan a night-time raid on shipping in Simpson Harbor. At masthead height, in a B-17. Don’t quite know yet what Danny Evans will think about that…

Shameless self-promotion: you can find The New Kids on Amazon Kindle, available through Kindle Unlimited, as an ebook, or as a paperback, at


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THE NEW KIDS is Live on Kindle!

This is just a quick notice that the fifth novel in my “No Merciful War” sries, The New Kids, is now live and available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle!

More later, have to run errands this morning, and only put it up late yesterday. I still have some dress-up work to do, but it’s available.


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Ghosts of Facebook

Ghosts are a real thing, and they exist on Facebook.

I know this because Facebook keeps reminding me of, among other things, a friend’s birthday. Or a post I shared with that friend, or that was shared with me, one or two or six years in the past. Or it’s the occasion of our “Friendversary.”

So today, November 26, is my friend J. R. Hafer’s birthday. I got that notification a few minutes ago, and sat there looking at it for awhile. Mostly because J.R. passed away in 2018, a few days before his birthday.

I don’t remember our the date of our “Friendversary,” but I remember very well the first time I met J.R. He grew up here in Hickory, NC, and would visit from his home in Florida with his lovely wife Myra. J.R. belonged to that oddball fraternity of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, the Hickory Aviation Museum, and at that time I worked at the Hickory Regional Airport. I think I was in the terminal building, probably replacing trashbags or checking the bathrooms or something equally glamorous. J.R. came up with a mutual acquaintance from the Museum, who performed introductions.

At the time I had just published my first book, Everything We Had, about two brothers caught up in the early Pacific air war in 1941. We were talking about books and of course, being an aggressive author in search of readers, I asked why he hadn’t read MY book. I think it took him aback a little bit, but we exchanged addresses and I sent him a complimentary copy.

There’s a stage when you first start publishing where you are on absolute pins and needles about the reception of your (baby!) book. You’ve absolutely no idea how it will be received, and, of course, you know you’re the best writer around (writers are like fighter pilots that way), you just hope everyone else sees that too. Unlike fighter pilots, a writer can’t crawl up a reader’s six and … well, complete that image in your own mind. Every sale is a victory, let’s put it that way.

In truth I’d half-forgotten about sending the book to J.R., and when, two weeks later, I got a phone call from a number with a Florida area code I started not to answer it. Durned telemarketers, I thought, and answered it anyway.

It was J.R.

Calling me to rave about my book. Which rave review he backed up with another on Amazon.

You HOPE for things like that. And when it happens you’re floored. Sort of like, “You mean, I really am almost as good as I have to tell myself I am to keep writing?”

I remember that moment distinctly. There don’t tend to be too many moments like that in your life.

Today is J.R.’s birthday, and I wish he were still here, because I’d like to share with him that my new book, The New Kids, should be available on Amazon by mid-December.

Personally I believe in ghosts, and not just the ghosts on Facebook. So I hope J.R., and the other phantoms of my personal pantheon, are looking over my shoulder right now. Hopefully they’re all rolling their eyes and prodding me with ectoplasmic fingers and saying something like, “Don’t brag about it until you hit the SEND button!”

Anyway, J.R., this one’s for you. Happy birthday, and I wish you were still around so I could share this one with you.

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Release of The Struggles On Audible

Over the last five months I narrated and produced my first audiobook, The Struggles, now available on Audible and coming to Amazon and iTunes in time for the weekend!

For the audio version I did a lot of edits on the stories as originally published, mostly cleaned up the prose and added a bit here and some new, hopefully better, ideas there, as well as including two new stories, “Divine Wind” and “Reboot” and a poem, “Delivery Driver.”

Given all those edits I’m going to pull the present ebook edition of The Struggles from Kindle and submit the revised edition. I’ll try to do that over the next week or two.

Narrating and producing an audiobook for the first time as an almost total noob to the field was challenging. I won’t say it was a steep learning curve but it did mean a lot of trial and error and patience (NOT one of my virtues) and listening carefully to recordings for the sound quality as much as content. I think I came pretty close to studio standard, for recording in my study and having to stop while the garbage trucks go down the street or helicopters fly over or the cat decides to hop up on my lap and help me work.

I found that narrating a story is almost as satisfying to the creative process as writing a story. Many of the same sensations as well, not really wanting to sit down and do it, and wishing you weren’t while you are, but then when you’re done for the day you think “that wasn’t so bad” and in awhile you’re looking forward to doing it again.

Here’s a link to the book on Audible where you can also listen to a free sample.

Thanks for listening! Hope you enjoy it.


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