An Interview With Joe Combs

Smashwords Interview, February 2, 2015 .

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My daughter and the sunrise. I had neither when I was on submarines.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly biography and autobiography, non-fiction, and I still enjoy the classics.
Hemingway, Twain, Dumas, Tolstoy I could go on, but those are my four favorite.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
The Old Man and the Sea, because I feel it is the best book I have ever read. Hemingway does more with less than any author.
Tom Sawyer, I enjoy almost anything by Mark Twain. However, I grew up on a large river and imagined Tom living in my neighborhood. That feeling made the story more personal to me.
White Fang, I felt like I was in the great outdoors, a part of the story.
Moby Dick. My parents said that before I started kindergarten I was telling anyone who would listen that when I got big I was going to sea, and I did. I have always been fascinated with the sea and it was the first nautical novel I read.
The Count of Monte Cristo, like the other books it was pure adventure. Plus it had a wronged man who was avenged.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I always try to read the works of the writers on my friends list, even the ones who write in genres I do not normally read. After that I would say word of mouth is how I find most of the books I read. Once in a while I will go to my favorite ebook retailer and do a search on my favorite genre and just see what comes up.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I like both the kindle and the nook.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
With my daughter, reading, painting, sometimes carving wood, talking with my readers on Facebook, and doing things with my friends. Lately I have been doing a lot of travel as well.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Winnie the Pooh was the first story I read on my own. It made me want to read more and more because I enjoyed the story so much.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I do. It was an essay on how kids could help fight water pollution by pulling water hyacinths from the boat and boat trailer while their parents were putting the boat on the trailer.
By doing that they would be helping to prevent the spread of water hyacinths to bodies of water that did not already have them. I won the essay contest.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the South. North Florida a little town called Palatka to be exact, not far from St. Augustine and Jacksonville. I have always had an insatiable curiosity and enjoy history. The area I grew up in was awash with history. I was always listening to grown-ups talk about the past. So, today I approach my research in much the same way. I go to the source, people, documents, official records. And just like that small boy I show up with a thousand questions and want them all answered. Those answers always lead to even more questions. Some times I just have to stop the research and write the article or book, if I don’t I will never get anything written.
When did you first start writing?
I won my first essay contest when I was about nine years old. When I was a submarine sailor I used to write short stories at sea to entertain myself. But, I never thought of myself as a writer. When a college English professor told me I should write I laughed at her. But, about ten years later I published my first book, “Titanic, A Search For Answers,” I have been writing ever since; and I began writing full time in 2014.
Describe your desk
I write on a small 1940s maple table that has been my desk since high school. My table holds: a photo of my daughter, 3X5 cards, notepads, an assortment of pencils & pens, my dictionary, a small table lamp, my computer, the 4 or 5 books I am currently reading, and a lead crystal water pitcher.
The pitcher was my great-grandmother’s. When I was about 5 their house did not have running water, and every morning she would fill the pitcher with water from a hand pump and place it on the kitchen table so you did not have to pump water every time you wanted a glass of water. I keep that pitcher fill with water on my desk. It keeps me grounded and connected to my family.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans are part of the writing team. One fan, Sheri, asked me if I would write an article (for my blog) about her great-great-grandfather. As it turned out, I had studied her great-great-grandfather quite a bit in my youth. He was a Marshal for Napoleon and one of my early heroes. It was a pleasure to write about him. But, the real joy came when she told me she learned things about him from my articles that she did not know.
Anyone can send me a friend request on my facebook page, and I have fans who have. Like I said, my fans are part of the team, sometimes I will ask a fan to read a draft I am working on and give me their opinion. Sometimes I’ll ask my fans what would they like to see me write about next. I enjoy research and thanks to my fans, I have learned many interesting things I might never have learned if it had not been for a request from a fan. I know all writers say this, but I really do have a great bunch of fans and have become friends with many of them.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The research is fun, but I really enjoy doing rewrites. Sounds crazy I know, but when I find a way to say the same thing with fewer words I get a feeling of accomplishment. If I can improve the meaning of a sentence while shortening it, that is joy.
Like I said, I know it sounds crazy, but it is what keeps me writing, my little brother says it is the perfectionist in me.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
A mythology I remembered from my childhood of a Roman soldier who bullied Jesus he on his way to the cross. Because of that he was cursed to walk the face of the earth until Jesus came back.
One afternoon I began thinking about all of the world events he could have witnessed, and my imagination was off.
What are you working on next?
I have two things I am working on next. A collection of short stories called, “Growing Up Southern,” and the next Cartaphilus book.
The first Cartaphilus book will be released on March 27, 2015. That book will be followed by my book about the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which I sent to my editor in last month.
What is your writing process?
I get an idea and I play with it in my head for a while. Then when I get something that I like I’ll quickly jot down those thoughts. Then I begin to write the story in my head.
While I am writing in my head I begin to list references that I will need. Then I do an outline and write the book. The outline keeps me on track and prevents me from wandering around. Then I go back and use my references to check facts. Then I set the work aside for a while. When I come back to it, the first time I use text to voice software to listen to the book. Then I start my rewrites.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Having to learn all aspects of the business. I mean let’s face it, as an indie writer you have either no or very few people on staff. So, you need to learn to do everything. Even if you hire out aspects of the work, you need enough knowledge to be able to pick good people to hire. So, far my picks have been 100%. I have very talented people I can turn to when I need help.
How do you approach cover design?
It depends whether I am going to do the cover myself, or hire someone.
If I hire someone, I tell them what the story is and then turn them loose to come up with some ideas. It really is great working with talented people.
If I am doing the cover myself, I shoot for an idea that will be recognizable as a thumbnail and that tells the book’s story in a simple picture.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word of mouth has been the most effective for me. There is nothing like a reader who enjoys your work to help get the word out.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Of all the retailers around the world that my books are with, only one of those is not through Smashwords. That alone would be enough, but the tools available to authors and publishers make the entire process of publishing/distributing easier and quicker than any distributor I have worked with. There are many user friendly tools that can help with each stage of the process which other distributors do not have.
What piece of advice do you have for people who want to be a writer?
Write. Writers write, if you are not writing you are not a writer. Race car drivers race cars, teachers teach, and writers write.
Even if it is only one sentence a day, write something. Just once sentence a day will give you several paragraphs by the end of the month. Do not worry what you are writing about, just write.

Published 2015-02-02.

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A Seasoned Salt: Part 3

At the end of the war with England, John Paul found himself a naval officer without a ship. The Congress decided the country did not need naval ships in peace time. This was when John Paul accepted a commission as an admiral in the Russian Navy, on the condition that he was allowed to keep his US citizenship and position in the United States Navy.

In the Russian Navy John Paul was made an admiral and was quite successful against the Turks in the Black Sea. Successful enough that several officers spent more time trying to destroy John Paul than they did the Turks. They were partially successful in that John Paul was recalled to Moscow and faced charges of rape, but the charges were eventually dropped. He was awarded the Order of St. Anne, and left a month later an embittered man.

John Paul returned to Paris, where he lived out the rest of his life. On his death his body was escorted by a small group of servants, friends, and family to a small cemetery used by the French royal family. Over the years the cemetery was sold and used for a variety of purposes.

One hundred fifteen years later the United States Ambassador to France made it a one-man mission to find the grave of John Paul. After six months of dedicated work he was successful. The body of John Paul was sent back to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn, three other United States cruisers and a squadron of French Naval vessels. On approaching the coastline of the United States the fleet was joined by seven battleships of the United States Navy. The body was temporarily interred at Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy until his permanent tomb could be finished. In 1913, his body was interred in its final resting place at the Naval Academy Chapel in a vault under the altar.

The name that John Paul chose when he left British service was Jones. And that is the name by which he is known in the United States, John Paul Jones, the father of the United States Navy. His ship the Poor Richard, you have probably her of his ship under its French name, the Bonhomme Richard.

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Domestic Violence, I’m No Expert, But …

First I want to say I am not a counselor, doctor, therapist or anything like that. I am just a guy who has been through an abusive relationship and have friends who have been through abusive relationships. So, what I am saying is from experience. You need to talk with a professional if you or friends are in an abusive relationship.

What I want to talk about is when the person who is being abused decides to leave. (I refuse to call anyone a victim). In most cases the abuse is not widely known. So, when the one being abused decides to leave the proverbial cat is out of the bag. For the abuser this is embarrassing and could include being arrested and booked for domestic violence. That is even more embarrassing. Someone who is already violent and gets publicly embarrassed is unpredictable, and unpredictable is dangerous. They could try to clean themselves up or they could become more violent. You cannot tell which they are trying to do. The person who wants revenge will try to seem like they are changing. They may be, but you need to let the professional take care of that.

What you can do is support the person who has decided to leave. When that person decides to leave, they need to disappear. They need to make it hard for anyone to find them; it is a matter of safety. There are many people who have been tracked down and killed by an ex. Where they are should be on a need to know basis. Yes you may be a parent, sibling, best friend, co-worker or some other friend or relative, but that does not mean you need to know where they are. If you are their doctor, lawyer, or law enforcement – you need to know where they are. If you have to take that person to work or help them move – you need to know where they are. Otherwise, if you really care for them, you need to tell them you do not want to know where they are.

Before I get to phone and social media security I want to talk about if the person being abused is a man. In our society we talk an awful lot about gender equality. We talk about how women can do anything a man can do. We know there are women in prison for first degree murder. But our society is not ready to accept women being the abuser in a domestic violence case. So when your male friend or relative is abused by his significant other, do not go to any of the domestic violence groups for help. Some of them will actually get mad at you. I talked one abused man into contacting one of those groups. They were furious with him, accused him of making fun of domestic violence, and threatened him with reporting him to police for making a false report to them.

I have been pushed down stairs, had chairs (and other objects) thrown at me. I have had my glasses broken while I was wearing them. I lied to my optometrist about how my glasses got broken, each and every time. The last time my glasses where broken while I was wearing them I went to Wal Mart and bought over the counter glasses because I did not think the doctor’s office would believe me if I told them I tripped yet again.

What made the difference for me, what made me finally decide I had to do something; was when my four year old daughter decided to protect daddy and jumped up in between. That was when I knew I had to do something.

The way the laws are written everyone who is abused has equal protection under the law. However, law enforcement and the court systems do not always enforce the law equally. This is not the fault of individual officers they have to follow not only the law but the instructions of the courts and other law officers appointed over them. When I realized I had to do something I stopped an officer going into a police station and talked to him (not one in my municipality). At first he only quoted what the law said. But, eventually I got him to understand that I knew the law, but wanted to know what actually happens. What he said was that in the county I lived, if I called in a complaint of domestic violence, one of two things would happen. I would be arrested or my abuser and I would be arrested. He said that once I was booked they would get to the bottom of the situation and I would be released. But, he continued, I would have on my permanent record an arrest for domestic violence and that would not go away. The options I had were to take my daughter and leave, which may or may not cause me to be arrested, leave without my daughter (in which case I could be declared by a judge to have abandoned my daughter, losing parental rights but not child support) or stay and wait for her to leave. I confirmed this with two other officers with two other departments. What I was told was exactly the same including the advice that I “suck it up and wait for her to leave.”

I should also say the abuse I suffered was brought on by a family tragedy and stopped after we separated. But, this is highly unusual. Normally abusers need counseling and that is no guarantee they will stop their abusive ways.

Let me say this again. If a man is being abused by a woman, physical abuse – do not contact any of the domestic violence organizations, they will not help. He needs to get away from her and he will have no help hiding from his abuser.

Now social media security. If you are the person who is leaving you need to go onto every one of your social media accounts and make sure the location is turned off. Do not do that anywhere near where you are going to because it will show up. Before you leave, or at a location near your old residence go onto each of your social media accounts and turn off the location function. Even if you think it is off, you need to check.

Phone security. When you are not on the phone, you need to turn it off. There are apps being sold so that parents can track their wild teenagers. Those apps can just as easily be used to track someone running from an abuser.

Actually what you really need to do is take the battery out of your phone when you turn it off. It is possible for someone to turn on your phone remotely, after you have turned it off. Not only can they listen through the speaker to everything happening near the phone (while you think it is off) they can also turn on/off features on your phone. So, after you have turned off your phone – say at your lawyers office – they can turn on your phone and listen to the conversation between you and your lawyer. Then they can turn on the location (GPS) feature and find out where you are.

Law enforcement has already used cell phones in this manner to collect evidence on drug dealers and other felons they are tracking. It may be illegal for your ex to do this, but it is also illegal for them to violate a restraining order, and each year people are murdered by people they have a restraining order against.

The police are your friends and they can give you advice. But, they cannot do anything until the law is broken. They are not trying to protect the abuser, they want to protect the abused, but their hands are tied, they cannot do anything until the law is broken. Unfortunately, sometimes the first time an abuser breaks a law is when they break the restraining order while killing the person they have abused.

Lastly, I want to talk about protection. First I am a big defender of the second amendment, but I do not advise buying a gun for someone who is being abused, and here’s why.

Let’s face it, guns are designed to take life, be it human or animal, that is the purpose. If an armed criminal is threatening people and shot by a victim it is considered a justifiable homicide, in other words you are not charged with a crime, but a person is still dead. Better the crook than the law abiding citizen, but still someone is dead.

A new gun owner does not have the familiarity with the weapon to feel comfortable with it. A gun owner should take a gun safety class and regularly go to a shooting range for practice and additional training. Obviously, give a gun to someone as they are leaving they will not have any of this training or practice.

Also, a new gun owner is not only less likely to take out a gun, but after they do they are less likely to use the weapon. If you pull a weapon on someone who already has a weapon out they do not know you do not want to use the weapon and will probably shoot you, or take the weapon away from you. People who are afraid of a weapon are more likely to hesitate to use it even when they take the weapon out. Those moments of hesitation are just enough time for the abuser to kill them, and if the victim has the gun on them, the abuser can say they were only defending themselves and there will be no one to dispute their claim. So, once again the abuser could commit a crime and get away with it – this time the crime being murder.

So, while I understand wanting to give the abused person a way to defend themselves, if their abuser catches up with them; I do not recommend giving a gun to someone who does not already have experience with firearms. And we have not even discussed the possibility of an innocent person or even the abused person themselves being accidentally shot.

In closing I would like to recap.

When the abused person decides to leave:

1-Go into hiding and tell no one where you are except your lawyer and law enforcement.

2-Turn your cell phone off and remove the battery when you are not using it.

3-Confirm the location or GPS location has been turned off on all social media accounts, then go back and check it again.

4-If you have no experience with firearms; do not accept a firearm for protection.

The majority of domestic violence victims are women and children, but men are also victims of domestic violence and we need to start extending to them the same protections.

Please, share this article. Share it on your blog or website, print it off and take it to work or church. It could help someone who has made the decision to leave an abusive relationship.

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The Cartaphilus Saga: book #1


The release date is March 27, 2015 reserve your copy now for half price. Here are the links for the top five retailers:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, and all the major book retailers. Below you can read a description of the book, and I have a link where you can read the first six chapters online, or download it to the device you like to read books on. The paperback edition will follow at the end of April or beginning of May.

Here are the links so you can see rest of my books (12 now with number 13 coming soon) at your favorite retailer:


Barnes & Noble

Apple (iTunes)



The Cartaphilus Saga book #1: Amissio will be available everywhere e-books are sold. With the first release to be on Amazon. The print editions will follow the e-book edition.

NOTE: though this is being released as both Historical Fiction and Christian Fiction it is not a religious book and does not take a position on Christianity either for or against. The crucifixion is used as the source of the curse placed on Cartaphilus. A curse of immortality.

And the best thing is it is FREE. All I am asking is for you to leave a comment.


Here’s the description:

The Cartaphilus Saga, Book #1: Amissio

David Gerrard is a freelance reporter for the tabloids, but one with definite principals. Though he has researched and written dozens of stories, he will only publish the ones he truly believes. For ten years, he has been receiving story leads from a source he has never met in person. Mark Long is a remarkable storyteller, bringing David stories from throughout history and adding unique and substantial variations to each one. For the first time, Mark has requested a face to face meeting between himself and David.

The first thing the men do together is visit Mark’s old friend, Tony Vargas, who is an expert on the Roman Empire period and an avid collector. Mark presents Tony with an ancient sword in a velvet lined case and asks Tony to tell him exactly what it is. Tony states that it is a first century Roman gladius sword. He shows the men other swords in his collection and discusses the detailed differences. Then he tells them the sword had once belonged to a soldier named Casius, since the name is engraved on the handle.

At this, Mark is eager to leave, though he doesn’t explain why at the time. When he and David are alone in the hotel, Mark tells him in secret that Tony was right: the sword had belonged to a Roman soldier named Casius. But what Tony hadn’t known was that Casius had had the sword taken from him by a Jew named Peter, and a Roman centurion had taken it from Peter. Intrigued, David settles into his role as reporter, with his digital recorder, pen, and paper always at the ready.

Mark tells him the centurion’s name was Marcus Cartaphilus Longus. He had been stationed with the Roman garrison in Caesarea when he’d discovered his daughter was close to death. After learning the name of a man who had reportedly saved others from death, Cartaphilus went in search of this Yeshua. Unfortunately, his daughter died before he could reach Yeshua. Desolate over the death of his daughter and the subsequent death of his wife, Cartaphilus vowed to destroy Yeshua.

At that time, Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judea. He was in charge of keeping the peace. When the Jewish Passover came, he ordered in extra troops, and Cartaphilus led those troops. Upon their arrival, Cartaphilus was ordered to arrest a Jew accused by the priests of causing trouble in Judea. They were led to the accused by a man named Judas Iscariot, but the Jew was surrounded by his followers, including one man named Peter who grabbed Casius’ gladius and cut the ear off one of the men with the soldiers while trying to protect Yeshua. Miraculously, Yeshua was able to pick up the severed ear and reattach it to the man’s head with the simple pressure of his hand. Eventually, Cartaphilus placed Yeshua under arrest and led him to Jerusalem and the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Over the next few days, Mark’s story continues, reliving the final hours of Jesus Christ’s life, and even the years following.

David listens carefully and questions often, impressed by Mark’s in-depth account of this two thousand year old story. When Mark begins to add in details that David cannot find in his research, David becomes determined to disprove the story. He compares Mark’s details to those told in the Bible. He contacts a professional researcher, a genealogist, and a professor friend, asking them all questions to help him refute this story, but despite their best efforts they cannot. Over a few exhausting days and nights, the two men take the story apart, but David cannot find any flaws. The problem is, the only way Mark could know any of these details was if he had been an actual eyewitness, which is obviously impossible.

One night David sits bolt upright in his hotel room bed, jarred awake by a detail. He checks his recorder to be sure and confirms what he’d thought. Caught up in the emotion of the story, Mark had accidentally messed up by using the pronoun “we” instead of “they”, and the vigilant reporter had caught his slip on tape.

Cornered by the recorded remark, Mark admits that he is two thousand years old. Of course, David tells him the whole idea is ridiculous. He is angry at the waste of his time and toys with the idea of leaving. But Mark begs him to stay. He says he doesn’t need David to necessarily believe him, he needs him to believe the story. He says that if David believes it, so will his readers, and he needs David to tell the world what really happened.

Highly skeptical, David begins to question him about other events that have happened over the past two thousand years—including Mark’s participation in WWII as a Nazi—but Mark stops him, saying the stories must be told as they happened, not by skipping through the centuries. Eventually Mark hands him a daguerreotype of two men from the American Civil War, and David has it checked by experts. They all agree that the daguerreotype is authentic. One of the men in the picture is one of General Robert Lee’s sons, and David has a very hard time telling himself the other is not Mark.

David has failed in his quest to disprove Mark’s story. His researchers have as well. So David grudgingly allows himself to believe in the possibility that Mark is two thousand years old, that Mark Long is actually Marcus Cartaphilus Longus. And if that is possible, how many other stories could Mark have to share with him? Would he be able to unearth more of the most famous lies or half-truths throughout history?

Unfortunately, now that David is swept up in the excitement of the idea, Mark is called away on urgent business. He promises to get in touch so they can continue with this story and more. David stares at him as he leaves the hotel, unable to believe he is suddenly gone.

Two months later, David receives a short email from Mark, stating the place and time where they should meet. This time David is prepared and smiling with anticipation as he packs his things.


Here’s the link for the FREE download (or you can read it online) of the first six chapters, this is much more than the retailers will let you down load as a sample:

The Cartaphilus Saga, Book #1: Amissio



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A Seasoned Salt: Part 2

John’s first ship in the navy was the Alfred. Taking the Alfred to sea for the first time he raised an American flag onboard an American ship for the very first time. The fleet sailed for the Bahamas raiding British territories for military supplies. On his return John Paul was next given command of the Providence, which captured sixteen ships.

Though he was very successful, politics of high command kept him from advancing. Paul was given the ship Ranger and sailed for European waters. While in French waters the Ranger became the first American ship to be saluted by a foreign navy, Captain Lamotte-Piquet’s flagship fired a nine-gun salute honoring the Ranger. It was while in command of the Ranger that Paul captured the British Naval ship Drake, proving that the Royal Navy was far from invincible. The capture of the Drake was one of the few victories of the Americans early in the war, and became an important symbol to the Americans.

When he returned to France he was given a new ship. A French shipping magnate rebuilt a merchant ship which was no longer fit for the tea trade. The French navy donated 42 cannons for the ship, many of which had been condemned and were no longer safe to use. John Paul named the ship for a friend’s publication Poor Richard.

When Poor Richard left France it was at the head of a seven ship squadron, which included two French privateers. Just behind John Paul was a joint Spanish French invasion force headed towards England. Just a few days out one of the privateers, Monsieur, left the squadron to go on its own. The little squadron headed towards Ireland creating fear along the coast all through Ireland, Scotland, and Britain. The British immediately gave chase.

Sailing around Scotland into the North Sea the Poor Richard found and gave battle to the Serapis and its squadron of ships. It soon became obvious to Paul that in a fight of big guns he would lose, so he decided to come alongside and board the Serapis. This took about an hour of maneuvering; it was during this phase that the British captain of the Serapis asked asked Paul to surrender. Paul’s reply from the deck of his badly damaged ship, “I have not yet begun to fight,” has become famous throughout the navy. Eventually, Paul got his ship alongside the Serapis, after another two hours of battle ensued. The British tried to board the Poor Richard, but were pushed back. Sometime during this part of the battle the flag was shot away from the mast and the British captain call out. “Do you strike your colors?”

Paul relied, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike.”

The French ship Alliance joined the battle with two other ships from these two squadrons battling downwind of the Serapis and Poor Richard. Both before and after joining the other fight the Alliance fired rounds of broadsides (all cannons on one side of the ship) at the Serapis, but did as much damage to the Poor Richard as it did to the British. Eventually, a grenade from the marines landed in a powder magazine on the Serapis and her captain struck his colors, surrendering to Paul. The Poor Richard was sinking and could not be saved. So, Paul took command of the Serapis and sailed for the neutral port of Holland.

In part three the war ends and Paul becomes an admiral in the Russian navy, eventually dying in France, though his story does not end until more than 100 years later. See you next week.

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