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Living again: Remembering the Cold War through Baghdaddy

When we see the life closely, we can opt to stay back and fight or leave it forever. Preparing for the worst is always a better option than leaving the situation. Therefore, it is an experience that save us. The connecting dots of Bill from his real life experiences in his book, Baghdaddy teach us different surviving modules. Therefore, everyone ...
Lokeish Umak
Lokeish Umak

When we see the life closely, we can opt to stay back and fight or leave it forever. Preparing for the worst is always a better option than leaving the situation. Therefore, it is an experience that save us. The connecting dots of Bill from his real life experiences in his book, Baghdaddy teach us different surviving modules. Therefore, everyone should be aware of and those who are the witness to the Cold War, they may be living again in life through his book.

The experiences make the man perfect. The childhood of Bill was horrible that one never expect to have. He couldn't read when he was a kid. However, he won the award for his debut book. Explore more about Bill and his writing career in the interview below.

Bill Riley is an award-winning author of memoir and fantasy. He is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who has worked with intelligence agencies and special operations professionals around the world. Because of his background, his stories require U.S. Intelligence Community approval before publishing and—he is obligated to say—the fantastic events depicted in his fantasy books did not actually happen, and the world was never truly in danger.

Bill lives in Eagle, Idaho, USA, with his wife and two sons. You can find him online at billrileyauthor.com, and on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @billrileyauthor.

What was your inspiration and purpose behind writing your memoir, Baghdaddy?

I witnessed the effects of Saddam’s rape of Kuwait and his failure to honor the terms of his surrender. Later, I was stationed in Iraq and experienced the unique challenges of trying to rebuild that country while some of its people were trying to kill me. My father tried to prepare me for the worst that life could throw at me. He taught me hard lessons that often hurt, and I resented them. After he passed away, I tried to put things into perspective. I realized that there wasn’t a lot of difference between the skills I needed to survive my childhood, be a father, and go to war. I met amazing people along the way, and connecting those dots brought me to Baghdaddy.

Baghdaddy: How Saddam Hussein Taught Me to Be a Better Father

My father once said, “One definition of adult is surviving your childhood,” and I never forgot it. I think Baghdaddy is successful because it’s a story of family, friendship, and love at its gritty core. Baghdaddy was a story I had to tell. It captured my father’s death and how I came to put what I learned growing up into perspective during my missions in Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and in my life.

I’d say the purpose of Baghdaddy was twofold. The first, to share my experience with being a dyslexic kid in an abusive home who couldn’t read. And how I clawed my way out, grew with the help of friends, and not only had an intense military career, but in the end made a family for myself. That I could only dream about when I was a boy. Ironically, this kid who couldn’t read won awards for the first book he wrote. I’m proud of that. The second purpose behind Baghdaddy, was to give readers a look behind the scenes of a war most people only knew through television and a chance to meet amazing people who made a difference in our beautiful, sometimes terrifying, world.

Could you please share details about your intelligence activities during the Cold War and through your military career?

I wasn’t a special operator or in clandestine services. I didn’t have the passion for the first or the stomach for the second, and my non-disclosure agreements significantly limit the stories I can tell.

I can say that I have supported nearly every US special operations unit and intelligence agency and several friendly foreign governments, and that the CIA let me tell the story of two clandestine service officers on two of our missions. I’m grateful to the CIA for that. Furthermore, I loved them both. One like a father, the other saved my life and I very nearly married her. They were mentors and dear friends. They are no longer with us in the world, and Baghdaddy is the only place they still exist beyond the hearts of those who knew them.

I relate a few important intelligence collection and counter IED missions in Baghdaddy, and I can say that professional spies are exceptional people.

They are hand-picked, cultivated, forged, used, and, if they survive ops and politics, they are curated until either they’ve got nothing left to give or they become the next generation of curators. Some come from military backgrounds, others from academia; a few still come straight off the street, but one hallmark they all have in common is they’re unparalleled at building trust that they betray.

I can also say with confidence that if you took the hard classes at an elite school, work advanced IT at a top company. Work as a scientist or defense contractor in defense research, are successful in biotech, genetics, or any other highly profitable. Proprietary field, or if you’re at the decision level of government—you’ve probably already met a spy. Don’t believe me? Then they did their job right.

Do those intelligence and military experiences really help you in writing?

Yes. The decades of discipline formed supporting intelligence and military missions, both as a military member and later as a civilian, definitely help with my writing. I could argue that writing is the discipline of getting one’s imagination on the page, so others can experience it. My background has given me the skills to turn ideas into books by breaking down complex operations into achievable tasks on a deadline. Writing and publishing a novel is an act of perseverance.

Many talented writers give up along the way because writing is the deliberate sacrifice of your hard-earned time to share your dreams. But if you don’t finish your story, you won’t get read. For me, that sacrifice is worth it. I want to be heard. And I promise you, your sacrifice to be heard will turn into an investment in yourself. Writing is a self-determined, self-employed apprenticeship. No one can make you write your story. It’s a voyage of discovery.

Especially at first, we all share the same exhilaration and exasperation as we learn to write and tell our stories because we’re building an airplane as we’re flying it. 

I’ll give you an example of how my background helped me write my new fantasy novel, Ashur’s Tears. Everyone has secrets. The difference is that a big part of my work meant I had to carry secrets that weren’t mine to tell. They still aren’t. I was an intelligence analyst who later specialized in communications, strategy, and cyberspace operations. I agreed to safeguard missions, sources, and people from any harm that might come from any disclosure of something classified.

I gave my boys enough truth to cover my absences, but not being there still disappointed them. The problem is: Kids start to sense there’s more to the story—especially when keeping secrets meant I was away from home for extended periods of time. That father/son tension is reflected in Ashur’s Tears. Secrets are tearing the Cypher family apart. Toby and his dad argue over it. Katie ignores it. Both strategies fail.

What was your inspiration behind writing your new fantasy book, Ashur’s Tears, and why?

I’ll start with why? When I was a boy, writers like Tolkien and L’Engle, Heinlein and Silverberg, filled my head with wondrous adventures that took me worlds away from my troubles. As a man, I’ve seen war first-hand, travelled to exotic lands and operated within different cultures. . . Often in secret places. Now that I’ve told my story, more than anything, I want to give readers the escape the authors of my childhood gave to me.

I spent years in Iraq helping to return sovereign control back to the Iraqi people and in combat. Several missions took me through the ancient Mesopotamian ruins that still punctuate the desert and dot the hill tops south of Baghdad. And there I was, standing atop the great ziggurat of Ur and the day was over. Below me, the Iraqi city of Nasiriya was hazy and distorted by smoke and sand hanging in the air.

Then the sun set like a goldfish swimming down a fuchsia river. Afterward, city lights flickered, and the ziggurat radiated an orange glow until the moon was a bluish sickle above my head. We were still doing cultural support missions to help protect national treasures after widespread museum lootings, and I happened to cross paths with a legit Iraqi archeologist. This was rare because the only “archaeologists” who worked at night back then were grave robbers. We drank tea at his camp. His English was way better than my Arabic. He told me stories about the ziggurat, the Sumerians, and the moon goddess Nanna. That night left an impression on me that served as my starting point for the Cypher series mythos.

But the idea for Ashur’s Tears started with the goddess Tansy, and my inspiration for her started with a cat I rescued from a tree on a thoroughbred horse farm in Florida. I named her Smudge because she had a gray marked nose on her otherwise caramel and white face. When I found her, she was a little thing that bolted into a petite predator pound for pound, fiercer than a lion. One day, she was sitting on the paddock fence, minding her business, grooming herself.

We had a stallion with excellent bloodlines, just back from the track, kicking and throwing a fit in a field. He was dark, 16-hands big, and meaner than a smacked hornet. Until his tantrum was over, no other horses were allowed with him in the paddock because he would hurt them. He noticed a Smudge on the fence pole, galloped straight at her, then turned at the last second, and spun back around, snapping his teeth. When she didn’t even flinch, he reared up and came down on top of her.

And Smudge sank a paw-full of claws into his nose. The big horse froze, and my nine-pound cat held that thousand-pound horse in abeyance, until she finished grooming. Then she hissed, and when she unsheathed her claws from his nose, that racehorse jumped back, fled, and never came within ten yards of Smudge again. Seeing her grace in action — and unflappable disdain for anything or anyone who wasn’t me — inspired the cat-goddess Tansy. The rest of the story grew around her.

In your opinion, how much research does one need to write a memoir?

People are curious about what happened behind the scenes of interesting events. It could be something as simple as overcoming a difficult moment because powerful, relatable moments make for a good memoir. Or, it could be as complex as an all-access pass to an event that changed the world. For both, readers want to be in the moment, and feel the highs and lows of what happened and why. Often, as the reader and author are both trying to make sense of it all. They go along for the ride together, and if they can learn something they didn’t know or visit a place they’ve never been—they will take away those life lessons as if they were their own.

Research, for me, is important because reviewing the facts and timelines and settings is always valuable as we humans tend to remember things out of order and differently than they may have occurred. Framing those recollections with facts is useful. A memoir is ultimately your story of what you saw, heard, and felt, and that should drive your story forward. There is no perfect memory of an emotional situation. Just ask any police officer gathering the facts in the aftermath of an accident. The stories of witnesses will vary widely. But how that accident or tragedy impacted YOU is real, and more human for its imperfection and emotion. Those are important stories to share. I’ve kept journals since I was a boy. They helped me capture key moments of my life and helped me make sense of what I was feeling and why.

I reviewed them and researched the world events going on around me for the timeframe of my book Baghdaddy and that was extremely valuable for both reliving childhood memories, accurately depicting wartime and political moments, and for reframing my experiences from a more distanced, and hopefully, mature perspective to scaffold the story for my readers. I might not have been aware of something as a child or in the moment of a firefight, but research helps provide facts and details to help put those moments in context and in perspective for my readers. Don’t forget the amount and type of research required is determined by the story you’re telling. A grandmother teaching her adopted granddaughter how to bake and bond as they get to know each other and to show how those moments affected them both may require research in recipes, events, and different timeframes, whereas a behind-the-scenes story about launching a political campaign in a corrupt government will require extensive evidence for both authenticity and protection from litigation.

Why did you choose hybrid publishing? What is it, and why not go the traditional publishing route?

Hybrid publishing is a form of independent publishing that lies somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing. You pay for services like editing, covers, and production. But your book can be more widely and directly distributed to stores and receive greater marketing, media, and event opportunities like traditional publishing. My publisher, Brown Books, has extensive experience publishing military books. In fact, many of the professional books I used during my military career were published by them, and I didn’t realize it until I met their President at a writer’s conference. So, I knew they produced high-quality books.

I liked that I got to keep all rights to my work, and my royalty payout is much higher than a traditional publishing house. I also get to leverage tradition publishing expertise and can work with editors and experts that would be difficult to reach if I self-published. Prior to contracting with Brown Books, I did have two agents, who after reading Baghdaddy, wanted to sign me. They were people I really wanted to work with, and their client lists left me starstruck. The sticking point was both wanted me to break Baghdaddy into two books. One a hard life story, and the other a more pumped-up military mission story that would be inspired by true events rather than a memoir. Honestly, I had worked hard for that moment, and I would have made good money upfront when they placed those books.

They even offered to fly me out to New York City to sign the contract, but Baghdaddy tells a story that would have been lost by disentangling its threads, and books are about risk management for agents. Agents don’t get paid until they place your book, and these are agencies that represent popular culture icons, presidents, and legendary writers. I could take the deal, or we couldn’t work together. I wasn’t tall enough, yet, for the ride that would let me do it my way. Their principals sent super nice notes. One day, I’d like to work with them, but Baghdaddy wasn’t the right book to make that happen. So, I went with Brown Books and Baghdaddy went on to win a lot of awards, and hopefully, it will get another printing next year.

Later a different agent read my new book Ashur’s Tears. He said he wanted it, but after four months of hearing nothing, Brown Books offered me a deal. They wanted to expand their juvenile titles, and they liked my new book. It was still hybrid publishing, but they kicked in a big marketing push and a few perks. I liked working with them, and since this was my first fantasy book, I knew I would need a development edit to reach a different, younger audience. After Ashur’s Tears started production. I did finally get a call back from the agent to discuss signing with them, but by then, I was well into my contract with Brown Books. And once a series is independently published, no agent will sign you unless you have a breakout hit, or you have a different story not attached to your series to bring to market. Then the process starts over. Ashur’s Tears released this week. It’s already on a few summer-reading lists, and my book tour kicks off in July.

What are the cons of hybrid publishing, an author should know?

The two biggest downsides to hybrid publishing are the upfront cost and the fact that you will have at least a small print run of books sitting in a warehouse. I had the benefit of a successful previous career and a good platform, and for being recognized in my field, and that translated into enough speaking gigs to make it worthwhile. As an author, if you’re with a good hybrid publisher you can get the very best author services money can buy, but you pay for it. It’s not a good fit for everyone. It’s a business and your return on investment is up to you and the market. Which can be a frightening thing. While a self-published author, on a tight budget, may only need to sell dozens of books to break even, a hybrid author may need to sell a few thousand copies. That’s a big commitment. You get all the control as a hybrid author, but you absorb all the risk, and even most traditionally published books don’t sell through. Check out all the coverless books in the dumpster behind a bookstore at the end of every quarter. Those were the books that didn’t sell. For most authors, print-on-demand offers the most advantages with little to no upfront cost and no print run risk. For me, it worked out, and I now have two hybrid published books, one self-published book, and additional income from ghostwriting. Follow the path that’s best for your book and you.

What is your strategy of promoting your books? Do you believe word-of-mouth publicity after reading the book is best?

My publisher has a catalogue they pitch to book buyers around the country and a small team that manages international rights. Usually, meetings start the season prior to book release to socialize what will be available. Press kits and advanced reader copies start to go out about four-six months in advance of book launch. With press releases and more Press Kits going out about a month in advance of launch.

If you’re trying to pitch articles to magazines that have a theme complementary to your story and want them to come out around the time of your book launch, the lead time could be more than a year. My social media follows my life as a writer, and I’ll do art and cover reveals the month leading up to my book release. For Ashur’s Tears, I did a big prelaunch conference event to meet librarians and sign advance reader copies in advance of their summer programs. Before and after release, I’ll do a few Amazon and social media ads to see what works and figure out how I want to continue supporting the book. Also, after launch I’ll do as many book events as I can and now, I’m starting to schedule events from Fall to the end of the year.

Is word of mouth the best advertising? I think so. No one is going to buy the next book in your series and sell your story to their friends harder than someone who loves your book, but that ties into reviews and book events and building your mailing list of fans to keep growing your reader base. And there’s a learning curve to figure out what works for your personality and what works for the types of stories you’re telling. For Baghdaddy, I spoke on war and conflict and different military and intelligence operations at museums and veteran’s groups. For Ashur’s Tears, I’m working school festivals this year. This is new for me, but I must get my new book in front of as many parents and kids who will love it as I can. So, I have to go where my audience, or their parents, are. 

If you’re starting out or working to grow your audience, I recommend making friends with other writers, participate in writers conferences and see what other local authors and writers are doing to spread the word. Stress comes from fear of the unknown and knowing there are about a thousand things we should be doing to write and sell our books, but not knowing where to put our time, effort, and resources. No one can do everything, but anyone can try new things that might interest them and see what works.

What is your daily target of writing? Are there any strict routines you follow?

I get most distracted when working out first drafts. I do plot and outline, but my stories usually change along the way. Revisions and edits are easier for me to schedule, but I need to take my laptop somewhere quiet, where I can hear my thoughts and live in my imagination without distraction. I try to spend six hours a day on writing, editing, and marketing tasks. I find that if I wake up early, get coffee, and head straight to my office, I can usually write for a couple of hours before everyone else wakes up. When that happens, I move on to editing or the business side of writing. There’s always something that needs to be done.

My friends swear by writing sprints for first drafts, and I see the value, but I’m more of a walker than a sprinter. Until I build up my writer endurance, I find the more I schedule time to write, the more I get done. I can rewrite and edit for much longer amounts of time once the main story is on the page, but getting it out is like trying to get a toddler into clothes they don’t want to wear.

In the early phase of writing, a good day of writing for me is three good pages. In the later phases, I can revise 1-2 chapters or more a day. When I was in combat zones, my goal was one page over the course of a day. I’d think about what I wanted to write the night before. I’d set aside fifteen minutes to write during breakfast. I’d print it if I could and revise the page over lunch. Over dinner while catching up with other people, I’d make the changes. Incoming rocket and mortar fire would give me other things to think about, but when I was confident the attacks were over, I would look forward to thinking about what happened next in my story.

So do what works for you. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but carve out writing time for yourself where and when you can. Fence it off. Guard and defend it. Otherwise, that time will go to everything else, your frustration will grow, and your story will stagnate. Writing doesn’t have to be all day every day. Our lives are complicated, and we have other commitments, things to do, and needs. But be honest with yourself and the moments you know you can write, draw a well-marked line of death around yourself. Revel in the moment you made for yourself and write.

Was it difficult transitioning from adult non-fiction to upper middle grade/tween fantasy?

From a creative perspective, my transition to upper middle grade fantasy wasn’t all that hard. While memoir is tied to real events, fiction is more flexible and offers ways to explore the unreal. Figuring out my approach to this audience was the challenge. Many adults love tween and middle-reader stories and will like this series, but Ashur’s Tears is written primarily for 12-15-year-old readers whose lives are in a state of change. The physical changes are intense. They’re transitioning from grade school and again to high school. Everything in their lives is becoming different, including them. Tween readers have a lot going on.

As I edited Ashur’s Tears, I found myself refocusing my imagery and revisiting my word choices in ways that would be meaningful for both adults and a younger audience. Those changes helped me show Toby, Katie, and Tansy’s journey through their upended world in a way younger readers could relate to and enjoy. That part was challenging, but so worth it.

What was your approach to bringing the different character arcs in Ashur’s Tears together?

In Ashur’s Tears, Toby is driven by logic and science. Katie starts out lonely. She feels things so intensely it hurts. Katie feels like she’s different and missing something, but she doesn’t know what. She intuitively understands things Toby doesn’t, like when she observes that he trusts the system too much, but Katie doesn’t know the hole she’s trying to fill in her life is magic. Not until she meets Tansy. Toby and Katie are driven by who they are and how they approach their ever-changing world. Like all of us, they are works in progress as they discover their missing pieces and grow. Along the way they each have epic fails and hero moments, but they must learn to trust each other, come together, and become the family they need to survive.

My dear friend Lucy once told me, “A scar you learn to never get again is progress. It means you got to live another day. It’s proof you’ve grown.” Things hurt. If we survive and learn from them, we grow. I think that approach, more than anything else, is how I brought Toby, Katie, and Tansy’s different paths together at the end.

What would you like for your readers to take away from this interview?

There is enough room in the world for both technology and magic. If you never give up, you have the power to change yourself, your fate, and maybe the world.

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Lokeish Umak

Lokeish Umak

Lokeish Umak writes about his favorite topics, such as essay, poems, health, fitness, nutrition, etc. He also invites guests on his podcast show, "Chronicle Conversations."
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2 thoughts on “Living again: Remembering the Cold War through Baghdaddy”

  1. Hеllo аll, guys! Ι know, my mesѕage maу be tоo ѕpecіfіc,
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    Ι am 27 years оld, Аnna, from Romаnia, I know Englіsh аnd German languаges also
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