Friday, September 29, 2006


I think I'm done with this one. The client picks it up tomorrow, so I'd better be. I'm never quite sure though; I might see one or two small details crying out for attention when I get up in the morning.

The addition of the branches on the left came to me when I was having coffee with my friend Eric today in Carmel by the Sea. The sleeve on my coffee cup had a photograph of a stretch of beach not far from the one depicted in this painting, and it was framed by branches on each side. I've been feeling like the composition lacked balance on the left side, and when I saw the photo I knew I wanted to add a branch or two to even things out.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nearly done now. I added the rocks on the left because I just couldn't stand all that empty space. Hopefully when the rocks and the surf around them are done they'll balance a little better with the right hand side.

It's official now; I'm looking for another publisher. Mine finally admitted they didn't have the resources to promote my book the way it should be, and I terminated their rights to my material. I sure wish they'd told me months ago that they couldn't get the job done instead of stringing me along - me and everybody who's been kind enough to order my book.

I'll be working hard to find another publisher, and I'll let you know when I do. I apologize to everyone who's been waiting patiently for a book. It was awfully kind of you to order one in the first place, and I'm really touched that people were willing to wait so long for it to arrive.

Another night's work

Here's the painting after another night's work. Does it look that different from yesterday?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Seascape with Moon

Here's my painting after another evening's work. The trees still need some attention, and there's work to be done on rocks, foliage, and surf, but it's coming along nicely.

The client is hoping to get it tomorrow, but I think I'll need one or two more days. When a painting is about finished, I like to set it aside for at least a day and then look at it again with fresh eyes to make sure I haven't missed anything.

I sent my publisher a note, explaining that things have gone on way too long, and are likely to go on like this forever unless somebody does something. So I instructed them to cease all work on the book and turn over all my materials. Since they've never made good on their promises to sign the contract and get it back to me, it should be a fairly simple process of disengagement.

What's not simple is explaining this to all the folks who've ordered their copy of the book and have been awaiting it for months. I feel bad that my publisher's unreliability has inconvenienced them, and I'm embarrassed to think that I've allowed my name to be associated with theirs.

Guess I'll chalk that up to a learning experience and start looking for a new publisher.

Monday, September 25, 2006

(Bad) Book News

First, here's a look at the progress I'm making on my commissioned painting. As you can see, I decided against a sunset. Instead, I hung a daytime moon in the upper left, just for fun, and to balance out the composition a bit. Over the next day or so, I'll work in the details of the trees, painting in the shadows and wrinkles in the bark and bringing some branches and needles into the foreground over some of the branches that were masked out. When it's done there will be a good deal less branch showing in the upper parts of the trees.

When that's finished I'll paint in the Pacific, and the details of the rocky coastline.

Now for the book news. After much emailing and admonishment I finally got the proof from my (so-called) publisher. Keep in mind that the book was supposed to be released before Father's Day. Anyway, the proof arrived, and I have to say it's a proof in name only. Really, it's more like a rough draft. Instead of being a look at how the book is going to appear, with the text accompanied by appropriate paintings, I got the text of the book and a stack of photocopied images of my paintings, most of which are terrible - either washed out, lousy resolution, or freakishly bright with ridiculous contrasts. Some of my paintings weren't in the stack at all, and some were represented multiple times, with various levels of quality. There was no explanation accompanying them.

Also missing were the dust jacket notes, the all-important Department of Defense disclaimer, and the table of contents. I'm thoroughly disgusted, and while it may add another year or so to the production process, I'm within an inch of firing these clowns - which I can do because they have been just as lazy about signing a contract as they have about getting my proof to me.

I'll let you know what happens next.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Study for a Commissioned Painting

I'm only about half-way finished with finals for this, the last quarter of my master's program, but I needed a break last night. I've been commissioned to do a painting of the local coastline, and the deadline is coming up quickly, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone last night. I got a bit of a break from studying and I did this study for what will be a much larger painting in the near future.

I think the commissioned work will have one or two more cypress trees, possibly with their tops just visible over the rise in the foreground. Other than that, I think this'll be pretty close to how the big painting will look. Of course, that painting may have other ideas. I kid myself about having some kind of control over the process, but a lot of the time paintings kind of take over and end up having their own way.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

To the New York Times

Today I received an invitation to subscribe to the New York Times. It didn't seem right to simply throw the invitation away; my mother taught me manners, after all. So I sat down and wrote them a letter, and sent it back to them in their self-addressed, postage-paid envelope. Here's what I said.

TO: The staff and writers of the New York Times
RE: Subscription

Ladies and Gentlemen of the New York Times,

Thank you for your kind invitation to subscribe to your paper. Please be assured that I did not reject it out of hand.

Rather, I gave the matter quite a bit of consideration, and I must tell you that from every angle from which I reviewed it, a subscription made no sense.

First, there is the matter of truth. I know what you’re thinking. You, being sophisticated citizens of New York and highly educated members of the media elite, know there is no such thing as objective truth. I however, being a simple military man, have yet to be disabused of the quaint notion, so I object to reading on your pages items that contradict directly things I have seen with my own eyes (albeit eyes that may have been, at the time, stung by tears, or the sands of Iraq).

Closely related to truth is the small matter of objectivity. I know that the value you place upon your socialist agenda, the fervor with which you support liberal candidates, and the disdain you feel for the vast majority of Americans outweighs this outmoded principle, and that the cause you serve will, in its victory, absolve you of your departure from what journalism was meant to be. You may be absolved, but there is no requirement on my part to fund your in your efforts.

Timeliness is quite another matter. There is nothing you can get to me in print that I could not have, hours before, read on line and verified for truthfulness (a purpose for which I believe you once employed editors, but which now must be performed at home by your readers).

This is not to say I will never again subscribe to the New York Times. If some day you were to reinstate journalistic integrity and objectivity, I would gladly overlook the timeliness issue. And since I know you recently fired hundreds of your employees due to financial constraints, I’d even be willing to pay a little extra.

Until that time (and I do hold out hope that there will be such a day, because, unlike your editorial staff, I believe in the power of the market) I cannot in good conscience subscribe to your paper.

I do thank you kindly for the invitation though.


Steven A. Givler, Major, USAF

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Call Me Al.

No matter where my writing career takes me, it’s hard to imagine there will ever be a night to surpass last night.

I was in Washington D.C. to mark the release of Operation Homecoming, a compilation of letters, poems, and stories from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the home front, in which I am privileged to have two small stories.

The location was the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, which is just east of the Capital Building. The Jefferson Building is the kind of structure architects used to design, back when their education included a background in Western Civilization, and the canon of the Great Books, the works that enabled this republic to raise, before the advent of public education, its finest generation of writers and orators.

It’s the kind of structure where vaulted ceilings, gilded archways, and stunning mosaics, instead of drawing attention to themselves, put their viewer in mind of the towering glory that God sometimes vouchsafes to men. They put me in mind too, (somewhat incongruously, I know) of that song Paul Simon sings called Call Me Al because of the line that goes,

He looks above him and he sees angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity, “hallelujah,” he says…

When we climbed the marble staircase into the entryway (I was accompanied by my great friend, Keith Miller, Major, USAF, who can confirm I’m not making this stuff up.) the last of the day’s light was spilling over the dome of the Capital and pouring down the vaults of the ornately appointed arches, bathing everything inside the great hall in a warm golden glow.

When we weren’t craning our necks upward to gape at the ceiling, Keith and I shook hands with the luminaries from Boeing, the Library of Congress, and the National Endowment for the Arts, who put this book together. Among them was the Deputy Librarian of Congress, Don Scott, who greeted us warmly, and explained that he’d once been in the Army and served in Vietnam. Later in the evening we discovered that, not only had he served, he’d been a brigadier general.

I chided him in the reception line later for omitting that fact when we first spoke. “It was unimportant,” he said, which leads me to expect he was probably an exceptional general.

And that kind of humility and subjugation of self to the moment marked the evening. Dana Gioia, poet, and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts began the official proceedings with a moving tribute to the men, women, parents and spouses out of whose sacrifices the books three hundred-some pages are distilled. In a place that has become known for bitter partisanship, that night, in that place, was a clear exception to the rule. Personal agendas were in no way evident, as speakers, regardless of their personal feelings for the war, focused on the people fighting it, and those left behind to miss them and pray for them while they are gone.

After some brief speeches we saw a short film about the book. The film, in addition to explaining the significance of the book as a contemporary record of the war, featured some of the contributors reading their work. It was funny and sad and profound. Throughout its duration, I kept thinking how extraordinary it was that providence had seen fit to place me in such company.

And it just got better and better. After the speeches and the film, we moved to the second floor gallery, where everyone in attendance was given a book, and where, for the next two and a half hours, those of us whose words appear on its pages had the honor of signing them for people.

Keith was good enough to carry my copy around for my fellow authors to sign. One of them, Parker Gyokeres, summed up my feelings exactly when he penned, “I’m so overwhelmed I can hardly write.” Between Keith’s making the rounds for signatures and my book signing, neither of us got close to the food they put out. I can’t speak for Keith, but I can tell you that last night I learned that apparently, given a choice between eating and meeting people who want to read my work, I’ll gladly choose the latter.

I signed a lot of books and spoke to a lot of people. My favorites were the mothers. Some were authors’ moms, and one was herself an author, who’d written about losing her son. The pride of these women in their sons and daughters surrounded them and glowed from them every bit as brightly as had the evening sunlight, which by now had faded to a deep purple band behind the Lincoln Memorial, and through which rose that enormous obelisk, erected to remind us of the sacrifices and humility of our nation’s father and first president.

Another book I had the privilege to sign was the copy that would be presented to the First Lady, Laura Bush. As I mentioned before, Paul Simon’s song was on my mind, so it seemed completely appropriate, when I signed a book for a gentleman, that when I asked him to whom I should dedicate it, that, when I asked him his name, he said, “sign it to Al.” I inscribed the book and thought nothing more of it until later on, when Keith pointed out that, while he may have referred to himself as Al, he is better known to the rest of the nation as Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Michael Kiefer, one of 2,996

On 11 September, 2001 I was in Amman, Jordan. I was the senior member of a small American military detachment getting a refresher course in Arabic at the Royal Jordanian Military Language Institute.

At the time of the attacks, I was just signing onto my email account at an internet cafe in central Amman. I saw a news banner announcing that two planes had crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. I was certain that I was looking at an advertisement for a movie.

Within two minutes, my embassy cell phone rang. "Get all your people to the embassy right away." I was told. That's when I knew it was no movie ad.

As I was scrambling to get my colleagues together, 26 year-old Michael Kiefer was breathing his last in New York City.

Michael was one of the 2,996 innocents who lost their lives in Al Qaeda's most successful attack on our nation. Maybe you remember it? In case you've forgotten, let me remind you by telling you about Michael, because Michael Kiefer is a shining example of what our nation lost in that attack.

To say Michael was a fireman does not do justice to the drive and the passion he brought to his work. Some people have a job they do and others have jobs that they are; by all accounts, Michael was one of the latter. From his early years he knew that he wanted to be a fireman. Childhood photos show him wearing a fireman costume, and people tell of how, as a boy, he was so accomplished at mimicking the sound of a siren that he convinced his school bus driver to pull aside for a firetruck that wasn't there.

Michael earned perfect scores on his physical and written entrance exams and began training to become a firemanin October, 2000. He graduated in December of the same year. He drew one of the busiest assignments, engine Company 280/ladder Company 132 Firehouse of Crown Heights Brooklyn.

In achieving his lifelong dream, we could say that Michael Kiefer accomplished more in his short life than will many men who live to see a century, but that would be only half his story.

In addition to being a fireman, Michael was a committed Christian, beloved son to Pat and Bud, and older brother to Kerri and Lauren. He was saving his money to buy a ring for his girlfriend, Jamie Huggler. Son, brother, boyfriend. He was the kind of guy who dedicated himself to a job that would put his life at risk in order to save others. He just one of 2,996, but in him, was a reflection of all the strength, the selflessness, the goodness that we love about America.

On this 5th anniversary of our nation's loss, take a moment to remember Michael. Say a prayer for the peace of mind of those who knew him, and give thanks that our nation is still the home of men like him.

Read more about Michael. Click on his name above this article, or click on this link:

To read more tributes to the 2,996 victims of the September 11 attack, visit

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Book is Coming!

I received word today that my book, Notes of Joy and Sadness, Letters and Paintings from Operation Iraqi Freedom will be out in time for Veterans' Day. I know this is the third (or so) assurance from my publisher that release is imminent, but I think this time they're actually telling the truth. I can't wait.

I'll be speaking (and hopefully signing books) on Veterans' Day at the Headquarters Museum of the Commemorative Air Force in Midland, Texas. If you're in the area, I hope you'll stop by. The museum will also be hanging a collection of my aircraft paintings, many of which are in the book. If you can't make it for the signing, but will be in Midland at another time, stop by the museum and see the paintings.

Friday, September 01, 2006

No Painting Today.

Today I did something I've been thinking about for a long time. We have two old ladder-back chairs that used to have cane seats in them. They've been sitting around without seats for three or four years now. I remember Susan telling me once that her grandma'd had seats like them with cowhide instead of cane seats, and I always wanted to try stretching a nice piece of leather on a chair. I've been looking for a suitable hide for a long time now, and the other day I found a beautiful calfskin rug in a second-hand store. I went in and out a couple times, working the price down, but I would have paid what they asked for it in the first place, because it's exactly what I wanted. The leather is nicely worn from being walked on for who knows how many years, but it's as soft as chamois. I cut a paper pattern in the shape of the seats, which are roughly square, and then extended each side with a long tab. I folded each tab over on itself and sewed it like that, and then bought some rawhide strips.

I cut little holes in the doubled-over tabs. Then I put the cover on the chair with the tabs hanging underneath the seat. I threaded the rawhide through the holes I'd cut so that, beneath the seat, the front tab was laced to the rear one, and the two sides were laced to each other. I'd soaked the rawhide before I laced it. As it dries, it'll shrink, which will tighten up the leather seat. Before I tied the laces I used a pair of long clamps to draw the tabs together and make the laces tight enough to vibrate when I plucked them.

The first seat is done, and drying over a heating duct tonight. I can't wait to see how well it tightens up when the laces shrink. Even without the laces drying out all the way the seat is stretched nice and tight and smooth. I'm pretty pleased with it.