Barefoot Days, Electric Nights-A Memoir of Paradise


Just Launched, “Barefoot Days, Electric Nights,” by David Butwin, is a memoir of his life during Hawaii’s early days as the 50th State.

Butwin arrived in Honolulu to become a reporter at one of the city’s two daily newspapers. As a very young, inexperienced journalist from frigid Minnesota, he began with a scant understanding of the people, places, and nuances of island culture. He soon discovered a land of spectacular beauty, where everyone lived near an ocean shore, and islanders from many different places went everywhere barefoot.

David writes of his Hawaii days, with the clear prose of a seasoned reporter, yet creates an intimate memory of his work, the women he dated, and the prominent celebrities he encountered.

He often draws from an unusual documentation source: reams of detailed letters that he wrote home to his family, saved over many decades.

And for part of this memoir, he draws from an even more unusual resource: Me, (Steve Vachss) writer of this review article. Though we came from different work-worlds, we knew each other back then in Hawaii, as colleagues of a sort, and eventually as friends.

Assigned in Hawaii as an Army writer-editor, I became Butwin’s source for military news and background information. As an Army Reservist, David tells a compelling story about an enormous military exercise called Coral Sands II that involved thousands of soldiers, 13 US Navy warships, and the entire Island of Molokai. For nearly two weeks, David and I occupied a press tent on Molokai and created news stories, interviews, and press releases flown to Honolulu.

We later learned that perpetrators of the famous “My Lai Massacre” were apparently with us at Coral Sands on Molokai. A consequence of the operation later involved us both, especially David, in a blockbuster story that may have affected the history of the Vietnam War. With details never previously disclosed, David explains this incredible story and our involvement.

My other cameo appearance in Barefoot Days, Electric nights, deals with an incident of street violence that Butwin calls “my night of terror.” It’s a story we both would prefer to forget but which has lived in each of us forever after.

Notwithstanding my personal connection, I enjoyed “Barefoot Days, Electric Nights,” and highly recommend it. It’s beautifully written in a style that brings the reader face-to-face with a place and a lifestyle that no longer exists. A memoir of paradise.


Should I Write This Book?

I need YOUR opinion, especially if you are from Stamford or a book lover.

Though I’ve been fairly successful in publishing two novels, I am considering writing a different kind of story, a novel or a novelette (shorter version) based on a true story that began when I was a young teenager, in my hometown of Stamford, CT. This novel would be a “coming of age” story with central characters based on my best friend of that time and me, as well as a mystery.

Back in those Cold War days, many Americans were worried about “Communists among us.” My friend—I’ll call him Jon—and I shared a real world confrontation with some potentially bad people. We kept the incident secret and never told the story to anyone. Nevertheless, It followed us into our adult lives with profound consequences.

The book I’m considering would also include  characters based on our friends, and real places in and around downtown Stamford of the 1960s, offering memories of a simpler time.

The picture following this post is a simple mockup of a cover for this yet unwritten story. I put the cover together to provide a feel for the book.

My questions to you: Would people from Stamford be interested in this kind of story? I’m not looking for a commitment to buy the book. But at this point, I need to know whether it would capture your interest. If you think it’s a weak idea, please let me know that as well. If you have any other advice, I’d love to read your comments here, or in a private Facebook message.


Does “Connecting the Dots” Protect Us?


Part of “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” is a frantic effort to pin down details of an imminent terrorist attack, and to enable law enforcement agencies to prevent it. Set in the 1990s, before the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the main characters in the story frantically collect, combine and analyze information from multiple sources. In other words, they must “connect the dots” to form a full picture.

hijackers-groupHow does the story compare with the real-world history of the 9/11 attacks? While coping with public anger and fear in 2001, politicians and media used the catchphrase “connect the dots” to mean combining intelligence inputs from all agencies to forecast and prevent the terror plot. The implication was that all government agencies needed to share information to predict future terrorist attacks. Some politicians and media outlets proclaimed that connecting the dots would have stopped the deaths and destruction of 9/11.

In research for this book, I learned more about the difficulties of stopping terrorism, and the value of connecting the dots. Borrowing a few details from the real 9/11 investigation, my fictional attack gets through the warnings—connecting the dots—after painstaking efforts. The characters know definitely that an attack is forthcoming. They know names of some of the people, and eventually learn the cities where the attacks will begin.

Connecting the dots, however, doesn’t stop the attack! The challenges for stopping the terrorists remain daunting. In the real-world of the 9/11 attacks, the task would have been just as formidable even with the “dots” connected.

The popular viewpoint is that law enforcement could simply capture the terrorists and ship them to Gitmo. That’s an unfortunate fantasy. The 9/11 killers had each entered the US under legal visas. Though they had overstayed their legal status, law enforcement could only arrest them to be tried like citizens in a U.S. court. Following the usual sequence of events under law, each of the men would have had an assigned lawyer.

The arrest of a large group of terrorists planning to execute a major attack presents a very difficult challenge. The future killers would not have faced any major charges until they carried out or supported their murderous crimes. Until then, investigators could have only reported that several Middle Eastern men had overstayed their visas but had not otherwise broken the law. Until they committed a crime, it would have been difficult to prosecute them as members of a conspiracy.

FBI Director James Comey has indicated that the Bureau is is currently investigating hundreds of terrorist groups within the US. In other words, the bad guys are already here. Apparently, new technology and updated methods have connected many of the dots. Can we be sure that there are no others? No. Can FBI and DHS find ways to disrupt them? Maybe…hopefully…yes. Authorities have connected the dots. Nevertheless, it’s a tough job, requiring extraordinary effort, hundreds of agents, and top-flight police work.

Why Choose the 1990s for an Alternate History Novel?

The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” differs from most alternate histories since It doesn’t focus TTWW-Tiny+Buyon a single momentous event, like the Civil War, WWII, or the JFK assassination. Instead, it focuses on events of the final decade of the twentieth century, a transformative period with equal or greater impact on America’s future.

My previous alternate history, “The Victory That Wasn’t,” focuses on the Vietnam War. Reader feedback brought many positive comments from former service members and civilians who were part of that era. They enjoyed the book because they could vividly remember the people, places, and events that support the story. However, many contemporary adults are too young to remember the Vietnam years. I, therefore, wantedBackground-layer my new book to be a story set in a time remembered by anyone over thirty.

The 1990s began as a victorious time for America and ended with great uncertainty. The decade included proud high points and devastating low points. It began with a resounding victory against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army. Supported by a broad coalition of thirty nations, the quick triumph repositioned the US as the undisputed leader of the free world. And after decades of covert Cold War struggles, the USSR dissolved. It’s former satellite countries regained independence. Germany tore down the Berlin Wall and reunified the East and West Germany into a single country.

The decade also included an unusual three-candidate presidential race and a president elected by far less than a majority of voters. Meanwhile, trouble was brewing, quietly at first. The 1993 attack on the World Trade Center seems forgotten in the shadow of the horrific attacks of 2,001. Nevertheless, the 1993 attack killed six and injured more than one thousand people.

Though Americans experienced high anxiety regarding terrorism, the 1990s produced a stunning transformation due to technology. In 1990, only a small number of Americans had ever heard of the Internet. By 1999 the Internet was part of the daily life of every individual and business. This dynamic technology explosion empowered the financial world and the stock markets while masking the simmering economic problems that a few years later caused the longest recession and weakest recovery in history.

That’s the enigma that we call the 1990s. It provides a great platform for an alternate history novel.

Who’s the Murderer in My New Book?

In writing “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” I wanted to produce the kind of book that I would personally love to read. That’s why the final product is a hybrid of three different story types. It’s a murder mystery as well as an alternate history. It also falls into the“thriller” genre, with a race-against-time to stop a lethal terrorist attack.

Like most of us who write stories, I’m an avid reader. I don’t keep count, but I’ve probably read more than 2,000 novels over the years. After the first hundred or so, I began lookingTTWW-Tiny+Buy for authors who write the kinds of books that “I can’t put down.”

For example, when I read the first of many books by the brilliant Harry Turtledove, I was hooked for life on alternate histories. Every Turtledove alternate history begins with a real-world historical context, to which the author adds, at least, one fictional person or event that radically changes everything that follows. For example, “What if George Washington and King George III had negotiated a peaceful agreement in 1776?”

Another story type that I have long admired is the mystery that keeps readers guessing through twists and turns; blind alleys; and forehead-slapping “aha!” moments. For me, the master of this kind of plot is Harlan Coben. His skill in building greater levels of intrigue grabs us from the opening sentence and keeps us guessing. And when he finally reveals the truth behind the plot, we’re relieved and happily satisfied to have shared the ride.

My third favorite is the “thriller” based on interesting characters struggling with life-threatening challenges, in real-world places. Nelson DeMille is the author I most admire for his excellently researched thrillers like Up Country, Plum Island, and The General’s Daughter.

With those three types as generic models, “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” is an alternate history set in the 1990’s, with real characters and events that most readers will recognize. Their world shifts to a new reality, however, due to the failures of two petty criminals. The investigation of one of the criminals leads to a mysterious murder. The search for the killer uncovers a major terror operation and a desperate effort by law enforcement to identify and arrest the terrorists.

My question for readers: Can you identify the perpetrators before the story exposes them?

The Terrorist Who Wasn’t

My new novel, “The Terrorist Who Wasn’t” has launched! It’s available on Amazon at

The novel is an alternate history-mystery that takes place in the 1990s. The story includes secret behind-the-scenes events that trigger major changes in America’s future.

Could a foolish mistake by a minor criminal change the outcome of two key PresidentialTTWW-Tiny+Buy elections? Could a few dedicated people “connect the dots” to foil the most brutal terrorist plot in history?

Scott Benison, an author, global politics expert, and magazine publisher takes part in an unusual undercover investigation at the request of the White House staff. Acting on information that may damage the President’s administration, Scott and his White House colleague look into a “new age” academy in Tennessee—legally a tax-exempt church—that may be laundering terrorist funds through its accounts. But a murder committed during the undercover operation drives Scott instead to assist the FBI in identifying the killer.

As the investigation begins, Scott discovers that the academy’s leader, known as “the Guru,” has disappeared. He may have been a kidnap victim, or he may have joined the suspected terrorist organization. The FBI considers him to be a “person of interest,” or possibly a dead man. Is the Guru a terrorist or a man of peace? And how much does he know about the murder?

After encountering numerous twists and turns, Scott receives secret communications from the Guru, with information about a horrendous terrorist operation that would kill thousands of people. Scott and his law enforcement associates race against time to identify, locate and capture more than 30 terrorists, located in four different states, to stop the deadly jihadist operation. As they work to connect scraps of vital information, a dangerous Pakistani jihadist protects the clandestine terrorist operation by confusing investigators and murdering potential information sources.