The Story Behind the Story–A Real American Hero and Laser Rifles

Okay, my blog has been deader than the Jar-Jar Binks fan club. So in an effort to blog more and get more action on my website (action, pow!), I’m going to start telling the story behind some of the stories I’ve written over the past couple of years.

I love novels. I was born to write novels—but I also like short fiction because it is a playground, it is a proving ground, and it is practice, wonderful practice. My friend used to say whenever I wrote, no matter how small the project, it was like a jazz musician working on their chops.

So without further ado, here is the first story behind the story and an example of me working on my chops.

In July 2014, my story POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS COMMANDER hit the streets, and soared to a #1 position in Amazon’s Kindle Worlds Action/Adventure category. Well, it’s not like it’s my story because I wrote it with the fabulously talented Peter J. Wacks, so it’s our story, a G.I. Joe story, and it’s funny, poignant, and one reviewer called it heart warming. There’s also lots of killing and laser rifles.

Like Dr. Evil. “Lasers.” Why lasers?

I’ll get to that.

It all started out in the 1980’s. I was what they called a latchkey kid. I’d get home from school to an empty house and I’d watch T.V. from about three o’clock to ten o’clock every night. Not a lot of friends for me. Real people were too scary.

Luckily, I had my imaginary friends. Like Liono, Optimus Prime, and the G.I. Joe team.

I watched a ton of G.I. Joe and loved every laserblast. Yeah, laser rifles. I’m getting there. I’m getting there.

Flash forward twenty years. Um, make that thirty. Hollywood came out with not one but two G.I. Joe movies. And yeah, not the greatest cinema ever, but I adored the movies. I got to be thirteen again, and being thirteen again, I didn’t care about an iffy plot or flat characters. I just wanted action!

In G.I. Joe: Retaliation (the second movie), they have ninjas fighting our heroes on a mountain side, dangling off ropes, and sword fighting. How cool is that?!

I posted on Facebook that I loved G.I. Joe. Just a quick post that probably alienated some people, but at least I wasn’t talking about religion or politics or Doctor Who. Aaron? Liking G.I. Joe? Really?

Yeah. Love it.

I was at a poker game with some author types, and Quincy J. Allen saw the post and suggested fan fiction, like funny fan fiction. He had heard of someone looking to co-write a satirical G.I. Joe story. The idea hit me immediately. What if Cobra Commander had PTSD (as in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)? What if he was in a clinic with one of the G.I. Joe guys who was also suffering from PTSD? The story would write itself.

I thought nothing of it until I got a call from the managing editor at WordFire Press, the big cheese, Peter J. Wacks who was wondering if I was serious. I was.

We wrote it. I didn’t have time, but for this story, I made time. I wrote on airplanes, I wrote in hotel rooms after a long day at my day job, and after an exhausting conference, on barely any sleep, I pounded out ten thousand words in a day.

We polished. And it’s now live on Amazon.

Of all the things I’ve written recently, it’s my favorite. I mean, really, I researched, I watched G.I. Joe cartoons, I read wiki after wiki, and at first I wanted to use pulse rifles, or normal machineguns, but after watching the old cartoon, I couldn’t help but use laser rifles. Thanks to toy collectors, I researched the model #’s so the weapons the characters wield are real. Kind of.

Thanks to Michael Haspil, I put in an epilogue about PTSD because yeah, knowing is half the battle. And thanks to my mom, the EMDR therapy in the story is as realistic as I could make it for characters using “laser” rifles. My mom is a kick-ass therapist and is very patient with me.

The coloring books in the story were Peter’s idea, and while I was uncertain about including them, it’s one of my favorite scenes. Cobra Commander and Gung Ho are coloring together, and of course I wanted to use Hasbro coloring books, My Little Pony and The Transformers. We couldn’t use the real names, so Peter called them My Little Horsey and Shifterbots. Shifterbots! Brilliant. Cobra Commander and Gung Ho fight over who gets which one. It’s funny.

At 17,000 words, it’s a quick read. I hope y’all enjoy it. And of course, if you read it, leave a review!

Who knew that all that afternoon T.V. growing up would pay off?

This story is my first professional sale (cha-ching) and the first story I’ve written that has hit a bestseller list.

Thank you, Peter J. Wacks, for inviting me in and working with me.

Yo Joe!





Mind Disease Kills Writer: The Deadly Patterns – A Last Thing on Step Five

Step 5 – Admitted to the world, to another person, and to ourselves the exact nature of our disease

It_Takes_a_Village_imageBottom line is this. Do you have someone to talk with about your writing life? Do you have someone you can share your doubts, fears, and resentments with?

If not, I’d find someone. I have a whole group. But for me, it takes a village.

Now, you want to be a little careful with this. You want someone who is supportive, who can listen, but who is also not afraid to ask questions, or point out where you might be off in your thinking. I have poor thinking sometimes, and I need help to get my mind set straight. In my head, working on four books at the same time makes perfect sense. In reality, that’s a stretch.

As we share our fourth-step inventory with that lucky, supportive person, what we are doing is looking for patterns of behavior or thought that are self-destructive.

This is why we shouldn’t burn our fourth step inventory because it really is a treasure map. Unfortunately at the end, there isn’t buried treasure, only weird, twisted thinking generally. No gold there. It’s far more icky.

It’s amazing what happens once you get your resentments and fear on paper, and then actually read what you wrote to someone else. Things become clear. You can see things that you believe that are simply not true.

For example, I truly believed that out of the five billion people on earth, I was destined to fail in everything I ever tried. It was set in iron. Is this true? Hardly. And yet I believed that unquestioningly. Without a shred of real evidence. I was deluded.

Another idea I had, that I truly believed, was that if I couldn’t be the best, right out of the gate, I just wouldn’t play. I love the idea of the “natural” genius. I think it comes from watching waaaaayyyyy too many movies. In the movies, the hero becomes awesome in a montage scene. A little Rocky Balboa music, a little running, and they are ready to defeat the villain. I WANT THAT! Real life takes too much time.

But I walked away from a lot of things because I wasn’t good at them right away. My thinking caged me. I had no idea I thought this way until I looked at it.

I was haunted by demons, especially around my writing. I had lived a lifetime of fear and terror without ever actually failing.

I had to get a list of my character defects, the exact nature of my disease, before I could start to heal from it and rise above my defective head.

It’s by going through our fifth step that we get the tools to write our list of character defects. And it’s through steps sixth and seven that we get some freedom from those character defects. Self-knowledge is one thing, but I need help from a power greater than myself.



Step 5 Pt. 4: I Am Not Unique; One Writer’s Story is All Our Stories

Step 5 – Admitted to the world, to another person, and to ourselves the exact nature of our disease


Last week I talked about first sales panels at writers conferences and the funny thing, most of the time I completely discount other people’s experiences. Totally. Do you know why?



Because I have this deep-seated notion that I am unique. No one is like me. Only one Aaron Michael Ritchey ever born, that’s me, and if you think anything you say matters to me it doesn’t.



Kinda’ like my favorite joke.

How many VietNam vets does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

You don’t know ‘cause you weren’t there, man.

Ain’t nobody been Aaron Michael Ritchey.

But it’s a stupid idea to think that I am so unique. As a person or as a writer. That’s the thing with the first sales panels—their story is my story. Or could be. If I keep working and keep trying.

From what I’ve seen, it takes about five to six years to get published once you really set your mind to do it. Really commit. Then it takes another twenty to get on the New York Times Bestseller List. And that can happen to writers. Happens to writers all the time. Why not me?

Why not?

I’m just a writer, after all.

And that’s the power of the 5th step. Once I shared all of my foibles with another person, once I got everything on paper and out in the open, I realized I wasn’t unique, or alone. That I’m a person, a writer, and other people feel the same things I feel. The successful ones find a way through the fear and pain. Those are the people I need to talk to and the stories I need to hear.

If I focus on the similarities and not the differences, I can get to a place where success as a writer is possible. If I focus on the differences, then I’m doomed, doomed I tell you! Doomed to be alone. Doomed to be a failure. Doomed forever!

But that’s not the case. That’s why I can talk to writers so easily. They are my people.

So cowboy up, all you happy writers, because we’re leaving Step 5 and going on to Step 6. This is where the hardcore part of the program hits.

Steps 6 and 7 ain’t for sissies!