Hellhound End Paper #2: Write what you know

”What did I know best that I had not written about and lost?

”What did I know about truly and care for the most?

”Ask those questions of yourself, then write whatever story comes to mind.” – Ernest Hemingway:

To the best of my ability, I have written what I know and truly care for into Hellhound. Below, some of the mechanics of that.


It’s not enough to research and describe a setting. One must capture the ghosts that haunt the landscape and the characters that populate it.

I selected Mississippi as the main setting because I was born there and grew up in with family members, ancestors and other people who had created, perpetuated, and continued to do bad things and I believe they were fundamentally good people.

I’m also on a first name basis with the ghosts. That’s why the hero echoes my own thoughts when he says, “I’m tired of having my life run by dead men.”

I also chose Mississippi because a drug that can force good people to do bad things made me think of the so-called “good people” of the state who accepted the malignancy of institutional racism. Had my ancestors been storied German Prussians, I might have selected Bavaria and Dachau.

Indeed, a cold December visit to Dachau in 1978 sparked my first novel about why good people did evil things — or did nothing. The working title of the first draft of my first bestseller — The Delphi Betrayal — was initially titled, “The Dachau Notes.”

In any event, the imperative of “write what you know” must rule. So, about a quarter of a century after Dachau, came Hellhound which was set in Mississippi, California and Washington — all of which I have lived in long enough to have developed a first-hand relationships with their ghosts.

Write WHO you know.

Characters have to be created with a number of relevant, and logical characteristics. Those characters and settings must qualify for their positions by virtue of their physical, educational, intellectual, and ethical qualities. Also vital are demonstrated talent, motivations, and life experience. Those and settings must also be relevant to the plot and believable in all situations.

When describing how the choices made by the characters I had created and the environments in which they were compelled to live, I began to wonder for the first time what choices and environmental forces led me to write it.

Like my characters, many choices were set out for me by life, existence, necessity, and reality. I came to deeply understand that at any given moment we are exactly the sum of every decision we have made. (See End paper #1 {internal link within this eBook}, for more)

In some ways, my introspection reminds me of plays by Nobel Prize-winning (1934) Italian writer Luigi Pirandello (web link) whose works explore (and blur) the relationships among individual identity, reality, and sanity. Specifically, I’m reminded of his play – Six Characters in Search of an Author (web link) – in which characters in a play come to life and confront the author they believe imperfectly and incompletely created them.

I’m still haunted by my conviction that I could have, should have done a better job with my own characters.

The Hero

Protagonist Brad Stone’s family heritage is mine. Most every man in my family served in the military (including those on the wrong side who were Confederate Generals and Colonels).

I was ready to serve, and received an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1967, but was rejected because I’m near-sighted. (This was before laser keratotomy).

After being kicked out of Ole Miss in 1967, I was drafted for the Vietnam War and took my draft physical for induction in Syracuse, NY in February 1968. I was never called to active duty. Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to know and be related to, courageous, exceptionally capable people in the military.

To carry the intertwined narratives about the psychoactive drug Xantaeus, and how it affects the wetware (brain), as well as the software (learned abilities to make choices), I created Stone, a UCLA neurosurgeon, and former military veteran.

Stone is fascinated (as I am) by how physical gray matter can produce the near-magical properties of consciousness — and the dark sides of why and how ordinary “good people” can reconcile doing bad things — “good” Germans and Dachau, “decent” white Southerners and lynchings.

Write what you know: I’m a scientist. Currently, I’m a biomedical researcher, currently affiliated with the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. I’ve also studied consciousness intensively as well as the organic and experiential factors that affect decision making.

Heroine/Love Interest

The heroine, Jasmine Thompson, is the daughter whose mother — Vanessa Thompson — represents a fictional narrative of what might have become of my unfulfilled high school crush on a Black student. Vanessa’s character founded The Advocacy Foundation for Mississippi Justice (web link) ,similar to the Mississippi Center for Justice (web link) which was founded by my high school classmate Martha Bergmark.

Vanessa sets off the action when she contacts Stone and asks her help to save the life of a convicted racist who is condemned to death for the murder of a Black man in Itta Bena, Mississippi. At a point when Stone thinks that his high school crush on Vanessa may actually play out in real life, she is assassinated and dies in his arms. Vanessa’s daughter Jasmine layer plays a key complicated role in the plot and Stone’s life and presents him with another tough “do the right thing” decision.


The right villain to “own” the drug underlying the plot must have a direct, kinetic connection as well as the authority to carry the plot to its disastrous conclusion.

In this case, the drug —Xantaeus — is manufactured and controlled by Clark Braxton, an egotistically bombastic billionaire who is a shoe-in to be elected President of the United States. He intends to use the military for his own personal agenda. Check out Braxton’s 2008 Presidential Campaign website (web link).

Braxton, a Vietnam-era veteran, is the product of unethical human medical experimentation that enabled him to recover from a disastrous head wound that left him a hero warrior capable of functioning in public life but without any moral respect for others.

Xantaeus pharmaceutically supercharges a soldier’s physical abilities, but also robs them of compassion, of their sense of humanity. It was developed in a secret and unethical series of military human experiments aimed at pharmaceutically emulating the ultra-warrior aspects that Braxton developed.

Xantaeus aims to remove all motivational and ethical compulsions which military research confirms prevents a substantial number of soldiers from killing enemy soldiers in combat. It’s also vital to keep in mind that a lack of compassion is the main ingredient that allows individuals to find lynchings, racism, and genocide acceptable.

See Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command (web link) for the definitive military examination of the issue.

In Hellhound, Braxton owns Defense Therapeutics (web link). He also owns a massive estate in Napa Valley – Castello da Vinci. His prize wine is proudly named Xantaeus (web link).

I finished the manuscript of Hellhound in 2004, but it seems to me that Braxton was a forerunner doppleganger of Donald Trump.

I don’t personally know someone like General Braxton. However, I studied individuals like him after first reading about Phineas Gage (web link) whose head injury turned a kind, gentle, intelligent man into a profane, violent borderline criminal.

I do not know anyone like Darryl Talmadge, but he is an archetype of a racist killer — some of whom (like him) have head injuries, but most of whom have damaged souls.

I’ve also never known a medical researcher like Dr. Frank Harper whose good judgement was twisted by personal ambition and denial.

Most deeply, Hellhound looks at how people make choices & decisions.

What experiences and people cumulatively led up to a decision. Equally important are the enormous differences among peoples’ abilities to make decisions: billions of conscious and unconscious, unrecognized choices along with the social, genetic, and biological forces that must be overcome to live a kind and ethical life.

Not everyone is physically or psychologically capable of making make good decisions.

Brain damage from physical blows, illness, genetic defects, emotional and psychological abuse all affect how any given person will respond to external events. Those individual differences are most profound in a crisis, especially those with life and death consequences.

I wanted readers to understand the why and how of a character’s decision, not just that they made a given choice.

It’s all about choices

The choice of “Hellhound” as a title was inspired by blues titan and Mississippi guitarist Robert Johnson who allegedly met the devil at the crossroads and chose to sell his soul for the gift of hus virtuoso guitar skills. Too many people stumble through life’s successions of crossroads, barely aware of the choices they make which lead to more fateful intersections.

Write what you know: Main Character Autobiographical elements

Hellhound is an exploration of my own inner journey to understanding. I have long pondered why good white Mississippians did evil things and calmly accepted those and the misdeeds of others as “the way things are supposed to be.”

Like the main character, Brad Stone, I was born into a privileged and genealogically prominent, plantation-owning family with a direct line to a U.S. Senator whose statue is in the U.S. Capitol and is credited as a prime creator of Jim Crow Segregation.

Like Stone, I’ve always been a scientist since I was about 10. I’m still hands-on, focusing now on environmental chemicals: Stealth Syndromes Human Study (web link), The Stealth Syndromes Project (web link), and the Center for Research on Environmental Chemicals in Humans (web link). I’ve been in charge of a published human research study (web link) associated with the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. I have met parts of Brad Stone in the process.

Some Relevant Links To Supplemental Material

Hellhound on Amazon

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