Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 55

JUNE 2013
When I retired from the
Foreign Service in September
2012, I think I worried for all
of two days about whether
or not I’d be able to maintain
the schedule of activity I’d
become accustomed to over
the past 30 years. Then, my
two-day vacation was over
and I promptly forgot I’d ever
had such strange thoughts.
I’ve been more or less
full-time employed since
I was thirteen, the year I
started high school. During
those four years, I worked
nights for a poultry com-
pany, studied during the
day and was a stringer for
my local newspaper. My
first published fiction was in
1957, when I won a Sunday
school magazine short story
contest. After high school, I
joined the army, and for the
next 20 years, wherever I was
stationed, I moonlighted for
local newspapers and maga-
zines as a writer, photogra-
pher or artist.
During the late 1970s,
when I was assistant public
affairs officer for the 18th
Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg,
North Carolina, I did news
and photo essays, theatrical
reviews, historical and travel
articles for local newspapers
and regional magazines, and
was editorial cartoonist for
a weekly in a small town just
outside the base. I also con-
tributed poetry to a number
of anthologies.
A Non-Retiring Life
In 1982, I retired from the
army and joined the Foreign
Service. My writing slacked
off a bit, especially in the
early years as I established
my new career. I still did the
occasional travel article or
poem, and in the early 2000s
I began working on my first
novel, a mystery set in Wash-
ington, D.C. I love mysteries,
but those with a D.C. setting
were, in my view, populated
with too many politicians,
lobbyists, spies and high roll-
ers. I wanted to see some-
thing that showed the amaz-
ing diversity of the ‘common’
citizens of the area.
It took me nearly ten years
to get that first one done.
Color Me Dead”
was pub-
lished in 2008, and was the
start of a series that is now
up to number 16. The story
of Al Pennyback, a retired
army officer turned private
detective—a man who hates
guns and injustice, and views
politicians and bureaucrats
with disdain—seems to reso-
nate with a rather loyal cadre
of readers on both sides of
the Atlantic. Sales are mod-
estly steady and most of the
reviews have been good.
My first published book,
though, was a small tome on
leadership, “
Things I Learned
from My Grandmother About
Leadership and Life
,” which
grew out of conversations I
had with a young econom-
ics officer and speechwriter
when I was ambassador to
Cambodia. I have a rather
homespun leadership style
(a la Will Rogers and Mark
Twain), and he suggested
I write a book about it. It
seemed an interesting
project, so in 2003 I began
a draft, and in 2008 it was
published. The following
year, I did a follow-on, “
Charge: Effective Leadership
for the Twenty-first Century
Both books can be found
in the State Department
Library—something I’m quite
proud of.
I’ve always been an
eclectic reader, and my writ-
ing reflects that. In addition
to my mystery series and
three books on leadership,
I’ve done a photo-journal of
my travels through southern
Africa, a two-book sword
and sorcery fantasy series,
a book of short stories, an
urban comedy/fantasy about
a 40-year-old loser who is
bedeviled by the spirit of his
grandmother, and a parody
of “
Alice in Wonderland
which features a young inner
city kid who stumbles down
a rat hole and discovers a
fantastic world beneath the
city. “
Wallace in Underland”
probably one of the most fun
things I’ve written.
Oh, and I also still do ad
writing and various articles
for the Yahoo news site. I’m
a content manager for an
online Texas travel destina-
tions site and I manage two
blogs. My blogs reflect the
way my mind works—they’re
all over the place with pho-
tography, art, advice on writ-
ing, my personal philosophy
and, at times, strong doses of
Am I worried about run-
ning out of something to
do and being bored? I don’t
think so. I have a quota of
1,000 words per day—some-
thing I learned from a veteran
journalist in North Carolina—
and now I’m able to manage
more than five times that
on a daily basis. At that rate,
my list of pending writing
projects will be exhausted
sometime in the next cen-
Amb. Ray joined the Foreign
Service in 1982. He served
in Freetown, Guangzhou,
Shenyang and Ho Chi Minh
City and as ambassador
to Cambodia from 2003 to
2005, and to Zimbabwe from
2009 to 2012. He retired
from the Foreign Service in
September 2012. To keep up
with Amb. Ray, please see
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