Book Report: Red Phoenix Burning

‘Red Phoenix Burning’ (2016) is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for a while now. Written by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson, it is a sequel to one of Bond’s books, ‘Red Phoenix’ (1990), which is a book I’ve read a dozen times over the years. 

Both books deal with a war on the Korean peninsula. In Red Phoenix, it was a North Korean invasion of South Korea. In Red Phoenix Burning, it’s the opposite. Early in the book, a coup attempt in North Korea sparks a civil war. That’s bad enough, but the question on everyone’s mind is about North Korea’s WMDs: the biological, chemical and nuclear weapons North Korea has developed and hidden about the country. As the political and military situation develops, both characters within North Korea trying to survive, and characters outside of Korea trying to contain the situation, have to contend with the ramifications of the choices before them, but how other actors will respond and possible escalate. 

What’s nice about revisiting this story after 25 years is running into several characters from the first book and seeing how they have matured. The young officer getting confident in his commission is now a decision maker for a general; others are now generals. The children of several characters return to influence the story in their own way. It’s a connection that I can appreciate in sequels. 

The book does two other things well. First – and this is something the first book did well – it captures the essence of international politics of a Korean civil war. The US and South Korea are very much worried about WMDs, but they also must worry about the Chinese and their military forces; China has its own interests and policies and will not just sit by as China is unified under an American-allied government, nor can it ignore WMDs any more than the US can. The interplay of the two, and how they influence the decision-making processes of the characters on the ground in Korea, makes up a huge chunk of the story. 

Second, the book hits a lot of points of how modern technology is used in warfare. From the prevalence of drones for intelligence gathering to the use of tablets by officers to view and disseminate information, the differences between a 1980’s war and a 2010’s war is striking. And that doesn’t take into account the differences in tanks, artillery and aircraft from book to book. It’s a completely different feel of warfare. 

That being said, the book does have a few let downs. Where Book 1 had a lot of combat, particularly infantry combat, but also submarine, airplane and commando actions, Book 2 has much less. With the story focusing on the politics and the interplay, Book 2 glosses over the fighting. Most of the combat that we get to read is the important things that influence the decision making; a bloody nose to get attention, an air strike to cut off an axis of advance, etc. I would go so far as to say the difference between books is due to the difference of emphasis; Book 1 needed to emphasize the grind-nature of that war, while this one is more about the higher politics and WMD hunting, so it doesn’t need combat scenes to tell its story. But it’s still a noticeable difference. 

Still, it was overall a very enjoyable book. There was nothing that made me shake my head and think ‘Oh, come on!’ I found the decisions and their consequences to be believable. I’m glad I read it and look forward to reading it again someday. 

Recommended: For a nice techno-thriller with a heavy strategic/political emphasis. 

Not Recommended: If you’re looking for non-stop action or combat heavy storytelling.  

Getting into Short Stories

In 2018 I realized that while I’m okay with my main book series being 100,000+ word novels that take two years to write and produce, I’ve got far too many stories to tell to make all of them that long. I also noticed that most of the authors at the events I was at, many of whom have more than one book, make their books much smaller than I do. So I resolved to write smaller books and short stories.

It turns out I’m not alone. A number of my friends were interested in writing more, so we’ve started a short story exchange. Every first Friday of the month we exchange short stories. Some people hope to publish, some people just want to flex some creative muscles. I was hoping to learn how to write more concise narratives, while using this as an opportunity to try out some science fiction and fantasy rules, see if they make for interesting stories.

It’s been more than a year since we started this, and I’m glad to say it’s been working well. I’ve summitted a number of very poor stories to the group, but gotten a lot of valuable feedback about both style and content. I’ve also had a number of stories where someone said ‘this feels like part of a larger story’, which isn’t what I’m going for. I want to be able to tell an interesting story within feeling like I need to make it a books.

The nice thing is, after all the exchanges we’ve done so far, I’ve managed to succeed a few times. I now have two stories I think are good enough to submit to magazines or journals. One is science fiction, one is fantasy, but both have gotten good reviews from friends.

I’m still writing larger stories. I’m beginning major revisions to a fantasy novel, and I’m researching for Book 3. But for now I’ve got a nice outlet for creativity, and readers who enjoy my work.

Good times.

Cheers!

-Michael


Book Report: With the Old Breed

I recently read through With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge. Published in 1981, Sledge takes us through his experiences as a Marine in World War 2. Sledge enlisted in the Marines in 1943 and trained as a mortarman, assigned to K/3/5 (K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment), in the 1st Marine Division. He landed on the island of Peleliu, a controversial and probably unnecessary battle in late 1944, and then on Okinawa in 1945.

Sledge’s writing is not to provide details of tactics, but to convey the experience of warfare as he recorded it. And he saw a lot of combat. Peleliu and Okinawa were both horrendous fights: the Japanese used defense in depth tactics to prolong each battle into months long campaigns. Terrain and weather (coral reef and extreme heat on Peleliu, mud and torrential rain on Okinawa) were as much as factor as enemy actions. Even friendly units and superior officers had to be dealt with.

As a young Marine, Sledge looked to the ‘Old Breed’, the veterans of Guadalcanal (and in some cases, World War 1) who made up the sergeants of the company. To those just fresh out of training camps in the US, their seniors seemed like men from a different era; their confidence and experience helped prepare the newcomers who were afraid of getting killed or, worse, showing cowardice.

Sledge braves his first combat on Peleliu, experiencing friendly fire, loss of friends, and extreme thirst. Across the coral rocks and into the heights of the island, K/3/5 sees a lot of combat, and Sledge takes the reader with them.

Sledge doesn’t try to elevate the Marines to mythical status; he writes to show the conditions the Marines fought in, down to the terrible details that soldiers often gloss over in their narratives.  He describes the first time he sees a dead soldier, and what it’s like to suffer from an artillery barrage the goes on for what feels like ever. For Sledge, it’s about showing the reader what the Marines went through and discussing why they survived.

By the time Sledge lands on Okinawa, he is a veteran. The landing feels different for him: he’s seen combat, so he knows he won’t run; there’s just the fear of death and letting his comrades down. Even so, he still experiences and describes the depths that battle on Okinawa went to. The harsh rain and difficulty not only supplying troops but removing the dead turns the battlefield into one reminiscent of trench warfare of World War 1.

Sledge is sparing in his judgment; he does not condemn men who break under bombardment or fall victim to sickness. When he speaks of army soldiers, he does so with respect (they all march into the same combat). Those he does judge are those who act foolishly, such as rear echelon soldiers who come up to grab souvenirs, or orders from on high that feel like a waste of time but must be followed.

Finally finishing the Okinawa operations, Sledge describes pulling back and beginning the process of refitting and preparing for the next assault when word comes of the end of the war. The anticipated (and feared) invasion of Japan would not happen. Instead, Sledge and the marines will face some time as occupiers in China, helping maintain order as the Japanese pull out of that country (described in Sledge’s second book, China Marine). But they will be returning home alive.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is a simple retelling of a man’s experiences of battles most often viewed from much higher up the chain of command. It made no effort to idealize either friend or foe, but told the story of what was. And that’s all it really needed to be.

Recommended: To learn about the conditions and the mindset of a World War 2 combat Marine.

Not Recommended: If you get squeamish about injuries, death and decay.

Goals for 2021

Instead of thinking back of all the missed conventions, books events, and time spent not writing, I’m going to look forward at 2021 as a chance to continue my journey as a writer. So I’m setting myself some goals.

1. Blog More Often

I’ve come to believe that a blog is not just about putting yourself out there. It’s a chance to be a writer in those times between books and events when there isn’t too much to feel like a writer. My goal is to blog at least once a month; a monthly update, an article about writing, a book report. Just something to do with writing.

2. Get a book ready for publication

I’ve got a fantasy novel that could be ready to publish sometime in 2021, I just need to finish the re-write and see if it works. I’m also getting into Book 3 of the Renaissance Army Series, and I want to get that ready to go either late 2021 or sometime 2022.

3. Send a Short Story to a Magazine

I’ve actually written some good short stories over the last few years. I’m looking to send them out to some publications, see if I can get them published and my name out there.

4. Run a Books and Beer Event/Attend Conventions

This one is dependent on when things get back to normal, but I’ve been wanting to attend more conventions to get my books out there. Also, once the breweries open up again, I’d like to get the Books and Beer Pop-Up Bookstores running. Those were fun.

Here’s hoping 2021 goes more our way than 2020 did.

Cheers!

Michael

How is it October already?

2020. Man, who thought this year would turn out the way it has. All the conventions cancelled, Books and Beer on hiatus, plans disrupted, then burned, then buried in a bog. Just…wow.

Earlier this year, when I found myself facing furlough, I promised myself I wouldn’t just let it pass me by. It was going to be an opportunity to get stuff done. I was going to write so many books, and lose so much weight, and just get so much done.

Of course, that’s not what happened. I got some writing done, but no where near the tsunami of publishable materials I thought I might get done. I actually did a NANOWRIMO challenge in July to write a science fiction novel, a way to force myself to relearn how to write at home. And as I’m back to work, I can get some writing done there. My coffee shop is still pick-up only, but I’m hopeful for the future.

What I’m Writing

I’ve got a couple of projects going. The main one is re-writing a fantasy novel to prepare it for publishing. I’ve got some good feedback on the story from some alpha readers, and I might make it a November Writing Challenge to rewrite the thing.

I’ve got the July SciFi story, which is a very rough draft. It’ll need some significant work to get it ready, but it’s doable. Book 3 of the Renaissance Army series is getting picked at; I’ve worked out some timeline and story concerns that were bugging me, now I’m writing some scenes, storyboarding and researching. Always researching.

Working on short stories. Have a couple it might be fun to send to magazines or the like. We’ll see if that works.

What I’m Reading

Right now I’m working through ‘The Complete Novels of Jane Austen’, which is one ebook with nine Jane Austen books. Before I’d seen the movies of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice¸ and I really enjoyed reading those stories. Whomever made the movies did a good job of consolidating characters and trimming the plotlines. The confusion I found in the books weren’t in the films.

The rest of the stories I’m reading cold, which makes for a bit of a challenge as I’m two centuries removed from Jane Austen’s time. I’m sure there are things I’m missing. But I’m still enjoying the dialogue. It on a level all of its own.

Fini

I don’t know how 2021 will look. I’m guessing it’ll be a slow slog back to normal, or what will pass for normal after all this. I won’t have a book out this year, that’s for sure, but next year I hope to publish at least one.

Of course, that’s still a lifetime away.

Cheers!

Michael

Tales of the Templars

The Templar Badge from ‘Templar Scholar’

The Tales of the Templars is a collection of short stories I’m working on. The idea comes from my second book, Templar Scholar, in which Sasha Small joins the Templar Project, a group of young men and women being trained by the Renaissance Army as leaders of the new Renaissance. Including Sasha, there are twelve Templars, each with their own stories and backgrounds.

The Tales of the Templars will include stories that follow Templars other than Sasha. It will allow me to explore not only new characters, but aspects of the world that Sasha has not experienced. One character grew up stealing to survive; how did he end up a Templar? Another character fought in a battle Sasha only watched from afar. What was that battle like to those involved?

I have sixteen potential stories, with each of the eleven Templars involved in at least one. Some of them are pre-Templar Stories, which is to say they occur before the beginning of Templar Scholar, some of them during the events of Renaissance Calling. Others are Templar Stories, which take place during Templar Scholar.

Will Tales of the Templars include all sixteen stories? No. And here’s where my readers come in. I have a page on my website (linked here) where readers can vote for their favorite story ideas. Each of the sixteen stories is listed with a synopsis, and at the bottom you can vote for up to five of the stories you want to read.

If you’ve read Templar Scholar you’ll know the characters and some of the events, and you’ll probably have characters you want to know more about. If you haven’t read the book, then hopefully some of the stories sound good anyway. And if you want to buy the book, you can do so here.

So take a look and let me know what you think.

Cheers!

-Michael

Templar Scholar

I am excited to announce Templar Scholar, Book 2 in the Renaissance Army series.

Templar Scholar

Templar Scholar follows Sasha Small as she joins a group of future leaders of the Renaissance called the Templar Project. Taking the name Scholar, Sasha works to become the best officer she can be, as the war of the Renaissance Army continues to heat up.

Amazon has ebook and hardcover already available for pre-order. Paperback should be coming soon.

Want signed copies? Both Renaissance Calling and Templar Scholar are available for order off my website’s store page.

Accepting Imperfection

When I was younger, I heard someone say that an artist is never satisfied with their work. They know what was in their mind when they began, and they see the final project, and it always falls flat in one aspect or another. It’s just something that all artists feel.

That saying has been on my mind as I’m working through the final stages of Book 2. As publishing gets closer and closer, I find myself battling anxiety about what is in the book and what is not. Have I stressed this point enough? Does this relationship get enough space? Will the reader take away what I want them to, or am I too vague?

There’s no way to get rid of these anxieties. They can even be helpful. The anxiety forces me as a writer to keep working, to pay attention to what is bothering me. Rewrite, research, revise, and continue.

Accepting the imperfection of my work is a part of the process. I really like Book 2. There are plenty of things I wish I could put in, but size constraints and the flow of the story keep me from doing so, and that’s okay. No story tells everything.

And when the anxiety and worry starts to grow, I remind myself that I’ve had six people read through the various drafts. All of them said they liked the book. If I trust them to advise me on editorial matters, I should trust them to tell me the truth on the quality of the book. An outside viewpoint carries weight against an inside doubt.

Ultimately, I will always feel that anything I’ve written is imperfect, and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough that I feel comfortable with other people reading it. The stories I tell are of imperfect people in an imperfect world. Imperfection is part of the game.

Cheers!

-Michael

Michael Bernabo in 2019

As 2018 comes to a close, I spend some time looking back at what I’ve done and what I’ve not done. What I wish I did better and what I regret not doing.

The main take away is that I would liked to have done more conventions, and I’m annoyed I didn’t publish anything in 2018. With those in mind, I want to make some commitments to myself and my readers for 2019.

One: Publish Renaissance Army Book 2

This one is going to happen. I’m heading into the Beta readers section, finalizing the cover art and text, and preparing for printing. Slow and steady wins the race.

Two: Finish Rough Draft of Renaissance Army Book 3

The third book is already in the works. I’ve got some key scenes written down and I’m working on the outline. I’ll need to do some research and reading, but there’s a whole year to play with.

Three: Launch my database website

I’ve been building a database website for the Renaissance Army series. Its a website that includes rank insignia, history of the nations, and timeline of events. It will let readers who want to learn more know more, and help me keep information on the world in a place where I won’t lose it.

Four: Get a non-Renaissance Army book ready for publishing

I have a lot of book ideas, so I want to get something else ready for publication. There are plenty of possible stories that I could go with, and it is unlikely they would be as long as the RAM books.

Five: Write more short stories

I’m trying to look at short stories as a way to test out mechanics of worlds, debut characters, and just practice things I’m not used to writing. So in 2019 I’m going to write more short stories.

Six: Blog and Post More

Essentially I want to be more sociable on social media. I feel it is one area of the whole self-publishing author that I have not been successful at.

Seven: Get an Audiobook out for Renaissance Army books.

I may have a lead on a female voice to bring Renaissance Calling and its sequel to audibook. If that doesn’t work out, I have some other options. I aim to have both recorded when Book 2 is released.

So that’s my seven goals for 2019. Looking forward to writing as much as I can, and I hope you reach your own writing goals as well.

Cheers!

-Michael

The tale of an author, and his blog.