December 1st Update

November was a busy month, with a trip out of state for a family birthday, then a trip back home for Thanksgiving taking up two whole weekends. What free time I have had has been geared towards my upcoming pop-up bookstore (see below for details), but I still managed to get some writing and, just as importantly, some planning done.

Book Projects

I got The Colonel Lieutenant to well over 20,000 words, which is nice. What’s even better is that one of those scenes proved to be a blessing. While writing it, I realized I was going about one of the subplots completely the wrong way. Now, I have a much better idea of how that will play out. My goal is to get a rough draft done by the end of the month. Doable, but a stretch.

Not much work done on Orcfyre or Tales of the Templars, but I’m still picking at them.

Movies and TV

Worked myself to the end of Season 2 of What we do in the Shadows. Still enjoyable, but not bingeable. Saw the first two episodes of Hawkeye with family over Thanksgiving. Looking forward to how that plays out.

Got out to see Dune in the theaters for my birthday. Overall I liked it; they kept to the story but got the feel of the Dune universe. Also saw Shang-Chi when it got to Disney+. A lot to like about that movie, though I could nitpick it if I wanted to.

Reading

Managed to finish an impressive five books over the month, getting me well over my 36 books for the year goal. Now I’m aiming for 45 books.

Knocked out two more books in Philippa Gregory’s Plantagenet and Tudor novels, the Red Queen about Margaret Beaufort and the Kingmaker’s Daughter about Anne Neville. Expect Book Reports on those soon.

Also read through the graphic novel Harlem Hellfighters about the 369th Infantry Regiment in World War 1, an all-black regiment that fought valiantly in the trenches, often to be ignored by the government of their country. Very hard to read as they author and illustrator don’t hold back from the crap those soldiers had to experience.

During my out-of-state trip I read through a Warhammer 40K eBook, Yarick: Imperial Creed. This is a book set about 40 thousand years in the future in a grimdark science fantasy universe, and covers the first campaign of one of the celebrated heroes in that universe. I’d give it 3 of 5; parts of it are pretty enjoyable, but what could have been a book of political intrigue quickly became ‘nope, it’s spiritual corruption’, supported by a cast of copy/paste characters whose names I’ve already forgotten. At least the character came off well.

The fifth book I finished was a re-read; Call to Duty, the first book in the Honorverse prequel series Manticore Ascendant. Set in the sci-fi universe well before the grand battles of the Havenite wars, the characters of this series have to rely on ingenuity instead of technology to solve their problems. I’m rereading the series in anticipation of the fourth book being released early next year.

Gaming

Still working through Horizon: Zero Dawn. Maybe about half-way through the main campaign and a bit into a DLC storyline. Still enjoying the game, though like a Farcry game I’m wondering if it’ll keeps its balance between exploration and story.

In pen-and-paper news, one of my gaming groups is working through an Aliens RPG by Free League Publishing. Set after the events of Alien 3, the game puts your characters in the dystopian future of the Xenomorphs. The game, though, is fascinating as it it built to function much like a movie. Our characters have hidden agendas, there’s the possibility of PvP conflict, and the combat is fast and brutal. It’s a simple system but we’re having a lot of fun playing it.

What’s Next

On December 18th I’m running the 3rd AZ Gallery Pop-Up Bookstore, with nine authors set to display their books. The gallery will be showing their Tiny Artwork, all artwork is less than 10 x 10 inches and $100. It’ll be the first pop-up bookstore since 2019 and I’m excited to run it.

Other than that it’s keep writing and keep reading. Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving and will have a great holiday season. Cheers!

Michael

Book Report: White Queen

The second book in Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction series, The White Queen follows Elizabeth Woodville, from her first introduction to Edward of York (Spring of 1464), their marriage and coronation, through the War of the Roses, to the elevation of Henry VII and the nominal end of the war (April 1485).

First off, I want to say that this is a new experience for me. Other historical fiction series I’ve read fallow the same character or characters through their run. In this series, however, each book is from a different point of view. Elizabeth Woodville is the daughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg of the first book. They are characters in each other’s stories, but otherwise there’s little overlap. Indeed, Jacquetta as a character in this book seems a much more political animal than she did as the POV character in the first book. I expect this to continue through the series, as we see the same actions through the lenses of different POV characters, particularly when we see through the eyes of their enemies.

The Book

Much like the first book, the character has some minor supernatural gifts; she knows when people she’s related to have died, and possibly summons storms and spells comes into play with the Princes in the Tower (see below). And as the first one, these are used as plot devices without unending the story.

Also, in similarity to the last story, there was a bit of ‘What did you think would happen?’ going on, though it had a different flavor. When Elizabeth weds King Edward IV, it changes the political landscape of the kingdom. Edward can no longer be wed to a foreign princess, or to an influential noble. Elizabeth then has to use her influence to put her family (a relatively minor family of nobility) into positions of power for their own security. But doing so invites the danger from other nobility. It’s a real ‘what came first, the threat or the act?’ Did the Rivers family invite danger by securing their position? Maybe. Yet if they hadn’t, they’d have been susceptible to much lower threats that what they eventually ran into.

There are several characters in the story I very much like: Elizabeth’s older brother, Anthony, a bibliophile after my own heart, whose dreams of poetry and pilgrimage are constantly disrupted by real life. Edward IV is a fantastic character in the story, even as he commits the Machiavellian acts a king of the time must do to secure power. Both of them were fun characters to read about.

The Princes In the Tower (Spoilers)

This is one of the few things from the War of the Roses I was aware of, so it’s one of the things I paid most attention to. What surprised me was what the author did with it.

The History

The history of the mystery is simple. Edward IV died; his sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York (12 and 9, respectively) were kept in the Tower of London by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  Before the coronation of Edward, they were declared illegitimate, and Richard took the crown as Richard III. The children eventually disappeared. The fact is, no one knows what happened to them, and explaining all the theories would be a whole blog post in and of itself. For more info, check the Wikipedia page.

The Story

In this book, Elizabeth Woodville loses her son Edward to the Tower, ostensibly awaiting his coronation as king; she’s then put under pressure to send her other son, Richard, to follow. But Elizabeth does not trust Uncle Richard, and spirits her son off to hiding in Flanders, sending a lookalike in his place. When rumors of the disappearance begin to swirl, it is unclear who is responsible. Elizabeth is especially concerned because she has not heard the music she usually hears when someone has died. So she believe Edward is alive, but cannot prove it.

In my favorite scene of the book, Richard III covertly visits Elizabeth in Westminster Abby and inquires about the whereabouts of the princes, hoping that Elizabeth has spirited them away. He is upset because all of this will be laid at his feet, regardless of the actual culprit.

‘They will call me a monster.’ [Richard] pauses. ‘Whatever else I do in my life, this will cast a crooked shadow. All that everyone will ever remember of me is this crime.’ He shakes his head. ‘And I didn’t do it, and I don’t know who did it, and I don’t even know if it was done.’

-Richard III, The White Queen

Elizabeth does not come to any conclusion on the matter of responsibility. There is some indication it was Richard, but it’s never resolved if he’s responsible.

I’m curious to see how this all plays out in the future. Does Gregory assign blame to one party or another or does she leave the mystery alone? How does Elizabeth sending her son into hiding come into play in the future, or will that plotline disappear? I’ve got several books to read and find out more.

Conclusion

I liked the book. It was a good second story in the series, and continued the intrigues of the War of the Roses and the ridiculousness of monarch politics of the era. I’m remember to take the stories with a grain of salt; I have no idea if the characters involved were as Gregory writes them, or how much liberty she’s taking with their lives.

Book Report: 2034

2034: A novel of the Next World War (by Elliot Ackerman and ADM James Stavridis) was recommended to me by a friend who thought I’d enjoy it. For the most part he was right, though not in the way I originally expected. See, when I first reserved it at the library, I thought it was a book on the order of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising or Debt of Honor, where a world war starts with America at a disadvantage, but then the country turns it around and wins the day.

That’s not what this is.

2034 is more of a cautionary tale about the reliance on technology, particularly how it opens up the US to new forms of warfare. The surprises that China and her allies (Iran and Russia) pull on the US have to do with cyberwarfare, the invasion and disruption of communications networks and computers. US Technology doesn’t amount for much when it is neutralized or outright repurposed by enemy combatants. And when your technology fails, what options does a nation have when persecuting a war?

Part of what makes this a cautionary tale is that the book doesn’t include a lot of combat, and what combat there is finished very quickly. There’s a carrier battle in the South China Sea, and an invasion of Taiwan, but you don’t see those. You see the consequences, the shifts in the political board and the decisions that politicians chose, or feel they must, make.

In some ways, this reminded me of Guns of August, in that there’s the sense of inertia. You as the reader (and some of the characters) see a way out of the war without escalating, but the political inertia compels the nations to step down that path. Indeed, much of the first part of the book is the US reacting exactly as expected. Admiral Stavridis is experienced at high level military decisions, so I have to assume he’s bringing that experience to the book. In which case, oh dear.

Some people might think this is an anti-American book, which it really isn’t. It’s not saying America deserves to lose. It’s saying no one inherently deserves to be at the top, and there is danger in ignoring threats simply because you can’t imagine yourself losing. The patriotism of the book is to the American ideal, not to the political establishment. As one character thinks to himself, ‘… America was an idea. And ideas very seldom vanish.’

2034 is a book that makes you think. That’s what it was written to do. Not to entertain with cool battle scenes, but show you why those scenes would matter in a modern conflict and how much work has to be done before any conflict can start. Maybe you as a reader aren’t in a position to do much about that, but it’s still nice to stretch the mind to new ideas and perspectives. And this book certainly does that.

November Update

October was a good month. I figured out the last few big hurdles for my big projects and read a lot. I also completed the Inktober challenge, one drawing a day for 31 days. My drawing is getting better (though it’s not great), but the big thing is comfortable I am with showing some of it off. It kind of reminds me of my writing group preparing me for publishing a book, in that getting used to a small audience prepares you for a bigger one.

Book Projects

The third book the Renaissance Army series (tentatively titled The Colonel Lieutenant) is at just below 20,000 words. The good news is I figured out one of the subplots and worked out the events of the book, the last few hurdles I was dealing with in terms of preparation. A few minor things I’ll have to puzzle out, but I can at least get a lot of writing done.

The big re-write of my first fantasy novel (Orcfyre) is coming along. I wrote the ending chapters of the book earlier this month, because I needed to know what characters I had to introduce and what themes to play up. Maybe it’ll change, but for now I’m working up to it.

As for short stories, I’m still working on a couple. Want to have the first Tales of the Templars collections out next year sometime, so I’m trying to work out what stories to put in. If you’ve read Templar Scholar, feel free to head over to the voting page and chose which ones you’d like.

Movies and TV

Haven’t watched too many new things recently. Still working through What We Do in the Shadows, the vampire comedy show, about an episode every two or three days. I do like it, but I’m well into the second season and I’m wondering if the characters are going to stagnate. Since it keeps getting renewed, I don’t think it’ll be an issue.

Reading

Managed to get through four books in October. Reread Dune in preparation for the new movie. Started a new series, ‘The Plantagenet and Tudor novels’ by Philippa Gregory, a set of historical fiction novels working through the War of the Roses and the following histories. Reading them in chronological order, I got through Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen. Also read through the book 2034, a novel about the next world war and the impact of cyberwarfare on its outcome.

Gaming

Finished off Black Book, a video game set in Russia in the 1870’s. The main character is a witch, but in Slavic mythology that means something different than what we’re used to in western practices. Her quest to gain power to retrieve her dead fiancé delves into eastern mythology, and the company that made the game (a Russian studio) took efforts to help the translation to a western audience. The gameplay itself is pretty good, combat being done as a card game where new levels unlock new combos. There wasn’t a single fight I got into that I couldn’t figure out with what I had on hand.

Started up Horizon: Zero Dawn as the next story game. An adventure game with the same feel as a Farcry game but far sci-fi. I’m maybe a tenth of the way into the game, but it managed to pull a fantastic surprise on me. I don’t want to spoil it, but the introduction game was setting me up for a very different game than the one I found myself playing. It was fantastic.

In the Future

I’ve got a Books and Beer event coming up in December at AZ Gallery, so at least a chunk of November will be set aside to deal with that. No other events planned, but I expect to get into a couple in 2022.

Book Report: Lady of the Rivers

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory is a historical fiction novel, spanning about thirty years from the death of Joan of Arc to the beginning battles of the Wars of the Roses. The book follows Jacquetta of Luxembourg as she becomes a duchess of England and confident of the royal family. It is the first book in a series of 15 called the Plantagenet and Tudor novels.

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend of mine from my writing group, after mentioning my fondness for Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories. I got it from the library and gave it a read, and I really got into it.

The book is, mostly, historical fiction. I say mostly because Jacquetta has some very minor supernatural abilities. She can heard music when someone she knows has died, and can divine impressions of what the future will hold, enough to prepare herself but without being able to influence events. The author is very careful to use these abilities to augment the story without unending it.

The main character is not a major actor in the world; she commands no forces and wields no power. But as a duchess she has the ear of the queen, and much of the book is spent either trying to advise the queen on how to fix problems, or cataloguing the events of her era as they impact her family and her life. Her main focus in keeping her family safe.

What I really got into was the court of King Henry VI and how utterly ridiculous it came across. The king and queen (Margaret of Anjou) are shameless about rewarding their friends (the Lancasters) and insulting their enemies (the Yorks). As a reader I kept looking at their decisions thinking, ‘How do you think this will end well? You’re so blatantly playing favorites and then having a tantrum when things go sideways.’ I presume this has at least some basis in historical reality.

Also, I found the book was amusing because I spent most of it annoyed with the characters. First the English lords who burn Joan of Arc, then the Lancasters for being corrupt, then the Yorks for not respecting the Lancaster king. Not a lot of good guys in the leadership.

Anyway, I had fun reading the start to this series. I’ve already got the second one from the library, though I can’t start it until I finish the interim book.

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

The tale of an author, and his blog.