Tag Archives: review

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.

Manticon 2017

During Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to have a table at Manticon 2017 in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Manticon is a military sci-fi convention that draws a modest and enthusiastic crowd. Based off the Honorverse books of David Weber (of which I am an avid reader), the convention included a charity auction, panels on various topics of interest, and a game room that includes Artemis and Battletech simulators.

As this was my first fandom convention (aside from an hour spent at a very minor Star Trek con to see Leonard Nemoy and William Shatner speak in 2006), I didn’t sign up for any panels or games. I didn’t sign up for anything, preferring to leave my schedule open, as I didn’t know what to expect. The woman who got me into the convention asked me to make two cheesecakes for the con-suite, which I did (salted caramel and peanut butter cup). There were no leftovers.

My Table at Manticon

My table was a simple affair, particularly on the first day where it was only my book displays and a pile of business cards. After talking it over with two fellow authors at the convention, I added a hand-traced map of the Kingdom of North Mississippi and a newsletter sign up page.

That's a well-traced map.
My setup at the Manticon convention.

Yes, it was not particularly flashy, but without knowing what a convention table was like, I didn’t know what sort of stuff to invest in. Luckily, the other two authors with their tables in the same area were willing to give me some advice on what to do at future cons.

As for location, well, it was pretty much in the middle. It was right in front of the elevator bank, between the panel rooms and the main / vendor rooms. Pretty much everyone going to the convention at some point passed my table, usually many times. I got a lot of people stopping by to talk with me and look over my book. It was quite nice to get such a warm reception.

Being At Manticon

I admit I was a bit apprehensive about being in a public place for so long while trying to get people interested enough in my book to buy it from me. I’m a bit of an introvert (maybe more than a bit), and I’ve never been a particularly good salesperson.

That being said, I have been feeling rather confident lately. And I read a few ‘how to do X as an extrovert’ books, which mostly boiled down to be comfortable and don’t try to be something you’re not. So I put out my display and engaged people who stopped to take a look.

As I mentioned above, the people gave me a warm reception. A lot of people stopped by to learn about me and my book, and I conversed in kind. I had an hour-long conversation with one young woman about storytelling in media, including some shared video game experiences and the advantages that the Star Trek Animated Series had in its stories. Some people were genuinely intrigued by my concept and excited to buy my book.

The Manticon patrons wore uniforms, ranging from technician jump suits to resplendent admiral’s uniforms. They came in from all over the world: I spoke with someone who flew in from Scotland, and there was a group from an Eastern European country that I didn’t meet but heard them conversing.

I did not attend any panels or join in the simulator games. This was my first convention, so I decided to ease into it and I did not want to over-schedule myself. I was there to be an author and do the author thing.

And it went well. I missed my sales goal by one, and ran out of business cards. Totally calling it a win.

Beyond the Convention

I spent the days at the table, but the nights hanging out with the patrons.

The convention rented out a number of rooms (maybe an entire floor, I’m not sure) for their post convention parties. Consuite had food and a assortment of drinks themed off the books. There was Marine Country, where the Marine fans congregated with their own bar (visited by Dale Dye, who stole the show). There was a Scotch room (which I visited) and a Klingon room (which I didn’t get around to).

I got to speaking to a few people (again hanging out with Dale Dye a bit), relaxing to the point where I could enjoy myself. I had stop drinking early, since I had to drive across the cities to get home, but it was definitely a good party atmosphere. Next time I’ll see if I can’t get a room to avoid an hour of transit every day.

Lessons for Future Conventions

The first lesson is I’m going to admit is; I need a flashier set up. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but enough to catch people’s attention. I’ve got some ideas, but I haven’t ordered anything yet. I’m waiting a week to go over my brainstorming list and see what makes it through round two.

Second lesson: get on a panel or two. One of the other authors at the event had two, and he said he had some good discussions with patrons about his topics. Next time, I’ll see what is available.

Third: get a room there if feasible. Not only can I remain longer in the evening, I can avoid a long morning commute.

Conclusion

Did I have fun? Absolutely.

Did I meet some cool people? I did. In addition to Dale Dye, I got David Weber to sign two books. I met a group of people I’m excited to join. And I got to  see people get excited by my book.

Am I looking forward to future cons? I am. I don’t know when the next one is, but I’ll let you know when I have future appearances scheduled.

For now, I’m concentrating on Book 2. Maybe I can have it ready by Manticon 2018.

Thanks for reading!

-Michael

A Renaissance Lesson

With Renaissance Calling published, I wanted to take a moment to write down a lesson or four, to help anyone reading this who is thinking of publishing, and to remind myself down the line of mistakes I made. Renaissance Calling is my first book, so I’m not surprised I made some errors. With Book 2, I’m going to get these right.

Taking notes.

  1. Proofreading versus Editing

My editor was a huge help in prepping Renaissance Calling for publishing. She helped me refine my writing voice, clarify my story, and improve the general quality of the writing flow. I’m thankful she’s agreed to stick around for Book 2. But as it turns out, neither of us are proofreaders; we get into the flow of the story without looking at the details. So when several people who backer Renaissance Calling came to me with issues, I cringed.

Despite our best efforts, a number of small errors made it through to the first printing. Some of them were simple things (example: ‘while he attached’, instead of ‘attacked’). Others were a bit ‘how did I miss that’ (example: Horace spelled Horus on several occasions). One was downright ‘I didn’t know that was a thing’ (the single quotation marks would switch between straight and curly, sometimes on the same page).

A bit embarrassing, but a lot of books, even best sellers, have small errors. I’ve still gotten overwhelmingly positive responses to the story, even from people who handed me lists of corrections. So I’ve made the changes and I’m replacing the documents for future printings and eBooks. I’d like to say no one will find anymore, but I’m only human.

Lesson Learned: I need to spend more time and effort on proofreading.

How: A couple of things I can do.

  • I found a few mistakes when I was practicing reading out loud for my launch party, so I have made reading out loud part of my revision process.
  • A number of the detail-oriented people who handed me lists are willing to proofread future books, which will also help.
  • I’ve made some notes about common errors I made, and will endeavor to account for them in future projects.
  1. Publishing Date

The Kickstarter campaign finished in early November, and I had a tentative publishing date of February 10th (the main character’s birthday). All I had to do was write a Backer Book, finish editing Renaissance Calling, get ISBN’s and Barcodes, get final covers from my cover artist, and load all the documents to the printers. I could do all that in three months, right?

Well, not so fast. The Backer Book turned into a bigger endeavor than I thought it would, finishing at twice as long as I planned. The cover was some back and forth due to differences in RBG and CMYK formats.  And it took a lot more time and money to proof test prints of my book than I thought it would (details in No. 4 below).

The date was pushed back to March 8th, then April 8th. As I wrote about before, I got accidentally published on Amazon when I forgot to change the publishing date on one of the publishing sites. This was a bit of a relief, as I no longer had to feel rushed about getting my stuff done and out there.

Lesson Learned: I need to set a publishing date far enough out that I can get everything done.

How: As I’m scheduling my next book, I’m considering how long it took me to get Renaissance Calling into print and adjusting for differences in the book size (I’m anticipating Book 2 to be noticeably longer). My goal is to have everything done, proofed and printed two weeks before publishing.

  1. Figure out prices before committing

A minor error that I should have foreseen, but I assumed the costs of my books were going to be $12 for paperback and $16 for hardcover. I don’t know how I came to those numbers, but I was pretty certain of that going in. So much so that I had the original barcode for the paperback made with $12 on it.

Turns out, however, that after printing and distribution costs (particularly for the hardcover), sticking with those princes was not feasible. If I had, I’d be making less than a dollar on the paperback, and I’d be losing money on the hard cover. I had to raise the price for both formats.

Not a huge deal, except the first round of paperbacks got printed with the price still listed at $12. That’s been fixed and the correct price will displayed on future printings.

Lesson Learned: Do all the math before you set something in stone.

How: Not difficult; most printers and distributors have calculators to help you figure out the math. Take advantage of the tools. Work it out before you commit.

  1. Proofing and Printing

(Note: Proofing in this section was not for content or spelling, but for formatting errors when converting from Word to PDF and PDF to print.)

Proofing printed copies of Renaissance Calling turned out to take longer, and be more expensive, than I anticipated. A lot of this was due to this being my first book, and not being experienced enough to understand what I was doing.

With Createspace, the process is pretty easy. Once a PDF of the internal documents is loaded (and their website can convert Word docs to PDF), it can be proofed through an online viewer that organizes it as if it was a book. I should have spent more time reviewing it online, instead of ordering a proof copy and finding formatting errors in that.

Ingram Spark is much more complex. The files being uploaded have to be corrected by you, the author, which can result in some issues when the formatting is off. Issues that are a pain in the ass to correct, since Spark is so particular. Luckily there is an option to ignore the issues and continue, so when you’re black and white PDF is being kicked back as having color (Yeah, I never figured out what this was), you can tell it to continue with a little waiver. They do provide a PDF to proof, but not the snazzy online program Createspace does.

In both cases, it took a bit longer to get physical proofs than I expected. It also cost a bit more, since I had missed that Ingram Spark requires $50 to set up a file and $25 to correct. With two books set up at Ingram (hardcover and backer book), one correction each, and two proof copies of all three books, I spent well over $200 just proofing. If I had been on the ball, I could have saved about $100.

Lesson Learned: Give enough time to proof and print thoroughly, and be careful before you print off a copy.

How: There are a number of things I can do for this one.

  • Both: Convert the document to PDF and check thoroughly. A lot of errors come from this step, so checking the PDF should catch most of them. Check it several times.
  • Createspace: Proof the online program several times before confirming.
  • Ingram Spark: Proof the provided PDF several times before confirming.

Conclusion

As this was my first novel, I’m not surprised I made a few errors. But the point of an error is to learn a lesson. By writing these down now, I am going to remember them when I get back into the publishing process, which should be sometime next year.

If you’ve got any of your own tips, feel free to share. Thanks!

-Michael

Closing up 2016 and into 2017

Hard to believe the year is almost over, and a new one about to christmas-iconbeing. As I’m closing up 2016, and looking forward into 2017, I take a moment to consider both.

From 2016

In terms of writing, I didn’t get a whole lot done.  Sure, I finished the rough draft of a fantasy novel, which is great, I’m glad to have another one under my belt, but I did little other writing.

I spent most of this year working towards publishing;  I went through a number of artists trying to get artwork done;  I worked with an editor to get Renaissance Calling finalized.

I spent a lot of time getting a plan in place for when the project is done and Renaissance Calling gets published.  Learning the who to go to for what seemed daunting, but you cut through enough advertising you can find what you’re looking for.

I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign.  That was a bit nerve wracking, but I got it done.

I commissioned and artist for cover artwork.  A few rounds of back and forth later, I’ve got a cover (which I will be releasing soon).

And now I’m close to being done with my first book.

For 2017

I have a number of goals for 2017.

For starters, I plan to finish the publishing process and get Renaissance Calling to print.

Second, I plan to finish the rough draft for Templar Scholar, Book 2 of the Renaissance Army Series.  A decent start is already underway, awaiting the arrival of characters created by the backers.

Third, I want to finish the rough draft of the fantasy trilogy.  Book one is done, and the other two are outlined.  I want to get the three books done so I can make sure all three line up before I get the first one ready for publication.

I don’t want to set too many goals for 2017, but I want to stay focused.  Ideally, I’ll publish two books in 2018.  Now, I know that’s a large amount of work (now more than ever) but I think I can do it.  I’m already writing more efficiently: now that I know how much changes between rough and final drafts, I’m not so focused on getting the rough draft ‘just right’.

So as I close up 2016 and look into 2017, I want to thank you for reading this and supporting me, and I hope you have a great new years.

Keep on writing!

-Michael

yWriter

yWriter5

http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html

When I write, I create a rich backstory for the world I’m writing in. And while I can remember many details of that world, I can’t remember them all. Trying to keep track of all those details has been a constant pain for me, especially as I replace computers, send documents from work to home, or even just forget where I put the file with all the information.

One day I ventured onto the Internet to look for a database program. I was hoping to find something that would allow me to create a Wikipedia type database, with links between files so I could move from one page to another. I did eventually find one, but first I found yWriter.

yWriter showed up as a writing program designed for writers. In the words of the website:

yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. yWriter was designed by an author, not a salesman!

I downloaded it and gave it a try…and I am very glad I did.

Organization

yWriter most appeals to me because of the organization it applies to the writing project.  Before, I would write with either a single file for the whole project or each one file per chapter.  I wasn’t really happy with either one.  yWriter allows me to add chapters to a project, and add scenes to chapters.  The program keeps an automatic word count, and even tracks how many words I add in a given day.

For any scene and chapter I can add notes separate of the words in the actual document.  A writer can also keep track of a number of Details for the scene, including Type, Tags, Importance, and various Ratings (I don’t use these, personally, but they’re there to be used).

yWrite One
yWriter

What I really enjoy is the ability to turn scenes off, so that the program keeps them but they don’t apply to the book as a whole.  For example, I recently read a scene that started strong but petered out into a boring exchange.  I copied the scene and turned the first one off, so I can access it, but it doesn’t appear in my word count.  I deleted most of the copied scene and I can continue writing without losing the first attempt.

Databases

yWriter has three different databases: Characters, Locations and Items.

Adding an item is as easy as highlighting a word and right clicking.  Once it is added, I can add notes and pictures to the database without changing anything of the scenes.  I can get as detailed or as simple as I want.

This is a nice program to keep track of the little things when I add a new character, but it does have a problem.  The database will find every instance of the word and track it, even if it isn’t an instance that you want it to track.  For example, if I have a character named Mars, the program will highlight the first half of the word Marshall.

Spell Checking and Printing

No program is perfect, and yWriter’s flaws come towards the end of the process.

yWriter has a Spell Checker option, but it is not very good.  This would normally be a deal breaker, but the programmer managed to add a way to side step this.  You can export chapters to Microsoft Word and spell check your work there, then import back into yWriter (just be careful not to delete the coding that allows yWriter to import to the correct chapters and scenes).

The printing function is okay, but I’ve found it much more useful to import to Microsoft Word and fix the formatting before printing or changing to a PDF.  Part of this may stem from so much of my first project in yWriter being imported from Google Docs, Microsoft Word and Open Office.  I’m hoping this will improve over subsequent projects.

Conclusion

I have found yWriter to be a very useful program, both as a writing system and as a simple database for notes.  And that is fully admitting I don’t use everything this program has to offer.  I hope some of you go and try it out.

-Michael