Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dracula vs. Frankenstein

Just finished Frankenstein the other night. Combined with Dracula, I've now successfully caught up on two classic, must-read sci-fi/fantasy novels. Both were good, but after much thought, I'm giving the nod to Dracula.

What tipped the balance?

Monster Characters (tie score): Both monsters are terrific. Deviously intelligent, immensely strong, and as agile as any professional athlete, both are more than a match for any mortal man. Frankenstein's monster was intelligent and agile? That was a surprise. I was used to the movie monster with big shoes and a square head. No so in the novel. Like Dracula, he is able to climb sheer cliffs, and Frankenstein's monster also easily dashes across an Alpine glacier. FM (he is never named) is also well-read and an eloquent speaker. In fact, of the two, FM is the more devious. Dracula gets props for special powers: assuming the form of mist, wolf, and bat, and of course, sucking blood and creating more vampires.

Human Characters (Frankenstein wins): Ugh, the male protagonists of Dracula were uniformly brave, just, intelligent, considerate, blah, blah, blah. Not a flaw amongst them. The were all the best examples of Victorian Manhood. Lucy and Mina were wonderful, supportive wives, and helpless victims. Victor Frankenstein on the other hand, was a deeply flawed and much more realistic person. I didn't especially like him, but he was a far superior character.

Story (tie score): Both were creative, original stories. Dracula follows the human protagonists as they struggle to save Lucy, Mina, (and all of England) from the supernatural power of the vampire. Frankenstein is the more personal story of Victor Frankenstein and his tragic life following the creation of his monster. Frankenstein also gives you much more insight into the monster's personal story.

Believability (Dracula wins): When it comes to the willing suspension of disbelief, it isn't even close. Frankenstein just had too many holes. One of the worst examples: FM spends months secretly living in an unused room, spying on a French emigre family living in Switzerland. Although FM gathers wood for the family every night (much to their surprise), they somehow never see his footprints in the snow. And although this giant of a man lives just a few feet from them, they never hear a sound. Too much to believe.

Engagement (Dracula wins): I couldn't stop reading Dracula. Even though it didn't have the pace of a modern novel, it was still a page-turner. Frankenstein...just...dragged...on...and...on. Page after page of exposition. Page after page of Victor Frankenstein having yet another emotional breakdown. Long, long sections of back-story that weren't even needed.

Overall I'd give Frankenstein a good rating of 3/5 stars and Dracula a very good rating of 4/5.

Last post I asked if any of you knew how Dracula died. Bram Stoker went into great depth explaining how a vampire could be killed. It required a stake through the heart, decapitation, and stuffing garlic in the vampire's mouth. This is how Lucy and the three Brides of Dracula are slain. Dracula however, has his throat slashed by an English lawyer wielding a Nepalese Kukri knife before being stabbed in the heart by a Texan wielding a Bowie knife. Didn't see that coming, did you? Hrm...why kill Dracula this way after putting so much effort into describing the proper way of killing a vampire? Smells like the makings of a sequel to me.

So how did Frankenstein's Monster meet his end? And where did it happen? No peeking.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Just finished reading Dracula the other day. Absolutely loved it. Why?

1) It's a great story. Yeah, it might not have the pace of a modern novel, and the fear factor might not be up to current standards, but it is still one hell of a story.

2) I loved getting a taste of Victorian culture. I am a history (and economics) teacher and was fascinated by the insights into the technology, language, and thought depicted in the novel. One of my favorite examples were the blood transfusions given to Lucy by Dr Van Helsing. Lucy receives three direct blood transfusions from three different men, and blood typing receives nary a mention. Van Helsing also comments on the potent nature of "male" blood and the positive effect it will have on the weakened Lucy.

3) I feel like I filled on of the many missing gaps in my "must read" list. Dracula is a book I think every fantasy, horror, or thriller fan has to read at some point. It was also the first epistolary novel (it consists entirely of journal entries, letters, telegrams, and newspaper clippings) I have  ever read. I had no idea the novel took this form when I picked it up. A cool reading experience.

So what didn't I like? I only have one major complaint about the novel, and that has to do with the (human) characters. With the exception of the insane Renfield, the main characters ridiculously, boringly good. The five male protagonists were uniformly intelligent, brave, and morally upright. The women, Lucy and Mina, were kind, helpful, and supportive, at least until Lucy turned into a vampire. Mina was the perfect, supportive wife, studying stenography and memorizing train schedules to aid her husband in his law career. Adding a few character flaws would have made the story a lot more interesting and could have potentially added a lot of tension to the story.

Overall, I highly recommend Dracula. Read it!

Bonus question: How does Dracula die? Don't cheat and look it up, just tell me how you think Dracula dies.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

House for Sale

I'll be AFK for a little while. We are buying a new house and selling our old house. The process is sucking up all of my free time. I'll be back in a week or so.

And if you're interested in a nice house in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania......

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Where do your ideas come from? The question is never far from the lips of non-writers. Someday I'll write about the origins of Eternal Knight. But today's post is about my next work. So.... where did the ideas come from.....

1) Lions
2) My wife and daughter
3) My neighbor
4) Yesterday's Enterprise (an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation)
5) Charlie Brown and the little red-headed girl from the comic strip, Peanuts.

We'll start with LIONS. Everyone loves lions, don't they? They are majestic and powerful, noble, heroic, and occasionally cute and cuddly. For the purposes of this blog, we'll ignore the bloodthirsty, vicious aspects.

I'll credit two lion documentaries as inspiration for my next novel:  Lions of the African Night and Lions and Hyenas: Eternal Enemies.  Both films demonstrate the total devotion the lioness feels for her offspring.  Lions and Hyenas puts this devotion into the context of an eternal war with a remorseless enemy. Now a  lioness can handle a single hyena one on one, but she will have trouble killing it. And if a pack of hyenas show up, a small pride of lionesses can be overwhelmed.

An adult male lion is another matter. A big male is a hyena killer, but they are often away from the back, unable to protect the pride. The following video is six minutes long. It shows what happens when the lion arrives on the field of battle. (The video is the end of Lions and Hyenas. If you like lions/wildlife documentaries you should watch the whole program from the beginning. The video is also not necessary for you to get the gist of this blog entry.)

And, by the way, there are no lions in my novel.

 my wife and my daughter

My wife and daughter are also not in the novel. But I will say that being a husband and a father change the way you look at the world. And my wife is a lioness. Trust me, if you are a threat to our daughter absolutely nothing will save you from my wife's wrath.

 my neighbor and I

The photo doesn't do Chris justice. I am 5'10" tall and 160 pounds. Chris is 6'9" and 300 pounds. He's a big dude. He's not imposing. He's IMPOSING. He's also one of the nicest people I've ever met. How nice? Plowing driveways, rescuing neighbors in their broken down cars, and running generators (powering sump pumps and refrigerators) during a power outages. All for free. He does those things because those are the "things neighbors do". 

Chris is in the book, sort of. 

Yesterday's Enterprise is a terrific Star Trek episode. What do I like about it? It is a story of sacrifice. I am an absolute sucker for tales of sacrifice (both real and imagined). There are some people out there, who knowing they will certainly perish, step forward and do the right thing. They are willing to risk their one chance at life in order to save the lives of others.

And finally... the little red-headed girl in Peanuts. What does she have to do with my novel? How did she serve as inspiration? Unrequited love. Poor Charlie Brown, he loves her so, but can never get her attention, yet alone her love. Done poorly unrequited love can be pure sap. Done well it can be heart wrenching.

Putting it all together we have the story of...

a child in peril and a mother who will do anything to save her against insurmountable odds.
a giant of a man, feared by those who meet him, but who always does the right thing.
another man charging to the rescue, fearing he will be too late to save the woman he loves.

...all enfolded in a story of sacrifice.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The YA feel

A while back I considered changing my protagonist's age to 16 and revising Eternal Knight into a YA novel. YA seemed to be the the "place to be" and it wouldn't require a major rewrite to make it happen.

But it didn't work. At least it didn't work for me. Hadde isn't a sixteen year old. She has always been a twentysomething to me. I originally wrote her as a 28 year old. Only later did I revise her down to 23. I just can't imagine her any younger than that. She is just too tough, too experienced...too world-wise to be a sixteen year old.

I recently read a Dystel & Goderich agency blog entry on the YA summertime feel. The post's author, Miriam, notes that YA is about good storytelling that doesn't get bogged down with dense writing or dark mid-life themes. YA offers a great escape, and that's why even adults love it.

Eternal Knight isn't a Young Adult novel, but I do think it offers the escape and good storytelling of a YA novel. But how do I get that across in my query letter? How do I get a query letter reader to realize that I'll take them on a great journey in less than 250 words?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Vacation

Maybe I took summer vacation a little too seriously this year. Taking a look back, my last blog post was written on the last day of the school year. I guess I started behaving just like my students do... I shut down.

What did I do with my time?

I played a good bit of EVE Online. A terrific game, but it just takes too much time to really play it the way I would want to. I quit last night.

I spent a lot of time with my daughter. One of the great things about being a teacher is the amount of time it gives you to spend with your child(ren). We had (and will have for a few more weeks) a great time at our local swim club. My daughter started doing the backstroke for the first time. I can now do a really ugly front flip with a half twist.

I got a lot of work done around the house. We briefly thought of selling our house this summer. This brought on a period of frantic activity as we fixed the place up. Now the house looks so good we want to keep it.

I thought about writing. Thought about it. Now I have some really great ideas that need to go down on paper. My next blog post will be about inspiration. I just need a photo of my neighbor before I can write it...

Back soon.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Battles, fights, and general mayhem

Novels often include the most ridiculous depictions of combat. Fantasy novels are some of the worst, but the problem cuts across all genres. If we want to broaden our scope we should include all of the following movie genres: action/thriller, science fiction, fantasy, martial arts, and war (although some war films have gotten much better recently). We can also include virtually anything shown on television.

Many offenses (but certainly not all) fit into the following categories:

Stormtrooper effect/Principle of Evil Marksmanship: bad guys are terrible shots. (Even if described as being lethal killers.)

Law of the Conservation of the Ninja: ninja (bad guys) are weaker in large groups. (A single ninja is nearly unbeatable.)

One-at-a-time attack rule: Large groups of villains will only attack one at a time.

Two friends of mine have written excellent blog posts on the topic or realistic combat:

Christian Cameron writes the best historical fiction I have ever read. In this blog post he writes about the nature of warfare. (The blog thread is actually about the use of elephants in ancient warfare.)

Mike Shultz' fantasy novel, The Sword of Memory, is being published in Germany this fall. In this writing advice column (click writing advice and check out Lesson 16) he discusses rules for combat realism in fantasy.

Nothing makes me want to drop a novel faster than unrealistic action/combat sequences. So follow Mike's rules and read Christian Cameron's blog and we will all enjoy a better reading experience.

Now go out there and hurt your good guys.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I've been away for a little while. What have I been up to?

My manuscript is in the hands of the German editor of my friend Mike Shultz' novel. I met Carsten when Mike and I had lunch with him in NYC last August. I'm going to put my query process on hold while Carsten has the manuscript. With no prior writing credits, I think my query letter will look substantially stronger with a foreign publication on it. Just need it to be accepted.....

I haven't been doing much writing. Mike suggested I work on the sequel to Eternal Knight, but write it as a stand-alone novel. I like his idea and have been doing some outlining.

I have also been playing some EVE Online. It is a wonderful science fiction MMORPG set in outer space. I've been splitting my time between chasing NPC pirates and playing the commodities markets. In EVE 90% of goods are player-produced. This allows for genuine market activities to occur. I'd love to find a way to include aspects of the game in the teaching of my AP Economics class.

Off to fire up the engines on the Hussar, my Thrasher class destroyer. Or maybe I'll take the Adam Smith out on a trade run. I hear there are good prices for oxygen over in the Pator system.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Motivation of Evil

Several years ago, when I was first outlining Eternal Knight, my friend, Christian Cameron, sat down with me and let me “pitch” the novel to him. In my pitch I described an epic struggle of good versus evil, all revolving around three ancient artifacts of great power.

As I described the evil warlord leading his hosts in a vicious war of conquest, Christian stopped me.

“What’s his motivation?” Christian asked.


“The bad guy. Why’s he trying to conquer the world?”

“Uhhh,” I started. And then, “Hmmmm.” I thought about it for a bit. “Because he’s, well, bad.”

Christian just gave me a pathetic look. “He’s got to have a reason he wants to do this.”

“He’s evil. Like Sauron.”

“You’re not Tolkien. Tolkien could get away with it.”  And then Christian said something to me that hit me like a truck. “You know what Hitler saw when he looked in the mirror? He saw a hero.” I don’t know if Christian is the first person to make that statement, but it set me back for a moment.

Hitler saw himself as a hero. The bad guy thinks he’s a good guy.  What if my bad guy thinks he’s a good guy?

“He thinks he’s saving the world,” I said.

“From what?”

Ahhhh…from what?

And so the Wasting was born. A dreaded disease of magical origin threatening all life in the world. A disease that everyone wanted to cure.

The good guys want to cure it as well. Wait a sec…. 

What if my bad guy is really the good guy? What if my protagonist discovers she is on the wrong side?

Wait a sec… what if there are no good guys? All the major powers are self-interested and use the Wasting as an excuse to improve their situation.

And so Eternal Knight was born. A protagonist who has grown up in a world dominated by war and the Wasting leaves home to seek aid from greater powers. In her journey she discovers that good isn’t always good and evil isn’t always what it appears to be.

Thanks, Christian.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Crazy Busy

Sorry I've been away so long, but I've been crazy busy lately...

I teach AP Economics to high school seniors and we are taking our AP Exams this Thursday. This is always a very intense time of the year. The whole focus of the year is success on the AP Exams (microeconomics and macroeconomics). If students do well (a score of 4 or 5) they can usually get college credit for the course. This makes success potentially worth two thousand dollars.

In a few days my school year eases up in a big way. Just have to make it through this final push.

On to writing... I've been analyzing and re-analyzing my query strategy. I don't want to mass-query every possible agent all at one time. However, a limited-query effort will mean a lot more waiting. So who do I query first? Patience, patience, patience....

Query-time is a good time to think about the next project. What's been on my mind?
1) The sequel to Eternal Knight.
2) Another novel set in the Eternal Knight world.
3) Re-writing a sci-fi novel I completed (and then abandoned) years ago.
4) Write an oil/espionage thriller.

I did manage to finish the Turkey Hill Classic bike race I mentioned in my last post. "Finish" being the key word. I placed 27th out of 50 starters in the Cat 5 (beginner) race. Don't let this fool you--I was way off the back of the pack. Twenty starters never finished the race.

I enjoyed the experience of the bike race, but was disappionted by my performance. I was dropped by the pack (peleton) in the first half of the first lap (of four 10k laps). I was really hoping to see what it would be like to mix it up in the peleton. The pace was incredibly fast off the start. It was much more than I excpected from a Cat 5 race.

Off to bed! Have a great one!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Biking on the Brain

Sorry for the silence--I've had biking on my brain.

About two weeks ago I went out for a two hour bike ride with my friend Whit. (He runs a terrific cycling blog called Pave.) I had a great ride and as we finished Whit made a comment that I should enter a race. That's all the motivation it took. I immediately signed up for the Turkey Hill Classic, a 40k (24 mile) road race near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I have entered the race as a Category 5 (beginner) and am both very excited and very nervous about the event.

For many years I was a competitive distance runner. However, running and cycling are very different beasts. They both share the same goal--crossing the finish line first. But bike racing is a much more tactical event. In running you can just take off and lead the whole way. Strong finishers might want a slower pace, and poor sprinters might want a fast pace, but overall tactics are pretty simple. 

In bike racing you can save over 30% of your energy just by drafting (following closely) behind the rider ahead of you. Leading a race from the beginning becomes almost impossible as all of your competitors will be 30% fresher than you. What will my strategy be? It's called "Don't be stupid." This will consist on trying to control my exuberance and not charging out to the lead from the very beginning.

What does this have to do with writing? Not much. However, I will say that cycling is a great sport for writers. Cycling provides a lot of time to think, and I spend a lot of riding time thinking about Eternal Knight. Many good ideas have come to me while in the saddle.

Any how is my writing going? Very well. I am not rushing into the query process, but am letting the manuscript "rest" for  a bit before jumping into things. I am resisting the urge to mass query and will take it one step at a time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chapter One "Wordle"

Wordle: Eternal Knight Chapter One

Adam Heine inspired me to  "Wordle" the first chapter of Eternal Knight. Not a surprise that "Hadde" came out very big.

I wonder what people who have never read chapter one would get out of the wordle...

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Finished my "final" read through of Eternal Knight today. It feels good to be "done". What's with all the quotation marks? Well, a novel is never really "done". Someone out there will find mistakes that need fixing. Someone else could make suggestions that would improve the manuscript. No novel is perfect.

What's next? Time to find an agent. I'm not going to rush into things. I have a list of agents that needs one more going over. I also have a few readers looking at the first few chapters--just to make sure I don't have any silly mistakes left in there.

I won't be reporting back to you on the query process. What kind of impression would it make on a curious agent if they came here to find me reporting a stack of form rejection letters? So... I'll keep posting, but you won't hear about how the query process is going.

It felt great to read, THE END. I love Eternal Knight and I can't wait for it to move on to the next step on the path to publication.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Progress, Disney, and Dad


So close I can almost feel it now. I am on chapter 21 of 29 of my final read-through of Eternal Knight. It scares the hell out of me that I just read one of my favorite chapters and loved it. What's scary about that? If it turns out that nobody else likes it, well... it makes me out to be a deluded idiot. And who wants to be a deluded idiot?

Progress has been excellent over the past week, this despite the fact that we just got back from Walt Disney World. So now, a brief commentary on Walt Disney World:


1) Disney is an amazing organization. The employees were incredibly helpful and friendly. The whole park is clean and runs like clockwork. They picked us up from the airport and took great care of us up to the very moment they returned us to the airport.

2) We stayed on the resort (Port Orleans) and used their dining plan. The dining plan, combined with a $500 gift card (a free upgrade to our package) meant that we only spent $40 cash above the actual package cost. If you go, get on the dining plan, it will save you a ton of money. And make reservations well before you go. Once you get there you will have a very hard time getting meal reservations at their (excellent) sit-down restaurants.

3) Use the Fast-Pass system. It lets you cut to the front of the line for the really popular rides. My strategy: get to the park as soon as it opens, get a Fast Pass for the most popular ride in the park, ride your #2 and #3 choice rides, and then use your Fast Pass. Then, if you are there during Spring Break, be prepared to wait forever for another ride. Or, go back to the resort and swim and do other activities. After dinner, go back to one of the parks. By the way, we'll never go back during Spring Break-- it was mobbed. The crowds were the only downside of the experience.

4) I think you're best off waiting until your youngest child is five or six before you go. I don't think you can get the full experience before then. And toting around a grumpy kid at a theme park is just no fun. Amelia just turned six, and she had a great time. You also need to be 44 inches tall to get on the decent rides.

5) Must do activities.... The Himalaya roller-coaster at Animal Kingdom was great. The Safari ride was also very good. We didn't get a chance to see the shows there, but I heard they are good. Animal Kingdom was MOBBED. The Stunt Show, Indiana Jones Show, and Jedi Training were all great Hollywood Studios events. The auto Stunt Show was truly amazing.

One of the best parts of the trip was the chance to visit with our friends the Brinsons and the Grodes. In a later blog post I'll write about my adventures in the World of Warcraft. The best thing to come out of that year of gaming was my friendship with Kemp and Melissa and Bob and Lori. All are Orlando area residents and came out to the park to see us. Bob and Lori brought their kids and spent the day at Magic Kingdom with us. Kemp and Melissa brought their daughter and met us for dinner. Two years ago (the last time we were in Florida) my wife was incredulous that I was taking us to meet my World of Warcraft friends. She was certain they would kill us and that our bodies would never be discovered. They turned out to be some of the nicest people IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

I haven't played WoW in over a year, and they were still happy to spend the day with us. Bob and I keep in touch with occasional phone calls. Kemp has become a valuable Eternal Knight editor. These are good folks!


My dad and his wife also happen to be in Florida on vacation right now. Debbie told me that my dad has been out twice to hit some golf balls. The last time he hit golf balls was over two years ago. Why the lapse? A terrible battle with cancer. The rare (and aggressive) cancer was in his nasal passage, pressing up against his brain. The radiation and chemo beat the hell out of him. The surgery (which intruded into his brain) was equally traumatic. The recovery has been riddled with complications.

So to hear that he has the strength to hit even a small bucket of balls at a driving range is wonderful news. I look forward to when I can play a round of golf with him again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Quick Post: Pages to Fame

I found out about Pages to Fame on the Intern's wonderful blog.

Pages to Fame looks very interesting. It is a website where you submit the first page of your novel and then people rate it on a 1 to 5 scale. Earn enough good ratings and you'll be requested to send in five pages. More success and you send in 50 pages, and then a complete novel.

Why do it? Pages to Fame promises that real world agents will read your work as it passes up each rung on the ladder. Does it work? No idea--I think it's too new to have had any major success stories yet.

Judging the pages is fun. You get to wade through the slush pile like an agent, quickly deciding if each work has merit or not. You also get to see how your ratings compare to those of other participants.

For now I'm just going to judge. If I like what I see, and don't hear anything fishy about the site, I'll send in a page. Can anyone think of a reason not to?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Setting Goals

It's time for me to get back to setting goals. I used to be a big goal setter. It started in seventh grade when my father gave me Rhinoceros Success. Rhinoceros Success is a skinny self-help book starring a rhinoceros who always charges for (and achieves) his goals. The greatest thing it taught me was to write down my goals, read them every night and morning, and to visualize achieving them. The first goal I set was to break the mile run record at Unami Junior High School.

I wrote my goals as specifically as possible (including the splits for each lap of the race) and dutifully read them every night and every morning. I visualized the race, imagining my coach calling out the splits, and how I would feel at every curve and every straight. And I imagined crossing the finish line in 4:54--breaking the school record by one second.

The first meet of the season came and I was in the best shape of my life. I couldn't wait for the mile to start. The gun went off and I soon found myself in the middle of the pack. I didn't panic, but kept on my pace, and by the end of the lap was in third place. I was also exactly on my pace. Half way through the second lap I was in first place, and one second too fast. The third lap found me well ahead and one second slow. I finished the race with a big win, but more importantly I finished in 4:54. I had hit the exact time I had visualized.

Did visualization magically cause me to run the exact time I had visualized? No, it didn't. It was a lot of hard work. So what did the written goals and visualization do for me? It established a mindset within me that I would achieve what I had set out to do. It motivated me to do what was necessary to achieve my goal.

And why did I put all of this on my writing blog? Because visualization and goal setting apply to more than just sports. While in the "writing phase" of Eternal Knight I set a goal of 5,000 words per work day. A that pace the novel quickly ballooned to 200,000 words-- I didn't have a clue what I was doing back then. I loved that phase of the writing process. Meeting those goals gave me great satisfaction. And because I knew I had a goal for upcoming working days, a part of my mind was always focused on the story, planning what I would write.

Now I am in the "final reading" phase of the process. Writing goals are harder to create for this phase. And because the goals are harder to create, I have a harder time keeping my focus. Enough! It's time to wrap things up. I'll publicly state my goals:

1) I will "final read" at least one chapter per day. "Final reading" includes some light editing.

2) I will finish my query letter and synopsis by April 2nd.

3) I will send my first query letter out by... well, I've set the date, but I'm keeping it under wraps. No need to announce to agents who my top pics were.

I'll re-write the goals (in "proper" format) later, this post is LONG.

Finally, my friend, author Mike Shultz, has added a new writing lesson to his website. Take a look, his lessons are excellent.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cold Wars Round One

Just for a change, I thought I would post a battle report on my writing blog. My other battle reports can be found here. I thought I'd give my "writing friends" a chance to see what I do with my "wargaming friends." The two circles don't often overlap.

For those of you who are total novices to historical wargaming.... it is the simulation of battles using painted miniature figurines and model terrain. Dice and rulers are used to determine where units can move and the outcomes of fights. Actually, we use dice, rulers, and thick rule books with lots of rules. And we love it. For me, half the hobby is painting the miniatures, and half the hobby is fighting the battles.

As I have previously mentioned, wargaming has played an important part in my writing efforts. Although I am writing a fantasy novel, realistic action and believable battle scenes are still very important. I don't want to put anything into the novel that turns the reader off and breaks the willing suspension of disbelief.

About a month before Cold Wars, Matt Iverson contacted me looking for a partner. This was very fortunate for me as Matt is one of the best Field of Glory players in the United States. As Matt (who I will now refer to only as Mr. The King) was the more experienced player I deferred to him on most of the decision making. "We" decided that since the tournament was to be played on a 8' by 5' table (larger than the standars 6x4) we would take a very fast, maneuverable army. Our choice: Western Turks. It is an army almost entirely comprising of mounted archers.

Our Army:

One Inspired Commander.
Three Troop Commanders.
Two units of Nobles (Undrilled superior armored cavalry with lance and sword).
Four units of Arsiyah (Drilled superior armored cavalry with bow and sword).
Eight units of horse archers (Undrilled average unprotected light cavalry with bow and sword).
Two units of poor quality light foot archers.
Two units of poor quality light foot javilenmen.

Mr. The King thought the biggest threats to our army would come from lancer cavalry armies as well as longbow based armies. So he suggested we do some test battles on the Thursday before the tournament. The test battle against a Bosporan (lancer cavalry) army was very close and resulted in us making some army adjustments. In particular we dropped our plan to take a list that included Tibetan allies. Our second test match was against a 100 Years War English army. I ran the English and was totally humiliated by Mr. The King. The fight gave us confidence that we could deal with longbows. This was fortunate as at the tournament our first opponent was...

a Free Company army from the 100 Years War time period! Our opponents fielded something like:

Three units of heavily armored knights.
Four units of longbow.
Two units of dismounted men-at-arms.
Two large units of crossbow.
One unit of light foot.

We won the initiative and chose (of course) to fight on the steppes. A basic map of the battle:

From our test match we knew we could win if we could concentrate bowfire against isolated longbow units. This became the core of our strategy. I took a majority of our bow-armed light horse and cavalry and drove hard for the Free Company's left flank. We wanted the flank threat to force them to break their line.

Mr. The King would take some mounted units and all of our foot and threaten the other flank. Our lancers would feint in the center, hoping to pull some longbow forward, before re-deploying to one flank.

Our deployment:

Their deployment:

Our Camp:

The camp was about five feet from the nearest Free Company unit. It soon became buried by the "tools" of war.

After a few turns:
The Free Company army has advanced very aggressively. In response to my sweeping flank attack, all three of their knight units start a re-deployment to the Free Company left. Surprised by the bold advance of the enemy crossbow, we quickly send our lancers to our left flank. One unit of armored cavalry is sent to skirmish a longbow unit in the center of the battlefield. This will not go well.

Near disaster:
Mr. The King set up a fantastic flank charge on an overextended crossbow unit (1). Armored cavalry hit the crossbow from one direction, while light horse hit it from another. The crossbow become disrupted at contact, and the proceed to win the fight! A second crossbow unit (2) is now in position to deliver a flank charge on our cavalry... except Mr. The King rolls a 12 and kills the enemy Commander in Chief! The second crossbow unit immediately becomes demoralized at his loss. On the horizon (3) an enemy longbow unit is a looming threat.

The Shootout:
My masses of horse archers swing left against the Free Company flank. Unfortunately, my opponent is going to roll several poor cohesion checks over the next few turns. Two units of light horse out shoot and (eventually) destroy a longbow unit. My armored cavalry disorder (with bowfire), and then charge and fragment a second unit of longbow. Concentrated light horse attacks on dismounted men-at-arms cause more casualties.

Another scare:
Mr. The King's lancers have arrived on the scene. They charge a disrupted unit of crossbowmen, only to lose two stands. They manage to heroically fight on and fragment the crossbows. To their right, a second unit of lancers crashes into, and disrupts another longbow unit. These units will eventually rout, breaking the army.

The battle is a major victory for the Turks. We lost one unit of armored cavalry bowmen in the center of the battlefield. Deciding to be cautious, we put the unit in one rank to skirmish with a six stand longbow unit. We figured our four dice of superior bowfire could take their four dice of average bowfire. We were wrong.

Shooty cavalry armies can definitely take on longbow armies in FoG. However, it is really important to break up the enemy line. Given the 8' by 5' table, the best our opponents could have done would have been to corner sit and hope for a draw. Coming out to fight us in the open was very dangerous.

Coming soon... Cold Wars Round Two.

And... if you are interested in historical fiction (Hellenistic) read my interview with Christian Cameron, author of the Tyrant series.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An interview with Christian Cameron

Christian Cameron is the author of Washington and Caesar, a historical fiction set during the American Revolution. He is also the co-author (with his father) of the Gordon Kent military thriller series. The latest book in Christian's Tyrant series was just published in hardcover in England.

A reenactor, wargamer, and former US Naval Intelligence officer, Christian brings his novels to life with great depth and realism. He recently took a few minutes out of his schedule to answer a few questions.

How did you learn the craft of writing?

I learned to write in high school. I went to a Jesuit School in Rochester New York, and in senior AP English, we had to write a five page essay, every day, in one hour. The priest (Fr. O’Malley, a fine man) would write the topic on the board—and bang, off you went. There is no better training. However, constant D+D playing also played a role—role playing games sharpen your mind for plot. Of course, that’s only true if you run them as plots—it isn’t true if you just cater to your players.

And in the US Navy, when I ran a shop of analysts, I had to produce a sixty-one hundred page “newspaper” of intelligence every day for a year. I had forty people working for me, but I had to assemble and edit the articles.

What is your writing process like? Do you write every day? Do you keep strict word count goals?

I sit down in a coffee shop with a laptop, every day, as soon as I take my daughter to school. I write without stopping for five hours. I pre-set my margins and so on so that a page of typed mss equals a page of a printed book. I write 15 to 40 pages a day. 40 is rare, and twenty is more like average. I used to write five pages a day and think I was being productive, but I realized that I could work a great deal harder than that. I don’t conflate research and writing—I spend months on research for historicals and I spend time plotting and writing out character arcs for my main characters—but to be frank, that’s all just practice, because when the words start to go on the page my characters all too often refuse to do what I thought they might, and my unconscious character arcs are almost always BETTER than my carefully drawn ones.

How did you get your agent? Did you go through the query process?

Nepotism. I got my Dad’s agent. And I wrote my first book with my dad, so I never had to endure the rejection. That came later—around book 7-8; suddenly, I couldn’t get a contract for three years and I got a flood tide of rejections.

The lesson I learned form that is trite—everyone has heard this. Write what you know and love. Never try to write what someone thinks you should write.

You've published modern espionage thrillers, a Revolutionary War historical novel, and your current Hellenistic historical fiction. Having written all three eras, has one become your favorite? Which era appeals to you the most as a writer?

Nil humanum alienum sum. Which is to say, I love history. All history. Black, European, Feminist, Military, Social, whatever. History is merely the sum of all the good and bad stories of the human race. So I’ll be a historical writer til people stop buying my books. But I have a hard time choosing between the ancient world and the Neo Classical world…

You reenact both the Revolutionary War and ancient Greek time periods. Would give up the modern world to live in either period? What if you could pick your social status?

At the risk of sounding smug—most people who want to live in the past would have had the same lives at Arthur’s Camelot that they have now. Adventure is all around us—I know guys who serve as mercenaries in Africa and women who have spent fifteen years having wonderful adventures with Medecins Sans Frontiers and so on. I had a few adventures of my own. I suspect that the world is what you make of it. The past was no more glorious, and lacked tampons and safety matches and free health care (sorry, it works…).

On another level, though, I’d love to be able to pick my staff and friends and go be Charles XII of Sweden for six years—to see if I could make Sweden and not Russia the northern superpower. I’d love to be able to form my own team to run the British counter-insurgency campaign in the Champlain Valley in 1777, or try my hand at saving the Phillipines in 1940-41. But live there?

To the reader, it appears you pay meticulous attention to the details of history. What have you fudged in order to make a story work?

Heh, heh. I should say I’ll never tell…

I just wrote a fairly angry blog entry about this sort of thing on my own. When you deal with the ancient world, there are NO FACTS. It’s easy when you are a wargamer, or a student—you read some well-written secondary sources and you “know the period.”

But the truth is we know nothing about, say, Alexander’s campaigns. We have a bunch of campaign histories written LONG after all the participants were dead. In fact, our knowledge of Jesus as a historical figure is better than our knowledge of Alexander. We don’t know the exact, archaeologically provable location of ANY of Alexander’s battlefields. We don’t know what Macedonians soldiers wore, despite the best efforts of all the modern Osprey artists. We don’t know their armor, we don’t know what their shields looked like—the world is full of people who will tell you that they do know—but they don’t.

We don’t know the real dates on any battle of the ancient world. In many cases, we don’t even know what year they happened.

Now—lest I sound like some sort of revisionist—we have a pretty darn good idea about a lot of stuff. But it is theories piled atop theories—don’t get me started on how our whole theory of the ancient world depends on the dating of clay pots in Egypt… and an honest writer understands from the git-go that it is all theory. So there is, in fact, quite a bit of wiggle room.

Did Alexander get whupped at Jaxartes River? (I say he did). Was there even a battle there? Did Alexander, in fact, invent Jaxartes to cover for his constant losses to irregular warfare? Or did he beat the Skythians just as Arrian says he did?

Who knows?

Anyway, I’m not above altering history a little—that is, playing with perceptions of it—to fit the story. But not in any concrete way. No magical medicine cures from China, no 7 barrelled guns with magical powers (the Nock gun did exist… it doesn’t really work the way some people imagine). In my books, the main characters die like rabbits—because that’s what happened in the ancient world. They die of disease and they die in battle and some of the women die in childbirth. And that represents the truth.

Your Tyrant series is experiencing great success in the United Kingdom. Why is it so hard to get historical fiction published in the United States?

US Publishers think that Americans are idiots. I don’t happen to agree, but there it is, and I’ve been told so, in just so many words, by US publishers. “British readers are more intelligent,” they say.

If you could take one person you know back in history to be your operations officer for a Hellenistic battle, who would that person be?

Bye and Large, Hellenistic officers were competent—or better. Among the main contenders—Cassander, Polyperchon, Antigonus One-Eye and Demetrios, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Eumenes, Lysimachos—there’s not one incompetent. The Macedonian system of brutal internal rivalry, murder, and insubordination, was not very good at running an empire, but it did create some really good leaders.

That said, my choice is Eumenes the Cardian. Military secretary to Alexander, later the weakest of the Successors in military power. He didn’t have really strong military leadership skills, or rather he did, but since he was a Cardian and not a Macedonian, the Macedonian aristocrats hated him. He was a superb hand to hand fighter, and he was a deep thinker, and even a cursory examination of his efforts shows that he routinely outmaneuvered Antigonus, and you have to admit that Antionus was consistently good. So in my bid for world domination, I’d like to have Eumenes the Cardian as my Operations officer.

On the other hand, I’d like to have Matt Heppe as my Chief of Staff. Matt and I have won more team wargames at various tournaments than—well, than lots of people, and I think that if I were going to be transported back in time and needed a chief of staff—

Ah, I knew there was a reason I asked you to do this interview. It was because you are an outstanding judge of character.

Visit Christian's website for more information on his Tyrant series. The Online Agora is an active site both for discussing the novels and for information on ancient Greek reenacting.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Excellent Day!

Worked on Eternal Knight for several hours today. It was great! I am on the final stretch and heading for the finish line.

What's left to do? Not much...

1) Complete the read-through. Wonderful and terrifying. No, I'm not describing the book--I'm describing my emotions. I really, really feel good about the novel. It reads like a "real" novel. This is where the terrifying comes in. What if I am utterly delusional? What if Eternal Knight isn't the book I think it is? Well, we'll find out soon.
2) Touch up my query. My query is definitely not incompetent. It won't be laughed at and instantly rejected. But is it good? I dunno. I have no prior writing accomplishments to boast of. Will the query land the hook?
3) Fix up synopsis. Ugh. Writing this was the worst.

I've gained several new blog readers recently. Welcome to Eternal Knight! If you're interested in learning a little bit more about the story you can...

Read chapter one. I am always looking for feedback on this chapter. If I can get the agent to page 50 I know I will have them for the entire journey. But they won't get to page 50 if they don't get through chapter one.

Read my query letter. Spoiler alert! My query gives away the conclusion and major plot points of the novel.

Read my synopsis. Same spoiler alert as above, but even more so.

Please feel free to comment on any of the above. I am happy to get any help I can find.

Have a great one!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Don't be an akinos!

About half way through my novel you start hearing of a character named Akinos--a figure of legendary evil. Unfortunately, as my critique partners pointed out, it was a little late in the novel to first hear of him. Couldn't I introduce him earlier?

But how? An info dump of ancient world history didn't exactly fit into the storyline. And when I say it didn't fit didn't fit in at all.

Akinos' legendary evil came as a result of his murder of his own brother. It was an act of betrayal that brought ruin to the world. Akinos disappeared immediately after the murder and his name became synonymous with treachery and evil.

Several hundred years have passed since Akinos' disappearance, and what's the first thing that comes to someone's lips when they are mistreated?

"Don't be an akinos."

By the time the reader reaches the half way point of Eternal Knight they have heard those words (in one form or another) on three different occasons. And now, when they read of Akinos the Betrayer, they should have an ahh-haa moment. They've read that word before, and always in a negative context. No info dump needed. The reader already knows that Akinos is infamous, important, and bad.

And a few chapters later, the reader learns that legends are legends and the truth isn't necessarily the truth.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Wargame Preparations

I've taken a few days off from writing to prepare for Cold Wars, a historical wargaming conventions I go to every March. I've mentioned my wargaming before. This year I am teaming up with Matt Iverson for the 1000 point Field of Glory doubles tournament. I've faced off against Matt a few times in tournaments before, but this year we will be partners. This works out well for me as he is one of the best wargamers in the country (and he always beats me).

What does this have to do with writing? A lot, actually. I really strive for historical, technological, and military realism in my writing. You won't find any Conan-like warriors single-handedly wading through an army of goblins in my novel. The action in Eternal Knight is gritty and realistic. The armies behave like real armies would on a battlefield.

Anyway, I'm off to finish painting some generals.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I've never entered a contest before, but I'm going to give this one a shot. It is sponsored by the Guide to Literary Agents blog (one of my favorites). I have to submit the first 150 to 200 words of my full length (Middle Grade or Young Adult) novel. Due to the recent changes in my manuscript, Eternal Knight now fits in the YA category.

Here's a look at my entry:

Hadde crouched behind the rotting trunk of a fallen tree. Ahead of her the Kiremi raiding party crept deeper into the forest. She counted a score of them--more than enough to destroy Long Meadow. And the Kiremi weren't alone. Strange warriors in fur cloaks marched with them.

She flexed her fingers against the cold wind and gripped her bow tighter. Dromost take them! Isn't the Wasting enough?

Dry leaves crunched behind her. Startled, she ducked and turned, but it was only Belor and Calen. "Danger, close," she hunter-signed. "Stay low."

Belor nodded and the two hunters crouched lower as they made their way toward her. Hadde was about to turn back to the raiders when a gust of wind sent a wave of dead leaves washing over them. Nearby, a Wasting-weakened tree branch cracked and fell crashing to the forest floor.

Suddenly, three arrows whipped into the forest, one embedding itself into a tree just strides from Hadde. Belor and Calen snatched arrows from their quivers.

...and wish me luck! First prize is a critique of 25 pages of the manuscript, a query critique, and two books from the Guide to Literary Agents.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kemp Sweep Complete!

Whooohooo! I just completed the "Kemp Sweep" of Eternal Knight. This sweep was based on a comprehensive critique of the novel by my friend Kemp. Someday, after the novel has been published, I'll share his critique with you. I cannot emphasize enough how important good critique partners are to the writing process.

What's next? Right now my wife is reading the novel. I'll call this the Wife Sweep. Helen is looking for copy editing errors and areas where a reader might want more clarity. The Wife Sweep will not take long and will result in a very clean final manuscript.

All done? Not quite. I've decided to make one significant (but not awfully difficult) change to the manuscript. I'm gong to change Hadde's (my protagonist) age from twenty-four to seventeen. Why make such a change?

1) It will add more tension to the novel. Hadde will go from experienced veteran to young adult. When she makes it to Salador the culture clash will be much greater due to her youth. She will also not have the veteran confidence to deal with some of the conflicts she finds herself in.

2) It will allow me to promote the book as a young adult fantasy novel. I have become convinced that a YA fantasy with a strong female protagonist will be a stronger sell than a straight forward fantasy.

How long will these revisions take? Not long. Perphaps two weeks to make revisions, a week to do one final sweep, and one week to prep my queries and launch them into the world. It's getting close!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just Arrived

My friend Christian Cameron's latest novel just came out in England. [For some crazy reason he hasn't been picked up by a US publisher yet.] Christian writes fantastic historical fiction. The Tyrant novels are set in the ancient Hellenistic world and follow the adventures of Kineas (an Athenian mercenary commander), and in this novel, his children. The latest novel, Funeral Games, is the most action packed of the three novel. I enjoyed it greatly, and highly recommend the entire series. The earlier novels are available in the United States.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Excuses and Apple iTablet

Soooo..... I haven't blogged much lately. Only a few tweets as well. Why? I'm too frakking busy! But it's a good kind of busy. I'm on Chapter 22 (out of 29) in my "final sweep" of edits on Eternal Knight. I should actually call this the "Kemp Sweep," as the edits are 80% based on the advice my friend Kemp gave me in a wonderful critique of the manuscript. After the Kemp Sweep I will do a very quick Wife Sweep. Helen is a very careful reader and will catch all the little stuff that I have missed in my 20 trips through the manuscript. After the Wife Sweep comes Query Launch.

Projected Query Launch Date: February 24th.

Apple iTablet Prediction: I think Apple is going to sell books through iTunes for very low prices. I think they will try to undercut Amazon. Can't wait to see what they come out with.

Seems I had my information wrong on the iTunes book pricing. It looks like books will be more expensive, but will have additional content not available on a Kindle device. I am sort of baffled why publishers are so upset at the $9 price for ebooks. I would imagine marginal costs for production of electronic "copies" are very low. Even at $9 I would think profits would be very high.

The iPad pricing seemed pretty competitive. I won't be getting one any time soon, but it looks pretty cool.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Year

Thanks for all the comments on my Heifer International post. I donated $32 to the cause. Next year (when I'm a big-deal soon-to-be-published author) we'll have a lot more hits and a lot more money going to charity.

2009 was a very good year. My wife and daughter are both doing very well and I made some breakthroughs. Topping my list:

1) I really dove into editing Eternal Knight and am very happy with the way things are going. I have to give particular thanks to my friends Kemp Brinson and Mike Shultz for their help. Kemp read the entire novel fresh and gave some fabulous feedback (and encouragement). Mike and I have been critique partners for several years and he has been a great writing mentor to me.
2) I went back to studying martial arts. This is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I spent most of my thirties getting out of shape and putting on a few extra pounds. Five months of training under Sensei Marchand and Joshu Billings has put me back in fighting form. Not only has it helped me get back into shape, but it has improved my focus, discipline, and attitude.

I'm looking forward to a great 2010. My biggest goals:
1) Be the best father and husband I can be.
2) Find and agent and a publisher for Eternal Knight. Still hoping for a query launch in January. However, the queries won't go out until I am 100% satisfied with the novel. As long as I'm making solid progress I won't worry too much about dates.
3) Earn the right to be re-awarded my black belt. (I turned my black belt in to Sensei Marchand when I returned to my studies. My goal is to earn it back this year.)

I wish you all the best in 2010!