The series is now complete!

Today The Imperial Rebellion went up on Amazon.  The series is done and available for purchase.

The complete "Man of Destiny" series runs 250,000 words and more than 1,000 printed pages.  I often wondered if I could write a trilogy.

Well, I guess I can't, because I had to add an extra book.

Still, it's pretty cool having it done.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The end is near: just got the proofs for Book 4

I'm now reviewing the proofs for Man of Destiny's fourth book, "The Imperial Rebellion."

It will take a me a few days to go over them but it looks like things are right on schedule.

The title is a last-minute change.  I had been using "Destinies Fulfilled" as a working title, but I never really liked it.  This was because Man of Destiny was supposed to be a trilogy.  When I decided to press ahead with a fourth book, I had no idea what to call it.

I think "The Imperial Rebellion" is consistent with the other titles.  The cover is pretty cool, too.

I'm told that the ending is particularly good, but of course I would say that, wouldn't I?

Dunkirk Movie Review: Good storytelling, lame stories

When I saw that there was going to be a movie about the British evacuation of Dunkirk, I knew I wouldn’t like it.  Everyone who knew me also knew I wouldn’t like it.

The only question was whether I would actively despise the film (which is how I feel about “Saving Private Ryan”) or merely hold it in casual contempt.

I suppose it is a tribute to filmmaker Christopher Nolan that I am in the latter camp.

Probably the most unexpected development was that I saw the thing in the theater at all.  I don’t normally do that these days.  I didn’t want to, but my eldest begged me to go with her.  She’s a fan of Harry Styles from when he was in a boy band.  I still don’t know who he is, but I went with her because that’s what dads do.

I get that Dunkirk is a work of fiction and an impressionistic take on an epic event.  I’m actually fine with that approach to showing historical events.  I beats the often-ponderous top-down perspective that usually makes massive factual blunders.

My criticism falls into two categories:  the stories and the soundtrack.

Let’s tackle the soundtrack first.  It’s annoying and distracting.  I heard people talking about taking ear protection with them and I wished I had.  Music should support and enhance the mood, not constantly grate on your nerves. 

Hans Zimmer reminds me a lot of Danny Elfman – they both have a handful of melodies that they endlessly recycle.  If you listen to Zimmer’s music, he used essentially the same theme from “Gladiator” in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  Having exhausted that well, he turned to LOUD AND BOOMING CHORDS missed with tck-tck-tch effects to ensure the maximum discomfort of the viewer.

As to the stories, I didn’t like them.  The best of the three – the one relating to the pilot – was great until he learned to levitate his aircraft.

Nolan must hate the British Army because he almost uniformly portrays them as selfish, rude and cowardly.  I see there’s some nonsense about how the four companies of Indian mule drivers got left out of the film (that would be roughly 600 out of 338,000 troops, just so you have the proportions right), but why not at least show the rear guard?

Those were the guys who really pulled things together.  Contra Nolan, the French didn’t take over the lines until the very end.  For most of the evacuation British forces held the majority of the perimeter.  When the Belgians surrendered without warning on May 28, the British performed an amazing feat of arms in shifting forces over to fill the gap.

The fact is that the evacuation couldn’t have happened if the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force just milled aimlessly around the beaches waiting to be saved.  Even in defeat they remained disciplined and worked together for the common good.  One of the odd aspects of the battle was that stragglers would fall in with other troops in the middle of a firefight and say things like “Hello, chaps!  Mind if we play through?” 

That would have something to see, much more interesting than a bunch of Highlanders cowering in a beached steamer waving guns at each other.  The only person who was remotely interesting in that respect was the small boat captain.

It found it odd that Nolan left the competent army guys in the background (like the engineer who built the jetty out of trucks) and instead focused on the screw-ups.  Who wants to watch that?

Well, I guess some people do, but I’m not one of them.

Fall of the Commonwealth is now available

“Fall of the Commonwealth” is now available for the Kindle and in paperback

This is the longest book in the series because so much is going on.  It was the most fun of all the books to write because after three years of working on the series, I really felt close to the characters. 

Justin Tolliver really comes into his own in this book.  The romance between Adam Flyte and Cristen Morra also develops more fully, but my proof readers tell me that the real love story is between Phae and Arrin Morra as they fight to preserve their marriage amidst war and political upheaval.

“Fall of the Commonwealth” also explores how conflict can drive people to extreme measures.  There’s a widespread belief that once one side senses defeat, the heart goes out of it and the war comes to an end.  That’s actually the opposite of what usually happens.

The Alliance knows it is losing, and Richard Martel and Oliver Praeto have to decide how far they are willing to go to turn the tide. 

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of dissention in the Commonwealth ranks, particularly between the Ordo Militaris and the Ministry of Defense.   Maxim Darius knows that nobody wanted him to become Premier and he also knows that plans are already in motion to kick him out.  He’s got a lot of enemies and only one of them needs to get lucky to bring him down.

If all goes according to plan, the final book in the series will be released in a few weeks.

"Hail, Caesar!" is clever but dull: a movie review

Last night I was clearing out some films on the DVR and decided to give "Hail, Caesar!" a watch.

I figured I would enjoy it because it's a sendup of studio system Hollywood and I'm quite a fan of the era.  Perhaps that's why I didn't enjoy it.

To be fair, the Coen Brothers have but together a clever script with a number of deft touches.  If you know classic movies, you'll enjoy the many references to scandals, actors and films.

Take as a whole, however, the movie fails.  It's amusing but not funny and there isn't enough dramatic punch to make you care how it ends.

Part of the problem is that it isn't zany enough to be a true comedy or true enough to be a good drama.  The jokes are also quite stale, some of them having been around for decades.

The obvious example is George Clooney's character.  He's the stereotypical leading man - a party animal, good-looking but intellectually vacuous and a coward at heart.

The problem with this is that Golden Age Hollywood leading men weren't like that at all.  Many of them saw active war service.  Clark Gable and James Stewart both served in B-17s.  Humphrey Bogart was in the Navy during World War I.

Their cowboy character closely resembles Audie Murphy, who was the most decorated American solider of World War II.

That's what makes the films of the era so good - the actors lived a life outside of the studio and brought that experience to their work.

This brings me to my second point - the pot shots the writers take at the movies themselves.  There is simply no comparison between big-screen epics like "Ben Hur" and the crap Hollywood spoons out today.   We can laugh at Esther Williams or song-and-dance numbers, but they were incredibly grueling to film and required a level of talent today's performers simply can't match.

The skit with the sailors in a bar was particularly annoying.  As is the rule these days, they have to keep changing the camera angle to hide the fact that they are using multiple takes.  Back then, it was one continuous take to show the audience just how sophisticated the dancing was.  There is simply no modern equivalent to Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.

Oh, and their song was stupid.  This was the era of the Hays Code, which placed strict limits on what movies could show.  That meant that filmmakers had to show  great deal of cleverness to bring up certain topics.  Whereas today an actress might blurt out "I'm pregnant!" back then the most that could be said was that she was "in trouble."

I love how the films and songs of that era use clever turns of phrases to address serious matters.  There's a sophistication that I"m sure a lot of modern people completely miss.  Because what one could say was limited, actors had to use nuance in their voice or their expression to convey the true meaning.  It's a lost art.

I didn't find the film to be aggressive awful, so there's that.  It was a decent time-waster, nothing more. 

The lesson of the wild raspberries

I've always loved raspberries.  Many years ago my grandparents grew them and some of my fondest memories with them are of us going out and picking them fresh for breakfast.

So when I got a house with a decent yard, I decided I would plant some of my own.  I went to a local greenhouse, bought some plants and placed them where the soil and sunlight seemed ideal.

There were only a few berries produced that first year, but the year after there were many more and it seemed like I would achieve my goal in the following summer.

And then the deer showed up.  Our area has been overrun with deer and until they were culled last year, they were getting into everything.  Nothing would deter them because they were starving.  They ate the berries right off canes along with just about everything else they could reach.  I got no berries for two years and basically gave up.

That's when I began to notice the wild raspberries.  Hardier and more aggressive than my cultivated variety, they've been quietly overrunning the opposite side of my yard.  This year they've really taken off and I've already picked several pints of sweet, juicy berries.  They lack the tartness of the cultivated red kind, but my kids don't seem to mind.

The best part is:  I had to do nothing but pick them.  They're displacing weed plants and filling in the gaps left by fussier plants that I don't have the time to support.  I just show up and pick them. 

The lesson is that nature often knows best.  I did research and placed my plants where I thought they would grow best, but in fact the other side of the yard was much better - so much better than wild raspberries moved in to claim it.

This lesson that applies to writing.

Sometimes the plot doesn't go where you want it to.  I'm working through the final edits on Book Three of the Man of Destiny series and I'm recalling all the plot points I wanted to use but had to abandon.  My manuscript has a number of outlines attached to it that I likewise abandoned.  I knew what I wanted to do, but the story thought otherwise.

I plan to publish it later this month, so watch for it.  If all goes according to plan, Book Four will come out in August and the "Summer of Destiny" will be complete.

241 years and counting...

Well, our country has made it through another year.  Some people are happy, others are upset, but that's always the case.  Every now and then I like to go back through old newspapers and read about the burning events of the day that turned out to be less than a footnote in the big scheme of things.

The lesson is that in politics, there's always something to argue about.

And yet for all that, here we are: arguably the most free, most prosperous society in the history of the world. 

The Fourth of July is a great time to reflect on all the good things we have.  We're not perfect, but who is?

Happy Birthday, America!

Wow, Goodreads hates me

I suppose it's my own fault for not keeping up on all the book reading stuff, but I really didn't know much about Goodreads.  I joined a few weeks ago out of curiosity but never dug deep into the site.

Then the other day I was recommending my books to an acquaintance and he responded that Battle Officer Wolf got terrible reviews, so he probably wouldn't read that one.

I shook my head in disbelief.  "No, it's got 4.7 stars on Amazon.  How is that terrible?"

He pointed out that it is only 2.5 stars on Goodreads.


I'm not sure why there is such a large discrepancy, but it is annoying to have people leave negative ratings (or luke-warm ones) without offering a word of explanation.  The one written review knocks me for not using enough "contemporary" terms for women's breasts.

I admit I didn't really think about that because the story is actually a sci-fi horror piece about horrible man-eating monsters on a space station and a hero who turns up to fight them.  I suppose I was sloppy on other descriptions because they simply weren't that important to me.

I have to wonder how many of those reviews have less to do with the work itself and more to do with the genre.  I don't much like romance novels (yes, I know) so I try to stay away from the genre.  Were I to read a book for whatever reason, I'd grade it on a curve, that is judging it for what it is supposed to be, not what I want it to be.  I think that is why the Amazon ratings are better:  People knew what they were getting and were happy that they got what they sought.

Bad reviews come with being an author, and I suppose it was inevitable that I'd run into people that don't like my work. 

I don't have to like it, though.

Fathers and Sons: a look at literary fathers on Fathers Day

It's always interesting to learn about a favorite author and see "the story behind the story."

For example, once one learns about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, his writings take on a deeper meaning.  Mordor wasn't just a place of imagined evil, it existed on earth and Tolkien - along with millions of other soldiers - lived there for a time.

He seems to have been a wonderful father, putting his formidable writing and artistic skills to work to amuse and entertain his children.  Certainly his son Christopher has shown a fanatical devotion to his father's legacy.

Of course not all writers make good fathers.  The Waugh family, for example, seems to have been a mixed bag.  A year or so ago I happened to read Alexander Waugh's "Fathers and Sons."  It's something rather unique - a family autobiography.  Alexander is the son of Auberon Waugh and grandson of Evelyn, who is one of my favorite authors.  The book provides a fascinating glimpse behind what can only be called a literary dynasty.

Alexander lacks the fame and output of his ancestors, but he writes in the same bitingly witty style.

Though he isn't a published author, I owe a tremendous debt to my father.  He introduced me to Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov and lavishly supported my Tolkien reading habit.

More importantly, he taught me how to write a news release, how to edit my own copy and how to take criticism in stride.

That last part is key, and something a lot of my contemporaries can't do.  Too much of today's child-rearing seems to consist of telling kids that what they do is wonderful whether it's good or not.

My father never hesitated to challenge me.  I remember lamenting how a professor marked me down for what I thought was a perfect essay.  Instead of backing me up he read it through again and said:  "It's not as good as you think.  Take another look."

For most of his life he worked as a newspaper copy editor and those guys are ruthless in their work.  You have to have a thick skin to take what they dish out.  My dad gave me that ability and it's been incredibly useful to me.  It is no exaggeration to say that I could not have written what I have without him and the quality of my work would be much lower without his guidance.

I may not amount to much as an author, but I've really enjoyed writing.  It's a great way to pass the time and work through ideas and reflect on life.  I couldn't have done it without my dad, though.


We need Adam West's Batman more than ever

Adam West has passed away, and while it's another grim reminder of the remorseless march of time, he certainly lived a full life.

Like Roger Moore, he became typecast, but what a great role to be stuck with.  His was the arguably the most entertaining and enjoyable Batman ever to don the cape.

Sure, it was campy, but I have to respect how West could sit there in that silly outfit and maintain absolute seriousness while being suspended over a pot of dry ice or whatever other bizarre contraption he confronted.  That takes a lot of skill.

The Baby Boomers ate it up and younger folk like me loved watching the re-runs. 

Of course like everything else, the Boomers had to ruin it by deciding that superheroes weren't silly kid stuff but Stories of Deep Meaning.

Thus we have the current endless crop of comic-book adaptations, each vying to be the most serious, joyless, violent and explosion-packed version yet put on film.

When I was a kid, I liked comic books, but I was never that into it.  By the time I was a teenager, I'd moved on to more serious reading and I thought the people obsessing with "graphic novels" were a little odd in the head.  I have since confirmed that belief.

Let's face it: superheroes are lousy literary characters.  They don't really have a past, they have an "origin story."  There's no overarching life story, just a series of endlessly repeated episodes, which often include repeated deaths and resurrections.

They aren't even characters, they're just properties to be exploited.

Just when the "definitive" version moves through the screen, a new one rolls down the assembly line.  It's just boring now.

Back in the 60s, though, no one took comic books seriously.  They were goofy kid stuff, and making a live-action show required a well-developed sense of humor.

Adam West got the joke and shared it with us in a way no one else could.  Rest in Peace.