Greetings! Welcome to the Chateau!


Within its corridors you will find insight into the books I have written, the books I am writing and the books I am thinking about writing.

It is also a place where I can offer insights into my favorite authors and - in the case of my game Conqueror: Fields of Victory - I can explain my rules and offer new variants.

Scroll down or check the sidebar for my latest posts.

Nonfiction:

Long Live Death: The Keys to Victory in the Spanish Civil War

Fiction:

Three Weeks with the Coasties: A Tale of Disaster and also an Oil Spill

Battle Officer Wolf

Scorpion's Pass

The Vampires of Michigan

The Man of Destiny Series:

A Man of Destiny

Rise of the Alliance

Fall of the Commonwealth

The Imperial Rebellion

Wargaming:

Conqueror: Fields of Victory, Revised Edition

Other Writings

Bleedingfool.com features

 


Watching a real 70s show: The Rockford Files

While I've been retro-watching the 80s shows of my youth, my memory does in fact extend into the 70s as well.  Sad to say, the few attempts I've made to go re-watch old programming did not go well.  Hulu had M*A*S*H on about a year ago and I could not get into it.  It was painful to sit through.  Maybe one of the later seasons would be better, but neither my wife nor I could stomach it.

However, The Rockford Files has aged reasonably well.  It's got the usual detective tropes and comically unsafe firearms use that is emblematic of the period and as I'm closing in on the halfway mark of the first season I can see why it was successful.

James Garner is perfect for the role of Jim Rockford and he has the easy charm and charisma that is sorely lacking in today's stars.  He's genuinely interesting to watch.  Such qualities made often made the difference between schlock and decent programming.

The setting is of course iconic - a guy who lives in a battered trailer set up in a ocean side parking lot.  The interior is nice, but it's constantly the target of various break-ins.  While perpetually broke, Rockford nevertheless boasts a sweet ride - a gold Pontiac Firebird.  This of course anticipates the 80s tropes where private investigators have sweet rides and/or helicopters (or speedboats, or whatnot).

Rockford therefore walks the line between being plausible and relatable (perpetually broke, often beat up) but also admirable (handsome, has cool car, total ladies' man).  There is not a trace of the Mary Sue in this show, which demonstrates how far Hollywood has fallen.

I'm not sure how long I will stick with it, but for now it's a welcome diversion while I finish publishing Walls of Men and recharge my batteries for my next creative venture.


The dead of winter

After a cold snap around Christmas, winter turned unexpectedly mild.  January was gloomy and chilly, but temperatures generally got above freezing during the day, causing all the snow to melt and given the world a brown and dreary appearance.

I think one of the things that makes winter in Michigan tolerable is the snow.  Not only is it attractive, it reflects light, and since the latest snowfall, things are a lot more cheerful.

Snow also absorbs sound, amplifying the natural quiet of winter.   Before the weather changed, it felt like late November - no snow and the scattered holiday decorations hinting that Christmas season had just begun.

Now it's bitterly cold, with temperatures threatening to go below zero and fine powder wafting through the thin air.  This is as it should be this time of year.

At least in this part of the state, bitter cold also brings brilliantly clear skies, and I'll happily trade sub-zero wind chills for some sunlight.

This is very much indoor weather, and I'm making use of it in terms of modeling and painting.  When spring comes, it will be time to set up the garden and then the fleeting joy of summer will keep me outside.  But for now I don't have to feel guilty about watching a movie or playing a game.


No more Elvis sightings

I saw Lisa Marine Presley died the other day.  It was all over the supermarket tabloids.  I don't generally pay attention to the news, sot that's where I get most of my pop culture information.

Seeing the pictures of her with her father reminded me how pervasive Elvis Presley once was in American culture.  Almost every month a tabloid would report an "Elvis sighting" because of course the King of Rock 'n Roll wasn't dead, he was merely in hiding.  Like James Dean, he's supposed to have faked his death to escape the pressure of celebrity.

I never understood that line of logic - celebrity status isn't a lifetime entitlement.  It has to be constantly shored up, and that's what generally makes famous people succumb to drugs and depression.  If you want to stop being a celebrity, stop doing anything.  There are lots of celebrities who did just that and no one talks about them.  Heck, Olivia de Havilland lived for decades in obscurity and was one of those people about which it was said:  "She's still alive?!  Amazing."

Not to digress, but James Dean would easily have vanished.  His whole persona was that of an alienated youth, and without that, I'm not sure what he would have brought to the table.  Yes, I'm sure the long slow retreat into either "Where are they now?" or "famous for being famous" would have been annoying, but it takes a lot less effort than faking one's death. 

I'm reminded here of Dirk Benedict, who achieved considerable notoriety in the 80s as the One True Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica and then starred in the A-Team.   Having made his money, he retired, surfacing briefly to denounce the feminization of his old character.

The point is that just quitting show business is pretty easy.  There's always some new face for the press to fixate upon.

Anyway, not only have the Elvis sightings stopped, but I couldn't remember the last time I heard his music.  The "oldies" stations these days rarely go back into the 1960s.  When they do, it's to play songs recognizable through commercial licensing.  Even "classic rock" formats ignore the King, which is weird because I should think his rock is about as classic as it gets. 

My life only briefly overlapped his, but I know his music well because it was pervasive throughout the 80s.  Indeed, one of the strange games memory plays on us is that we often associate music with events that happened years after its release because while a given song may have peaked in one year, it may well enjoy heavy airplay for many years afterwards.

In putting together playlists based on decades, I've found that the change of a calendar is pretty meaningless, and that well into (for example) the 80s, 70s music was getting plenty of use. 

(As a sidebar, there's also the issue that music is continually evolving, which is why 1981 sounded very different than 1985 or 1989.)

Anyhow, it's strange how something that was once pervasive can vanish entirely.


Coming down the home stretch - Walls of Men update

The proof copy arrived yesterday and - as expected - there were a few things that needed to be fixed.  The maps seemed grainy, so I both lightened them up (they are monochrome) and I re-rendered them to a higher resolution.  This should result in crisper images.  Certainly they look better in the electronic format.

Other tasks included listing the maps and completing the table of contents.  I made a few final edits to the introduction and the went through making sure the formatting was optimal.  The final step will be completing the final version of the index.  At that point, it will be ready to publish, but I will wait for a second proof to arrive before taking that step.

I've learned the hard way that patience pays off, particularly in the non-fiction genre.  That make sense, because who is going to trust a history book riddled with formatting errors?  There's also the value for money aspect.  I'm going to charge a decent amount of money for Walls of Men because I've put a great deal of time in on it.  It's also more than 360 pages long - the longest book I've ever written.  All of which is to say it is going to be priced accordingly.

One thing I want to avoid is the mad scramble to correct errors that marred the launch of Long Live Death.  For that reason, I'm going to be extra cautious.

That being said, this is a self-published book, and I hope people won't nit-pick it to death.  Anyhow, it will be out soon enough and then I can take a break for a bit.

 

 


The proof for Walls of Men has been ordered!

Almost there!  Before folks get too excited, I'm not out of the woods yet.  I know there are some mistakes still in the draft, but fixing them won't change the layout or page count.  I intend to correct them at the same time as any other mistakes which I find.  At that point, it can go live and I can get on with my life.

One area of concern for me is the maps.  To keep costs low (and simple) I went with a monochrome color scheme.  These are just sketch maps, nothing particularly elaborate and suitable for a compact paperback.  Still, if they need work, that could induce some delay.

All those caveats aside, I think it will be ready in a matter of days, not weeks.  After that, it's all about spreading the word.

The print version has 360 pages, so quite a bit bigger than anything I've yet done.  I can't wait to see how it feels in my pixel-stained hands.


The National Forgiveness Deficit

Today is the commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., and while I'm not watching the news, I'm pretty sure that instead of highlighting his message of compassion and forgiveness, people will be using it to further stir up anger and resentment.

Four years ago I wrote about this, and how "cancel culture" is the natural result of a society that no longer believes in mercy or forgiveness.

I think part of that comes from a belief on the part of the elites that they personally are justified in whatever they do.   Society is awash in yard sign Calvinism these days, and it's never been a better time to be one of the Elect.  Some obscure teenager makes a joke?  Crush them utterly.  They must have their entire life ruined.

But if you, say, kill someone out of gross negligence, well that's different.  I don't know how much longer this sort of thing can go on and a big part of why I'm cut myself off from as much of the outside world as possible is that I'm tired of watching it play out.  If we're going to do Spain 2.0, I'd just as soon skip the long, boring backstory.

A little pessimistic for a Monday?  Perhaps, but there is something deeply wrong on a spiritual level right now, and I'm not sure how that changes.  The United States of the 1960s was also wracked with turmoil, but there was a universal agreement by the people in charge that open warfare was a terrible idea and they did what they could to lower the temperature.  I wasn't around back then, but I'm getting a very different vibe.

For example, where did the peace movement go?  Anyone who suggests that maybe negotiation is better than mass killing is now denounced as a traitor to the nation - and many of the people doing this were carrying signs that read "Give Peace a Chance" only a few years ago.

It's all very strange.  In a recent Lord of Spirits podcast, the hosts discussed that there are collective spirits - spirits of the age, spirits that rule mobs and crowds.  I think we are very much being ruled by spirits who feed on hate, who seek to fuel death and rage.  Mercy and forgiveness are intolerable to them.

This is all the more reason to practice it, especially towards people we know personally.  In the current environment, forgiving certain things may be folly (and even immoral), but that does not mean we should abandon it altogether.  As I said four years ago, now is a great time to let someone you know off the hook.


Authorial mission creep

I was going through some old emails and read with amusement my earlier goal of having Walls of Men submitted for publication in September. 

As if.

On the plus side, it is getting very close to that point.  The text is good to go, it's been formatted and what is holding me up right now is tweaking the maps.  I originally only projected a dozen or so of them but as I started building them, I realized that I needed more than twice as many.

These aren't particularly detailed, mostly just clarifying parts of the text - which is exactly why I'm adding to them.

You see, the maps have to go into the book, and it's nice to have the things referenced shown in the map.  Thus my original idea of just having outline maps of the various dynasties has mutated into some thematic ones as well.

To be clear, these are monochrome and quite simple, which is why I find it so easy to add to the collection. 

Even so, I'm most of the way done.  If I can get some quiet time this weekend, I may well get the thing submitted at last.

But first, I have to stop thinking of new maps to include.


Henry VIII and Edward VIII: Two disastrous reigns

In my previous post I examined Edward and Mrs. Simpson, a television series which provided (as far as I can tell) a pretty accurate picture of the disastrously short reign of Edward VIII.

One of Edward's recurring arguments in trying to make a twice-divorced woman his Queen Empress was "a king should be able to marry whom he likes."  A quick survey of British history reveals this to be an argument without merit or precedent. 

Indeed, one of the reason why it was socially acceptable for kings and princes to have mistresses was the fact that they often had little control over who would be their spouse.  Dynastic marriages were sometimes happy, but that was besides the point.  The goal was to unite royal houses (and their attendant lands) and hopefully produce an heir.  To do this often required elaborate arrangements depending on the laws of succession.

Perhaps because of the English Kingdom's muddled origins, these laws were fairly fluid.  For example, there was no Salic Law regarding male rulership, nor was there a requirement that heirs be of noble blood on both sides.  English kings could (and did) marry commoners (the current Prince of Wales has done so).

While some accounts of the crisis emphasize Wallis Simpson's American citizenship, that was a secondary concern.  Far more serious was the fact that she had two living ex-husbands, which was a violation of the Church of England's teachings regarding marriage.  As the titular head of the English Church, Edward was bound to abide by its rules. 

Some accounts of the crisis have to offer an explainer on this, noting that at the time this was indeed taken seriously.  Obviously, that is no longer the case, and I've seen citations claiming that in 1982 the C of E said "yeah, never mind about that bit."  Indeed, the last half-century has seen the various Archbishops of Canterbury pretty much rewrite scripture to legitimize all forms of sexual license, most recently deciding that "trans" individuals can have a form of re-baptism.

This is of course deeply ironic, given the number of people killed to create and then solidify its place in English society five centuries ago.  There are countless plays, movies and television adaptations that recreate the life and times of Henry VIII, most of them implicitly taking the position that Rome was wrong and his creation of the Church of England was an act of intellectual independence.

The truth is, it wasn't.  Contemporary events prove that by every measure, the English Reformation was an unmitigated disaster, unleashing centuries of persecution and war.  Henry's serial marriages did not produce a healthy, long-lived heir.  His intrigues bankrupted England, his confiscation of the monasteries undermined the social safety net and severing ties with Rome exacerbated divisions within English society that have yet to fully heal.  It's funny, but even at this late date, one still sees casual bigotry on the part of the English against Catholics.

I wrote at length about how "historian" Anthony Beevor included gratuitous and nonsensical anti-Catholic tropes in his book on the Spanish Civil War, outright saying that Spanish clergy were somehow intellectually incapable of any other occupation.  English period films with Catholics almost always have a scene showing self-flagellation.

American culture has incorporated a certain level of anti-Catholicism, no doubt because of its Puritan roots.  It's amusing to see people claim that the separation between church and state in the Constitution was somehow motivated by fear of the Catholic Church.  In fact, it was caused by the persecutions the Puritans suffered at the hands of the Church of England. 

What made the union of crown and altar so dangerous (and often deadly) was that it turned religious dissent into a form of treason.  Movies about Henry (and especially Elizabeth I) tend to downplay this, but both monarchs put their subjects to exquisite tortures in order to compel absolute obedience.  The Tudors didn't want intellectual freedom, they wanted control.

One could argue that all of this was part of God's plan, and that the martyrs created by Henry have in turn brought about many miracles and ultimately strengthened the faith.  That may be so, but I think it is still essential to fully dismantle the myth that the English Reformation was anything other than a naked power grab of breathtaking scope that brought ruin and war.

And lots of drama, which is why people still recreate it on stage and screen.


Edward and Mrs. Simpson: aristocratic selfishness causes political crisis

I've been doing something of a deep dive in archaic television serials.  I guess some of these could be called a "miniseries," since they aren't really a full season worth of programming, but the upshot is that I'm enjoying watching the old shows.

The latest offering is Edward and Mrs. Simpson, a drama about the romance between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson that culminated in the Abdication Crisis of 1936.

The show aired in 1978, after Edward's death but while the Duchess of Windsor (nee Wallis Warfield) was still alive.  It is very respectful to the subject matter, and while it is taken for granted that Edward is carrying on a sexual affair with Mrs. Simpson, they never so much as make out.

That is to say, there is much discussion of bed-hopping, but all of it takes place off camera.

The story is quite well-known at this point, but I enjoyed this presentation, particularly Edward Fox's turn as Edward VIII.  Fox was one of those English actors who never quite became a leading man, instead serving in a supporting role.  To be sure, he played the assassin in Day of the Jackal, but it was a very restrained role with little dialog.

I think Fox does a splendid job, and many of the set pieces are designed to mimic known photographs or newsreels.  Cynthia Harris (who I don't recall seeing before), is just as good as Wallis, and the pair establish a compelling (and likely accurate) dynamic of co-dependency that explains why Edward would cast aside the throne and throw the British Empire into crisis simply because of his desire to date older, married women.

I'm sure a more modern treatment would celebrate the victory of love over duty, but this 1978 version does the opposite, noting that at every turn, Edward tried to shirk his royal duties and always put pleasure before business.  The picture that emerges is a fascinating one. 

Traditionally, first-born children feel a heightened sense of obligation to their families, particularly since they may have to help manage the care of younger siblings.  Edward seems to have been an exception to this rule, resentful of his birth and working tirelessly to avoid the responsibilities associated with his birthright.

In the end, of course, he succeeds, abandoning the throne in favor of his brother Bertie, who reigned as King George VI.  After some vague intrigues during World War II (which resulted in Edward being the go-to monarch for alternative history regarding the UK), the Duke and Duchess of Windsor became little more than minor celebrities and part of the Continental social scene.  The question of inheritance was moot because they produced no offspring, which was no surprising given that she was already nearly beyond child-bearing years when they met.

(There were of course salacious rumors about botched abortions and such to explain her lack of children.)

The one knock against the show isn't really against it at all, but rather FreeVee, which apparently owns the rights and streams via Amazon.  FreeVee uses commercials to cover its costs, which was once standard practice (and still is in the broadcast world).  However, the commercial breaks in Edward and Mrs. Simpson appear almost at random, cutting through a scene rather than the normal practice of doing it between them. 

I think there's a fascinating parallel with Edward VIII and Henry VIII, and at some point I'll dig a little deeper into it.


My new life as a civilian

I don't generally dwell on personal details, but as anyone who has looked at my body of work knows, I have done a bit of military service.  More than 20 years, actually.

That came to a close at the end of last year.

I'm looking forward to have more free time - that whole "one weekend a month" thing got to be a real drag after a while.  It seemed that every important event was slotted against drill, which not only wrecked the weekend itself, but cast a shadow of fatigue on the following week.  The weekend after was then a game of catch-up on chores. 

It played havoc with my writing schedule.  I might be writing at a good clip and then drill (or a training deployment) would pop up and that was that.  I might lose a whole month.

Folks sometime ask me how I could write at all given the pressures of two jobs plus a family, and the answer is that it became my creative outlet.  I gave up watching broadcast television and cable years ago.  Over the last couple of weeks I've joined the kids in playing console games, but that's also a function of having Walls of Men near completion.  I like to take  break after one project before diving into the next.

My new catch phrase is "people write what they know," and I'm looking forward to incorporating more aspects of that life in my work.  Yes, I wrote Three Weeks with the Coasties while still serving, but I also pulled some punches (and had to get it approved by DoD).

I've probably said before that I don't put a particular emphasis on the change of the calendar, but for once, the diving line is pretty stark.