A Man of Destiny

Waiting for DoD and other projects - a writing update

Given that I'm on furlough, I probably should blog here more, but I've been busy around the house and wasting time elsewhere in the interwebs.

I've also been getting some writing done, which I will address momentarily.

But first the big news is that my latest project (Three Weeks with the Coasties, a Tale of Disaster and also an Oil Spill) is done and waiting review by the Dept. of Defense.  I submitted it at the start of the month, but it takes weeks for things to get processed.  Once that's done, I can go ahead and publish. 

It's an odd step for me, but because I was on active duty during the period in question and am in fact still serving, I gotta follow the rules. 

Until then, I've been keeping myself busy on a short story set between books three and four of the Man of Destiny series.  It's for one of those short story anthologies.  I'll let you know if it gets picked up.

Finally, I'm putting together the plot for a new series of books that share a background but aren't necessarily sequential.  I can't really say more about it because I still go back and forth on key details.

When the furlough began, I figured I'd be able to knock out a bunch of writing projects I'd put on the shelf for later, but going through them I see that some are hopeless while others need a lot of reworking. 

For example I had the beginnings of a tale of intrigue, politics and ambition that basically was rendered redundant by Man of Destiny.  The setting might be salvageable but it needs a totally new plot.

I also admit that things that interested me six or seven years ago don't necessarily interest me now.  In addition, I think my writing style has gotten quite a bit better and much of my older work would need to be entirely re-written.

All of which is to say: a lot of the 'future projects' I put on the shelf are likely to stay there - or simply go into the circular file.

Still, I'm hopeful that I can get some things worked out and then plow ahead with unprecedented speed.  The hardest part of writing for me has always been the building the premise and figuring out generally where it's going to go.  Once I get that, it's off to the races.

I suppose some folks might wonder why the Man of Destiny prequel hasn't been mentioned, and my answer is that it's in the mix, but not a priority.  I spent three years working on that project and the short story has actually got me thinking about it again, but I'm not yet ready to fully embrace that madness again.

Maybe after another Star Wars movie comes out.


Jerry Roe, R.I.P.

Last week there were a number of high-profile funerals, but the death of a once-towering figure in state politics was completely overlooked.

Jerry Roe was the executive director of the Michigan Republican Party from 1969 to 1979, a time of great upheaval.  This was the era when both parties were undergoing major changes.  The Democrats were shifting from working-class party made up of rural farmers and industrial workers to its current top-down coalition while the GOP was losing its "country club" old-school Yankee flavor.

Jerry was a moderate Republican, of the Gerald Ford and (specifically) William Milliken variety - low taxes, less regulation and agnostic on social issues.  This stance brought him a lot of grief over the years, something he freely acknowledged, but nothing would budge him. 

I met him in the summer of 1998, when I stumbled upon a campaign for state representative that he was advising.  I was underemployed at the time and without any real direction.  I'd dabbled in politics and figured I'd try my hand at the campaign game.

I had no idea who he was, and my first impression was that he was a cantankerous old coot with a keen mind and a way with the ladies.  He styled himself The Silver Fox.  My nickname for him was The Viagra Viking, and he regaled me with tales of his various exploits over whiskey and cigars. 

He was a keen student of political history and I never got tired of talking to him and tapping into his encyclopedic knowledge.  I believe he visited every presidential grave and - when prompted - would describe them in detail.

As it turned out, our candidate lost, but Jerry introduced me to a number of people over the summer and into the fall and in January 1999, I landed my first "real" job with a decent salary, health benefits etc.   I was now a paid political hack.

I kept in close contact with him during the decade that followed since political knowledge was essential to my career advancement.  In addition to advising various campaigns and chasing women, he taught government classes at Lansing Community College and he was (not surprisingly) enormously popular with the students there.  I can imagine that his lectures were unique.

During those years I met my wife, married her and we started our family.  He was happy for me, but warned me that I had to make a decision:  family or career.  "If you stay in politics, you're going to get divorced.  That's just how it works."

I said I wasn't willing to do that.  He said that was fine, but I needed to find another line of work.  I didn't believe him, but ultimately he was right.  Trying to be an engaged husband and father is fiendishly difficult in the political world.  Candidates can sometimes pull it off, but staffers are always "on the clock" and the holidays everyone else enjoys are consumed with parades, booths and door-to-door.

I wasn't willing to do that and naturally that put me at a disadvantage against those who were.  When I got canned, he expressed sympathy but gave me a knowing look and I laughed.  He told me so.

I saw Jerry less often after I got out of politics.  We'd chat on the phone from time to time and get together, but between my family, day job, military career and writing, I didn't have a lot of time.  Plus, he was still Mr. Republican and I was now A Man of No Party, so I was less inclined to agree with him as I used to be.  I was tired of the whole filthy enterprise, but it was his life's blood.

When I wrote the Man of Destiny series, Jerry was the inspiration for Maxim Darius.  Truth be told, there's also a lot of him in Jermah Macro as well, particularly the womanizing element.  The scenes where Darius explains things to Peer Graff are based on similar conversations we used to have.

Over the last few years, Jerry suffered a series of health problems, including a heart attack that almost killed him.  He wasn't expected to pull through but did, and marveled at his good luck.  A couple of years ago I tried to get in touch with him but he was undergoing an episode of dementia, and I was told to stay away.

Happily, he recovered and I was able to sit down and chat with him this spring with the obligatory glass of scotch (no cigars, thankfully).  I gave him autographed copies of my books, and showed him the dedication, which he loved. 

I'm told that a memorial will be held in November, but not even a death notice has gone out.  Someone updated his Wikipedia page (he was always proud that he was important enough to have a Wikipedia entry), but that's all I've seen.

Hopefully he'll do well in the Final Caucus.  Rest in Peace, Jerry. 


Joss Whedon and writing what you know

I was always a voracious reader and as I got older, I began imagine myself as an author.  The problem that confronted me was trying to figure out what to write.  I was good with short fiction and research papers, but beyond that I was at a loss.

I don't remember when I first heard the phrase "write what you know," but applying it helped me to move forward.  I've also taken an interest in the biographies of authors I admire to see how their experiences shaped their writing.

A big influence in this sense is Stephen King's "On Writing."  I was told that the first half of the book - which is largely autobiographical - isn't as useful as the second.  I found the opposite.  The second half is great if you want to learn how to write like Stephen King, which I absolutely do not.  Instead, I found a lot of insight in how he came to focus on the horror genre.  He had a rough and unhappy upbringing and so he wrote what he knew.

The same is true of other authors, of course.  Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" contains such vivid descriptions of the Italian Front because he was there.  This also works in the realm of fantasy.  JRR Tolkien's wartime service unquestionably shaped his vision of evil and his descriptions of Mordor and the Dead Marshes - just as much as his linguistic and historical knowledge created his iconic visions of elves, dwarves, men and hobbits.

There's another area of knowledge for authors, though, and that's relationship experiences, which is what I want to talk about here. 

Back when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was on TV, I couldn't help but notice that none of the relationships in the series went well.  It didn't matter what the context, they all went south.

Okay, it was a show about angsty teenagers, but the spin-off went the same way.  So did "Firefly," both on the show and in the subsequent movie.

Now I get the value of having drama and working long-term relationships can be awfully dull, but there is some use in having a stable romantic relationship as a baseline which can operate in contrast to the other tormented ones.  Whedon never did this, and I always wondered why.

Subsequently we learned that his relationship with his wife was rather difficult.  Not only that, but apparently he had a casting couch and used it frequently.  Setting aside his blatant hypocrisy in claiming to be a feminist while exploiting his talent sexual gain and degrading his long-suffering wife, I think this is the key to understanding why the relationships in his work ended up the way they did.

Put simply, he didn't know what a good relationship looked like and apparently couldn't imagine one, either.  When he did have one (in "Firefly") he killed off one of the characters.  Even happiness became unhappy.

"Man of Destiny" has a number of romances, some of which end well, and some don't.  In that respect, I think I did a better job than Whedon (and certainly my personal life is better).

Of course, Joss Whedon exceeded my entire sales with a single night's audience of any of his shows, so who am I to boast, right?

In my own defense, Whedon did have the advantage of being third-generation Hollywood.  I'm pretty sure I'd have an easier time getting discovered if my father and grandfather were well-known authors.

Getting back to the point, I find it fascinating that someone who was otherwise imaginative and well-rounded had this blind spot. 


A new year brings new writing projects

Happy New Year! 

Looking back on 2017, I'm profoundly grateful to all of you who not only bought my books but enjoyed them (and particularly grateful to those who left positive comments/reviews).

After I finished the Man of Destiny series, I wasn't sure which direction to go.  I have a few projects waiting on the back burner but none of them really appealed to me at this point.

So I've decided to look a little further back in the timeline of the Man of Destiny setting and write about the oft-referenced Deimos War.

It's not a prequel so much as a prelude as the characters will be different.  At most a few of the principles in the later book will be seen in their youth, but it will mostly involve their parents and grandparents - assuming these were even involved.

To put it another way, I don't intend this to be a back story on the later characters but instead a different tale in the same setting, though it will of course reflect on later events, just as the US Civil War foreshadowed World War I (and the two events are roughly as distant as the ones described in the Deimos War).

I'm also working on a revision for Conqueror, but given that the first edition took 10 years to complete, who knows when I will finish that.

Anyhow, Happy New Year and keep reading!


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?


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.


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.