Three Weeks with the Coasties

Music to write by

Last night I was bit by the writing bug, and cranked out 500 words on a new project, but I have no idea if it will go anywhere.

I seem to do a lot of that lately.  It isn't exactly writer's block, since I'm not under any obligation to write anything at the moment.

A big part of writing is mood.  With each book, I've had something of a soundtrack to facilitate creativity.

Battle Officer Wolf was written while listening to Enya's Amarantine album, over and over again.

For much of A Man of Destiny, I had a Star Wars mix of the darker ("imperial") pieces playing.

I had a special mix as well for Vampires of Michigan, which drew heavily from the Blood and Chocolate soundtrack.  (Yes, I know that movie was about werewolves, so sue me.)

Long Live Death didn't really have a soundtrack.  I just wrote it in a manic frenzy perhaps sensing the parallels between the faltering Second Spanish Republic and our own.

As for my other books, there was nothing specific, though Three Weeks with the Coasties sometimes caused me to look up the music that was popular at the time.

In any event, 2020 is winding down and so it will soon be time for me to start my 2021 book. 

Perhaps instead of thinking about topics, I need to think about music?

Why did Amazon jack up their cover creator? I miss Createspace

When I first started self-publishing, Amazon had two options.

You could go direct to digital, or use their paperback portal, called "Createspace."

The latter had a much more flexible way to develop a book cover, and since you could port paperbacks into the Kindle system anyway, that was the way I always went.

But that's gone away, so now cover options are pretty terrible.  I'm thinking of just doing the whole file on my own.  Well, after this book, that is.  Right now I just want to finish.

I suppose the ugly truth is that e-books pretty much dominate publishing these days.  What's not to like?  Money without actual printing costs.  I certainly sell more e-books than paperbacks, but I myself do not buy e-books.  I'm a traditionalist, I guess. 

Obviously, this is coming up because Long Live Death is inching towards publication.  I may yet revise the cover, but I'm going to see what I can squeeze out of the Amazon interface first.  Three Weeks with the Coasties used a default cover, but it worked with the subject matter.  The same was true of The Vampires of Michigan, but I want something a little less abstract.  We'll see how it goes.

Observations on non-fiction writing

I haven't written a substantial piece of non-fiction since college.  Sure, I've written reports, articles, that sort of thing, but this is my first stab at anything even remotely approaching a term paper in length. 

I figured that it would be a slow process, requiring note-taking, drafting and then a slow march through the outline, nothing like the speed I achieve with fiction.

I was wrong. 

I'm writing at the blistering pace of 7,000 words per week.  My goal is to have the first draft done by the end of June, and it's looking good.  Why is it going so quickly?

I think there are several reasons.  The first is the nature of the book, which combines a traditional historical narrative with analysis and discussion.  The bulk of the book is essentially an opinion piece backed by what I consider to be key data.  Much of this came to me while I was reading on the topic so the arguments are familiar to me and I'm just setting down things I've been thinking about for a while.

I'm also not doing a lot of original research, instead synthesizing existing data.  That was a large part of my goal -to build a concise military narrative that covered everything I found interesting.  That's a lot quicker than going to primary sources and seeking out new information.

Then there's the fact that I've read most of this stuff fairly recently, so it's fresh in my mind.  If I was starting from zero, there would be a long pause for research, but that's mostly been done.  When my mania hit less than a year ago, I soaked up a lot of information.  Now it's largely a matter of refreshing it as I set it down.

Finally, the change in technology has been a major factor.  In the typewriter era, one had to get everything set just so before working.  Word processing was just coming into play, so I could make corrections easily, but it was a lot harder to bounce around a manuscript and add things out of order.

But that's what I'm doing a lot of right now.  I'll address a topic, move on and then find more pertinent information (or a needed correction) while writing about a different area.  So I simply bounce back to the relevant passage and add to it.  I'm doing a lot of this, particularly as I work on the campaign narrative. 

One thing I did not expect to find was such variation on basic information in my sources.  I have three different start dates for the Battle of Teruel.  I've also found mistakes that could only stand out when one is directly comparing sources.  That's a caution for me to watch for, but also kind of cool that I've picked upon stuff the "industry standard" writers missed.

For those who care, the current word count is above 43,000, so it's already about as long as The Vampires of Michigan or Three Weeks with the Coasties.

Of course, that's not entirely accurate in terms of content since this book has a bibliography and I've added an extensive chronology to help the reader (and me!) keep everything straight.  Stanley Payne did this, but mine is more detailed and includes external events that I feel are important, like the dates of Stalin's purges, Hitler's moves, etc.

Those don't strictly relate to Spain, but they did have a clear impact on it.

My target length is roughly 60,000 words, so if this pace keeps up, I should get there by the end of the month as planned.

Vampires of Michigan goes to the editor

The re-write took about as long as I expected and involved some significant changes, but I think it was all for the better.

I'm not sure how this book will be received.  It's certainly different from my other works, though it shares some common points with Three Weeks with the Coasties insofar as it's set in the modern world and takes place over the space of a couple of weeks.

At any rate, I'm hoping to have it ready by the end of the month for your buying pleasure.

The Fourth of July with the Coasties

I hope all my readers are enjoying America's birthday celebration today.

A year ago this time I was working on Three Weeks with the Coasties, a novel based on my service during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery.

It was also the most depressing Independence Day I've ever spent.  You can read about it in Chapter 8.

My purpose in mentioning it isn't just to push my book (but what do you expect from an author's blog?) but instead to remind people that holidays of all sorts generally wear two aspects.

If they're happy and fun, treasure that, and think to back to times that weren't as good.  Never take it for granted.

If it's miserable, remind yourself that there are others ahead that can be the best you've ever had.

Basically, create in yourself a sense of gratitude for what you have - especially the freedoms we treasure.

And then buy my book!

HBO's Chernobyl is depressing, inaccurate but also necessary viewing

This week I binge-watched HBO's latest docu-drame, Chernobyl.

I was reluctant to see it, by my wife insisted.  Having watched it, I'm glad I did.  I have a much better of understanding of what happened back in 1986.  It is a fascinating tale of incompetence, secrecy, callousness and bravery.

I had a few problems with the show, however.  The sound track is eerie to the point of being annoying.  After a while I started imagining how something, anything would be an improvement.

The show also contains a number of inaccuracies, the most important being how radiation works and what can stop it.  As the show progressed, I was compelled to dig out my Air Force "smart book" and note that radiation exposure does not work the way they say it does and the symptoms are all wrong.  I get the need for dramatic license, but having people suddenly start bleeding due to excessive radiation exposure is stupid.

By hey, gotta use that makeup department somewhere.

The show ultimately succeeds because the acting and story is compelling, even with apocryphal events included.  

The description of what went wrong was brilliantly outlined and I congratulate them on not only getting it correct, but making it understandable.

While environmentalists are using the movie as a club against nuclear power, it's really a damning indictment of the Soviet system.  What happened there would have been (and has been) impossible anywhere else.  For those who don't know, Reactor Four blew up because of a botched safety test.

There is simply no comparison between this and the combination of earthquake/tsunami that hit the Japanese facility a few years back.  This was entirely due to Soviet ineptitude - from the design of the reactor to the callous regard for human life and the inflexible adherence to their bureaucratic rules.

Yet I also felt a stir of uneasiness, because things like that have happened here.  No individuals were punished for the deaths and environmental damage resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  BP paid a hefty fine and continued on its merry way.

On the other hand, word of the disaster spread quickly and soon a massive effort was underway to fix the problem.  Today, the Gulf of Mexico and our southern coast is open for business and doing well.  Chernobyl and the region around it will be polluted for centuries.

Thus while the Soviet system was unquestionably evil, the show reminded me that everyone is fallible, and the only way to prevent disaster is to prepare for the worst - and be ready when it happens.

Yet another "new writing project"

Since completing Three Weeks with the Coasties, I've bounced around on what to do next. 

One option was a prequel of the Man of Destiny series.  This would be set well in advance of the events in Man of Destiny and focus on the Deimos War referenced in background conversations.

Another option is to look at a project that has been going on since I was college - a fantasy epic set in the Atlantis of my own imagining.  It's gone through a few incarnations, none of which worked.

I don't know how author authors operate, but I tend to "hoard" my various projects and come back to them.  I have them all listed on a spreadsheet, which I sometimes review for ideas.  So it was while studying this that I picked up another project that had been kicked around for a while:  the Vampires of Michigan.

At some point I'll stop this game of being indecisive and just bludgeon my way through.  Part of what holds me back is the knowledge that the farther afield I roam, the less of a "genre" author I become.  Most authors seem to find a niche and stay there.  If I were doing this as my primary source of income, I guess I would do that, too, but since it's a hobby, I can do what I want.

On the downside, that gives me extra opportunities to waste time.

Plus, it's summer.  Who wants to stay inside and write?

"Three Weeks with the Coasties" is published at last!

It took almost two full months, but my latest novel is now live on Amazon.

Here's the description:

He's in the game at last...

For eight years Tech. Sergeant Eric March has been preparing for a “real world” operation, training for an overseas deployment that never comes.

Finally, in the spring of 2010, the Air National Guardsman is mobilized – not for a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, but to assist the Coast Guard with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response.

Based on the author's personal experiences, Three Weeks with the Coasties is a brisk and sharply humorous take on the challenges of crisis management, the absurdity of military bureaucracy, and the unique challenges reservists face as they try to balance their civilian jobs, their families' needs and their service obligations.

It also documents the dedicated efforts of thousands of men and women to contain and clean up the worst environmental disaster in American history.

Funny, lighthearted, yet also poignant, Three Weeks with the Coasties presents the human side of the relief effort that the official histories leave out.

I do go on.

Anyhow, grab your copy today and let me know what you think.  The Kindle version is live, and the paperback should be available shortly.