Works in Progress

Leaving Ford for Waugh

Over the last several weeks I've been re-reading Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End series.

I've now reached the final book, The Last Post and it is just as disappointing as I remember.

Ford's series follows the pre-war and wartime experiences of Christoper Tietjens, a Yorkshire aristocrat with an unhappy marriage and outdated scruples.  He's an amusing, well-drawn character and the books are chock full of amusing social commentary.

The first book, Some Do Not- is a bit long-winded because Ford tends to jump back and forth in time and indulge in lavish description punctuated by lengthy internal monologues.

The next two books - which center on World War I itself - are much better.  They are focused, funny but also poignant.

Taken as a trilogy, it's an excellent work, which is why some critics (apparently including Graham Greene) cut the fourth book out of the series.

I agree with that assessment.  The Last Post is nominally about what happens to the characters after the war, but it is told from the point of view of Christopher's eldest brother Mark, who has grown so disgusted with the world that he has faked a stroke and now lies mute in bed, moving only his eyes.

He thinks a lot, though, and we get to follow his thoughts, which loop back and forth, and repeat themselves in a very tedious manner.  The whole book could have been condensed into a short story, but Ford is indulging himself, introducing the perspectives of Mark's wife, the gamekeeper, handyman, maid, etc. 

All of which is painfully detailed and rendered into various dialects.

I simply can't get into it, so I'm quitting early and turning back to one of my favorites, the Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh.  I intend to write a lengthy comparison between the two books because they are very similar.

Given my work and family schedule, I've abandoned serious writing for the time being.  I've begun a series of pieces for bleedingfool.com that will run on a weekly basis and I'll let you know when they go live.

 


The much-needed change of the seasons

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend in Texas and he lamented the sheer monotony of the weather there.

Coupled with COVID precautious, which essentially leech the fun out of just about everything, he felt as though he was stuck on a treadmill, re-living Groundhog Day, as the metaphor goes.

Being a Michigander, he asked how the weather was and I said the change of the seasons was underway, with the first harbinger of fall showing up in cooler nights.

Since then, the weather has taken a more decisive turn, dropping into the 60s during the day and touching the 40s in the evening.

This is what I consider Ideal Weather.  I love it.

Like just about everyone else, I figured the disease would be bad, but short-lived, as such things historically have been.  What I did not foresee is the political leadership deciding to make the precautions indefinite.  It's profoundly disappointing.

Yet, there are some bright spot.  My diocese reports that not a single case of COVID spread can be traced to Mass attendance.  Not one over months.  So maybe we can loosen things up, perhaps?

Also, I'm glad to see Big Ten football is coming back.  I was all-in on the college game a few years ago before burning out, but now I like the background noise and the occasional game.  Plus, the sports pages are a welcome change away from the howling madness of contemporary politics.

Above all, for me autumn is about tradition, times gone by and fond memories.  It is reflective and comforting.  See it locked up and shut down is particularly hard to take.

We are only getting a glimmer of light, but sometimes that all we need.  Like the distant star peeping through Mordor's gloom, it reminds us that evil can never fully triumph: somewhere, light will still shine unsullied.


More thoughts about writing a fantasy novel

The change of the weather is putting me in a creative mood, and once again I'm at a loss for what to write next.

As I've pondered this question, I realized that the main reason I haven't gotten more than a few pages into a fantasy novel is because of Lord of the Rings.

I first read it in middle school and I've re-read it dozens of times in the years since, most recently earlier this year.  Each time I do so, I'm impressed by the quality of the work and instead of inspiring me to write something on similar lines, I am forced to recognize that Tolkien's masterpiece is the first and last word in the genre.

Obviously, there's a thriving market for fantasy books, and I've read more than a few, but they all struck me a second-rate when compared to the work of the master.  The essential problem is that I can't think of anything to say that Tolkien hasn't already said better than I ever could.

I admit that at one point I was gearing up for a Game of Thrones-style work, but my motivation barely got me to to 15,000 words before failing.  I found the Game of Thrones worldview demoralizing and writing something like it was unpleasant.

Since I write primarily because I enjoy it, I dropped the project.

At the moment I'm re-reading Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End series.  Perhaps it will give me some insight on what I want to do next.  I'm somewhat torn between doing a sequel (or prequel) of an existing work, or striking out with something new (hence the ongoing discussion of fantasy).

The advantage of the sequel is that there's a built-in audience and it's fun to revisit an earlier book.  On the downside, that sort of thing requires careful attention to continuity.  Starting from scratch, on the other hand, offers maximum creative freedom.  Having been recently bound by the constraints of non-fiction, that's what I'm in the mood for at the moment.


Where's my fantasy novel?

With Long Live Death moving to final publication, I'm already thinking about my next project and once again I'm pondering writing an epic fantasy tale.

Why haven't I already done one?

It's a good question.  I'm huge Tolkien fan, spent countless hours playing Dungeons and Dragons growing up, and of course I even did a take on Beowulf.  It's not like I'm a stranger to the genre.

So what's the hold up?  I've done sci-fi horror, space opera, vampires, military fiction and even a romance novel.  Oh, and an entire book of fantasy miniatures rules!  Where's the obvious tie-in to Conqueror: Fields of Victory?

The answer is that because I've spent so much time doing gaming and roleplaying, every time I get going on fantasy story, I get sidetracked (and then bogged down) on world building.

It's weird.  I can write other genres without having to explain the setting in meticulous detail, but when it comes to fantasy, I have to be all Tolkien and discuss language evolution and the date of the ruins.

I've probably written more fantasy material than anything else by far.  Almost all of it was background for DnD campaigns.  In my more mature phase as a writer, I've got give manuscripts that could fit into the description, none of which got very far.  They all come to a screeching halt over setting considerations. 

Until I figure that out, fantasy remains closed to me.

 


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.


Last minute revisions to Long Live Death

I'm hoping to finish up the edits and format the book next week, but there's already been a change.  I'm altering the title to Long Live Death:  The Keys to Victory in the Spanish Civil War.

I'm doing this to differentiate it from E.R Hooton's Spain in Arms:  A Military History of the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.  I've remarked before that too many books on the Spanish Civil War use the exact (or very similar) titles.  I need to be part of the solution.

Hooton's book is very good, by the way, but I would not recommend it to people unfamiliar with the topic.  It is very specialized, giving a lot of (needed) detail on battles and troop strengths, command arrangements, etc.  My book is all about the military, but I focus on the big picture, not the movement of divisions from one corps to another.

I have to admit that I was worried that Hooton would steal my thunder, since we are writing about the same topic, but his book compliments mine nicely.  I think one should read mine first because it's more accessible and provides more background information.  I also have a small section that outlines some of the equipment, so that readers get a sense of what the tanks and aircraft looked like.

At that point, you are ready for Hooton's more detailed book.  He and I are in general agreement, and I cite him several times.  I'm looking forward to having this project behind me and taking a break for a while. 

 

 


A break, and then a sprint to the finish

I've taken the holiday weekend off, and wish all my readers a belated Happy Fourth of July.

While the manic pace of my writing has been impressive, it's also wearing me out, so I've made a conscious decision to stay away from the computer as much as possible.  I'm spending more time outdoors, which is nice.

Still, I'm pressing on with the book project, and got back the edits of my test reader, which I will address next week.  It was well-received, but I am thinking of adding a brief summary of equipment as an appendix to help readers understand the aircraft and vehicles, many of which are obscure even to people familiar with the era.

After much thought, I've changed the title slightly to Long Live Death: A Military History of the Spanish Civil War.  That seems best to me.

I should remark that I sent an email to noted historian Stanley G. Payne and was pleased to get a nice reply back from him.  That was cool.

I'm not sure if my original deadline will be met, but at this point I'm not going to sweat it too much.

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend.

 


Countdown to publication: maps, editing, format and...index?!

This week has been light on writing since I'm waiting for the test readers to get back to me.  Instead I'm working on the maps and figuring out the format.

Also, the dreaded index.

This is a new thing for me.  The maps are basically illustrations similar to the ones on almost every page of Conqueror: Fields of Victory.  Been there, done that.

The index is a bit trickier, because while the function is largely automated, the content isn't.  I mean, who wants a reviewer to whine about your inadequate index?

Anyhow, I'm still on track for mid-July publication.

After that?  I'm not sure.  My unwritten rule is one book per year.  This year I'm already up to two.

I've noticed that the more I write, the easier it gets, but I also feel there should be a point to each book.

On the other hand, it seems a healthy hobby, and when I don't write, I find I get lazy and bored.

Oh well, I'll worry about it in a few weeks. 


The first draft of Long Live Death is now complete

In a surprise turn of events, I raced to the finish line on my latest book last week.  I figured it would take until July, but for once I came in well ahead of schedule.

The stats thus far are 51,000 words in six weeks.  That's a phenomenal writing pace, something like 8,500 words a week.  I don't think I went more than a handful of days without doing some kind of work on it.

Of course writing is just the first step.  Editing can be a slog, then reformatting and (in this case) building the index.  I also need some maps and charts to illustrate my points.  Still, the heaviest lifting is always the writing. 

I've also settled on a title, Long Live Death.  It's catchy and appropriate.

Going forward, I'm hoping to publish in July.   I haven't done my hard copy edit yet, but my sense from doing the spellcheck is that this has less errors because it's a less creative form of writing.  We'll see how that works out.

Oh, and happy Fathers' Day!


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.