Launch Day


Readers will know that I’m a huge fan of John Birmingham’s apocalyptic serial novel on Patreon. So I’m not going to go into that subject today. Instead, I’m going to talk about the uber-geek side of me that enjoys Launch Day thoroughly. Not only do I track my own launches, but I track those of friends and authors I like. Some examples would be Jason Cox, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, and John Birmingham.

What do I mean by Launch Day? Well, it’s the day that has either been chosen by the publisher or the author to make a given work available to the public. This is a huge deal for the author, especially with a first book. The feeling is akin to dropping one’s pants in public; all of a sudden your secret scribblings are available for random people at large to examine with a critical eye.

There’s a lot of work involved in the launch. You give as many people as possible notice that your book is coming out via a news letter, social media or website, an author may make a book available for pre-order. In some cases the book is released as an advanced copy to reviewers to amp up the hype a little. LOL, of course this can backfire spectacularly, but it’s an acceptable risk.

As an author you look at the date and cross your fingers.

And then the moment arrives, and all you can do is check your figures on Amazon. What do I mean by this? I’ll give you an example of a book that’s been successful in the pre-order stage.

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 6.53.31 AM

Look at the “Amazon Bestsellers Rank.” The lower the number, the better. The 1,278 number means that there are only 1,277 books that sell better on Amazon, a company that has literally millions of books in its catalog. Then look at the sub-categories. The book above is in the top 100 of two. This is excellent, as Amazon lists the top 100 books in an easy to browse format; the book gets exposure to more readers this way and sells more copies.

In the past I’ve been in the top 100 in my categories, but that only lasted for a little while shortly after launch. Some authors can sustain high sales no matter what, of course. An example would be Steven King. But let’s not do comparisons with that guy, because then I’ll get so discouraged that I’ll never write again.

OK, so the book launches and it’s a big deal. At first there is no Bestsellers Rank because the number only shows (1.) when someone has bought the book, and (2.) when the page refreshes hourly. I eagerly watch this number on books that I’m tracking because it strongly hints at sales volume. As the number scrolls downward, I cheer the book and the author on, there is a great deal of vicarious enjoyment for me in this process.

The next launch I’m tracking is Birmingham’s Zero Day Code, of course, on July the 4th. I’m going to totally geek out on this and follow it closely- this is my World Cup or Super Bowl.

Besides the Bestsellers Rank, another thing to keep track of is the reviews. These are crucial to generate “social trust” of a given work. Some people say they won’t read a book unless it has at least ten reviews; so reviews are a big deal and they’re very hard to get. Full disclosure: I’ve sold thousands of books, not sure how many. There’s fewer than 100 reviews of my trilogy worldwide. So doing some simple math that means that I’ve gotten approximately one review per fifty odd readers.

Tough to get reviews. That’s why I usually review good books both on my website and Amazon.

So the book launches and I periodically check Amazon. Why Amazon? Transparency and ease of tracking. I watch the numbers, I switch between various Amazon national sites. Now, I’m not completely anchored to the computer during this process unless it’s my own book. If that’s the case I’m glued to the screen. For other authors I check periodically during the day around stuff like mowing the grass.

This is my weakness, Launch Day. Some have billiards, some have football, some have model planes.

Me? I cheer on other’s success and the culmination of months, years, of hard work.

Launch Day is great, super-geeky fun.



light ruck

From time to time on this website I discuss physical fitness and related issues. Today is one of those days. Yeah, I could discuss Space X’s latest exploit. I won’t because Musk and company are doing the miraculous on a routine basis these days. So physical fitness it is, and the struggles related to that subject.

Ok, about a month ago I talked a little about my gimp left arm and how it got hurt. If you scroll down through the posts you can find the article if you’re curious. It’s called “The gun, the building, and an MRI.” The left arm and shoulder thing is one of the challenges I have in maintaining some degree of strength and stamina, there’s a laundry list of other crap, too.

I’m sure you readers out there who are approaching or have exceeded middle age have similar issues. Age is not kind to our bodies. So I’m going to talk a little about an approach I’ve come up with that’s fairly low impact and only moderately painful. Maybe some of you would like to give it a shot.

What is working for me is a riff off of an old requirement of a foot soldier, the ruck march.

When people think of ruck marches they automatically blanch. The image that comes to mind is a thoroughly miserable soldier loaded down with a huge backpack, a helmet and a weapon of some sort. Well, there’s a lot of truth to that, but the civilian version can be a lot less miserable and far more enjoyable. It’s an excellent workout, and it’ll cost you about an hour three odd times a week.

You do not need expensive equipment. I’ll bet a lot of you have what’s needed hanging around your house right now, actually.

First I’ll talk about the “ruck,” or rucksack, backpack. You can pick these up anywhere. Here in the ‘States Wal-mart has a large selection. Overseas I’m a little fuzzy on. Don’t spend huge money (over 100 USD), but don’t buy absolute junk, either. Military surplus is usually a good bet, but keep an eye on serviceability. There are two rucks I am intimately familiar with, the US large ALICE pack (affectionately known as “the big green tick”), and the MOLLE ruck. There is a third type I’m experimenting with now, a surplus Italian pack that may or may not be available where you live. The ALICE is good, the MOLLE is better, and the Italian is excellent so far. Of course, these are all ugly military bags and they may not suit your aesthetic. However, they are cheap, light and durable. Your call.

How much should you carry? A disclaimer: before you start any exercise regimen, consult a physician. OK, I said it. Now let’s talk about weight. Start off light, say fifteen to twenty pounds. This can be literally anything, but avoid sharp edges or lumpy stuff. I’d recommend water in your load so that you can hydrate along the way. You can build up to thirty-five pounds, my recommended max. Why do I say this? Because the Army has long experience with conditioning soldiers, and thirty-five pounds is the number they settled upon for standardized conditioning and qualification testing.

Ha, learned this the hard way. So I attended some pretty rough schools 2005-2006. To condition I carried a fifty or sixty pound ruck in all weather. One freezing cold day (of course I didn’t stretch) I developed a sharp pain in my knee. It got super bad, I was sucking down Naproxen like candy. Well, I made it through a year’s worth of training with that gimp knee, but it didn’t have to happen.

I was reminded of this a year ago when I attempted to start running again. That gimp knee is still there, and I’d rather prefer to avoid surgery. So no more running. Rucking, though, my knee doesn’t seem to mind long walks. But I digress. Suffice to say NOT TOO MUCH WEIGHT TOO EARLY. Any questions? Consult your physician.

Now let’s talk about shoes. I think the best damn boot in the whole world is the US Jungle Boot. If you go this route, don’t buy the cheap knock offs. The sole will fall off. Other boots work as well, but keep ’em light, comfortable and tough. Another option is a hiking shoe. You can get these anywhere, once again, buy quality. Finally, there is my summer option, the humble flip-flop.

Flip-flops? Surely I’ve gone mad. No-one hikes in flip-flops. LOL, whatever. One thing I wish I would have taken a photo of was the footwear of my Afghans. Those guys would go into battle on Chinese flip-flops, they’d scale cliffs in the things. That’s a bit extreme for me, but I hike all the time on trails and roads on flip-flops. Nothing beats them for comfort on a long hike.

There really isn’t any other equipment you need. Well, I’d recommend some kind of hat, preferably one that soaks up the inevitable sweat. Because if you do this right, you will sweat. That’s kind of the whole point.

This leads into my next subject, terrain and distance. You’ve spoken with your physician, and you know your limits. OK, now it’s time to walk. Personally, I like three miles, or 5k. It’s enough to get the muscles working, but not so far that the walk seems to stretch on forever. Your first walk will show you what changes you need to make in your equipment, especially for the novice hiker. So keep it short, maybe start with a mile. You can and will build up with time. Try out some hills if you have some, get the heart rate up. Be careful on the downhills- it’s easier to injure yourself going down than coming up.

Now walk. Enjoy being outside. Nothing acquaints you with an area like walking through it, you see so much more than whizzing by in a car. Talk with people, see some wildlife. Yeah, at first your shoulders will ache some, so will your calves. This is natural, good. Who knows, maybe you’ll develop a taste for it.

You don’t have to be miserable to improve your fitness.

Give it a shot.



The Forever War

night of the goat

“The Forever War,” by Joe Haldeman, is one of the best science fiction war novels ever. I’d even go so far as to say it’s right up there with “All Quiet on the Western Front,” another amazing book. The title of Haldeman’s book speaks to me of our current predicament; war without end.

The developments of this morning sadden me. It seems a US drone was shot down by the Iranians, this is a further escalation of the deteriorating security situation in the Persian Gulf region.

Not cool.

I spent a big fat thick slice of my career in the Gulf and its environs, it’s a dangerous place. For the past thirty years it’s been like a kicked over anthill, there is always a conflict somewhere. As you all are doubtless aware the US military has been heavily engaged there since 1990 or so.

In theory, this is no longer my problem. My war is over along with my career. But that’s not the case.

First, the war is never over for those that have fought. Not until all of us are dead.

Second, my war is demonstrably not over. All I have to do is turn on the TV or look at Yahoo news. Not in Iraq, not in Syria, not in Yemen, not in Afghanistan. And maybe now a new front opens. Jesus wept.

Finally, a close family member has chosen to follow the colors. She leaves for Basic in August, her MOS is 68W, combat medic. At her high school graduation the students who had opted for a military career were asked to stand, there were something like ten out of a hundred odd.

Every one of them is now subject to being fed into the Middle Eastern buzzsaw. Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy.

They are kids who have made an adult, and fateful, choice. I respect that. At the same time I rage against the forces that have shaped our world into what it is. Can’t we ever stop pulling triggers, dropping bombs? This makes me sick. Weary. Like in the photo above, taken at a moment of exhaustion.

This time, there is nothing I can do but watch and hope for a peaceful outcome.

But how often does that happen?

For the graduating class of 2019, I wish boredom and routine for the aspiring military enlistees. I hope that they get few medals, no wreaths, no free VA care. Maybe that’s not what they want. But how can you bring across that you have to be damn careful what you wish for? Only experience teaches that.

“False is the vaunt of the victor.”

Truer words never spoken, it’s a line in the poem by Robert Leckie, a veteran of Guadacanal.

“Empty our living pride.”

Good luck, class of 2019.




I am so digging John Birmingham’s end of the world project, Zero Day Code. He builds the book chapter by chapter in his pay-to-play Patreon site, and all of us subscribers get to watch from the peanut gallery and enjoy the process.

There have been some new developments, namely that the launch date for the audio book of Zero Day Code part one has been fixed worldwide for July the 4th. You can listen to a sample here. By all means pre-order it on Amazon or whatever.

One of the reasons this is attractive to me is that his format allows for us readers to contribute and imagine along as he creates- sometimes I find myself jumping ahead in the story installments and I create my own scenes in his scenario.

Today I kicked out this blurb, it may or may not have anything in common with what Birmingham actually writes.

But it’s what I’ve created, born of eager anticipation of the next scene or chapter.

Damn is this fun.

Here goes, a little fan-fic tidbit.

Rick ghosted through the Eastern Hardwoods in the blue-black dark. His senses were alive, every noise registered and was filtered through his re-awakened internal threat matrix. He moved quietly. He took long pauses to listen. Rick was a killer holding a killer; his captured M-4. He smelled earth, dead leaves, and a whiff of extinguished campfire. He heard the scuttling of raccoons, the cry of a screech owl. A fallen branch bent, but did not break beneath his carefully placed step. Rick held his weapon at the low-ready, his thumb was on the safety and his right index finger rested on the cold trigger housing. He tasted the evening’s instant coffee. He was relaxed but alert, his nerves sang with the old mortal song. 

This we’ll defend, he thought. His friends, his mate, his life.

Rick took another step. He inhaled slowly, he listened. He scanned. He had never been to this place before, but it was as if he had never left. All that was different was the scenery. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Canaan Valley. All the same to him. Jihadis, bandits. Whatever. They sought his life in the dark, so they had to die.

From ahead, along the shadowed trail, Rick heard a metallic clink. He froze, his senses collapsed into a razor-sharp tunnel.

This, he thought, this is what I was born to do. Rick experienced a moment of free-fall, of weightlessness. Like launching from the door of a C-130.

He acted.

You guys can pick it up from here. Better still, get the two or five dollar a month subscription and follow along as John writes.

It’s worth every cent.

Goodies bag


So as you all may know, I’ve been involved with John Birmingham’s Patreon site. It’s an amazing project where he is creating an end-of-the-world disaster scenario one chapter at a time. Very entertaining to watch as the disaster novels are created, three are planned. By all means sign up and join the crowd.

I’ve recently had the honor of having another one of my short stories published there, it was a bit about a completely unprepared city dweller attempting to escape from New York on foot. Read some reactions, and they inspired me to write this article.

Simply put; how do you assemble a basic go-bag without treading into the domain of insane paranoia?

Well, I’ll help those who are interested out.

The first step to escaping a bad situation is mental attitude. I learned this from Uncle Sam. It comes down to one thing; “I will never accept defeat.” You can always take one more step. Add them up and that one step becomes ten thousand. You need a lot of steps to escape a dying city such as JB describes in his frighteningly realistic scenario.

It helps to have some basic supplies at hand, with very basic knowledge of how to use them. Build this kit, put it in a closet and forget about it, increase your chances. Here goes.

The first thing you need is some kind of bag. Preferably a small backpack.

Now you need a source of hydration. Go with a basic canteen or the ubiquitous water bottle.

The water sources you encounter on your trek to safety should be automatically regarded as suspect. Dysentery is no fun, and can be deadly. Pick up a bottle of water purification tabs.

Now you need shelter. Buy a poncho or a tarp. This can be used both as wet-weather gear and an improvised tent.

Some food would be nice. Throw in some MREs. If you’re crazy enough to carry canned food (heavy), be sure to have a can opener.

OK, so now you have water, shelter, and food. You’re way ahead of the game.

Get a pair of good hiking shoes or boots. Break them in.

Clothes can be whatever. Make sure they’re comfortable, plain, durable. Plenty of usable pockets is nice. A hat of some sort is good, a keffiyeh is nice as well; especially for my Australian friends.

Go to a gas station or wherever and get a lighter and matches. Wrap them in a waterproof bag. Carry one in your bag, one on your person.

A pack of baby wipes and feminine hygiene products, if necessary, would be nice. Throw them in the bag. BTW, a roll of toilet paper (kept in a Ziplock bag) not only works for its intended purpose, but it makes a great fire starter as well.

Speaking of fires, no campfires at night. They ruin your night vision and advertise your position.

A surplus mess kit and a knife is all you need to cook rodents or whatever. Keep the knife on your person.

Buy a map of your area. Keep it in a Ziplock bag. Get two compasses. Why two? You need a compass. One on your person, one in your bag. Learn how to use it, there are instructions included with a new one. It’s not hard; just knowing where North is puts you ahead of the game.

Get a red flashlight, preferably a head lamp. No white light at night; you can be seen for miles.

Finally, a Gerber tool, fifty feet of 550 cord, a Mylar blanket, a small first aid kit, and some trash bags.

Chapstik and fingernail clippers are nice as well.

Luxury items? A poncho liner or compact sleeping bag.

If you want to go all out, toss in a small survival manual, too.

Throw it all together in the bag, and you are ready for zombies or the end of the world. Note: wrap the stuff you want to keep dry, like the poncho liner and spare socks, in a trash bag.

Hopefully this kit collects dust forever in the closet. You don’t have to tell anyone you have it.

But if you need it, you’ll really need it.




Theater of Spies, a review


BLUF- An entertaining, fun book.

Theater of Spies is book two of S.M. Stirling’s Black Chamber series, it takes place in an alternate World War I.

There’s a lot to like about this book, the tale of Luz and her girlfriend Ciara continues. It is based more or less in wartime Berlin.

As my longtime readers know, I’m a fan of Stirling’s writing. He puts out pretty good stuff; some of his books are absolute classics and among my favorite all-time books. If you haven’t read Dies the Fire, Conquistador, or Peshawar Lancers, do so. They’re pretty awesome.

But enough about those. Let’s talk about Theater of Spies, the latest installment.

I won’t do spoilers, but let’s say that our intrepid heroine must go up against Imperial Germany’s finest intel operatives to gather information about what the German Navy is up to. If she fails in her mission, there will be serious problems for the Allies.

The characters are pretty good, Stirling fleshes out the main antagonist from the last book, Horst, rather nicely. We see cameos of some other historical figures, I won’t say who exactly, but their addition was enjoyable, plausible.

Something cool was how an obscure Russian rifle, the Federov, was featured. Stuff like this is what makes alternate history fun. There was some really excellent technical research that went into this work, some undeniably authentic stuff. But then again, that’s Stirling for you. He owns alternate history as few do.

The book itself was a light and entertaining read. I read it in spurts over the course of a couple of weeks starting back when I was in the finishing stages of my own alternate history. As coincidence would have it, mine takes place in an alternate WW1 as well. Mr. Stirling, if you read this, I swear upon a stack of Bibles that I didn’t rip you off.

This book wasn’t as intense of a read for me as the first one. This could be a function of the fact that it is book two of a probable trilogy. Usually chief protagonists don’t get bumped off in book two, and I knew this subconsciously. Also, the ending seemed a tad pat, too many things went right for our heroes. It didn’t throw me off, however, nor did it keep me from enjoying the book. And it’s wide open for the next book, of course.

I do recommend this book and series. Not a lot of writers delve into the Great War, I think more should. It was the war that gave birth to all the ruinous wars of the twentieth century, it was obscured and overshadowed by the second.

This book and series will scratch your Great War itch, if you have one.

Go ahead and read it, it’s fun.