A big moment

Hey all.

This is the fourth time I’ve been through the indie book development process, but actually it’s the first truly indie experience I’ve had.

Why is that.

Because for my first three books I was shepherded through the steps by CreateSpace, and this time I’m doing the work myself. Well, perhaps better said I’m handling the contracting myself. Things like this cover, done by a talented young art student for a small fee.

Everything is a balance. You can spend literally thousands of dollars on a cover, or you can spend five bucks. Me, I wanted a custom image of a spaceship that closely represented what was in my new book; this turned out to be no easy task. No easy task to communicate my vision and have it turned into what I exactly wanted within my budget.

Well, I think the cover above does a nice job of balancing budget, vision and cost. I can fairly say it is the best of my four covers so far, and I plan on using this same artist for a number of books into the future.

I’m sure there will be a learning curve, and I am looking forward to seeing what other covers she develops for me into the future.

But yeah, this one checks all of my blocks.

Edits

Alright, readers, a quick one today to let you all know that I am still alive.

Actually, I’m very busy with writing chores at the moment, I am churning through the final edit of my latest manuscript before I submit the RD (rough draft) of “The Storyteller’s Heaven” to my editor.

It is a tedious process, but utterly necessary to deliver a serviceable product to my editor, who will proceed to bleed all over it.

This is the polish that you need in order to deliver a publication ready book. This pain, this endless dissection of the MS (manuscript). If you don’t do something like this, be prepared for a whole passel of justified one-star reviews on Amazon. A book is not a first-grade coloring project, and there are no substitutes for the most professional work that you can deliver.

It’s a form of respect for your readers. Deliver the best product that your ability and budget will allow, your people will see that you have put your best foot forward.

But that’s enough of that spiel.

In the screenshot above you can read the words “backwards edit.”

What does that mean.

My mentor gave me this technique, it is terrible in its soul-draining majesty. But darn does it work good!

Here’s what you do.

You start at the end of your book and read it paragraph per paragraph backwards, so that you do not get caught up in the flow of the story.

Trust me, you’ll spot a lot using this technique.

You’ll also get a migraine and a desire to do something, anything, else.

But it needs to be done. This is why I give myself hard deadlines, and I strive to stick to them. Onerous tasks are frequently the most necessary, and by close of business tomorrow I owe my editing team the RD MS of “Storyteller’s Heaven.”

In fact, I am playing hookey from just that as I type this brief message.

Soo…

The Black Fiddle

Shown above is the one material thing that remains of my Great-Grandmother, a mixed indigenous woman from Minnesota. All of my life I have seen this black violin, as kids we used to play with it. It was hers, her son inherited it when she passed. Eventually it ended up with me sometime in the nineties.

Just for the heck of it, a picture of her, Grandpa, and the family dog in the early thirties.

I wonder how often she played this fiddle. What kind of music she played. How she came into its possession. Now, I do know a few things about this violin, but not from any family memories.

No, I learned some of its story when I took it to be professionally repaired around 1997 or so.

First, it is a 3/4 violin. Grandma was a small woman, so that makes a certain amount of sense. Second, the fiddle is from the 1870’s or 80’s, and the wood and brass case is older than the violin itself. Finally, it is a good quality violin with real ebony and purfling, although it is certainly not a Stradivarius as a glued paper tag by the sound post purports.

The fellow who taught me how to play, an old wizened gentleman named Clarence, chuckled when he saw the tag. He had an enormous collection of fiddles, and he set up Grandma’s when it left the shop. He said “Yeah, a lot of those old fiddles had those stupid tags. But it doesn’t affect how they play.” After he tinkered with the black fiddle, he put it under his chin and played it like you wouldn’t believe.

Boy, could Clarence play. He was an old-fashioned real Appalachian fiddler, there was no sheet of music anywhere around.

Satisfied, he set Grandma’s fiddle aside. He spoke.

“I see why she kept this fiddle.” He paused. “It has a sweet sound.”

I later learned from Clarence that that was high praise. His personal fiddle dated from the Civil War era, wow, was it nice.

Clarence passed on twenty years ago, I think I was overseas. I do wonder what happened to his ancient violin. I guess I’ll never know.

But obviously, I still have Grandma’s fiddle. I hadn’t played it in I don’t know, fifteen or so years. My daughter expressed an interest in playing, so it got me thinking about my couple of violins.

The music died in Afghanistan, I couldn’t bear to play for a decade.

But for my daughter?

Yeah, I could at least set the fiddle up, I still remembered how to do that. I decided to loan her my violin, a nice 4/4 I bought at an antique store overseas around 1998 or so. It dates from the early twentieth century, and Clarence told me it was an old orchestra violin with “a decent sound.”

But he liked the black fiddle better.

Of course, it was a 3/4, and I needed a full size violin, so I mostly played the 4/4 when I felt like playing.

Clarence taught me how to play as he knew it, no sheet music, everything done by ear.

Kind of tough these days when your ears got blown out by an RPG.

Plus, hell, I just couldn’t stand it anymore.

So maybe it’s a good sign that I picked up the fiddles and tuned them. But boy, have I forgotten a lot. I even forgot the names of the strings and I had to google them when I tuned the old girls.

I did my 4/4 first. Then I did the 3/4.

A 150 year old fiddle, and it holds a tune and plays so sweet. Shady Grove, one of my favorites, played in a sad minor key.

But no way can I play Ashokan Farewell anymore. However, I am happy that the black fiddle can still do the thing.

Thanks, Grandma.

Sleeper Agent by John Birmingham, a review

BLUF: Can’t-put-down action and intrigue with a sci-fi twist.

Alright, readers. Long time hangers-out at this site know that I’ve done some work with JB, and I think he’s a pretty cool guy.

What you should also know is that I’ve been a fan of his work since the 00’s, and this fact way predates me coming into contact with him. His writing is tight, awesome, and rich. In fact, I haven’t run across something of his that actually sucked, ever. If I did, I would call it as it is.

Well, lemme say that his latest, “Sleeper Agent,” is a very long way from suckage.

It’s a pretty awesome book.

Here is my official review:

I’ve been a big fan of John Birmingham’s work for well over a decade- ever since I found a dog-eared copy of one of his paperbacks in a GI mini-library. Back then, I read a few pages and I was hooked. Fast forward some thirteen, fourteen years and maybe the media type has changed (Audible), but his writing has not. Sleeper Agent, his latest, was crafted to the same high standard as the rest of his catalog. 

What can I say? The book’s start drew me in with a confrontation between the protagonist and some bad guys, and it escalated from there. The narrative tension kept ratcheting upwards as it should, and what seemed at first to be a conventional spy novel transformed into a near-future yarn with strong science fiction elements. 

All of it was credible, there was very little suspension of belief necessary as the tale rolled forward. I enjoyed this book during a couple of long car rides and it helped out during household chores. It was great, and at no point did I have the desire to shut my iPad and walk away. Each chapter found me wanting more.

This. This is what good fiction does. Highly recommend for lovers of general action, spy craft, and science fiction

Now that you guys have seen the boilerplate, I’d like to add a few notes.

The narrator for this book worked very well, it suited the genre and story nicely. Absolutely loved this thing on car rides, it made a few three-hour slogs turn into almost invisible exercises. This is the true acid test of an audio book, IMO.

As an aside, I was very impressed with my iPad’s interface with Subaru’s Apple CarPlay. See image below:

Alright, maybe I’m a technological Philistine, but I was amazed by the flawless ease of use with this system, and the ability to play JB’s latest through the car’s audio system.

But I digress.

By all means, go ahead and buy this book.

It’s pretty sweet!

Shooting for a December Release!

After being mired down in the lousy Afghanistan nightmare, it’s time to return to this site’s roots. Science fiction and writing!

The above image is the rough-draft cover of my upcoming novel “The Storyteller’s Heaven” in my latest trilogy, “The Promised Land.” The premise is that we ride along during the birth of interstellar travel, and our voyagers are… unconventional humans. The first book is available right now in serial form on my Patreon site, and now that the dust has somewhat settled I can tentatively say that I’d like a pre-holiday release in December. Of course, I don’t know if that is feasible, and here’s why.

First, this is my first truly indie release, and my first independent title release since 2017. Yes, it has been that long. By first real indie release I mean I do all the work more or less myself. In the past I relied on Amazon’s CreateSpace service, and that hurt me in a couple of ways. First, when they went belly up I lost access to my master files, but at least I still had the originals as edited Word docs. Second, my original trilogy has their ISBNs. Finally, their service was ruinously expensive and I will probably never make my money back. So, this time I’m doing something else.

Alright, a major obstacle is getting this release edited, but I think this is under control. To everyone out there who is considering writing a book, make sure you have a good editor! Nothing guarantees one-star reviews like bad editing. So you must get your baby edited properly. There are no shortcuts, there is simply the question of how much you are willing to pay.

There are also some administrative issues that I need to make myself smart on, for example getting my own ISBNs and copyrights. Pretty sure this won’t take too long to figure out, but these are details that must not be forgotten. Another important task is getting a cover design finalized. Once again, be prepared to spend a little bit of money for a quality product. I have the good luck to know my cover designer, and so far I have been happy with her work. But it will cost you a bit. However, a good cover is worth every cent! People do judge a book by its cover. Seriously. So what you see above still needs a bit of tweaking, and I won’t let up until I have what I want, and my artist knows that.

Finally, let me say that I released this cover behind my paywall some six weeks ago, and I thought the time was right to spread the word on the free internet as well. After all, I think we’re well within the ninety day window, so it’s time to drum up a little interest.

Personally, I’m pretty excited about this, and I can’t wait to try out the software I’m using to produce this book, Vellum. It’s a pain, but it is nice to control the process. If you control the process, then you can get some stuff done.

Well, I intend to get this done.

December timeframe, hopefully in time for the holiday reading season. I’ll keep you posted.

J

A new addition

Hey readers!

It is with a glad heart that I can announce the latest decision in my writer’s journey, the launch of The KIng’s Ohio Rifles in serial fashion on my Patreon page.

I’ve been dying to release this completed trilogy for the better part of a year, I think I completed Book Three back this past winter. I decided to create the paywall site a couple of months ago, and the thought occurred to me that maybe some more peeps would like to come aboard if I threw in my alt WW1 history into the mix.

Would you like to know the premise? Sure.

The American Revolution didn’t happen, and Bill Strohmeier, a private in the King’s Ohio Rifles, fights for his life in a different World War One.

So if this interests you, you can get aboard for three bucks a month. Lemme tell you what three smackeroos buys you; two series for the price of one, plus ebooks at the end of the cycles. There is The Promised Land, about the dawn of interstellar travel, and The Ohio Rifles, where it’s 1915, but it’s not our 1915.

Five bucks buys you both series, of course, as well as bonus material and my commentary.

And the grand poo-bah, ten bucks? All the bennies of the lower tiers plus you get to pick which series to name your very own character! Or even to write a quick short, and I’ll blend it in somehow.

I’m not going to say otherwise, I’ve picked up a lot of this technique from my friend and mentor John Birmingham. He has a fantastic site himself over at Patreon, if you are not a member over there I’d recommend that you become one.

And it wouldn’t hurt if you wanted to get aboard my site, too.

Catch you soon!

J

One Single Step

It has been said that the hardest moment of any journey is the very first step, overcoming the inertia of doing absolutely nothing.

I agree with this idea.

You see, I’ve really been struggling with this as of late, I have a mountain of stuff to do both with my Patreon site and straight-up writing in my new trilogy.

There are many reasons for this, along with a few stupid excuses. We all know that the kill radius of an excuse is zero meters, right? So I won’t do excuses.

Here is what needs to happen.

I need to schedule the narratives in my Patreon site, the first book of the Promised Land Trilogy is created.

Here is an obstacle.

Around the drama and horror of what happened in Afghanistan I’ve been dwelling on what I want to capture in the opening moments of Book Two of the trilogy. Believe it or not this has slowed me down for two months. My protagonist needs to act a certain way, and I need to capture his emotion, his sense of wonder and fear. However, I worry that my efforts will be inadequate.

It’s time to kick self-doubt in the dick, to paraphrase the words of advice from John Birmingham in his amazing how-to re: being an author.

This is ridiculous. The last thing I wrote was on the 25th of June. The 25th of June. Seriously?

Yeah. Seriously.

Alright, I know this has been a totally distracting summer. Vacations. Road trips of discovery. The fkn debacle in Afghanistan. All of it added up has definitely screwed up my side gig, this writing thing. I am sure that you guys have noticed on this website, because I neglected this place as well. If it were a building there would be a broken window, weeds on the sidewalk and a wet basement.

So let’s get cracking, shall we?

It is time to drop in on my protagonist, Joe. I need to do some reading (and I have. My verdict? Probably not the crap I had feared). After the reading, to re-establish the mood, it will be time to write.

Chapter One of Book Two.

Everyone knows that the second work of a trilogy is the toughest one, the traditional bridge novel.

Well, this is my third trilogy, so it’s old hat. In theory.

BTW, after consulting with my friend, I have decided to release my unpublished trilogy on Patreon as well.

There is a lot to be excited about! I am looking forward to this fall; hopefully I can pull some of you along on the journey as well.

J

No, I’m still here.

And no, I’m not getting drunk a bunch. If any. But there have definitely been times over the past month where I really wanted to reach for that can, or a bottle. It’s been a real adventure around here, and maybe not in such a good way.

Times have been tough.

Writing has been close to a mission impossible, especially with the Afghan drama last month. One bright spot has been the success of the GoFundMe by some other advisors for our interpreters. That worked out well, with three times (nearly) in pledges then the requested amount. So that was cool.

Besides that I’ve really just been watching the seasons change, with the days growing inevitably shorter and crisper as we head into the fall. There’s a lot going on, but curiously there isn’t, also. It’s just being one of those years, and I thought it was something to do to at least give you, my readers, proof of life.

Yes, I am still here. No, I have not disappeared.

I need to return to the keyboard, there’s a lot of work that’s waiting on me to get done.

Especially on my Patreon website. I have enough material for now, but that stuff doesn’t write itself.

So a return to work is past due.

Stay tuned.

A Worthy Cause!

So all of us know the story about the sudden, chaotic and rushed departure from Afghanistan by US and Allied forces.

I think all of you know my opinion about how the withdrawal was handled.

However, this does not take away from the fact that there were desperate, heroic and valorous acts involved with getting our service members, civilian personnel and friends out.

I pull out my hair at the thought of those left behind. It is scandalous, and pure incompetence and treachery.

But many made it out, and today I celebrate this.

With great pleasure I’d like to announce a GoFundMe page for the interpreters and family of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 209th ANA Corps.

Word has reached me that what remains of our battalion, the 3rd, have retreated into the Panshir and are still doing battle with the Taliban. How long this lasts, who knows. But it fills me with a somber pride that my men are giving it their all.

This. This is the least I can do for the living.

The dead cannot be helped.

Disgusting

Yeah, I’ve been quiet lately. There’s a reason for that. Because I do not want to spend a ton of words raving about the abject debacle that we are watching unfold in Afghanistan, a place I know well.

However, I will talk about the situation a bit. There could be some readers who are curious what my opinion is. So I’ll give it to you.

First, some background, BLUF.

The end of my career was spent as an infantry advisor to 2nd Rifle Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 209th Afghan National Army Corps. They say we were “training” forces, but what we really did was backstopped the ANA during combat operations, both large and small. I guess a couple of times I did hold some formal classes and ranges with those guys, but mostly it was patrols and operations.

By operations I mean sweeps, raids, deliberate attacks, ambushes, etc. We attacked and were attacked by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

I got to know what I saw as “my men.” I absorbed and breathed in their fierce warrior culture, the ethos of those rugged mountains.

Why did they fold this past week like a house of cards.

I’ll lay it out.

1. Name a modern army that can operate when all logistical support is withdrawn.

2. We made it clear that we would not support the Afghans after a declared date. So no prospect of help.

3. No air support, very limited Afghan air assets.

4. Years of infiltration by the Taliban, who are famously patient versus the US, who (in)famously are not.

5. The common soldier had pay, food, medical support, etc. witheld by corrupt officials. 

6. High morale with Taliban, the opposite with the Afghan Army, who often felt abandoned by the central government.

7. Superior planning and execution by the Taliban.  

That last point is simply the case. The Taliban rolled up the entire country in less than a week, the morale of the Army completely collapsed and disaster ensued.

I watched the footage of that C-17 taking off from Kabul with my mouth open in shock. The poor bastards mobbing a moving aircraft, people getting run over and falling to their deaths.

The most secure area in a combat zone is supposed to be the airhead. That footage told me that there was zero control or security for a US Air Force aircraft, cargo and crew. Heads should roll.

Heads should roll!

So far, I’m not seeing it. All that I’m seeing is “pass the buck” in Washington, regardless of what the President claims. It’s all mealy-mouthed bullsh*t up to this point, incredible betrayal, unforced errors and obfuscation.

I could b*tch about the waste of years of my life, the ultimate negation of my seemingly misspent youth, and the cavalier dismissal of my family’s sacrifice.

But that’s selfish and stupid compared to the scenes I’m witnessing on TV and the crushing tragedy being experienced right f*cking now by the Afghan people.

It’s like watching a car wreck. You can’t tear away your eyes. I avoid the news and it still finds a way to seep under the door and blow into my eyes.

So yeah. What more can I say?

Disgusting.