The NaNoWriMo 2014 Status Post, one week in

So: way back in 2009, I had this idea kicking around in my head that I could write a story about a continent that boils up in the middle of the ocean and does two things: throws out every rule of geology, provide a haven for people who love freedom to escape totalitarian governments, and show what governments would do in such a situation.
Neither I nor the Spanish Inquisition can count
Anyway, around November third of that year I found out about NaNoWriMo and figured “shoot, that’s easy, I can do that! I’ll call it The Continent!”
pride goes before the fall, with the same result as amatuers launching rockets.
Yeah, sure. Three days later I’d recorded 500 words and decided to quit before I made a fool of myself. I shelved the project and somewhere along the line came up with the idea for Dragonslayers.
Yay me! Go buy the book
That one worked out, as did the projects in 2011, 2012 (The Continent, completed this time), and 2013. Last year was the first draft of Dragonslayers 2: The Hand of Justice, which has been in revision ever since. I’m hoping to complete it by March, and would like to launch it during the week of the Virginia Festival of the Book. By the way, if you want to take part in the early bird beta reader program, you have to be part on the mailing list. Anyway, this year’s NaNoWriMo project is Dragonslayers 3 (Insert subtitle here). Let’s just say this year’s project is off to a better start than 2009.
"Put the spurs to her, Chuck!"
5014 words the first day, and 5020 the second. So yeah, it’s going well. Ten times the performance of the first time I tried it counts as a win in my book. This is the first time I’ve been significantly ahead since I started the program, and the first time I’ve been projected to finish early before I reach the halfway point. Right now, I’m headed for a finish on or about November 20th. After that, I’ll go back to work on DS2 and finish that up in time for editing and cover design by the end of the year – hopefully.

So if you’re feeling like you can’t do it, trust me, you can. I know, I’ve been there, and I’ve gotten past it. They key is to make Jack Bauer your muse and just write. Save the editing for later, there will be time.
Come on, you know he gets results. Just do it.

Labor Day Sale! New Cover! Book Festival!

First things first: The Dragonslayers Volume 1 has a new cover.
DS1 Cover by FJM
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that the previous cover was too much like a young adult book, which is definitely not the target audience. Perhaps high school juniors and seniors, but definitely not pre-driving age kids. Fiona Jayde Media did a wonderful job and I like the newer, darker mood.

So, all of you who bought the book before today now have a limited first edition. Congratulations. If you want one, your last chance is to get a copy directly from me, which means finding me at the National Book Festival on Saturday, August 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Copies will be available for a mere $10. Signed, of course. Also, bookmarks will be distributed.

You can get a paperback copy with the new cover here for $11, which is as low as CreateSpace will let me price them. The Kindle version is here, and should be $0.99 by the time you read this. Those prices are good only for this weekend, and will go back up to their regular $14.95 and $2.99 Tuesday morning.

Finally, for all you Nook fans out there, Dragonslayers Volume 1 will be available for your device after September 8th. Merry early Christmas.

No Longer Free, May 5-9, 2014

No Longer Free

Fighting Back

  • London police to wear body cameras in year-long trial: Here’s the official Matthew Maynard prediction: they’ll see a decrease in complaints against officers, for two reasons. One, people will be less inclined to make false charges against officers if they know there’s video evidence to contradict them, and two, officers will be less inclined to make false charges against citizens if they know there’s video evidence to contradict them. For this reason tamper-proof police cams should be standard on every law enforcement officer in the country, period.

Desire Liberty. Seek Freedom. Make Independence.

Character Interview: Col. Steven Reynolds, USMC

  • What do you carry in your pockets?
    Well day to day I’m in my blue dress uniform a lot, so I don’t try to put anything in those pockets besides a pair of keys and a thin wallet. When I’m in the field there’s always some piece of equipment or a rifle magazine or something, usually a map.
  • Do you ever have concerns that when you’re defending America, you’re defending good and bad people and ideas you may not agree with?
    Honestly, no. My oath binds me against all enemies foreign and domestic, and if I end up defending say, a pedophile, it’s only from external threats. He’d still have to deal with the law, and I won’t defend him against that. That’s what lawyers are for. No, my oath does not come with caveats,
  • What is your strongest quality?
    I’m tenacious. There’s a part of recruit training where you run into this circular arena and pummel a fellow recruit with a padded stick. When I joined the Corps, I made it to this particular training but I was really tired from the previous evolution, and I got into the arena second. The other guy was waiting for me, and believe me, he laid into me good and hard. I ended up on the ground but I kept blocking his blows, and eventually made it back to my feet and pushed him up against the wall and ended up bloodying his face pretty hard. I got a good chewing out for that, since we weren’t supposed to knock each others headgear off, but like I said, I’m tenacious. It just sort of happened, and I was in the moment and just kept going at him.
  • Of all the places you’ve been in the Marines, where would you like to revisit?
    Well that depends, am I visiting for a deployment or a vacation? I always liked the views over the ocean when I was deployed aboard the amphibious carriers, so I think a sailboat trip would be nice. There are also some places in California and Colorado I’d like to visit, and my wife and I would like to take a trip to Europe some day, maybe.
  • What are your most important values?
    Duty, honor, country. I know it sounds canned and stereotypical, but its true. Some people would put family in there, and I get that, I love my family more than anything and anyone but God. But I have a duty to God and family and the Constitution, so if I always keep duty foremost in my mind, I’ll take care of all three while preserving my honor and defending my country. It comes down to a balancing act.
  • What has your cancer diagnosis revealed to you about yourself?
    Um, well, it’s been just a week, so … ah. Well, like I said, I’m tenacious. I know I’m going to beat this, despite the odds against me. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Other Things: why I hate deer

Bambi and her mom and dad are loved by the granola-munching, Prius driving crowd. Me, not so much. As far as I’m concerned, they’re a bunch of overgrown rats too stupid to run from things that harm them, like cars. One of them deliberately rammed my car one time after I slowed down to let him cross the road.

Then there is their eating habits. They seem to love the things that grow in my yard, particularly things humans also like to eat. Like tomatoes and lettuce. They’ll jump in and start munching away, eating anything that they feel might be tasty. “Daffodils? Nah, man, no thanks,” they might say. They also won’t touch weeds if there’s lettuce around, the little jerks.

You’d think this would build a little animosity in my heart towards these gentle creatures, and you’d be perfectly correct. Compound it with the fact that whenever any of my three dogs see them in the yard they start going nuts, barking madly in an attempt to both scare them off and let us know that they need to be hunted for food. The latter is not as easy as you might think in a backyard of known distance. From back door to treeline is only about 25 yards, and I’m well-zeroed at that range with my M1A. But four things conspire against me and my valiant efforts to reduce the population of deer for the greater good.

First, there’s Louisa County. While almost every other county in Virginia allows for cartridge firearms, all hunting in Louisa must be done with a muzzleloader if the caliber is greater than .22. So in other words, unless you’re hunting squirrels or rabbits, you have to use a frontstuffer. This would let me take but one deer a year from my backyard, for if a deer saw his pal get shot you’d think he would not come back for the salt lick, no matter how tasty.

Second, there’s the neighbors. They’re just a bit too close for comfort when it comes to letting lead fly, and the neighborhood association down the street likes to complain when they hear gunshots, even if the firing is far from their little enclave of self-righteous tyranny that is the modern Home Owners Association.

Then there’s the deer themselves. Someone nails a calendar to the tree every year when hunting season starts, because I don’t think I’ve seen a buck in my yard in the month of November. There’s the occasional doe, but never on doe hunting days. It’s like they know exactly when I would prefer to kill them from my backyard and they deliberately avoid it.

Finally, there’s my own skill in the field. I’m quite good at shooting, but I’m also remarkable for my tracking skills. At least, remarkable in the lack thereof. I can track animals, in broad daylight, if they’ve walked by after a recent rain with a bad case of the runs, but aside from that? Not so good.

So I must content myself with the fact that a deer herd will likely not approach my garden if it is close to the house and protected by a four foot suggestion of a fence. And perhaps think about getting a suppressor for the M1A and unilaterally extending the hunting season into October – Walter Mitty style, of course.

Writing Tip: Walking the grounds

There is an excitement at Manassas, a cramped-ness at the Little Round Top, and a simplicity at Appomattox that cannot be experienced without being there in person. I’ve been to all three, and the experiences have taught me something about writing: you have to go to your setting to understand it, and you can’t describe it without understanding it. Knowledge leads to understanding, which leads to descriptions that live in the reader’s mind, not just on the page.

The Manassas battlefield is small enough that you can walk the trail for one of the battles (there were two at the site) in a day. It is a bit of a hike, and you need to be in good shape and know where you’re going, but it can be done. The first place you start at is actually the end of the battle, where the visitor center is located. Looking out across the expanse of the hills on which the first battle was fought you get an idea of the scale of things in that day, and how large the battle was. But at the same time it prepares you to realize just how small the engagement was, relative to what was to come. A quick trip down to and across Bull Run Creek where the Union crossed and you find yourself emerging on the other side of the battle, behind Union artillery emplacements. Captain Imboden’s Confederate guns are barely visible from here, but you tend to forget them as you wrap your head around the scale and start to realize that what was once strictly the realm of artillery is now considered a standard sniper qualification range. It’s a long way from Matthews Hill to Henry Hill, but not that long.

At Gettysburg the close quarters of the Little Round Top belie the scale of the battlefield and the impossibility of touring the entire place in one day on foot. The lines of battle for both sides stretched literally for miles and were separated (at times) by miles, yet were still easily visible to each other. The scale of the engagement in Pennsylvania is enormous, but what is most interesting is that the Union victory was possibly sealed on a hill the size of a tennis court. This is a remarkable conclusion to draw for such a large battle and such a small space – it could be a tennis court in another setting – but nevertheless, many historians (but not all) have reached that conclusion. Roughly one hundred men were crammed shoulder to shoulder into a space normally occupied only by squirrels and strewn with boulders, but it would become the setting for a battlefield maneuver still studied at West Point and other institutions that teach the art of leading men into the jaws of death.

Appomattox is the simplest of the three sites, consisting of little more than a small preserved village from before the electrical age with an attached parking lot and National Park entrance gate. There are two main buildings and several smaller ones, all connected by dirt pathways that serve as reminders of simpler times as well as foot-roads. It is walked in an hour with more time standing still and pondering the events and men that came here in April 1865 than spent actually walking. The room in the McClean house where the surrender took place is small as well; if Grant brought half his staff there would have been little room for Lee and his adjutant as is commonly depicted. But it was sufficient to hold the sentiments of the men involved and the words they left behind for us, as well as the rebirth of the nation and the good and bad that came with it.

Of course, walking the grounds does little to help if your story is set on the moon or some other country or some other planet, but that’s what historical records and your imagination is for.

No Longer Free, April 21-25, 2014

No Longer Free

Fighting Back

Desire Liberty. Seek Freedom. Make Independence.

The Chief, Chapter 4

(Previously: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3)

“You promised this would be an easy job, no mistakes. You drew up the plan, picked the crew, laid out everything. And you failed, you fuckwit.”

“The Chief Justice was in just in the same place, at the same time. It was an unavoidable coincidence tha-”

“That what? That he had the same height and build as the mark? That he just happened to take the same path to work every day? That he tended to be in the same place at the same time EVERY FUCKING WORKDAY?”

“I told you, I would get the job done, and I will. So who are you to complain, huh? I thought you said the Chief Justice was ‘that self-confident ass who couldn’t put together the intellect to blow his own nose’. Wasn’t he on one of your lists? Didn’t you want him out of the way as well? The way I see it, I did you a favor.”

“The only favor you did was to fuck up our entire operation. And for that, you won’t be getting your payment.” [beep]

“Did Robin just flip me off?” Newsome asked his secretary, Rachel Robinson.

“Yes, and I encouraged him to do so. Here, sign these, initial these, and review these, then send them over to Andrew for review before his press conference,” she said as she dumped pile after pile of papers into his hands.

“You know, I like you better when you’re not doing crap like this. I’ve got agendas and speeches and … other stuff to review, so unless it’s illegal for you to forge my signature on papers no one else is ever going to see again, I’m going to hand this back to you and tell you to hold off for a couple hours, okay?” Travis gave the stacks back to Rachel, turned and entered his office. The TV was still on, and still running nonstop incoherence interference. He reached for the remote, but paused with his thumb over the power button.

“… militia types, who haven’t lost any love for this justice? Aren’t the militias and freemen and those types prime suspects in this assassination?”

“Well, yes, they are, and I would -”

“Do you think they were responsible for this murder? Because that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? A political murder in broad daylight?” Travis had never been impressed with the right-wing political news station, but at least they brought in interesting guests, even if their hosts were interrupting morons.

“I can’t speculate on what or who the government has under suspicion at this point,” said the first guest, who sported a beard and whose title card said he was ‘EX-SF OFFICER’. “But I can tell you that I would put the militias very near the top of my own list, if I were investigating.”

“Brian, lemme interject here for a minute,” said another guest, giving the host a taste of his own medicine. “I think you’re both way off base with this line of thought, I think-”

“Way off base? Off base how? We know that militias are all about state sovereignty, and states rights, down with authority, anything Federal equals bad, right?” Brian Tudder, the show host, responded. He was fiercely territorial with his opinions, and had a reputation for defending them no matter what the cost to his dignity.

“Remember, this justice was the one who ruled last year, by himself, that the states had a right to ignore federal laws that directly violated the Constitution.””

“No no no, that doesn’t matter because one, he was wrong, and two, even if he was right, he was still in the minority, all by himself, so his opinion didn’t matter anyway.” Brian and the unidentified opposition guest droned on, talking over and alongside each other without hardly taking a pause to breathe.

Oh, why not, there were plenty of good arguments out there, and plenty of reason to push the ball down the field, as the President had implied earlier.

“Rachel?” Travis called from his office. “Rachel, find Andrew, tell him I’ll have some new talking points for him in about fifteen minutes, and that he needs to incorporate them into the President’s remarks.”

Writing Tip: Writer groups

There is nothing I’ve come to appreciate more since I started writing fiction than a writer group.

In measured doses.

Writing groups can be wonderful for encouraging each other to reach your goals and edit your work. They can also be massive sources of distraction and frustration, because just as you may have to tell your family that you need space to write, you may need to tell your writing buddies that too. Writers can be social too, despite their solitary, introverted tendencies – particularly when the plot line isn’t coming to you. I’ve attended write-ins for NaNoWriMo where they only way to get some writers to shut up was to constantly have a word war going on.

But when they are motivated, either by a goal they set or a carrot you dangle in front of them, they can be very well suited to helping you achieve your goals. And of course, the motivation works both ways. Each writer sharpens the other’s writing, especially when you let go of your little baby and admit that it needs some help.

There is an inherent trepidation when you do this, much like what a parent experiences when they first give their child into the hands of a babysitter. Then again, a parent can bring legal action against a babysitter who harms a child, but a writer has no such recourse when a fellow writer suggests it would be best if the eight-page exposition on the virtues of [fill in the blank] get cut.

This is where I would post a picture of Ayn Rand if I wanted to make a point about her writing, but I don’t, and I think you get the point anyway.

So find a writing group and leverage them to strengthen your writing. Just don’t be a taker without being a giver. Value for value, and all that.