Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review of The Hobbit

I sat through a 3D IMAX viewing of The Hobbit today, along with the extended preview of the new Star Trek movie.  In the end, I found myself liking The Hobbit (three out of five stars) and loving the Star Trek preview. 

I went in a bit excited.  I had heard the hype about the new high speed filming technique though I must admit, I was a little strained at the concept of turning The Hobbit into a trilogy.  My concerns were semi-justified.  The Hobbit is a good movie – it’s just not great, which is a shame. 

We all know that The Hobbit was intended as the enchanting prelude to the Lord of the Rings.  Got it.  But when Professor Tolkien penned the book, he made it stand alone.  It was the journey of Bilbo Baggins who happened to find a magical ring that made him invisible.  We saw Bilbo grow, overcoming his weaknesses, and becoming more of a character that was heroic. 

We get that in the movie, but Peter Jackson has made this first film more of a prequel to the Lord of the Rings than was ever necessary.  Yes, it adds to the story, and I’m sure the die hard fans of the Lord of the Rings movies will devour this addition to the original story as new canon.  I didn’t.  It seemed to draw me away from the real plot and story that the movie should be focused on – Bilbo’s journey. 

When the movie focuses on the material from the book, it’s good.  Jackson has added a lot of additional depth which I’m not convinced makes the story.  The build-up of Thorin’s nemesis, the injured Orc king, while nice, detracts from the original story. 

The battle in the Goblin King’s lair felt a little over-the-top to me.  It felt like Jackson was trying to top his scenes from the Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring.  But hey, there was a lot of action so I enjoyed it.

From a character standpoint, I got the dwarves confused.  With a couple of exceptions, they didn’t come across as individual characters but as a merged group of characters.  I’m hoping this will change in the coming movies. 

We don’t get to see Smaug the dragon in this movie, not entirely.  We get enough snippets to know one thing, he’s scary as all hell. 

I’m not a purist to Tolkien’s texts, but The Hobbit holds a spot near and dear to me as a book I’ve read seven or more times in my life.  The movie was good, but it could have been betting if it had stuck to the original book’s themes without the additions.  Just my personal opinion.  I’d say check out the movie, but go in prepared to see something more than the book.  You will need to determine if that is a good thing or not.    

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Game of Thrones Fixation

Having now made it through season two of HBO’s rendition of Game of Thrones I find myself inspired.  I read the first book of the series, A Song of Fire and Ice, I am unsure if I want to read the second book.  HBO has done such a great job of rendering the story to the screen, it’s hard to say that it would be any better to read the book.  With season three coming in March, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy reading or watching it first.  Even worse, do I even need to read the books since the series does such a good job of retelling the story?  If you haven’t seen it, the series is that good.  This may be one of the rare times where a movie may cut into book sales (though I tend to doubt it) because the quality is so high. 

For the first time ever as a writer I’m contemplating writing a fantasy series.  This began two years back, even before I got drawn into the kingdom of Westeros I started my Dungeons & Dragons campaign world back when I purchased my white book set (first edition).  Each time I start anew, the universe I’m writing has begun to evolve.  With influences like Katherine Kurtz and now George R. R. Martin, I am envisioning a final stage of the evolution – into a series of novels.  Just documenting the lead characters and factions have already taken up dozens of pages.  A year ago I began to cull my notes into an organized fashion – which is usually a precursor for me to undertake writing a book.  I did it almost unconsciously, even before I began a GoT addict.  Watching the series has begun to inspire me though. 

As a writer – do I really want to go there?

The appeal of George R. R. Martin’s kingdom of Westeros is that it has been highly defined.  The complete history of the characters for generations is mapped out.  The history of the world is well defined.  There are characters we love, and those we hate (Joffrey - let's be honest, he's not even lovable to his mother by the end of season 2).  There is the hint to true history, The War of the Roses (Lancaster’s vs. York’s) being reflected in the Lannister’s vs. the Starks.  The word is rich but not overpowering.  Seemingly minor characters rise to the forefront.  Politics trumps swordplay.  Major characters can and are killed.  Each character has a journey they follow as they evolve (or devolve). 

As I stare at my author’s notes and concepts I know I would not be doing a Game of Throne’s knock-off.  My story is very different, but no matter what, people will draw parallels.  Martin has set a new standard for such fantasy book series.  People have incredible expectations now for such series.  And undertaking it would not be a short journey, it would take years to craft this story the right way. 

As a writer, I'm always tackling new genres.  Fantasy doesn't scare me.  Living up to the expectations of readers does.  

Yet despite this the lure of penning a massive fantasy series has a lot of appeal.  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Ready for the Late December Gaming Sessions

My son Alex (aka his professional name, William) will be back from Michigan this holiday season, as will our neighbors/friends the Rivenburgs which can only mean one thing – gaming!  I’m not talking online – I mean boardgames, miniatures, and RPG’s. 

On deck this season is a planned monster game of Leviathans!  If you haven’t picked up the game, order it.  We’re talking a steampunk miniatures boardgame set at the turn of the century – with flying battleships!  I did some of the background fiction writing and playtesting of the game system and Alex did some playtests of the game early on.  Naturally I'm biased that the game is incredible.  We’re planning on a big battle which I will be photographing the moves for a future blog post.  We’re talking big – two full game sets plus all of the additional ships from the expansion packs and the ones we won at GenCon.  This is going to be brutal, massive, and painful.  I can’t wait. 

Miniatures and board games are great but you have to have opponents.  Leviathans launched a Kickstarter to have a mobile device version of the game and I have to admit, I’m geeked.  Finally all of the fun of the game and I don’t have to wait months for players.  Go to and check it out. 

I picked up Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars X-Wing fighter combat game this year too.  Love the minis and from what I’ve seen of the system, this is going to be a lot of fun to play.  Alex was always a Star Wars fan so this should be a hoot to break out. 

I have been recently making the proverbial hop from Dungeons and Dragons to Pathfinder, thanks to Barry Buchanan.  In high school I Barry played in my group and at GenCon two years ago he convinced me to try Pathfinder.  I was shocked.  One, it was well written.  Two, it simplified all of the overburdened rules of D&D.  For years now I have had a well planned fantasy game setting that I am revamping now to incorporate Pathfinder.  Not only that, but I’m planning a seven book series on the universe setting – one I’ve been working on since college.  The downside, it’s as complicated and complex as Game of Thrones.  The upside, it’s as complicated and complex as Game of Thrones.  I hope to get in one session during the time between Christmas and New Years.  That, or Mutants and Masterminds.  Let’s be honest, this is a win-win scenario for me. 

Finally, nothing says loving like invading the United States of America Red-Dawn style.  Yup, time to break out the new edition of Fortress America.   I played this puppy at Gen Con and got hooked on it all over again.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Social Media and the Daisy Zick Murder

Daisy Zick near the time of her murder 

Now that I’m done with my Cuban Missile Crisis book, I’m turning my attention to my true crime book on the Daisy Zick murder in 1963.  The working title for this is: A Special Kind of Evil. I’ve spent a good six hours going back over the police case file and my notes on the case.  

Unlike my previous books, I’m leveraging social media (Twitter and Facebook primarily) to solicit information on the case and people.  I’ve made some postings simply letting people know I’m working on the project.  I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would get. 

The reaction has been incredible.  First off, there have been two tips that were solid enough for me to pass onto the State Police.   This is fantastic.  Secondly, a significant number of people came back with memories they had of the crime or of Daisy herself which I have been able to include in the book.  Some were unsure if their information was of interest or use – but it was.  Even the rumors they heard are part of the myth that has built up around this case over the decades. 

Social media like Facebook is changing the way authors connect with communities.  I’ve been able to leverage pages like “You know you’re from Harper Creek if you…”  same with Battle Creek, etc..   I have connected with Historical Societies via Facebook, as well as some people directly.  It never ceases to amaze me how connected we’ve all become.  I have been able to link up with relatives of some of the officers involved with the Zick murder over the years too.  I find with my true crime projects that people want to know about the men investigating the case almost as much as the victims and killers. 

So has this led to a resolution of the case?  Time will tell.  It has helped me produce a better book, and for that – I’m grateful.  And for those of you that weren’t sure about contacting me – don’t hesitate.  My email is at  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yes, I DO read comic books....

I read comic books. There, I said it. I'm a 50 year old guy that reads comic books. In my youth this was the equivalent of a tattoo that says 'GEEK!" back when being a geek simply drew the abuse of the jocks in school. I doubt at my age that anyone is going to give me a swirly or a titty-twister, but I am fully prepared for such attempts.   I don't live with my mom, I married a beautiful woman, I have two highly successful children, and have a pair of semi-successful careers.  

When I was a young adult I recognized comics for what they were - great stories. These were shared universes where the characters were fully developed yet every month, developed a little more. We had recurring characters (good and bad) that showed up on other intellectual properties. Of course at the time I didn't think of the words, 'intellectual properties,' but you get the drift.

There were a lot of us that were comics readers, we didn't talk to others about it. For decades there were two camps - DC fans or Marvel fans. I was a DC guy but enjoyed reading Spiderman from time to time. I was as stunned as everyone when Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacey.

The problem with comics is that they had a stigma associated with them. Society looked at a 30 year old purchasing the latest Iron Man as the kind of guy still living in his parent's basement. That wasn't necessarily the case. Most of us simply recognized good stories and characters. Still, for decades, we purchased comics in relative secrecy because of memories of the purple-nurples of our youth.

Then the Batman movies came out - followed by Spiderman. Suddenly, comic stories had become socially acceptable. The release of the Iron Man franchise and the reboot -of Christopher Nolan's Batman made that stand out even more. Face it, you enjoyed the Avengers, even if you never read Marvel comics as a kid. Welcome to the party pal.

There are times when I got a year or two without a comics. I'm a reader, not a collector. My comics are not an investment, that's whacked. I pick them up to read them. For a long time it was hard to jump back in with the complicated story lines and sub plots. But DC recently rebooted its entire franchise, starting all over with the classic comics. Marvel has started Marvel Now! which is not a reboot but a new set of storylines. In the last year or so, the comics industry has realized that it needs to make it easier for people to join our ranks as readers. I've been able to jump back in on the Batman miniseries (The Return of the Joker - Death in the Family) and in two of the Marvel lines (Iron Man and The Uncanny Avengers - a mix of the X-men and the Avengers). Oh yeah comics industry, I'm back!

As a writer of science fiction in shared universes, I've always wanted to author a comic book or two - and who knows , I may do just that at some point. For now, I consider my reading as "advanced research."

Now that I'm iPad enabled, I've found that comics have successfully become available in this venue as well. Marvel has the leg-up here. In each hard-copy comic is a code you can enter to get a free copy digitally. So, I can carry my Marvel collection with me. How cool is that? 

I am pleased that The Big Bang Theory features a comic store as a recurring locale.  I, like the characters, wear tee-shirts with super hero fairness I have been doing that for years, much to my wifes' chagrin.  I enjoy that show more because of the insider jabs at the nerd community - like when they argue about comic characters.  

Now my three year old grandson is into comics. Every so often we go to the comic store in Gainsville VA and he gets a comic from the kids rack and I pick up a few select titles. At least three times a week he comes to my office at night and we read the comics (I summarize them for him). You can see the glimmer in his eyes, he's hooked. Circle of Life man…that's what it is.

Don't poke fun at those of us who read comics. If it wasn't for us you wouldn't have had your summer blockbusters this year. Remember, there are more of us out there than you know. Carry on true believers...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veteran's Day 2012

I know the US government recognizes this holiday Monday, but I am a historian and recognize that on the 11th hour, of the 11th month, at the 11th hour is when the Great War came to an inglorious end.  Because I write biographies of Great War figures (Graf von Luckner, Frank Luke, Frederick Zinn, and my upcoming book on Bert Hall,) I recognize the significance of getting the day right.  It’s not just about being a federal holiday in the US, it is a day of honor and respect with our allies overseas who lost a generation of men in a horrific meat grinder of a war. 
Honoring our veterans shouldn’t be limited a single day out of the year.  It should be an unconscious acknowledgment of the role of the military in our lives.  This is not just about the men and women in the service, but their families as well. 
When I wrote my book Lost Eagles, I became exposed to the MIA/POW issue as it pertained to WWI and WWII.  Honoring the living is important – but so is respecting those whose final fates still have not been determined; and their families who never received closure.  The plight of those that were prisoners of war or those that have gone missing whose remains have never been found has a profound impact on those they left behind.  When I started that book I thought it was important for the sake of honor to bring our missing men home.  I learned that it was more important to the families. 
So on this Veteran’s Day my heartfelt thanks and appreciation go to the families of those that serve and those that have never come home.  We have not forgotten, nor will we, the sacrifices that you all have made.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Movie Review - Argo

I was 16-17 years old when the Iranian Hostage Crisis played out. My memories of it were not fond. We had given the corrupt former ruler of Iran refuge in the US. Protesters overran our embassy and took our embassy staff hostage. The US appeared impotent to do anything to get them free. We sent a rescue mission in at one point but it was a debacle that resulted in lost American lives and no hostages freed. 

In the middle of this six Americans were seemingly smuggled out of Iran by the Canadians. They had managed to flee the embassy and avoid being captured. What we didn't know at the time was that their flight was the result of a CIA operation that just barely was successful in getting them their freedom.

That is the core of what the movie Argo is about - the secret mission to get these Americans back home. And it is one of the best movies I've seen since The Avengers.

First and foremost the casting is brilliant. The people cast look almost identical to their real-life counterparts which I think is awesome. I'm not a Ben Affleck fan, nor do I dislike him. His character was incredible. This is not some over-the-top action thriller. This is a real-world CIA exfiltration mission and despite the low-key approach, you really ended up liking both Affleck and the character he played.

Here's the deal - you know these people get out of Iran in the real world. But the tension is so high in this movie you are on pins and needles the entire time. There are so many things working against these potential hostages and their CIA savior (Affleck) that you are riveted right until the end of the movie.

The character I ended up loving the most was Affleck's CIA boss - played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston. Let's be blunt, Cranston is one of the most stunning actors in Hollywood, doing everything from comedy to high drama. In this role he is stunning. The audience a few times actually applauded his character. How often do you hear that about a movie?

Finally, Hollywood is producing new, fresh movies rather than retreads/reboots of old franchises. Argo has moments of humor, a few minutes of pure terror, and acting that is worthy of an Academy Award. This is a must-see film that reopens the old wounds of the Iranian Hostage Crisis and provides just enough historical context to make it very pertinent even today. I would give this six stars out of five - Argo is THAT good.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt

"This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."
Henry the V, William Shakespeare

It is October 25, the anniversary of he Battle of Agincourt (1415). Considered by many to be one of the most brilliant battles of the medieval era and certainly one of the most interesting of the Hundred Years War. I'm a fan of battles where one side is greatly outnumbered and prevailed. For me, my love of this battle goes back to my purchase of the old SPI boardgame Agincourt -Archery Over Armor - still a classic in my book.

The English expedition in France had been plagued with long wet marches, dysentery, and a French force determined to attack and capture/destroy them. When twenty-eight year old Henry the V's force of approximately 6000 moved towards the port of Calais to return to England he encountered a French force outnumbering him from 3-5 to 1. For the French it should have been an easy victory. The English force was nobles and commoners, many with the English longbow. The French had heavily armored cavalry, some crossbowmen, and legions of French noble knights.

The topography of the battlefield played well to the English. The flanks were heavily wooded, prohibited the cavalry from sweeping along the flanks to attack the bowmen. The field was wet and churned to mud easily. The land had difficult to see drop-offs which provided deceptive cover in the open too. Henry opted for a defensive fight, ordering his men to sharpen stakes and angle them towards the French position.

The French moved on the English first, sending their cavalry tearing at the English line, churning the field into a muddy ooze as they came. They encountered the English longbowmen, the machineguns of the medieval battlefield. With iron tipped bodkin arrowheads, these bows could rain down fire that could pierce the French armor - and did. The cavalry was devoured in raining waves of arrows.

The French crossbowmen moved forward to deal with the English bowmen. While effective, the crossbow took three times as long to load as the longbow. Soon these men were devastated under English bow fire.

The armored French knights slowly surged forward in dense formations, going over the muddy ground which slowed them considerably and made the trek even more difficult. The rain of arrow fire consumed them and the moving mass of men pushing forward often trampled the men ahead of them. The woods on the flanks served to funnel them into the English. The few knights that did reach the line found themselves dealing with the English knights who quickly finished them off or captured them.

The French sent a squad of knights to try and kill or capture Henry personally, only to have them cut to shreds in the process. A significant number of French knights were captured to be held for ransom, a common practice at the time. When Henry heard a rumor that French cavalry were moving to free the prisoners he ordered them killed so as to free up the men watching over them for battle.

In the end, the French force was decimated. Shakespeare did the rest - immortalizing the battle in his play Henry the V in the classic St. Crispin's Day speech.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis - Day-By-Day

I am just finishing work on a my book on the Cuban Missile Crisis (The Fires of October) and I thought now would be a good time to start posting a reflection back on the crisis – day-by-day.  This is the 50th anniversary of the crisis, thirteen days that the world held its breath during. 

The missile crisis has an almost cult-like following by historians (if such a thing exists).  The reason is that there are so many different aspects to the crisis to explore.  There’s the crisis management and decision making processes that unfolded.  There’s the military build-up and the concept of an escalation to a global nuclear war.  The angle I’m writing about is the planned invasion of Cuba – OP Plan 316-62 which has been largely overlooked over the years.  Stepping into writing the Cold War is something that makes me cringe a little.  I’m not part of the ‘club’ yet with the historians who cover this subject.  I’m hoping they see some merit in the last three years of research I did on the topic. 

My reason for starting today, October 14, is that is the day that the crisis began to unfold.  A U2 surveillance flight by Major Richard Heyser over Cuba took photographs that would lead to the ignition of the crisis.  There had been previous flights, but his was the first that brought back tangible evidence of the strategic Soviet build-up on the island. 
Each day or so I will post up some other nice little tid-bits on the crisis.  Bookmark me and stay tuned.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Getting Back To My Roots As A Writer

Back in college at Central Michigan University, for two years I wrote for the school newspaper, the award winning CM Life. I was an editorial columnist - which meant I had the privilege of writing about whatever I felt like. Some of my material was funny, some serious, a few pieces were political - while others simply poked fun at campus life.

I got the job by walking in with two of three samples and asking. The editor looked them over and offered me the job right on the spot. For me it was a catalyst for my writing career. I got to try out new techniques and approaches to writing and the feedback was instant…simply walk across the campus and people let you know what they thought.

Just before graduation the editor commented, "we never see you in our Journalism classes," and I told him that was because I wasn't a journalism student. I was in the College of Business. Writing was just something I enjoyed doing.

From the basement of Anspach Hall I started to write science fiction products for BattleTech, Star Trek, and then branched out into writing business management books, Sci-Fi, horror, true crime, biography, and military history. I have been fortunate enough that my books are sold around the globe and I have thousands of readers.

This summer while doing a TV interview on my true crime book Secret Witness, the editor of the Culpeper Times and I talked about my early days. She did something remarkable. She offered me a job as an editorial columnist. I hesitated a little at first. When you write such a column there's bound to be people that disagree with you and I live in small community where my family might catch some of that flak. It was a job with no pay and I am always busy working on my next book - careening towards that next deadline. There were a lot of reasons to not do it - but a part of me wanted to touch that part of my youth one more time. 

So I agreed.

It has been a blast. Here's my latest tid bit. I have enjoyed doing it and the feedback has been great. That hour I spend every month writing these columns takes me back to the 1980's and writing for the CM Life.

They say you can't go back in time…let me assure you, there are ways! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Fortress America

I am from the last generation that remembered the threat of the Soviet Union. When the movie Red Dawn came out, there was a part of us that identified with the theme…that the United States might actually be invaded at some point. In the midst of this, Milton Bradley released Fortress America. The game was cool - the invasion of the United States and the US struggling to hold the invaders at bay. It was made even more eerie when the box had a picture of Saddam Hussain and the World Trade Center towers on it.

Of course political correctness required them to reissue the game sans the artwork.  But the end of the Cold War seemed to seal the fate of this game, exiling it to eBay. Back in the day I played it a few times and enjoyed it. It had a good feel to it. Well, this year, Fantasy Flight Games re-released the game. Needless to say it was one of my first purchases at GenCon this year.

The game revolves around a simple concept. The US is being invaded. Each turn the invaders penetrate deeper into the country. The US is deploying a laser defense system that can knock out game pieces anywhere on the map. Each turn, the US gets an additional one of these. By about turn 6-7, these pieces can devastate the invaders, holding them at bay. So it's a race of sorts, knock the US out of the game or by turn eight or so you are getting blasted.

A few good changes have been implemented from the old Milton Bradley game. First, the game components are much better. Secondly, the invaders now have cards they obtain in the course of play that can help tip the odds. One card in particular, allows a player holding Colorado Springs to negate the lasers for one turn. This can turn a game of annihilation into one where there's a last minute hope for the invasion forces.

The US gets hit on three fronts; east, west and south. The east coast becomes a slugfest for DC (useful because it allows good access to the interior) or New York. The southern invader needs to decide is it a straight shot up the Mississippi or a swing into the southern states. The western invader has those pesky Rocky Mountains which forces a drive either along the northern edge of the US towards Chicago, or towards the great plains. The invaders can establish footholds deeper in the US giving them landing zones for reinforcements that get them into the fight sooner. Strategy-wise, there's a lot of nuances here that makes the game fun and challenging.

The game can be played with two players or four (one for each invasion corridor plus the US)
The US player relies on partisans which can wreck havoc and a wicked defense to buy time for more laser batteries to be deployed. The invaders have a steady stream of reinforcements but with each turn, their losses mount due to the laser batteries.
The units include bombers - which can fly deep for penetrating attacks, infantry/partisans, Mobile (APC's) which allow for transport of troops (important if you are the west coast invader), hovertanks, cities, and laser batteries.

The cards make the game, they give it flavor and can provide some interesting circumstances for both sides. You have things like The NRA organizes a rebel training camp in the Rockies or Washington is Burning! These events/cards can give you new unexpected reinforcements or can sway the course of battles.

Combat is simplistic - almost ala Axis and Allies. Hey, if you are looking or a 'historically accurate' game look somewhere else. Fantasy Flight walks the line between a detailed wargame and a beer and pretzel's game.

This game really took me back to the old version and I'm glad this one is out. My rating - five stars out of five. Time to invade America! "Wolverines!!"  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Brief Update...

I have been down with bronchitis the last week or so, which as cut into my writing and research…not to mention my getting ready to run the Army Ten Miler next month.  There’s so much going on, I thought  a quick update was in order. 
First, on Virginia Creeper, the word “wow!” doesn’t seem to capture it.  The book has spent nine days on the bestseller list for paid-for-books.  This is my second book this year to hit the bestseller lists, the other being Secret Witness.  I have been pleased with the number of people that seem to gravitate to Creeper.  With Halloween coming up, things are bound to stay brisk in terms of sales.  I have had more searches to my web site and blog on Drew Fitzwater and the Route 211 Murders than anything else.  The number one question I get about the book is, “Is this a true story?”  Fascinating!  I’d say read the book and make your own judgment call on that.  Everything is in the book, unless you want to undertake some research on your own.  I’ve even heard there are web sites out there on the murders – so check them out (though personally I found them lacking details when I was working on the book.)  So far there have not been complaints from people up on Pignut Mountain about visitors looking for the Fitzwater farm, but, like I said, Halloween is just around the corner. 

My book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Fires of October, is on the downward end of writing.  I’ve already started to get requests for interviews about the book which tells me this book is going to be widely accepted.  There are a lot of great books out there on the missile crisis – mine goes at it with a relatively new angle – the planned invasion of Cuba.  I was at the National Archives a week and a half ago, pulling a wealth of new material that has just been declassified.  I’m sure even if you’re a buff on the subject, there’s new material here you’ve never seen. 
My next true crime project, A Special Kind of Evil, the murder of Daisy Zick – is progressing too.  What I’ve been surprised with is the power of social media in making contacts.  Facebook has generated a lot of tips, leads, and contacts for me.  This crime still seems to resonate in Battle Creek where I was raised.  People are passionate about who they think did it.  I only hope that I don’t let them down. 
My Bert Hall biography, The Bad Boy, will be out in October from Fonthill Media in the UK.  I’m speaking to the League of WWI Aviation Historians at the Smithsonian in early November on the book.  WWI is picking up interest as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Great War. 
That’s all for now (cough…hack!)  Time to recuperate and charge my batteries.  October and November is going to be a busy period for me.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Interview With Steampunk Author Bobby Hunter

Interview With Steampunk Author Bobby Hunter

Note: I write under the penname R.S. Hunter

What is your most recent published work?
In a couple of weeks, my most recent published work will be The Exile’s Violin, my debut steampunk novel. But if we’re going with most recent work currently available, it’s the science fiction horror story called “Jewel of Tahn-Vinh.” It’s part of the In Situ anthology by Dagan Books.

What is it about? 

It follows one woman’s quest for revenge as the world around her slides into chaos.

What can you tell readers about the main character? 
The main character, Jacquie Renairre, was a hell of a lot of fun to write. She’s definitely got a chip on her shoulder and has a “me against everybody” sort of mentality. She’s a private investigator with a personal mission that she’s been working on for over six years.

What was your favorite part of the book for you to write?  What are you most proud of?
Some of my favorite parts to write were the airship battles. Since steampunk is such a visual subgenre, I felt like I had to really nail the spectacle of big ol’ airships shooting at each other. I hope the readers are able to picture the battles in their head like I was able to do while writing it.

Another one of my favorite parts was writing the dialogue between main characters Jacquie Renairre and Clay Baneport. They come from different social circles and have completely different outlooks on life. It was a lot of fun letting them banter back and forth.
What genres do you write in?
I bounce around between science fiction, fantasy, and a little bit of horror. Pretty much any the genres that fall under speculative fiction. There’s something about getting to ask a whole bunch of “what if” questions that really excites me about SFF.

When you have time to read (?) what do you enjoy? Who’s your favorite author?
I try to make time to read every day. Most of the time, I read right after I get into bed and before I fall asleep. The amount of time varies day by day. Some days I’ll stay up for an extra hour and a half (and pay for it the next day). Other days, I’ll fall asleep mid-sentence after reading two pages.

My favorite genres to read are the same ones I like writing: science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’m not a huge fan of urban fantasy though. Also a lot of the time epic fantasy about your standard orphan with a big destiny will put me to sleep. I love space opera and could use more of it in my life.

What is the coolest thing a reviewer ever said about your work?
Since all of my previous publication credits have come from anthologies, I haven’t had the opportunity to get a lot of reviews. However, 20,001 A Steampunk Odyssey did get a couple of reviews, and one reviewer said that my story gave them “an unsettling but profoundly necessary foundation to the prettier ideas of steampunk […] because it shows us that it’s not just gleaming brass.” That was pretty cool.

Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now or next?
Right now I’m working on finding reviewers for The Exile’s Violin. I also just finished the first round of revisions on its sequel, Terraviathan. Now that those are done, I’m ready to start the first draft of a new sword and sorcery series I’ve been outlining for the past couple of months. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it should be a lot of violent, bloody fun.

When will it be available?
The Exile’s Violin will be available in the 3rd week of September.

When do you write?  How many hours a day/week?
With my job doing SEO and copywriting for an online pet supply retailer taking up the daylight hours, I usually write at night after dinner. My fiancée will work on her InDesign projects and her TV blog while I work at the kitchen table. Some days I’ll put in 3 or 4 hours a night. On weekends, I’ve gotten in the habit of waking up first and writing for a couple of hours in the mornings. I like sleeping in, but I like the thought of having more finished manuscripts under my belt even more.

How do you prepare for a project?  Do you work off an outline of your book or write by gut-feel?
I’m the epitome of a plotter. I’ll even plot out short stories. Trying to write, especially a novel-length project, without a detailed outline almost gives me a panic attack. It’s actually gotten worse over the years.

For example: the outline I wrote for The Exile’s Violin three years ago is about 25,000 words long (approx. 50 pages). But that’s not counting the handful of other background/worldbuilding documents I wrote. But now to show how my plotting has gotten even more detailed since then: the outline for Terraviathan (its sequel) is about 45,000 words long (approx. 80 pages).

Some people claim that such detailed plotting must stifle my creativity or something along those lines. They say things like “Oh, but your characters won’t get to grow naturally and take you to unexpected places.”

I call BS on that. For me, all that unexpected discovery with the plot and characters happens during the outline phase. I’ll work through plot problems and stuff then so I won’t have to do it while I’m writing my draft. Truthfully, my outlines are basically zero drafts. They won’t have dialogue tags and description, but that’s about all they’re missing.

I’m definitely not saying my way is the only way to go. It just works for me. If something else works for you, then go for it! We all know there’s not one True Way to write.

Do you have any events or book signings coming up?  Where?  When? 
I don’t have any planned at the moment, but I expect there will be some giveaways once I get my hands on the paperback copies of The Exile’s Violin.

How can readers connect with you?  (Blog, Facebook, email, whatever) 
Readers can visit my website: I’m also very active on Twitter (@rshunter88). Follow me there if you want to talk about TV, video games, nerdy stuff, SFF, or writing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Inside Look At Eternal Patrol

Behind the Scenes: Eternal Patrol
Michael G Wallace

One problem with writing a story which involves WWII is the number of war historians out there that will hang on every detail no matter how slight. So when I took on the project of writing a time travel story that included two American Gato Class submarines, I knew the details would make or break the book. No one would have a problem with the time travel, but if I said the said the depth gauge was above the ballast gauge, they would throw the book down and say the entire story was unbelievable.

Even though some readers posted, in their reviews, I should have watched more WWII movies so my submarine facts would have been more accurate, several submariners have told me I had the details so accurate it was like being back on the boat.

Before I wrote my first word for this book, I spent a year and a half researching all I could about submarines. I read Commander's logs, sailor's journals and every manual, schematic, and website I could find about Gato Class submarines and their operations. This led to a lot of information about modern day subs which also came in handy as this is a time travel story.

"I did find some very unusual events surrounding the disappearance of two subs"

My research started with the Navy's record archives catalog. I found, since the Navy launched it's first commissioned submarine, (the USS Holland, October 12, 1900), it has kept a record of the location of each boat. The are listed as, "In Port", "On Patrol", "Sunk in Battle", or "De-commissioned". If a sub goes out on patrol, never returns and its fate is unknown, the Navy will officially list the submarine as, "On Eternal Patrol." It was these subs I wanted to find.

I spent days going through each page of the Navy log writing down the names of all the subs from WWII still listed as On Eternal Patrol. Once I had my list, I delved into the logs, sightings and war reports from the U.S, Japanese, and German navies to try and find out what happened to the subs. As I expected, if the Navy couldn't find out what happened, I wasn't going to have much luck going through only the de-classified reports. But I did find some very unusual events surrounding the disappearance of two subs, the USS Corvina and the USS Dorado.

While on patrol in the Gulf of Mexico, the Commander of the Dorado radioed he had spotted a German U-boat. This was the last communication from the Dorado as she was never seen again. According to German records, they did not have a submarine in that area at that time. I'm going to give Commander Schneider the benefit of a doubt he knew what a U-boat looked like and one must have been in the area. If the Germans didn't have any record of this sub in the area, it sounds like German black-ops.

"the Germans claimed they did not have a boat there at that time"

There are several conflicting stories of what happened to the Dorado. She sank under friendly fire, sank under attack off of Panama but none of these stories actually confirm what happened to her.

In my novel, I used the circumstances we know about the submarine. The last contact was that Schneider saw a U-boat in the area and the Germans claimed they did not have a boat there at that time. I knew these details would work well with my time travel story.

The second boat in my novel is the USS Corvina also listed as On Eternal Patrol. Like the Dorado, the Covina had some mysterious facts surrounding her disappearance. After months of searching through both U.S. and Japanese records, (ones that had been translated to English), I again found many conflicting stories. But, they all boil down to no one knows what happened to the sub.

The Corvina reported they were under attack by a Japanese destroyer which had an attack sub escort. The Japanese destroyer reported they had dropped depth charges on the American sub and followed her oil slick for miles. One problem here, after they dropped their depth charges, they never saw or heard from their Japanese attack escort sub. The Japanese Captain insisted he only sank one sub and it was the American boat. There was no way he would go back to Japan and tell the Emperor he sank one of his own subs.

So which sub did they sink? Debris from the Japanese sub was found by passing Allied ships hours after the attack and modern day deep water surveys have found the hull of the Japanese sub in that area but to this day no evidence has been found as to the fate of the Corvina. 

"this crew spent the next several days wondering if they had all died in an earlier attack"

So I had my two submarines for my story. But with all that research, I found so many incredible stories of what happened to our subs when they were out there on patrol. Commanders wrote about their boats being flipped upside down and dragged across the ocean floor by undersea storms. While on the surface conducting open sea repairs and unable to submerge, one submarine had a Japanese destroyer pass by only fifty yards away and never saw them. And, what I found was common on many boats, this crew spent the next several days wondering if they had all died in an earlier attack and this is why the Japanese ship didn't see them. Many subs went deeper than they were built to go causing the crew to wonder if they were still alive. Crewmen continuously made makeshift repairs with whatever they could find on the boat.

Every sub had to deal with "rogue fish." These were torpedoes that would loose their steering and come back at the sub which launched them. To make it worse, they didn't come back in a straight line. They darted all over like a tuna chasing a mackerel giving the sub no place to hide.

In the novel, Eternal Patrol, I brought all of these events into one story that linked both the Corvina and Dorado into a battle where the fate of the war, their future and our past is held on the outcome of their journey.

Here's more about my and my other books.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Interview with Tricia Ballad - Hydra Games and Beyond!

What genre’s do you write in?
I write a mix of high fantasy and romance.
When you have time to read (?) what do you enjoy? Who’s your favorite author?
I don't have nearly enough time to read! I tend to read mostly on the weekends, when we relax the limitations on video games, so the kids are good and occupied and are unlikely to interrupt me just as I get to the good part. We make a weekly library trip every Sunday, and it's always great to get home and spread out all the books we've brought home. The whole family usually spends an hour or two reading then also. Good times!

What is the coolest thing a reviewer ever said about your work?
I think the best comment I ever got from a reviewer was "Tricia Ballad’s last name is perfect for her. This short story flows like a love song. The cadence is lovely and tempo builds, leading the reader toward the sweet last notes of the melody"

Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now or next?
Right now I'm up to my ears in edits on a game module for Hydra Games. Once that's finished, I'll be working on a novel set in the gaming world.

When will it be available?
We're planning a massive release of gaming books, modules, and world novels in 2013.

When do you write? How many hours a day/week?
I write from 5-7am Monday - Friday, and I usually get 3-4 hours on the weekends. Not nearly enough time to write all the stories I'd love to tell!

How do you prepare for a project? Do you work off an outline of your book or write by gut-feel?
I'm a planner. I outline my books within an inch of their lives....and then proceed to blithely ignore my outlines. But the process helps me clarify my goals for the story, the characters and major events.

How can readers connect with you? (Blog, Facebook, email, whatever)
I blog about writing and fiction at I also hang out with readers on Facebook at My email address is

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Interview with James William Peercy

What is your most recent published work?
'Without A Conscious...', a mystery-thriller.

What is it about?
It is about a college student who wakes up one morning to find an envelope
slipped under the door of his apartment. As he opens the package, he sees
pictures of his grandmother murdered. A call immediately comes in with a
strange voice asking ‘Where is it?’ and then hangs up. The next thing he
knows the FBI are knocking at his door. Not only does he have to figure
out who murdered his grandmother, but why, connecting it in with genocide
and revenge against the United States of America.

There are four more planned for this series. The titles of the five books
will form a sentence which will only be complete when the last book comes
out. Of course, that won’t stop the series from continuing beyond five

What can you tell readers about the main character?
The main character is the reason for the title. It is how he finds his
clues in the story. Cliff Fulton was taught many techniques of problem
solving when he was a child by his grandmother. He and his family also
have a knack for unconsciously putting together facts. This is what
started the idea, 'Without A Conscious...', implying 'Without a
conscious thought...'. Yet the title is even more than that. It is the
first part of a sentence and each of the next four books in the series
will complete the sentence.

What was your favorite part of the book for you to write? What are you
most proud of?

The story is a grabber. Once you start reading, the action doesn’t stop
until the very end. There is a part where Cliff saves another person from
dying at the hand of a murderer. At the end of the chapter the person is
asking why this happened in the first place, and Cliff answers in
startling clarity summing up the whole thing in only a few words. When I
wrote that, it was the perfect completion to the chapter. This is just
one many. I also like the attraction between Cliff and Penny. It adds an
extra element making the story even more real as Cliff struggles to deal
with both heart revelations, and betrayal from those closest to him.

What other authors inspired you to undertake this project?
It began in middle school. I picked up a book in the library called ‘To
Save A Planet’ by Robert A. Heinlein. After reading that book, I knew I
had to write. I began to write everything down: dreams, stories, and
novellas. Once I hit High School, I was writing full books. The key
author, and biochemist, who inspired 'Without A Conscious...' was Johanna
Budwig who in 1950 found a way to let the body fight off cancer without
chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation.

What genre’s do you write in?
In middle school I fell in love with scifi. In high school I encountered
Dungeons & Dragons and began to mix in fantasy. It wasn’t until 2010 that
I wrote my first mystery due to some research to help my father; he was
diagnosed with colon cancer. (The main character in the mystery book,
‘Without A Conscious…’ is also named after him.) It would be safe to say
I have not limited myself as to a genre, and who knows what is next.
Poetry is also something I do every day posting on my storiestotell fb
page and my personal page.

When you have time to read (?) what do you enjoy? Who’s your favorite

I have no favorite and find reading cross genre very helpful in the
writing process.

What is the coolest thing a reviewer ever said about your work?
Anytime I hear the words 'Did not want to put it down', I know I've done
something that was worth the write.

Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now or next?
'Without A Conscious...' came out in April, and I am working on the next
four in the series.

On top of this, I currently have nine books already written and in the
editing stage, many of which have been written through the years. One of
those books, a fantasy called ‘The Wall Outside’, is supposed to come out
this fall. It is about a couple who goes on vacation and strange things
begin to happen as one is kidnapped into a magical realm. The other must
face enormous odds to get them back.

I am also currently working on finishing the edits for ‘Ivan’, a scifi
novel about a UCT, Universal Computer Tech, that enters hostile galaxies
as a day job. Troubles wait around every corner. And of course, I am
working on the second book to follow the mystery ‘Without A Conscious…’.
There are currently planned four more books, though the series will not be
limited to that.

When will it be available?
'The Wall Outside' will be out Sept 15th.

When do you write? How many hours a day/week?
I write all the time. It is one of those things I have to do.
Sometimes it is on a book or story. Every day I create a poem.

How do you prepare for a project? Do you work off an outline of your
book or write by gut-feel?

My first stage is research. I read all about anything and everything on a
topic. As I research, my mind creates a basic synopsis, i.e., the
beginning and the end of the story, and then I begin to write, or rather
the story begins to create itself. Characters meet and react like real
people, no matter what the surroundings. We must feel their agony, fears,
and joys until the final end.

Do you have any events or book signings coming up? Where? When?
Sept 28th, 29th, and 30th in Washington State. The time and locations I
will be posting on my website in the next few days at

How can readers connect with you? 
twitter #jameswpeercy
and I am on 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cracking the Plastic - Airco DH-2 and Morane-Saulnier Type N for Wings of Glory

The new release of the Ares Games Wings of Glory miniatures included two I have been waiting for.  First up, the Airco DH-2.  This represents the first pusher aircraft for the Wings of Glory (and its precursor Wings of War) game line.  That alone makes it something to get excited about.  While I’m more of a Farman fan, the DH-2 is pretty distinct and a neat addition to your early-war air battles.  
There are three minis for the DH-2.  Hawker (shown in the photo), Saundby, and Andrews.  The metal miniatures are pretty good – though the struts are a little thicker than I would have expected.  Then again, anything less and the miniature (while more accurate) would have been too fragile.  The paint job is good, but I noticed that one of the red wheels bled into the black tires.  Honestly it’s no big deal.  Most die-hard fans of the series like to repaint these anyway.  I touched mine up with a Sharpie. 
The DH-2 uses maneuver deck P.  I was hoping it would have some different performance but it appears that the folks in Areas Games released essentially two maneuver decks with this release – T and P.  The Morane-Saulnier Type N gets to use deck T. 
Now the other mini I’m reviewing is the French fighter-scout Morane-Saulnier Type N – a French monoplane to put up against the new Fokker E.III’s in this release.  Having just finished writing a book on Bert Hall – I knew he flew in the Morane-Saulnier’s at one point – though I don’t have the paint scheme for his aircraft.  Needless to say mine is going to get repainted in the next few weeks to be Bert’s plane. 
With this set you get Navarre’s Type N, Gilbert (shown in the image) or Chaput.  The mini’s are crisp with a lot of unweathered detail. 
Note:  The League of World War One Aviation Historians journal, Over the Front, ran a great article not long ago on the Morane-Saulnier’s.  It is well worth checking out (and joining if you haven’t already).   
Recommendation?  Look, if you play Wings of Glory/War you’re going to pick them up anyway so go on and get it over with.  If you wait, you run the risk that the minis will go out of production (as used to happen on the Wings of War line) meaning you get scalped on eBay.  I give the DH-2 four-and-a-half out of five stars.  The Morane-Saulnier gets five out of five.