Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Bert Hall book project is leaping forward!

This week has been focused on my Bert Hall book – The Bad Boy: Bert Hall: Aviator and Mercenary of the Skies.   I’m pleased to say I have a contract in-hand for the project.  I will be announcing the publisher soon.  Needless to say it has taken a long time to reach this point and frankly I’m quite excited. 

Three years of research is finally taking form in words on paper (so to speak – really it’s just words stored digitally, but humor me…) So far I am through three chapters and plowing ahead.  I’m still doing research too, which makes for a fun parsing of my time.  I would complain but I am loving it. 

The research is taking me down some paths I had not planned on traveling – which is what research has a tendency to do.  I spent two weekends ago going over material from the Revolutionary War – both research and writing.  What does the Revolutionary War have to do with Bert Hall?  Let’s just say that I have learned if you want to write about the man, you have to dig into the family history.  Bert Hall comes from a long line of rebels – both in the Revolutionary War and his father in the American Civil War. 

I have solved more than a few mysteries in the last few weeks too.  The biggest was around Bert’s autobiographies.  He wrote one right after the Great War and another ten years later.  I finally have good primary research material detailing why Bert’s second autobiography, One Man’s War, not only didn’t jibe with his first – but introduced material that was outright fiction.  When you are a researcher and you hit a homerun like this – in the form of a stash of letters – it’s just plain fantastic. 

For me this book is the last book of a trilogy of sorts.  I started with Terror of the Autumn Skies about Frank Luke Jr.  In that book I found a reference to Frederick Zinn who helped qualify what happened when Frank was shot down.  That led me to write a book about Frederick Zinn – Lost Eagles.  One of Zinn’s lifelong friends was Bert Hall of the Lafayette Escadrille.  I researched enough of him to realize that Bert deserved a book on his own.  It’s a little weird where your research takes you; it can be a rollercoaster ride.  And like a ride, it is a lot of fun along the way. 

This book is coming out this autumn.  I have some fun things planned when it comes out, fun if you are a WWI aviation aficionado/buff, so make sure you follow my blog from time-to-time.  Until then, I need to get back to Chapter 4…

Saturday, February 18, 2012

King's Book - 11/22/63 and the problem with conspiracy theories

I just finished Stephen King’s new book,  11/22/63.   The book was pretty entertaining overall.  It deals with a man that discovers a wormhole in time from the present-day back to 1958.  Each time the portal is used, it takes you back to the same point in time, so that apparently your actions of your previous visits are erased.  When you return, only a blink of an eye has passed, even if you have been gone years. 

Building off this deceptively simple premise, the lead character goes back in time to attempt to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy.  In doing so he becomes embroiled in events and people in the past – struggling between having a life there and fulfilling his mission.  History, it would seem, does not want events to change and “resists,” which adds to the tension of the story.  Will the main character stop Oswald?  If he does, what happens then? 

I won’t ruin the book for you but it was pretty good – though I felt the ending was a little abrupt.  This is no shot at King, I’ve noticed a lot of books lately have a climax that lacks the right closure for readers. The book is well worth picking up.     

What intrigued me was that King did his fairly credible research into the Kennedy assassination.  In the book he raised the specter that Lee Harvey Oswald might not have acted alone.  In his postscript, King admits that he is 99% sure that Oswald was indeed the lone gunman – something that gave me a sigh of relief. 

I am not a big fan of conspiracies.  I want to be a fan of them, but what I have found is that there really are very few of them in the real world.  I know a lot of government workers and I doubt that the government really can maintain a true conspiracy on anything.  It is far too difficult to keep big secrets and big secrets are the core of conspiracy theories.   

When I was a kid I liked to believe that the Kennedy murder was a conspiracy.  It wasn’t until I was older that I did my own research into the assassination and changed my mind.  I read the Warren Commission report for myself, rather than other people’s interpretations of it.  On a business trip to Dallas I went to the site the killing and checked it out for myself.  In all of my reading on the matter, I didn’t come across a single tangible credible piece of evidence that pointed to a grand conspiracy. 

The Kennedy assassination has become a cottage industry for people to write books and exploit the dead president’s legacy.  Many of these individuals who wrote such book were simply attempting to insert themselves into the myth of John F. Kennedy and Camelot.  They wrapped themselves in the cloth of denial; of being the people that defy unseen forces in the government or elsewhere that took the President from us.  At best, they are cherry-pick history, corrupting it to fit their needs.  At worse, they are profiting from the death of Kennedy.  The worst of all was Oliver Stone.  His film, JFK, filled the American public’s minds with so many disjointed and ill-aligned misrepresentations of the truth that it was staggering.  The sad part is, most American’s believe Stone’s corruption of history. 

Conspiracy advocates use the lack of tangible evidence as their proof.  The lack of evidence, witnesses, or anything else is proof that greater forces are burying the truth…a truth that they are willing to share. 

If you want to learn the truth – pick up Reclaiming History – by Vincent Bugliosi – the author of Helter Skelter.   With the skill that only a prosecutor and true-crime author can, he dissects every one of the conspiracy theories with something novel – facts. 

We all want to believe in conspiracies because they help explain things.  Conspiracies fill the gaps in logic for us.  In the real world there are not such grandiose schemes, no puppet masters that manipulate governments and people.  That doesn’t do away with our desire for such things.  The thought that seemingly random events have a patter, a meaning, makes things exciting in our minds. While they don’t exist, we all find ourselves desiring them. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Writing in multiple genres

This is going to be a big year for me as an established author.  I have four books coming out with a possible fifth.  Usually I have one book a year published, but this year the stars came into alignment.  Even more interesting is that I have books coming out in four different genres – Business, Horror, True Crime, and Military History.  There’s a possibility of two books in that last category – we’ll have to see.    

Traditional wisdom usually calls for a writer to specialize in one genre and become well known and established in that genre.  They usually write in that space for some time until they finally try and branch out and do something different.  Their fans protest.  The author finds him/herself typecast into being a X-writer (insert the genre of your choice.)  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It sure works for Stephen King and a lot of other authors. 

I don’t subscribe to this thinking. 

I write because I like to write.  I read books in a varied group of genres.  Sure, I like science fiction, but sometimes I’m in the mood for a good true crime book or a good military history story.  I started out primarily as a science fiction author with a dozen or so novels under my belt from Penguin Putnam’s ROC imprint.  I bucked the trend when I wrote my first business management book (Cubicle Warfare) and my first military history book (Cruise of the Sea Eagle.) I am confident that my choices of direction gave my agent ulcers but ultimately I write the kinds of books that I like to read.  In the end, I write books that I would enjoy reading – I don’t pander to the fans or try to out-think them in terms of what they want to see.  Besides, no matter what, you can’t satisfy everyone. 

While I acknowledge that some people may read books from only one genre; I also believe that many readers are like me – and read a wide range of books depending on their interests and tastes.  I don’t want to lock myself into one genre because I have good ideas for books that are beyond that narrow focus. 

There are risks with this approach.  I have regular readers in each genre, so how do I get them compelled to read the books outside of that area?  The short answer is, I don’t.  I let my different fan communities know that I have new books out and they make the choice.  In my opinion most loyal readers are not lemmings that mindlessly follow an author, blindly buying every book they crank out.  Don’t get me wrong, it used to be that way.  The publishing industry is changing though and fans now can explore a wide range of books.’s linking of books other people have purchased to the book you are reviewing is a classic example.  I have found a few new books out there because of these linked suggestions.  I believe that the influence of the internet, on the long term, broadens what people read. 

The publishing industry and agents try to force you, as a writer, into a niche.  They have a 1950’s view of readers that does not match how book purchasing, reading, and publishing are changing.  This is why the publishing industry is reeling so heavily under the influence of  Trust me, in three years, the industry is going to be a very different place…and better as a result. 

For me, I can be at my creative best when I write what I feel like writing.  If that means I want to do some short stories for or for Leviathans, I do them.  I don’t need to worry if I am isolating my fan community.  Those fans that like my books who are interested in the new genres, will buy the books.  Those that don’t will wait for me to crank out another BattleTech/MechWarrior novel. 

Do I have plans to branch out into other genres?  Of course.   I have a Steampunk idea that I really love that I think will be a great set of novels, for example.  I have a neat Fantasy series I’ve been mulling around for years too.  For the most part, my next few books will simply enlarge my fan bases out there in the genres I already write for.  

So, if you are an author out there, don’t hesitate to write what you want to.  Don’t buy the hype from the “publishing experts.”  Do what you feel best.  For you fans out there, what are your thoughts?  Post your comments up on this blog and let me know.   Do you read more than one genre?  Do you automatically purchase books from one author no matter what? 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Researching the Cuban Missile Crisis

For the last three years I have been pulling together research on the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It is hard to believe that we are coming up this year on the 50th anniversary of the crisis.  I’ve always been fascinated by this event because it was the closest we came to a third world war. 
NARA - Kennedy Presidential Library, Map of Cuba from the crisis  Handwritten notations on the map show missile sites. 

Three years sounds like a long time to research – but trust me, it has been worth the wait.  There are some outstanding books out there covering the totality of the crisis, the politics, the decision making, etc..  My book concentrates purely on the military aspects of the crisis – a massive what-if of sorts.  What if we had been forced to invade Cuba?  What were those plans, what were the defenses, and what were the ramifications around the globe if the war had unfolded? 

It has taken me three years of Freedom of Information Act requests to begin to get some of the material declassified.  My book will break some new ground in terms of the missile crisis research.  I have already uncovered new sources that have never been published or referenced before, sources that will give us new views into the events that nearly plunged us into nuclear war.  

You have to be pretty patient when getting materials declassified.  Some of this stuff was sealed under Executive Orders for half a century.  I’m glad I started work on this three years ago.  Even so, it will be a rush to get finish the work.   I’m fairly confident that it will be worth the wait though.  Last week I pulled my materials already gathered and I was stunned at what I had amassed over three years. 

I didn’t get to witness the crisis first-hand.  I was born in November of 1962, as the crisis was winding down.  My father was stationed at Fortress Monroe VA during the events in October of that year.  For me, I have to rely on sources of material to help me understand what happened. 

If you are out there are know something about the defense of Berlin or the plans to invade Cuba in 1962 – I’d love to talk to you.  I am constantly amazed by what people kept copies of, or can remember about the event.  I can be reached at