Thursday, July 23, 2015

PNWA 2015's Editors Forum

(Image of Perry White from Smallville Wikia)
 
This year's Editors Forum was actually the fourth conference session I attended.  Normally, I write my blogposts in chronological order, but I'm feeling lazy and I'm pressed for time.

Back in 2012, when I last attended, Perennial Emcee Bob Dugoni skipped the Editor introductions in the interest of saving valuable time, assuming everyone could read their bios in the conference handout.

He said he wouldn't do that again because he nearly had a riot on his hands afterwards.  So each editor present introduced themselves, told the audience what publication they work for and what genres they're interested in acquiring.

Bob assured the audience that these folks were friendly and approachable (unlike Perry White, pictured above), and didn't fall asleep at night counting the ways they could reject your work.

So here's this year's list of Editors-at-Large:

Peter Field (Timberline Review)

Sheila Gilbert (DAW Books)

Brit Hvide (Simon & Schuster)

Jennifer Letwack (Thomas Dunne Books)

Allison Lyons (Harlequin)

Anna Michels (Sourcebooks)

Lynn Price (Behler Publications)

John Raab (Suspense Publishing)

Robert Sappington (Harken Media)

Adam Wilson (Gallery Books)


After the intros, we jumped right into the Q&A (Questions & Answers).

Since I'm writing a webcomic, and wasn't stalking submitting work to editors, I didn't pay too much attention to inquiries and responses.

When I was paying attention, I actually learned a few things:

One of them being the new term "New Adult" to describe books for college-aged kids (18-22 year olds).  These are mostly coming-of-age stories that are romance-focused, and attempt to answer such monumental questions like:  What kind of job will I get? What will I do with my life? Will I ever get laid? 

The term "mainstream" tends to be a literary default setting when publishers aren't sure what genre to pigeon-hole your work.

One-of books are increasing in popularity among publishers.  They're reluctant to invest additional seed money into a series, especially since subsequent books usually don't earn as much as the initial book.

So when you're pitching you're book, and envision it as Number One in an Epic Series of Epic Proportions, it's best to keep your delusions hopes to yourself. 

Unless publishers inquire about the possibility of a series, or your name is George R. R. Martin, or J. K. Rowling.

In the meantime, each book must stand alone and be a complete story in-and-of itself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Product Review: Blucher and the Hundred Days Campaign

(Image from:  Wargame Info's review of Blucher)
While attending this year's PNWA Summer Conference, we were often reminded that as writers, we're suppose to read a lot, especially in my genre. 
 
Since my favorite "genre" is wargaming, I spent my down-time reading Sam Mutstafa's latest release in his Honour Series:    Blucher.
 
Blucher 176-page rule booklet for playing Napoleonic battles in the grand tactical scale.  That is, units representing 4-6 infantry battalions (2000-3000 soldiers), 6-12 squadrons of cavalry (1000-2000 horsemen), and 2-4 artillery batteries (18-24 guns).  Although the game is flexible enough so players can increase or decrease the troop scale.
 
The rules are quick, easy, enjoyable to read and beautifully illustrated.  I finished the basic rules in two hours, and I-am-a-slow-reader. 
 
Despite the page-length, Blucher is a hardcover booklet, which not only contains the Basic and Advanced Games, but also the Scharnhorst Campaign System, not to mention Appendices, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and seven pages of Quick Reference Charts (QRCs).
 
I've always been intrigued by military campaigns and how battles developed, often more so than how that battle itself was fought.  It was the Scharnhorst system that was the deciding factor in my decision to buy Blucher.
 
Scharnhorst takes up only 25 pages in the rule booklet and is easy to follow.  The author emphasizes that the intent is not to play a lengthy campaign game, which can take on a life of it's own, but to bring about a battle in a manner other than lining up troops along opposite ends of the game table.  In other words, Scharnhorst is more of a battle generator that campaign game per se.
 
 Blucher is the most enjoyable set of rules I've read in my gaming life.  Not only because the rules were easy to understand, but Mr. Mustafa's sense of humor is infused in some of the pages, especially the side-bar notes.
 
Be forewarned:  If you post emotionally-charged complaints on the Honour Forum, you may find yourself on the receiving end of Mr. Mustafa's wit.
 
Here's a response to a hapless player who expressed his hatred for the Scharnhorst system, because an isolated column of his army was destroyed by converging forces of the enemy (as if this never happened historically):
 
As I see it you have two options:
 
1. Distract him [your opponent] with junk food and cheat somehow, OR
 
2. Man Up and accept that you've gotten yourself in a bind, and now you'll have to fight a seemingly hopeless battle against terrible odds.  It will be an epic defense worthy of remembrance in song, legend, and hyperbolic 19th Century novels.  In the movie version you'll probably be played by Sean Bean, but maybe if your lucky, Russell Crowe.
 
(From the sidebar at the bottom of page 148).
 
I've read this quote several times and it still makes me laugh, which compelled me to post it verbatim.
 
A more practical note of caution about Blucher is the ground-scale unit of measure.  That is how players measure movement and weapon ranges.  Instead of using standard measurements, like in the English (inches) and metric (centimeters), distances are measured in Base Widths (BWs). 
 
This allows players to utilize miniatures of all sizes, from 6 millimeter (mm) to 28mm, or maybe even larger.
 
The only drawback, especially for someone as artistically challenged as I am, is that players have to make their own measuring devices.  These are usually dowels, cut-to-length, and painted in an alternating color scheme to denote BWs of the appropriate scale of their miniature collection.
 
Despite the need to venture off to your nearest DIY/Home Improvement store, the Honour website provides a plethora of free downloads not only for Blucher, but for their other games as well.
 
(Image found on:  Sally 4th)
 
Another (although not-free) accessory to Blucher is The Hundred Days expansion kit for the 1815 Waterloo Campaign.  This is a set of gorgeously illustrated cards that can be played in lieu of miniatures.  Since I don't own any painted Napoleonic figures due to being artistically challenged as I mentioned earlier, I added the deck of cards to my order.
 
I wish I discovered this 5-star set of rules earlier, and had the time to game a session during the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.
 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PNWA Celebrates 60 Years

(Image found on The Innovative Instructor Blog)

The last PNWA Writers Conference I attended was in 2012.  My work schedule prevented me from participating these past couple of years.

This year, I managed to squeeze three out of four conference days in between two sets of work shifts.  But it was "strictly business."  Due to the compressed timeline, I skipped out of the after-conference activities...

(Image from Flavorwire, 20 Excellent Photos of Famous Authors Partying)

...by which I mean, the Keynote Speaker Addresses and the Writing Competition Awards Dinner.

In honor of the association's 60th Year Anniversary and founding members, the selected theme was "Connections."

I'm glad I was able to attend and re-connect with some of my writer friends, such as:

PNWA's President, and my Popular Fiction teacher, Pam Binder,
Secretary, and author of  Jeff Ayers;
Board of Trustee Member Terry Persun,
his daughter and fellowette Trustee Member Nicole Persun;
along with Jason Black (aka The Book Doctor).

Robert Dugoni performed his Perennial Emcee duties during the Agents and Editors Forums, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him.

I was happy to encounter my fellow "rank and file" friend Chelly Wood.
According to her, she got the idea of making a stop-motion film of Romeo & Juliet using her daughters' Barbie Doll collection, from my webcomic Breakout from Bongolaan and my YouTube gaming videos.

(Image from Chelly Wood's Free Printable Barbie Clothes Group Pic)

I was humbled by Chelly's praise and even more humbled by her advanced photographic skills.  My "movies" are merely slide shows, so I'll be seeking Chelly's advice on actual stop-motion techniques.

Chelly is writing a how-to book on this subject and pitched a book proposal to an agent.  I wish her all the best.

Another rank and file friend I met was Abigail Carter, formerly of Writerly, and now Bibliocrunch.  I caught up at her Bibliocrunch booth when she wasn't overwhelmed with inquiring attendees.  Upon seeing Abby again, I remembered I bought her book The Alchemy of Loss and asked her to autograph it for my mom, who always grieved the loss of my dad.  When my mom passed away last month, I had to confess to Abby I'm not sure what happened to her book during the maelstrom to settle my mom's estate.

A few classmates from Pam's Pop Fic Class also attended, and I ended up sharing workshops with Emily and Lara.  One alum I didn't see was Tara Sheets, who had not just one, but two stories make it in the Finalist Category of the Annual Writing Competition.

In addition to catching up with old friends, I did make two new connections this year:

1. Jazmyn Wright, who was toying with the idea of turning her work-in-progress into an on-line graphic novel.

2. When I told fantasy author Ardyth DeBruyn about my work, she thought I'd find Penny Arcade's Strip Search, Darths & Droids, along with her brother's webcomic, Sluice.

I did suffer a lengthy low moment midway through the conference.

(Image by Gary Varvel)

I learned about the four Marines (and now one Sailor) shot and killed in Chattanooga, TN, early on Friday, before heading to the gym for a pre-conference workout.

It's at moments like this that I wish I was back on active duty again.

But despite my longing to don my uniform again, I enjoyed the conference, learned a lot and look forward to re-re-connecting with my writer friends again next year.

Coming Attractions:

I attended a dozen workshops during the three-out-of-four-days conference.  I'll be writing more detailed posts about these in the upcoming days/weeks/hopefully not months ahead.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review: Badass

 
Even though many Americans love barbequing and watching fireworks on Independence Day, they find the actual history of how we achieved our independence from Britain boring. 
 
If they bother to learn it at all.
 
Or any history, for that matter.
 
Part of the problem may often be in how history is written, or presented.
 
Take this passage from Wikipedia on The First Triumvirate
 
The First Triumvirate was a political alliance between three prominent Roman politicians (triumvirs) which included Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) and Marcus Licinius Crassus.
 
Informative, but dull to read, isn't it?
 
(Yes, I know it's from Wikipedia, but I'm sure you've read textbooks that should have been filed under the Self-Help Section because they're good cures for insomnia).
 
Now here's a passage regarding Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, from page 57 of Badass, by Ben Thompson:
 
These guys called themselves the triumvirate, which is the official term for a group of three classical-age diabolical madmen working together to control the government until such time as they all decide to backstab and kill each other.
 
While this may not be the most accurate forensic psychoanalysis of Caesar and his Frenemies, it's certainly a more lively account of Roman politics than you'll find in any sleep-inducing textbook.
 
And there's 39 other badasses (and some badassettes) in this book about the ...relentless onslaught of the toughest warlords, Vikings, samurai, pirates, gunfighters, and military commanders to ever live.
 
Badass began as the website Badass of the Week, which continues to provide an ever-growing list of badasses, in history, mythology and fiction.
 
Both book and website are written in an over-the-top, pulp-fiction, profanity-laced, humorous style.
 
In addition to--or despite--the entertainment/shock value, the author does shed light on some of history's obscure historical figures, such as: Chandagrupta Maurya, Liu Ji, Tomoe Gozen, Bass Reeves, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Irena Sebrova and Bhanbhagta Gurung.
 
Badass enjoys an overall 4.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com.
 
I give it 4-stars myself.  I thought the book was both entertaining as well as informative.  However, while I'm not offended by printed profanity, I try to be more judicious using it in my own writing.
 
However, not everyone loved Badass
 
Out of 138 raters, 12% gave it only 1-star, and 5% gave it 2-stars, while 6% thought the book was okay, but could have been better. 
 
(Note:  Amazon has gone to percentages instead of actual numbers of  raters).
 
Many these readers were put-off by author's style, while several of them complained about historical inaccuracies.
 
I only spotted one factoid that I thought was incorrect.  This doesn't mean no other mistakes exist within the pages of Badass.  I simply didn't catch them.  I'm more of a "big picture" kind of guy anyway.  Plus, I'm too lazy too busy to conduct a badass fact-check on Badass.
 
If you read the front and back covers of Badass, you'll see you have a book that focuses on entertainment.  This isn't a bad thing, since it may energize a reader into examining more boring tomes scholarly works.
 
Sometimes you can judge a book by it's cover--and it's illustrated pages--which were provided by the following artists:
 
 
 
Steven Belledin, who also did the front cover, and,
 
 
(Image by Matt Haley on Badass of the Week FAQs)
 
In case your wondering why this book review contains a few other labels, it's because I bought my copy of Badass at this year's Emerald City Comicon.  So Badass's author might be a badass himself, but he's pleasant enough to autograph his books.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review--William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back


Ian Doescher hath strucketh again! 

I finally got around to reading his book  William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back, which my wife bought me for Christmas.

This time, The Empire Strikes Back gets the Shakespearian-spin treatment.

To which my feelings for Doescher's latest pastiche mirror my initial feelings towards William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.

Illustrations by Nicolas Delort abound.

(Image from The Empire Striketh Back, page 152)

However, the author incorporated some changes in Striketh since Verily was published. 

The first change is, the role of the Chorus is reduced in favor of the panoramic action being described by one of the main characters in soliloquy form. 

The second is speaking roles were given to non-speaking "characters," primarily the Wampa, the Exogorth and yes, even the AT-ATs.

I actually learned something from this aspect of the story:  I didn't know what the giant, asteroid-dwelling space worm was called until I read this book.

The final change is the deviation from iambic pentameter by some of the characters.  Specifically, Boba Fett speaks in prose, reflecting Shakespeare's technique of representing the low-born. To reflect Yoda's speech pattern, the author utilized Haiku

The Empire Striketh Back is available on Amazon.com, where it's earned an average 4.7 out of 5-stars.  Since I like this book as much as I did Verily, A New Hope, I'll give this one a 4-star rating.

However, I'm not well-versed in Shakespearian verse, beyond the smattering of plays we read in high school.  So the longest 3-star rating by Phil Keeling caught my attention.  While Phil liked the book, he felt the author spent too much prose in a "did-you-get-this-Shakespearian-reference" manner.

The Empire Striketh Back also gets favorable reviews on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble.

One of the problems I had reading Shakespeare was having to flip through the plethora of footnotes explaining all the obscure facts, customs and references.  I had no such problem reading The Empire Striketh Back, because I've seen the original movie numerous times which made it easy for me to mentally visualize the story.

So this book would make a good gift to Star Wars fan familiar with Shakespeare, or a Shakespeare fan familiar with Star Wars

The full line of Shakespearian Star Wars books are, or will be, available through Quirk Books.



Saturday, June 20, 2015

Examining Current Works-in-Progress

(A self-standing magnifying glass to aid my aging eyes)

Like most wargamers, I have a lot of figures to paint and/or assemble.  As part of my "Studio Expansion," I managed to put most of the unpainted/unassembled figures into one storage bin.

(My Box O' Projects)
In addition to the boxes of Warhammer 40K figures, the box contains several pounds worth of micro-scale miniatures, ranging from fantasy and sci-fi, to World War II and modern; along with a handful of 25mm historicals.
 
Five years ago, I began my wretched hive project.  This now consists of several one-story buildings of scum and villainy.  Several weeks back, I stumbled across larger storage trays that will make suitable three-story buildings.

(Top edges trimmed off the storage trays from Walmart)
These buildings have now been primed and I still had some textured paint left over.  Unfortunately, the spray cans were all clogged, so I'll have to purchase new ones.
 
I haven't had any problems with my old non-textured paint--yet--and I resumed my 6mm terrain board terra-forming project. 
 
(My 6mm Terrain Board #5)
I'm currently working on the fifth board.  This is the last piece featuring the river.  After I complete this, I'll have one last piece to renovate.
 
(Another view of Board #5)
I'm always frustrated that my gaming projects seem to move at glacial speed, no matter how much time I have available to devote to them. 
 
The same goes for my writing projects.
 
I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this way.
 
I guess you can't rush the creative process.
 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bare Bones Impulse Purchases


One of the hazards of wargaming is impulse buying. 

Several weeks ago, I stumbled across some Bones Figures by Reaper Miniatures while browsing through the Game On! store I ventured in to.

I happened to like some of the figures, along with a loose assortment of D&D Miniatures they had.  So I bought them with little consideration about integrating them into my current collection.


Miniatures need to be painted and the folks at Reaper, of course, recommended their own line of paint.  During my Enfilade Final Hour Fly-By, I picked up a starter paint kit from a vendor in the process of packing.  (I'm afraid I didn't catch their company name).


While I can't remember who I bought the paint kit from, I do know the good folks and regular Enfilade attendees at Monday Knight Productions.


I can't remember an Enfilade where I didn't buy any of their 1/285th-scale buildings. 

This year was no different, and I purchased several items that caught my interest. The items pictured above included animal pens, a power generating station and a middle eastern village.

Now all I have to do is paint all this stuff...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo

(Image from Oceans Bridge)
The "Horse & Musket" Era is my favorite period of history.  The pinnacle of this point in time for me is the Napoleonic Wars.  Basically warfare just before the Industrial Revolution took off.

Today historians, re-enactors and wargamers celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  (The dual prelude battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras occurred two days prior to today).

This final battle of the Napoleonic Wars manages to earn entry into many "most decisive battles" lists.  Not all of them to be sure, but many of them and for good reason:  It cut down Napoleon's comeback to about a hundred days (111 to be exact).

(Image:  The situation at 6 PM, from Great Military Battles)

Last year, one wargamer, Steve St. Clair, made the news for his quest to re-create the Battle of Waterloo with 250,000 six-millimeter figures.  Meanwhile, Canada's Military Museum's will be hosting a "hands-on" Waterloo Project invloving a "mere" 10,000 figures.

A more life-like project has also been underway.  With the help of re-enactors, photographer Sam Faulkner attempts to picture what the Battle of Waterloo really looked like.

There's books galore, both fiction and non-fiction, one could read, not to mention 1970 film by Dino De Laurentiis

 
I practically wore out my VHS tape watching this movie.  Unfortunately, according to one reviewer on IMDb, there's no plan yet to put the movie on DVD here in the US.  Which is too bad, because this would be a great moment to release it.

Despite the lack of a Waterloo DVD, there are plenty of alternatives to read, watch, re-enact, wargame, and otherwise learn about the great battle that occurred 200 years ago.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Family Emergency/Last-Minute Cross-Country Trip


I've been off-line for the past several days. My mom passed away just over a week ago.  I got "the call" from one of my sisters when I was on duty. Fortunately, the folks my wife & I worked for (WA State Emergency Management and Alaska Airlines) pulled out all the stops to send us back to my hometown of Binghamton, in Upstate NY.

We didn't make the wake, but were in time for the funeral mass at Saints John and Andrew Church.
I didn't post anything earlier for two reasons.

One, is that I was simply too busy at work and then preparing for cross-country travel. Second, I don't like broadcasting impending travel plans on social media. In fact, when we returned late Monday night, we discovered my wife's car was broken into while at the park & ride. Fortunately the thieves didn't follow-up and break into our house. (I've heard reports of crooks breaking into cars just to get the addresses of the drivers so they can break into their homes). Fortunately, our house was secure, but we weren't expecting to call-in a police report and schedule an auto-glass appointment when we got back.

But, despite the circumstances, there were a couple silver linings surrounding this trip.

The First Layer of the Silver Lining was that I had a chance to see all my siblings. Like most families, it's difficult for all of us to gather, unless it's a significant event, like weddings and funerals. The Second Layer of the Silver Lining was a chance to see most of our friends from a family that lived one house up from ours.  (Or for all intents and purposes "next door").
There are six siblings in this family and we all grew up together--and more often than not--got in trouble together. Our respective moms were friends as well. Their mom passed away 11 months ago, and the siblings still in the local area attended our mom's wake and/or funeral.

Not only were our "K-12 Friends" the last to leave the reception, but we got together the following night at their mom's house, now up for sale, in The Old Neighborhood.

We spent our time lounging in the backyard, reminiscing and catching up.  In fact, the radio station we were listening to, WAAL 99.1 ("The Whale"), is now plays classic rock.  So we heard the same songs we did during our collective childhood/adolescent years.
When I think about my youth, I like to say: We didn't just watch The Little Rascals (aka Our Gang)--we lived it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Studio Expansion


A lot of Life Changes has occurred on the "deck" of Stern Rake Studio these past two years. 
 
First, my wife's job allowed her to work from home.  Then my daughter and her boyfriend moved-in and stayed with us for over a year.  During this time, my wife moved her work station into the studio, so things have been rather cozy for us.
 
When my daughter and boyfriend moved out, we rented a storage/shipping container for them to take all the furniture we set aside for them.  Now we have a spare room and more open space in the garage--although still not enough to park one of our vehicles.
 
So Stern Rake Studio has re-expanded.
 
My wife re-arranged the garage, and our spare room into sitting/hobby room for both of us.  There's still enough floor space in the Sitting Room to place a portable mattress for the occasional house guest. 
 
The above picture is of the surviving half of my old desk underneath some shelves.  This now serves as a paint station.
 
Here's a few more picture's of the Studio expansion:

Paint, glue and Flocking storage:  To the left is my collection of acrylic paints in the desk drawer.  On the right is a partial view of a roll-away shelf where I store spray paint, glue and terrain flocking
 
In the Sitting Room:  My well-used (or abused) folding table, which I use as another work station.
 
The Sitting Room Closet:  Has given me additional space to store games, miniatures and terrain that were previously on a utility shelf in the garage.
 
Now that the Studio "deck is cleared for action," I've started chipping away my unfinished pile of metal, plastic and cardboard.