Thursday, December 31, 2009

Acquiring Prime (Miniature) Real Estate

Stern Rake Studio acquired it's first piece of (miniature) real estate!

Four days ago I bought a terrain board from my friend Adrian, which he got it at a wargame auction. This particular board was a fixture at American Eagles, a gamestore in Tacoma, which sadly, closed a couple of years ago.

This board consists of 6, 2'x4' sections and looks like this when fully assembled:

According to Adrian, no one knows who made this winter wonderland masterpiece. From what we can gather it was made for a micro-armor (6mm, 1/285th, 1/300 scale), Battle of the Bulge scenario.

Here's a view of Panels 1-4:

View of Panels 3-6:

Looking up at the "Splatterhorn":

Another view of the "Splatterhorn":

"The road less travelled":

I plan on adding brown flocking to the roads in order to give them a more "dusty" look. I also want to add more color and acetate to the river:

I'm certainly happy with my new acquisition! I've always admired boar ever since I first saw it back at American Eagles.
However, like some greedy land developer, there are "improvements" I'd like to make.
My long-term plan is to repaint and reflock the the entire board so I'm not limited to a winter campaign.
So far, I've discussed with Adrian, two possibilities:
1. Repainting and reflocking only the snowy areas.
2. Repainting and reflocking the entire board.
This will also mean uprooting all the miniature trees, since they're all "frosted" to look snow-covered. I don't intend to re-attach the trees as they are now. I'd like to make the board a bit more versatile by not "nailing down" these kind of terrain features. (The roads and the river will maintain their respective courses).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Michelangelo Exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum

Today, my wife and I went to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) to check out the Alexander Calder and Michelangelo Exhibits.

SAM website:

I must admit I've never heard of Alexander Calder until now. According to Wikipedia, he invented the mobile. You know, those things parents hang over a baby's crib to keep it mesmerized:

While Calder made small, toy-like pieces, including jewelry, most of his work is "industrial strength" sheet-metal and steel wire, which are unsuitable for any nursery room.

After watching some of Calder's pieces maintain their precarious balance, we proceeded to the Michelangelo Exhibit. One of the first things I learned was that Michelangelo, unlike some of today's pop stars, actually had a surname. The great artist's full name was: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni:

The exhibit here consisted of some of Michelangelo's surviving sketches. Near the end of his life, Michelangelo burned most of his sketches and rough drafts, because he didn't want people to see how "crappy" they were.

I guess the phrase: "One man's junk is another man's treasure," was coined after the Renaissance.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

My wife & I went to see Sherlock Holmes today. This latest rendition of the Great Detective opened on Christmas Day, but the theater was only half-full for the matinee show, either because folks were working, or more likely, watching Avatar.

Despite Holmes' legendary powers of observation, it would be hard for today's audiences to sit for two hours of deductive exposition. So Director Guy Ritchie's version of Holmes, played by Robert Downey Jr., is fast-paced and edgy, with a little bit of steampunk thrown in.

While racing to stop the bad guy's nefarious scheme, Holmes and Watson bicker throughout the movie like two domestic partners. This internal conflict is sparked by Watson's plan to move out of their bachelor pad, on 221 B Baker Street, in order to marry his fiancee.

Basically it's a Victorian Era, cop-buddy movie.

What I liked most about this movie is how Dr. Watson was portrayed. Unlike the classic Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce movies, this Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law, kicks butt! Afterall, Watson was an ex-army officer and a veteran of the British Empire's Afghan Wars. So the good doctor must have learned a thing or two about hand-to-hand combat.

I give this movie a solid 3.5 stars. The characters are so well known that even with today's movie making magic, it would be hard to surprise audiences without wildly deviating from the original characters. This movie's worth seeing on the big screen.

The Sherlock Holmes wiki-page:

Sherlock Holmes, the movie (caution--plot spoilers!):

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Clash at Kursk--the Final Episode

The last episode of Clash at Kursk has now been posted on YouTube and the Consimworld Social Network site. I've also posted the YouTube link to several other gaming sites.

This project was nearly as big as the project I did for HMGS-East, Mayhem in Makassar Strait. The only difference is "Mayhem" was broken up into 6 x 2-3 minute episodes.

The final production tally for all three episodes of this movie is:

Total number of gaming pictures--237

Historical pictures used--12

Total number of full-narrative pages--19

Total run time: 25 minutes

Link to Clash at Kursk, Episode 3:

Here's a synopsis of the historical campaign, called "Operation Citadel" by the Germans & "Operation Bagration" by the Russians:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: War of Honor by David Weber

I love Honor Harrington!

There. Now that I've professed my admiration for my favorite literary heroine, I wish I could say the same about the book War of Honor by David Weber (2002).

It's not that I didn't like the book, but weighing-in at 929 pages, it's hard to love a story this long.

First of all the title is something of a misnomer. A more appropriate heading would be something like:

An Analysis of the Rising Tensions between the Star Kingdom of Manticore, the Republic of Haven and the Andermani Star Empire, with Anecdotes on the Genetic Slave Trade and the Exploration of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction

However, such a verbose title sounds like a doctoral dissertation on intersellar relations--and promises the reader it will be just as boring.

The first shots in Honor's war aren't fired until somewhere between pages 707 and 708. The action, squeezed between two consecutive pages, is discussed at length in a back story. But the outbreak of all-out hostilities doesn't start until page 827.

So what's the other 826 pages about?

As my doctoral title suggests, it is one long exposition on the chain of events that leads to open warfare between Honor's Kingdom of Manticore and the Republic of Haven. Both nations have been abiding by an armistice for the past five years. However, the fragile peace comes unglued due the ambitious and shortsighted actions of leaders on both sides.

David Weber combines "show" and "tell" in his 826-page exposition by way of cabinet meetings, staff briefings, economic round table discussions and press conferences. These gatherings are hard to sit through in real life, not to mention reading about them in a book!

So what did I like about this book?

Throughout the series, the author has done a fantastic job Honor's character development. In each novel, including this one, Honor is shown to be an inspirational, cunning and even gracious leader. David Weber is an imaginative writer of futuristic combat who can hold his reader's attention, so for an Honor Harrington fan like me it was worth reading the first 826 pages of this story.

I give War of Honor 3.5 stars. While the pre-war build-up is interesting, this book is not for a first-time Honor Harrington reader.

Now that war has resumed between Manticore and Haven, the following book, At All Costs (2005), promises to be more exciting.

Wikipedia's synopsis of War of Honor:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clash at Kursk Episode 2

In this episode, the battle for Prokhorovka continues and the Russian heroine, Mariya Octyabrskaya makes her debut appearance.

A short bio of Mariya:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Clash at Kursk Episode 1

Several months ago the owner of the Game Matrix, Chris Ewick, asked me to produce a wargame movie for the game he hosted during NHMGS's (Northwest Historical Gaming Society) Enfilade 09 convention:

The game he set up was a Kursk scenario using the popular Flames of War rules and miniatures:

Kursk, the largest tank battle in history, was a turning point in the Second World War, or the Great Patriotic War, as the Russians call it:

Chris set up a massive tank-versus-tank encounter using his finely painted, collection of 15mm miniatures. (He even painted "mud" on the tank treads!). During the 4-hour game, I acted as a "wargame correspondent" trying to capture every moment of the action. This was often hard to do, because it was a big game involving 11 players (4 German and 7 Russian), along with Chris as the Game Master (GM) and his assistant Walter.

Despite the photographic difficulties, I managed to take 237 usable pictures--a record, so far. The sheer number of photos and the 10-minute upload limit on YouTube forced me to break the movie up into 3 parts.

"Clash at Kursk Episode 1" covers the strategic situation, introduces the opposing players and their forces along with depicting the opening moves of the game:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mayhem at Maldon--The Movie

(Image: "The Sons of Odin" by Chris Collingwood, depicting a Viking raid on the west coast of England circa 890 AD).

From the sidebar notes of my latest movie posted today on YouTube:

This is the movie verison of an article I wrote for Historical Miniature Gamer Magazine (Issue #11) last year. The show illustrates the highlights of a medieval mini-campaign I ran, based on the Battle of Maldon which was fought in Essex, on 10 August, 991 AD. While this is actually the first movie I made, I've withheld posting it until I could find the right soundtrack and graphics.

My camera and computer were new at the time so I was unfamiliar with all the settings and capabilities. Despite the technical difficulties, this was one of the most fascinating games my group played and I wanted to share it.

In the actual battle the Anglo-Saxon army scattered and it's leader Byrthnoth was killed. But in our game the Danish invading forces were wiped out.

How did this happen?

Two Danish battlegroups attempting to reinforce King Olaf stranded on Northey Island, landed on opposite sides of the Blackwater River. The battlegroup that landed on the southern bank was unable to organize itself andremained on the beach. (This was due to not being able to draw any movement cards from the campaign command deck). Meanwhile the battlegroup that landed on the north bank, struck-out on a pillaging expedition, moving further inland--and away from their ships.

On the other hand the two Anglo-Saxon battlegroups dispatched to reinforce Byrhtnoth remained on the southern side of the river in order to mutually support each other. While several settlements were pillaged, the marauding Danes were eventually cornered and defeated in detail.

The Battle of Maldon according to Wikipedia:

Here's a site that contains all sorts of information on the battle including a translation of the poem:

And for my fellow wargamers, the Fanaticus website has a Maldon scenario for DBA (De Bellis Antiquitatis):

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Especially to our men & women in uniform who are away from their families and deployed to harm's way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Age-of-Sail Epics

A couple of weeks ago I managed to steal some time and sit down with a friend to play "Flying Colors" by GMT Games. This product deals with fleet actions during the latter days of the Age-of-Sail, specifically from 1750--1815.

Since this was our first time playing this game we chose a two ship-to-ship duels.

Scenario 18.13, Goza de Candia, is based on the fight between HMS Leander (a British 50-gun ship-of-the-line) and the French warship Genereux (74-guns):

Scenario 18.11, Bec du Raz, is based on a fight between two evenly matched opponents, HMS Mars and the French Hercule (both 74-guns):

While miniatures are more visually appealing and are more popular with the You Tube audience, I still like producing boardgame movies. These films give me the practice I need while waiting for the next scenic miniatures event.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Review: Flashman on the March

Flashman on the March is, sadly, the last historical novel of the late George MacDonald Fraser's "Flashman Papers."

The character Harry Paget Flashman was based on the ruffian who bullied Tom Brown in Tom Brown's Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes (1857). Fortunately for Tom Brown, "Flashy's" reign of terror at Rugby School ended when he was expelled for drunkenness. In 1839 Flashman joined the British Army and ended up--against his will--in just about every conceivable conflict of the 19th Century.

Nearly everyone in Victorian Society believed Flashman to be a paragon of virtue and military prowess. But the reader knows better. Because Flashman is, by his own admission, a scoundrel of the first order.

There are 12 Flashman books in the "Flashman Papers" and each one of them are some of the best historical novels ever written. They're presented as memoir packets supposedly written by Sir Harry Flashman himself between 1900 and 1915, with Fraser claiming to be the "editor."

Wikipedia does a credible job of compiling everything there is to know about the life & times of Sir Harry:

Normally I don't read books featuring anti-heroes as protagonists. However, these "memoirs" are written with a trace element of regret and are just plain, laugh-out-loud funny!

Despite the comedic slant, all the novels are meticulously researched. Each book is chock-full of footnotes and end notes. While this often disrupts the narrative of the story, the obscure facts Fraser managed to unearth make fascinating reading in and of themselves.

Here's a short bio of Flashman's creator:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Review: Jack Absolute

(Image from C.C. Humphreys' website: )

Jack Absolute, by C.C. Humphreys is an historical novel set in and around the Saratoga Campaign, which became a decisive turning point in the American War of Independence.

In this novel, Mr. Humphreys expanded the role, so to speak, of the main character in Richard Sheridan's popular play, The Rivals.

The "real" Jack Absolute is furious with his friend Sheridan for turning a romantic escapade in his youth into the romantic comedy of its day. However, before Jack can have it out with Sheridan, he is ensnared in a web of intrigue and ends up becoming General Burgoyne's spy for this new expedition against "those damned rebels." During the course of Jack's misadventure he runs into, or a foul of, several other historical figures such as: Banastre Tarleton, Chief Joseph Brant, Major Andre, General William Howe and Benedict Arnold.

I had the pleasure of attending a seminar and keynote address given by Mr. Humprheys during this year's PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) Conference. (See the 9 and 21 September postings under the PNWA 09 Author Workshop Review Section). So while reading this story I kept in mind a couple of points the author made during his talks.

First and foremost, every scene in the story must move the plot forward. This includes the sex scenes. While it is alluded that Jack has had numerous liaisons, the love scenes described at length form pivotal moments of the story.

Mr. Humprheys cautioned against giving history lessons in historical fiction. Despite Jack's role as Burgoyne's spy, in the military chain of command he is a mere captain. Therefore he doesn't have a view of the "big picture" during the campaign. Jack manages to be present at key points during the battles of Oriskany and Bemis Heights, yet the author limits his narrative to only what Jack personally observes during the chaos and confusion of the fighting.

In a similar vein, Mr. Humphreys doesn't slow his narrative down with extensive backstories, or worse--flashbacks--on Jack's earlier life. Instead, snippets of Jack's past are effectively blended into the narrative. The reader is treated to mere hints about: Jack living with the Iroquois for several years and his murdered Mohawk wife, adventures in India to regain the fortune lost by his mad father and a campaign in Spain--where he came to the attention of "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne.

This means there's plenty of fodder for more Absolute adventures!

So far there are two other Absolute novels: The Blooding of Jack Absolute and Absolute Honor, which are now on my "must read" list.

Note: Due to the cloak & dagger aspects of this 5-star novel, my review is rather general to prevent disclosing plot-spoilers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Characters in Combat and Writers of the Working Day

And so I come to the end of my recaps for this year's PNWA Summer Conference. Our final keynote speaker was, none other than Chris Humprheys, of the (in)famous Writing Sex Scenes workshop. (See The Ins and Outs of Writing Sex Scenes post, 09 Sep 09).

(Image from C.C. Humphreys' website)

I finally managed to take some pictures of the conference. Unfortunately, most of them turned out too dark or blurry. Of the two I managed to salvage, here's Chris reading from one of his books:

And this one is of Chris giving us the final motivational speech of the conference:

The main theme of Chris' Sunday morning address was writing battle scenes. We've all heard that conflict is at the heart of every story and that without conflict, there is no story.

Well, to say there's conflict a-plenty amid the mass-slaughter of a battlefield would be a gross understatement. However, unless you're writing a history book, readers want stories focused on great characters.

Therefore, battle scenes in literature serve the following purpose:

--Places characters in grave peril.

--Shows them in action (as in life-or-death action).

--Characters must have objectives beyond surviving the day (a love interest, revenge, etc).

However, when plunging into the heat of battle:

--Be sure not to give a history lesson.

--80 to 90% of the research material shouldn't go into the book unless it is important to the character.

--Instead use research as a springboard for your imagination.

After making these key points, Chris treated us to readings from two of his books.

The first one was from his novel Vlad: The Last Confession. In this scene Vlad Tepes (aka Vlad the Impaler--better known as Dracula) led a force of 4,000 Wallachian warriors in a surprise attack against the sultan's camp. I can still imagine the scene Chris verbally painted, of Vlad and his troops charging through the Transylvanian forest and the dark hills echoing their war cry: "Dr-r-r-r-a-cu-la! Dr-r-r-r-a-cu-la!"

Brrrr! That was more spine-tingling than a solitary vampire, who can be chased off with a mere crucifix and wooden stake.

It took more than props from a horror movie to deal with the real Dracula:

The second reading was from Vendetta, the second book in Chris' Runestone Saga. Despite being part of a young adult (YA) series, Chris didn't pull any punches in his narrative. The protagonist, Sky, develops the power to teleport back into the body of his ancestors, thanks to his grandfathers journal and set of nordic runestones. In Vendetta he enters the mind of Tza, a feral shepherdess on Corsica in the 16th Century. During a siege, Tza kills her first man with a sling and stone.

Chris then gave a demonstration of his skill with a sling like the one Tza used. He learned this talent for his part as a gladiator in the mini-series AD. Fortunately Chris palmed the stone so--no actual humans were injured in this keynote address.

After the speech my friend Sharon had the presence of mind to ask Chris in trying out the sling. She's writing a novel about ancient Mesopotamia, circa 2350 B.C. and wanted to do some on-the-spot research. (I wish I thought of that!).

Most of us though, have no knowledge or skill at wielding swords, slings, bows and other archaic implements of destruction. This of course, limits an author's ability to "write what you know."

But Chris pointed out there is a way around such lack of experience: Seek out re-enactors.

These folks dress in period attire, ranging from ancient Rome to World War II. They practice with the weaponry of the era for events such as Renaissance Fairs, Rendezvous, battle re-enactments or living history weekends. Re-enactors are a wealth of hands-on information not often found in books or on the internet. And if you're lucky, maybe you can get a chance to practice with the weaponry you envision your character wielding. Doing so will bring more realism to your battle scenes.

Chris' keynote address though, wasn't all battles and bloodshed.

Well, sort of...

He was asked to end his talk on an uplifting note to inspire attendees with desire to continue their work when they return home. So he tied these two themes together by giving us his rendition of the Saint Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's Henry V:

According to Shakespeare, King "Harry" delivered this stirring oration to his weary troops before the battle of Agincourt:

It is said that Shakespeare is better appreciated performed than read. Since I didn't have a camcorder with me, you'll have to make do with my favorite film version, starring Kenneth Brannagh:

PNWA is a great organization for writers and does more than hold annual conferences. For more information about the association's activities throughout the year, log on to their website (also found in the Writing Section of this blog):

And so dear friends, this ends my Summer Conference recaps.

Until next year...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

World Building with Team Seattle

I now came to the last batch of workshops for this year's conference. There were classes on: Pitching to agents, writing dialogue for crime fiction, writing Young Adult (YA) fiction, collaborating with other authors, learning to become a writer and world building.

World building? Hmm. Listed under the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Track, this workshop appealed to me the most for a couple reasons. First my interest in science-fiction and fantasy are close seconds to military history and historical fiction.

Second, "world building" occurs in every other genre of fiction. Thrillers, historical novels, romances and everything else do not occur in the real world. The settings in these tales are imaginary backdrops based on the real world of today or yesteryear. Our collective knowledge about the past can often be fragmentary at best, so writers of historical fiction fill-in such gaps with their stories.

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to attend this seminar.

Like the "Habits..." seminar I attended in the last session this class was conducted by a panel of writers who often call themselves "Team Seattle." They're a cabal of fantasy authors and friends who often attend book tours and conventions together. Most of their books fall into sub-genre of Urban Fantasy:
The moderator for this workshop was Kat Richardson, author of Vanished. This is the fourth book in her Greywalker series, where Seattle PI Harper Blaine develops the ability to move in and out of "The Grey," the realm between life and death. Kat did a great job as a moderator, despite having caught a cold and losing her "traffic-stopping bark" at ComicCon several day prior. (See her "Voiceless in Seattle," blogpost 30 July 09).

The first panelist, Mark Henry is the author of Happy Hour of the Damned and Road Trip of the Living Dead. These stories originated from a question Mark once asked himself: "...what if the Sex and the City girls ended up rising from the dead with a craving for flesh?" (FAQ Section of Mark Henry's Bio).

As I mentioned above, most of Team Seattle writes urban fantasy stories. Cherie Priest is the exception. Her upcoming book Boneshaker, along with her previous works, fit into the Steampunk sub-genre.

And in case you're wondering what "steampunk" is:

Cherie's Steampunk website (See "Steampunk" under FAQ, for her thoughts on the genre, posted 13 Sept 09):

The third panelist, Lisa Mantchev is a fantasy author who keeps her world's magic confined within a theater. Book One of The Theatre Illuminata trilogy appeared earlier this year.

Our fourth panelist was "urban fantasy noir" writer Caitlin Kittredge, author of the Nocturne City series and the upcoming Black London series.

At the time of this writing, our last panelist Richelle Mead should be returning from her Down Under book tour. Richelle is the author of the YA series Vampire Academy and the adult Succubus series. (Succubi and their male counterparts, Incubi are the seductive demons of the netherworld).

Most of the above panelists are members of The League of Reluctant Adults:
Note: Most of the authors' pictures were obtained from their websites. The photo of Cherie Priest in her steampunk regalia I took from her Flickr page.

There are 3 methods of world building:

1. Top Down-build the world then populate it with characters.

2. Bottom Up-create the characters, write the story creating the world as you go.

3. Meet in the middle.

The 3 general categories of worlds are:

1. Our world with a "change." Most Urban Fantasy falls under this category.

2. Alternate Earth--the same but different, such as alternate histories and Steam Punk.

3. Not our Earth. Another world such as Tolkien's Middle Earth, Lucas' Tatooine, etc.

While writing how much of the world do you reveal?

Is the world closed? That is most people don't know about the paranormal/extra-terrestrial elements inhabiting and interacting in the world.

Is the world open? This means everyone knows about the strange beings and events that populate the world which makes this a part of "ordinary" life.

Keep in mind that a supernatural element has a major impact on ALL aspects of life.

The most important thing to remember is: The world must be consistent throughout your story.
Larger issues may need to be addressed, such as:

1. The physical world--it's geography, terrain and possible terraforming.

2. People--What races are there? What's the interaction among races? What's the social structure or stratification? Are there any gender issues?

3. Social aspects--Typical views on politics, economy and religion.

4. Social systems--Organized religion and law.

Worldwide issues may need to be touched on or explained in some detail:

--Trade & commerce


--The Arts


Remember the adage: "Follow the money!"

What's the economy like?

How do people feed themselves? That is what do they do on a daily basis to survive and thrive?

What's ordinary life like?

The Science Fiction Writers Association has a world building FAQ:

Towards the end of the seminar, the attendees were asked to write up a synopsis of their proposed worlds. During this time Kat said something to this effect: "Even though this workshop was geared for science fiction and fantasy, you can apply the same techniques in writing historical fiction for example."

It would be presumptuous of me to say "great minds think alike." However it was nice to hear Kat confirm my rationale for attending this workshop.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Habits of Successful Professional Writers

On 1 August, 1:29 PM (1329 hours for you military readers), I faced a dilema: The Habits of Successful Professional Writers seminar was scheduled at the same time as The Nitty Gritty: Writing Sex and Romance for Fantasy and Science Fiction workshop. Both classes started at 1:30...


Sometimes when it comes to your writing career you have to make tough decisions.

Since I attended the Writing Sex Scenes workshop I felt I had enough sex (writing, that is) for one day and that the "Habits..." seminar would be more beneficial to me. Despite the less-than sultry subject, it turned out to be a good choice after all.

This was a panel discussion moderated by Robert Dugoni, author of Wrongful Death and other legal thrillers. Rob is heavily involved in PNWA and provides inspiration to aspiring writers with his "I-was-sitting-where-you're-at" perspective.

The panelists included the following folks:

Royce Buckingham, author of Demonkeeper and soon-to-be-released Goblins! was our first panelist. From what I remember in past PNWA workshops, Royce is a veteran of numerous writing contests and encouraged attendees to keep entering them in order to get the feedback necessary to hone your writing skills.

I've also attended workshops hosted by former railroad inspector and second panelist, Kevin O'Brien. Kevin always struck me as being a very nice and mild-mannered guy--who happens to write about depraved serial killers. He's working on his eleventh novel, appropriately titled--Vicious.

The third panelist was Mike Lawson, author of the Joe DeMarco political thrillers. Most of these stories are set in "the other Washington." That is, DC, which brings to mind different sorts of depravity...

But not every panelist was a spinner of tales involving courtroom and international intrigue, or paranormal and psychotic mayhem. Like an anchorage in such a tempest, Will North's heart-warming stories deal with love & loss (The Long Walk Home) and middle-age romance (Water, Stone, Heart).

Note: All photos were obtained from the authors' respective websites.
Despite their varied background, the panelists were united in stressing the following points:

-Love what you do and be happy doing it.

-Define your own success.

-Everything you do, should be done to move your writing career forward.

-Never quit your day job!

-Finish your book! That is, make sure your manuscript is complete before approaching an agent.
-Don't do anything that will stress you out, writing is suppose to be enjoyable.

-Maintain your sense of humor.

And when writing, make each scene move the story forward and avoid what Will called "Shoe Leather Descriptions." That is, extensive descriptions of characters moving from Point-A to Point-B.

Because publishing is a business, authors should view writing as a career. Like any other job, you should have career goals and a business plan in mind.
To help reinforce these ideas, Royce provided everyone with a copy of his "Successful Habits for Writers" Handout, which is reprinted below:

Year 1--Beginning Writer ("Gosh, this is fun.")

1. Start things...write regularly...finish things.

2. Share your things (family & friends).

Year 2--Intermediate Writer ("Wow, I can't stop writing.")

1.Start things...write regularly...finish things.

2. Share you things (friends, family, critique groups, contests).

3. Research the business etiquette (read books about writing, attend conferences).

4. Meet people in the business.

5. Collect rejections.

6. Use feedback to find your sweetspot (strongest genre, attend conferences).

Year 7-? Writer on the Brink ("Aha, writing is a business.")

1. Identify and outline good ideas BEFORE writing (via: friends, family and critique groups).

2. Start things...write things...finish things.

3. Share your things (friends, family, critique groups, contests, agents, publishers).

4. Research the business entirely (read books about writing, attend conferences, join organizations).

5. Collect more rejections.

6. Become an expert in your genre.

7. Approach people in the business you've met to read and recommend your work.

8. Be professional (Take writing seriously, and it will take you seriously).

Published Author (Writing is a job...and gosh, it's still fun.")

1. All of the above.

2. Start things...write regularly...finish things.

3.Share your things (with the world).

Remember: Always be moving your career forward.

Royce also provided a second handout called the "10 Qualities of Successful Hollywood Writers" by his manager Ken Atchity.

These qualities are:

1. Focused vision of their work and themselves.

2. Persistence, determination--pertinacity.

3. Unbelievable self-discipline when it comes to writing.

4. High concept.

5. Knowing the business of Hollywood inside/out.

6. Supreme confidence and being "no-proof."

7. Willingness to "go for broke." Investing self on every level.

8. Close relationship with the market they reflect or create.

9. Writing for the audience.

10. Finding a Hollywood gatekeeper and sticking with him/her.

While not every author plans to write a screenplay, these qualities still apply. For instance substitute "Hollywood gatekeeper" with "literary agent."

Various definitions of "habit" were listed listed at the bottom of this handout. These ranged from distinctive costume, to drug addiction to tasks done often and easily such as--writing!

By the end of this session, various panelists recommended the following books on writing:

-The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
-The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
-On Writing by Stephen King
-Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
-any book by Kenneth Atchity
-The Writer's Market

So where do I place on Royce's Successful Habits Timeline?
Let's see, I started writing gaming articles 5 years ago and began attending PNWA Conferences 3 or 4 years ago. I guess this makes me an Intermediate Writer. My two major weak areas here are: Item #2 in that I haven't joined a critique group and I haven't quite found my literary "sweetspot" yet (Item #6).

My wargaming interests range from the Bronze Age to the Hyperspace Age and every era in between. However, I consider my main focus is on military history and historical fiction prior to the Industrial Revolution. This narrows my sweetspot down to--what?--3,100 years of recorded history, give or take a hundred years.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me in determining my best genre. Then I can graduate to Writer on the Brink...

Friday, September 11, 2009

What Drives My Writing?

In the October Issue of The Writer (Vol. 122, Issue 10, pg. 6), Editor Jeff Reich asked: "What drives your writing?"

Writers are divided into two camps. One set are the "happy campers," those who find writing to be an enjoyable experience.

And then there's folks like me who find splicing words together to be an onerous task.

So is it pleasure or pain that drives one to write?

Here's the answer I posted on the The Writer's online forum:

Years ago someone asked me why I like working out so much.

I replied, "I don't. I like finishing!"

This off-the-cuff remark turned out to be a key trait in my personality profile and work ethic. That is, I enjoy the results of being (relatively) lean and healthy, but on most mornings I trudge to the gym and my mood doesn't brighten until I'm half-way through my workout.

The same holds true for just about every other aspect in my life. I love a clean house, but consider cleaning a necessary evil.

With the "write every day" mantra it's easy for me to correlate writing with working out. In my mind the same rules apply whether it's for a fit body or strong prose.

So I'm usually not filled with joy over my work until someone has read it and I can feel a sense of accomplishment.

Mr. Reich's question intrigued me enough to actually post a reply in my first writer's forum. I could learn to like this...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Ins and Outs of Writing the Steamy Scenes

Okay, so what's a guy like me who writes about toy soldiers doing in a Writing Sex Scenes workshop?

Because as Deborah Schneider said in class: "Sex sells!"

Deborah Schneider, one of the workshop presenters is the author of Beneath a Silver Moon and the upcoming novel Promise Me. Her website can also be found under the Author's Section of this blog:

The numbers confirm her statement, since by 2000, romance novels outstripped all other literary genres: (Scroll down to "Markets: North America").

It truly is a New Millennium and some of us would like to be published authors before the end of it. But writing is more than just hitting publishing high notes. Love of the craft drives writers to create an enjoyable reading experience for their audience. One key element in accomplishing this is to develop realistic characters, or acurate portrayals of historic figures, that will keep readers engaged in the story. How the protagonist wrestles with love & romance can be just as important as to how well he braves shot & shell.
My own writing comes up short on this score: While I've written articles about the heat of battle, I have yet to transcribe anything about the heat of passion. It's not that I'm inhibited, just unskilled at coupling the necessary pieces for an arousing love scene. Not to mention bringing an entire book-length manuscript to a satisfying climax.

Fortunately authors like Deborah Schneider and Chris Humphreys are an unabashed and encouraging pair for a novice like me.
Chris, or C.C. Humphreys, is the author of the Jack Absolute and Runestone series, along with several other hisorical novels. His webiste is can also be found under the Author's Section of this blog:

Despite this stellar line-up, I wasn't planning on attending this course. A couple of years ago I sat-in on a similar PNWA workshop and I assumed it was like some of the x-rated movies I' about. A case of "you've seen one, you've seen 'em all," so to speak.

Well the previous night I struck up a conversation with Chris while purchasing a couple of his Jack Absolute books. During the course of our chat I discovered he use to play wargames too. So while I spent the rest of our talk trying to rekindle his interest in wargaming he convinced me to attend his and Deborah's workshop the following day.

"It will be fun!" He assured me.

And it certainly was.

Here's some of the few notes I managed to take:

The main question you have to ask yourself is: What are you trying to achieve by incorporating one or more sex scenes into your narrative?

The primary goal of any sex scene is to move the story forward. Otherwise you're just writing porn.

One effect a sex scene achieves is that it reveals more about the character than is otherwise known by the rest of the cast in the story.
People often act different behind closed doors and readers become privy to such intimate details.
Relationships are the key element in romance novels. Without a relationship beyond sex, you're not writing a romance novel, you're back to writing porn.

Two points of view are necessary for a successful romance: The hero's and heroine's.

The language used in a romance is also part of the appeal, especially when writing historical romances, which must fit the period and setting of the story.

Even if you're not writing romance, the protagonist should have a romantic interest as I mentioned in my Novel to Script post.

Clothing--especially lingerie--can be used to heighten the effect. You can add different layers and style of clothing too. Such as having your protagonist dress in conservative outer garments, but underneath--see the "behind closed doors" comment above. Or as Deborah said: "Think Victoria's Secret!"

Engage all the senses when writing a sex scene, not just sight. Taste, touch, smell and sound all come into play during intimate moments. Doing so amplifies the sensuality of the scene and builds sexual tension.

However, the hero and heroine often want more than sex. Either or both may have other goals and desires that may put them in conflict with others--or each other. Remember: Conflict fuels the story!

And while "sex sells" you want to write within your comfort level and at the same time keep in mind what genre or sub-genre you're writing in. For instance, there's no sex until the "I dos" are exchanged--and after the wedding guest have left--in Christian or inspirational romance. The same might be said for Young Adult (YA) novels, but Deborah pointed out some YA books series contain very explicit content.

The bottom line is: Writing sex scenes, like sex itself, should be an enjoyable experience. Once it becomes a chore, your work will become flaccid. So don't worry about satisfying your audience with your first draft. Writing the first draft should be a gratifying experience for yourself.
What ever your comfort level is your readers will learn what to expect and what not to expect from you.
Despite the candid banter of this workshop there are some definite prohibitions in writing romance: No rape, pedophilia, bestiality or any other depraved actions are allowed.

So an hour-and-a-half workshop boiled down to 401 words of notes?
Not quite.

Both Deborah and Chris read excerpts from their respective novels to illustrate what makes a good sex scene.

Deborah treated us to the scene in Promise Me where the heroine, Amanda Wainwright tried to seduce Secret Service Agent Samuel Calhoun. By the time Deborah finished reading, Amanda was on Sam's lap and her little black dress was about ready to fall to the floor...

Chris took us back to 18th Century London, where Jack Absolute decided to lay on the charm with actress Fanny Harper in The Blooding of Jack Absolute. This scene involved erotic poetry, candied peaches, a hooped skirt and other sorts of Age of Reason fashion contraptions. Unfortunately for Jack, Fanny was Lord Melbury's kept woman and said lord picked an inopportune time to pay a visit to his main squeeze...

These scenes played pivotal roles in advancing the plot in both stories:

Agent Calhoun is an undercover operative working to expose fraud within a mining consortium. Assuming they have a loyal employee, the consortium wants Sam to seduce and humiliate Amanda in order to put her out of business. However, complications arise when Agent Calhoun finds himself under the covers servicing Ms. Wainwright instead of faking it with the consortium. This is a perilous position for both of them, because if Sam keeps it up with Amanda he could have his cover blown.

Meanwhile, back in the 18th Century Jack wasn't as adept as Sam at laying-low. Jack was discovered in an entangled position by the irate Lord Melbury, forced to flee London and join the army. He eventually found himself a continent away, scaling the cliffs onto the Plains of Abraham before the walls of Quebec. Thanks to some derring-do on Jack's part the English won the battle against the French and Canada was incorporated into the British Empire.

Or as Chris put it: If Jack didn't try to have sex with Fanny, he wouldn't have fled London, he wouldn't have joined General Wolfe's invasion force and Canada would still be French to this day!
Talk about "moving a plot forward."

Fortunately most sexcapades don't have such sweeping geopolitical repercussions. But discussing ramifications of romance wasn't the only amusing moment in this class.

During Deborah's reading one young lady left just as Amanda & Sam were getting tongue tied. The lady in-question stood up, fanned her face with her hand and gasped, "This is too hot for me!"

Maybe it was. But I think she actually had an appointment with an agent and played the moment up for maximum comedic effect.

Then there was the woman who wanted to write about her sexploits after divorcing her dull and unimaginative husband. While this "got the attention of every guy in the room," as my friend Alynn put it, she did bring up a good point: If you're writing a memoir, how much explicit content do you include in your own tell-all tale?

Such a "cumming-of-age stories" as Chris called them, can be stimulating stuff indeed. However once again, you should keep the primary thrust of your experiences in mind. That is, they must move the story forward.

Oddly enough, our self-revealing heroine seemed uncomfortable divulging her conjugal activities to her family. For her touchy situation it was suggested she use a pen name to avoid shocking the tender sensibilities of her relatives.
The next workshop I attended was the Habits of Successful Professional Writers which will be the subject of my next post. As an aspiring writer, I felt I needed all the professional help I could get. Sadly this conflicted with The Nitty Gritty: Writing Sex and Romance for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I'm a big fan of both sci-fi and fantasy, but I guess there's only so much sex--writing at least--I can take...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Traveller PC: Major Elazar Slacker, Imperial Marine Commando

Conducting a personal recon, Major Slacker is represented by Wizards of the Coast Rebel Captain (10/60 Rebel 21) of their Star Wars Miniatures set.

Major Slacker continues his recon in the face of an uncertain situation. But that's what commandos do...

Slacker's command car is represented by Wizards of the Coast Flash Speeder figure (4/60 Republic 41) of their Star Wars Miniatures Set.

I've played Traveller for almost as long as I've played D&D. However, most of the time I was a gamemaster (GM). Despite my GM duties, I managed to roll-up this character whom I've yet to take on an adventure. Unlike D&D, in Traveller one can roll-up a character with an extensive past.
In Elazar Slacker's case, he rose to his current rank of Major in the Imperium's Marine Commandos. Slacker is no "desk jockey." Since enlisting in the Marines at 18, Elazar has been involved in a total of 6 counter-insurgency operations and 2 commando raids, which earned him 3 decorations--along with one wound as a "souvenir."

Elazar Slacker's Stats
Race: Human Age: 34
Career: Marine Branch: Commando Terms Served: 4
Rank: Major Retired?: No Pay: 1600 Cr/Month
Attributes (UPP): Str-8 Dex-8 End-11 Int-12 Ed-9 Soc Status-8
Awards and Decorations:
1-Medal for Conspicuous Gallantry (MCG)
2-Medals for Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUFs)

1-Purple Heart (PH)
3-Combat Command Ribbons (CCRs)
6-Combat Ribbons (CRs)

Leadership-2, Tactics-2, Survival-1, Zero-G-Combat-1, Battledress-1, Forward Observer-1, Reconnaissance-1, Stealth-1, Combat Rifleman-1, Laser Weapons-1, Handgun-1, Grav Vehicle-1, Heavy Weapons-1
Personal History:
18-Enlisted into the Marines
19 to 23-Involved in 5 counter insurgency operations

24-Involved in a police action, cited for bravery and was wounded. Awarded the MCG & PH

25-Sent to College

28-Graduated Officer Candidate School

29-Sent to Commando School

31-Involved in a counter-insurgency operation

32-Involved in a raid, cited for bravery and awarded the MCUF

33-Involved in another raid, cited for bravery and awarded a 2nd MCUF


Father--a wilderness guide, hunter & tracker.

Mother--a teacher

Siblings--1 older brother, 4 younger sisters and 2 younger brothers
Traveller was initially produced by Game Designers' Workshop (GDW). A link to Traveller can be found under Role Playing Games. For some reason a direct link to Wikipedia's entry on Traveller doesn't work:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2-for-1 Meal Deal with Joseph Finder

(Image from the Joseph Finder Website Press Kit)

Thriller writer Joseph Finder was double-billed this year as the Friday Evening Featured Speaker and the Lunch With (insert name of best selling author here) guest.

I attended both events and didn't feel any sense of redundancy since the lunch chat was more conducive for a question & answer (Q&A) session.
Mr. Finder's latest novel Vanished was released earlier this year. He brings an insider's perspective to the thriller genre. Not insider as in "former writers conference attendee" but insider as in "former CIA."

Ever since taking seminar on Russian history and literature, Mr. Finder wanted to be a spy. In a case of "be careful what you wish for," he was recruited by the CIA after graduating from Yale. Soon he found himself in a cubicle tucked away within the labyrinth of "The Agency" reading Russian message traffic.

This was not quite the exciting life of a Robert Ludlum character as he imagined it would be. So Mr. Finder decided to write about the things he'd rather be doing instead keeping an Agency cubicle warm.
However, Mr. Finder doesn't limit himself to imaginary feats of daring-do. He's the author of several informative articles on intelligence operations and international relations.
Writer's tips are among the many tidbits of "intel" that can be found on his website listed below and under the Authors Section of this blog:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Efficient Research for Historical Novels

My wargaming hobby straddles the realms of history and historical fiction. The table-top armies gather as their actual historical counterparts however, once the game starts it's anybody's guess as to how it's going to end. Events more often than not, unfold that did not occur during the actual battle. There's even a chance for the vanquished to emerge as the victors in such table-top simulations: Robert E. Lee could win the Battle of Gettysburg and Napoleon could prevail against the English and Prussians at Waterloo. These aren't likely outcomes, but such alternate-endings are possible.

So as a "wargame correspondent" adrift in the PNWA Summer Conference, it seemed appropriate for me to attend the Effective and Efficient Research: The Foundation of Historical Novels workshop. This seminar was presented by Larry Karp, author of The King of Ragtime and The Ragtime Kid. While I haven't written any historical novels (yet), I still conduct extensive research for every gaming article I write or YouTube movie I produce.

But am I doing effective research?

Here are some of the notes I produced during Larry's informative seminar:

History is concerned with the following basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? & Why?

However, historical records are often parsimonious in answering "why?" These are known as the "why-holes."

When writing historical fiction, look for these why-holes and fill them with suggestions.

The advantage in writing historical fiction is you can use real people and locations that are already in-place and structured.

However, the disadvantages are that you must leave history as you find it. You're also constrained by a real person's historical actions. Which means you need to get your facts right or you'll lose you credibility with your readers. So no matter how many rewrites and revisions you do, Robert E. Lee looses the Battle of Gettysburg and Napoleon is defeated once and for all at Waterloo.

The primary research tool for historians and historical fiction writers is, well primary sources. These are materials written at the time of an event but are not necessarily "the truth." Such primitive pieces of spin-doctoring can be embellishments, propaganda and even outright lies. Which means sometimes fiction can be more accurate than "reality." However, some of these realities can be too strange even for fiction and it may be best to leave such tales out of your story.

Unearthing little-known factoids can be an enjoyable exercise. And therein lies the danger--getting bogged down or fascinated by research. Other research abuse are the over-pursuit of reality and overuse of detail within your story.

Other stumbling blocks include: Anacrhonisms and using modern speech, concepts and attitudes and placing them in the past. (This is my biggest pet-peeve with historical fiction).

Effective research helps set the mood of your story.
Sources can include:
-history books
-historical articles (print or on-line)
-movies, and
-historical fiction by other authors

Note: When using on-line sources beware of any website that doesn't end with a "gov" or "edu"!

You're not limited to musty documents as pictured above, or wacky websites either. You can seek out experts in particular fields such as historians (both amateur and professional), specialists (such as re-enactors), law enforcement personnel (for archived "police blotter" material) and older folks who may have experienced an event first hand or heard about it from their parents.

Despite the plethora of on-line material, libraries are still a cornerstone to effective research. Inside these institutions you'll find general histories, biographies and autobiographies, diaries, letters, newspapers, magazines and photographs that may not be available on-line.

Finally, nothing beats on-site research for adding authenticity to your story. This includes but is not limited to:

-interviewing local citizens
-conducting research at local libraries, city directories
-reading locally-written histories, newspapers and even obituaries

I would add that for stories with a military element, you must "walk the field" of any historical battle within your narrative. Touring a battlefield gives you an appreciation of the difficulties soldiers and commanders faced when confronted with rough terrain, adverse weather conditions and a determined enemy. Pouring over maps and even logging on to Google-Earth is no substitute for actually being there.

One lively discussion occurred during this seminar and it's worth noting here. The question was should historical fiction writers have their characters use words and phrases some modern readers may find offensive?

Larry used an example from his book The Ragtime Kid. The protagonist, 15-year-old Brun Campbell who's white, takes piano lessons from the soon-to-be legendary ragtime musician Scott Joplin. During these lessons Mr. Joplin would refer to the black keys on the piano as--(and I'm taking a deep breath here)--the "nigger keys."

Why on earth would Scott Joplin of all people use such a term? Because as Larry explained, EVERYBODY in the turn-of-the-century music biz called them that. To avoid using the term would have glossed-over such an historical fact; while "talking-around" it would be too wordy and modifying it to something like the "n-word keys," just plain silly.

At the risk of sounding my tin horn, I pointed out to the class that readers of historical fiction "get it." They understand that historical fiction writers aren't closet racists (or sexists, or some other such prejudice, for that matter) and are trying to illustrate how our ancestors viewed their world.

Doing any less is and you're pulling your proverbial punches. What you want to do is hit your readers right between the eyes and give them a "we're not in Kansas anymore" experience.

For more about Larry Karp's ragtime murder mysteries, visit his website:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Yom-Kippur War Project

Unpainted figures below from left to right: An Israeli recon-jeep armed with a machine-gun, another jeep with a recoilless rifle and an M-113 "Zelda" armored personnel carrier (APC):

Having a hobby is supposed to be relaxing. In between my recent posts about the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) Summer Conference, I'd take a time-out or three and work on some modern micro-armor figures. ("Micro" meaning 1/285th or 1/300th-scale; or 6mm).

Last year a friend of mine gave me a bunch of Israeli tanks he no longer wanted. So naturally I had to buy even more Soviet-made armor for an Arab force to pit against the Israelis. I decided to organize my new-found collection around the Sinai Theater of the Yom Kippur War (October 1973).

6mm is my favorite scale because it provides a sweeping panoramic view of modern or futuristic battles (World War II to science-fiction).

However, working with the fiddly-bits in this scale was frustrating. The worst part of this project was trying to attach machine-guns the size of sub-atomic particles on to the vehicles:

But once that ordeal was over, all I had to do is paint each figure one or two colors to make them look decent. Below is an American-made M-48 Israeli tank on the left facing off against an Soviet-made Egyptian T-55:

However, I have a long way to go before I achieve Master Craftsman status and paint like this:
Yes, this "Zelda" figure is the same size as my unpainted one next to the ballpoint pen.
(Image from the GHQ on-line catalogue: ).
I couldn't place the machine guns on any of my 25 Zeldas as precisely as pictured above. I just slathered on the super-glue and plopped them on as best I could. Not getting my fingers sticky was an achievement in and of itself.
A couple days ago I realized the Egyptians needed some self-propelled artillery and some air defense vehicles.
So it's back to the game store...