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...

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Novel Script?

Hooray for...

The last Friday workshop I planned to attend was How to Start Your Novel: The Beginning, presented by Megan Chance. Since I don't have a novel, or any other book project at this time, I thought "The Beginning" would be a good place to start.
Unfortunately the Hilton's "Orcas B" Room was packed to standing-room-only. Since I didn't feel like standing for an hour & a half I ventured off to find another suitable seminar. Flipping through the Faces Of Writing brochure, I came across the workshop From Novel to Script listed under the "Screenwriting Track." Since my YouTube shows could be defined as "movies," albiet in the broadest sense of the word, I thought I'd give this a try.
I'm glad I did.
Alia Yunis, author of her debut novel The Night Counter, presented this workshop which focused on what constitutes a screenplay. Because a screenplay will be turned into a visual-oriented form of entertainment large parts of a novel must be minimized, or left out altogether, in order to keep the audience from leaving before the ending credits.

Here are a few key differences we discussed in the seminar:

A screenplay is very structured and formulaic.

A screenplay should have a minimum number of subplots.

A novel can jump from one point-of-view (POV) to another, whereas a screenplay must be from 1 POV.

Screenplays should avoid 1st-person voice-over narration. There are of course exceptions to this, A Christmas Story being one of them.

Screenplays should contain 5 key elements:

1. Plot
2. Theme
3. Characters
4. Dialogue
5. Pacing

Note: Most first-time scripts fall short on #3, often relying too much on special effects wizardry.
Screenplay length should be no more than 100-110 pages for comedies and 120 for other genres.

The traditional 3-Act Play is the standard format for a screenplay.

1st Act:

The set-up takes place between pages 1-10 (double-spaced).

The Inciting Incident, that is the catalyst that spurs the protagonist to action takes place on page 10.

This act continues until page 30 where the Turning Point is reached--the journey's begun and the hero cannot turn back.

Act 2:

Takes place between pages 30 to 90.
The Midpoint, which is reached on page 60 represents a significant shift in the action.
The pacing of the story is very important here.

Act 3:
The fastest part of the script pacing-wise, should take place here between pages 90 to 120.
There are several other elements to blend into each act:
The protagonist wants 1 thing (to get the girl, etc).
Each scene should be about 5 pages in length and something should happen to the main character in each of these scenes.
The protagonist should also have a love-interest and sidekick to make him more 3-dimensional.
Since the protagonist wasn't "born yesterday" he should have a backstory, but it must be presented visually.
Dialogue is where most first-time screenwriters get into trouble. Avoid OTN, or "on-the-nose" dialogue which is too obvious. Dialogue must be subtle, not too obvious and it must serve a purpose.
The above guidelines were deciphered from the notes I scribbled down during this workshop. Here's Alia's advice taken directly from a post on her blog:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steps to "Banking By-Lines"

(Image of Maccho Picchu)

According to last year's PNWA keynote speaker Gayle Lynds, it takes an average of 10 years for a writer to get her first book published.
Not very encouraging is it?
So what can a writer do in the meantime?
One option is to write articles. Lots of articles.
Freelance writer Roy Stevens, the presenter of the workshop Going from Good Idea to Sold Idea: Seven-Step Process for Banking By-Lines, has done just that. In less than 2 years he's cranked out more than 350 articles for over 30 magazines.
Presenters such as Roy offer great advice on how a writer can at least draw a steady income despite not having a book on the New York Times Best Seller List.
During the workshop, Roy discussed implementing a step-by-step plan for getting published in diverse markets--even without having to be an expert in the fields you're writing about.
Step 1: Create an Action Plan

Plan your articles and submissions--use a timetable. Also never decline a story suggestion from an editor.
Don't blindly fire-off query letters to editors in a "scattered" approach, but develop a schedule. For example Roy adhered to the following procedure:

Week 1--Pitch to Running magazines
Week 2--Pitch to other fitness magazines
Week 3--Pitch to travel magazines
Week 4--Pitch to military and travel magazines

Step 2: Diversify to find more story ideas

Write about different topics.
Write about subjects you're passionate about.
Combine interests and travel.
Search for magazines and e-zines that cover the type of stories you're interested in.
Step 3: You Don't have to be an expert!
Consult a subject-matter expert.
Get others to review your work.
Fact check every story--this is critical.
Acknowledge your consultant in the article.

Step 4: Research your article before you pitch it

This increases your chances of getting published.
Shows the editor you're prepared.
Incorporate research information in your query letter.

Step 5: Find magazines and e-zines you want to pitch to. Information on these magazines can be found in/on the following:

Local bookstores
Specialty news agents
Writer's Market
The American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI)

Step 6: Read the writer's guidelines of the publication you're interested in writing for

Check out the publication's website.

Examine the tone, style and average length of the articles, along with the number of articles in each issue and the topics covered in the past 6-12 months.

Read the payment details.

Contact the right person in the right department.

Understand the format requirements for submissions. If no guidelines are listed then "fly blind," but indicate you can be flexible.

Examine the distribution of long vs. short articles.
Determine who writes the articles: Freelancers? Staff?

Step 7: Pitch your story
Send out a blizzard of query letters and e-mails.
The more queries you send out the more articles you'll get published.
Don't be afraid to pitch to any magazine, e-zine or newspaper.
Don't be put-off by rejections!
Some final notes:
How to manage multiple submissions--
-Give it to the first editor who accepts it
-Pitch slightly different topics or variations of the original story.

How to squeeze the most out of your articles--
-Submit to publications whose circulations don't overlap, such as regional and overseas magazines and newspapers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lunch with James Rollins

(Promotional photo from James Rollins Official Website and James Rollins Fan Club).

Lunchtime at a PNWA Summer Conference usually involves grabbing a sandwich or salad platter at one of the concession stands and wolfing it down before the next workshop. (Okay, maybe I'm just referring to my own eating habits...). But instead of scouring the Writer's Cafe for a vacant seat I usually attend the "Lunch With (insert name of bestselling author here)" program.

The first lunch break of this year's conference was with Jame Rollins. His first young adult novel, Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow was released in March and his newest "Sigma Force" thriller, The Doomsday Key hit the bookstores in June. A veterinarian by trade, Mr. Rollins learned his craft by attending writers conferences and retreats. So he's brought a personal "I-was-sitting-where-you-are-now" perspective to all his PNWA speaking engagements. This year, he literally flew in and was ushered back to the airport after the post-lunch book signing.

Despite suffering from jet-lag, Mr. Rollins was as entertaining and engaging as in previous appearances. In addition to Mr Rollins amusing tales about his writing career--of which there are many--I did learn about some of the obstacles that hinder publication and one possible technique to overcome them.

Actually, there are three obstacles,--or "Three Nos"--as Mr Rollins calls them. That is, when you are ready to submit your work you're confronted with 3 possibilities of being told "no."

The first "no" can occur when you submit your query letter to a literary agent. The agent in question can send a "thanks-but-no-thanks" reply just after reading your one-page query.

If the agent is intrigued enough by this one-pager he may ask to see the first 50 pages, 3 chapters, or whatever their agency's guidelines calls for. But you're not out of the literary woods yet, because the agent could still say "no" even after reading select portions of your manuscript.

Which brings us to the final "no." Once the agent accepts you as a client then he could face a steady stream of "nos" on your behalf from disinterested editors.

Mr Rollins' solution?

"Take one "no" away from them."

That is, send the first 50 pages along with the query letter despite the agency's "query only" guidelines. Now you face only two "nos." Because according to Mr Rollins, simple curiosity will likely take over and cause an agent to read the submission--whether it was asked for or not.

More information about James Rollins' can be found on his official website (also listed under the Author Section of this blog):

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Spies Who Came to the Conference

(Sketch by James Ratcliffe: )
I just started reading the September issue of Writer's Digest (WD) while on the cardio-torture machines at the gym.
The staff at WD decided to conduct a "full disclosure" and provide writers with an "insum" (Intelligence Summary) on what literary agencies are looking for and how to query them.
Some of the feature articles include:
Secret Agents 2009 by Chuck Sambuchino
Agency Contracts: Declassified by Howard Zaharoff
Stake Out Your Publishing Contract by Paul S. Levine, and
The Future Role of Agents by Jane Friedman
Several agents featured in this WD insum were spotted by PNWA Surveillance Teams (attendees seeking appointments). These were:
Emmanuelle Aspaugh, Michelle Brower, Laure McLean, Paul S. Levine and Ted Weinstein.
Once you enter into a partnership with these fine folks or other literary agents, you just might get the--"Mrs. Peel, we're needed"--phone call to meet with the editor...
For more information check out the Writer's Digest Website:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Agent Dos and Don'ts Forum

(Photo of Patrick McGoohan as John Drake in Secret Agent)

No I'm not referring to swallowing the coded message before you memorized it.

I'm talking about acquiring a literary agent to help you publish your book or screenplay.

This PNWA Summer Conference workshop, along with the Agents Forum was hosted by Robert Dugoni and attended by about a dozen literary agents. This gave a chance for all the attendees to see the agents en-masse and hear what each one was specifically looking for. Individual meetings between authors and agents were then conducted throughout the conference.

Below are some of the highlights of this seminar--

Literary agents are the business partners for authors and it's important to find an agent as enthusiastic as you are.

Initially you only have a few moments to pitch your book during a personal meeting with an agent, so they want to know the following:

1. Who is the protagonist?

2. What does he/she want?

3. What obstacles are in the way?

4. What is the resolution?

It's best to approach an agent with a plan. That is, to have long-term publishing goals--don't just have one book in mind.

Writing is, more often than not, a profession of rejection criticism and critique. So an author must be able to go back and re-evaluate, edit and revise his work.

The panel also advised on building a platform (see the 7 Aug 09 post).

The agents panel cited the following mistakes made when authors submit query letters:

1. Not explaining enough about the story
2. Writing too much about themselves

3. For non-fiction--lack of experience, or access to an expert on the subject they're writing about

If a writer does attract an agent's attention then he or she should avoid these blunders in their work:

1. Vague opening

2. Too much description or scene-setting

3. Too much back story

4. Not enough tension

The workshop ended with an extensive Q&A period. I didn't have any novel-length material to pitch, so I didn't pay any attention to the questions and agent responses. Instead I thought back to last year's conference where I pitched an article idea to Maria Schneider, who was the editor of Writer's Digest, and to Ronald Kovach the Senior Editor of The Writer.

My proposal was to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of writing within a niche market, which in my case was the wargaming hobby. Fate lent a helping hand prior to my scheduled meeting when Maria sat at our table during that evening's dinner event. Once I recognized her, I introduced myself and promptly launched into my spiel. (I'm fairly certain I let her sit down first).

The next morning I had my official meeting with Maria and in addition to repeating my pitch, I brought along some supporting articles I found on the internet. I had an equally pleasant meeting with Ronald that afternoon. At the end of each session I asked both of them for feedback on my actual pitch presentation and received two "thumbs up."

Even with my "stellar performance" neither magazine accepted my article idea. Maria is now her own boss at Editor Unleashed and Ronald sent me a very nice "thanks-but-no-thanks" letter. Despite the outcome, I really enjoyed the experience and I now have the confidence to even do "elevator pitches." That is, being able to describe your story within the confines of an elevator before your prospective agent can escape--or push the fire alarm.

Some writers find pitching to be a nerve-wracking experience. To remedy such anxiety and in keeping with the Secret Agent theme of this post; my suggestion would be to think of the upcoming meeting this way:

Your mission is to smuggle vital secrets--your novel--past State Security and into the hands of an allied agent. You have papers--your appointment slip--that will allow you to slip past the hired guns (conference volunteers) and reach the safe-house (Agent & Editor Appointment Room) for your not-so clandestine meeting. Just be sure to leave the cyanide pill at home...

And of course no spy story would be complete without a theme song:

Agents present this year were:

Emmanuelle Alspaugh, Michelle Brower, Minju Chang, Ginger Clark, Verna Dreisbach, April Eberhardt, Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank, Paul Fedorko, Sally Harding, Paul S. Levine, Matthew Mahoney, Jim McCarthy, Laurie McLean, Rebecca Oliver, Rita Rosenkranz, Meg Ruley, J.L. Stermer, Elizabeth Wales, Ted Weintsein and Page Wheeler.

The following editors were also present:

Maria Gaglioano (Penguin), Katie K. Gilligan (Thomas Dunne Books), Rose Hillard (St. Martin's Press), Kate Kennedy (Harmony and Shaye Areheart Books) and Brooke Warner (Seal Press).

For anyone interested, here's a short history of the Secret Agent Series:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's in the Genes

Yeah, if only...

The DNA of Screenwriting: Avoiding Common and Fatal Screenwriting Mistakes workshop was the last class of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's Summer Conference I attended that first day. This was presented by Ted Russell Neff, a graduate of the UCLA Film School and 30-year veteran of the motion-picture and television industry. (No photo available).

Did you know that you are an experienced film critic? It's true.

Ted pointed out that we're all exposed to stories at an early age; from children's picture books through Saturday morning cartoons to today's Academy-Award contenders. So the screenwriter has to win over the audience--that includes you--in order to bask in Hollywood's sunny glow.

Unfortunately the vast majority of submitted screenplays end up in the "slush pile," a mound of unread manuscripts. The key reason for this fate is that these unwanted stories were submitted before they were ready. Beginning screenwriters envision authoring the next blockbuster. The reality is that in Hollywood, the big-budget--and therefore high risk--film projects are made by seasoned writers. So one has to start of small. (My YouTube movies are probably too small--infinitesimal even--but hey it's a "start!").

Unlike books, films and television shows have a finite time to tell a story. Optimally, this is 2 hours, or 1.5 hours for a romantic comedy. So every scene must move the story forward or it will end up on the cutting-room floor. Once connected, each scene should create an ebb-and-flow effect. That is, if a scene starts off with a negative (-) mood then it should end in a positive (+) mood or visa-verse. Then the moods in the following scene should be reversed.

So the story's flow should look like this: (-) (+), (+) (-), (-) (+), (+) (-), (-) (+) and so on.

While this may seem obvious, but movies are visual media. Most beginning screenwriters forget this and write too much character exposition in their scripts. But the audience--that's you again--won't remember what characters say, but what they do. And speaking of characters, they should have both a conscious desire and an unconscious one--and they should be in conflict.

Remember, without conflict there is no story. And the more layered the conflict--the better the story.

My Miniature Platform

Last week I posted a recap of Karen Burns' Building a Platform from Nothing workshop at this year's Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) Summer Conference. Today, I thought I'd post my own personal experience--and shameless self-promotion--with platform building.

No, I'm not talking about Gallows Building-101, however writers often feel as if their careers are at a "dead end" as pictured above. Building a proper platform, that is establishing visibility among potential readers and publisher, may help jump-start a beginning writer's career or push an established author out of a literary noose.

For the past four years I've written wargame articles for historical gaming magazines. These publications help promote the hobby by discussing such topics as painting techniques for miniature figures, product reviews, strategy guidelines and historical commentaries. Miniature Wargames (UK) was the largest gaming magazine to publish my articles:

Since these periodicals constitute a niche market in the overall publishing industry, they're often vulnerable to economic downturns, not to mention the exponential growth of the internet. One such casualty was Historical Miniature Gamer (US), which I discussed in a previous post:

With my literary gaming outlets dwindling I felt I hit bottom. But instead of "starting to dig," I began constructing my own platform--although I didn't know it at the time.

Last August while convalescing from surgery, I became familiar with the Window Movie Making Program on my new computer. Then I discovered the power of YouTube. Armed with over 80 pictures from a Napoleonic wargame I made my first YouTube movie--The Road to Eggmuehl.

This blog was lauched last fall and by the time my second YouTube movie, Impending Fury was posted, I caught the attention of the president of the Historical Miniature Gaming Society (HMGS). I'm no professional photographer and my figure-painting skills are mediocre. But despite my limited talents, the president liked my work. He asked me to produce several movies for their "YouTube Project" as it was dubbed. The intent was to generate interest for their upcoming Historicon-09 Convention and became the 6-part series Mayhem in Makassar Strait:

By the time Writer's Digest and The Writer began running articles on platform building, I was already in the midst of producing "Mayhem." Only now I had a clear definition of what I was doing.

Building a platform--even a successful one--however, shouldn't distract an author from their primary task--to write. But if you budget your time wisely, building a platform should enhance, rather than detract from your writing career.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Museum of Flight Visit

A few days ago, I took my mom, one of my sisters and her family to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. I'm rather embarrassed to admit this, but I've lived in this area for nearly 11 years and this was my first visit!

More information can be found by logging on to the museum website:

As a "Cold Warrior" (one who served during the Cold War), I spent most of my time lingering around the Soviet-built aircraft.

Although there was plenty of other aircraft and even unmanned weapons starting with this...

...the Vergeltungswaffe-1, or V-1 "Buzz Bomb":

Advancing into the chilly realm of the Cold War, is the revolutionary Mikoyan-Gurevich-15 (MiG-15):

Finally, the "latest" Soviet fighter on display is the MiG-21:

I actually like this aircraft. In all the air-to-air combat wargames I played, I always did well "flying" this aircraft.
Apparently lots of other folks liked the real aircraft too. According to most sources the MiG-21 was the most produced supersonic aircraft in history:

As a former Ground Forward Attack Controller (GFAC), I was hoping there would be a lot of aircraft I worked with. I was somewhat miffed to only find one--the AV-8 Harrier:
Despite the shortage of US & allied Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft the museum is definitely worth several visits. More than one visit is required because you can't see everything in a day!
You can also spend a lot of time--and money--in the gift shop. I bought a Paul A. Lanquist ("PAL") poster of a flight of P-51 knocking out a German Tiger Tank:
PAL is a Pacific Northwest artist noted for his nature scenes, but he occasionally delves into aviation history:
Just as I was exiting the gift shop I spotted a license plate frame I had to have. It read:
I put it on my Jeep as soon as we got home.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Imperial Eagle Nest Found

Archaeologists discovered the birthplace of the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus, aka Vespasian:

The Roman Empire plunged into another civil war in 69 AD, known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Emerging as the last emperor standing, Vespasian ruled for 10 years:

While not much is actually known about Vespasian's rule, he plays a prominent role in the "Eagle Series," by Simon Scarrow. These books are string of 9 historical novels set in ancient Rome:

In this series Vespasian hasn't reached imperial divinity yet and is merely the legate, or commander of the Second Legion. The main protagonists are two Roman soldiers, Marco and Cato. They make something of a Mutt & Jeff pair--or is it Mutius & Jeffius? Marco's an illiterate tough-as-nails centurion, while Cato's an educated and cultured former imperial household slave. Together they make a formidable pair.

So far I've read the first four books and look forward to discovering what further misadventures await Marco & Cato.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Workshop with Working Girl

(Photo by Anne Lindsay)

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl--Real Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, a self-help book based on the 59 jobs she's held so far. She hopes there won't be Job#61--writer of course, being Job#60.

On the first afternoon of the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) Summer Conference, Karen hosted the workshop Building a Platform from Nothing.

"Platform" is a new concept among writers. It means--roughly--an author's visibility and expertise both on-line and in-person. The importance of building a platform is to assure publishers that one is publishable and marketable.

The top 3 components of platforming Karen discussed were:

1. Branding, that is developing a unique identifier so readers can associate a product with your name. (Karen Burns = Working Girl).

2. Utilizing search engine optimization by having a unique URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Karen certainly succeeded in an optimal fashion. Googling "Karen Burns Working Girl" yielded 51,400 results with the first 5 pages directing searchers to her website.

3. Building an on-line presence by developing a website or blog, along with participating in social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

The remaining components she touched on were: Publishing articles and newsletters, joining associations, teaching classes, giving lectures, getting quoted as an expert source, conducting podcasts and webinars and making products related to your book. Karen has a whole line of Working Girl-related products:

But how important is all this platform building compared to actual writing?
Judging from number of people who attended Karen's workshop, I'd say a lot of new writers felt platforming was essential to their budding careers. Karen was told to expect about 30 attendees, so she brought 40 handouts in case a few more stragglers wandered into the room.

As it turned out, the stagglers outnumbered the handouts by at least 2 to 1 that warm July afternoon. In fact, more people attended her seminar than the Writing Sex Scenes workshop held the following day. (Which attendees had their priorities straight, I'll leave open for debate...)

Working Girl, disguised as mild-mannered Karen Burns is a soft-spoken, endearing speaker capable of charming an audience with her dry wit. As Working Girl her sense of humor comes to the fore. While her book is targeted for women, those of us testing positive for Y-Chromosomes can benefit from good advice--even if it comes in a frilly book jacket.

I don't think Working Girl has to worry about moving on to Job#61...

The link to Working Girl can be found here under the Writers' Blogs Section.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Stern Rake Studio "Shipyard"

Most creative bloggers post a "to-do list" of their project(s) in order to give their fans and followers an advance notice about upcoming events. For wargamers it's the miniatures they're painting, or playing pieces they're trimming; while for authors it's the books, articles or poems they're writing.

As both wargamer and writer I have both types of projects in the works.

So in keeping with this blog's nautical theme, my to-do list is hereby christened "The Shipyard."

The writing projects currently in the 'yard are:

1. Query magazine editors to see if they're interested in my last article First Blood at El Bruc Pass.

2. Rewrite and edit my last two PNWA Contest submissions Rakassan Recollections (memoir) and Sweet Stakes (short story).

3. Write an After Action Review (AAR) of the last Star Wars Role-Playing Game session I attended.

4. Begin production of the YouTube movies Nightmare at Naktong and Confrontation at Kursk. These upcoming shows are working titles for the Korean War and Eastern Front games I played during our Enfilade! wargame convention.

Meanwhile my current wargame projects are:

1. Complete painting my micro-scale (6mm) Egyptian tanks and APCs (armored personnel carriers).

2. Get a professional to paint my micro-scale ancient Greeks and Persians.

3. Build two micro-scale Vauban paper fortresses.

I'm also expecting a shipment of miniature ships from Wizards of the Coast's new release Axis and Allies War at Sea: Flank Speed. Fortunately no painting will be required.

And one of these days get back to playing and producing the Malta Convoy game I started (the first episode was the YouTube movie Impending Fury).

Monday, August 3, 2009

New Friends and Associates

I made several friends at the PNWA Conference this past weekend. A few of them have have blogs or websites already set up. So I started a new section titled PNWA Associates.

First up is Mechelle Fogelsong's blog Passing Love Notes:

This is primarily a teen advice blog, loaded with warm & witty words of wisdom for those suffering from adolescent angst--along with their exasperated parents.

If I remember correctly, Mechelle is working on a Young Adult (YA) novel.

Next is Kimberly Reason, a vocalist for the jazz group Cocoa Martini:

Kimberly is currently working on a couple of articles for Earshot Jazz Magazine and a literary fiction novel set in Seattle.

I'll add more links to this section as soon as more of my friends set up their websites.

I've also added a few well-known writers to my Authors section. These are: C.C. Humphreys an historical novelist; Joseph Finder, a thriller writer; and Deborah Schneider a romance author.

Under the Writer's Blogs Section I've added Karen Burns, aka Working Girl, a self-help writer and entrepenuer.

Later this week I plan on posting more detailed commentaries on the workshops I attended and authors I "discovered."

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

My wife and I went to see this movie yesterday. While she's read the books, the only things I know about the world of Harry Potter is through the movies. So I rely on her to fill in the story gaps.

For the most part, I thought the movie was well made and well acted. The budding teenage actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have firm grasp of their respective roles as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

Despite the growing power of Voldemort, the teenage heroes find time to fall in love--except not with the people they're truly in love with. Hermione & Ron have budding feelings for each other, as does Harry & Ginny Weasley. However, Ron ends up dating Lavender Brown while Ginny's seeing--ah, [insert name of minor character here]--and Hermione gets together--um, [insert name of another minor character here]--simply to make Ron jealous.

(Since I haven't read a single JK Rowlings story, I can't compare this movie to the book, let alone keep track of all the minor characters).

Apparently having magical powers doesn't immunize teenagers from their hormones infecting their emotions and actions.

It's always painful for me to watch/read such romantic mismatches in stories. Maybe because I remember my own teen awkward shyness and that makes me sensitive to such hormonally charged who's-doing-what-with-whom melodrama.

Autobiographical notes aside, I did like the movie but didn't particularly care for the Empire Strikes Back-style ending. Despite the empty cliff hanger I'm looking forward to the next two movies which will be based on the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

This movie's worth going to and I rate it a solid 3-stars.

Wikipedia offers an extensive--and possibly dubious--plot summary of the book: