Tuesday, September 28, 2010

PNWA 2010 Conference: Lunch With Bob Dugoni

Contrary to popular belief, writers don't subsist entirely on chocolate, coffee and alcohol.  While this might be true for some--okay, most of us--writers need normal, almost-healthy food.  So we can't go all day without a food break.  (See my first conference post about the dangers of that).

But since this was a gathering of writers from all over the world, what better way to become acquainted with your fellow authors and getting some great advice than over a meal?

So to maximize the exchanging-of-ideas experience, by noon each day, PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) would sponsor a couple of "Lunch With (Insert Name of Famous Author Here)" gatherings.  During these sessions, moderated by Jeff Ayers, the author would discuss various aspects of his or her writing career, from the ups, downs and in-betweens.

The first lunch session of this year's conference was with none other than PNWA's own Robert Dugoni:

Despite his busy schedule of writing, promoting his 4th novel, Bodily Harm, along with practicing law part-time; Bob remains heavily committed to PNWA.  It's rather moving to hear him attribute his success to the association and see him unselfishly give back to the writing community.  Bob can be found at the forefront of any PNWA activity, whether it's leading a panel or coordinating an event.  As a speaker he brings an "I-was-sitting-where-you're-at" perspective that always resonates with his audience.

And that's because us aspiring writers can't wait to be sitting where Bob is at now!

Redshift Chronicles: News Brief #3--Elections and Reparations

Stardate: Fiday, 020-130 ABY/Fringe Info Network (FIN)--Tarsus Bureau

Subsector: Shannekam

Bongolaan Elects a New President

The Bongolaanian Ministry of Truth announced that Bunda Akhtar was elected President-for-Life by a landslide on 008-130 ABY.  Such a claim may be dubious at best, since the former President-for-Life, Zeveg Bharzi, was elected by a similar majority vote, prior to the Galactic New Year.  Bongolaan's new chief executive, seen in the lead photo with his droid body guards, conducted an extensive inspection of the planet's gabaki plantations as his first order of business.  (At this time, it cannot be confirmed whether "political contributions" were collected during Akhtar's inspection tour).

However, in its first week, Akhtar's administration did not confined itself strictly to planetary affairs.  Yesterday, the Tarsan Commision of Diplomatic Affairs (CODA) received a comminique from their counterparts on Bongolaan, responding to Tarsus' demands.  The following are excerpts that have currently been made public:

"While the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of Bongolaan, regret the death of Ambassador Heraud, no formal apology will be issued.  The ambassador was armed and the battle droids returned fire in order to defend themselves."

"Battle droids form an integral part of the Bongolaanian People's Democratic Defense Force.  Therefore, no battle droid will be dismantled for defending the lives and property of Bongolaan's citizens."

"The Government of the People's Democratic Republic of Bongolaan would like to comply with the wishes of the Heraud Family and return the ambassador's remains.  Unfortunately, this is impossible.  Restoration efforts required the immediate disposal of the few decomposing bodies in order to prevent the spread disease."

Pictured above:  Zeveg Bharzi collecting "campaign contributions" from a gabaki plantation owner.

In addition to refusing Tarsus' demands, the Akhtar administration made the following counter claims: 

"The Bonolaanian Ministry of Justice hereby demands the extradition of Zeveg Bharzi, Bongolaan's former president, to face charges of corruption and various crimes against sentient beings."

"In addition to returning Bharzi, the Ministry of Justice also insists upon the extradition of the four individuals who aided him in his escape.  Included in this transmission are two images of these culprits stealing cases of gold latinum, valued at 2,000,000 CR, from the People's Treasury prior to their flight from justice."

Along with the extradition orders, the Bongolaanian Ministry of Finance demanded the Tarsan Board of Directors pay the following in reparations:

--2,000,000 CR for the gold latinum stolen from the People's Treasury
--100,000 CR for the theft of the People's Merchant Vessel (PMV) Aimless Drifter
--82,000 CR for the theft of 82 tons of gabaki on board the PMV Aimless Drifter
--36,000 CR for the cost of replacing the 20 battle droids destroyed by the fugitives
--200 CR fine for the fugitives operating a gabaki barge without a license
--200 CR fine for the fugitives not filing a starship flight plan
--200 CR fine for the fugitives exiting the Bongolaanian system outside the normal departure corridor
--200 CR fine for the fugitives operating a starship without running lights

Total reparations:  2, 218, 800 CR

Tarsus' CODA has not yet issued a response to Bongolaan's counter demands.

Notes on figures:

Miniatures and game mat by Wizards of the Coast.
Bulkead doorway by Paper Make It.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Review: 300

300 puts the "graphic" in the term "graphic novel."  This book, published by Dark Horse (1999), is Frank Miller's and Lynn Varley's artistic rendering of the Battle of Thermopylae, fought between the city-states of Greece and the Persian Empire, sometime in August or September, 480 B.C.

Let's start off with 300's shortfalls.  First, Spartan hoplites dressed like this...

...and not, um, (un)dressed like this:

Nor was the pass at Thermopylae held by a mere 300 Spartan hoplites, but by several thousand allied soldiers as well.  There is no record that the traitor, Ephialtes, was a hunchback, or even a Spartan for that matter. 

And speaking of appearances:  The Persian king Xerxes, was not an effeminate and bejewelled giant, nor were his elite troops, the Immortals, the type warriors to march out of the Black Gates of Mordor.

In fact, from an historical perspective, even Wikipedia provides better information on this famous battle than the graphic novel:

But the quest for historical truth wasn't the reason why I bought 300.  I love the stark and edgy imagery used by the authors to depict the brutality of hand-to-hand combat.  Despite all these historical inaccuracies, the authors retained the core of this epic story:  A desperate holding action by a few against a vast army. 

For these reasons--and that I only paid $8 for the novel at a used book store--I'm giving 300, a five star rating.

300 has been around for nearly a dozen years--leaving plenty of time for readers to vent about it.  There are 240 reviews on Amazon.com's website, most of which are overwhelmingly positive--143 x 5-star ratings and 43 x 4-stars.  The 29 x 1-star raters really hate this book and recommend Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire.  While I concur with their recommendation, even this book was hit with 20 x 1-star ratings:

I guess there's no pleasing everybody.

So if you want a book loaded with accurate detail on western civilization's most famous last stand, then look elswhere.  But if you're looking for vivid, gritty and heroic imagery--and you can get a good deal on the book like I did--then 300 will entertain you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

PNWA 2010 Conference: Agents and Editors Forum


Literary agents aren't involved in international intrigue.  (Although, wouldn't that be cool if they were?).  Instead, theyr'e embedded in the publishing industry.  They form a partnership with authors; much like John Steed and Emma Peel (played by Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg), of the Avengers, pictured above.  They provide the left-brain business savy to the author's right-brain creativity.

This year, PNWA did away with the agent and editor workshop and dove right into the forum.  Both forums, conducted back-to-back, were hosted by PNWA's perennial MC, Robert Dugoni, who has a talent for keeing this lively and on track. After each agent/editor introduced themselves and discussed what genres they dealt with, Rob would open things up to extensive Q&A sessions.

As in years past, I still don't have a book in the making.  However, I always enjoy attending these forums in order to see the friends I made the previous year and meet new people.  (I avoid using the term "networking" as much as possible).   Sitting in on these forums also keeps me informed of the latest trends in the publishing industry.

Agents present this year were:

John Baker, Barbara Braun, April Eberhardt, Amberly Finarelli, Sally Harding, Esmond Harmsworth, Christina Hogrebe, Andrea Hurst, Laurie McLean, Joe Monti, Laura Rennert, Jennifer Rofe, Rita Rosenkranz, Melissa Sarver, Erika Storella, Carolyn Swayze, Elizabeth Wales, Christina Ward and Cherry Weiner.

While the following editors were also present:

Paul Dinas, E. Kieth Howick, Monica Howick, Peter Lynch, Paula Munier, Lynn Price, Michelle Richter, Shane Thomson, Michelle Vega and Adam Wilson.

And for a closing note, here's the Avengers theme song:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Star Wars Redshift Chronicles: News Brief #2--Death of a Statesman

Stardate: Wonday, 009-130 ABY/Fringe Info Network (FIN)--Tarsus Bureau

Subsector: Shannekam

Ambassador Heraud Murdered!

Ambassador Fitzroy Heraud was killed within the first hours of the Galactic New Year, while on the planet Bongolaan.  The Tarsan ambassador and his aid, Callithea Lockridge, were on a diplomatic mission to negotiate a trade deal with the recently elected, President-for-Life, Zeveg Bharzi.  While election fraud was a likely factor in elevating Bharzi to high office, his administration lasted less than a week. 

Bongolaan's Vice President, Bunda Akhtar, staged a New Year's Eve coup, using Clone War-Era battle droids, reportedly supplied by the Fel Empire.  Droid squads, supported by HKDs (Hunter-Killer Dropships), seized critical facilities and interdicted ground and airborne traffic until the planet was secured.  Ambassador Heraud was traveling in a motorcade through the Bongolaanian Capital of Ratankiri, with President Bharzi and Twi' lek holovid celebrity Shiri Blen, when Akhtar's forces struck.  The VIP convoy was strafed by at least one  flight of HKDs, in one of several simultaneous attacks launched prior to Galactic Midnight.

Ms Lockridge was in the Presidential Palace when the initial attack took place.  She joined three relief agency workers and helped defend civilians within the palace against the droid onslaught.   The ad-hoc team then made their way through Ratankiri in an attempt to locate the Tarsan ambassador.  En route, they drove off a pack of looters assaulting Shiri Blen and her Rodian agent, Geelo. 

Shiri and Geelo led the group back to the ravaged motorcade, where they found Ambassador Heraud still alive, but pinned under an overturned speeder truck and suffering from serious injuries.  Unfortunately, when they tried removing the ambassador from the wreckage, they were attacked by a squad of battle droids.  Geelo was killed in the firefight, while the light-saber wielding human was struck by blaster fire and left for dead.

The leading image was transmitted to the Tarsan Commission of Diplomatic Affairs (CODA), by an anonymous source, claiming to be a member of the Bongolaanian Armed Resistance Cadre (BARC).  The hazy picture shows the wounded Ambassador Heraud exchanging fire with two battle droids approaching behind him, near the rim of a blast crater. 

Pictured above:  Callithea ("Calli") Lockridge disembarks from a Rockhopper-Class shuttle at a remote Bantha ranch on Tarsus.

The news of Ambassador Heraud's death wasn't released until this morning.  Yesterday, the survivors of the Bongolaanian Coup were interviewed by the Tarsan Board of Commissioners, while members of the Heraud family were notified of their loss.  According to Ms Lockride's emotional testimony, Ambassador Heraud ordered her and her companions to leave him, because he was too injured to move and the entire party was on the verge of being overrun. 

In addition to publicizing the tragic news about their ambassador, the Board of Directors transmitted the following demands to the government of Bunda Akhtar via subspace radio:
--immediately return the ambassador's remains
--issue a formal apology for his death, and
--dismantle and scrap the battle droid squad responsible for killing the ambassador.

Since Tarsus has no direct holovid connection, it will take four days for the subspace signal to reach Bongolaan.  In the meantime, preparations are being made for a state memorial service in honor of the late Ambassador Heraud.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fix Bayonets 2010 at Fort Steilacoom

Historic Fort Steilacoom was the scene of the first annual "Fix Bayonets" game day, held on Saturday, 18 September:

Pictured above is Quarters 2, where all the gaming took place, while below is the historical marker by the house's doorway:

Damond, Lawrence and Bruce, all members of our regional NHMGS (Northwest Historical Gaming Society), conceived and hosted this debut event. 

The game day was divided into two periods, with 4-6 games played during each session.  Despite the intimate venue, the games represented several eras and genres.

Below, Dean and Adrian set up Ichi no Tani, a raid and rearguard action fought during Japan's Genpei War (1180-1185 A.D.):


A quick snapshot of Wes's American War of Independence (AWI) game:

Wes monitors the action as the British players advances their forces against "those damned rebels:"

Kevin's Spanish Civil War game:

Republic and National players pondering their next move:

Not every game was straight-laced historical either.  Below, a boatload of Eurpean troops are attacked by natives as they slog through the swamps of Venus, in this steampunk pulp game:

A lot of players were drawn into the "Venusian Quagmire:"

Thirty gamers attended the event and raised $300 in donations for the Historical Fort Steilacoom Society. The feedback by the attendees was predominantly positive.  There's even some clamoring to make this a twice-a-year event.  If so, I certainly plan on attending!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Adding Graphic Novel Pages

I finally figured out the Pages Gadget here on Blogspot.  Utilizing this function will make my blog look more like a website without having to jump ship and build another site from from the keel up.  The only glitch in this renovation is that, due to the studio's color scheme, I can't post the page links in the traditional spot.  That is, across the screen, nor do I care for the other templates Blogspot has to offer.  As a result of this dilemma, I placed the "Studio Pages" links in the upper right hand corner, underneath the title.

I may have to develop a bona fide website eventually, in order to post additional products and expand my on-line presence. 

For now, however, the additional pages will be used to host my graphic novel-style after action reviews (AARs)/battle reports (batreps).  I already started by reposting The Bushwhackers of Kashyyyk so it will be easier for new readers to find.  Blogspot allows for 10 pages, so when I reach this limit, I'll archive my earlier work.

Until then, I'll be incrementally adding my 50-page, 2nd graphic novel to this site, which is:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PNWA 2010 Writers Conference: Conducting Investigative Research Workshop

(Image:  James Stewart as P.J. McNeal in Call Northside 777

Research is a key element in historical wargaming.  Whether you're developing a tactical scenario or designing an entire set of wargame rules; details about weapons, uniforms, vehicles (or horses), tactics and the generals that led armies into battle, are just a few elements that must be correctly integrated into the game to make it feel authentic.

With this in mind, it seemed natural for me to attend Bruce A. Smith's workshop on Conducting Investigative Research.   As an investigative reporter with the The Dispatch, a weekly paper focusing on south Pierce County, WA; his workshop was geared for newspaper reporting:

However, his investigative techniques could apply to historical research, especially in the case of recent history, where it is possible--not to mention advantageous--to conduct live interviews with people who were directly involved in newsworthy events.

First of all, how do you start out as an investigative reporter?

--Ask the local newspaper to take you on as a freelancer and even offer to submit a couple of free articles.
--Call the editor, introduce yourself, but be brief and concise.
--Try to get a press pass.  This will grant you access to organizations and individuals who'll treat you like a professional.

Notes on conducting "research beyond Google:"

It's best to go directly to sources.  That is, individuals who were involved in the event you wish to report about.  However, finding people can be difficult--especially if they don't want to be found.

Bruce mentioned two websites that can be helpful in tracking down such elusive folks--legally.

1. White Pages:


2. Name From Phone:


For events long past, but still within one's lifetime; retiree associations are a good place to start inquiring about anyone you may need to talk to.

If your investigating a crime, then county law enforcement agencies are the best place to start, since most non-federal crimes are handled at this level.  Jail rosters can also be examined, since they are considered public records.

Face-to-face interviews can be difficult to conduct, especially if you're dealing with someone who's traumatized by an event.  In this case, be sensitive and offer condolences, if appropriate.  Identify who you work for.  If someone is reluctant to speak, don't press the issue--you can still write the story and note that your subject didn't want to talk about it.  Keep in mind though, even if someone does want to talk, the conversation may go dry. 

Don't burn your sources and avoid libelling anyone. 

Near the end of the workshop, Bruce discussed some of the realities of investigative research:

A lot of people lie, or at least have a hidden agenda.  They do so for various reasons, but this is especially true if money and power is involved.

Public information Officers (PIOs) are spokespeople for the agencies they represent.  So any statements from these folks or the Public Relations (PR) Department will, most likely, contain an element of "spin."  Unattributed stories, that is, one without an author's name attached to it, is often an agency's veiled press release.  In order to weed out the wheat from such chaff, newspapers often use 3 or more, reporters to cover the same story.

Finally Bruce gave the class some tips on staying alive.

Yes, he meant staying alive--literally.

As an investigative reporter you might be confronted by well-connected and potentially dangerous people.  People who don't want their soiled undergarments exposed to the public.

What to do when you find yourself outside the realm of polite society?

--Expect some form of harassment.  This can be minor, such as in the form of sudden financial audits or frequent traffic tickets.
--If the story is important to you, convince yourself not to run scared. 
--And finally, if you get thwarted, or the fear factor is too much to bear, then back off.

Yes, back away from the story.


Because there's always another story to be investigated...

Updating and Modifying the Studio

I've spent the past several hours trying to update "The Studio."  What prompted this website renovation was the completion of my graphic novel Conan and the Conquest of Hyboria.  While I'm happy to get one more project under my belt, I've been stymied on how best to post it. 
I've tinkered with Blogspot's new "Pages" gadget, but haven't quite deciphered all the functions yet.  So I'm wondering if I have to launch a website in order to support my upcoming graphic novels.  In the meantime, I've made the following changes to The Studio, that I hope improves both readability and searchability:

1. Added a Google "Search the Studio" gadget.

2. Split up the lengthy "Wargaming Blogs" Section into the following smaller bits--
--Adventure Game Blogs
--Campaign Game Blogs
--Horse & Musket Era Blogs
--Multi-Topic Gaming Blogs
--Inactive Blogs

3. Broke up the long "Wargame Websites" Section into the following sub-sections--
--Wargame Forums
--Wargame Journals
--Wargame Resources
--Wargame Organizations
--Wargame Wikis
--Wargame Magazines
--Wargame Companies and Stores

Finally, I re-arranged some of the side-bar sections and shortened the number of displayed posts.  These are the only improvements I can think of at the moment, while I continue my research into website designs and the Page Gaget.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Star Wars Redshift Chronicles: News Brief #1--Inauspicious Beginning

Stardate: Sixday, 007-130 ABY/Fringe Info Network (FIN)--Tarsus Bureau
Subsector:  Shannekam


Over two weeks ago, the Alliance fleet was virtually annihilated at the battle of Caamas by combined forces of the Sith and Fel Empires.  Core and Mid-Rim worlds surrendered within days of the Alliance Navy's defeat.  Outer Rim systems fell soon afterwards from Imperial-sponsored coups, many through the use of Clone War-Era battle droids, which acted as sleeper cells for the usurpers. 

Despite the collapse, some Alliance forces refused to surrender.  Sources within the former Alliance reported Admiral Stazi's Core Fleet managed to break out of the Imperial trap at Caamas and still remains at large.  Meanwhile, nearly all of the Alliance's Jedi Knights have retreated to Ossus and are said to be fortifying their temple against a possible assault.

News of the Caamas disaster did not reach Outer Rim subsectors, due in part, to the normal time-lag from the Core Region news networks.  However, ominous reports of a communications-inhibiting virus infecting the Alliance's Holovid Net, are just now filtering through the border fringe. 

Because of the communications delay, the harbinger of this catastrophic news was the M/V (Merchant Vessel) Aimless Drifter, which fled a coup on Bongolaan and evaded several Imperial task forces converging on the planet.  The starship, seen in the above and following images, made a hard landing at the Newland Down Starport, Docking Pad 21, before dawn this morning.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Port Authority Security personnel immediately surrounded the vessel once it made planetfall.  Thirteen armed passengers disembarked, some suffering from a variety of injuries ranging from minor to critical.  The standoff between the Bongolaanian refugees and security ended when one of the humans collapsed, reportedly from blaster wounds and hibernation sickness.  Despite being armed with a light saber, the victim muttered repeatedly, "I am not a Jedi," as EMTs carried him off the tarmac.  The remaining passengers were then disarmed and escorted to the Port Authority Security facility.

As of now, only three of the refugees have been identified. 

They are:

Shiri Blen (F), the Twi 'lek holovid celebrity, seen in the brown skin suit.

Callithea Lockridge (F), aide to Tarsan Ambassador Fitzroy Heraud, seen in the powder blue jump suit.

Zeveg Bharzi (M), former President-for-Life of Bongolaan, seen in desert garb.

Both Ambassador Heraud and his aide were on Bongolaan to negotiate a new trade agreement.  The fate of the ambassador remains unknown at this time.

An emergency meeting of the Tarsan Board of Commissioners will convene today at 1500 hours. Discussing the potential ramifications the Alliance collapse may have on this planet and among the other non-aligned worlds, will likely be the only issue on the agenda.  Meanwhile, the Aimless Drifter, along with her cargo--82 tons of Bongolaanian gabaki--remains impounded, pending further investigation.

Reference Notes:

The Battle of Caamas according to Star Wars canon:

The Galactic Alliance Core Fleet:

Admiral Stazi:

Tarsus according to Traveller canon:



From Wizards of the Coast (WotC) Star Wars Miniatures

Special thanks goes to my friend Joe for letting me borrow his Millenium Falcon action figure set.

Literary License:

According to Star Wars canon of the Legacy Era, the Battle of Caamas was fought in 130 ABY (After the Battle of Yavin).  In order to give my Redshift Campaign a good starting reference, I moved the battle ahead to the last month of 129 ABY.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Star Wars Gaming: The Redshift Has Begun...

(Image:  Orion's Thunderbolt)

Redshift:  The astronomical phenomena where stars appear redder than normal, because they are moving away from the observer as the universe expands. 

Or in the Star Wars mystical sense:  When followers of the Light Side of the Force, often characterized by Jedi Knights wielding blue or green-bladed lightsabers; fall under the spell of the Dark Side, represented by the Siths' penchant for red--the color of anger, hatred; and in the case of human beings--blood.

With this imagery in mind, Redshift, is the Star Wars "Legacy Era" we started a week ago.  During this epoch, the players may find themselves fighting along side the grandkids of Luke, Leia, Han and other descendants of the "Rebellion Era," as they struggle to survive the downfall of the Galactic Alliance.

I hosted our first Star Wars role playing game (RPG) last Saturday (28 August), using Wizards of the Coast (WotC) Star Wars Saga Edition rules, (unfortunately, now out of print).  However, my "cunning plan" won't limit Redshift to an RPG campaign.  I intend to use this as a scenario generator for large-scale battles as well.  This way, I can utilize my entire collection of science fiction rules and miniatures:  From my diminutive 6mm figures and terrain, to my robust 25mm pieces--most of which have never seen the light of day, redshifted or otherwise.

(Players and GM wreck havoc in the "Studio")

Our preliminary adventure, Breakout from Bongolaan, found the heroes caught up in an Imperial-sponsored coup on a corrupt planet in the Outer Rim.  The players managed to "...avoid any Imperial entanglements" with the inbound reinforcements, rescue a few VIPs and land on an unoccupied planet.

This episode, along with upcoming game sessions, will be made into a full-length YouTube video and/or an on-line graphic novel.  Until production is complete however, I'll post "Redshift News Updates" and "Intelligence Briefs," to keep the players informed and other readers (hopefully) entertained.

My thanks goes out to Mike Murphy for inspiring me to create a Star Wars version of Bongolesia: