I think things. Then I write about them. It's the narcissism, you see.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 Invasion of Mexico by Amy S. Greenburg



A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 Invasion of Mexico on Goodreads.

This was a very interesting read from the perspective of some of the behind the scenes political machinations going on—especially those involving Trist. Greenburg’s choice to portray the events through the lens of five principle figures, two of which range from somewhat to completely obscure if one isn’t more than passingly familiar with the conflict retold here, is a great one and does let some of the history feel as though revelation when seen through the context of one of these figures’ lives. But my principle reaction to this book is conflicted due to two relatively minor and one larger issue I had while reading it.

First I wonder if Greenburg overstates Lincoln’s contribution to the pressure on Polk and the developing antiwar movement that she asserts brought the war to its end. More often I’ve read in other works that Lincoln’s feelings on the Mexican War expressed while in Congress were formative for his personal growth and useful to his developing power with the Whigs and later the Republicans, but were not a contributing force on war policy itself.

Additionally, I’m not entirely sure if Greenburg successfully, at least for me, ties her anti-war movement assertion together at the end. It feels more like various disparate elements began expressing fatigue and opposition to the war at a time when Polk himself was content to end the war so long as an appropriate treaty was negotiated. I’m also personally biased against the contention that Clay’s anti-war speech was based purely in conscience. Surely it may have been, but while Greenburg admits Clay was a political opportunist, she seems too eager to set that fact aside because his speech reflects her larger argument. Throughout the book, Clay and his often politically motivated behaviors are treated lightly—a significant contrast from how President Polk is portrayed.

What ultimately made the book a less enjoyable read for me was the treatment of President Polk. While the war was absolutely started under dubious circumstances—at best—too often Greenburg portrays Polk as almost a black hat villain, a treatment that is unique amongst the five figures she chooses to highlight. While she justifies Polk’s choices as coming from his belief that what he was doing was “right,” Greenburg never seems to give him the benefit of the doubt that she seems all-too-eager to give to Clay. Additionally, since her book’s central argument is that development and success of America’s first anti-war movement, it feels almost cynical to make the president that that movement triumphed over into such an overwhelmingly suspect character.

My first two objections are trivial, and I really only have my amateur study of history to support them. As a reader and an enthusiast of 19th century American history, the portrayal of unforgiving Polk, especially in contrast to a much more sympathetic treatment of a political opportunistic like Clay, feels markedly unbalanced even during the reading of the book. While I recommend A Wicked War, I can’t say that I am as enthusiastic for it as I was for other books covering this time period.

I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Week 15 NFL Stream of Consciousness

7:10p
The Bengals seem to be a mess. In a game that they really needed to win. I can't say I'm bothered, really. So barring an amazing comeback, I think we're at the end of my first attempt to blog during an entire football Sunday.

6:19p
I absolutely do not understand anymore what is an okay hit and what isn't in the NFL. You can't hit a defenseless receiver. You can't hit a receiver at the shoulders or above. You can barely touch a quarterback. But on that punt return for a touchdown, the Bengals punter got destroyed (to say nothing of some brutal looking blocks)...and that's okay.

Football is a violent sport. It is. There is no changing that without changing the game. But at some point we have to have less confusion.

6:09p
Tonight's game seems to be getting out of hand. Of course the GB/DAL game was threatening to get out of hand and we saw how that ended. I'd love to have some kind of dog in this fight, but I care so very little about the AFC North, that I can't seem to get excited. The Bengals are nice and all, but they have been somewhat inconsistent (though it's not as if that's a singular sin in the AFC--the conference can perhaps most generously be described as "inconsistent"). The Steelers I don't like. I can't say I like the Ravens, either (no, the Super Bowl has not been forgiven). And of course the Browns are a mess. So, not excited tonight. Game is still on. Blog is still here. Two things are threatening...a little more work on the follow-up to The Loyalty of Pawns or a little more reading of Amy Greenburg's A Wicked War.

5:24p
Of all the weeks...

My usual sports bar does a holiday party every year when they close early. Naturally that happened today and I missed what looked like great finishes to GB/DAL and NO/STL. Getting details now.

This was the first time I've tried something like this (an all day live blog that's reactionary to outside circumstances--to say nothing of my usual uncensored blather). I think I will keep working on it. It's a great way to write on a day I normally don't. Yes, I don't write on Sundays in football season because I'm that obsessive.

More in a bit. Getting settled for a game I care almost nothing about: CIN/PIT. By almost nothing, that is to say that I never, ever root for any team Ben Roethlisburger is on.

4:05p
Packer interception overturned. Which is good. The refs applied the same standard to the Packers that they apply to Calvin Johnson. It's only fair. Though a slightly inebriated Packers fan down the bar from me would disagree.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Kingdom for a (Book) Trailer


Most people will say they are fans of movies. I’m a fan of going to the movies. To my mind, there is no movie that is not improved in some way through the experience of watching it in a theater. There may be many reasons for this, but there are two that I chiefly associate with the experience.

The first, naturally, is simply watching something bigger than life. Yes, size does matter. And a story projected bigger than life already has one hell of an advantage in making you suspend your disbelief. I have watched some arguably horrible movies in the theater and enjoyed them, not realizing how bad they were until after I left. Why? Because in the moment, the mere spectacle running before my eyes is holding my attention with both hands and squeezing—really, really hard. I’m pretty sure if I tried to look away, the movie would in fact slap me. There are some exceptions to this. The movie AI, a film that I adored for almost its entire length—and it had some length, of that there is no doubt—seemed to come to a perfect tragic ending that felt so completely to me like the story’s natural end that when it continued, I was dumbstruck. If you’ve seen the film, you will remember the scene when Haley Joel Osment has sunk below the water and is wishing on the statue of the fairy…and then aliens. It was so jarring, that I spent the last twenty minutes actively thinking about the narrative playing out before me. And that’s not good for any story.

Before I get on a critical rant—the second reason theaters elevate movies seems to me to be the communal experience. It’s not the same as a play where each performance is unique and the particular energy of one show can’t be replicated. But there is something about sharing an experience with a few friends—and a whole bunch of strangers—of getting the joke at the same time everyone else does; of trying to hold back an emotional outpouring while the person next to you is being less successful; of simultaneously groaning at some really lame attempt at humor; of knowing you are not the only one thinking to yourself, My, Bruce Willis sure does look old to be getting beat up like that.

So why am I talking about the movie theater experience? Because one thing I have always loved about the theater experience that I can’t find any equivalent to in books is watching trailers. Before YouTube made it possible to see every trailer as soon as they were released, nothing matched the excitement of seeing those quickly intercut scenes for the first time; I know no one who saw the first Independence Day trailers—months and months before the movie premiered—that wasn’t blown away by such wholesale landmark destruction—itself a new kind of spectacle.

Because for some reason my brain does all its thinking in cinema—I don’t know what that means, but it sounds good—I keep coming back to advertising a book in the same way as a movie.  Can you put together a compelling “trailer” of short excerpts or will we forever be using the convention of previewing the first few chapters of a new book…

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finishing The Orphaned Worlds; Beginning A Wicked War



I am closing in on the end of The Orphaned Worlds by Michael Cobley (a couple dozen pages remain). As if the first book in the Humanity’s Fire trilogy didn’t scream EPIC!!, the second one raises the stakes still further with some new species/factions jumping into the fray and one very surprising development within the status quo of the original antagonists.

It had been a few months since I’d read Seeds of Earth, the first book in the series—I seldom read all the books in a series straight through as there are a lot of books piling up in my backlog of reading material—and I was amused that The Orphaned Worlds had, essentially, a “Previously on…” recap; this is a great feature we’re used to seeing on television these days, and I’ve often wondered why serialized books—that is books in a series that have cliffhanger endings or are not a complete story in and of themselves—don’t utilize this framework. Boy was I glad Cobley did—if only because my memory is about as reliable and retentive as a retread tire bought off Craigslist. But beyond that recap, the style in the second book is much like the first: Cobley gives you information only as it becomes necessary, so if you want to know what’s going on in an extremely chaotic universe, you have to pay attention.

The other big draw for me—and what kept me interested through Seeds of Earth when the story quickly seemed to grow out of control—is that Humanity’s Fire is a space opera that seems so unconcerned with humanity. Many of the main players in the story are human—and the circumstances in which those humans begin the story forms the underpinning for the adventure—but humanity as a whole is, at this point, almost uninvolved in an interstellar conflict that is rooted in the near-prehistoric. Not too much space opera tends toward that choice—and understandably so since humans are the ones buying the books and we do like our delusions of supremacy—but given the stakes Cobley has built into his story, it makes perfect sense here.

In short, I enjoyed The Orphaned Worlds and am looking forward to the final book in the trilogy. But, because I’m easily distracted, book three is not next up on my reading list.

I’m looking forward to starting Amy S. Greenburg’s book, A Wick War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 Invasion of Mexico. It’s only been recently that I’ve expanded my own amateur study of the Civil War period to include the expansion decades leading up to the war. That the Mexican War was, at best, dubiously justified I knew. I’m looking forward to what Greenburg has to say on the matter.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Villainous Changes Part 2


Australians are inherently evil. I mean—they must be. What with their crazy accents and their Foster’s beer and their Crocodile Dundee. And because of my ingrained cultural insensitivities, I had no choice but to have Australians as the major villains in my original concept for the story that became The Loyalty of Pawns.

Details and minor spoilers after the jump.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Villainous Changes Part 1


Not every story needs a villain. But if you’re going to have a villain, you probably want to have a good one. Depending on your point of view, The Loyalty of Pawns may have several villains. Several of the arguable villains have been in the story all along. But there are a few changes.

Minor spoilers after the jump.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Page Two Problem

I saw a comment on Twitter from David Mack (whose books I have enjoyed though I can’t say I look for his work); he was having what I think he called “Page One Blues” over starting a new manuscript: that moment when all you have in front of you is a blank page.

Boy isn’t that the truth.

Although in my case it’s seldom the first page that gives me trouble. The first page is usually pretty easy for me. I tend to have two things in mind for any story I’m telling (sometimes more, but always these two): the opening moment that kicks off the improbable events to follow, and the conclusion. For me, it’s never the first page that’s a problem. It’s the second or third.

Let’s take The Loyalty of Pawns. In every incarnation, the story began right where it begins in its final, available-to-the-world form: Blake Johnson always found an excuse to visit Aaron Collins. Sometimes it was immediate. Sometimes it took a little setup. Sometimes they knew each other. Sometimes they didn’t. But it always began—even in the early gestating comic book form—with Blake meeting with Aaron.

I can’t tell you how many times I started this story. I finished it twice. The first complete draft of this book was written early in college. I wrote the first chapter in a couple hours. Aside from this final time, that attempt was the only one that made it past Blake’s opening scene. Because page one writes itself. Pages two and three…that’s where it gets tough.

I revised and revised and revised that initial manuscript many times. For some reason, I set it aside only to return to it a couple years later, decide the writing was horrendous, and scrap the whole thing. I started again (remember, at this point I’ve pretty much the book). And no matter how many times I tried and how many times I introduced my future audience to Blake, I could not get past those first two pages. I think at some point I have to leap off the cliff that is the opening moment and hope a comforting ledge awaits me.

Only twice have I not encountered my Page Two Problem. And each time was connected to a completed draft of this story. I am at a loss to explain it.

Of course this doesn’t mean that my Page Two Problem has been resolved. The prologue for the follow-up to The Loyalty of Pawns was a quick write. But then I’d had it percolating in my head for a while. Chapter one, though? Chapter one was a cage match, and I wasn’t doing too well for the first few rounds. By the time I’d fought it into submission, though, I ended up with the beginnings of plot development I’d never planned but which I don’t think the book could live without.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How Many Books Have You Sold?



Last Tuesday night I came home and found the physical proof of The Loyalty of Pawns waiting for me. When it passed muster, Wednesday became—for all intents and purposes—the release day. The book was available on Amazon and was on Kindle a week later.

Being a writer with zero name recognition who’s self-publishing his first novel and acting as the sole force behind the book’s marketing—so not really much of a force at all for the moment—I’m quite aware of the giant uphill climb before me. And when I get asked how many books I’ve sold only two weeks after publication and about a week after beginning any kind of publicity, I think I’m pretty good humored about the answer not changing much. To this point I can name the people who have bought every copy sold.

That, by the way, was the long way around to saying that I’m not sure how I’ve processed my first book’s publication. On the one hand, I can’t deny an indescribable thrill at seeing my name on the cover of a book. On the other hand, it’s not like I went the old-fashioned way of snagging an agent and then a publisher on the way to getting that thrill.

So it’s one thing to see my name on the cover of a book. It’s another to sell some copies to people I know. A great thing will be selling copies to people I’ve never met.

I figure, much like power-ups in video games, the milestones will stack.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

All the Small Things


It’s fair to say that I’m groping my way through a dark cave with only the aid of an 80’s era light up Timex watch face for help when it comes to my initial attempts at marketing my book (and I’m not being at all when I say that you should read it as soon as possible because it has the potential to change a life…though arguably mine first and foremost).

Anyway…

My priorities so far have been on building up a Facebook, Twitter and blog presence more or less from the ground up. If I had been smart, I would have started all that during the process of writing the book. Of course, I was too busy writing the book to be smart. Of secondary priority, though not really less important, is creating some kind of word of mouth by getting the attention of the internet’s seemingly limitless supply of bloggers.

Of course I completely ignored the small stuff.

The Kindle edition of The Loyalty of Pawns went live late Thursday night. I had the expectation that, like every other book listing on Amazon, the paperback edition would link to the Kindle edition and vice versa. I also figured that you could type the book title into the search field and among the results would be the Kindle edition.

How silly of me.

Needless to say I was somewhat concerned when the only way to find the Kindle edition was to search for the book under the “Kindle Store” category. It took one additional email to the omnipotent (though apparently not omniscient) Amazon help department to fix the problem—and to their credit it was fixed within three hours. And now you, my potential readers, can find the book in paperback, Kindle and direct-to-brain download (preorders available now).

So, lesson learned. While I make my plans for global literary domination, I can’t lose sight of the tiny minutiae that can make or break any future I may have.