Last To Fall CoverI generally love the layout and design phase of a new book. Psychologically, I know that the book is nearing its release date so I’m getting excited about seeing the finished product. Mentally, I get some down time from writing a book to transferring that design to a layout and helping plan a cover. I’m still working on a book, but I’m not writing so that area of my creative psyche is getting a break while I still get to be creative and productive.

That said, the layout and design of my new book has been a rough one. I really like the cover image. That all came together pretty easily. However, I ran into a couple snag expanding that cover to front-spine-back version. Getting the spine in the right place has been tricky. It didn’t take long to fix, but usually I have never needed to fix it before.

The bigger snag has been laying out the interior. I have always had little to no problem getting a typical book set for publication. That’s because there’s little creativity involved compared to a tabletop book size. My book, No North, No South…, was my first oversized book. It worked out all right because the design was relatively simple for a tabletop book.

My upcoming book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Death of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, has been much more challenging. There’s a lot of variety in the book and very few pages that don’t have some sort of graphic element on it. There’s different sidebars and call-out quotes that are presented in different ways. There’s tricky pictures that look fine until you prepare them for publication and suddenly they look pixelated, or worse yet, you don’t see the pixilation until you see the proof.

However, the biggest headache has been the bleed photos. They will look great, particularly the two-page spreads that are 11 x 17 inches in size, but the program that will be printing the book doesn’t like them. It can print them, but I have had to make all kinds of adjustments to get it to work. I’m waiting to see how it looks in print to see if too much of the photo is lost to the page gutter and it destroys a beautifully centered image.

So, I’m waiting nervously to see the proof. Some changes will need to be made. I knew that because I needed to see the book printed before I could decide on those changes. When it’s done, though, and in bookstores, I expect it to attract lots of attention.

The Warded ManI’m not sure why I decided to buy The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, but I now have another fantasy writer that I’ll be reading.

I wasn’t sure what was happening at first. There were three storylines that didn’t interact until late in the book. Also, I didn’t even try to follow the dating system, but I realized while following the three storylines that the stories weren’t running simultaneously.

However, I enjoyed all three of the characters. There is the warded man, an herb gatherer, and a jongleur. They are different ages, have led different lives, and have different personalities. The two-thirds or so of the book you learn about their backgrounds and what happened to bring them to the point where their lives intersect.

They live in a world where humans and demons battle for supremacy. Humans rule the day, but at night hide behind wards to protect them from the demons who rise from the core. It is a battle that humanity seems to be losing because although they can protect themselves, they have forgotten how to use the wards as weapons.

While the book explores some themes of morality, science, and religion, it becomes a solid action story with all three of the main characters using their special talents to fight demons.

It’s the first in what is currently a 4-book series so I am anxious to see where Brett goes with the story.

Pawn_of_Prophecy_coverI like David Eddings’ early fantasy series, but until last year you couldn’t find them on Kindle. So I was very excited when they became available for download. They were even reasonably priced at $4.99. I downloaded Pawn of Prophecy, the first book in The Belgariad last September and put the rest on my wish list to read later.

I went to download the next book in the series, Queen of Sorcery, the other day and it’s not available. Nor are any of his other books in his most-popular series.

What a disappointment!

So does anyone know what happened? I’m hoping that they will be listed again soon, but seeing as how it took so long to get them listed in the first place I wonder. Why are his other novels listed and not his most-popular ones?

So now I have a lonely Eddings’ novel on my Kindle and I’m wondering when and if, I’ll ever be able to get the rest of the series.

Originally posted on A Writer of History:

It’s time to switch from ‘inside historical fiction‘ to ‘social reading‘, the second of two themes A Writer of History is exploring this year. Why am I interested? Because I want to be part of the conversation readers have with one another, with writers and with bloggers, and I want to embrace, not resist, the change that’s happening in the world of content creation.

Social Reading Landscape

To begin, I thought I would set out a few thoughts about social reading. The headline says 10, but you never know, I could come up with more.

  1. Social reading is about relationships. Readers with writers. Readers with readers. Readers with reviewers and bloggers. Writers with writers. Bloggers with bloggers. Well, you get my point.
  2. Readers expect writers to be social. As a writer, if readers want to hear from, your books will sell. Achieving this objective requires an active, sincere, personal, content-rich social…

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SnowDayGirl02As I sit here battling the winter blahs and waiting for my youngest boy to get home school early because of the threat of bad weather coming in, I realize one of the peeves I have about being a freelance writer. I don’t get snow days.

When I get the morning calls around 6 a.m. saying whether school has been cancelled or not, I’ve already been at work for an hour. The same snow that gives government employees liberal leave simply means that I probably won’t be able to reach people that I need to talk to on the phone.

Yes, I know it’s not a big peeve in the grand picture, but it would still be nice to have an excuse not to work every once in a while.

This drawback of freelancing is offset by the fact that I do make my own schedule. I may start work early, but I can take a nap in the middle of the day when I start to feel dragged out and then hit the ground running in the afternoon. That’s nice. I just read this morning that Winston Churchill used to take a 1.5 hour nap each day and credited for allowing him to cram a day and half of work into a single day.

By the same token, I don’t get paid vacation. This usually means that in the days leading up to any vacation that I take I find myself doing more so that my vacation days are still relatively free. I still take my notebook computer along to check e-mail and deal with any issues that might arise.

On the flip side, I can take as much vacation time as I want as long as I’m meeting my deadlines. I was able to take four days off last week to go to South Carolina to see my son graduate from marine recruit training at Parris Island.

So that’s my gripe as I try to fight off the blahs.

Another newspaper – The Oakland Republican in Oakland, Maryland –  picked up my “Looking Back” column on a monthly basis last week. I’m pretty happy about that because I love researching the stories and writing about them.

For example, I found a story about a man who was called the “Champion Miner of the World” in the 1920’s because of how fast he was at mining coal. I wrote about his story for The Republican, but in researching it, I found out that this man’s son, was a frontline reporter in WWII who won a Pulitzer Prize. He also got his reporting start at another newspaper that carries my column so I had two columns from one idea.

Right now, four newspapers – The Catoctin Banner, The Gettysburg Times, The Cumberland Times-News, and The Oakland Republican – carry my column, though at one time it was four. Even though multiple papers carry the column, I write different columns for each paper. It’s sort of a hybrid between a local column and syndicated column.

It certainly would be easier if I could just publish the same column in multiple newspapers, but I don’t think it would be as fun.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind being able to get another couple newspapers to carry the column, hopefully, in places that I’m not too familiar with. Then I get the joy of discovering of the interesting people, stories, and places in that area.

Here are the links to the newspapers if you want to search them for my Looking Back articles:

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Here I am at The Book Center in Cumberland, MD, on Nov. 19. I'm the one on the left, in case you couldn't tell.

Is it so misguided to want to write a book because you are in love with the story? That’s how I have always chosen the book projects I’ve done. Yet, as I read some books about marketing your work, it seems like it doesn’t matter too much what you write about or how well you write it.

I’ve read more than one marketing book over the past few years where the author actually brags about the fact that he or she doesn’t like to read or isn’t a good writer, yet has written bestsellers. True, they haven’t been New York Times bestsellers, but they have sold tens of thousands of copies.

Meanwhile, I work to shape an interesting book that’s well written that doesn’t do nearly as well.

And then there’s the celebrity books. The publisher pays a huge advance to a celebrity or political figure for a book that doesn’t even earn the advance back.

What am I missing?

Aren’t books written anymore because of the love of the story and not how well it can be marketed?

It’s even infected me to a point. I found myself the other day telling a writer who was passionate about a non-fiction story that he researched that he needed to find a way to make it interesting to the reader. He wanted to find ways to improve the writing for a general audience, and I told him that, as described, I didn’t think it would appeal to a general audience. I didn’t tell him not to write the book. In fact, I told him to press forward, just that he needed to find a way to make it more interesting.

In other words, more marketable.

Unless you’re writing something simply for yourself or to be used as a reference, I know it doesn’t make much sense to write a book that won’t interest readers. Books need to sell. That means they are getting into the hands of readers and that’s good.

But so much of what is being put into the hands of readers nowadays wasn’t written to tell a story. It was written to be marketed.

So where does the line get crossed? I’m not sure. So far, it’s a matter of “I know it when I see it.”

I love to write. I have enjoyed telling stories since I was a kid. So if I had no story to tell, why would I want to write? Just to make money? It doesn’t make sense to me.

I sure hope that I’m a late bloomer. An article in the U.K. Telegraph has given me hope. It looked at some of the breakthrough books written by popular writers and found that writers like Dan Brown and Nora Roberts had their breakthrough books in their 40’s.

Now I will turn 49 this year (shhhh! Don’t tell anyone). Lee Child, John Irving, Mario Puzo, and Janet Evanovich all had their breakthrough books at my age or later.

Blinkbox Books looked at best-selling authors from 2001 and 2014 and combined it with a list of authors from the BBC Big Read. They looked at authors and how old they were when their breakout books were published.

For some of the authors, their breakout book was their debut novel like Richard Adams’ Watership Down published when he was 53 years old. Other authors like Philip Pullman had been published for decades before they had their breakout novel. Pullman was first published at age 27, but his bestseller, Northern Lights, was published when he was 50

Here’s a link for the article and list. Check and see if your favorite authors are mentioned.

Last To Fall CoverIt can be said that the last deaths at the Battle of Gettysburg were two marines who fell from the sky in an airplane in 1922.

Confused? Are you starting to type a comment to tell me that the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863 and there weren’t any marines there?

You would be right on both counts. However, during the first week of July 1922, nearly a quarter of the U.S. Marine Corps re-enacted Pickett’s Charge in a historical way and also using modern equipment, such as tanks and airplanes.

Think about that for a second. There’s a whole sub-genre of science fiction based on alternative history. One of the standards of the genre is Harry Turtledove’s “Guns of the South.” In it, time travelers give the Confederacy Uzis to use in their Civil War battles.

That is fiction, though. This training exercise was like having an alternative history come to life on the battlefield as planes dropped bombs and shot down an observation balloon and tanks rolled across the fields impervious to bullets. And while it may have only been a training exercise, two marines died during the re-enactments.

It’s a little-known and written of event in Gettysburg history, but now you can find out the whole story along with more than 150 pictures in “The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg.” The book will retail for $24.95 when it is released in early April, but you can purchase autographed copies for $20 as a pre-order on my web site.

Marines in action, Gettysburg 1922

KingTypewriterphpHere are Stephen King’s top tips for writers. It all starts with the first line. “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this,” King said in an interview in The Atlantic.

I’ve included link to the list here. Some of my favorite ones are:

You need to write the story that you want first and then worry about getting it right. He said, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

Turn off your television. It’s a distraction. Your TV can be your reward for when you accomplish your writing goal for the day. Besides, the book is always better than the movie so why have the movie on to be your inspiration while you’re writing. On the flip side, he says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

King says that a first draft should be written in three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season,” King said. This is where having a good outline will come in handy.

“You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience,” King said. I find this hard to do with the schedule I keep, but it is soooooo worth it. It is like reading your book for the first time. You’ll catch a lot of errors to be fixed and improvements that can be made.

So read through the list and see which ones are gems for you.

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