Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Shape of Things As They Are, Apparently

(Courtesy of the New Yorker, to whom all credit is gratefully given)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Books and More Books - Adelsverein Trilogy Signing

Another signing event, last night at Berkman Books in Fredericksburg, for the Adeslverein Trilogy. Berkman’s is one of those nice little independent bookstores, holding its own specialized little niche against the overwhelming tide of big-box-bookstores and internet sales; Texiana, lots of events with local authors, curiosities, antique and used books. The clientele is a mix of adventurous tourists and local residents who don’t care to drive to San Antonio or New Braunfels in search of their reading matter. And they have two cats on the premises – I promised that I would frisk Blondie on departure, to ensure that neither of them had stowed away to come home with is. Berkman’s in a rambling old house on Main Street, a little removed from the main tourist blocks along Main Street… which, however, is slowly spreading along the side streets, and east and west from Marketplace Square. David, the owner, had ordered ten copies of each volume, and there has been considerable interest – even some notice in the Fredericksburg Standard. Kenn Knopp, the local historical expert who volunteered (kind of glumly, as he is the first to confess) to read the manuscript of the Trilogy, only to be astonished and thrilled as he got farther into it – was going to meet us an hour before the signing started. He had a friend, Annette Sultemeier, whom he wanted me to meet. Ms Sultemeier is also a local historical enthusiast, and still lives in her family’s house nearby. James P. Waldrip, the infamous leader of the pro-Confederate Hanging Band, who persecuted local Unionists during the Civil War was supposed to be buried in the back yard of her family home. Waldrip figures as the resident villain in the Trilogy, and his come-uppance under a tree at the edge of the old Nimitz hotel property was described in Book Three. Supposedly, he was buried in that unmarked grave, outside of the city cemetery, to escape desecration of his resting place. He was an especially bad hat, with many bitter local enemies.

There was a nice crowd at the signing. David had thought there would be many more people at the signing than there were, but I didn’t mind. This way, I had enough time to talk to people and answer questions. Enough of them were coming specifically for the Trilogy anyway, so I didn’t have that awful experience of spending two hours, watching customers come in the door and sidling around the desperate author, sitting at a little lonely table with a pile of books. Almost everyone bought all three books, many intended as Christmas presents. The last customer of the evening was almost the most rewarding to talk to. This was a young college student named Kevin, fascinated by local history and majoring in it, who read about the signing in the Standard, checked out my website and came straight over with his mother. He asked a great many questions about research, and bought Book One… and his mother bought Two and Three. Christmas present, I guess!
Afterwards, Kenn Knopp treated us to dinner at the Auslander Restaurant, which we had eaten at once before, and recalled as being pretty uninspired foodwise, and kind of scruffy on the inside. Apparently it has since been renovated, for now it was very comfortable, and the food was terrific; jagerschnitzel to die for, accompanied by little crispy potato pancakes about the size of a silver dollar. Blondie and I walked back to the car, admiring the Christmas lights, all along Main Street. There seem to be many nicer restaurants along Main Street now – it was quite lively on a Friday evening. Blondie noted there were many more wine-tasting rooms, too. The Hill Country is slowly becoming the new Provence, as I predicted a while ago, or at least the newest Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino, as far as wine production is concerned.

It was a great way to finish up the day – the interest in my books being almost as much of a satisfaction as the food. I have been warned, though; the event at the Pioneer Museum, on January 3rd will be even bigger, and the local history enthusiasts will come armed with even more searching questions.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekly Update - 14 December

Does anyone else have the feeling that Christmas is heading straight for us like a train speeding down the track? OMG, it's only eleven days from today, a week and a half and the boxes to family on the West coast haven't been taken to the post office, and don't even mention Christmas cards...

A fair number of interesting developments this week, so obviously other people are getting it together:

Nan Hawthorn would like people who are visiting their local library in the near future to ask for her book An Involuntary King, through the interlibrary loan program. Relevent information is here. Many local libraries will buy a copy of a book, if it is on an interlibrary loan listing.

Jessica James (author of Shades of Gray) points members towards this book enthusiasts' website "Bookworms Dinner". Jessica says the proprieter, "Wysteria" is interested in historical
, history, memoir, women issues, contemporary issues, global
issues, religion and conflict in the Middle East, and debut authors.

Pauline Montagna (The Slave and Suburban Terrors ) has updated her website "The Romance of History".

Marva Dasaf (author of Tales of a Texas Boy and The Seven Adventures of Cadida) was interviewed about her latest project at "Toasted Scimitar". Read all about it...

Paul Krupin has a wonderful, handy-dandy PDF download, a calendar to plan your publicity with, available here.

Lloyd Lofthouse's My Splendid Concubine garnered an honorable mention at this years' London Book Festival.

Another in our continuing series of authors and their characters interviwing each other, from Laurie Pelayo (An Old Fashioned Murder) here.

New member Lillian Cauldwell (The Anna-Mae Mysteries)runs Passionate Internet Voices, and would like to arrange interviews and promotions for other IAG writers. Contact her through the discussion group; she would really love to work with other members on publicising their books.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Well, there was a nice crowd at The Twig in Alamo Heights Thursday evening at my launch event for the Adelsverein Trilogy - even though all but one copy of Book One had sold, even before we walked in last night! Sort of embarrassing, since I then had to fall back on doing autographed book-plates for people to stick into the front of copies they ordered… And my daughter forgot her camera, as we wanted to have pictorial evidence.

Nice Q & A session from almost a dozen people; a nice elderly couple of ‘freethinkers’ from up Comfort way, who were familiar enough with the history to know what I was talking about and to be interested, two very knowledgeable and dedicated local fans, another couple- the wife of whom is the Queen of the Red Hat chapter I belong to, one of my current semi-employers… and a shaggy young man who had been hanging around on the back porch of Cappyccino’s - the little cafe next door, who followed us in. I think he started off being more interested in my daughter, but he seemed to become quite fascinated by trials of the German settlers in Gillespie County. I kept getting very happy vibes of approval and interest, especially when they asked questions about obscure local historical matters - like, about the massacre of Unionists at the Nueces during the Civil War, and I knew all the detailed ins and outs. One of the dedicated fans said he had read the sample chapters at my website and asked about the first chapter of “The Gathering” - had there really been German-American or German immigrants present among the Texians massacred at the Goliad? And yes, of course there were - half a dozen, according to records. I gave chapter and verse, practically page references. The fan looked enormously pleased - I had the feeling I had sailed easily over a pre-set challenge.

I read a bit from Book One, a couple of pages detailing what happens to the steerage passengers on a wooden sailing-ship, during a violent storm in mid-Atlantic. Nothing good, you may be assured - violent sea-sickness, hysteria and bodily fluids sloshing around on the deck are the least of it. Blondie says I read too much and too fast. Still and all, a much better signing than last time.

All three books are too available, here, here and here, from Booklocker.com. Amazon has them all up now, but most discouragingly shows them as being out of stock. Really, sometimes I wonder if they really want to sell my books at all. Apparently, there was a bit about the Trilogy in the Kerrville newspaper yesterday; so had an email query from a local bookstore there. They do mostly used and antique books, but they carry Texiana, and would like to carry the Trilogy. Bit by bit, sportsfans, bit by bit.

I topped off the evening with an interview on Lillian Cauldwell's internet radio station show, even thought I was so tired I practically dropped in my tracks. Something revivifying about being ‘on air’ so to speak. In the theatrical world they call this “Doctor Footlights” - the adrenalin kicks in and you feel better almost at once. (For the interview, enter the site, go to archives, then the list of hosts, pick host Lillian Cauldwell - my interview is there already - Dec. 11)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

December Update

Member Dianne Salerni has posted her monthly spotlight on her blog; this month, the theme is "Children and Teens". (Take note, last-minute Christmas shoppers!)

Nan Hawthorne intervies Sandra Worth, author of "The Kings' Daughter" at Medieval-novels.com, here.

New member Eileen Key sent us this link to a wonderful article, articulating the reasons that we are driven to write.

And just for fun, Al Past forwarded this picture of a very special Corn Maze...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Interview with Prospero

Prospero is a physician and Theurgist in eighteenth century Vienna. Despite his unparalleled success rate, or perhaps because of it, the Holy Order of Physicians, Augurs and Theurgists (HOPAT) believe him to be a fraud. He was kind enough to let Kim McDougall interview him from his home in exile (though he was quick to point out it was simply a mountain retreat).

KM: Please tell us a bit about the Divine Sympathies. How does it work?

Prospero: It is simple. The energy of the universe, the Divine Sympathies, can be harnessed. I lay my hands on the body, and the Divine Sympathies course through my veins. In this way, I can manipulate the organs and release the malevolent humors. Here let me show you. (Prospero reaches for the interviewer.)

KM: Umm. No. That’s all right. (Chair scrapes backwards. Awkward pause.)

Prospero: It’s really very stimulating.

KM: I’m sure it is. So these Divine Sympathies, why are you the only one able to manipulate them?

Prospero: Oh, the others could, but they are too stupid. Too stuck in the seventeenth century, with their bloodlettings and leechcraft. Imagine leeches as medical therapy. Barbaric.

KM: Let’s talk a bit about HOPAT. Why do you think they banned you?

Prospero: Jealousy. Pure and simple.

KM: Didn’t they accuse you of…wizardry?

Prospero: (Sucking in his breath) You should not use such terms lightly, Madam. That is a serious accusation. I am a Theurgist. My power is a divine right, not some…not some feckless charlatanism. Even my detractors would not dare to insult me so.

KM: Says here…(shuffling papers) that Peniakoff, the President of HOPAT, accused you of wizardry before the assembled house.

Prospero: You Madam, are suffering from an abundance of yellow bile. I can hear it in your voice.

KM: (Pauses) Alright, let’s talk about your apprentice, Dr. Edouard Breugen.

Prospero: There is nothing to say. The boy is a fraud, a cheat, and a Judas.

KM: Seems you have a lot to say about Ed…

Prospero: I knew he had lustful feelings for Maria. I should have banished him from my practice, but I assumed he was too ineffectual to act on his feelings. Such an insipid boy. Only a blind girl would fall for him.

KM: Maria, yes. The blind pianist?

Prospero: Blind only because of ignorance. I cured her!

KM: If you cured her, then why is she still blind?

Prospero: I haven’t worked out that part yet, but I assure you, Edouard’s so-called psychology won’t help. Bah! Psychology is just a fad. A bunch of pundits, trying to sound intelligent while they sip sherry and stuff their faces with canapés.

KM: Yes, but getting back to Maria…

Prospero: Only the Divine Sympathies will save her. It’s really a simple technique. Please let me show you. I can alleviate some of that yellow bile. It colors your whole being.

KM: No really. That’s fine. It does seem more like hocus-pocus to me…

Prospero: Hocus pocus? Like some street-corner, potion-peddling, hex-mongering, toothless witch? Burn them! Burn them all, I say! (Prospero pauses to smooth down his frock coat and wipe the spittle from his chin) Madam, I will not sit here and be insulted by your ignorance. This interview is done. Good-day.

Read “Divine Sympathies” in Twist of Fate, 13 tales of fantasy, sci-fi and mystery. Published by Eternal Press (www.eternalpress.ca).

Kim McDougall writes “Between the Cracks.” You can check out more of her fiction at www.kimmcdougall.com . The character of Prospero is based loosely on the life of Franz Anton Mesmer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Updates for the week ending 15 November

A lovely rant and short course in layout and overall book design from new IAG member Moriah Joven, from her blog

Another in our continuing series of authors interviewing their own characters, or variants thereof... here

And the on-line version of the review of my own "Adelsverein-The Gathering" in True West Magazine is here. My, I don't recall putting in anything about tornadoes... but, hey - it's True West!

And Steve's "Compleat Guide to Formatting" is here, on the IAG Website.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Out And About - Activity Update

Marsha Ward has an interview with Eunice Boeve, here

Marva Dasef pointed the way to "The Deepening" an on-line magazine that promotes and encourages fine gourmet writing.

Diane Ashcraft (Hitler and Mars Bars) is on blog tour this week, with stops here, here, and here.

And our fearless leader, Dianne Salerni has posted her latest Spotlight on.... here

Advice from a PR Pro

New member Paul Krupin had this long and informative answer to a recent question about making a living from writing

I'm a copywriter and a publicist and so I guess I do make a living writing. I'm happy to share with you what I've done and what I've learned. I wrote my first news release in 1977. I went online with my first website in 1993. I've built up
my copywriting and publicity services company at home and online over the past 15 years. You can read the story about how I created my business in the book "Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur' s Soul" published by Health Communications Nov 2006. It's titled 'Ripples'. Fun story. If you want to see it send me an email and I'll send you a pdf file.

The marketing I do is pretty nominal but it is consistent, and I take baby steps to keep it going nearly every day. I'm of the belief that if people and companies have employees doing work that you can do and have more work that you can do than they have employees available to do that work, then getting paid is easy.

Can you do it?

Yes you can!

You just need to present them with a very desirable alternative turnkey to hiring you as an employee. Make it attractive and make it easy and it's a done deal.

I've found that if they have employees doing something, then outsourcing to you is often a very attractive option. You can normally charge four to six times the hourly rate of pay that they pay full time employees to do exactly the same work, but without them having to carry the overhead that they have to carry for an employee. So if top technical or professional employees are making $50 an hour, then you can charge $200 an hour. Most companies will not bat an eye at these rates these
days. You can run the numbers and see, at these rates, it's not hard to bill over $100,000 a year and do it part-time from home. The Internet and email can be a wonderful place.

So no matter what the employees or you do, you can create a short menu of options and fees that break both the services you will provides (just like an employee performs, or the deliverables they create), and format this into a short list of the fee based time or product deliverables that you can perform or deliver on demand or by schedule.

So instead of a resume, create a one page brochure that says "menu of options". Then itemize options so people can hire you in bite size chunks of payable time or for products or services by known typical units of performance (by the hour, by the day, by the week, by the page, by the document, or whatever).

This menu allows you and the client to select what you do and price it in advance, and build this into a one page contract or an email or even a phone call.

I've found that the best marketing tactics that work in this business are ones that allow you to leverage professional branding with your target audience. You should not waste time, effort and money unless it brings a professional branding message in front of someone who will potentially be amenable to doing business with you.

So I recommend you experiment, test and most importantly and track and analyze what you do, to identify how you are getting clients and where the biggest income streams come from. Then apply the basic rules of systematic continuous improvement to what you are doing. Simply put, if it works, do more of it, and if it doesn't stop and do something else.

You can use my business as an example. To this day, I get most of my new business by:

> meeting people at conferences at which I exhibit, and giving short but personal consults on the fly, and once I hear what they are all about giving them recommendations that help them a little and indicate what they can get by involving me more.

> writing and publishing articles (problem solving tips articles) in magazines, to demonstrate skills, expertise, ability, knowledge and wisdom, and create desire once they realize they want more of what I can offer.

> posting articles and responding to posted questions in newsgroups and on discussion lists, to do the same.

> adding more free articles and free downloads to an extensive highly educational and focused website, to educate and motivate people to do more themselves, or hire me if they can't do it themselves.

> adding more success stories and testimonials to my portfolio, to again demonstrate and affirm.

> sending really value added email introductions to prospects, to supply them with a plan of action that leads them to hire me.

> doing 30 minute consultations by phone, learning what clients need and delivering strategic advice and one page action plan proposals by email.

> answering prospect questions as though I was already working for them.

> carefully cultivating word of mouth off prior exceptional performance.

> speaking engagements, giving workshops and training sessions for free and for fee, but only to the right targeted company or audience.

> meeting people for lunch and listening to their project needs or dreams.

> sending them one page email proposals.

> building off referrals, and speaking engagements, and seeking to leverage host beneficiary relationships.

This last one is perhaps the most crucial. As you satisfy clients, of course, you can get repeat business. If you do work for a headquarters or a home office of a company with lots of offices all
over the country, your host contact can lead you directly to many other prospects. You then get to pitch them all or better still, the headquarters contact shares you and everyone in that business network then contacts you. This situation can be phenomenally beneficial. Lucrative in fact. Same thing can happen with speaking engagements at associations. The local speech or workshop travels up to the headquarters.

Once every few years I create an innovative post card and do a mailing. My most recent mailer was a one pager back top back. If you want to see my most recent one, send me an email message request and I'll send you the pdf file. I was using US Mail for mailings until two years ago. Now we participate in coop mailings and use email.

Nowadays I also use a show off business card. It has a picture of me fishing. It's a memorable experience to look at and to hold. It brands me as a distinctive writer.

I use email, short letters and one page business proposals extensively to close deals by email and phone. In fact, I have a rule which basically says that you never have a conversation with a prospect without making a customized personal proposal. It works very well.

I actually don't need or use formal contracts at all. I just take credit cards and bill them at the time of performance. I take very few checks and only in advance if the client insists upon paying that way. Client satisfaction with this arrangement is nearly 100 percent for many years now.

I spend NO money on advertising at all and do not care about search engine placement or ad words. Clients who call me have either heard about me or find me online through research or referral. They basically have decided to hire me before they call me so I actually do very little selling.

I've actually found that in my business, the people who search using search engines aren't the clients I seek to work with. Most of them don't have the products or businesses that I enjoy and can be successful with. The people who find my site online rarely are quality clients. So search engine ranking and placement mean very little to me. I can be found very quickly if people search for me nonetheless. In fact, search on my name and you'll see thousands of links going back 15 years.

I've also found that the decision to hire is based on people having convinced themselves that you offer needed value that can be acquired no where else at the costs that you present. What you need to do is just learn how to make the product or service you give remarkable and personal, unique, and phenomenally effective. You also need to learn how to communicate this to them quickly.

Do that and your business will grow consistently with everything you do. The key to enjoying yourself along the way is to simply focus on helping the people you can help the most. You also need to know when to say no to a project that is problematic and where you know won't be able to satisfy yourself or the client. The rule should be 'no unhappy clients'.

I learned this business model by studying a variety of other consultants and copywriters. This model is actually very easy to operate and fairly low cost. I incorporated a few years ago as a full C Corp to take advantage of the tax structure since the business bills over six figures a year.
I pay myself a salary. I also just use QuickBooks Pro to do the day to day bookkeeping myself but do hire a professional accountant to do the taxes each year. I use the merchant credit card services offered with Quicken and it does the bookkeeping entries as it processes the credit card authorizations.

The skills I acquired to conduct my business the way I do is mostly out of books. I am a voracious reader. This is in addition to reading or skimming all the client books that come to me (Fed Ex and UPS stop here nearly every day Monday through Friday). I read at the health club, I read during the day and at night, and in front of the TV. I basically am reading (or searching and surfing the Internet) if I am not writing or on the phone.

My house is totally wireless and there are two computers on plus two laptops available for use by me and the rest of the family at all times.

I can even take my cell phone and my wireless laptop in my boat and take client calls and work while fishing along the Columbia River because of the many hot spots and homes with unsecured wirelessrouters along the river. It's amazing! The technology really is wonderful these days. That makes for some very pleasant days working (yes really working) while catching salmon, steelhead and
walleye! If you've ever called me during the day you may hear me tell you that if I get a fish on I'll have to get off really quick, but I'll call you back! OK, enough bragging.

I just looked over my library and I highly recommend you basically commit to reading most every business, sales and marketing book published and get whatever you can out of each and every one of them. I still probably spend $100 to $200 a month on books in this area and have for years. My wife says it takes more to keep me well read than it does to keep me well fed. I have a 25 year collection and I still refer back to them constantly.

My favorite book authors and the books I can point you to for the best answers to this question the most are:

* Harry Beckwith (everything he writes is golden including: Selling the Invisible, What Clients Love, The Invisible Touch, and his new one, You, Inc.)

* Bob Bly (again, anything he writes is worth owning. The Copywriter's Handbook, Secrets of a Freelance Writer, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Write More, Sell More, which is still one of the best books ever written on running a writing business).

* Ralph G. Riley (The One Page Business Proposal is perhaps one of the most important books you'll ever find. It has made me tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars).

* Dan Kennedy (The Ultimate and No B.S. series)

* Seth Godin (Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside, and Unleashing the Idea Virus)

* Mark Stephens (Your Marketing Sucks)

* Jay Abraham (Getting Everything You Can Out of All You Got)

* Dr. Jeffrey Lant (this dates me! No More Cold Calls, Cash Copy, The Unabashed Self-Promoter's Guide, and Money Making Marketing. Good luck finding these but if you do, consider yourself lucky)

* Jeffrey Fox (How to Become a Rainmaker and How to Become a Marketing Superstar).

If you need attitude and adjustment to get into the right frame of mind for running a business, then I highly recommend:

* Jack Canfield (The Success Principles)

* Napoleon Hill (Law of Success)

* Steven Scott (Mentored by a Millionaire)

* Brian Tracy (Maximum Achievement and many others)

* Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul (Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Bud Gardner)

The real trick to reading is that you have to create a written plan with the ideas that come to you.

Reading and not writing simply isn't productive. Writing a plan of action turns the idea into something tangible. You must add in the tasks and place dates and performance measures so that you know that you have completed the task.

Knowledge is valuable but to turn a fantasy into reality you must take action and try, try, try till you actually succeed.

You need to create two independent processes:

The first is the process for creating quality work (writing) that you can get paid for.

The second is the sales process that you use to get customers and get money.

Once you create these success processes for yourself then you apply technology to get more of each done in less time, with less effort and expense.

In fact, if you do both of these enough, it all becomes second nature, much like riding a bicycle or a car.

At some point, it can even get boring. To avoid losing faith and being unhappy, you have to find your happiness in delivering whatever happiness and help you can to others.

And that is my belief in what life is all about. .It's my definition of success:

You achieve happiness and success when you help the people you can help the most and get rich at the same time.

The bottom line is that I believe that the opportunities to be a well paid writer right now are simply phenomenal. You can specialize and focus on any one or more of hundreds of markets. The country is huge. There are 300 million people in the US. There are 30,000 towns. There are simply millions of companies all of whom can be helped again and again.

Don't be shy. This isn't that hard to do and you've got the skills. Focus and go for it.

BTW, if you want a pdf file containing the story 'Ripples' from Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul, or the latest flyer I used in my mailings, just send me an email request. I'll send you the pdf files.

Hope this helps. Questions welcome!

Paul J. Krupin (who can be reached directly at Paul@DirectContactPR.com)

Chapter 5 - Dope Smoker

Steve Knutson sent a sample chapter from his work in progress, "Valley of the Shadow"

The myth perpetrated by Lord only knows who, about the rampant and widespread use of drugs and “weed” in Vietnam were just that, a myth. I saw ONE GI smoking dope in the entire 18 months I was in country, and I knew him. He was an Army Com Van driver that made trips, with a “shotgun” between the Golf Course and Qui Nohn. He tried to time his departure from up around Camp Uplift to RON at Phu Cat and play poker with the Mafia in Barracks T-120. When he’d pull out a joint we would invite him to get the hell out of the game and the barracks and don’t come back. His name was Davy Wilson and hailed from California . I remember his name after all these years because there was some keen interest in a particular piece of Air Force property that ended up being discovered in some wreckage that also contained good ole Davy, the dope smoker.

When Davy wasn’t in the process of getting kicked out of our barracks on Poker nights, he was a step-n-fetch-it scrounge/trader/felon//Black Marketeer and anything else that is brought to mind by a vivid imagination. Need it? Ask Davy!

One night about 9PM, Davy and his sidekick knock at, we’ll call them Muff and Indian Joe’s room. I guess you’d a had to read the classic piece of American literature to know the characters. Davy is admitted to the room, nervously pulld out a doobie, I poi…, er…., Indian Joe points to the door with a scowl and Davy stuffs the doobie in his pocket. He then nervously explains he needs a link less feed system, the whole system, for a mini-gun. Muff and Indian Joe look at each other with raised eyebrows, turn to Davy and ask him which side are you scrounging for on this one?

Davy explains, with plausible detail, how he and his squad were sent in to recover wreckage from a downed chopper near the Golf Course and they discovered it was armed with a Gattling gun and they removed the gun but the feed system was shot. They “tried” to turn it in (Oh, sure!) but could find no one to take it (try the Helicopter Brigade) and now they wanted to use the gun at a Guard emplacement (now I, err…, Indian Joe sees where this is going). Davy just wants to shoot a gun he knows nothing about from some place at something, sure, wink, wink, Muff and Indian Joe will see what they can come up with, it’ll cost you ten cases of T-Bones and five cases of Burgers. A hand shake and the deal is made.

Davy and his sidekick leave, probably to smoke some dope and Muff asks Indian Joe if this is crazy, or what? Indian Joe sez, “or what” and has an adult beverage and hits the rack. And so it goes in the Land of Red Dirt and Rice Bugs. The following morning Muff and Joe concur this feed system deal will have to be kept close to the vest because of “possible” outside interest in the “item” sought. They swore an oath, swore at each other and headed for the MMS bus, a day of work awaits!

It took Muff and Joe about a week to track down a Feed System. Davy probably should have dealt with a Weapons crew mechanic who would have thrown him out of their barracks, no doubt, based solely on the price of the General Electric feed system it’s self and the misappropriation of which would garner you a quick trip to a federal facility in Kansas.

What did Muff and Joe know? Not much, apparently. Took two weeks, or more, and the system was illicitly traded for and set in an “obtainable location.” The gears were set in motion when Davy produced the Steak and Burgers. Four cases of Steak and two of Burgers went to the man who opted an insecure twenty two thousand dollar feed system. The trade was made, the Steaks and Burger were passed, the General Electric system went to the Golf Course. Four people knew the details. Muff, Indian Joe, Mr. X with the system and Davy , with his new toy. Now for the fun.

About four weeks go by and Mr. X contacts Muff and Joe in a panic. He sez there has been a “disaster” at the “Golf Course” and Davy has been caught with “his” feed system. We’re…errr, Muff and Indian Joe are talking to Mr. X and three very serious looking types approach the three. All three are led away to be “interviewed,” Re: feed systems and a gun.

Seems Davy, in his “Army” rank of intelligence, has mounted the gun in a Guard Tower and as suggested, removed the tracers from all but the tenth round of each belt of M-60 ammo fed into the de-linker to “mask” the gun. Unfortunately he had cycled it to its highest rate of fire, 6,000 rounds a minute, 100 rounds a second, a veritable lead wall. The tower is built, as are most Guard towers in Vietnam , using 4X4’s for “legs.”

The recoil from a .308, which is what the mini is, is about eleven and a half pounds. A jolt, but not horrific. Multiply that by 100 and each second of burst from a mini-gun gives you, at the cycled rate of fire, one thousand, eleven hundred and fifty pounds of recoil thrust at the top of that 35 to forty foot tower. You can guess what happened to Davy, the tower and the gun. I heard it was spectacular. I’d a paid real money to watch that show.

The interviews? Admit nothing, deny everything, demand proof! That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

IAG Author Interviews - An Interview With Ana Darcy, Part 2

(Part 2 of Al Past's Interview with Ana Darcy, of Distant Cousin)

6. What is the native wildlife on your planet? What is the climate on your planet? (DS) 7. Ana, I understand you don't have dogs on your home planet - what do you think of them? (RH)

The Others did an impressive job of selecting a planet similar enough to Earth that humans could live there, after a period of adjustment, to be sure. Thomo's surface area is 1.4 times the size of Earth's, yet the planet's mass is only 1.2 times as great. Our gravity is slightly more, for that reason. It has a molten iron core, like Earth, and tectonic movement in the plates on its surface (and also earthquakes and volcanoes). Our atmosphere has a little less nitrogen, and a little more oxygen, than Earth, and we have no problem with carbon dioxide in our environment. There are nine continents totaling a little less than Earth's land area. That means we have considerably more ocean area, which influences our weather systems. Our poles are cold and our equatorial areas are warm.

The range of our climate is slightly more extreme than Earth's: the poles are colder, the deserts are drier, and the vegetated areas are more concentrated. We have large, temperate plains, good for agriculture.

There is a range of wildlife not unlike that of Earth, which seems logical to me. Biologists speak of "niches" which animals have evolved to fill, and our wildlife and plant life fill them much as they do here. At the same time, our animals and plants are not the same. I am not an expert, but I can say that all are based upon similar biological processes: cells, chromosomes, and DNA. Again, though these are only similar, and your biologists are busy studying the differences.

RH has asked about dogs, for example. We do not have dogs, in the form of canis familiaris. Yet we do have animals you would say were dog-like. The biggest of these is a wolf-like creature the size of a horse. They are hunters, carnivorous, and very clever. They have large fangs for capturing prey, paws which can seize small animals, and rows of spines down their backs. Thomans have populated three of Thomo's nine continents and finally cleared them of these creatures, and other dangerous animals. (They exist unmolested on three of the other six continents.) Our folklore and our cultural memory accords these beasts great importance. Mentioning them is a sure way to frighten young children! On Earth, I had to overcome my ingrained fear of your dogs. It turned out that acquiring a pair of sweet, young puppies helped me adjust. But I still do not like most other dogs.

I cannot begin to catalog our animals and plants. Suffice it to say that there is a wide range of herbivores and a smaller number of carnivores. A visitor from Earth would be most impressed by our larger herbivores, much larger than elephants, and our sea creatures, which encompass a similar range. A biologist could devote many careers to studying our tiny creatures. Our equivalent of your insects are even more diverse than Earth's. I can't begin to cover the microbes, which have caused us more trouble than any other life forms. They may account for my own robust immune system!

8. Who were the most important leaders on your planet? (DS)

Oh, dear. That would be like listing the most important leaders on Earth! But, now that I think of it, I suppose that would be possible. However, the list would either be very long, or very incomplete. Allow me to mention only a few, if you please. The first important Thoman leader was from Second Generation. His name was Unskett. The Others, you see, didn't understand about tribes. They transferred members of four different ones, which was a big problem. Unskett was a Counselor, not a Warrior, and his skills at compromise and accommodation enabled everyone to work together, just in time to avoid extinction. That skill has characterized Thoman tribal society ever since. Today, my Uncle Rothan, Thoman Ambassador to Earth, has found his abilities at negotiation helpful in resolving several conflicts here on Earth. These skills fall in a direct line from Unskett.

In the 13th Generation, Ferent, an early Thoman scientist, founded a system of schools to preserve and increase our hard-won knowledge. Most of Ferent's ideas are still in effect on Thomo: beginning education early, with an emphasis on practical knowledge, including science and mathematics. Education is just as important as health care in our system, and as costly.

Hleryn, in the 15th Generation, built on the works of Ferent and established libraries for the new works that were written down. These institutions were, and still are, associated with our schools. He also fostered the transcribing of our legends and epics, and began cultivating the arts, which continues today.
There were many other notable leaders in dozens of areas in the succeeding hundred generations. I'll mention just two. The first is Tereis Debergh, in the 19th Generation. Women were always important since Thomans were so few, but she was the first to actually lead a tribe. (Note that by her generation we were numerous enough to require surnames.) Many women followed, and today women head nearly half the tribes of Thomo. The second, and I must beg your pardon for this, is my father, Heoren Darshiell, of the 160th Generation. He was Chief of Clans when the first signals from Earth were detected. This news set off great excitement among our people, and he was the one most responsible for guiding the effort to launch the voyage of discovery that I was privileged to undertake. He brought our people full circle. Whatever happens in the future, whoever reigns, that will perhaps be our greatest achievement as a people.

9. What do you like (and dislike) most about the cultures on Earth? (RP)

Such a good question, and so difficult to do justice to! First, consider the culture of Thomo: we have art, we have music, we have religion, we have literature and cooking, we have nearly every basic category that is found on Earth. But on Earth, you have thousands of cultures, each with its own art and music, literature, all with their own subdivisions, and if that weren't enough, cross-contacts between them! Thousands upon thousands! Learning about and experiencing this richness has been a delight for me. If the day comes that Thomans visit Earth in numbers (and I hope it will), some Thomans might be overwhelmed by all the complex diversity. If they are, I hope people here will try to understand.

I have seen, in fact, that many people of Earth are similarly affected. People of different nations, different religions, people who speak different languages, are sometimes regarded with suspicion, distrust, or worse. While most wars seem to have been fought for economic reasons, these cultural differences often play a large role as well. This is unfortunate. Education is one way to increase understanding and eliminate the discomfort.

Also, Thomans are by nature a collective people. We live in families, clans, and tribes. We think of ourselves as members of groups, and act in the interests of the group--not always, but generally. Most of Earth's cultures value the individual as much as, or more than, the group. I confess I have found this attractive. In some ways, I did not fit in perfectly in Thoman society. I fit better here. But at the same time it seems a shame that there is not more concern by individuals for the welfare of their own groups, for other groups, and for people as a whole. Indeed, it seems that most of the environmental problems and economic inequalities the planet is facing today are at least in part attributable to that lack. There should be a better balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of groups.

One more feature that I feel two ways about is money. Thomans do not have a money culture. The notion of "capitalism" is not something we would readily understand. We have stores, for example, but they tend to contain items that people want. No one will make and market something hoping that many people will buy it. We do not have advertisements. But again, I must admit that I love shopping here. The diversity and sheer delight of discovering something useful I had never thought I needed is thrilling.

Many people here seem to feel that money is more important than people, but I do not. I think people are more important than money. Whatever we think, it also seems obvious that our peoples have much to learn from each other!

10. Why did you marry that slug, Matt Méndez? (NW)

My editor thought I would not want to answer this question, but I do. Thoman marriages are often arranged, particularly when the parents have wide responsibilities within their clans. The wishes of the betrothed are seldom considered when clan politics are involved. I was never comfortable with this. I longed for a husband who was also a friend and a partner, and who would place our family first in his heart. Matt and I were attracted to each other before my renown distorted people's perceptions of me. He was so kind and patient, allowing me time to adjust to a new way of being, without his even knowing why I had to do it. Having a husband who is my best friend and who is totally devoted to our family is much more important to me than having a man who is a great warrior or hunter, or who has high status among his peers. There is no word in Luvit for "soul-mate," but that is what my husband is to me. I consider myself blessed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Author Interviews, Continued: Al Past with Ana Darcy

Ana Darcy, of the Distant Cousin series, is the first alien to have come to Earth from another planet. She is a human alien, though, since her people originally lived on Earth over 3,000 years ago. She graciously consented to this interview in the interest of promoting the amicable unity of her fellow Thomans and the peoples of Earth. The questions were submitted by her fans (whose initials appear after each). Her responses have been minimally edited by Al Past.

1. What was the most amazing and astonishing thing that you discovered when you first set foot on earth? (CH)

Oh, my. It was the majesty of Earth, the overwhelming beauty that struck me immediately. When I arrived, I was terrified. I had lived for so many years in a tiny place. Then the passage through the atmosphere was very violent, and I was afraid the escape pod was being destroyed. I didn't know if I had landed at the right place, or if something might attack me when I opened the hatch. My first sensation was the feeling and the smell of the west Texas night-time air, crisp and fragrant, cool and dry. (Later I learned the aroma was from the juniper trees and creosote bushes.) When I climbed to the top of the ridge and saw the dawn, with the mountains and lights far in the distance, lying peacefully under the dome of the stars, it was so beautiful. I realized I was home; our people were home at last. I will never forget that.

2. Ms. Darcy, besides being a woman of extraordinary talent and intelligence, you seem to have the knack for bringing out the very best in everyone with whom you interact. Do you consciously seek to do this, or is it merely the positive effect your own personality has on others? (JW)

You do me too much honor. Thank you! I do not consciously use any particular strategy when dealing with other persons. People generally respond well to respectful treatment. Not all do, to be sure, neither here nor on Thomo, but most do. I like to be treated that way myself. It's a different matter when I am in public as myself, however. Celebrities seem accorded great license. It is often a burden.

3. Ana, I am always impressed by your character, your determination to do the right thing. You act like a serious Christian and I wonder, have you and your husband ever thought about taking your children to church? He must have been a Roman Catholic and taking your children to his church would seem natural and it would help them understand the culture too. (MM)

Yes, my husband was raised in a Roman Catholic family. He tells me they were "relaxed" about it (his word). His father is an independent-thinking gentleman, and I believe his son is much the same. As for myself, while I have been fascinated by Earth's religions, I have not found myself drawn to any to the extent of abandoning my own. I do believe there is a creator of the cosmos, but I cannot claim to understand its nature, nor can I believe that the creator has an awareness of us as individuals. But I do know the universe is orderly, even the parts we do not understand. The source of that order has to be the creator. It falls to us, as parts of that creation, to honor and maintain it in harmony, and to assist others in doing the same.

Our children have attended Roman Catholic services with their grandmother, as well as services at a number of other places of worship. They are aware of a great number of belief systems. As they mature, I expect they will be able to choose the paths that best fulfills them.

Followup question: Did you have anything like a religion on your home planet? Or did you study ethics and morals? Meditation? Anything of a spiritual nature? (MM)
Oh, yes, of course we have religion! Surely, that's one thing that distinguishes us as humans! The first of us to arrive on Thomo were animists, believing that objects and the phenomena of nature had spirits. Those beliefs were shaken by our translation from Earth to Thomo. Over time this system coalesced into worship of a dual supreme being, cosmic heads of clans, in effect. In more recent times, approximately 600 years ago, the two entities gradually melded into a single deity. Today, most Thomans believe in an abstract deity. It reminds me of what I have read of the American Indians' concept of a "Great Spirit." Many Thomans attribute a consciousness to this spirit; some do not. We disagree among ourselves about a great many things, but theology, fortunately, is seldom one of those.

As to ethics, morality, and the other branches of philosophy, yes, there are those of us who ponder these matters. Again, how could one be human and not ponder them? Meditation is not practiced as a separate technique. I suspect that the various schools of meditation on Earth are a function of your many cultures. Thomo, unfortunately, is homogeneous, and lacks the variety and richness of your cultural resources.

4. Your native language, Luvit, fascinates me, Ms. Darcy. Could you briefly explain its relationship to Earth's languages? How many languages do you speak yourself, presently? (BS)

I'll try! Luvit has been determined to be a separate branch of Indo-European, which is one of the 15 super-families of Earth's languages. Within the Indo-European family, English belongs to the Germanic branch. Russian and Polish belong to the Slavic branch. Luvit shares characteristics with both, and therefore must have branched off from Proto-Indo-European a very long time ago, perhaps 3000 years. Linguists have found it a useful source of data to recreate the original Proto-Indo-European language, which has disappeared without a trace. It is an additional benefit that since the separation, Luvit has not been affected by contact with any other human language. Though it has changed over the centuries as all languages do, it offers a much closer and purer tie to the linguistic parent of all European and Scandinavian languages, as well as Hindi and and Iranian and Afghani. I owe a great debt for this explanation to Dr. William Sledd, philologist and linguist, who together with a team of linguists, studied Luvit in great detail. I served mainly as their informant.

As for my other languages, I am most fluent in Luvit and English. I also have passing familiarity with French and Spanish, as well as very elementary abilities in Czech, Russian, Sedlak, Hindi, Japanese, and Chinese, which I studied privately for some years.

5. What stories and legends do your people have about the race which removed you from Earth and about the journey from Earth to Thomo? Did the alien race that transplanted your people to Thomo give you any assistance for survival on the new planet? Have your people ever encountered any artifacts of that alien race on Thomo? (DS)

We have only the most basic conjecture as to the beings who took our earliest ancestors to Thomo. At the time, we were not literate and not experienced enough to understand what we were going through. At first the travelers' memories were preserved in oral verses, passing through several generations, until being written down. Here is what little we know.
No one ever saw the beings directly, because they wore some sort of covering. Surviving drawings and legends indicate they were large, perhaps half again as tall as humans and maybe three times the weight of a human. We do not know if the covering was so they could remain hidden or because Earth's atmosphere, and Thomo's, might have been harmful to them. We know nothing about the method of transport, only that our ancestors were treated well. We were approximately 1300 in number.
Thoman history is counted in generations as well as in Thoman years, which would be meaningless to you (although they are 14.7 Earth months long). When I left Thomo, we were in the 162nd generation, with a generation counting as 20 Earth years. According to our stories, the beings returned seven times, the last being in the 14th generation. After that, they communicated electronically through the 65th generation. Since then we have heard nothing from them. We don't know if they disappeared or if they are still following our affairs. If they are, we have been unable to detect it.
The first generations had a very hard time. Many died. Gradually, the beings (the Thoman word for them is the Others) supplied assistance and technology. A writing system was created. Agriculture was developed. (Our ancestors had been nomads.) Civil engineering began. Over the generations, materials technology, tool making, electricity, medicine, and basic physics were introduced. The Others never spoke to us with sounds. Since the 85th generation, we have been on our own, inventing and innovating without further help. Thus, if Thomans are more advanced in some respects than the people of Earth, it is not necessarily because we are smarter. We had help!
We have no artifacts of the Others whatsoever, beyond the developments they fostered. We don't know why they moved us to Thomo. Perhaps most significantly, we do know that there is at least one race of alien beings besides humans in the universe. That has had a great impact on our thought.

(To be continued)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Author Interview with Characters: A Continuing Series

(Kim set off a flurry of creativity with her interview - so it was suggested in the IAG discussion group that as many of us as possible do interviews with our characters. I have chosen to interview two of my own characters from "To Truckee's Trail", the party co-leader, Elisha Stephens, and part-time guide Isaac "Old Man" Hitchcock.)

CH: So, gentlemen – thank you for taking a little time from your duties as wagon master and… er… assistant trail guide to answer questions from IAG about your experiences in taking a wagon train all the way to California.

ES: (inaudible mumble)
IH: (chuckling richly) Oh, missy, that ain’t no trouble at all, seein’ as I ain’t really no guide, no-how. I’m just along for the ride, with my fuss-budget daughter Izzy an’ her passel o’ young ones. Heading to Californy, they were, after m’ son-in-law. He been gone two year, now. Went to get hisself a homestead there, sent a letter sayin’ they were to come after. Me, I think he went to get some peace an’ quiet… Izzy, she’s the nagging sort…

CH: Yes, Mr. Hitchcock… but if I may ask you both – why California? There was no trail to follow once past Ft. Hall in 1844. Neither of you, or your chief guide, Mr. Greenwood had even traveled that overland trail, before Why not Oregon, like all the other travelers that year?

ES: Nicer weather.
IH: Waaalll, as I said, Samuel Patterson, Izzy’s man, he was already there, had hisself a nice little rancho, an’ o’ course Izzy wouldn’t hear no different about taking a wagon and the passel o’ young-uns and going to join him. (Winking broadly) And it ain’t exackly true that I never had been there, no sirreebob. I been there years before, came over with some fur-trapping friends o’mine. But it was unofficial-like. We wasn’t supposed to be there, but the alcalde and the governor an them, they all looked the other way, like. Beautiful country it were then – golden mustard on all them hills, and the hills and valleys so green and rich with critters – you’d almost believe they walk up and almost beg to me made your dinner! (chuckles and slaps his knee) Missy, the stories I could tell you, folk wouldn’t believe!

ES: (inaudible mumble)
CH: Mr. Stephens, I didn’t quite hear that – did you have something to add?

ES: (slightly louder) Most don’t. Believe him.

CH: And why would that be, Mr. Stephens?
ES: Tells too many yarns. Exaggerates something turrible.

CH: But surely Mr. Hitchcock’s experience was of value…
ES: Some entertaining, I’ll give him that.

CH: Would you care to explain?
ES: No.

IH: (Still chuckling) The Capn’ is a man of few words, missy, an’ them he values as if each one were worth six bits. The miracle is he was ever elected captain, back at the start in Council Bluffs.
ES: Doc Townsend’s idea.
IH: And the Doc’s doing, missy! Everyone thought he’d be the captain of the party, for sure, but he let out that he had enough to do with doctorin’, and didn’t want no truck with organizing the train and leading all us fine folk out into the wilderness.

ES: Sensible man.

CH: I take that you are referring to your party co-leader, Doctor Townsend. Why do you say that, Captain Stephens?

ES: Knows his limits.
IH: Ah, but the Doctor, he’s a proper caution! He’s an eddicated man, no doubt. Took a whole box of books, all the way over the mountains. I tell you, missy – everyone looked to the Doctor. Everyone’s good friend, trust in a pinch and in a hard place without a second thought. Did have a temper, though – member, ‘Lisha, with old Derby and his campfire out on the plains, when you gave order for no fires to be lit after dark, for fear of the Sioux? Old Man Derby, he just kept lighting that fire, daring you an’ the Doc to put it out. Onliest time I saw the Doc near to losing his temper…

CH: (waiting a moment and looking toward ES) Do you want to elaborate on that, Captain Stephens?

ES: No.

CH: Very well then – if you each could tell me, in your opinion, what was the absolute, very worst part of the journey and the greatest challenge. Mr. Hitchcock?

IH: Oh, that would be the desert, missy. They call it the Forty-Mile Desert, but truth to tell, I think it’s something longer than that. All the way from the last water at the Sink… Me, I’d place it at sixty miles an’more. We left at sundown, with everything that would hold water full to the brim, an’ the boys cut green rushes for the oxen. Everyone walked that could, all during the night, following the Cap’n an’ Ol’ Greenwood’s boy, riding ahead with lanterns, following the tracks that Cap’n Stephens an’ the Doc and Joe Foster made, when they went on long scout to find that river that the o’l Injun tol’ us of. A night and a day and another night, missy – can you imagine that? No water, no speck of green, no shade. Jes’ putting one foot in front of the other. Old Murphy, he told them old Irish stories to his children, just to keep them moving. The oxen – I dunno how they kept on, bawlin’ for water all that time, and nothing but what we had brung. We had to cut them loose when they smelled that water in the old Injun’s river, though. Otherwise they’d have wrecked the wagons, and then where would we have been, hey?

CH: In a bit of a pickle, I should imagine. Captain Stephens, what did you see as the most challenging moment?
ES: Getting the wagons up the pass.
IH: Hah! Had to unload them, every last scrap – and haul them wagons straight up a cliff. Give me a surefooted mule anytime, missy – those critters can find a way you’d swear wasn’t fit fer anything but a cat…

CH: (waiting a moment for elaboration from Captain Stephens.) Did you want to elaborate, Captain Stephens.

ES: No.

CH: Well… thank the both of you for being so frank and forthcoming about your incredible journey – I think we’ve managed to use up all the time that we have…

Friday, October 17, 2008

Weekend Update - 18 October

Member Nan Hawthorne at Shieldwall Books writes -
In December, Nine Arches Press will be launching their second pamphlet, "Lady Godiva and Me" by Liam Guilar. "Lady Godiva and Me" is a sharp, attentive and candid sequence, and so much more than just the re-telling of the legend of a lady who dared to ride through the city unclothed… If you'd like to get an exclusive taster of this forthcoming collection, they will be sending out e-poems every Monday from 20th October straight to your inbox for the six weeks leading up to the collection's launch. All you need to do is send an email with the subject line 'Lady Godiva and Me e-poems' to mail@ninearchespress.com and they'll add you to the list.

Member Kim Mcdougall has an interview with one of her characters:

Interview with Xavier Saint Amant from ‘Luminari’The elusive Mr. Saint Amant recently sat down (after dark) with author Kim McDougall for a rare interview.
KM: Thank you for agreeing to see me, Mr. Saint Amant. May I call you Xavier?

XSA: If that makes you comfortable.(A wolf howls in the distance and the hundreds of candles lighting the room, flicker)XSA: Are you comfortable?

KM: Yes. Yes. Thank you.XSA: I could offer you wine, but my assistant has locked himself in the cellar again.

KM: Does that happen a lot?
XSA: Yes. Good help is hard to come by in my line of work.

KM: And what work is that exactly?
XSA: Alchemy.

KM: Alchemy? I didn’t think there was much of a market for that anymore.XSA: I’m not in it for the money.
KM: Yes I’ve heard of your humanitarian efforts…

(XSA laughs)XSA: You’ve never interviewed a vampire before, have you, Miss McDougall?(KM shakes head.)

XSA: Humanitarian isn’t quite the word for my work. I help vampires in need. Those who can’t or won’t hunt for themselves. I’m like a soup kitchen, but I don’t serve soup.

KM: I see. I’ve heard you developed a drug that enables vampires to go out in the sunlight. The Luminari. Is this true?

(With uncanny speed XSA crosses the small space between them. He leans over and whispers in her ear.)XSA: It doesn’t work on mortals, but I could fix that for you.

(KM squirms away and stands.)KM: Yes, well. Maybe another time. Perhaps now would be a good time for a tour of your…ah…soup kitchen. My readers would find that fascinating.(A scream breaks the quiet.)

XSA: Yes, let me show you around.

(More here)

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Plea from Books for Soldiers

(The following was forward to me through one of my other blogs)

Soldier Charity Faces Closure: Corporate Donations Dry Up

North Carolina – Booksforsoldiers.com has sent thousands of care
packages to our troops deployed outside the US since March 2003. But
Booksforsoldiers.com is in dire financial need now, and may close.
The site must raise $22,000 by October 31 or it will stop taking new
requests on December 1, finish filling remaining care package requests
for the holidays, and cease operations December 31.

"It's a bad economy," says Storm Williams, the founder and webmaster.
"Times are tough for all non profits." Williams says they had an
aggressive fundraising campaign that started the first of 2008.
Corporations they had previously relied upon have been unable to
repeat their support this year. "By April, we received a stack of
letters that began with, 'we deeply regret not being able to donate
this year.'"

Starting in May, they tried again, managing to shrink a $53,000
deficit to $22,000 by September's end. They also asked for help from
deployed troops, sending them US flags to fly in Iraq and Afghanistan
to give as thank-you gifts for the more generous donors. "We are so
grateful," said David, one of the site's moderators trying to drum up
fundraising. "Soldiers and Marines have flown flags for us, sending
them back with certificates signed by their Commanders. It's an
activity we used to arrange for the members. It was a lot of fun, 2-3
times a year and most importantly, for free. Now it's just to

"Right now, we are just looking to get donations. The regular members
have been awesomely generous, but can only do so much." Williams
jokes, "BFS has always been in survival mode."

"We use our website. Soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and Coast
Guard make requests at www.booksforsoldiers.com. The site is
secure; we restrict access to those who've been approved to send

"With our financial difficulties, we've not been able to upgrade. The
member-approval process is still by hand from snail-mail applications.
We had hoped to hire a programmer to make the site more responsive.
We are pursuing a number of avenues for fundraising, looking forward
to 2009 and beyond, but there is the very real possibility we will
close in 2008." Williams concluded, "We're broke. Our parent
organization gave us an ultimatum to stand on our own in 2008. We
have not been able to do that yet."

Donations are gratefully accepted, either through PayPal on the site's
donation page ( http://booksforsoldiers.com/donate.php ), or by check
payable and mailed to

Books For Soldiers
2008 Fund Drive
116 Lowes Food Drive #123
Lewisville, NC 27023

More details can be found here, or by sending an email here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Poem for the IAG - by Steve Knutsson

I realize my life has run

A never ending course

From daylight’s bright expanding sun

To night’s astounding force

We are but folks subjected to

The daily whims and wits

Of those we seek to make anew

Our friends and daily hits

Our lives speed on incessantly

O’er life’s unbroken roads

We time our selves increasingly

To bear the added loads

A traveler I seek to be

In midnight sun so bright

Before the turning calendar

Turns daylight into night

Please pause with me on this fine day

To hold your friends quite near

And tell them things you’d never say

The things they’d want to hear

Weekly Update - October 4th

Kim McDougall at Blazing Trailers says "Preview the Book has announced it's new editor's picks and two Blazing Trailers creations made the cut!

The first book is Maybe We are Flamingos, by Sue Thurman and the second is The Little Man in the Map. I'm very excited about both of these! The second one is narrated by my daughter Genevieve!"

IAG member Jessica James had a very long account of a day in the life of a real authors at her blog.... It's not all skittles, beer and hovering personal assistants, people!

101 Uses for an Antique Tractor

(Courtesy of Al Past)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

This and That:

In this week's round-up of IAG author doings;

Dianne Salerni has posted her October Spotlight at her blog, here. This month, the focus is on horror, mystery and suspense. Check it out!

Nan Hawthorne has a recipe for King Alfred's bannocks at Author Cookies. Umm... and then there is an edible version, too.

Pauline Mantagna is inviting participation in her ezine, "The Romance of History"

And member Kim McDougall has opened a site for book trailers called "Blazing Trailers" - venture therein only if you have a couple of hundred hours to spare, looking at a computer screen...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Texiana - The Next Chapter

These last few weeks, I’ve been in the process of wrapping up the final loose ends of the Adelsverein Trilogy. The cover for it will be done when the cover artist comes back from vacation, and my prospective-hopeful-maybe employer is going over the final draft with a fine toothed comb. She edits for a living, to the very strictest standard, and asked me if I would let her do this – she loved reading “Truckee” but said there were a fair number of spacing errors and typos in it. So – the first two books are pretty well wrapped up, and I sent out most of a box of twenty of the first volume – Adelsverein: The Gathering as review copies to various websites and publications. (I will link to the reviews as they appear)

Time to think about the follow-up writing project – what to do next? Blondie, my daughter, wanted me to do something set in Ancient Rome. She had an idea about some characters, a family of jewelers in 2nd century Rome, and a children’s adventure set in 1st century Britain, about the children of a Druid who escape the massacre of the Druids on the Isle of Mona. I just couldn’t warm to either proposition. This writing thing, creating characters and a story, making it live so that other people get into it — you have to be into it yourself. It has to kick up a spark in you, one way or the other. It’s hard work, long and complicated and pulls a lot out of you. And it also helps to already have a lot of the required reference books on hand.

So, it’s back to the 19th century frontier. I had been kicking around the idea of going back and doing a sort of prequel about the early American settlers in Texas. I had alluded to some of the incidents and accidents involving the Becker family, and thought it might be interesting to do a book about Margaret Becker, who was a walk-on character, but with a fascinating story in her own right as a society hostess and entrepreneur. I also wanted to carry on the story of some of the Becker children, perhaps with involvement in some of the hairier range wars, like the Mason County Hoo Doo War. I did fear I might beat the franchise to death, or get into a boring rut… but there were so many angles and characters I wanted to explore, and if I had given in to that impulse as I was writing Adelsverein, it would have been several times longer.

The next project came into focus when the notion popped into my mind that I should also do a book and follow the adventures of another peripheral character in Adelsverein. I had made a passing reference to the fact that this person had gone to California with a herd of cattle during the Gold Rush, had stayed for a bit and then come back. Ah-ha! I had always wanted to write a picaresque adventure about the California Gold Rush, of following the trail, and of the whole great and gaudy Gold Rush experience, when Argonauts from the world over poured into California by ship, by wagon train, mule train and on foot.

So there it is – another trilogy; independent of Adelsverein but linked to it, focusing on certain minor characters which I have already created and know something about. Three different roads, three different searches; working title “The Western Trail Trilogy”. I’ve already done a couple of chapters on the first one, and begun reading a tall stack of books. Books about pre-Republic Texas, about the Gold Rush, about range wars and vigilantes… some of them that I can even take into work with me and sneak in a couple of pages between phone calls. So there it is – something to look forward to, when you have read all of Adelsverein. Which will be available in December, don’t forget.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Author Interview

Marsha Ward interviewed Jessica James on "Writer in the Pines" - the interview is here!
Jessica James wrote Shades of Grey, which I reviewed on Blogger News Network.

And if you scroll down, there is also another interview with Lloyd Lofthouse.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Recommended Link - The Publishing Contrarian

Lots of good comments here, from someone who has been around the publishing track quite a few times - Lynne Scanlon, the Publishing Contrarian.

Here, a couple of well-chosen paragraphs about cover design and from her archives, a few more about the virtues and benefits of well written and/or well chosen cover copy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

So..., You wanna write a book..

Chapter 55

So, You wanna write a book L

Writing is the easy part, Publication is easy as well. Editing until you are cross eyed, then promoting and marketing will kill you, unless your name is Tom Clancy of Military and Political thrillers, or Andy Hilstrand of Deadliest Catch fame J It is a mud hole you may want to consider more than once before you step off into it. I was convinced I could make it work and pay some bills that were coming due. Boy, was I ever wrong J

Publishers promise a lot that they may, most likely not, be able to deliver. Things like promotional assistance, helping you with a targeted readership, assistance in obtaining meaningful reviews from people who feed those reviews into organizations that provide exposure for your book, ad nauseum. It don’t work that way, not one tiny bit. A Publisher, who you pay to purchase their grand publishing package with all the frills, thrills, chills and minor vibrations you perceive you’ll need, have only been paid to establish themselves as another middle man, standing with their hand outstretched for further payment if and when one of your books sells on Amazon or any other bookstore affair. Lemme think, what does that do? It reduces YOUR royalty because everyone will be paid. Book printer, wholesaler, distributor, shipper, retailer, and then you.

By making yourself the book wholesaler, you cut the Publishing houses out of the loop. They don’t do much anyway. Of the “Special” Publicist/PR package I purchased from one Publishing house for my book, they spammed twenty two thousand plus Press releases to various groups, ranging from Radio and TV stations to Newspapers and Religious Publications. I received six requests for copies of my book for “possible” reviews. To date, only one person reviewed the book and posted it as a “customer” on my product description page in Amazon.com. It may have helped sales a little, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

To make yourself the wholesaler, simply do what Publishing houses do, go directly to outfits like Lightening Source. They actually print over a million books a month and are the largest in the United States. You could go to off shore printers, like those available in China or Korea, but I prefer to spend what little I have at home. You could also seek out an Offset Printer who can print a book for about a buck each, but minimum printing runs will have you buying a warehouse to store an inventory of about a bazillion tons of your book. No, POD is the answer for a small publisher/writer. Lightning Source does not help with distribution, but lists with Ingram, the largest book distribution firm in the United States, Walden, Amazon, Barnes and Noble as well as other retail outlets, feed on the Ingram listings.
This is particularly applicable to POD books. The books are only Printed On Demand so no warehousing or inventory problems.

There is somewhat of an advantage to going with a Publishing House. They step in and purchase the ISBN and Bar code all books must have for salability and listing. This is of course at a labor intensive(?) inflated rate then what you, as the author could accomplish with just a few strokes of the keyboard at your home computer. The International Serial Book Number is vended by a sole source. I have no idea where they are located, but do know your book must have one. It is printed on your book cover on the small white rectangle that contains the Bar Code. The code that reports sales and inventory on the check out scanners we have become familiar with. Bar Code? “Free,” if you choose your ISBN from the right source. Fifty five bucks. You probably pay in excess of three hundred dollars for the two in a Publishing Package with a Publishing House.

Let’s see, what else? Oh yeah, getting the book printed. It must be “formatted” after it is approved and edited. You can do the editing, but it will not count as a professional edit. Those you pay for by the word or page, both are very expensive. I have had book reviewers refuse to review my book because I short-changed my readership because I failed to pay a professional to edit my trash. All formatting is, would be converting your Word, Works or Apple generated book document into an Adobe Acrobat 8.0 PDF manuscript. Pretty simple with Acrobat Wizard, just highlight and click.

What else? Let’s see, Set Up fee of seventy five bucks. Plus an ISBN of $55 and that pesky Bar Code for free. Humm? Seems like I am missing something, Oh, yeah, the middlemen who make publishing so expensive. Well, we cut them all out.

An outfit like Lightning Source makes all their revenue printing books. A 300 page book will cost around five bucks when purchased from them. They will ship via Media Mail, the old Postal “Book Rate,” so that amounts to about .03% of the cover price of a $12.95 book (mine). My Publisher now, will only ship books via United Parcel Service and if a bookstore in Alaska wanted to carry it, shipping equals 29.65% of the cover price of my book. The Publisher sells it and receives 78.46%, which includes my royalty of 20% as well as paying for the printing. Adding the 78.46 and the 29.65, you see why a bricks and mortar bookstore cannot stock it. The price is printed on the cover and the cut all involved want is over 108% leaving our retailer holding the bag.

Now let’s talk about Trade Discount. An interesting industry phrase. Most default Trade Discounts are 20%. That will guarantee your book will never see the light of day on a book shelf in a retail outlet. Industry standard is 55%, some authors can squeak by at 40%. The 55% Trade Discount has some pitfalls. In that one is your royalty is smaller, another is the bookstore will have a “buy back” privilege. That is to say you incur the obligation to buy the book back from a retailer if the book is not sold after a reasonable set time. Think about that possible nightmare. A book chain like Walden may have over a thousand bricks and mortar retail outlets. Say they decide to stock your book and purchase at that 55% Trade Discount and they want 5 books at each store. That’s over five thousand books that you now carry as a potential liability. If they only move twenty or so percent in that specified period of time, time is money you know, you may end up buying your book back at the rate Walden paid, plus any shipping as well as paying for the shipping to have them sent where ever you want them to go. Sounds kinda glum don’t it J

Now for the “good” part of POD. There are hundreds of publishing outfits like BookSurge, Wheatmark, AuthorHouse, Outskirts, Joe’s Back Yard BBQ and Book Printing Company, WeDon’tShipMediaMailPrintingCompany.com and on and on. They assume all the risk, which is none, but you pay them handsomely to do it, just stay away from that 55% Trade Discount or they’ll get further into your pocket. By that I mean you will be required to pay the publisher an “insurance premium” of about four hundred dollars to buy unsold books from retailers. They see the spots and parts of the country that consistently move your book, you don’t ever have a clue, so it is easy to move those books to favorable sales places and you will never see a royalty, not a dime, as the books now belong to the publisher. This is fun, isn’t it? Book publishing is a racket, almost criminal, but just above that line. Any down the road revisions are expensive, so do the math and decide on the price YOU want, edit until you are cross eyed and drooling on the keyboard, DO NOT purchase a PR/Publicist Package as they are expensive and about as useful as boobs on a tree trunk.

If you go with an outfit like Lightning Source, it will cost you $55 for the ISBN and Bar Code, an additional $75 set up fee and I strongly suggest a $40 proof copy, then a $12 listing fee. So, for $142 you are in print, EXCEPT, you will need to engage a Graphics Design person to collaborate with concerning your book cover. The photographs you use to festoon the cover will be yours, ones you personally clicked the shutter or you will need a copyright release from the person who did. On the back cover there is room for your “hook.” A brief synopsis of what the book is about, make it as catchy as you can, this is what sells your book to the browsing public. An estimate here, that initial $142 and a Graphics Design person, the whole shootin’ match will cost about $400 to be submitted Print Ready. One last thing, a table of contents or index is not automatic. You will need to list your chapters, although you will have no idea the page number of each chapter, only the Shadow Knows J A couple other last things, you will have to select your book size, i.e. an 8.5 by 5.5 book or whatever choices you are offered. This tells LS the total pages of the book based on Word Count. Example, a 73,453 word book is 283 pages long in an 8.5 by 5.5 book, IIRC, that is what my dining room table leveler is J Damn, I gotta check my Dining Room floors again, anybody seen my laser level? One last thing, be certain you do the Prologue and copyright pages, just look at another book and plagiarize a suitable example with slight re wording to fit your book. Further, this affiant sayeth naught. Damn, I coulda been a lawyer J

Saturday, August 30, 2008

September IAG Spotlight Page

It's up, here, spotlighting historical fiction set in various locations around the world.

The spotlight is on IAG Members Lloyd Lofthouse, Juliet Waldron, Janet Elaine Smith, Peggy Ullman Bell, Melika Dannese Lux, Lee Cross, Jeffery Williams, Dianne Ascroft, Glenice Whitting and Pauline Montagna

Why Trampolines Are Dangerous

(Photo sent by AIG Member Al Past)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Just for Fun

(Sent to me by another IAG member - hey, we could all use a good laugh)

A Texas rancher got in his pickup and drove to a neighboring ranch and knocked at the door. A young boy, about 9, opened the door.
"Yer Dad home?' the rancher asked.
'No sir, he ain't,' the boy replied. 'He went into town."
"Well," said the rancher, 'is yer Mom here?'
"No, sir, she ain't here neither. She went into town with Dad."
"How about your brother, Howard? Is he here?"
"He went with Mom and Dad."

The rancher stood there for a few minutes, shifting from one foot to the other and mumbling to himself.
"Is there anything I can do fer ya?" the boy asked politely. "I knows where all the tools are, if you want to borry one. Or maybe I could take a message fer Dad."
"Well," said the rancher uncomfortably, "I really wanted to talk to yer Dad. It's about your brother, Howard, getting my daughter, Pearly Mae, pregnant."

The boy considered for a moment "You would have to talk to Pa about that," he finally conceded. "If it helps you any, I know that Pa charges $50 for the bull and $25 for the boar, but I really don't know how much he gets fer Howard."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Meditation on Robert E. Lee and the Spirit of Conciliation

(a guest post by IAG Member Barry Yelton)

As the country agonizes about war in the Middle East, the rise of hostile powers around the world, and the contentious political season, there is a powerful lesson from our history about the need for conciliation and coming together. The current political situation threatens to divide our country even more deeply than it was during the Vietnam era. We as a people need guidance. Our nation’s civil war provides many lessons about conciliation and the results of failing to reconcile. Possibly the greatest single positive example from that war was the life of Robert E. Lee.

For most Americans today, if they think of Lee at all, he was someone we read about in high school history. Perhaps we saw a portrait of him astride his horse, Traveler. To most, he is a figure from an ancient and hopelessly retrograde culture, who could not possibly have any relevance in the new millennium.

He was indeed a product of his time and his culture, a man who tolerated human slavery even as he deplored it. He led an army, which was the martial instrument of a racist and repressive society, though one which held itself to be civilized and indeed enlightened. While he did hold such a post, and certainly held it with incredible energy, creativity, and resolve; at the same time he was by all accounts kind-hearted, humble, and sincerely religious.

History itself seems mostly irrelevant to the vast majority today. “Why should we dwell on the past, when it is dead and gone? This is the Twenty First Century!” I would submit that history has exquisite relevance for this and any other generation. The people who passed before us with their combination of heroism and butchery, triumphs and foibles were, after all, made of the same stuff as you and I. The culture has changed, as have attitudes, but the human animal in most ways has not. We have the same desires, hopes, aspirations, and we all still have our prejudices, as much as we may protest to the contrary.

Lee, if he were alive today, I believe, would have a very different message from many of our contemporaries who like to wave the Confederate battle flag. Many of these “neo-Confederates” talk a lot about heritage and pride. However, the message on both sides of Confederate flag debates is divisive, and often sown with arrogance and resentment.

Lee was indeed a respecter of heritage, with a noble lineage and family ties to George Washington. His actions after the Civil War demonstrated, however, character of a type, which is very rare indeed. After a humiliating and devastating defeat, he refused to call out bands of diehards to fight a vengeful guerilla war in the mountains and backwoods of the South, as many of his subordinates and various firebrands remonstrated. He most certainly could have done that, and it would have divided the country to this day in a way, which would make what happened in Northern Ireland look like a Sunday School picnic.

Neither did Lee attempt to cash in on his name, which was venerated almost as deity in the South. One insurance company offered him $50,000 per year (a king’s ransom in 1865) to be its President. When he protested that he knew nothing about the insurance business, he was informed that he did not need to – they just wanted to use his name. To this, he quietly replied that his name was not for sale.

He also did not become bitter and lash out verbally at his former foes. Instead, he took the helm of the nearly defunct Washington College in Virginia and spent his last years in training the young to deal with the realities of the new United States of America, building what today is Washington and Lee University.

He urged his former soldiers to put aside hatreds and return to their farms and shops, and to rebuild the society, which had been destroyed, to put behind them the bloody and bitter struggle. He was a voice of conciliation and forgiveness. He neither said nor did anything to encourage the voices of discord. He put his Christian faith into practice under the most difficult of circumstances.

It is safe to assume that were Lee alive today, he would counsel the same in our society. He would encourage the races to be done with hatred, and to move on in harmony; to cease and desist from the continual one-upsmanship that pervades our social and political life today - to give more and demand less.

He was a man who subsumed his own selfish desires and ambitions to do his duty as he saw it. As war became imminent, he rejected the honor of leading the Union Army, which had all the advantages necessary for success, to cast his lot with his countrymen and kin in a dangerous and desperate struggle, because he could not lift his arm against his own. It is highly probably, given his considerable abilities, that had Lee accepted the command of the Union Army, the war would have been shortened by two years or more, and that Lee would occupy a place in history alongside Washington and Lincoln. Lee was no fool; he knew this very well. Still he chose what he believed to be his duty over self-promotion.

This is a key for Americans today. Our commercial and capitalist society, with all its advantages still encourages self-interest and greed at the expense of compassion and generosity. Our competitiveness tends to stifle the higher impulses to conciliation, which many consider a sign of weakness. In fact, it takes far greater strength to conciliate than to confront, to forgive than to hate. It is easy to show hatred and lack of compassion. It takes strength to reach out.

I believe we should learn from our past, take the best from history and from its protagonists, and use it to move humanity beyond the petty hatreds of race, class, or region. Having studied the life of General Lee, I believe there is very much about him which is truly exemplary, a pattern for modern man.

It is patently criminal that in our effort toward political correctness, we have virtually expunged his name from public school history books. Having said that, I can hear the naysayer’s chorus now. “He should have fought a defensive war...he had slaves...he alone was responsible for losing the war...he should have done this and he should have done that, etc.”

Intentional, malicious criticism of Lee is becoming sport among some so called scholars, as they sit on their duffs in their comfortable Monday morning quarterbacking chairs, whilst ensconced securely within their tenures. The vast majority of them could not lead a group in silent prayer; much less lead a rag tag army to immortality on the battlefield, as did Lee.

Spare me the jealous character assassination. The truth is that Lee was one of the best military commanders our country ever produced. More importantly, after the tragic and untimely death of Lincoln, and after the war was over, he did in fact do more to promote harmony in this country than anyone of that era.

We owe a supreme debt to him for that, not insipid criticism 135 years after the fact. Heroes are in short supply, we need to revere the greatest and learn from them, not excoriate them for their failures. Lee was far nobler than I, and he would have said to ignore the carping critics and move on with the work at hand. He would have said to build bridges, not entrenchments. He would have said to put duty above self. Now there is truly a lesson for today.

Just for Fun

For everyone who has ever fiddled around with fonts - this visualization is for you.
(link courtesy of IAG member Al Past, author of the Distant Cousin Trilogy.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Writing the Range

In a fit of boredom, as we flipped through the cable channels looking for something new and/or interesting, we stumbled across the Hallmark Channel. Hey, Hallmark – how bad could one of their movies be? – and wound up watching “The Trail to Hope Rose”. The premise interested us for about twenty minutes, and then we realized that although whatever book it might have been based upon may have been a very good read, the movie was a bit of a painful watch. We stuck it out, just to see if any of our predictions made in that first fifteen minutes came true. (They did – all but the kindly old ranch-owner who befriended the hero being killed by the villainous mine-owner. He didn’t… but he was deceased by the end of the final reel.) It was just a generic western: generic location, generic baddies, card-board cut-out characters and a box-car load of generic 19th century props from some vast Hollywood movie warehouse of props and costumes used for every western movie since Stagecoach, hauled out of storage and dusted off, yet again.

It wasn’t a bad movie, just a profoundly mediocre one. Careless gaffes abounded, from the heroine’s loose and flowing hair, her costumes with zippers down the back and labels in the neckline, and the presence of barbed wire in 1850, when it wouldn’t be available in the Western US for another twenty-five years, neat stacks of canned goods (?), some jarringly 20th century turns of phrase… and where the heck in the West in 1850 was there a hard-rock mine and a cattle ranch in close proximity? Not to mention a mine-owner oppressing his workers in the best Gilded Age fashion by charging them for lodgings, fire wood and groceries, as if he had been taking lessons from the owners of Appalachian coal mines. It was as if there was no other place of work within hundreds and hundreds of miles – again, I wondered just where the hell this story was set. It passed muster with some viewers as a perfectly good western, but to me, none of it rang true. Whoever produced it just pulled random details out of their hat – presumably a ten-gallon one – and flung them up there. Hey, 19th century, American West; it’s all good and all pretty much the same, right?

Me, I’ve been getting increasingly picky. Generic, once-upon-a-time in the west doesn’t satisfy me any more, not since I began writing about the frontier myself. It seems to me that to write something true, something authentic about the western experience – you have to do what the creators of “The Trail to Hope Rose” didn’t bother to do; and that was to be specific about time and place. The trans-Mississippi West changed drastically over the sixty or seventy years, from the time that Americans began settling in various small outposts, or traveling across it in large numbers. And the West was not some generic all-purpose little place, where cattle ranches could be found next to gold mines, next to an Army fort, next to a vista of red sandstone, with a Mexican cantina just around the corner. No, there were very specific and distinct places, as different as they could be and still be on the same continent. 1880’s Tombstone is as different from Gold Rush era Sacramento, which is different again from Abilene in the cattle-boom years, nothing like Salt Lake City when the Mormons first settled there… and which is different again from Laura Ingalls’ Wilder’s small-town De Smet… or any other place that I could name, between the Pacific Ocean and the Mississippi-Missouri. Having writers and movie-makers blend them all together into one big muddy mid-19th century blur does no one any favors as far as telling new stories.

Being specific as to time and place opens up all kinds of possible stories and details. Such specificity has the virtue of being authentic or at least plausible and sometimes are even cracking good stories because of their very unlikelihood. For example, Oscar Wilde did a lecture tour of western towns. If I remember correctly, the topic of his lecture was something to do with aesthetics and interior decoration, and he performed wearing the full black-velvet knickerbockers suit with white lace collars. He was a wild success in such wild and roaring places as Leadville, Colorado, possibly because he could drink any of his audience under the table. Anyway, my point is, once you have a time and a place, then you can deal with all the local characters and the visitors who came to that town at that time, have a better handle on the technology in play at the time. Was the town on the railway, who were the people running the respectable businesses – and the unrespectable ones? Who were the local characters, the bad hats and the good guys, the eccentrics and the freaks? What was the local industry, and for how long – and if not long, what replaced it and under what circumstances? What did the scenery out-side town look like? Even such details as what were the main buildings in town made of and what did they look like, over the years can be telling. Where did the locals get their food from? Their mail? Who did the laundry – even! What kind of story can a writer make of a progression from canvas tents over wooden frames, from log huts and sod huts, to fine frame buildings filled with furniture and fittings brought at great expense from the east. I had all those questions while watching this movie – and I’ll probably have pretty much the same, if I ever watch another one like it. It would have been so much a better movie if someone had given a bit more thought and taken a little more care.

Above all, if a writer can be specific with those underpinnings, of time and place and keep the story congruent within that framework – than it seems to me that you can tell any sort of story, and likely a much more interesting and entertaining one. As near as I can judge from some of the western discussion groups and blogs, like this one, writers are moving in that direction. Eventually movie producers may move in that direction as well – supposedly “Deadwood” makes long strides in re-visualizing a more specific west.

But they will absolutely, positively have to get rid of those costumes for women with the very visible zippers down the back.