Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Revelations



     Neil deGrasse Tyson is a man of faith.
     When I was flipping channels last week, I happened on Neil deGrasse Tyson in debate with a Jesuit priest over the difference between faith and science. At least that was the frame that Dr Tyson put on it. I wish I had a link to a clip of the show, but all my searches have turned up naught. If you have a link to the show, please leave it in a comment. Thank you.
     Anyway, Dr Tyson argued against faith and for science. Science, according to Dr Tyson, is based on evidence and reason. Faith, according to Dr Tyson, is based on assertion. Dr Tyson's argument boils down to show me the money!
     Don't get me wrong. I like Neil Tyson. I think he is affable, personable, and likable. He has accomplished much. And he makes strong arguments.
     When arguing science against faith, it is necessary to know what 'science' is. 'Science' comes from the Latin 'scientia', meaning knowledge. The American Heritage Dictionary defines science as --
1. a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena: new advances in science and technology. 
b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena: the science of astronomy. 
2. A systematic method or body of knowledge in a given area: the science of marketing
Notice there is nothing in that definition about a search for truth. Science is not about the search for truth. Science is about the quest for knowledge. Knowledge is that which makes our universe comprehensible.
     Dr Tyson argued in favor of science. The priest answered by saying there are two ways to seek knowledge: 1) by systematic discovery (science) and 2) by revelation.
     At that point, I had to leave, so I turned off the TV. But the priest's answer planted a germ of thought in my widdle head.

     Knowledge by science. Knowledge by revelation.

     I meditated and pondered on the priest's answer for days. I have reached the conclusion that almost all our knowledge is gained by revelation.
     Put aside God and a Higher Power and Holy Scriptures and the Bhagavad Gita and all that. Let us restrict ourselves to the subjects that are taught within the college of sciences at universities.
     How do you know the structure of DNA is a double helix?
     How do you know that a water molecule is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen?
     How do you know that the Earth orbits the Sun?

     You know these things by revelation.

     Someone told you these things, presented them to you as established facts.
     Someone revealed these things to you.
     Let's take the last question: How do you know that the Earth orbits the Sun? Can you yourself demonstrate this without resort to any authority; that is, books or astronomers.
     Unless you are an astronomer yourself, you cannot. Astronomers themselves could not do so until 300 years ago when the optical quality of telescopes improved enough to give them good resolution. And the proof was not trivial and depended on the eccentricity of the orbit of Mars.
     Most of what we know, we know by revelation. Someone else has made the observations and changed humankind's view of the world. We have faith that that someone gave a true and honest report. If he did not . . . well, we are well and truly screwed.
     Albert Einstein depended upon the accuracy and honesty of Albert Michelson and Edward Morley. Einstein took the results of their experiment at face value and from those crafted his Theories of Relativity.
     What if Michelson and Morley had not been honest? What if, through no fault of their own, their instruments were inaccurate? What if the transcription of the results was in error? There is an historical example of errors in transcription.
     Nicolaus Copernicus was hampered by the fact that the astronomical tables he used to build his model of our planetary system were, in fact, wrong. Errors had crept in when the books were copied. Because everyone used the same tables, nobody realized that they were wrong until Tycho Brahe ordered Johannes Kepler to confirm their accuracy. (I suspect Brahe gave Kepler the assignment to punish him with the execution of a menial task. It is certain Brahe did not know that the results of the task would revolutionize astronomy.) (Despite what Wikipedia says, Copernicus did not put the Sun at the center of the planetary system. He put it near the center, but even the Sun orbited the center of the Copernican system.) For an exposition of how humankind stumbled to its current understanding of who-orbits-what see The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and Down-and-Dirty-Mud-Wrassle.
     The fact is that you cannot eyeball the Sun's path across the sky and by that and that alone determine that the Earth orbits the Sun rather than the other way around. No. You need observations of planets taken over a period of years to an accuracy of four decimal places combined with a philosophy that prefers one all-encompassing rule to six partial ones.
     It is doable, but it ain't easy.
     Which is why Neil deGrasse Tyson is a man of faith. He has not done the observations and run the mathematics to show that a heliocentric model of our planetary system is preferable to a geocentric model. Someone told him it was so, and Dr Tyson believed him. Dr Tyson had faith.
     What if the guy was a self-serving liar? Or just had bad data?
     We live more by revelation than by science. It has always been so. It will always be so.
     As it was, is, and shall be, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The sky is falling: Amazon changes the way it pays on Kindle Unlimited.

     In case you missed it -- and the odds are you did -- Amazon changed the terms of its payout to authors with works in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL). For convenience, I shall refer to KU and KOLL together as KU.
     What was it before?
     Before, if a reader read more that 10% of a work -- in essence, the 'LOOK INSIDE' portion plus one more word -- that read qualified the work as a 'borrow'. Five readers read the same work past the 10% mark, that made for five borrows. For the author, each borrow earned a portion of the KU pie; that is, a portion of the monies that Amazon allocated from KU subscriptions to pay authors who entered into the KU arrangement. I shall steal from Brad Vance and call these monies BorrowBux.
     I and many others noticed that the Great and Powerful 'Zon did not distinguish among borrows. A borrow of my Skid Row 'Bots (14 pages) counted as much as a borrow of War and Peace (1,298 pages) (not to be confused with Warren Piece, about whom, the less said, the better). The Great and Powerful 'Zon had biased the game in favor of short stories. My reaction was to leave my short stories in KU and withdraw my novels. I got a feeling I'm not the only one.
     How much each borrow earned Amazon determined by dividing that month's BorrowBux by the total number of borrows of all titles enrolled in KU. Each month's BorrowBux amount has been significantly north of $10 million. The consensus among authors was that each borrow earned $1.33 to $1.35 depending on the month. A good deal for any work priced south of $2.99. A bad deal for any work priced at or north of there.
     The amount of monthly BorrowBux is noteworthy for a program that started July 2014 and costs $9.99 a month for each subscriber. Eyeball the numbers and you can see that Amazon has enrolled a million subscribers and then some.
     The question in my mind is whether the Great and Powerful 'Zon was satisfied with a million subscribers and then some. I'm thinking not.
     I'm thinking the Great and Powerful 'Zon wants to move that number up. I'm also thinking a library of short stories ain't gonna make that happen.

     I'm going to step off this logic carousel and catch it at another location. Fear not. I shall put all this together.

     Among KU authors . . . well, among some KU authors there is much crying and moaning and gnashing of teeth. 'Zon changes one thing and everyone loses their minds. "Why, the Great and Powerful 'Zon gave us only two weeks notice of the change! We can't change our business plan that fast! The Great and Powerful 'Zon shoulda woulda coulda given us six weeks notice. Then we would be able to adapt."
     Cry Me a River. 
     July 2014 KU was not there. August 2014 it was. You adapted. So did I. Adapt now or die.
     Me? I'm surprised Amazon futzed up KU with BorrowBux per borrows to begin with. From the beginning, everybody could see that pay-per-borrow skewed the game in favor of short stories. Why did 'Zon do it that way?
     Have you ever worked on a large, I mean truly large software project? I have. Did it deliver when scheduled?
     I think the Great and Powerful 'Zon wanted to launch KU to compete with Scribd and Oyster. The original design was to pay by pages read, the system KU will go to starting July 2015. But the Great and Powerful 'Zon could not get the software to work by the launch date. So the minions of the Great and Powerful 'Zon threw together this pay-by-the-borrow kluge which they could get to work by the launch date. And after it launched, the minions returned to work on the original design. Now that they have it working, the Great and Powerful 'Zon is taking it public. I think the Great and Powerful 'Zon wanted to make the switch yesterday, but that would have turned June into an accounting nightmare. Instead, 'Zon did the next best thing: first of next month.
     You get that, kiddies? The pay-by-the-borrow was a caterpillar. The pay-by-the-page is a butterfly. KU was never meant to be a caterpillar. It was always supposed to be a butterfly. The period from its inception to now was just chrysalis.

     Now another location on the logic carousel.

     The Great and Powerful 'Zon is seen by many and most to be solely concerned with its customers. "Customer first, last, and always." From this perspective, this move is incomprehensible.
     Some (Alan Tucker) say 'Zon changed to answer 'KU subscribers . . . complain[ts] about all the short trash that's been accumulating . . . in the KU pool'. Really? Show me the data.
     Besides, if that were true there are cheaper and more direct ways to clean out the trash. 'Short stories, outa the pool.' 'You must be this tall to ride this ride.'
     Or at the far end, 'Okay, you got a borrow. Your work is X pages long. You will be paid for X pages portion of the total number of borrow-pages as we -- the Great and Powerful 'Zon -- define the total.'
     I don't see how changing the way KU authors get paid directly improves the lot of the KU subscribers. I have strong doubts that 'Zon going to see a great flood of novel-length works entering into KU in July 2015. Looking at 'Zon's previous pattern of behavior, I have Herakles-strong doubts that such ideas cast even a shadow on 'Zon's thoughts.
    Why did the Great and Powerful 'Zon do this? Doing this now means change. Whenever change happens, some win and some lose. Win or lose, many gripe. (A side thought: This is the most remarkable thing about Apple. Apple changes crap all the time, and nobody gripes. Instead, they got fanboys camping out like they were buying tickets for the Rolling Stones Steel Wheelchair Tour, waiting in line to buy an iPhone 6. Man, if Apple could bottle that magic and sell it as perfume, they would drive Chanel out of business.)
     I'm just spitballing here, but I got a thought:
'Zon changed to pay-per-page-read because it's the right thing to do. 
     Who denies that that is fair? It's Truth, Justice, and the American Way!
     We have become so cynical that we mistake virtue for vice. Shame on us. (Yeah, I know, corporations cannot have virtue, but do not mistake for one second that the soul of the Great and Powerful 'Zon is Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos is a man, and men may have honor.)

     By now you have figured out that the Great and Powerful 'Zon means to pay you for each page read. That fee per page is going to be really, really tiny, so you need to get a lot of pages read to keep the money flowing your way. How do you do that?
     You could work your ass off trying to jigger the system.
     Or you could write the best story you know how and give it life. Put it in KU, don't put it in KU. What difference at this point does it make?
     Maybe it makes a difference.
     The consensus is that, in order to take advantage of the pay-for-page-read schema, you want to write page-turners. That means Chilton Publishing and their car-repair manuals are out of the picture. Oops! Chilton is out anyway because the company is dead. But while it was alive and kicking, besides giving me the info I needed to work on my Audi, it managed to publish two Hugo nominees and one Hugo and Nebula winner, Dune. (Rejected 88 times by conventional publishers, Frank Herbert had to turn to the publisher of frelling car-repair manuals to get his book into print. All you defenders of traditional publishers -- I'm looking right at you Mike Shatzkin -- suck it.)
     Who are the kurchatovium readers?
     They are the voracious ones, the ever-hungry. I bet they read two books or more a month, 'cause otherwise the subscription is not economic. They may read bestsellers, but they read more than just bestsellers.
     For KU, LitFic looks like a dead end. Who reads two books a month by Henry James anyway?
     Genre will be king. Romance will thrive; on the slow side, the readers of romance consume a book a week. Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers will do well. So will space opera and other scifi. And Fantasy.
     Maybe Westerns will stage a comeback.
     Erotica will earn its keep.

     Before I wrap this up, a word about how the Great and Powerful 'Zon counts pages.
     I use typesetter's count: 250 words to a page. Makes it easy to figure: 1,000 words = 4 pages.
     'Zon does not use typesetter's count. My count for Skid Row 'Bots is 14 pages. That is also 'Zon's count. But my count for Heart of Stone is 412 pages (novel) + 36 pages (bonus short story) + 5 pages (excerpt); 'Zon's count for everything is 307.
     As near as I can determine, 'Zon counts 325 words to a page. This is what I call editor's count 'cause that's the word count that Eric Flint, the senior editor at Baen Books, uses. It turns out to be the word count per page for mass market paperbacks.
     If you have a different estimate of 'Zon's word count, leave me a comment.

     That's it.
     Now you know
     1) how Amazon used to (and through this month, still does) figure each KU authors share of the BorrowBux;
     2) how Amazon is going to figure shares of BorrowBux;
     3) that Amazon always meant to pay this way but, you know, shyte happened;
     4) this is the right way to pay;
     5) that like as not, genre books will clean up with the changed schema; and
     6) that Amazon counts 325 words to a page.
     That's all folks!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Apostate 2.1




     I shall not comment on the 'outline' method in Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants! To do so, will be to give it all away. If you want to know, buy the book.
     Libbie's method is, to my mind, not an outline. It is a structured way to conceive a character-driven book. There are other ways, but Libbie's way is good.
     What I choose to write about this time is

Antagonist.

     "How do you determine your [main] character's key antagonist? His external goal will reveal the antagonist to you. The antagonist is always the person who is most heavily invested in achieving the same external goal." --Libbie Hawker, Take Off Your Pants! (LH, TOYP!) (italics in the original)

     I swallowed that whole for two seconds, but it came back up in a heartbeat. Counter-examples flooded into my mind. Within a few lines, Libbie contradicted herself.

     [In the book Lolita] "Humbert's goal is to possess Lolita. Lolita's goal is to achieve and maintain autonomy." --LH, TOYP!

     Humbert's goal is not the same as Lolita's goal. Libbie herself sees that:

     "The conflict between them is clear . . . ." --LH, TOYP!

     Your protagonist and your antagonist need not have the same goal. Likely they will not. But their goals must conflict and not a little. A lot. To the point that achievement of one precludes achievement of the other. Maybe to the point that achievement of one requires someone to die.

     Anyway, Libbie got me thinking. What makes the antagonist? Not an antagonist, but the antagonist.

     The antagonist is the one whose goal conflicts with and precludes the goal of the protagonist.

     Okay. What makes a 'good' antagonist?
     Let me think about this a little. Or maybe a lot.
     Start with the protag. I want a protag that the reader can identify with and empathize with. I want the reader to feel he walks in the protag's shoes as the story moves forward.
     How does that help me define the antag?
     I want an antag that the reader can also identify with and empathize with. I want the reader to think 'There  but for the grace of God go I.'
     My go-to source for examples of what works and what does not in fiction is  Stargate SG-1. I shall cite to it again and again in this post. I shall cite other works, too, but Stargate SG-1 provides on-the-nose examples of everything right and wrong with protags and antags.
     The first thing I can think of when I think about antags is that the antag has to want something. If the antag does not want something, who cares?
     SG-1 tried this to some degree with the Replicators. The Replicators debuted in Nemesis (season 3 episode 22). The Replicators want to consume everything in order to make more replicators. The protag does not want to be consumed. I think the conflict is simple. And thin. It does not generate a lot of complex relations. You destroy the Replicators or they destroy you.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with Replicators. Can you?
     Perhaps more to the point is the movie K2. It is a man-against-nature story. A bunch of guys scale K2. They deal (or not) with their interpersonal problems along the way but man-to-man interactions pale beside the struggle to stay alive. Who is their antag? The mountain. What does the mountain want? Nothing. And the film fell into a crevasse at the box office.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with a mountain. Can you?
     Or let's take Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea. Man against the Fates, with the Sea standing in for the Fates. Who identifies with the sea? No one. I read this once. Once was enough, Nobel or no.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with the sea. Can you?

     Thus --
     1) The antag must have a goal he strives for, and that goal must conflict with the protag's goal so much that the achievement of one precludes the achievement of the other.

     Is that enough?
     No.
     Even if all the members have the same goal, nobody can do antag by committee.
     SG-1 tried to do antag by committee with the Ori. The Ori first appeared in season 9 and by season 10 they succeeded in killing the show. For the same reason, Stargate Atlantis (SGA) started from the get-go with shackles on its feet. The antag in SGA was the Wraith, a race of beings who were, in essence, vampires. I never saw enough difference from one Wraith to another to distinguish the two. They were not separate beings. They were clones.
     Antag by committee did not work for SG-1 and did not work for SGA. Antag by committee does not work ever. I cannot identify with nor empathize with a committee. Can you? The antag can have minions who do his bidding -- Sauron in The Lord of the Rings had thousands -- but "in the end, there can be only one."
     Antagonist is singular, not plural.

     Thus --
     1) The antag must have a goal he strives for, and that goal must conflict with the protag's goal so much that the achievement of one precludes the achievement of the other; and
     2) The antag must be an individual, not a committee or a group.

     2001: A Space OdysseyColossus: The Forbin Project;  Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and Alan Dean FosterThe Mocking Program. What do these movies (and one book) have in common.
     The antag is a machine.
     In each case, the machine fails to satisfy as an antagonist. Have you heard of The Mocking Program? Did you enjoy Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Will you pay to see Colossus again? Even 2001 is not known for its antag but for its visuals. What did you feel when Dave overcame HAL? (BTW wanna know where HAL came from? For each letter in HAL, take the next letter in the alphabet. *;) winking) I was a kid when I saw 2001 and I felt nothing when Dave took out HAL. Not triumph, not excitement, not elation. Nothing.
     But wait, you say. What about The Terminator? you say.
     Good point. In fact, great point. Great point because the Terminator started with a human form and ended with a machine form. When it had human form, I identified with it when it busted up that biker bar. When the lights went out on the machine under that hydraulic press, what did I feel? Nothing.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with a machine. Can you?
     Which leads back to SG-1. In their native state, the Goa'uld are short extra-terrestrial rattlesnakes. In their native state, they are dangerous to each other and little more. But once one inhabits a host, he is dangerous to all the inhabits of the galaxy. The Goa'uld are The Puppet Masters. In appearance, the Goa'uld are no longer short extra-terrestrial rattlesnakes. In appearance, they are their hosts.
     SG-1 began its two-hour pilot with Apophis (Peter Williams), a Goa'uld system lord. Before the pilot was over, Apophis became the antagonist for SG-1 and remained so for two seasons. Yeah, during those two seasons, there were episodes in which Apophis did not appear (for examples, EmancipationCold Lazarus), but even when he did not appear his presence loomed over SG-1. I knew SG-1 would return to the fight against Apophis.
     Peter Williams's portrayal of Apophis was masterful. Handsome, charismatic, disdainful, powerful, and evil. He cared not at all for others. Do not underestimate the point that Apophis was handsome and charismatic. Given these traits, I saw why some would follow him. Peter Williams played a god and looked the part. He inhabited the role.
     Peter Williams made SG-1.

     I cannot identify with nor empathize with a short extra-terrestrial rattlesnake, but I can identify with and empathize with the inhabited host.
     We have a winner.

     Could SG-1's antag have been done differently?
     They tried. All other attempts failed. (That the writers tried other means after they succeeded with Apophis tells me that they were jackpot-lucky the first time. They did not know what they were doing or why it was working, so they did not know why they failed.)
     After the writers killed off Apophis, they tried antag by rotation: here a Goa'uld system lord, there a Goa'uld system lord, everywhere a Goa'uld system lord. Male and female they tried, skipping from one to another each week.
     Didn't work.
     Then they tried the faceless menace of Anubis. Even the Goa'uld feared him. Or so it was said. Me? What did I think? He was a faceless bogie-man in a hoodie.
     Didn't work.
     Screw him. I've faced scary things on the streets of Oakland.
     Once they tossed Anubis onto the trash pile of forgotten nemeses, the writers descended into the pointless insanity of faceless evil by committee, the Ori. I doubt that Apophis himself could have saved the show once it covered itself in that abomination.
     Didn't work.
     Farscape did much the same thing. When Crais defected to Moya I knew the show was dead. I just did not know how long it would take for the rot to become apparent.

     Thus --
     1) The antag must have a goal he strives for, and that goal must conflict with the protag's goal so much that the achievement of one precludes the achievement of the other;
     2) The antag must be an individual, not a committee or a group; and
     3) The antag must show a handsome human face. 

     This lays open the question 'Can the antag be a woman?' 
     SG-1 tried women as the antag time and again after they offed Apophis when they were doing the round-robin nemesis-of-the-week bit. 
     Didn't work. 
     I cannot think of a single franchise in which the antag was a woman. Star Wars, X-Men, Batman, Mission Impossible, Hannibal, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. Even when there was a woman baddie (Poison Ivy in Batman), she never carried the load of evil alone. There was always a male antag to share the load. 
     Protags are another story. Lots of women protags. But that's another post. 

     Thus endeth the reading from the Book of Antagonists According to Antares. 

Stay tuned.

Happy trails.


Links to the posts in this series:
Apostate 2.0
Apostate 1.4
Apostate 1.3
Apostate 1.2
Apostate 1.1
Apostate 1.0
Apostate 0.2
Apostate 0.1
Apostate

Links to the books:
Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better
Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants!

Links to the authors' websites:
Rachel Aaron
Libbie Hawker

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Apostate 2.0




     This post, I shall write about Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants!
     Like Rachel AaronLibbie Hawker has a construct with three legs.
     Rachel's three legs: 1) knowledge, 2) time, and 3) enthusiasm. According to Rachel, if I have these then I will write faster. I tried this and reported the results in Apostate 1.3. Yeah, it helped me write faster. Significantly faster.
     Libbie's three legs: 1) Character Arc, 2) Theme, and 3) Pacing. (Caps in the original.)
     According to Libbie, these three are the elements of an effective outline.
     When I read that, a sizable part of my brain said, "No."
     Note that plot is not included. She explains that by saying "[P]lot is not the same thing as story -- at least, not within the context of this book, or within the practice of outlining."
?
     To Libbie, story is all about 'character growth'. Just so's you know, growth means a change of attitude in a way that the author finds better. After all, Adolf Hitler changed over time, but the view of the majority now is that he changed for worse, not better. Helen Keller changed, too. She became a radical Socialist and supported Eugene Debs for president. Not just once. Many times. (Betcha didn't know that, didya?)
     Well, I read that and I thought, "Chick lit." Libbie's telling me not how to write faster but how to write chick lit. That's fine.
     But I don't write chick lit.
     Orson Scott Card says there are four kinds of stories and the mnemonic to remember them is MICE: 1) milieu, 2) idea, 3) character, and 4) event. All are present in a story, but one dominates. According to Libbie, character should dominate. Always.
     Nonsense.
     I just finished Patrice SarathGordath Wood. It is all about the milieu; that is, the world on the other side of the gordath. Maybe Patrice thinks it is about the characters, but it is not. How do I know that? Once the characters escape through the gordath, once they return to their world, the story is over. Any character change that happened was incidental to or directly driven  by the effort to return.
     OSC says that Lord of the Rings is a milieu story. Yeah, Frodo or Bilbo or Dildo or whatever-his-name-is undergoes some personal change, so some will say it is a character-driven story. There is a quest and lots of things happen, so some will say it is an event-driven story. But the story ends with the end of Middle Earth. It is a milieu-driven story.
     For the same reason, the Star Wars saga-in-six-parts is a milieu-driven story. The Empire rises; the Empire falls. And the story ends.
     Isaac AsimovSpell My Name with an S is an idea-driven story. The idea is that large consequences may follow from small events. The same idea drives Ray BradburyA Sound of Thunder. Once the idea is expounded, the story ends. Likewise, A Clockwork Orange is idea-driven.
     Now we come to character-driven stories.
     I expect that all of Libbie's works are character driven. All coming-of-age stories are character driven. Joe HaldemanAll My Sins Remembered is character-driven. The separate parts are event-driven, but the book as a whole traces the changes in Otto McGavin. I modeled Heart of Stone after AMSR, but I bet you cannot guess who is the character that changes. Character-driven movies abound: Stand by MeWhen Harry Met Sally..., and Dances with Wolves to name three. Make it four: Bull Durham.
     Last there are event-driven stories: guy lit. All the detective stories ever written are event-driven. Sherlock Holmes. Hercule Poirot. Nero Wolfe. Nick Charles. Peter Gunn. Jim Rockford. These characters never changed. They just found themselves thrown into threatening situations (events), and they figured out a way to succeed. Movies? Mission ImpossibleThe Fast and the FuriousThe Shawshank Redemption.
     It is clear to me that if I follow Libbie's three-legged construct, I shall be limited to character-driven stories. I don't want that.
     I will read further, but, as of this writing, I'm sticking with Rachel Aaron 's triad: knowledge, time, enthusiasm.
   
Stay tuned.

Happy trails.


Links to the posts in this series:
Apostate 1.4
Apostate 1.3
Apostate 1.2
Apostate 1.1
Apostate 1.0
Apostate 0.2
Apostate 0.1
Apostate

Links to the books:
Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better
Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants!

Links to the authors' websites:
Rachel Aaron
Libbie Hawker

Saturday, June 6, 2015

eBook Review: Beat the Last Drum redux




Thomas FlemingBeat the Last Drum: The Siege of Yorktown 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 3851 KB
    • Print Length: 278 pages
    • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
    • Publisher: New Word City, Inc.; 1 edition (February 26, 2015)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00U2MF8WG
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars (16 customer reviews)
    • Price: $2.99 

1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it. Have read it twice.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I enjoyed Beat the Last Drum the second time more than I did the first. IMO this is a superbly written history.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller coaster punctuated with walks in the park.
Outstanding value for the money. Easily worth ten times the price I paid.

2.2. What I did not like: Does not apply. First to last, it's good.

2.3. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.4. The work in a nutshell:
     TF gave his history immediacy with quotes from journals and letters written by American, French, and English generals and sergeants, too. He included letters from German troops pressed into service for England.
     At sea: The Comte de Grasse snuck the entire French fleet through the Bahamas straits to surprise the British at Chesapeake Bay. Admiral Graves thoroughly screwed up the Battle of the Capes; his rear squadron -- commanded by Hood -- never got into action because of the way Graves drew up the battle.
     Graves retreated to New York to repair his ships. The day his fleet returned to sea, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
     On land: Cornwallis's army staggered through Virginia. He kicked Continental butt whenever and wherever he engaged the army under the command of Lafayette. He pitched camp at Yorktown and Gloucester (on the north side of the river) and fortified his position to await supplies and reinforcements Clinton promised him.
     Cornwallis was secure in the knowledge that Washington's army possessed only field artillery -- 4-, 6-, and 12-pounder guns.
     But he was wrong.
     French Admiral de Barras brought heavy siege guns to America. Plus the Allies stripped guns from a frigate. For the first time since the siege of Boston, the Continental Army had all the artillery -- and ammo -- it wanted.
     The British maintained two large armies in America: Clinton's army in New York and Cornwallis's in Virginia. Washington spent the summer shadowing Clinton's forces in New York City. TF hints that Washington obsessed over New York because of his defeat there years before.
     In August, Washington decided to march south to confront Cornwallis. He was persuaded to choose that course because de Grasse's time on the American coast was limited, and Virginia was closer to the French naval base in the Caribbean than New York. The choice of Virginia gave Washington more time with naval support.
     Washington and Rochambeau marched south to join Lafayette and Steuben. The Allied army besieged Cornwallis and surprised him when their heavy guns opened fire. At one point, the Allies fired 150 rounds an hour for days on end. Yorktown ceased to exist. The Brits were living in holes dug into the ground. Their ships and boats in the harbor were sunk. 17 October 1781 Cornwallis opened negotiations for surrender. Two days later, the Redcoats and their German mercenaries marched out, stacked arms, and became prisoners of war.

2.5. Other: 
The personal side of Yorktown. 

The Americans: 
     George Washington: After Yorktown, GW returned to New York and continued to shadow the British army there. He also returned to the Sisyphean tasks of feeding, clothing, arming, and paying his army. 
     Lafayette: Lafayette held his commission from the Continental Congress and commanded American troops. He returned to France, fought for the revolutionists, and still spent a decade in a French prison. In 1824, he returned to the United States and was feted wherever he went. By law, Lafayette and his male descendants are American citizens. 
     John Laurens: Washington sent Laurens to France to get money by loan, gift, or graft. Laurens got most but not all the money. Washington sent Laurens to negotiate Cornwallis's surrender terms. Laurens had served under General Benjamin Lincoln when the Continental Army surrendered Charleston, SC, after a six-week siege and had marched out denied the honors of war. He denied them to Cornwallis. Laurens died in a small unit action the following year. Pity. 
     Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben: Steuben was known as a disciplinarian and exacting taskmaster, but the men in his command loved him, because he spent his own money to care for them. Unpaid by the Continental Congress, he sold his horse to finance a celebration dinner for French officers. He left the Continental Army in broken health and bankrupt. 


The British: 
     Charles Cornwallis: After Yorktown, Cornwallis fought two successful campaigns in India. Named the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and suppressed an Irish rebellion in 1798. Never lost a battle before Yorktown and never lost again. 
     Henry Clinton: Dithered away his time in New York City until it was too late to save Cornwallis. Wrote a 575-page book citing the Lando Calrissian defense, but King George III blamed him (rightly) for the loss of the thirteen colonies. Never held another command. 
     Thomas Graves: Never commanded another fleet but was second-in-command to Admiral Richard Howe at the Battle of the Glorious First of June. For his part in this battle, he was promoted to full admiral and elevated to the peerage. It is better to be lucky than good. 
     Samuel Hood: One of the few competent British naval officers who agreed to serve under John Montagu, the Earl of SandwichFirst Lord of the Admiralty. Served as second-in-command at the Battle of the Virginia Capes; his rear squadron never got into action. Despised Graves. Mentored Horatio Nelson when Nelson captained a frigate under his command. Nelson, Rodney, and Hood are the Trinity of British naval heroes. 
     Bartholomew James: First lieutenant of HM frigate Charon, at anchor in the river to support Cornwallis. Volunteered for a number of hazardous assignments, including command of a fire-ship and a scouting sloop. On land, successfully led a midshipman and 34 sailors to bring the last British battery back into action. Less than an hour after they fired their first shot, Allied counterbattery fire had dismounted or destroyed five of their six guns. Only James and his midshipman -- both wounded -- returned from the action. For this, he received the personal thanks of Cornwallis. Rose to the rank of rear admiral.

The French:
     Jacques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Comte de Barras: Carried heavy siege artillery to the Allied army at Yorktown and joined de Grasse in the blockade of Chesapeake Bay. Sailed with de Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes when the French fleet was decisively defeated by Rodney and Hood.
     Fran├žois-Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse: Brought his fleet through the Bahama straits to reach Chesapeake Bay. This surprised the British. Fought off Graves at the Battle of the Virginia Capes  Six months after defeating Graves, lost his fleet to Rodney and Hood at the Battle of the Saintes.
     Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau: Commanded the French expeditionary forces. Loaned money to Washington to keep the Continental Army going and still took orders from Washington. Those times when you think the French don't know how to fight, look up Rochambeau. A consummate soldier and gentleman.

     An observation I made that is not explicit in the book is that the men of Washington's Continental Army were better soldiers than the British or the French. They marched faster than the French: the Continental Army crossed the Hudson River in one day; their French counterpart -- of similar size -- needed four. They fought better than the French: in the assaults on the forward British redoubts at Yorktown, the Americans took their objective -- redoubt number ten -- at a cost of nine dead and twenty-five wounded; the French casualties taking redoubt number nine totaled forty-six dead and sixty-eight wounded.
     What made the difference?
     The French, obedient to orders, waited for their sappers to cut a breach before they entered the redoubt. The Americans had no patience for that and climbed the palisades individually. The effect was that the Americans were quicker into action.

     A table of casualties suffered at Yorktown from combat (Dead and Wounded) and disease:

Casualties Dead Wounded Disease
American 30 100
French 60 193
Total Allied 90 293 1,500




British 156 326 2,000


     This ration of 5:1 (disease:combat casualties) continued until the American Civil War and the institution of field sanitation and hygiene standards by the Union Army. The French sent officers to study these standards because, as a result of improved field sanitation, the Union Army suffered fewer losses in combat than the French Army did in peacetime bivouac.

     By the way, the militia were crap. Only at the Battle of Cowpens did militia acquit themselves. Militia can stand a post and raise an alarm, but they defend badly and they have not the discipline to assault an enemy.
     I bring this up only because Thomas Jefferson placed his faith in militia for the defense of the nation. It was a failed idea then and it is a failed idea now. Jefferson was an exceptional political propagandist, but on all matters military and naval, he was a table-top amateur who could not defeat a second-year ROTC cadet.
     The USA Reserves and the National Guard are not militia even if they are treated so by law. They are trained to regular army standards.

     05 September 1781 de Grasse defeated Graves's attempt to force Chesapeake Bay. Cornwallis was already encamped at Yorktown but not entrenched. The Allied army under Washington was just south of Philadelphia; likely it was on the north bank of the Delaware River, but whether it was east or west of the Schuylkill River, I do not know.
     Why Cornwallis sat there and waited until Washington invested his position, I do not know. Did he truly place his faith in the incompetent Clinton?

     There is a significant typo at location 2073. September 7 should be September 17.

YMMV.

2.6. Links: Thomas Fleming

2.7. Buy the book: Beat the Last Drum

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Apostate 1.4




     With some exceptions, I hate doctors. I am old enough that I know from bitter experience what diseases I get and what I don't get. For example, the flu.
     If I get the flu, I will be sick, sick, sick for three days. And then I will be well again. If I get a flu shot, I will be sick, sick, sick for three days. And then I will be well again. So why should I trade the chance of the flu for the certainty?
     Anyway, I was sick in May -- coughing, rivers of mucus, and brown sputum. The cause was all the drainage from allergies. I knew what it was. It was a bronchial infection. I have had it before. I can diagnose it myself.
     Unfortunately, I am not allowed to treat it myself. The treatment is simple: antihistamines and antibiotics. Were I in Mexico, I would stumble to a pharmacy and buy what I know from experience would remedy the infection.
     But no.
     As a result of the imputed wisdom of our legislators, I require a script written by some goon with a medical license to do for me what I am quite capable of doing for myself.
     My favorite doctor was Johnny Jeff Jerome. Hand to God, that was his name. He did FAA medicals for me back when I was a kid, before I went into the Air Force. I remember one consultation with him. His nurse called me and stuck me in one of those little examination rooms. She took my temperature and blood pressure and scratched the results in my file. She left. Less than five minutes later, Johnny came in.
     Johnny. "How are you?"
     Me. "I'm sick."
     Johnny. "What do you have."
     I told him.
     "Have you had it before?"
     "Yeah."
     "What did you take for it then?"
     I told him.
     "Did it work for you?"
     "Yeah."
     "Do you want it again?"
     "Yeah."
     Scratch, scratch, scratch. Tear. He handed me the script. "Good to see you. If this doesn't work, come back, and we'll try something else."
     He left. I left, went to a pharmacy, and traded the script for meds. Better in three days.
     Total time in consultation with Johnny Jeff, 1 minute. Total cost, $80.00. For the consult. Meds were extra.

      Things change. In May, I did not have a doctor with whom I had a relationship. My wife took me to a clinic. You know. One of those 24-hour jobs that have sprung up.
      We went in. The nurse took my temperature and blood pressure. In this clinic, the doctor had her examining table in her office. I went in. She looked at my file, slapped a spatula on my tongue, and proudly announced, "You have a common cold."
     At this point, I knew she was a quack. I have never had a cold in my life. Other people get colds. I don't. I don't know why I am immune to colds, but I am. My wife drags around with a cold from time to time, and I dote on her but still buzz merrily along, exacerbating her misery by my failure to produce so much as a sniffle. Same for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes don't like my taste and leave me alone, but they flock to my wife.
     I suffered through three days of misdiagnosis and failed meds before we returned to the clinic to a new doctor whom I bullied into a correct diagnosis -- acute bronchitis -- who then wrote me a script for the right things: antihistamines and antibiotics.
     I got better.

     Why am I telling you this? My health is of no interest to anyone but me.

     I tell you my health woes to tell you the reason the Apostate series is delayed. I have not written a word on my wip since this bronchial infection hit me.
     My bronchial infections are bacterial. They come with wet cough that is ripe with the infectious little devils. A few days of antibiotics and the little devils die.
     But they do not disappear.
     No.
     Their hideous microscopic corpses continue to contaminate my lungs. Now I have a dry cough as my lungs try to expel the dead bacteria.
     For those of you who have not had a persistent, frequent cough lasting weeks, I envy you. In truth, it is not the cough that bothers me. It is the fatigue.
     Coughing consumes a lot of energy. It is tiring. For weeks, I have slept tired and waked tired.
     In the midst of all this, I have forgotten almost everything I learned about writing faster through plotting. That is why I am not presenting you with Apostate 2.0 today. The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men / Gang aft agley, / An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, / For promis'd joy!
     My plan is to read Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants! and Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better again to refresh my memory. This pass, I shall read TOYP first. Then I shall write Apostate 2.0. And -- God willing -- I shall finish Navel of the Moon.

Stay tuned.

Happy trails.


Links to the posts in this series:
Apostate 1.3
Apostate 1.2
Apostate 1.1
Apostate 1.0
Apostate 0.2
Apostate 0.1
Apostate

Links to the books:
Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better
Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants!

Links to the authors' websites:
Rachel Aaron
Libbie Hawker

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ice

     For one week only, Ice. One view is that science fiction is the literature of 'what if'. This is such a story.
What if the laws of physics were not constant? 

     There are three references -- Easter Eggs -- to other science fiction works in this story. For each Easter Egg you find, please name the movie, TV show, or book it references in the comments. In each case, to the first to correctly identify the reference and include an eaddress in the comments, I shall send a copy of Heart of Stone. (Please tell me if you read on a Nook or a Kindle.) 



Ice


is gone. Come back next month. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Apostate 1.3




     What did I learn from Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better? Did it help me write faster?

     I learned that Rachel's method for writing faster and better stands on three legs: 1) knowledge, 2) time, and 3) enthusiasm. I learned that this works for me, too.

     Knowledge.
     Knowledge means knowing what you are going to write before you write it. Think of this as a map to get you from here to there. If you want to go someplace you have not gone before, do you strike out randomly or do you consult a map?
     Rachel called this an outline. My idea of outline is formal, and I cannot get that rigid structure out of my head. I use what I call story notes. For example, these are my story notes for the first chapter I will write today:

[--. 25Oct2012. J sends 4th installment to Deidre.
[26Oct2012. Friday. Jane's stitches removed at Hospital de las Mujeres. Maria acts as interpreter. Doctor impressed with how well foot healed; take pictures for Jane's medical file. Maria copies the medical file including pix. 

     These may be meaningless to you, but they are enough to prompt me to write 1,600 to 2,000 words.

     Time. 
     For me, this means tracking the time I spend editing and writing. And tracking my daily word count.
     Last installment -- Apostate 1.2 -- I inserted the part of my spreadsheet that tracked my editing and showed how I reduced my daily editing time from an hour to 20 minutes. To see it, click the link, 'cause bullying a readable spreadsheet into this blog is such a pain that I am not going to do it again.
     The purpose of tracking these things is to improve efficiency. It works for me. Yesterday I had the idea to write in bed. I set up my laptop on a little table and sat there propped up with comfy pillows around me. Word count for the day: 848. Before that I cranked out 1,600 words an hour.
     I won't write in bed anymore.

     Enthusiasm. 
     Stated in one sentence, are you excited about what you write?
     When I wrote Heart of Stone (see sidebar),  the passion for the book drove me to the keyboard and chained me there each day until darkness fell.
     You know what?
     I don't feel that burning passion for Navel of the Moon.
     Oh, I like it well enough. I think it is a good story. But it does not burn within me with the white hot passion of Heart of Stone.
     This may sound funny, but bear with me: As a pantser, I did not have enough enthusiasm to finish Navel of the Moon. As a plotter, I do.
     What I mean is that plotting moves me forward. That movement generates enthusiasm and that enthusiasm spurs more movement. With pantsing, enthusiasm generates movement. It is a chicken and egg dilemma. This one I solved by plotting.
     For me, the benefit is that it frees my subconscious to surprise me with little twists along the way. And sometimes big twists. Like the ending that hit me at lunch last Friday.

     Did it help me write faster? 
     Swapping pantsing for my interpretation of Rachel's method of plotting during April NaNoWriMo Camp changed my daily word count from 723 to 1,635.
     07 May 2015 I clocked 3,391 words in 5 hours.
     I need to write 1) to become consistent and 2) to reach my goal of 4,000 words a day. I have confidence both of those will come with time and practice.

     This is what I took from WF,WB. YMMV.

     Next time, Apostate 2.0.

Happy trails.


Links to the posts in this series:
Apostate 1.2
Apostate 1.1
Apostate 1.0
Apostate 0.2
Apostate 0.1
Apostate

Links to the books:
Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better
Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants!

Links to the authors' websites:
Rachel Aaron
Libbie Hawker

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Apostate 1.2




     I finished Libbie's book. That means the title of this post should be Apostate 2.0. Well, that's gonna have to wait, 'cause I still have things to write about from Rachel's book. Looks like at least this post and one more before I get to Apostate 2.0.

     In Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, Rachel mentioned the use of a spreadsheet to track her time: when she wrote (time of day), how long she wrote, and how many words she wrote each day. As I recall, she promised an example of the spreadsheet she used, but I never saw such.
     Sometimes just knowing a thing can be done spurs imitation.
     I knew Rachel used a spreadsheet for her purposes, so I constructed one for mine. Here is part of mine for the month of April:

Navel of the Moon


Editing

Date Start Stop Duration

2015Apr05




.




.




.




2015Apr21 <--started using technique from WF,WB
2015Apr22 06:25 07:23 00:58

2015Apr23

00:00

2015Apr24 14:30 14:56 00:26

2015Apr25

00:00

2015Apr26 18:11 18:27 00:16

2015Apr27 08:58 09:23 00:25

2015Apr28 14:15 14:28 00:13

2015Apr29 09:36 10:02 00:26

2015Apr30 07:14 07:31 00:17



     (FWIW getting this table into blogger was a huge pain in the ass. Well, getting it in wasn't, but getting it in in a readable form was.)
 
     Navel of the Moon is the name of the work.
     This post deals with editing. I got my editing technique from Stuart Woods (SW). Each day SW reads what he wrote the previous day and edits that. Then he writes new copy. I do the same. Makes for a clean first draft.
     I may post writing times later, but so far I have learned nothing from analysis of my writing times and durations. Rachel wrote that she had two months of data before she noticed anything. Maybe I expect too much from ten days of data.
     The first thing you may notice is that the entries from 2015Apr06 to 2015Apr20 are missing. I edited those out, because they all looked like 2015Apr05: nothing. Who wants to look at lots and lots of nothing?
     The times are in 24 hour clock. The durations are in hours and minutes.
   
     The first thing I noticed was how long I spent editing 2015Apr22: almost an hour. What you can measure, you can change. My average (mean) editing time for the last five days is under twenty minutes. I changed my editing habit. It is now more efficient.

     I see now that last time I promised to write about "clocking editing and writing." I've done that for editing with this post. On the writing side, there are three more columns to the right of the editing times. Substitute 'Writing' for 'Editing' and they look similar.
     One hiccup I ran into was how to deal with split writing times; for example, write from 07:00 to 07:45, break, and write again from 19:25 to 20:35. What to do with that?
     My solution was inelegant. I copied the first duration to the cell to the right, entered the times for the second period, and added the duration for the second period to the copy. Not precise, but close enough for government work.

     No output today because I spent the day editing Navel of the Moon from the beginning and building a complete timeline for the novel. Looks like those tasks will also consume tomorrow. In the end, these efforts will make for a tighter novel and a better read.
     The idea for the climactic scene hit me at lunch on Friday, and I whipped out my little yellow notebook and jotted furiously for about ten minutes. Scared hell out the other patrons in the restaurant.
     It's good. It's really good. And it ties up everything in a satisfying way.

     I've not decided if there will be an Apostate 1.3 or if I shall go straight to Apostate 2.0. Stay tuned and find out next time.

Happy trails.


Links to the posts in this series:
Apostate 1.1
Apostate 1.0
Apostate 0.2 
Apostate 0.1
Apostate

Links to the books:
Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better
Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants!

Links to the authors' websites:
Rachel Aaron
Libbie Hawker