Is it just me, or does this trailer make the air action seem a bit cartoony?

The excerpts also seem to distort a bit of the actual history, but we'll have to wait for the actual context.

Definitely a must-see.
A great play

And a shameless plug for a friend:

 Need a little laughter in your life? Who doesn't. Plan a summer night at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum to see the west coast premier of the quirky comedy, Rose Cottages. by Bill Bozzone.

The play, which runs from July 30 through October 2, is part of the theater's “Outdoors and Inspired” 2011 Summer Repertory Season.

More details here.
Bozzone's a talented playwright and screenwriter; if you're on the coast, check out the show.
The last train . . .

In the city the other night for some meetings, and I made the mistake of missing the next to last train home. Which meant I had to wait for the last train . . . two hours and forty minutes later.


Only one thing to do - pull out a cigar and the cell phone, and call everyone I know on the West Coast.

I didn't quite get through the entire list before it was time to go. If I missed you, sorry - I'll get you next week, probably.
Project Longhand

Today I started to input the book into the computer, even though I'm not completely done with the rough draft - or as I'm calling it, the "yellow draft," since it's written on yellow paper.

Writing this far longhand has been interesting, but I'm pretty sure I won't be doing it again, at least not this much. It certainly got me going, and I've written a bunch in a short amount of time. But I feel pretty far from the story. One area that has suffered is the organization of the chapters - they're different sizes because I had little to judge by as I worked. So that's going to have to be cleaned up when I revise. And then there are the additions and changes to the plot I want to make.

The experiment isn't ending - I'm taking it in a direction. I have Dragon Naturally Speaking on the computer, and I'm going to see how well it understands the book.

And me.
Project Longhand

All right, now I'm worried.

I have well over four hundred pages written longhand. I'm more than two-thirds through the plot points of the book.

But how long is that exactly? Am I almost done . . . or woefully short?

Ordinarily, I don't have to worry about length. Even though my books are in the 100,000+ word range, I generally don't have trouble filling the page count. If anything, I have to worry about going too long. (And they're always longer than I think they'll be, by the way.)

And there's another problem: I can't just give the editor the pile of yellow paper I've amassed. somehow I have to get it into the computer.

Which means what, exactly?
In the History aisle

If you're a "popular" writer, publishers - and readers - want to put you into an identifiable niche, something that makes it easy to find your books in a bookstore. Writers who want to write different kinds of books do so at their own peril (and sometimes that of their readers).

The aisle I supposedly fit in is "Thriller" or sometimes "Techno-Thriller" or even "Military Thriller." But bunches of my work can be found elsewhere in the store. (Hopefully.)

One of my favorite parts of the store is the historical section, where my Patriot Spy books first appeared. Admittedly, it's smaller and dustier place than many of the other niches, but it's also cozy and a lot of fun, especially when they break out the rum.

There's obviously a huge difference between the "skin" of a techno-thriller and that of an historical novel: the settings, the gear, the language . . . the list seems endless. But for me, the core of the books - entertaining adventures where the hero overcomes (many) obstacles - are actually very similar.

I wrote the Patriot Spy series because I was interested in history, the Revolutionary War, and the Hudson Valley (where much of that series is set). The series also gave me a chance to explore slightly different takes on narrative, with direct influences from the 18th century (give or take) works I'd long admired. (And studied in school, along with those physics classes.) But the main goal - for those books and every other novel I've ever written - wasn't to teach; it was to entertain. History is ammunition for a good and hopefully absorbing time.
The Patriot Spy's beginnings . . .

The first book in the Patriot Spy series is now available as a Kindle ebook here. (Iron Chain, also now available on Kindle, is actually book two. Book Three, The Golden Flask, will be available soon.)

A reader who'd read some of my other books once asked "How'd you get George Washington into a jet?"

RIP, Borders

I visited a terminally ill-friend last night. It was the first time ever that I've been in a bookstore and hoped not to find any of my books.

I ended up not looking for them, even avoiding the sections where I knew they would be. It was sad, walking down the well-stocked aisles: Every book in the store represents income a writer (and publisher) won't receive. While the impact at any one branch may not be large, multiply that across the country and the sums become staggering.

Much worse is the fact that one of the most important outlets between authors and readers will be gone, once the dust settles on the liquidation sales. While other markets will undoubtedly take up some of the slack, ultimately less places selling books means less books sold. Anyone who believes books and reading are important, has to think that the demise of the company - which was not at all preordained by technological changes - hurts us all.

The worst irony is that the chain helped pressure many small bookstores, putting them out of business and weakening the entire ecosystem before succumbing itself. The mall store I went to - roughly a half-hour away - was one reason the small shop in my village closed a few years back.*

The local Borders (not the one in the photo, btw) was not crowded when I went in, though as usual it was busier than any of place in the mall. I felt sorry for the workers, who were all cheerful despite the impending ax.

As I was leaving, I felt a sudden impulse to go back and grab my own works off the shelves, take them up to the register, and pay full price for them. It might have felt as I was striking one last blow for books in general.

But then I realized that neither I nor my publisher were likely to be paid for those books. The only people I'd be helping were the executives who'd presided over the bankruptcy. They already had taken my money, in effect; no sense giving them any more.

* That store was NOT Merritt Books, which remains my favorite local bookstore, and one everyone should visit.
The Italian connection . . .

Apropos of The Iron Chain, a lot of people have pointed out the connection (deliberate, honest) to 18th century classics, especially books by Fielding, et al. One thing that hasn't come up is the influence of Manzoni, specifically in I Promessi Sposi, or The Betrothed.

Which is fine, really, because who expects an Italian novel from the 19th century to influence someone writing in the very late 20th century about 18th century America.

But I actually read Sposi in high school before reading Fielding, whom I met in college. (Yes, in Italian and English - and yes, I'm sure I did much better in English.) And while I love Fielding, I think Manzoni prepared me for him.

The connection is not in the plot, but rather in the way the stock characters are used as part of the narrative strategy.

I'll stop now before I get really boring. You don't need to know ANY of the influences before reading the book, not even the actual historical events or people that are embedded in it. But then, reading and writing the book are always pretty radically different experiences.

p.s.: you can get the Kindle edition of Iron Chain here.
Close encounters

The Blue Angels demonstrate how it's done.
Where we were today

Not in this boat, but everything else is accurate. From a fictional point of view.

(Great speedboat, by the way. And in exceptional shape.)
Start your Revolution . . .

. . . or continue it: The Iron Chain, Book 2 in the Patriot Spy series, is now available on-line for Kindle. You can get it here.

And, if you missed Book 1, that's here.

(As an aside, I was recently looking at the prices collectors are getting for the original paperbacks (in excellent, unread condition) and was blown away - if I had only saved a case of them . . .)
Project Longhand

Fresh ammo.

What makes a good editor?

Almost Famous Writer called me up the other day, and for one of the few times ever we started talking about writing.* Specifically, the role and importance of editors. And what makes a good one.

Now as I often tell people, no writer worth buying a beer for at the bar will actually admit that he needs an editor, or even that an editor improved a manuscript. Oh, a writer will say that when there are editors in the audience, especially at a convention or some such. But that's just because we're expected to, like an Academy Awards winner is expected to thank his mom and third grade teacher. Agents definitely encourage it, because it increases the chances of getting a new contract.

But the truth is - gasp - an editor can help a writer improve a manuscript. In fact, not just good editors. I would say that I've probably learned more about writing from bad editors - of whom I've had more than a few - than from good ones. And I say that as someone who, in the distant, much forgotten past, was an editor himself. (Not of books, with a couple of minor exceptions. Yes, I often think now that I am paying for my own past sins.)

But it's much easier for a book to get better if a good editor is working with you.

What makes a good editor? You would think that would be an easy question to answer, but our conversation abruptly died when we began considering it.

Certainly, editing is as personal as writing. And because of that, certain editors will work best with certain writers, and on certain works. Still, I think there are general principles or qualities common to all good editors.

The first is a concern and attention to work on its terms - they see the book not as what they would write, or even what might have been written under other circumstances, but for what it is trying to do. Now I know that sounds a bit, uh, artsy, especially coming from a "working writer" - aka commercial writer, aka someone who writes for the mass market, aka someone who cares (and has to care) about sales. But I still think it's a fair assessment: a book is first a piece of art, and therefore has its own soul as well as body, and must be treated with respect. To be effective, an editor must perceive that soul - must see what the book is about and trying to achieve - before he can do anything else.

This isn't as easy as it sounds. For one thing, it requires time - which most editors today don't have a lot of. It also requires an ability to put one's own ego aside - probably easier for editors than writers, admittedly, but still not an easy task.

The second thing a good editor requires is an ability to communicate his points and perceptions in very brief but overarching ways. He needs to be able to see the common thread that runs through a number of missteps by the author, diagnose the problem, and then communicate them in the fewest sentences possible. Why? Because if his notes concentrate too much on individual points, the writer will very likely lose the forest for the trees. And I think that generally, it's the orientation of the forest that is the problem; if a writer is planting trees in the wrong place, it's because he's lost his map to that bit of the forest. Cutting down a few saplings here and there while planting others will not necessarily make the forest any better if he can't find the map; indeed, it often makes it worse.

There's also the very real danger of the writer simply getting exhausted pruning those trees, or rolling his eyes when he sees how many are marked for replanting. This may be a personal preference, but in my experience the best fiction editors I've ever had provided a relatively small amount of notes, but each went to the core of the work. And I should say that a small amount of notes can lead to very many, many changes.

An editor's enthusiasm for the work is certainly useful and welcome, but by itself is not necessarily going to help you make it better. One of the worst muddles I ever fell into happened precisely because of the editor's (and my) enthusiasm for a work . . . but that's another story.

It probably goes without say that an editor should have a decent amount of respect for the writer, or at least fake it pretty well. This doesn't mean that he editor completely agrees with everything the writer does or even pretends to. On the contrary, it seems to me respect demands honest disagreement, and at times even brutal criticism. "This is the worst piece of horseshit anyone has written in the past five hundred years" may be going a bit too far, but it's preferable to the sentence "Perfect! a perfect novel!" when that sentence introduces a fifty page edit letter proving exactly the opposite.

There are other qualifications for a good editor, I think, but our conversation was cut short by more pressing matters. Perhaps we'll return to it in the future.

(I used the masculine pronoun throughout this, but let me acknowledge that I have had some excellent women editors. There are definite differences in the way women editors interact with writers - or at least with me - but those differences have not made them better or worse than their male counterparts. At least not that I could tell.)

* As opposed to bitching and moaning about various industry injustices and the elimination of good cigar bars in NY. This we talk about all the time.

Women to the Cup finals after another great game.
Project Longhand

. . . from the other side.

Capital Conquest

Speaking of the game, today the team officially announced the online multiplayer module that will allow players to choose up sides in air battles to protect different capitals.

I've always thought the on-line version could end up one of the most popular parts of the game. There are still a lot of details to be worked out, but the overall concept is pretty exciting.

By the way, if you read Japanese (or know someone who does), there are details of the official release at the Japanese site (rendered here in English):

(Just a heads-up: A bunch of graphics load in when you go to that page.)

Paris happens to be one of the capitals that players can protect. There's a bit more to that story, but we'll get into  it down the road.
Getting my clock cleaned

I was in the city the other day helping do a little advance publicity for the game, and got a chance to play the demos for the first time.

It's an interesting experience seeing things you've imagined now put into pixels, but that's another topic all together.

At first when I was playing the game, I fooled around, deliberately pushing some of the dynamics. But after a while, I actually started trying to "win" - and got my butt kicked.

I may have to demand a "Jim mode" from now on . . .

p.s.: The game will have a beginner mode - and a classic mode for accomplished gamers. One of the very important goals from the very beginning was to a) honor long-time players with a version that lives up to the legacy and b) expand the audience by welcoming newcomers. Tough goal, and one that still has the team working very late, but I think it will be achieved by launch.
Going solar . . .

Item in the Times:

When Ed and Paula Antonio moved from a small home in Marine Park, Brooklyn, to a roughly 3,000-square-foot house in Belle Harbor, Queens, they realized that with all that space and a central air-conditioning system, their electricity costs would run much higher. So after intensive research and analysis and the bids of five contractors, they paid $72,000 to install 42 solar panels on their new roof.

Story here. (The story unfortunately does not factor maintenance costs into the equation, which can be considerable but are almost never mentioned. In this specific case, the cost to the homeowners nets out to $10,000, which sounds extremely low, but I'll trust the reporter for discussion purposes.)

Think abut that cost. Even in NYC, the payback (without credits and tax breaks) is . . . impossible to achieve.

While I think individual decentralize solar such as that explored in the article is part of the solution, a much better approach is to replace fossil fuel plants (including natural gas) with centralized solar energy plants, specifically those harvesting energy from space and beaming it to earth.

One such system is the "star" of my next book, The Helios Conspiracy, due out next year. Shameless self-promotion aside, it is possible to solve our energy requirements for a reasonable investment, if we can think slightly out of the box.

It's just the words that are wrong  . . .

I was in the city last night for ITW's annual Thrillerfest Awards Dinner and some of the parties that followed.  R.L. Stine of Goosebumps, et al, fame, was the main honoree, and was his usual witty and unassuming self.

Even a mega-bestselling writer like Stine can have an interesting relationship with his editors.

"I got one manuscript back," he told the audience, "with the comment on the front - 'This is a great manuscript. It's just the words that are wrong.' "

The editor, by the way, was at her table nodding and laughing, so it seems to have been a true story - you can never tell with a fiction writer.
Doing right . . .

Christian Lopez caught Derek Jeter's 3,000 hit.

Considering that Christian Lopez had just secured a priceless piece of Major League Baseball history, the Yankees had one question for him: What do you want?
Lopez barely thought about it before doing the unthinkable.
Instead of asking Jeter for millions of dollars or saying he was going to put the ball up for auction, Lopez decided he was just going to hand it over to one of his baseball heroes.
"Mr. Jeter deserved it. I'm not gonna take it away from him," Christian Lopez said. "Money's cool and all, but I'm 23 years old, I've got a lot of time to make that. It was never about the money, it was about the milestone."

As amazing as Jeter's performance was Saturday, Lopez's speaks just as eloquently.
Equal time . . .

. . . for Sikorsky.
The next big AH concept . . .

Cross this with an MH-60, stick a few Hellfires on the winglets . . .
On the future of publishing

Attorney Lloyd Jassin:

Commercial publishing is doomed if the price of new books continues to fall and Amazon or Google launches a viable cloud service.  And, prices will fall. Printing and publishing are no longer synonomous. Digital publishing has sharply reduced the capital investment required to be a publisher. As such, the perceived value of a digital file is near zero. At some point even free may seem like a lot of money. Cheap prices devalues literature. That's what the remarkable -- and successful -- campaign to adopt agency pricing was about. 

Read the whole article on Lloyd's website here, or here:

Copylaw: How the Cloud, Expensive Hardcovers, Free eBooks &...: "Victorian Publishing May Hold the Key to Solving the Digital Book Crisis By Lloyd Jassin ..."

Got my first royalty check from Amazon for a Kindle ebook the other day. Total: $33.25.

Time to quit my day job . . . oh this is my day job????

* * *

A sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who buys my books. I deeply appreciate it, and would thank you in person if I could.

Just because it's Friday.
Project Longhand

Writing longhand - with pen and paper, no computer - requires an entirely different way of thinking about what I'm doing.

I suppose that's an exaggeration - obviously, I still think about characters and plot and setting and all the rest of that good stuff. But it's much more linear. By that I mean that it's very difficult to go back and change things, certainly in "real" time.

While I've always thought that I write a first draft completely before revising, it turns out that I actually make a lot of changes as I go along. These are generally "small" things - inserting little elements that will come up in the plot later, changing a weapon, etc. But all these little things actually add up.

Writing longhand kind of feels like I'm writing without a net. Now I realize I will revise - and type - at some point, but for now, it's all heads-down and charge ahead.
Saved from the boneyard

A great old aircraft finds a home.
Project Longhand

What started as a jumpstart has turned into . . . either an obsession or an experiment. In any event, I'm still writing this book longhand. It is a very, very strange experience - so strange I'm taking vitamins to keep up my strength.

I'm not sure how good any of this is, but I am killing a lot of pens. . .

There's now a public Twitter account: @jimdefelice

There are buttons here and on the website, if you care to subscribe. Tweets will be light.

I'm spending all day tomorrow in "press availabilities" for Assault Horizon. Maybe I'll Tweet from there; we'll see how it goes...
Bone beauty 

Following up on the post a few days ago, here's an image of a B-58 today. Even in death, her skeleton hints at beauty.

There's more to this boneyard, and a story about "Snoopy," the aircraft in the picture. Check out the Check-Six website: Snoopy's on this page. The main "entrance" to this fantastic collection of aviation history is here.
Coming soon . . .

. . .  to a Kindle near you.
NYC (in)justice

From the NYT (Vance is Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan DA):

As the interview began, but before Mr. Vance was asked a question, he offered an unsolicited defense — not just of the Strauss-Kahn case, but of his overall stewardship. “Ultimately,” he said, “the success of a D.A.’s office, and of a D.A., is measured not in individual cases, but over time.”
“The cases you don’t read about,” he added, “define what the job of a D.A. really is.”
If New Yorkers want to judge Vance on cases they don't read about, here's one:

Couple of months ago a friend of mine was hit by a car on the street while he was guiding somebody else into a parking spot. He wasn't hit hard, or at least not hard enough to shut him up, since he commenced telling the driver what he thought of that particular maneuver. The driver's response was to get out of the car and start swinging.

Police were called; the driver took off. My friend's foot had been messed up and he ended up in the hospital.

The way these things usually go is - the cops show up hours later, reports are filed, and NY being NY, nothing is ever heard from anyone again. But in this case, the police were able to track the driver down and he ended up being charged with some sort of assault. Impressive work in an extremely minor case.

Story closed, right?

No. Months later, my friend gets a call from the local detective, who tells him he needs to turn himself in at the station house. He's being charged with assault.

Excuse me?

Since the police weren't at the "fight," the DA insists that both parties be charged with assault, says the cop.

What fight, says my friend. I got run over, then beat up.

Yeah, it's real bullshit, answers the cop. They're using you to teach us a lesson.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But that's how the Manhattan DA and his office operate every day in NY. Don't judge Vance by the high profile cases his office blows - judge him by the little crap he pulls that really shows how out of control he and his office are.

(The case has been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, which itself is bs. Even though it's likely to disappear, he's still out a few days of work because the DA thinks that if you get run over and beat up, you oughta go to jail.)
Evacuation Day

July 4 has always been celebrated as a major holiday, especially in the original colonies/states. But back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, another day commemorating the Revolution was almost as popular, at least in New York: Evacuation Day.

Evacuation Day - November 25, 1783 - was the day that the Brits finally left New York City. They had occupied it since 1776, remaining an impenetrable thorn in the side of the Revolution until the very end.

According to an article in the New York Archives magazine (an historical journal), a woman named Mrs. Day bopped a British officer in the nose with her broom when he tried ordering her to take down the American flag on the day the Redcoats left. It was, the journal author notes, "the only violent exchange of the day."

The holiday was a great excuse for a late-fall party until after the Civil War, when its popularity quickly faded. It's not exactly clear why - New Yorkers will take any excuse to party, after all - but Evacuation Day's decline came right around the same time that Thanksgiving became enshrined as one of the nation's great holidays. (Lincoln's proclamation establishing the last Thursday of November - which some years would be November 25 - was issued in 1863. Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 26 that year.)

I have my own theory on its demise: it's much more fun to sit outside and set off fireworks in the middle of the summer than late fall. So I think I'll stick with July 4.
Bradley's Fourth

On July 4, 1944, the Allies had been ashore for several weeks, but things were still very much undecided -- the breakout, Cobra, was weeks away, and the overall strategy was still geared toward the original plan of a breakthrough at Caen, Monty's section. (The city was still in German hands, despite the fact Monty's goal of taking it on D-Day.)

Still, the Americans planned a special celebration.

From Chet Hansen's diary:

It was Bert Brandt’s idea last night to take Generals Ike and Brad  to artillery position where pic[ture] could be made for press of the generals ticking off guns on the 4th of July celebration they had arranged for [a 1600 gun salute at noon]. … Drove to the artillery positions down in 29th Division sector on the road to St. Lo. …Someone had tipped [a battery of cameramen] off and there were cameras everywhere with newsreels set up from every position. Surprised to find this display, Brandt was angry, though he did not indicate it to the general. Bradley took the lanyard when Ike demurred because all cameramen had not been notified and he was scared of exclusive. Brad grabbed cord, “Well, this is our only celebration for the Fourth.”
For more from the diary, go to my website:

*Hansen was Bradley's aide, and an invaluable witness to the war.
Form and function, elegantly joined

Robert Widmer, the aeronautical genius primarily responsible for the B-58 (and other Cold War aircraft) passed away recently in Texas. The sleek and silvery Hustler was the most artistic dealer of death since the lightning bolt.

You can read about some of his achievements here and here

Sometimes, the universe just laughs . . .


GENEVA (AP) — North Korea has assumed the rotating presidency of the world's top disarmament body for four weeks.

The official U.S. reaction is pretty accurate, intentionally or not:

Spokesman David Kennedy said as far as the United States was concerned "it's business as usual."
Grammatically together

Overheard: A discussion on subject-predicate agreement:

He: Why would you have "the pair of cats is sitting" but then "the pair of cats were sitting"?
She: Because in between they had a fight?*

* The rule they teach you in grammar school is that the collective noun takes a singular verb. But the real rule has to do with the sense of the sentence - if the writer wants to emphasize the cats rather than the fact that they're a pair, the plural verb is correct.