Writing in 1st person - a lesson

I don’t teach writing – different skill set, really – but if I did, I think I’d use the first chapter of Bang The Drum Slowly as an example of how to create an effective first person character.

Author Mark Harris manages a world of miracles in that first chapter, and does so on the sly. First and foremost, he gives us the main character, Henry “Author” Wiggen and his distinctive voice, introducing us to Wiggen’s colorful vernacular, which he uses to lend authenticity throughout the work.  Then, as in many contemporary novels, he essentially tells us the nature of the book – to simplify, it’s a buddy book – and its specific world – baseball. (He also plugs the earlier book where Wiggen appears, something I’m sure the marketing people would appreciate. You don’t have to read that book – The Southpaw – to appreciate Drum.)

Most masterful, though, is his use of a very small incident – a temptation with a stewardess – to illuminate Wiggen's character. The scene is so deftly handled that it seems almost like a throwaway bit – yet once the reader accepts it, he or she is willing to accept what in reality is a much bigger leap in the character’s actions, namely his decision to take his friend and sometime catcher Bruce under his wing.

The work is fiction, but the techniques also apply, to some extent at least, to narrative nonfiction.

Great read. It's a masterpiece of technique in a popular novel form. Enhanced if you like baseball, but that’s not a necessity, I think.

(The cover here is by the great illustrator, George Salter. You can see more of his works here.)
Spirit(s) of 1776

THE Marylanders’ story is among the more underappreciated chapters of the Revolutionary War. Vastly outnumbered, they launched a series of counterattacks that stymied rapidly advancing British forces, enabling thousands of American soldiers to evade encirclement and certain death or capture. Had the British not been checked, it is possible that the Continental Army would have been smashed, forcing Washington to surrender and effectively bringing the war to an abrupt, inglorious end. “These soldiers saved the Revolution,” Mr. Furman maintains.

Though little known, the (losing) battle in Brooklyn helped Washington retreat and save the bulk of his army. The Americans were vastly outnumbered and probably betrayed, but their courage was essential to the Revolution.

Some historians believe they know where the remains of the soldiers are buried, but getting proof will be difficult. New York played a major role in the Revolution, though today few know about it.

 Details in this NY Times story.

Neil Armstrong, remembered . . .

Still one of mankind's greatest moments ever - and no steroids here.

One story (of millions).
Still taking the long way . . .

. . . and never kissing the asses they tell you to.
You want big?

I have sledgehammers lighter than this gun. Hell, I have sledgehammers lighter than the bullet.
Britain's new frigate . . .

. . . er, "global combat ship." More details here.

Is it just me, or does that look like a large salt shaker aft of the bridge?


Some writers take a hard line:

It hurts to be criticized, and there is exhilaration in firing back, sometimes literally. The novelist Richard Ford, after a dismissive review from Alice Hoffman in The New York Times Book Review in 1986, shot bullets through one of her novels and mailed the mutilated thing to her. “My wife shot it first,” he reportedly said. Years later he spat in public upon the novelist Colson Whitehead, who had harshly reviewed another of his books. Afterward Whitehead commented, “This wasn’t the first time some old coot had drooled on me, and it probably won’t be the last.”

Article. I can honestly say, I've never shot anyone's books but my own.

Speaking of autonomous drones . . .

Another story, this one from Popular Science:


(Hat tip to David Tehranche posting on the Old Pooners Group on Facebook; I hadn't seen the article myself.)
Greed takes precedence . . .

. . . over international security. Or, why let a little nuclear war get in the way of making a few million dollars?

"You f---ing Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we're not going to deal with Iranians?!"
- Head of British bank, Standard Chartered, accused of helping Iran transfer money (and, indirectly, fund its nuke program).

Autonomous drones . . .

One of the issues in the next Dreamland, due out later this year . . .
Marching on . . .

Raven Strike, one of our earliest Dreamland books, made a showing on the best-seller list this week over at Barnes & Noble, and the information led me to a shocking realization: I’ve been working on that series for over a decade.

How quickly time, and words, fly.

It’s amazing how much has changed in those ten years. When Dreamland started, the idea that UAVs would play an important role in air (and all) warfare was very foreign to most people, and I remember a lot of questions from editors to the effect of, Do you really think things like this will happen? Ever? Really?
Even more radical was the suggestion that a man in a wheelchair might be able to have an active part in battle, to persevere and be a hero. Today, I wouldn’t be surprised if younger readers thought Zen was based on a real person.

People sometimes ask why the series has lasted. I think there are a lot of reasons – I don’t undervalue luck, among them. the tech is cool, though at times hard to keep up with. But for me, the books have always been about the people in them. Whether it’s Zen trying to overcome a disability, Breanna trying to both prove she’s both a bad-ass pilot and an attractive woman, or Turk Mako trying to prove he belongs, the characters are people we all identify with. Even Mack Smith, the man everyone loved to hate in the early books, reminds us of people we know in real life (and in his case, may want to avoid).

Dale and I greatly appreciate all of the support readers have shown us over the years. News of the best-seller status hasn’t, however, made me very nostalgic for the earlier installments. I’m too busy working on the next-next Dreamland, the one that will come in 2013. In the meantime, there’s one due to hit the shelves and the ebook stores soon. By the time you see it, we should be outlining the 2014 book.

RIP Marvin Hamlisch, 1955-2012

'Retired' Iranians fighting in Syria . . .

. . . while seeing the sights on a holy pilgrimage.


(CBS News) - The State Department tells CBS News it has no reason to doubt Syrian rebels' claims that 48 Iranians they are holding hostage are members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard military unit.
Iran has flatly denied the claim that the hostages are military personnel, insisting they are all civilians who were in Syria to visit the Sayyida Zainab shrine, south of Damascus, when they were abducted. The shrine has been frequented by Shiite Muslim pilgrims in the past, including many from Iran.
On Wednesday, however, Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by the Islamic Republic's government-controlled media as saying, "some retired individuals from the Guards and army" were among those being held.
"After some time in which pilgrims from Iran were not being dispatched to Syria... we took steps to send retired forces from various organizations," he was quoted as saying by Iran's state news agency and other state-run media. "Some retired individuals from the Guards and army were dispatched to Syria to make a pilgrimage."


Bet they have a helluva retirement plan.

Iran is fighting in Syria because its collapse will hurt Iran badly, and not because it will deprive them of sightseeing destinations. The question is whether the contagion can spread.
Up on Nook

Barnes & Noble is running a special promotion this week, with the Nook edition of one of the very first Dreamland books, Razor's Edge, offered for only 99 cents. (Available here.)

Razor's Edge was first published back in 2003; it was the third book in the series, and the start of a period where we were publishing two Dreamland installments a year. I don't know about Dale, but I know I was blown away by the response of readers.

It was an exciting if ultimately exhausting time. The pace now is a little easier to keep - I wish I could write as fast as a lot of people read.

The book moved up to 20 on the Nook best-seller list when the special debuted this week. I hope everyone likes it. Hopefully they'll enjoy some other installments as well.

One thing I should note for readers new to the series - the timeline of the Dreamland books before Dreamland: Whiplash is set in the 1990s. It was always conceived as a (slightly) alternate universe.

P.S.: Amazon has a special of its own for the Kindle.
Japan, China & the rest of Asia

There's been a small boom in analyses on Japan, China, and Asia recently, as Japan and the U.S. reevaluate their focus. This report from Stratfor, as usual, is succinct and perceptive.
Meanwhile, the Sinai . . .

This hasn't gotten a lot of attention in the U.S., but it's very significant, and perhaps ominous:
Masked gunmen attacked an Egyptian Army checkpoint around sundown on Sunday, as the soldiers were preparing to break their Ramadan fast. Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said on Monday that the gunmen then seized an armored vehicle and a truck, and stormed the fence at the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel with the apparent goal of kidnapping an Israeli soldier or civilians.

Times story.
Road signs

While the road I live is a county highway, it's not exactly the most heavily traveled road in the area, let alone the world. But it's become even less populated over the past two weeks, as the county has closed it down to fix a deadly curve and do some other work not far from my house. There are barricades and a sign down where my half connects to another county road warning that the road is closed.

Still, plenty of people come down, hoping to cut about ten minutes off the drive to town (it is convenient for that, when open).

I figure one of two things is going on. Either (a) they can't read, or (b) they distrust the government so much that they don't believe the signs.

Addendum: Having conducted an informal survey of the last six vehicles and discovered that two were Mercedes, one a BMW, and another a highly-pimped-out four-door pickup, I'd say the reason is definitely (a).
Controlling for change . . .

How much have aircraft changed since the 1940s? Below is the pilot's "office" on a DC-3:

Here's an image from the flightdeck the Dreamliner, Boeing's 787:

You can't see the seats in the bottom photo, but they look a lot cushier than their DC-3 counterparts.

In some respects, what hasn't changed may be most interesting - you have wheels, pedals, and throttle sticks in both . . .
Friday fireball

Some days you just feel like destroying the world . . .
The Captain doesn't slum . . .

It's hard to say anything without a pun that will get me in deep trouble. You can look, but you can't touch:

Blowing up history

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jenns Robertson has developed an historical database showing where every bomb has been dropped since World War II. From Boston.com:

“What if you had the detailed data on when and where every bomb was dropped from an airplane in combat? What would you know?” . . .

A lot, as the article goes on to say. Here's one critical (and I'm sure controversial) point from World War II:

Unlike land battles, whose outcomes have been well understood by those who were physically engaged with the enemy, the impact of air attacks has historically been far more difficult to discern.
Initial analysis of THOR has raised at least one intriguing possibility in that regard: airstrikes, not tanks, may have been most responsible for the Allied breakthrough against the German Army at El Alemein in Egypt in the fall of 1942, a major turning point in the war against Nazi Germany.


The database could have a major impact on World War II histories, and not just those assessing air battles. A reassessment of El Alemein would force a (long overdue) reassessment of Montgomery. And I suspect that would be the tip of iceberg.

Cover art

Final sketch for Blood of War, due this winter.