Monday, March 23, 2009

What are you reading?

My current book is one of the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser. For the really well read, Harry Flashman is the bully who tormented Thomas Hughes's protagonist in Tom Brown's Schooldays. Flashman is exposed for the drunkard and coward that he is and is expelled. Flashman dropps off the edge of the literary world until Fraser resurrects him in a series of historical novels based on the fictional Flashman Papers.

After Rugby, Flashman flowers as a total jerk, but one who admits his failings as "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward — and oh yes, a toady"and even enjoys them. Flashman's father buys him a commission in the British Army and, just as in the real world, the young man rises in stature and rank through no fault of his own. He runs away from danger, allows others to die for him, and happily embraces torrid and meaningless affairs with women wherever he goes. Whether he is kidnapped or assigned, he lands in the great historic events of the mid 19th Century from the first war in Afghanistan to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. To date Fraser has produced twelve Flashman books.

My current read is Flashman And The Angel Of The Lord in which Flashy, a colonel in the Army and holder of the Victoria's Cross, finds himself in the United States in 1859 and conscripted to be military adviser to John Brown. Brown plans to invade the slave states and raise a rebellion of slaves. I won't tell you how it ends, but Flashy will survive. He always does.

Fraser's stories are both entertaining and informative, like good historical novels should be. I have seen our antihero through the invasion of Afghanistan, war with China, and now the perilous years before the U.S. Civil War. With twelve books to read I will have lots of fun following our man in his adventures, geographic, political, military and carnal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


A minor interest of mine (it doesn't yet rise to the level of hobby) is strategy and simulation games for the computer. I have always been fascinated by things like trains and airplanes and I had a model railroad and dreamed of learning to fly. As an historian, I have studied battles and contests between nations and naturally engage in a bit of "what if." Before desktop computers I played war games on table tops and even played by mail where we used stock indices to calculate the rolls of dice. Those games took months and years. I had the Battle of Gettysburg set up with dozens of counters (the little cardboard pieces that represent units) in precise locations depicting the first day. Then a little girl who visited us decided she would mix it all up. That was the last play-by-mail game I tried. (The little girl is in grad school now I think.)

Then personal computers came along. I watched how microprocessers compressed the time and effort needed to execute moves and the computer watched that you obeyed the rules. You could even play the computer. This last feature eliminated the need to deal with boys and grown men with more imagination than social maturity.

I got a copy of Flight Simulator when it was black and white and played from a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk (which was really floppy) using the number keys in lieu of a joystick. As the microprocessers grew in power so the games grew in beauty and sophistication. Flight Simulator became full color and offered a variety of aircraft over varied geographies. When Train Simulator came along I had to have a copy of that. I even got a little game that recreated toy Lionel trains in a train set.

The simulation games are another animal. With Civilization II and III I occupied wildernesses, planned and built cities and civilizations, and constructed empires. The same thing with the Age of Empire series. The Civilization games are particularly good way to consume an entire Saturday. I had to choose between games and several editions of Age of Empires went in a yard sale.

In Railroad Tycoon I didn't so much operate trains as built and ran entire railroads complete with finances and stock manipulations. I spanned the North American continent and exploited China. I acquired Roller Coaster Tycoon and Sim City. But I also have a life to pursue, so these will have to wait until my life is nothing but free time.

My friend Steve introduced me to Rome, a very realistic (without the smells) recreation of the rise of the Roman Empire that cannot be played in one day. So you save the game and come back to it until some other faction obliterates you.

My latest acquisition is a sequel to Rome. Empire: Total War takes me into the struggles of the 18th Century where England, France, and Spain battle over control of the world. It has both land scenarios - lines of soldiers hammering away with muskets and bayonets - and sea scenarios. I am a sucker for the sea battles since I was an early devotee to the writings of C.S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower) and Patrick O'Brian (Jack Aubrey). The ships really sail.

All these games have an online and network capability. Online is where you find someone on the Internet, usually a fourteen-year-old boy, to kick your butt. Network is computers in the same house or office. I haven't tried either since I would be sad to be beaten and insulted by some teenager in Finland.

Here's hoping that computer gaming doesn't prevent me from blogging.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Marketing the Manuscript

I completed the major revision in my historical novel Down The River that the publisher was looking for. I had one of my writing colleagues, Bob, look at it and he had some very helpful comments plus dozens of typos. Using his advice and comments from the publisher trimmed the manuscript by about ten percent and really tuned up the language. I also tweaked the ending more to my liking (no one minded the way it was).

I contacted a literary agent who liked my sample chapters last summer and I offered her the manuscript. She said send the sample chapters again and I shipped those off this morning. I also sent sample chapters to a publisher in Chicago who seems to do my kind of stuff. So the process of shopping the story starts again.

What's funny about the revision process is that after I finished my major revisions and caught scads of typos, I went back and looked at what Bob marked. I missed almost every one of those!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

From the Mouth of a Babe

I have been collecting quotes from Lorraine that either offer an insightful comment on the world at large or just upon her world. I will post the good ones hereput the best one for the Christmas letter. I move this post forward on the blog as new quotes come to light.

On meeting with her CPA:
"It made me feel really good, that I'm not crazy and I'm not a bad business person."

On her office:
"You have to pretend you didn't see this. The corner over there on the floor looks really good." (best quote for 2007)

"My reading pile is on the floor. I got it out of my to do pile." (best quote for 2006)

On sending me to the store to pick up treats for the engagement party:
"Don't eat the lemon bars. You can have a cookie. Don't eat the chocolate chip bars."

"As long as my Zune has energy, I'll be alright."

From her years as a producer on the morning news:
"I hate it when celebrities die."

"Just because I'm eating ice cream doesn't mean I'm feeling better." (best quote 2001)

On baseball:
"It's going to be an ugly damn season." (best quote 2003)



"Wait, I have something to say."

On computing:
"I just need to click around a little more without fear."

"I have a laptop connection in my office, but you can't get to it."

"Are those the only sandals you have?"

"I don't have time to listen to the message."

"The question is will I be alright."

"I have a system. I just forgot what it was."

"I was talking to my shoes."

"I’m a little tense, but I’m good, I’m good."

"My pants are a little better. That doesn’t mean my brain is any better."

"It's a G** D*** miracle!" (best quote for 2008)