Loss of A Sensei

Sensei. n. A teacher or instructor usually of Japanese martial arts (such as karate or judo).

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…” ― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man.

 

On Monday, I learned that one of my  doctoral committee members had passed away.  As one should do when a person’s made a big impact on your life, I’m going to throw my own rock into the proverbial River of Time to commemorate someone most of you never had the joy of meeting.

I first met Al Hamscher in Spring 2006.  Dr. Hamscher taught “Writing In History,” a class solely devoted to developing an article for professional publication.  I walked into his class having won awards, scholarships, and money in writing classes.  In short, I thought I knew what the hell I was doing writing-wise, and that this was basically going to be a pro forma easy A.

I’m not saying that this was Dr. Hamscher’s actual face…giphy

 

…but I am saying it was close enough.

I mean, I’ve been hazed.  I’ve been forced to box against the Corps of Cadets champion for the sheer amusement of my instructor.  (Okay, fine, not just sheer amusement…) Bent into a near pretzel shape only to be told “high zero.”

None of these things approached the sheer frustration I felt in the first few weeks of that course.  Dr. Hamscher warned us up front that he was acerbic.  I figured I knew what that word meant.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, the man made me understand how Santa Claus got booed at the Linc, why Rocky was dumb enough to fight Apollo Creed the second time, and why “The City of Brotherly Love” was the biggest false advertisement since the Serpent talked Eve into biting the Apple.  From a man who walked into that course supremely confident in my abilities, I was beginning to doubt my ability to string together coherent sentences.  I could see the same creeping “What the ___ have we done?” creeping into my classmates’ faces also as we each presented our drafts in round robin fashion.

Then a funny thing happened. About draft number 3, after getting good and strafed (he may have said “Tell me everything you know about the Golan Heights. Leave nothing out!” and apparently misheard my inquiry of “Uh, everything?”), it was like something clicked.  Really clicked.  As in, suddenly I had leveled up as an author and as a historian. The end result was “The Heights of Ineptitude,” my first professional article of any sort.

Both of my classmates also subsequently published their articles in professional journals, nor were we alone. At one point, Dr. Hamscher had an over 90% success rate with folks who took “Writing In History.”  I didn’t matter whether it was military, women’s, American, or some other historical discipline.  If a student was willing to have a thick skin and take direction, Dr. Hamscher was able to be a cross between Pai Mei and Obi-Wan Kenobi for historians taking their first steps into “publish or perish.”  Although I am fairly certain each of us getting published will never compare to the joy he felt when his beloved Eagles finally won the Super Bowl, Dr. Hamscher always made sure I knew how proud he was of me and what I’d accomplished.  Having taught thousands of undergraduate and graduate student, the ripples Al Hamscher created will continue to lap against various intellectual shores for decades.

“Philly Philly,” Dr. Hamscher.  I’m glad to have known you both as a mentor and a person, and thank you for making me a better writer.

Covering Alternate History

Where Sarah Hoyt discusses the difficulty of putting a cover on alternate history works.  Go on and take a gander…

Mad Genius Club

This one is difficult, because you have to convey three things: alternate time line, where it deviated from ours, and what in general the reader can expect from the book.  You know: funny, serious or adventure.

The easiest ones are the ones that are sf or Fantasy and obviously so.  For instance, my dragon-shifter-red-baron will eventually when finished and ready to go have a dragon with the paint to match Richthofen’s plane, flying over the trenches. Title and subtitle will help, and I’ll come up with something.

Alternate history that is “just” alternate history is more difficult, and you sometimes have to “represent things that aren’t in the book to represent something that is in the book.”

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At the Sharp End

This was the runner up for last week’s Memorial Day edition of Metal Monday.  Like Five Finger Death Punch, Avenged Sevenfold has done a lot to support members of the Armed Forces by putting in their time with tours.  “Danger Line” is a pretty intense song about a soldier’s last moments and the chaos of combat, and I’ve used it as background for several scenes in Aries’ Red Sky.

Never Do Business With…

There’s an old saying about commercial relationships:  “Never do business with someone you’re not ready to do business to.”  I can’t recall when I first heard it (recent attempts to blame my mother have been vehemently refuted by Mama Shark), but it’s something I’ve remembered.  Especially with regards to doing business with friends and family.

The implied task in that aphorism is A. read the contract (to prep the battlefield), B. always maintain a “war chest” that will at least allow one to consult with a lawyer, and C. when civility fails, be prepared to engage in (legal) barbarism.

I provide that introduction as I relay a blog post from fellow author Alma Boykin.  To be blunt, an author got hosed by his publisher.  As in, “Hey dude, we’re just going to rob you of your royalties because, to be frank, we’re not worried about you doing anything about it.”  Mistakes happen once.  Happenstance may explain a second time.  But when someone forgets to pay you 13 years of royalties, that’s malevolent action.

I would argue my first warning on this is, as always, try to have a lawyer read your contract.  Second, if you’re going to deal with a publisher, get an agent.  (With the corollary of making sure they’re not linked to the publisher you’re signing with.)  Because if there’s one person who is going to raise a fuss over some math that smells like it just came off a tuna boat, it’s the other person who won’t get paid unless you do.  Especially given that person probably has contacts in the publishing world who will be like, “Wow, you’ve gotta be happy with how [insert your title] is doing!”  “Wait a minute…”

If you’ve chosen to ignore 1 and 2, then start figuring out an action plan when things go hokey.  Over at the Passive Voice, the host lists several helpful actions.  He’s an attorney, and these are all very sound.  That being said, I’m afraid at some point a person is beyond worrying about “grease” and well into “seeking pound of flesh.”  Certainly in the case of the author relaying this, I’d be checking with a solicitor / attorney (see “This is why you keep a war chest…”) as to whether that then kicked things into civil court.  Why?  Because that’s where the damages are.  At the point someone’s been sitting on my wages for 13 years and now refuses to go into arbitration, I’m going to gleefully seek an opportunity to start nailing body parts to the bulkhead.  If for no other reason than good companies don’t do this, so as a person I feel one should be willing to make sure they don’t do it to someone else.

Now, understand, being ready to do battle does have its risks.  Short term, this will make it hard to get future contracts.  Your publisher is probably going to smear your good name all over the place.  Which if you get evidence of them doing, save that, as few things are sweeter than people who wronged you having to make public retractions.  (“Tell them your name…” and all that.)

Long term, you might end up with your rights back and little else.  Court costs are expensive as hell, and you may literally spend $10,000 to get $11,000 of royalties.  However, I would submit that if a company is screwing up this bad, they may go under.  What an author doesn’t want to have happen is them go under while still holding your rights to your work.  Especially if the contract is at all squiggly about future, unrelated projects, i.e., “Publisher holds right to first refusal on all other writing projects…” (huge paraphrase there–but see guest blogger Amie Gibbons’ talking about rights here).  Having seen that recently with other companies that have folded, that is a form of writer purgatory (with another link here).  Personally, I’d rather burn the money to be clear of the impending shipwreck–but everyone must do what is in their best interests.

Memorial Day Metal Monday

Today’s Memorial Day in the United States.  I’ll let my West Point classmate Jaimie explain the holiday, as she did it very eloquently nine years ago. Unfortunately, Jaimie gave the last full measure of her duty to the country on 8 June 2013.

So, without further ado, I think we’ll roll with Five Finger Death Punch’s “Gone Away” for this Metal Monday.  It seems to fit.