2019 in Review

Man.  It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating the imminent release of Those In Peril and preparing to go to Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE) Symposium in Utah.  Next thing I know, 2019 is in the rearview mirror, the Phases of Mars series is complete, and Against The Tide Imperial is…well, still not done, but definitely getting there.  Still, 3 anthologies in a year is not bad, and objectively I think it was a fair trade.  I mean, guys—I edited S.M. Stirling, Kevin J. Anderson, Taylor Anderson, Sarah Hoyt, and David Weber this year.  In books with my name on the front cover.  Shout out to Chris Kennedy for taking on a beer bet and to team “and more” for being amazing.

By the numbers, over 1,500 people visited the page this year, which was almost double the number of folks who showed up in 2018.  Thank you for coming along on this wild ride, and here’s to hoping that you continue to enjoy a glimpse inside the crazy.  Externally, this was my second year in a row over 1,000 books sold / 500,000 Kindle pages read (not counting the anthologies) both online and in person, and with at least one book coming out that will helpfully increase.  Moreover, I learned a lot this year about marketing, networking, and this profession in general.  While those could be 20 or more blog posts in and of themselves, the “Top 3 Things I Learned in 2019 Are”:

#1 Professionalism Matters—Nothing like being the chief editor for something to help you realize one’s reputation precedes you.  From the perspective of dealing with fellow authors, I was taken aback by the number of folks who do not understand some basic etiquette in dealing with their fellow human beings.  Or the importance of things like, “Hey, when the requirement says 7-10,000 words, that means you don’t turn in 6500 and cop and attitude with the editor.”  People will remember if you pull some prima donna crap when you really didn’t have to, and word spreads quickly.  Likewise, if you become, shall we say, radioactive in other venues, there will be folks who have problems with sharing a common battlespace with you.  Bottom line:  If you’re involved in a project, be on time (or admit that you’re not going to be able to do something in a timely manner), write to the specifications, and don’t be a jerk.

#2 People Plan, the Universe Laughs—I can honestly say 2019, while not the craziest year I can remember (oh hey, 2009), was up there.  Between deaths, getting forcibly invited to someone else’s car accident, a new job, and various other “What the Hell?!” things that occurred, I’ve come to realize the path to sanity involves accepting that life is chaos.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m still very much a work in project on this.

However, I’ve increasingly tried to take an objective look at what has occurred, then ask myself “Why did this happen?”  If it’s someone else’s fault, that’s usually followed by “Was this accidental, malicious, or unforeseeable?  If accidental, has the other party acknowledged their role in the negative outcome and taken measures to keep it from happening again? If malicious, is this salvageable or is it time to just close that particular airlock?”

If it’s my error, “What have we learned and how do we keep from dropping that ball again?”  This is usually followed by “How do we make amends?”  Because saying “I’m sorry…” is kind of pointless unless there’s an actual intent to make things right.

Above all these things, however, 2019 taught me this:  “If I died tomorrow, would I be happy I spent ___ minutes / hours / days dealing with rectifying this problem?”  Because having someone go from “I’m glad I’m finally going to meet him…” to “Whoa.  He’s going to be dead in less than eight hours…” definitely made me start assessing time and how I spend it.  Spend time doing what you love and with people who make time for you, as our hourglass only has so much sand in it.

#3 Network Makes The Dream Work—Among the “people who made time” for me were my writing tribe.  It really does take a village, and one never knows what connection will suddenly bear fruit.  I can honestly say that in 2019 I had positive interactions with people I first met back in the 1980s, went to school with in the 90s’, served with in the Army in the ’00s, and even folks I saw in passing at a random con sometime in the last six years.  In some instances this was expected.  In others, it was definitely one of us saying to each other or about someone else “Uhhhh, you know, let me see if _____ can help with that, because holy smokes you’re in a bad way”-response.  The outcomes were almost always great and definitely far better than I would have accomplished on my own. Whether it was fiscal (increasing royalties!), introducing me to another pro who provided a story (or stories) for the anthologies, or just providing a “morale boost” when I was questioning my sanity for even pushing on with this crazy dream, I’d like to issue a blanket THANK YOU! to the tribe and fans at large.  You all made 2019 great, and I look forward to what 2020 has to bring.

All right, that’s enough from the foxhole for today.  I’m going back to figuring out what happens when over 100 American aircraft surprise six Japanese carriers equipped with stolen British radar.  That’s right, it’s called “alternate history” for a reason, and boy howdy does the Kido Butai having decent radar change a lot of factors involved in World War II carrier fights.


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.

On Dunkirk

Go see Dunkirk.  Seriously.  I can’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil it, but go see the movie.  Good cinematography, acting, scoring, and pacing.  Yes, some rivet counters have complained about nitpicking things like the destroyers, Ju-87s’ sirens, and the actual Bf-109s used.   (No, I’m not joking.)  Ignore them and go see the movie posthaste.

A Little Gallows Humor

So there was a discussion of World War II on a friend’s FB page.  Specifically, we were discussing the Red Army’s rampage through Eastern Germany in mid-1945.  This, of course, got me thinking about how history has…evolved when discussing certain events.  Perhaps a sliding scale is in order:

Young’s Ascending Levels of War Crime Severity

  1. “My opponents can’t cry to the refs, so they’re crying to the Hague. Thank goodness we mailed in our funding check last week.”
  2. “Mildly uncomfortable discussing in polite company, but still good cricket, ol’ boy.”
  3. “They did it first, we’re doing it last, and by God we’re going to be running the damn tribunals when this is over…”
  4. “Okay, so one more time: Our story when the JAG interviews us is…”
  5. “Thank God for the modern chemical industry, flammable evidence, and CNN budget cuts.”
  6. “Well yeah we took scalps, but it’s not like we took their ears. Okay, fine, we didn’t take the ears of anyone under 15.”
  7. “Action Jackson?  No, I’m Andrew Jackson…”
  8. “Bad news, Honey:  Your Hague appointed attorney is not sure if they will have more luck arguing you did not receive enough mandatory training, were born 5 centuries too late, or are experiencing a persistent spiritual possession by Simon De Montfort…”
  9. “We’re going to spend the next “x” years shrugging our shoulders and going, ‘Meh, it was a different era…’ when asked about this.”
  10. *somber narrator voice* “Genghis Khan looked down upon their acts from Valhalla.  He proceeded to giggle like a blushing school girl.”

A Bit of A Miscue

So one problem about the blog tour that I exacerbated by doing two books at once is that it’s easy to get the wires crossed if careful.  The Avid Reader was promoting On Seas So Crimson, and I managed to think it was doing An Unproven Concept.  Didn’t catch the mistake until the post was up.  In any case, here’s the interview:


1. What inspired you to write An Unproven Concept?

When I sell the book in person, I tell people it’s a mix of Battlestar Galactica, Robotech, and Halo.  These are several of the influences and inspirations for my sci-fi works.  Mainly I also wanted a military sci-fi series without “hero shields,” i.e., true peril for all characters involved.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about the next books in the Vergassy Series or what you have planned for the future?

The next book out will be Though Our Hulls Burn…, which is chronologically a prequel.  One of the criticisms that I got the most from readers in response to An Unproven Concept was that a lot of “big picture” things were referenced by not fully explained.  So going to go back 15 years to 3035 and explain what happened.

3. Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in An Unproven Concept?

Without giving away spoilers, I take a “large cast so I can whack some of them” approach to casting decisions.  I also believe that characters, like real people, should come into a story with a past.  For instance, Mr. Marcus Martin is a former Confederation Marine officer who lost his entire platoon in an incident prior to the start of An Unproven Concept.  This has led to him having mental trauma and feelings of worthlessness that play a role in his decisions as the starliner Titanic’s chief security officer.

4. You know I think we all have a favorite author. Who is your favorite author and why?

My favorite author of all time is Jack McKinney (pseudonym), the author of the Robotech series. The two men who actually wrote under the singular name did an excellent job of taking the rather thin background of the anime series and expanding it into something deeper.

As to actual singular authors versus collaborations—I’m a fan of early Harold Coyle and David Drake.  In both cases, it’s how visceral they make their combat scenes and characters.

5. If you could time-travel would you travel to the future or the past? Where would you like to go and why would you like to visit this particular time period?

I always think this one is a loaded question.  I mean, the last thing someone wants to do is time travel to, say, “Up Then” in the Terminator universe.  With regards to going backwards—well, let’s just say if I show up on an Antebellum Plantation things are not going to end well.

But…if I had a choice where I could just observe without being scene or interacted with?  I’d like to go backwards to the Titanic, as I’ve always been a student of the wreck.  Forward?  I’d go forward 100 years to see if we actually get our flying cars.

6. Do you have any little fuzzy friends? Like a dog or a cat? Or any pets?

Yes.  My wife, fellow author Anita C. Young, and I have five pets.  Our two dogs are a Newfoundland-Labrador mix and a Blue Heeler / Shepherd of some sort.  As to the three cats-we have one senior cat and two kittens.  The kittens were what happened when we went to “pick up an older cat that was familiar with dogs.”  Whoops!

Random Confessions: 25 Things

S0 on FB there’s always these “lists” that are bouncing around.  Given I did one of them, I thought it’d be funny to go back and see how the answers changed and provide a little commentary.

1.) I was a German citizen for over 17 years.

Still true.  I was born in what was then West Germany just north of Frankfurt.  My father used to threaten he was going to report me to the German draft board if I kept making a nuisance of myself.

2.) I have finished three books.

Uh, yeah, this has changed just a little bit.  At the time there was the book that is The Vladivostok Thing on here, Returns and Cataclysms (where we first meet Will Colfax), and An Unproven Concept.  Think just maybe we’ve added a few things, no?

3.) Of the three, one was deleted by my sister / lost by a friend and two are in the process of being fixed.

Obviously also not true.  R & C will eventually become at least two books.  I mean, it’s still technically done, but there’s a lot of surgery to do there, plus I have to bridge from After the Scythe to where R&C begins.  Why yes, I to can hear Anita C. Young screaming “FINISH A BLOODY SERIES!”

4.) I am scared of snakes–and I’m not talking a little bit.

No really.  Not a fan of the legless lizard clan.

5.) I have been bitten by a brown recluse spider.

Still have the hole in my back, yes.

6.) When I was young I used to have a stuffed tiger that I took everywhere.

Seriously.  As in, when my sister and I went on a cross country trip with my Uncle Bruce and Aunt Delores, I was once inconsolable when I thought we’d left “Tiger” at a rest stop.  Mysteriously, Tiger showed up about the point we were about to turn around because I was staging a one child mutiny.

7.) At age three I was nearly killed by a drunk driver, with the only thing saving me being my knee catching the dashboard.

Ever want to know why I lack remorse on drunk driving?  This would be part of the reason.

8.) Around age seven I drove a truck through an apple tree, nearly hit a shed, then ran over a barbwire fence.

It’s not important how the truck got into drive or neutral.  What is important is that the only reason I am typing this for you today is I went full octopus on my mother when she ran down the hill and got the truck door open.  “You were so pitiful and scared that I just didn’t have it in me to get an arm free and beat your behind…” I believe is the exact quote.  Also note that I did all of this without the truck being left on.  Gravity, thou art a heartless wench.

9.) Two years later, I saw a tornado about a half mile away. As I was known to think every cloud was a tornado, no one believed me until after the neighbors told my parents it had taken out their shed.

“Well, I don’t care what you people do, I’m going to the basement.”  Note that this refrain was repeated at least one more time in my life.

10.) I am allergic to shell fish–and found out about the allergy the hard way.

Pro tip–when your child tells you he’s not going to get sick, he’s lying.  Trust your instincts, and make him stand on the side of the road another five minutes.  It’ll change your life…and prevent you having to clean the van.

11.) I had to take Chinese for a year in college.

What’s worse?  I tried to use it to woo a young lady from Taiwan at an all girls college.  Yeaaahhh, that wasn’t the plan I should have gone with… (to paraphrase a certain musical). All’s well that ends well.

12.) I have shaken a President’s hand.

Bill Clinton was holding my diploma in his other one.  Funny story–several years later, a classmate was my brother-in-law’s superior.  Said BIL never mentioned he was related to me.  Classmate is coming over for his farewell dinner, sees the 8.5 by 11 picture of me shaking President Clinton’s hand, and asks, “Why do you have a picture of JY on your mantle?!” 

13.) People have a crazy habit of giving me nicknames.

None of which I’m putting on this blog.  Nor will other individuals.  *displays delete button*

14.) For my 21st birthday unsavory individuals, aided and abetted by my classmates, ambushed me, covered me in shaving cream, and tied me to a laundry rack.  There are photos.

15.) I have lived outside of the United States for 3+ years of my life.

First nine months of my life in Germany, one year in Korea, then two years in Germany (the second time).

16.) Went to Hawaii twice. Wasn’t impressed.

Glad I crossed that off the bucket list on someone else’s dime.  Expensive, with atrocious traffic.  Pass!

17.) Sometimes when I travel bad things happen at the places I visit. You know, like floods, heat waves, etc.

True story.  It’s not as bad as it was, but there was serious discussion about taking me off the traveling team at work.

18.) I have been the manager for a women’s basketball team.

Army Women’s basketball, 1993-1994.  There are pictures.  Friends have put them on FB.

19.) I once crossed the New Jersey turnpike on foot.

Because everything’s legal in New Jersey.

20.) I watched the movie The Crow three times when it was in theaters–and only the first time was planned.

Yeah, I’m a bit of a fan of The Crow.  I wish they’d make a sequel.  (“But James, they made a…” “SILENCE!  Like Highlander, there are no sequels!”)

21.) Malt balls are a guilty pleasure.

Not Whoppers.  Malt balls.  I can live with Whoppers in a pinch, but I love malt balls.

22.) I used to have an overdeveloped competitive streak.

“How cute you say this in the past ten…”  “SILENCE! When I run into a brick wall trying to beat you in something, we can talk about how it’s still overdeveloped.”

23.) When I was young I thought my father was Japanese.

No really.  Convinced he was going to get in trouble for World War II and interned.  Whee bit of trouble placing things historically as a young lad.

24.) In my defense, the man was fluent and did nothing disabuse me of this notion.  That is, until one of my teachers commented on how brave he and my mom were as an interracial couple.

“I just think it’s really brave what you two are doing.  You know, being of different countries and all.”

“Still think it’s funny now, Jim?!”–Mama Shark

25.) I laugh inappropriately (i.e., when really mad or really upset).

“I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral…”<–Song lyric I nodded sympathetically to.  I blame my gallows humor.

Random Confession

So, every so often I will reveal something about myself my readers may not otherwise know.  Today’s confession:  I like ABBA.  I mean, not like “Commander Lewis, OMG the only thing I have on Mars is disco!”-level, but I am an unabashed fan.



The better half, fellow author Anita C. Young surprised me with tickets to Mama Mia! for my birthday a few years back.  Somehow that was the first time I ever heard this song despite having the “Greatest Hits” album since the 1990s.  Ever since then, it’s been my favorite.

Having seen the play then the movie, I’m much more partial to the stage production. I’m not saying Meryl Streep doesn’t hit the the targets, but I think there’s was way too much “Oh look what we can do with all this scenery and background!” Meh. The energy just wasn’t there.

If pressed, however, I will admit that my favorite ABBA song of all time…

(“Wait, stop. You’re a military sci-fi author. Saying you have a favorite ABBA song hurts your street cred like Jay-Z saying he has his favorite llama.”


“Tell me what is more terrifying than having your entire fleet die before your eyes to ‘Dancing Queen?’ I mean, it’s not Minmei-level horror but it’s gotta be up there, right?”

“Shit. Nightmare fuel, man, nightmare fuel.”)

…is “The Winner Takes It All.” Yeah, if “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is the amicable divorce, “Winner Takes It All” is the “I’ve got the house, the kids, and the car…and I’m still taking a bath with the toaster as soon as he drives off with her”-parting. Just ugh. I’m not saying it’s the most gut punchy song of all time (that list will be coming later), but it’s a “Songs to Slit Yout Wrist By” staple.