In Which Your Host Gets Grilled


As part of the blog tour, I was interviewed by blogger Lisa Haselton.


Please share a little bit about your current release:

An Unproven Concept is what would happen if you put Battlestar Galactica, Robotech, and Space Battleship Yamato into a cloning vat then had George R.R. Martin raise the baby.  The book centers on three vessels, the battlecruiser Constitution, the destroyer Shigure, and the starliner Titanic, as they deal with Humanity’s first encounter with aliens.  Without giving away too much, the Titanic is not where she’s supposed to be, and thus gets caught up in the conflict between the two naval vessels and the hostile craft.

If you like capital ship combat, it’s in here.  Flawed characters without “hero shields?”  If this was a list of ingredients, it’d be number two.  Mecha and starfighters?  In abundance.  It has received positive reviews from Amazing Stories, Reader’s Choice, and Pop Cults, with a solid 4-star rating on Amazon.

What inspired you to write this book?
Back in 2006, I entered a short story contest with a novella entitled “On Their Behalf…”  Several of the judges stated the original storyline was simply too broad to shoe horn into 15,000 pages, but that it sounded like a great concept for a novel.  Six years later, I wrote another novella entitled “Ride of the Late Rain.”  Again—great concept, but the judges felt I was trying to compress too much into one storyline.  So, after I had success with “Ride of the Late Rain” as a novella via Kindle, I decided to go ahead and do An Unproven Concept as a full novel.  The Kraken Edition combines both “Ride of the Late Rain” and An Unproven Concept.  You can read an excerpt on my blog here.

What exciting story are you working on next?
In between trying to chop down my dissertation, I’m working on Though Our Hulls Burn…, the sequel to An Unproven Concept.  It will basically explain some of the prior events referenced in Concept, specifically how the Spartans came to be part of the Confederation of Man.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When as a 14-year-old I tried to submit a bunch of long hand story parts to a New York publisher.  I cannot remember how, but I’d acquired one of those “Writer’s Guide” that had every publisher listed and the address for their slush pile.  I figured of course they had people to type things up—that’s why they were a publisher!  I don’t think I tell many people that story—because I think my younger self was a wholly optimistic ignoramus knowing what I know now.

Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

On top of my day job, I have a commute that’s over an hour long each way, plus am finishing off a dissertation.  How do I find time to write?  I have a patient, understanding spouse who is also an author.  I also belong to an active writing group that is really good about trying to get together to get some words down.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Friends and family point out that I really don’t have a “writing” versus “speaking” voice.  I never really thought of the two of them necessarily needing to be separate.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I actually wanted to be a fighter pilot until my eyes went bad in the 5th grade.  I was heartbroken, and it took a couple years for me to truly accept that dream was pretty much finished when I couldn’t read the blackboard from the front row.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?

On my FB page is a sign up for my mailing newsletter.  Also, my novellas Pandora’s Memories and A Midwinter’s Ski are available as “perma free” offerings from Amazon.  



Rogue Angels’ Interview


So I’m in the midst of doing a blog tour through Goddess Fish.  I intend to do a rundown of things, but I thought I’d catch everyone up with what blogs I’ve been doing.  This post was done for Rogue Angels in support of On Seas So Crimson:

  1. What or who inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always been an avid reader from when I was little.  Growing up on a small farm that was miles to the nearest neighbor, I used to sometimes act out things that I read in books.  (John Carter was a favorite…darn Earth gravity.)  Eventually I also started writing things long hand, and the rest is history.


  1. What elements are necessary components for your genres?

I think the biggest components for any genre, not just sci-fi or alternate history, is that you have to have a compelling set of characters.  In the case of the former, that is followed by some aspect of escapism that will allow readers to separate from their daily drudgery into a different universe.  The reasons why Star Trek and Star Wars have been so successful is we’ve come to care about the individuals involved.

Alternate history is a bit different in that the main compulsion lies in the historical pivot.  Most of the “characters” are already known to the readers, but the changing situations are not.  For instance, in my Usurper’s War series, most World War II historians are familiar with Heinrich Himmler as the head of the SS.  However, knock off Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, and suddenly he’s in a vastly different role as Fuhrer.  That what if transitioning to what now is the genre’s foundation in my opinion.

  1. How did you come up with the ideas for your novels?

A lot of time it’s a combination of what I’ve read and random inspiration.  For On Seas So Crimson, it was a discussion back in the ‘90s about how World War II could have been different.  For An Unproven Concept, it was being a fan of the old Robotech novels, Star Wars, and the old school Battlestar Galactica.

  1. What expertise did you bring to your writing?

I’m actually getting my doctorate in U.S. History and majored in Military History from West Point.  I’ve placed in historical essay contests and have been published in both Proceedings (the United States Navy and Coast Guard’s professional journal) and the Journal of Military History.  So in the alternate history arena, it could be said that “I’m a professional.”

Alas, I have no experience with commanding a starship or flying mecha in real time.  If any travelers from the future or distant galaxies want to change that…

  1. What would you want your readers to know about you that might not be in your bio?

I’m blessed to be part of a community of writers in Kansas.  Everything from Star Trek to Sherlock Holmes through zombies, I’ve got people who can hook you up.

  1. As far as your writing goes, what are your future plans?

At the moment, I’m working on Though Our Hulls Burn…, the sequel to An Unproven Concept.  I should have my dissertation done by the end of the year, so that will give me more time to work on the third book in the Usurper’s War as well.

  1. If you could be one of the characters from your books, who would it be and why?

This is the point I see a few of my local writer’s group chuckling, as I have a reputation for being a little brutal to my characters.  I’d have to say Jason Owderkirk, the Commander Air Group (CAG) for the C.S.S. Constitution.  Mainly because he has it relatively easy (so far) in the Vergassy Universe.

  1. Do you belong to a critique group? If so how does this help or hinder your writing?

Yes and no.  My local library is incredibly supportive of local authors, with one of the librarians being the Municipal Liaison for Nanowrimo.  This has created a strong community of writers, and we’ll help people out if asked.  So yes, I’d say that finding a critique group is definitely a fruitful exercise.

  1. When did you first decide to submit your work? Please tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step?

If we’re talking originally, I submitted my work to agents and publishers back when I was in high school.  Looking back, I think the main impetus was that I had no idea how publishing worked, so I figured there was no harm, no foul in submitting.

  1. Do you outline your books or just start writing?

A little of both.  I’ll often have a scene just come to me while I’m driving to work or doing something else.  For example, the ballroom scene from An Unproven Concept just popped into my head.  I was fortunate enough to find a great concept artist, Justin Adams, who was able to convert words to picture (see below).

Writing Tips: I’m Up-I’m Moving-I’m Down (Getting to A Cover)


In the U.S. Army, there’s a movement technique called the 3-5 second rush.  It’s used to move from cover to cover before someone blasts you.  The soldier running is supposed to say, “I’m up! I’m seen! I’m moving! I’m down!”, with going prone or the next cover destination coinciding with “down.”

*pause as I imagine at least two people “CONTEXT!”*

Why is this important?  Well, a few seven (!) months ago, I did a post on cover art.  This led to some follow up questions from Eschewing Easy, so I thought I’d map out the cover negotiating process a little bit more.  As with all things, this is from my experience.  Likewise, while Amie Gibbons may be a lawyer, I most certainly am not.  So when I say “Do this thing…” about an agreement, it should not be considered a substitute for seeking the advice of someone who has passed the bar in your state.

So, I’ll deal with EE’s questions in order that they will probably apply:


1.) How do you make this fair for both author and artist?

My father used to have a saying.  It had many variations but basically it went, “Fair.  Comes once a year.  Usually there are ponies.  Do you smell horse sh*t?”

Thankfully cover negotiations are usually not so cutthroat, but inherent to ever enterprise are differing concepts of “fair.”  First and foremost, as an author a person should be fair to the artists’ time.  You know your budget, and if you’ve done your homework you should have examples of the artists’ work in front of you.  One way to approach it is to ask them how much they would charge to paint a picture similar to the one that caught your eye.  For example, the picture at the top of this blog post was similar to one the artist, a Greek national, had on his Deviantart.  Given that I had a concept in mind that was very similar to one of his pictures, it seemed to be a natural fit.  So I asked, and he was within budget.  But had he not been, I would not have tried to haggle him or had him start something only to decide later I didn’t want to spend that much money.

‘That much money’ leads to my second point, i.e., “fair” means paying an artist a going wage.  If as an author you want something with a high degree of detail, many subjects, and a setting that’s going to require a decent graphics rig to render, then you better have a plan for ~$20/hour unless there’s other incentives involved.  Like, if for your day job, you detail cars and you throw in three free detailing jobs, then of course that price drops…but it better be some serious labor in exchange for the time.  Oh, and it needs to be said: “Exposure is something you die from, not something you work for.”

On the flip side, fairness to you as the author will include work that is done on time and to standard.  It will not require you having to ping the artist multiple times to get a response and it certainly will not involve attitude.  Finally, it should include a mutually agreed upon contract that the artist generates and the author has reviewed by a legal professional.  Why do I make this point of emphasis?  Because as an author you likely have zero clue about what sort of materials will be involved in this, what other expenses the artist will have, and dozens of other things that are art specific.  Full disclosure–the better half is currently back in art school, and I now know there are things that I never would have thought an artist would have to buy that are not cheap.

Edit: I forgot to add in moral boundaries. I have a fellow author of supernatural works. Recently she had an artist balk at drawing a demon. I myself have had artists say, “Nope, not doing that. Too grisly.” In neither case is there any ill will. Just like you as an author can say, “Whoa, too much skin…”, an artist can not want to have certain things in their head.


When I say contract, I do mean a binding document.  At a minimum, this should discuss what rights are retained by whom, payment or payment schedule, how the piece will be delivered, and payment means.  There should also be language involved where the artist gives their word that no part of the art will infringe on others’ copyright nor has it been used by another author or any other work.  Once terms are agreed upon, the most common method I’ve then used is that the artist signs it, scans it, then emails to me as a .pdf.  In turn, I print said .pdf, sign it, then email it back with a CC: to myself to establish date and time.

Now, have I done this every time?  Not hardly, and sometimes the agreement’s been a little “Ash Housewares” in that it did not have every single thing I’ve laid out above.  But, I can say that for every piece of cover art that was north of $100 there’s an agreement sitting somewhere on my hard drive and also elsewhere in safe locations.  I also carry a copy of said agreements with me to most cons just in case I need to ward off someone saying, “That’s the Battlestar Galactica!”  (Yes, it’s happened.  Why, I’ve even had someone suggest I go get a hard copy of the digital painting at the top of this blog signed by Edward James Olmos.  Of course I forgave the guy–he bought a book.)

2.) When is payment?

So usually when a piece is getting developed, there are phases.  The first phase is the concept, i.e., you tell the author what you’re thinking.  No money should change hands at this point, as the author can’t be sure that the artist has the same definitions for words that he or she does.  The next phase is where the artists sends you a concept sketch.  This can range from a collage of pictures that are similar to what you desire to a 60-80% solution for the final picture.

If it’s the latter, some artists will want what I call “earnest money.” This will usually be outlined in the agreement, and it’s an artist’s hedge that you will not “change your mind” after they’ve basically drawn your picture.  Heck, some authors who will not be named have gone so far as to get a 80% solution concept sketch, stiff the original artist, then low ball with another artist to finish the piece.  Suffice to say, whether through being flighty or being a jerk, the end result is the artist is still out several hours of work.  Ergo, check your agreement and if you see something about fees for the concept sketch, ask the reasoning behind them and work through any differences you may have about them.

Regardless of how much is done in the concept sketch, once it’s agreed upon most artists want a percentage (30-60% usually) at this point.  This is money that keeps the proverbial lights on while they’re working on your piece, so you should not be worried about paying for it.  The best method to do so is via PayPal or some other service that has buyer’s protections, not direct payment.  Also, never do friends and family payment, no matter how much the other party may cry about “fees.”  Why?  Because all those buyer protections that are built into PayPal go “poof” the minute you select “send money to friends and family.”  Plus, it’s a violation of the User Agreement.

The last phase is preparing the final product.  Do not nag your artist during this period.  I say again, DO NOT NAG YOUR ARTIST DURING THIS PERIOD.  Every time he or she is having to stop to answer your email or phone, they’re not working on your project.  Or, for that matter, the three or four other ones they may have going if they’re really successful.  You have a date that was agreed upon in the contract, and they should be professional enough to backwards plan enough time into their work to allow for revisions.

3.) What about revisions?

Look at that pacing!  It’s like I planned that or something.  Okay, here’s the deal–as an author, you’re not going to get a lot of revisions.  Indeed, from the artist’s perspective, they may have put something in the agreement language about major versus minor revisions and the number thereof.  Know why this happened if they did?  Because some numb skull asked them for about ten different revisions, flaked out, and then bailed on the entire project for whatever reason.  (Yes, that’s pejorative, but there’s not some magic bottle artists’ go to for their time.  Ergo, partial payment.)

In general, if you’re feeling anxious about revisions, the artist and you can program in extra “gates” within the agreement.  Understand this might cost you more $$-$$$, which is reasonable given the time disruption.  Imagine if you had to write a story on commission then stop after every chapter, send it to get revisions, wait for those to come back, revise, resend, rinse and repeat.  That’d be time consuming and would likely eat time, no?  See above about magic time in a bottle, none of.

Once revisions are complete, it is at this point that you’ll make final payment.  Again, I swear by PayPal–others hate it.  But I’ll be honest–most times I’ve heard a “An author screwed me on PayPal…” story from an artist, come to find out that the flip side of that coin did not paint the artist in a good light.  Which, of course, led to bad word of mouth and some poor artists.

4.) What if, as an author, I’m just not happy with the final product?

You know that saying, “The customer is always right?”  Well, that doesn’t totally apply here.  Art isn’t a widget or a car–there’s not a whole lot of exact dimensions, other than the size of the image, involved.  So, before going ballistic, ask yourself, “Why am I unhappy?”

Is it because the image is not a 100% match for what you expected? –Sorry, but we don’t have mind reading technology yet where the artist can trace the exact image in your head.  This doesn’t mean that you have to accept something having, say, swastikas rather than Soviet red stars.  But…well, let me just post a pic that was a 85% solution to what I had originally wanted:

Battle of Hawaii 2

Wayne Scarpaci

Compare and contrast to the 70% solution (which is no fault of the artist–but I did learn lessons for the above picture):

Blade of the Kido Butai

Eric Weathers

You know what?  Both of these convey the fact that an American task force is being attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  Both were prepared by artists who are experts in their respective (nautical  and comic art) fields.  In the case of the latter, the only reason I went back to get another cover was because everyone, and I do mean everyone, asked me if I was writing a graphic novel.  In the case of the former, Wayne simply admitted he thought having the POV be from behind the B5N (the plane dropping the torpedo) was beyond his capabilities and made the picture too cluttered.  (Upon further review, he was right.) You know what?  Both men still got paid, and I still use Eric’s piece for marketing.

Is it because the artist did not follow instructions?–Now we’re talking a bit heftier reason to get a case of the grumps.  However, when one says “did not follow instructions,” was it because going with what the person said would have required basically starting from scratch, caused the author to bust a publication deadline, lead to the artist missing another deadline, or due to an unforeseen circumstance like, oh, an F-3 tornado ripping the artists’ roof off?  (Don’t know the person myself, but I know of the situation from a con acquaintance.)  If so, don’t be a jerk–if the cover is still functional, will attract the eye, and does not violate, say, historical accuracy for a novel set in Victorian England (“I said a pistol, not a blaster!”), go with it.  Understand that iron triangle (good, fast, or cheap–pick two) rules apply here if you’re up against a deadline.  If you are really unhappy, never use the artist again.  That includes never giving them word of mouth or recommendations.

However, in all things, remember this is a two way street.  Authors with reputations for being flighty or divas don’t get good cover artists except through luck or $$$. “Will have to put up with difficult authors’ crap…” isn’t necessary a stated fee.  I can tell you, however, that it is a mental one.  Don’t be that guy / gal.

If it ended up in court, is the discrepancy so obvious that your victory is nearly certain?  I’m meaning you asked for a bodice ripper cover set in the Antebellum United States and ended up with a cover that looks like it should grace a fantasy novel.  The main subject was an Asian man and you got Napoleon Dynamite.  Think “John Wayne as Genghis Khan”-level of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!”  Because if you’re going this route, it better be something that makes having Nun Thunderdome seem sane.  (“Two Nuns Enter.  One Nun Leaves. Two Nuns Enter. One Nun Leaves.”  “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?” “Oh, hello Bishop O’Reilly!  *nervous laugh*”)

Conan Painting.jpg

I said Robert E. Lee, not ROBERT E. HOWARD

If all these conditions are met…still think long and hard about it.  There is no guarantee that you’ll win.  But, if after you’ve eliminated every other recourse and the principle and/or amount is so high you’re ready to expend time and money wringing satisfaction out of someone, lawyer up.


5.) What about reproduction rights?

First ask yourself, “Why do I want reproduction rights?”  Then ask yourself, “Why do I want reproduction rights now?”  The reason for the first is that you’re going to pay some $$$ for them.  If you want full rights to slap that picture on anything you want, expect to pay 30-50% over what you’re just paying for the cover.  This is reasonable–artists with rights can keep making money on your piece, sans cover design, for years.  You can search for an artist who will let you keep all this stuff in the original price–or you can find a good one that’s going to charge you a reasonable price for it.  I know authors who insist on the former…and you can tell.

If your book sells well enough that marketing is a thing, you can always come back for them later.  Slap a line in the agreement about paying $$$ for future full rights by XXX date if necessary, at which point the price becomes open for negotiation again.  Get it ironclad by a lawyer, then move on.  The important thing is that you get your book out in a timely manner with plenty of $$$ left for editing and marketing.  Come back for the “I’d like to put this on mugs everywhere!” later.

Anyway, hope this helps folks looking to move towards cover art.  I’ll probably come back to edit this later after running it by a couple of cover artists.


Guest Blogging, Some News, and a Little Q&A


Sorry for some of the intermittent posting.  I have spent most of the last few days filling out interview questions for my blog tour through Goddess Fish Promotions.  For those of you who do not know what a blog tour is, basically a promotion site sets you up with guest blogs / reviews of your book on several different websites.  This is my first time trying it, so we’ll see it goes.  Even if it doesn’t work for me, successful paranormal / urban fantasy author R.L. Naquin swears by them–so it may be a genre thing.

In other news–I have recently been published in Armor magazine, the U.S. Army’s professional journal for mounted warfare.  You can find the article here:  .  It’s regarding doctrine, so odds are it may be a little dry without context.

Out of all the questions I got asked (and there were a lot), I had the most fun with the “What is your musical playlist?”  one.  I kept it limited to 15 songs, but here was my answer (with some Metal Monday Alumni):

1.) Dawson’s Christian – Vixy and Tony (

2.) Husker – Bear McCreary, from BSG: Blood and Chrome (

3.) Gettysburg Trilogy – Iced Earth (

4.) The Stars Will Fall – Crom (

5.) One Last Battle – Vic Tyler (

6.) Attack – Hans Zimmer, Pearl Harbor OST (

7.) Requiem For A Tower – London Music Works (

8.) Theme from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla—Akira Ifukube (

9.) Bottle of Pain—Combichrist (

10.) Freedom Fighters—Two Steps From Hell (

11.) The Bleeding—Five Finger Death Punch (

12.) I Love You—Woodkid (

13.) Long Live the King—Sabaton (

14.) When Winter Comes—Miracle of Sound (

15.) Even in Death—Evanescence (

I also learned that a lot of interviewers unwittingly ask the same questions.  I don’t want to steal any of the gracious hosts’ thunder, so I’ll start regularly answering a set of these questions  here on the blog / in my newsletter.  (“Newsletter?  How do we sign up for the newsletter?”  “Click here, my curious friend!”)

“A Midwinter’s Ski” was reviewed by Roses In Ink.  If you liked it as much as they did, pick it up for free on Amazon.

Last month I rode out to San Diego to attend the WEST 2017 Naval Conference hosted by the USNI (United States Naval Institute) and AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association).  The primary purpose was to receive my physical award for winning the USNI’s 2016 Cyberwarfare Essay Contest.  As a bonus, I also got to see a lot of awesome exhibits, visit the U.S.S. Midway, and talk some slight smack to a Class of ’64 USNA grad.  (“I guess we decided after 14 years to finally let your guys experience a victory.”  “_My_ class never lost to Navy, Sir.”).  This is me with the other award winners:


Here’s what the plaque looks like:


I’m pretty sure that The Prolific Trek is still muttering about driving halfway across the US to pick up something that would have easily fit in a mailing package.  But, had I done that, I would not have gotten to see the Grand Canyon:


Or totally fan boy over meeting the amazing Vincent P. O’Hara, author of several naval history books.  The one I’m holding, The U.S. Navy Against the Axis, is probably the best single-volume coverage of the USN’s surface fleet during the Second World War.  While James Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno is my go to recommendation for the Guadalcanal Campaign, O’Hara’s is my choice for a complete series.


Finally, my next upcoming event is Little Apple Comic Expo (LACE).  It will be hosted at the Kansas State Student Union on 18 March from 10 AM to 6 PM.  Feel free to swing on by to see Anita C. Young and I hawking our wares.

Anyway, that’s it from the Midwest.

FB, Promo, and the Etiquette Dance


This blog was inspired by a recent column on FB and author posts. I’ll be honest–I thought the author was a little too self-reverential at times, but the basic underpinnings were sound. In this blog post I’ll amplify some of his points:

Word count and editing:

I don’t think this is a hard full stop on either. I think the problem most folks have is that they do it all…the…time. To me, I liken it to telling your friends you’re on a trip. Telling someone every mile marker you pass between Los Angeles and Cleveland? Almost guaranteed to have someone arranging for the Hell’s Angels to meet you just north of Vegas. (“Just the phone and his fingers.” “Got it, got it. You just make sure that PayPal clears before then or we’ll be discussing a ransom payment.”)

On the other hand: “Hey, I just passed (beautiful landmark). Here’s why it was awesome…”? Much better, and it helps to build excitement about the trip.

Similarly, the blog author is right about some things are just baked into the writing cake. If you’re writing a book, guess what? You’re going to have to edit the damn thing. Not saying you can’t be pissed about it, but that’s what your _friend_ are for. Your fans? Well they’re probably wondering what’s taking you so damn long. By and large, I’d only mention editing to give a shout out to your editors (like the always helpful Mallie Rust for me) or relate a funny anecdote about a gaff you made. Like, you know, raising a minor character back from the dead after tragically electrocuting her previously.

*pause* Why would you think I was speaking from experience? I am nothing but peace and light to my characters. Now let’s move along before I catch fire.


You know how vaguebooking is annoying when your first cousin does it while talking about your favorite aunt/uncle’s health? Yeaaaahhh, unlike crazy Cousin Esther who you know is a drama queen, your readers come to expect you to clearly communicate information. In general, one should write their posts in a manner that someone who has never met you can understand 80% of what you’re talking about. (I would type 90%, but I have visions of at least two of my friends having a “orcas in the seal breeding grounds” field day with that.)

–Hating on other authors / genres

This pretty much falls under my “don’t be a jerk on the internet”-rule. You should not want to be a jerk just because that’s bad form. But, even if innate humanity doesn’t motivate you, reptilian survival sense should at least make you rethink a post that proceeds to rip on a fellow author or their work. No matter how successful you are today, that doesn’t guarantee success tomorrow. When you’re down and out, why let your spite cut you off from a potential avenue that may be the difference between paying your bills another month or not?  To having that person who could, with a mere whisper of your name, improve your sales 300% remember you went ad hominem extremo in a FB group?  You think authors who may have ridiculed J.K. Rowling once or twice are now silently wishing they were still on her good side?  Best way to avoid that sinking feeling?  Don’t go there in the first place.

Also a little survival tip you’ll hear me repeat over and over again: Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. Given how internet flame wars spiral out of control, it’s not too hard to get to the point people remember your name for all the wrong reasons.  Don’t pick fights nor let your friends pick them for you.  You know who gets to pick fights with other authors without worry?  Authors at the point where people will pay $50 for their grocery list because A. it would still be an excellent short story and / or B. you can probably summon something from an alternate dimension with it.  Not that I’m thinking about anyone in particular…


I’ll put this bluntly: Unless it is a site that explicitly encourages self-promotion, don’t do it. Don’t obliquely do it either. Indeed, even when you are encouraged to promote, the phrase “too much of a good thing” definitely applies to doing so.  Everyone remembers “that guy / gal” who the only time you saw them in a group was when they were plugging their book.  Do you think anyone in the FB group bought their book?  Probably not.  Is it maybe more likely everyone in the group noted their name as “Person who is about to live the lyrics from Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” concerning drowning…and not from the protagonist’s viewpoint.”?

Also–if you’ve been fortunate to be befriended by a more experienced mentor, do not tag them while trying to plug your book. This is annoying in the extreme, and it also blows up their notifications. Best selling authors know how to help you. If they’re not doing so, it could be everything from they’re restricted by their press to simply being too beaten down with actually, you know, trying to write their universes. Respect their time even more so than your own.

That’s about it from my end. I’ll try to put more up about promotion later.


Warship Wednesday–Damage Control


*cough cough*  Man, it’s kind of dusty in here.  You’d almost think someone hasn’t been in this place for like weeks.  Oh, wait…

Welcome to another edition of Warship Wednesday.  Today, rather than talking about a particular class of vessel, we’re going to talk about something near and dear to ship to ship fights: damage control.

According to Luttwak and Koehl’s The Dictionary of Modern War, damage control is “[m]easures meant to limit or counteract the effects of battle damage.  Naval damage control measures include firefighting, counterflooding to reduce listing, the shoring up of damaged bulkheads or hull frames, and ad hoc repairs.  The effectiveness of such measures depends on crew training, as well as on design features, such as compartmentalization, duplication of key facilities, the number and location of fire mains, emergency electrical generators, and pumps; such provisions account for a significant portion of warship costs.”

Sounds like some complicated stuff, right? Well, that’s because it is and it isn’t depending on what era you want to talk about.  Age of galleys?  Damage control was basically, “Oh f*ck, we just got rammed and…dammit, dammit, that’s it, the rowing slaves are screaming, the ship is sinking, and I’m sitting here in a suit of full metal armor getting pointed and laughed at by the asshats who put a hole in the ship.”  I mean, this is simplifying it somewhat, but both because the source material is kind of thin on the ground and the art of shipbuilding wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, if someone let Mr. Sea in, Mr. Fish and Mr. Crab were getting fed.

Oh and fire?  Yeah… about that.  Basically if you had the misfortune of fighting crazy bastards who were not only comfortable with having incendiaries on their vessels but lighting and launching from a pitching ship, you may have chosen enemies poorly.  Because if those lunatics hit you and got a good blaze going,  especially with something that adhered well to the hull?  Well, suddenly that guaranteed trip to to the bottom didn’t seem like such an inconvenience.  Something about “Drowning sure beats being the long pork at Mr. Arsonist’s Luau on the Sea…”

It was during the Age of Sail that things both got better and worse as far as damage control went.  On the plus side, sturdier ships and actual compartmentalization meant that there was a fighting chance to repair the vessel.  Cannons, relatively extended ranges, and improvements in the ability to maneuver (albeit depending on wind) also meant that there was increased time to effect damage control in many cases.  Best of all, damage control could “make the magic happen” with your basic carpentry kit and the supplies most sailing vessels kept on hand.  Mainsail get carried away because your opponent likes to aim high?  That’s cool, the repair process is the same as if you got Neptune’s pimp hand from a storm.  Since everyone knew Neptune was gonna want his money sooner or later, repairing  / removing masts or filling holes with patches were drills that the crew performed on a regular basis anyway.

On the flip side–gunpowder.  As in, things like this could happen:


That’s the French vessel L’Orient going sky high at the Battle of the Nile because of a moderate fire that got out of control.  That’s right–you bring gunpowder to a gunfight, suddenly Mr. Fire becomes even more of a jerk about sinking your ship.  Given the rudimentary pumps of the day, a fire getting out of control wasn’t all that uncommon.  In many cases, the only thing that kept this from happening a lot more often was Mr. Sea won the “How Can We Make a Crew Homeless?”-contest by a few minutes.

Eventually the Age of Sail gave way to the Age of Iron.  That, in turn, became the Age of Steel.  Since I’m not Avalon Hill and trying to sell you wargames, I’m gonna lump the last two together.  (“Just how many ages are there?”  “Shhh, shhh…we’re not going to go to the Age of Missiles”)  Without getting into a treatise on weapons’ advancement during this time, suffice to say things kind of got to be the suck for damage control during this era.  Various nations perfected the means to reliably detonate explosives underwater.  At first, this was only possible via fixed means, i.e. what were initially torpedoes (yes, as in “Damn the torpedoes!”) but now are known as mines.  Then some genius (often attributed to one Mr. Whitehead, but there are others), figured out how to add propulsion–and thus the modern torpedo was born.

“But wait a second–I thought large warships had compartmentalization just to keep a single underwater hit from doing it in?”  Yeaaaaahhh, about that.  In theory, yes.  But funny thing about mines and torpedoes–they seldom seem to hit just one compartment.  For example, the British battleship H.M.S. Audacious, barely a year old and with the most advanced compartmentalization of the time, took a mine hit that opened up multiple compartments at once.  This, in turn, led to “progressive flooding,” which is basically water finding all those passageways that have to left open for a warship to be able to function even at General Quarters.  Even with good compartmentalization, a vessel that has three or four major spaces open to the sea will be swiftly in danger of capsizing.  Throw in the secondary effects of a torpedo hit (e.g., fires, power disruption, bulkhead distortion, etc.), and its easy to see where things get hairy.

Modern gunfire also posed a much larger problem as far as damage potential went.  Outside of the “Golden BB” of a shell going into the magazine (think L’Orient, but instantaneous), there was also the problem of shells passing through the ship’s armored belt or deck and hitting major systems.  What do I mean by major systems?  Oh, little things like flooding oil tanks, hitting the electrical generators, or sending the central communications box to Kingdom Come.  These were all things that could and did happen in the midst of chaotic naval fights, and it was often a life or death matter for the crew to do so.  After all, everyone likes a simple gunnery solution, and if the rudder wasn’t working that made things easy peasy for everyone shooting at one’s ship.  (The crew of the K.M.S. Bismarck are all nodding sadly at this.)

So how did crews save themselves and their ships?  Well, as in the Age of Sail, in both World War I and II most vessels had a kit put together with things like “collision mats,” dimensional lumber.  This was buttressed by improvised stopping materials like crew hammocks or mattresses shoved into a hole.  By the end of World War I, ship builders began to add things like multiple pumping stations to aid in getting water out of the vessel, followed by making some of these stations multi-functional in order to help get water into the vessel in order to fight fires.  Although the Battle of Jutland was the only major fleet engagement, there was more than enough data from that incident to provide ship builders with thoughts on what went well (“Jolly good, the magazine flooding worked well on Lion…”) versus what went poorly (“Bloody hell, we really need to figure out better flash doors…”).

At the beginning of World War II, ship design had made another evolutionary lurch forward based on the threat of modern aircraft and submarines.  Unfortunately, as became quickly apparent, damage control was still very hit or miss.  The British lost the carrier Ark Royal to a single submarine torpedo despite being fairly close to their base at Gibraltar, and had several other vessels succumb to levels of damage their sister ships would later survive.  The Italians, while not quite as incompetent as some sources like to portray them, seemed positively fatalistic when it came to what mitigating actions should be performed.  The Japanese Navy’s relative indifference to damage control (with a few exceptions–see IJNS Shokaku‘s longevity) meant that their fleet units were knocked out longer when hit or, in all too many cases, had major damage become mortal due to officer incompetence (see IJNS Taiho).  In short, damage control success / failure for most navies became as much a matter of how seriously the captain and executive officer took things prior to the hit as said strike’s location.

The massive exception to this was the United States Navy.  This is not to say that the USN was inherently better from start to finish.  Indeed, this was inherently not the case.  Given that the USN started the war after its major ally (the RN) had been taking knocks for over two years and sharing the information about said beatdowns, the Navy’s early war performance was shockingly abysmal.  Pearl Harbor (surprise attacks are always bad) and the Asiatic Fleet (overwhelming force) can be eliminated from the narrative.  However, from Coral Sea through the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Pacific Fleet lost at least four major combatants (Lexington, Yorktown, Astoria, and Northampton) due to damage control miscues when all four vessels could have been potentially saved.  Other vessels were saved more through good fortune than necessarily excellent damage control work.  In short, the IJN took the USN behind the School of Hard Knocks and proceeded to take their lunch money, their glasses, and their dignity.

The difference between the USN and most of its contemporaries is that the USN learned.  The Department of the Navy collated all of the loss and damage reports and proceeded to distribute them regularly to the fleet.  It forced officers and ratings to attend damage control schools and training until every member of the regular crew had at least been exposed to some degree of what to do when the ship got hit.  It leveraged the United States’ incredible industrial advantage to produce literally thousands of portable pumps, breathing apparatus, hoses, and fire fighting equipment to issue to its ships.  Finally, ship designs were changed while on the ways to improve fire main survivability, add sprinklers, and otherwise make it easier for a vessel to survive when hit by a torpedo or bomb.

Did it work?  Yes.  One need look no further than comparing the damage that put paid to the Yorktown at Midway versus the utter mauling suffered by the U.S.S. Franklin (newsreel footage here as well) and Bunker Hill.  To their horror, the Japanese found themselves facing the nautical equivalent of Jason Vorhees, as ships they were certain they’d sunk just kept coming back…and back…and back again.  Meanwhile, especially after the USN got its torpedoes to work, their vessels were getting sunk or knocked out of the war by one or two major hits due to their failure to propagate lessons.

So how does this all translate into writing?  The obvious is that if you’re writing historical fiction and placing your character aboard a vessel, do a quick Wiki sweep to see what happened.  If you’re doing alternate history, feel free to extrapolate actual ship damage in a notional battle that is analogous to what happened to a sister ship or similar size combatant in that navy.  For science fiction, read through some of the war reports and get a sense of how vessels die, then realize that vacuum and advanced systems add “special sauce” to what you can do to place your characters in peril.  Being an author means one gets to play a deity…and we all know deities aren’t always benevolent.