Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review of Battlestar Gallactic:Blood and Chrome

A version of this post appeared on my R.B. Davidson web-site.

The new web series, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, is fracking awesome.

Debuting on Friday, November 10th on YouTube’s Machinima channel, the prequel’s first two ten-minute episodes dives immediately into the life of young pilot William Adama, who later becomes Admiral Bill Adama as fans of the excellent Battlestar Galactica know him.

The series opens at the height of the Cylon’s first War with the colonies where we meet Adama as he completes his Viper training and ships out to join the fight. His first assignment is on the Battlestar Galactica when it part of a relatively new fleet of warships.

A 1 minute trailer for those too busy for a 10 minute episode.

Throwing Adama directly into the war provides the show with an amazingly fast pace that keeps the action moving without sacrificing character development. Adama’s first mission in the war is supposed to be a milk run, a safe and routine cargo transport with orders to avoid enemy contact. This goes quickly wrong and lands Adama, his reluctant copilot, and a woman with secret orders from the Admiralty in the middle of a very important and dangerous secret mission.

Blood and Chrome is smartly written with a production quality rivaling those of major movies. The Galactica feels like an enormous ship in a major war filled with soldiers tired of fighting. The young Adama’s gung-ho ready-for-war enthusiasm is well-balanced by combat veterans that do their jobs with weary resignation and appropriate caution.

The web series is designed so that, should it prove popular, it can be re-edited into a movie that would be shown on SyFy in early 2013. No announcements have been made of turning Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome into a cable t.v. series like the original BattleStar Galactica. However it is clear this new show has a real possibility of developing into a long running, high-quality series. If you like epic science fiction, I heartily recommend Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome episode 1. Nothing phantom about this menace.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome episode 2.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo Is Approaching

This post originally appeared on my website at

National Novel Writing Month is about to start up again, and I plan to participate just as I have for the last two years. 

For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is pretty simple: write 50,000 words (approximately 200 pages) during the month of November. This works out to be about 1,667 words a day. A challenging goal, but one that I am capable of meeting, as my wins in 2010 and 2011 prove.

This year will be a bit different for me than the previous years.  In 2010 I wrote an initial draft of the second novel in my Gods Among Men series, …Demiurge, Unbound,…. In 2011 I focused on creating a draft of the backstory surrounding my most dynamic character, Artemis Arrowsmith.  In both cases I focused on a narrative that flowed from one scene to the next.

This year my plans are more scattered and random. I have some specific scenes in the first book, At The Lady’s Behest Comes…, that need a rewrite, such the opening paragraphs. Also I have decided to alter the opening few chapters of …Demiurge, Unbound,…. And there are a variety of scenes I have yet to create which I need in the second, third, and fourth books of my series. 

NaNWriMo provides an excellent opportunity to jot down quick first drafts of these scenes that I can later rework into useable material.  At the very least, the exercise of writing these scenes will help flesh out details that fill gaps in my rough outline.

In addition, I plan on writing down a lot of mythology that currently exists only in my head.  For example, I can specify:

  • Details about how magic works
  • The true history about Demiurge and the Lady
  • Delve into the wars Demiurge and the Lady fought against the Daemons and the False Gods
  • Explore details about the religions that have grown up around Demiurge and the Lady
  • Flesh out the cultures of the Gogs and Magogs

And so forth.  This material I will clean up and include on my new and improved website under the World menu. 

And I also hope to use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to create a series of musings I can later turn into blog posts. I have a variety of subjects in mind, but will let the whim of the day determine what I focus on.

These are my rough plans for the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge.  I think I have plenty to write about, but the lack of a strict narrative I think will create new difficulties for me, as will the additional demands on my time. Check back in December to see how well I managed. Hopefully I’ll have a new winner’s certificate to post on my site.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Big Picture

This post was originally posted on my author blog.

Some days you wonder if the process of preparing your first manuscript for publication ever ends. There are days when countless hours of hard work seem to not progress your plans or move your goals any closer.  It is at such points that it is easy to become frustrated and want to stop trying, to cease the endless cycles of edits and corrections, and walk away from whole project.

It is fair to say I have put a lot of effort into improving my skill as a writer, and that I have made tremendous progress over the last few years.  But the last meeting of the Magic City Writers’ Group also made it abundantly clear that even with extensive corrections, rewrites, additions, POV shifts, and so on, that my manuscript is still not at an acceptable level. 

My writing is mediocre and often boring, my most important characters are problematic, my opening paragraph makes people not want to read further, and those few readers willing to plow on past the first chapter will likely stop reading before reaching the point where the various characters and plot threads come together because they don’t feel invested in those characters or the unfolding plot.  

Compound this feedback, and the ensuing work required to address these problems, with my efforts to rebuild my author website from the ground up and it is enough to make me feel like I’m starting over from scratch.

Step Back

It is at times like these that it is important to step back, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture.

Yes, my writing skills are still well below that of good professional writers.

But it is also true that I am currently better than the vast majority of amateur writers, which is the category I still belong to. The reason I spent months interviewing professional editors is because I knew intellectually I wasn’t ready to compete with professional authors. All the reader review demonstrated is that my belief in my writing skills is significantly greater than my actual skills. 

This information hasn’t altered my decision to move onto working with professional editors, but it does impact the types of professional edits I must consider.

Currently I am waiting on the results of a professional manuscript assessment, a high-level review of my manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses.  After that assessment I have to decide whether to next pursue a developmental edit, a line edit, or copy edit. 

Uh…What’s the Difference Between These?

Without going into excessive detail, a developmental edit focuses on plot, structure of the manuscript, and character development; a line edit focuses on flow, logic of what happens within the plot, and tone of each characters voice; and a copyedit is a nitpicking pain-in-the-ass looking for grammar errors, misspellings, continuity problems, and logic lapses.

Basically a developmental edit is performed early in the life of a manuscript, a line edit is performed once the story and characters are well-formed, and a copyedit is done to wring out any remaining problems prior to typesetting a manuscript for publication.  After typesetting is performed, a proofread is performed to catch any errors that crept in during the final stages of preparing for publication.

The Decisions Before Me

Prior to the reader feedback I was thinking I could skip the developmental edit and move on to either a line edit or a copyedit. In fact, prior to making specific queries about the material, I ask the group which edit they would recommend I pursue next; two members recommended I go straight to a copyedit, while the other person believed a line edit would be of benefit. 

But when I asked specific questions about how much each person read, where they stopped reading, why they stopped, and elicited feedback on what exactly they liked and disliked about the manuscript, it became clear  that what prevented them from enjoying the work were problems with character development and plot structure.

In other words, the types of problems that require a developmental edit to correct.

In addition, the group made clear their continued (and even enthusiastic) dislike of my opening paragraph.  While I personally believe the current opening serves as a solid anchor for the series, I cannot continue to ignore repeated warnings about the obstacle it poses to potential readers.  I must seriously consider replacing the series’ opening with something more gripping. There are several possibilities that have occurred to me, and some of these alternate openings might allow me to address some character and structural issues that continue to plague the manuscript. 

Currently I am leaning toward an opening like:

My fate is sealed, Damon Roth scribbled in a large leather bound tome at the top of a crisp white page, the flawless marks left by his quill belying the speed with which he wrote. My apotheosis is inevitable, offering Earth its last hope for salvation. But I have at long last deduced the cost I must bear for daring to become the God Among Men. Knowing now what must befall me, I would turn aside if I could. But great endeavors, once begun, have a life of their own. They grow and feed, claiming more and more from you. The task becomes the master. Worse yet are labors that cannot remain buried, that demand to be exhumed. The beginning becomes the end, creating a new beginning. I am trapped in a web of my own devising, caught in a cycle that can never end. No matter my choices I am damned, and the most I can hope for myself is that my evil deeds will not be all I am remembered for.


With regards to my current manuscript, I believe I have reached the limits of what the writers group can offer me as constructive feedback.  I could continue to make changes and ask their opinion, but that would be of little value.  Their feedback would be far more valuable on the next book in the series, the one I need to start writing in the not too distant future.  I have written many scenes that will be in the second book.  A product of my participation over the last two years in NaNoWriMo which I can expand on and restructure until I have an acceptable first draft.

I will be receiving the professional manuscript assessment in about a month, at which time I can make my final decision about whether or not to pursue a developmental edit next or move onto a line edit.  At the moment I believe a developmental edit is called for.

Performing a developmental edit and making the changes required by that process, on top of the already planned line and copy edits, will likely push my publication date into 2014.  This is not a total negative, as that gives me extra time to master the intricacies of self-publishing, overhaul my website, plan my book launch, work on the second novel, establish my presence on various social media sites, and so forth.

The bigger questions are the ones nagging me in the back of my brain. It is clear, despite my innate passion to tell stories, that I am not an innately gifted writer. The progress I have made so far has derived more from hard work at developing crucial skills than from natural talent. Stubborn persistence has proven sufficient to turn what once was a truly terrible manuscript into one that is now mediocre.

But is that same persistence enough to turn the current mediocre manuscript into something exceptional? Are my problems with writing compelling prose part of the normal learning curve all writers must go through? Or are they reflections of my own limitations as a writer?  Am I at a plateau that I can move beyond with the aid of professional editors?  Or do I lack some some critical element from the mix of skills required to produce great writing? 

The only way to answer these questions is to keep trying, keep working daily, and hope that the final published novel was worth all the effort.

Friday, July 13, 2012

I’d Like Your Opinion

I have a very simple question: If you read the following on the back cover of a book (book blurb), would you open the book and look inside, or put it back on the shelf?  Any additional information or suggestions you care to give would be much appreciated.

Possible Book Blurb

Damon Roth, a half-mad wizard with delusions of godhood, kidnaps Princess Tara Rihtwis to prevent her destruction, advance his plot to destroy the empire called The Guild, and save all life on earth.

Artemis Arrowsmith, a mysterious former soldier with a tragic past, becomes Tara’s friend and mentor, teaching her skills needed to survive the eastern wilderness.

The traitor Maelgar Tregadie discovers Ilium, a forgotten fortress hidden within the eastern wilderness. He seeks to be hailed as Y’fel, prophet of Demiurge, by wolfen Gogs and magic-wielding Magogs so he can launch a holy war to destroy the Guild.

Tara’s faith in her goddess is tested, as is her belief that The Guild is a force for good, but she refuses to accept Damon’s prediction that it will be her, not Maelgar, who starts the war that shatters The Guild.

Thus begins Gods Among Men, an epic literary fantasy series.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Getting What You Ask For

The biggest problem with feedback is following it, especially when it might entail a mountain of work.

Yesterday I received the Magic City Writers’ Group edits for the final chapter in my first novel. There are always problems, and I expected incorporating the group’s suggestions would take a week or two. 

But the extended discussion, which I recorded so I can study it more closely, revealed systemic problems that require substantial time and effort to address.  If I am lucky and clever the needed changes might delay my plans by only a few weeks, but it could easily turn into a months long slog if I’m not careful.

It is moments like this that builds frustration with the writing process; when you think you are near the end of one leg of the journey only to see the road stretch on farther than you imagined.  You can see your destination, but realize getting there will be longer and harder than you fancied a day ago.

What Kind of Editing is Needed

Repeating my habit of leaping then looking, I recently began interviewing professional editors with the idea of hiring one to perform a developmental edit of my first book; an expensive and thorough examination of the novel that wrings out unaddressed problems and strengthens the final product.  (Another symptom of my “leap then look” tendency is that I didn’t bother to create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript before contacting a slew of editors.  Yet an0ther task to heap on a full plate.)

But getting a developmental edit assumes I have already self-edited the novel to the best of my ability.  I thought I was close to that point, only to now realize I am not.

I need to continue interviewing professional editors, but have decided to wait on the developmental edit.  Instead I will request manuscript assessments from a few editors; professional reviews of the work as a whole; less expensive and less thorough than a developmental edit, but excellent for identifying a manuscripts weakest and strongest areas. 

Such professional reviews of the completed work might be useful now, or perhaps it would be better to wait until I address some of the problems raised by the writers’ group.  I am on the fence as to whether I should plow ahead with manuscript assessments or perform yet another self-editing pass first. 

In either event, once I have worked my way through those professional critiques I will  determine which editor to use for a developmental edit and later a copy edit. 

The Long Haul

My general plan is to self-publish sometime next year.  A reasonable goal, but one requiring considerable work to accomplish.  The list of things I must do is long and intimidating: incorporate edits from my writers group, create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript, get a few manuscript assessments and address their comments, decide on which editor to use going forward, get a developmental edit and address the problems it reveals, get a copy edit and clean up the grammar and style problems it uncovers, learn about the publishing industry in a deep way, legally create my publishing house and deal with the headaches managing it brings, create a website for my publishing house, hire designers for the interior and exterior of my novel, replace my author web-site with a more professional (i.e. less ugly) one, have the book typeset and galley proofs created, hire a proofreader and fix any last minute problems they spot, make arrangements with print on demand vendors,  try to get my novel reviewed prior to publication, make my book available on Amazon and other retail sites, and so on. 

And that doesn’t even mention marketing, working on the second book, my day job, or a lot of other unavoidable, and time consuming, issues.

Transitioning from amateur writer to professional author requires turning a hobby into a small business.  Producing a quality manuscript takes money, time, and hard work with no guarantee of any reward other than seeing a professional finished book with your name on it.  It is worth the cost and effort only if you love the story you are trying to tell, and I do.  That love keeps me going through the long nights as I stumble through the convoluted process and scale obstacles in my path.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The True Purpose of the Query Letter

Twitter is a far more interesting and entertaining form of social media than I expected.  I am constantly discovering great articles and interesting insights about issues centered around writing and publishing. 

One such insight came after I read a tweet from a respected agent asserting that a not only does a strong query letter herald a strong manuscript, but that in almost every case a weak query letter indicates a weak manuscript.

What Is Query Letter?

A query letter it perhaps the most misnamed item I’ve ever come across.  The author doesn’t ask questions of those they send the letter to.  Instead the author sells themselves and their work.  The purpose, from the author’s perspective, is to convince an agent to invest time and effort in promoting their manuscript.

The heart and soul of a query letter is a (very) short summary of the completed manuscript.  This summary is like the blurb on the back covers of books; a snapshot of the novel’s contents designed to make prospective buyers flip to the first page and begin reading.

Why Do Agents Use Query Letters?

Busy agents can receive hundreds of submissions every day, more manuscripts than they can possibly read.  A streamlined process is required to process those submissions in an efficient manner.  When put into this context the need for query letters becomes clear.

The Faulty Inference

When an agent rejects a manuscript because of a weak query letter they never read the manuscript.  Its entirely possible the author wrote something good or even great, but the agent will not know because they never even looked at the manuscript.

Ergo the assertion that a weak query letter indicates a weak manuscript is not based on objective study, but a rather a belief unsupported by evidence. 

The Underlying Truth

What the query letter does demonstrate is the author’s ability to market themselves and their work. It reveals how good the author is at self-promotion. 

Self-promotion is a crucial skill modern authors must master.  A great manuscript is not enough.  The author must market their work in order for their books to sell.  A book which fails to sell well can cost a publishing house vast sums of money.  The agent who chose to promote that book might lose their job, and the author might never sell another book. 

A weak query letter indicates a weak self-promoter, someone who cannot market themselves or their work successfully.  This is someone agents can’t, and shouldn’t, take a risk on.  An agent who spends significant amounts of time helping an author overcome a marketing deficiency is doing a grave disservice to themselves and the other authors they represent.

I don’t like query letters and I don’t think you can say much about a manuscript based on a query letter, but they are an essential tool in the business of of publishing. In particular, they force writers, such as myself, to realize that literary success requires treating beloved creations as products to be branded and sold.  A sad, true fact.

Friday, June 15, 2012

New Music and Updated Chapters

Kathryn completed a new piece of music called Guildhall; named after the building housing the central government of The Guild, the decaying empire which dominates the world in Gods Among Men.  As usual, all chapters, author readings, and music MP3s can be found at  And here is a direct link to Kathryn’s new song:

Also, I have republished all of my chapters on the website.  I did this for a couple of reasons. 

First and foremost, the book’s final three chapters have undergone substantial changes in the last few months and I’ve been remiss in getting these changes posted.  These changes were prompted by the invaluable editing suggestions from the Magic City Writers Group.  Chapter thirteen is going to be edited by the group in the near future, so it will be updated again in about a month. 

Secondly, during the editing changes I made in the last three chapters I realized I needed to tweak specific sentences and paragraphs in various places throughout the book.  Minor edits that subtly enhance the overall work and is more consistent with the final third of the book.  Along the way I stumbled onto errors that had escaped my notice in previous edits; misspellings, the wrong word used (‘would’ when I should have used ‘wound’, that sort of thing), unclear sentences, etc.   Again, a series of minor edits that primarily cleaned up what was already there.

Third, I did another edit on chapter 7,…And Critical Moments Relived…, in preparation for submitting it to a writing contest.  I’ll go into more detail about that in a future post.  The main point is that the edits to chapter 7, while not major, were more than tweaks or cleaning up mistakes.  These changes smoothed certain rough spots and sharpened specific scenes.

Finally, I decided to change the font I have been using in the PDF’s of my chapters.  Up till now, the text of the story has been in Times New Roman.  I decided that using Garamond would give the text a more “book-like” feel.  This is part of an larger process in which I am moving closer towards the possibility of self-publishing my book.  Another subject I will go into more detail in a future post.

That’s all for now.  Take care and have fun.