Review of How to Catch a Liar, by Steven David Lampley – 3rd Edition

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I rarely review a book whose information I use almost every day – a book that has changed my life.  This book has.

Let me tell you a short story. I was at CrimeCon 2018 and went to the lecture on How to Catch a Liar by Steven Lampley.  He has trained law enforcement professionals on the techniques of spotting deception during interviews/interrogations.  I was stunned by how simple and practical the information was.  I went back to work on used it on a video conference call during my day job.  It worked!  I was able to tell when people were being deceptive.  Steven and I became acquaintances and I was so pumped when his third edition of the book was announced a few weeks ago. He was kind enough to shoot me an early edition.

To be blunt, I wish I had gone to his lecture or read his book when my kids were teenagers.  They would have been toast!  This is the kind of information that transcends true crime and applies in every aspect of your life, be it personal or professional.  To Steven’s point, this is also a book that can screw up a marriage if used incorrectly.  With great power, comes great responsibility.

It has also enhanced my ability to watch true crime shows on TV.  When you watch interrogations on The First 48, or when officers confront suspects on LivePD, you can spot the triggers with many of them and know when they are outright lying.  The stuff in Steven’s book works!  I shared the tips with my wife and when we watched the Netflix series, The Staircase – we could spot the lies and liars fairly quickly.  It has also applies when politicians are confronted by the press.  I cannot say enough positive things about the stuff crammed into this book.

The author dispels some of the myths (like arm-crossing) and provides concrete techniques that anyone can use.  I have used these on job interviews, discussions with people associated with crimes, and at work.  They are short, simple, and powerful tips.

There are some minor nits.  There are no page numbers, and I found two minor editing errors – no biggies.  In fairness, my copy was pre-release and complimentary, so such things are to be expected.

The book is a fast read – it took me less than two hours to devour.  It is not a dry read, Lampley has incorporated a very free form style to it.

Even if you are not a true crime fan, this book is a must-have.  I use the techniques constantly at work and when doing research for non-fiction books.  Steven also has a PDF that he offers on how to spot a liar when texting – which is also fabulous and useful.  If you ARE a true crime fan, you need this book.  It immensely changes and enhances your enjoyment of watching true crime TV.

If you want to be able to start identifying when people are deceiving you, (and who doesn’t?) it is worth it.  I haven’t seen the latest book on Amazon yet – but you can be sure he will have access to it at https://www.stevenlampley.com/

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Review of Mapping the Trail of a Crime – How Experts use Geographic Profiling to Solve the World’s Most Notorious Crimes – By Gordon Kerr

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I picked this book up for research on a series of murders my daughter and I are writing a book about.  We were able to get a copy of a geographic profile of our cases and I wanted to learn more about the techniques used in geographic profiling.  As an entry level book on this subject, it hits the mark.

Geographic profiling looks at the patterns a crime creates and maps probable areas where the killers live, have familiarity, or work.  It is not an exact science (yet) and some killers’ patterns defy the technique, such as those killers that are highly mobile and cover a broad geography.

It is a highly intriguing science.  Many serial killers follow a pattern which can be conveyed on a map. Most do not strike right at their home or immediate neighborhood, there’s too much of a chance they would be seen and recognized.  The majority strike in a band further out from their neighborhoods, where they are familiar with the territory but there is less risk of them being recognized.

The book is a paperback format, heavy with maps (duh) and photographs.  A large number of serial killing cases are examined and, in most cases, it is explained where geographic profiling could have helped or did help on the case.  In a few of the instances, there’s not a lot that ties to the subject matter in a given chapter, because the cases don’t fit the model where geographic profiling can apply.

The book was pretty good, but really didn’t dive deep enough into the subject for me…but remember, I’m a true crime author and want more nuts and bolts.  There’s not a lot of books on this subject…not for under $100, so I do recommend this for the “casual” true crime reader who wants a great source of maps of murders and explains the basics of geographic profiling.  I find myself wanting to pick up some of the author’s other books, which says a great deal about his style.  I also loved the paperback format, with end flaps which mirror a hardcover book. It is a nice touch from the publisher.

Forever Faithful Is Available for Pre-Order

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Note:  I will brush with spoiler territory with this post – but not cross that line.  You proceed at your own peril.

Here is the original draft of the back cover text for Forever Faithful…

Presumed Dead…

Clan Smoke Jaguar was targeted by the Star League to be obliterated.  The other warring Clans turned their back on them, leaving them to die.  Everyone presumed they had been completely crushed…and that was their mistake!

Four Warriors are determined to save the remnants of the Jaguars if they don’t kill each other first.  One is the traitor that brought the enemy to their doorstep: one is the Smoke Jaguar who was tasked with rallying them and failed; one is a Nova Cat Warrior with a vision of their true role in history; and the other is from Clan Goliath Scorpion who wants to harvest their remnants as museum exhibits.  These four are on a collision course that stretches from Huntress to the Inner Sphere.  What the Smoke Jaguars become impacts The Republic of the Sphere and far beyond.  When it comes to the vision of Nicholas Kerensky, the Smoke Jaguars are Forever Faithful!

Note:  I can see why my editor, John Helfers, changed it. Still, parts of it ring very true to me.   

I just received word that Forever Faithful is finally available for pre-order. In fairness, this is not a great entry book to the BattleTech universe.  You need to know the events of the Twilight of the Clans series to really appreciate it.

I have to admit, there is a special place in the dark recesses of my mind for this book.

You see, it all began with Surrender Your Dreams.  When I was offered that novel, the parameters were pretty vague.  “Write 2-3 short stories about what was happening in the Republic after Fortress Republic went up.”  I am no fan of analogies and writing three short stories just seemed cheesy.  If you can pick one word to describe me it is, “Doesn’t follow rules well.” Get it? Moving on.  So I altered the format of the book, jumbling the chapters’ ala Pulp Fiction.  I also introduced something cool in the form of a new unit, the Fidelis.

The Fidelis were mysterious. I thought that the Republic needed something unique and enigmatic.  Their unit formations were seemingly un-Clanlike or Inner Sphere.  They were Special Forces, elite to the extreme.  They also made sure when one of them died that they left no usable DNA behind.  Clearly they wanted to hide their origins – but for the reader, it posed the question of “why?”  As it turned out, they had a LOT to hide.

From the get-go, I knew they were going to be the Smoke Jaguars. I had heard some alleged-powers-that-be claim they were dead and never coming back – which made it all the sweeter to try.  Randall said, “Write up how they came to be and let me look at it.”  I did.  A page or so of content.  Randall approved it and I knew I had something ultra-awesome for the book.

Revealing the Fidelis as the Smoke Jaguars was a blast.  It always nagged at me though.  I never told the Fidelis origin story, I simply introduced them with a hint of mystery as to how they got there.

The fans loved the reveal at the end of Surrender, igniting an internet-troll-war of full-bore-hemorrhaging-level six-nerdgasms as to whether they were “really” the Smoke Jaguars.  Some argued they were the Wolverines.  No.  Hell no. Then came the, “Well, they really aren’t Clan…so even if they are were Jags, they aren’t now.”  It amazes me to this day how passionate and ditzy the fan community can be – and how many of them know more about the Jaguars than I do (according to them.)  I bowed out of those online battles, because most trolls are douchebags and we all know it…begging for attention, even negative attention.  Besides, I knew their origins, I knew the truth. Heck, I created it. And the truth was awesome.

You can take the warrior out of a Clan but you can’t take the Clan out of the warrior.  Breeding will always dominate such a people.  Yes, they were the Fidelis, but if you assumed that they had shed (or fled) all of their heritage you would be mistaken. Readers saw the public face of the Fidelis in Surrender Your Dreams, not who they were in their hearts. New Earth holds many dark and twisted secrets…

When John Helfers asked what I wanted to write first as a new novel, I originally proposed an all-encompassing Jihad novel that would explain the entire Jihad from an insider’s point of view.  It was a neat idea, but frankly, I am no fan of the Jihad era.  Too many dead mercs killed in less-than-glorious manners.  John liked the Jihad idea but wanted another option…so I pulled out my original Fidelis document and thought, “Wow, this is a chance to fill in a neat piece of BattleTech history.”  Even after their military defeat on Huntress, I didn’t feel the Jags had really reached the bottom.  To do that, you had to have the Inner Sphere attempt to inflict their morals and values on them.  This book allowed me that opportunity.  Moreover, this book allowed me to set a few things right.

What things am I referring to?  Trent.  I didn’t like his demise in the Twilight of the Clans series; no offense to Mike Stackpole.  It felt out of character for Trent.  I raised the issue back in the day but nothing changed during the edit process. We spent a lot of time and effort to build up Trent and his death was an off-screen event that just felt empty.  I hated that.  Trent was never about revenge on the Smoke Jaguars.  His callsign was honor, which he felt his people had wandered away from.  Trent was what the Smoke Jaguars were meant to be, in my mind anyway.

Additionally, there were some stories that simply had to be told.  What happened on Huntress after the Star League victory?  Bits and pieces made it into sourcebooks, but no one said what happened with the remnants of the Smoke Jaguars after the faux-Star League departed.  What happens to a warrior people that are crushed?  What happens in a rigid caste society where the leading caste has been devastated?  Did the Star League win the war and lose the peace on Huntress? What became of all that was left of the Jaguars?

The novel gave me the opportunity to write about some other Clans as well, one in particular that never really got much air time in fiction – the Goliath Scorpions. There’s some Nova Cat stuff in here too, back when the Nova Cats were all mystical and exotic.  If that wasn’t enough, I also got to write about the Eridani Light Horse, which was special. Anytime you can write about such a storied unit, it is fun.

But in the end, this is the story of powerful characters and the change they have to go through.  It is the story of what Victor Steiner-Davion put into motion with the destruction of the Smoke Jaguars – and how that spiraled out of his control decades later.  I got a chance to introduce new characters and rekindle some fascinating old ones from a bygone BattleTech era.

I was allowed to determine what went on the cover which is a change under the new regime that is welcome.  I knew the battle intimately and the artist did a stunning job of capturing it, right down to the lightning.  I think it pops and sizzles.  Moreover, notice that the Timber Wolf is standing on a crushed Goliath Scorpion ‘Mech? Pretty awesome eh?

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The full blown art cover…which is awesome! 

This is a book about characters who are suddenly faced with the realization that everything they lived their lives for has changed.  What they thought were their goals has been crushed.  They must redefine themselves and their relationships to each other.

This book does not necessarily stand alone. Wink, wink.  In fact, you may want to dust off other Classic BattleTech novels I have written to help you. If you think this story is over by the end or with the events in Surrender Your Dreams, you are delusional or on drugs.  I was given a broad tapestry to work with and took full advantage of it.  This story does not necessarily end with this novel. Even my evil plans have their own evil plans. Those of you that know me well know all of this stuff is stitched together into a pretty intriguing tapestry.

This was my first novel where I incorporated some fans into the fiction as well.  Seyla y’all!

There are some killer scenes in this novel (pun intended).  Without spoiling them, I will relay this funny story.  During the edits, one editor wrote, “I wish he’s just punch Victor in the face!”  That was when I knew I had written that scene right. Let’s face it, we ALL have thought about punching Victor at one time or another.  The final scene with Trent is a very critical one as well.

Sidebar:  At GenCon last year they inadvertently showed the cover of the novel on another book. I have to admit, I was surprised by that.  Still, they didn’t show ALL of it…so the reveal is still pretty awesome.

To those defiant souls that think the Fidelis are not the Smoke Jaguars at their core – well, you couldn’t be more wrong.  And in a few months’ time, I will prove it to you. Detractors, prepare yourselves for battle and to suffer the agony of defeat.  (Engage Evil Laugh Mode for five seconds)

In the meantime, I encourage you guys to order the novel and get ready for a bumpy ride. This is not your daddy’s Jihad, this is Clan BattleTech action – where honor and pride matter. This is about Jaguars old and new, mystical Nova Cats, driven Goliath Scorpions, (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”)  Dust off your Twilight of the Clans series…because this starts where that ends.

Additionally, if you want more BattleTech fiction to be published, you have to order the books – it really is that simple. Catalyst is watching the novel sales carefully.  Yes, there is a hardcopy of the book that will be available around the release date from Amazon.

Ebook Ordering Link

Rorke’s Drift Anniversary

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January 22 is the anniversary of one of history’s most infamous battles – Rorke’s Drift.  I became enamored with this battle after a veteran on my newspaper route in high school recommended I watch the movie, Zulu.  Yes, I know the movie has a number of inaccuracies, but it was compelling.  It harkens to the Alamo, but in this case the Texicans would have won.  At Rorke’s Drift, on 22 January 1879, 150 British soldiers successfully defended the outpost from almost 4000 Zulu warriors.  Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for the battle, more than any other single engagement.

The prelude to the battle was a disaster for the British Army.  At Isandlwana scant miles from the outpost, the 24th Regiment of Foot suffered a staggering defeat and were slaughtered.  The small detachment at Rorke’s Drift were alone in hostile territory, horribly outnumbered by an emboldened enemy fresh from a victory.  The outpost was exposed, surrounded by hillsides.  On paper, defeat appeared inevitable.

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The outpost prior to the battle

The British troops formed a defensive perimeter around the outpost, using the buildings, fences and barricade of mealie bags.  The Zulus were armed with spears and captured rifles, but the defenders had firing discipline and steely resolve.  Sweltering in their brilliant red uniforms, the British (and a handful of Natal troops) repulsed wave after wave of attackers.  To this day, it remains a victory of pride and honor for the British Army.

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Lieutenant John Chard: “The army doesn’t like more than one disaster in a day.”
Bromhead: “Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfast.”
From Zulu

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 31 – The Battle of the Horns of Essex

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Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Brandon…

We were exhausted and victorious and in constant danger.  We awoke, still stinging from the fight. We pulled opened the massive Stoneoak doors of the chamber to begin our journey out of Tempora.  Our new comrades, the paladins we had saved, looked far worse than we did.  I can only imagine the nightmares they had endured as prisoners of Victor Barristen – hellspawn, former paladin, master of the undead.

It was my superior tracking skills that enabled us to survive and escape.  I looked for the tracks of the paladins that had brought into this chamber.  I suspect that my comrades did not fully appreciate the subtleties of tracking and the amount of skill required.  The musty air and the lack of good light made things even more challenging, but I proved up to the task.

We made our way room-by-room, hallway-by-hallway, trying to figure out where we were.  I came across one chamber that tore at my nostrils with the stench of death and rot. Althalus waved a hand and projected a bright light in the room for us to all see what was in there. Stacked like wood, were the shriveled corpses of more than a hundred paladins that had been Barristen’s victims.  Sir Bentblade entered the room and I saw the tears streak into his gray-white beard.  He knelt and prayed and for a few moments, we remained silent.  After the paladins said their prayers we sealed that room shut and moved on.

We trudged onward into the darkness – the musty and moldy smell filled the air.  Beyond a set of tarnished bronze doors we found a spiral staircase up.  We cautiously made our way up, fearing a sudden plummet downward. Climbing nearly 80 heads upward, the staircase ended in a door and a hallway beyond.

We continued on, my tracking skills backtracking the paladin’s footsteps that led them into this place.  Althalus complained, “I am not convinced we are still in Tempora.  She could have transported us anywhere.”  Theren disagreed.  There were twists and turns in the trail we followed, confusing and disorienting us.

In one chamber we found four coffins in a large chamber with some sort of statue in the middle.  My sword began to glow and Arius grabbed his hilt.  “I sense the presence of undead.”  The paladins in our party drew their blades as well.

“I have some oil,” offered Theren.  “We can soak the coffins and set them ablaze.”

“Does fire kill vampires?” asked Arius.

“Vampires?” I asked.

“I don’t know if they are vampires or not, but I do not wish burning undead attacking us as opposed to those not on fire,” he replied.

“Mummies would be worse,” Althalus said, not calming my nerves at all.

We opted to jam the door shut rather than risk their wrath. Returning to the trail, we found another chamber with a raised throne in the middle of it.  There was a thick old carpet laying between the raised seat and where we stood.  The shadows beyond the throne seemed to move, as if something was in there.  As we approached the room a hoard of zombies rushed out at us, their rotting flesh and putrid yellow eyes made me wet myself, if only just a little.

My glowing sword Nightstalker swung through the air, just missing one of the hideous creatures.  Our paladin comrades sprang at the undead as did the rest of our party, surging forward.  Arius blasted the arm off of one zombie, sending it hitting a wall and sliding down with a sickening thump.  I thrust Nightstalker again, driving the blade through the rib cage and its spine, making the undead even deader. Theren jabbed at one of the creatures, knocking out some teeth but doing little more.

Our silent monk, Dimitrious, punched one through the throat, destroying it with a blur of his fists.  Althalus unleashed an eldritch blast, which all but disintegrated one of the zombies. One of the creatures tried to flail at me but missed.  Sir Bentblade killed my attacker with one mighty sweep of his sword, sending rotting body parts spinning on the ancient white marble floor.

I sat on the throne, if nothing more than to see if it was magical in some way.  Behind a threadbare tapestry on the far wall, we found a hidden passageway and continued through it.  We snaked our way through several twisting and musty passages and eventually came to a chamber with a stone sarcophagus in the center of it.  We cleared enough of the dust on top to read that it was the tomb of the Dwarven Queen Silvistar.  The carved images on the lid showed her as she must have been in life, beautiful – no beard (I had always heard that their women had beards…imagine my surprise!)  The image shows her holding a massive war axe with runes carved in it.  One of the paladins in our party read it.  “The word for that is soul-thief or stealer…depending on the dialect.”

The lid showed signs of desecration, it was ajar on the top.  Her image showed chips from a blade hitting it and a crack was found in the dust as well.  I saw browning maroon blood splattered there as well.  I called out, “Althalus, what do you see?”

“From where I am standing, a lot of man-ass,” the warlock responded wryly.  He made his way through the line of paladins to join me.  I wanted it opened.  Along with Dimitrious, we pushed the lid off with a thud on the stone floor.  Inside was her rotting body – with signs that someone had looted her remains.  She must have been holding that axe at one point, but it was gone ages ago.  Out of respect, I put the lid back on, though I could feel the icy stares of Sir Bentblade on me.

We trekked on, finding one room that apparently had been used to prepare bodies for burial which made my skin crawl.  Arius’s mapping was enough to give a sane man a nosebleed, it had so many twists and turns. We came to an iron door that was hard to open.  We came to a large domed room, the murals on the ceiling showed the burial processions of dwarves – many apparently royal by what they wore. In the center of the room, on a wide pillar, were two bat-like statues, massive – eight heads tall with stone carved wings and nasty talons.  Their pointy ears made them look demonic.

There were rune on the pillar which our paladin comrade translated for us. “Hmm,” he muttered.  “Interesting.  Bow thy heads in honor.”

“That’s it?” Theren asked.

“That is all,” the paladin said.

“Those are gargoyles,” Althalus said.  “They may look like statues, but they can move and kill.”

Althalus and Dimitrious stood before the creatures and bowed deeply.

“You’re following random Dwarven instructions?”

“In lieu of anything else,” the warlock replied, “yes.”  Dimitrious silently nodded in agreement.

Arius did not bow as he passed and suddenly both of the gargoyles came to life, moving on our brother the paladin.  I was stunned with the speed they demonstrated.

“I warned you!” Althalus chided as we all drew our weapons.

One savagely bit Arius and tore at him with his razor sharp claws.  Blood sprayed in the air and Arius staggered back a half-step, gore flowing over his armor.  My arrow went wild almost hitting one of the paladins who deflected it with a speed that surprised me. “Sorry…” I said pulling another arrow from my quiver.

Swords rang out on the stoneskin of the gargoyles and their gray blood splattered the floor tiles and on our party.  Bentblade took a savage cut from the creatures, and the older paladin dropped at Arius’s feet.  Our paladin comrade’s blade lit up with magical flames and he jabbed deep into the hide of one of the gargoyles.

I felt a surge of heart and focus – clearly a magical blessing from one of the paladins.  One of the gargoyles tore into Sir Harold the Quick, biting him in the forearm, then ripping his chest with a claw.  One of the paladins swung Skullringer, Bor’s warhammer.  He struck one of gargoyle’s square in its chest and unleashing a thunderous smite in the process.  The creature was thrown backwards to the far end of the chamber, hitting the wall so hard it made a thudding sound.  Bentblade slashed at it mid-flight, cutting it deeply and sending gray blood in the air.

Harold the Quick did not live up to his name, getting bitten again by the other gargoyle.  Dimitrious unleashed a flurry of fist strikes to protect the paladin, each one cracking the stoneskin of the creature.  The monk’s hands were bloodied from the assault, but he had done more damage than he had taken.

Theren swung his shillelagh at the creature thrown against the wall, leaving a furrow in its cheek from the hit.  I dropped my bow and drew Nightstalker and Bonebreaker, spinning the morningstar furiously as I moved into position for an attack.  Dimitrious chopped at the creature and threw it hard to the floor.  Arius jumped and impaled his blade into the closest of the beasts, killing the statue-like creature.  The other gargoyle suddenly sprang at me, biting me on my upper right arm.  I managed to stagger back, blood everywhere around me.  Everything went dark and I collapsed to the floor.  I barely felt the tile slap me in the face as I dropped.  No!  It cannot end like this!

I came to in a cold sweat with my friends hovering over me.  “Did we win?”  Althalus shrugged.  “We did.” They helped me to my feet but I was dizzy from my brush with death.  I looked around and saw we were still, for the most part, alive – battered, but alive. I ached and felt bruises that I did not know I owned, but I was back from the eternal darkness.

“You guys should have bowed,” the warlock said wryly.  Given the blood soaking my jerkin, it was hard to argue that he was right.  If nothing else, Althalus was all about reading and following directions.

We left that chamber and the warlock stumbled into a poison dart trap, one that Arius incapacitated, paralyzed.  The darts came from dozens of little holes on the floor, ceiling, and walls.  We hadn’t noticed the tiny holes until we were deeply into the middle of the trap.

Our solution was for Theren to transform into giant spider and to ferry us over the trap triggers on the floor.  It took long tedious minutes, but worked well – though the paladins with us sneered at the spider.  The church was against the use of magic that they did not govern or mandate, and they had waged an inquisition against the druids.  Necessity forced their compliance with our bypass, but I feared there would be retribution at some point in the future.

Lumbering on, my superior tracking skills led us to a staircase up.  When we reached the top, I took a sigh of relief…this is where we had been attacked by Cyrilla Drex!  When we were here last she had teleported us into the sword.  We knew our way from this point.  At the far end of the room was the Well of Fates that had showed us our futures.  As we passed the pool, I swear I saw Bor’s face there, in agony and torment.  Sir Bentblade glanced at the pool then to us.  “It is okay, we have been here before.  We know our way out from here,” I assured him.

I thought we would have an easy going, but we encountered a mummy several hallways further – coming in behind us.  Theren, still a giant spider, webbed the mummy.  He tore through the web, but it was enough to slow him further.

Dispatching the shambling undead proved easier than I would have thought – though the narrow hallway proved challenging for our rather large party.  My weapons illuminated the passage and I used Bonebreaker to shred off a layer of the mummy’s wrapping.  Another swipe tore off the bandaged arm of the monstrosity and sent it spinning down the hallway – causing it to groan in a voice that chilled me.  The shambling creature did not stand a chance against all of us though.  Dimitrious drove his fist into its chest cavity, permanently killing it.  Its mouth opened and bellowed a foul cloud of death-dust on us, the stench of it hung on my clothing for hours afterwards.

We made our way backtracking our journey into Tempora.  It was strange visiting so many places where we had fought and bled.  I was most nervous in the ruins of Tempora itself, where I could hear those teleporting spiders clicking above us.  They did not attack, no doubt because of the size of our party.

We travelled the long underground roadway back out to the Vale of White. We remembered to disable the bones in the vale, and trudged out into a cold rain.  Sadly, we came across the carcasses of our horses that we had left tied up outside the vale. Oversight on our part, we had left them tied up.

Even the light of a stormy day felt good on my skin.  We had been underground for long and perilous days.  Now we simply had to deliver the paladins back to the Order of the Fang and maybe, just maybe, they could free the paladins trapped in Drex’s massive sword.  We camped that first night, then set off down the old road back to the lowlands.  Our sense of day and night had been lost in Tempora.

The next night stopped at the Horns of Essex to camp and retain our bearing and strength.  Here the massive horns of a long-dead creature jutted upward to the gray skies. I remember it being spoken of as a place of great magic.  The giant stony horns were eerie, but marked our passage downward out of the wilderness.

It was in the middle of the night that Althalus woke me and the others.  Something was amiss – he had heard something in the brush.  He called out to the bushes, “Who goes there?”  Motion stirred in another location.  “We know you are out there, show yourself!”  The warlock was bold, if nothing else.

Dimitrious quickly lit a torch and tossed it into the brush.  Suddenly, three packs of rats burst out at us.  They were a trio of swarms, a mass of vermin, all coming at us.  Behind us, Hell Hounds burst out of the foliage, their glowing jowls lighting up our camp.  They snarled and growled as they closed on us.

Arius waved his hands and chanted – blessing some of our party. I could feel the surge of holy power pulse through my veins.  One of the hounds tore into Biff the Bold, one of the paladins, its fangs clamping onto his arm and tore at his flesh.  Fire burst out from the wounds and the paladin dropped to the ground unconscious.  Another lunged at Theren who was injured by its claws. Another tore into Sir Biff, ripping off a leg and tossing it into the brush.  There would be no healing that could bring this holy warrior back from where his soul went.

Sir Rippen, a rather unremarkable paladin, missed a Hell Hound entirely, planting his blade in the soft ground.  Arius used Skullringer on a rat swarm, sending bits and pieces of dead rats spraying into the air – his thunderous smite splattering many.  Blood dripped from Skullringer as the hoard of rats reeled under the assault.

I notched an arrow and planted it in the hide of a Hell Hound.  It ignored it entirely, which I was satisfied with.  This was not a time to draw a great deal of attention.  Althalus fired an emerald burst of power into the same hound.  The searing smoke hole in its hide only seemed to make it angrier – if that was possible.

Theren stabbed at one of the hellspawn creatures, planting his blade deep.  Black-red blood spurted out and the creature growled in pain and anger.  The paladins joined the fray, their weapons flailing in the night, slashing at the Hell Hounds.  Dimitrious bludgeoned on of the hounds, hitting him hard.

One swarm of rats tore into Sir Harold the Quick, crawling over him, seeking any exposed flesh.

A boiling green cloud emerged in the middle of our ranks near Arius and Viktor Barristen appeared, his skeletal face with horned helmet striking fear in me.  I will not lie, I wet myself just a little at the sight of him rising on a cloud of mist.

“We are doomed!” Althalus called out.  I had to agree.  Arius swung Skullringer at him, capped with his holy smite, hitting the quasi-lich anti-paladin.  The skull grinned in response.  “I have come for that sword…” he hissed.  Arius alone was horribly and hilariously outmatched.

My next arrow planted itself in the black fur hide of the Hell Hound I had hit earlier.

Harold the Quick flailed about with his pack of rats, sending rats scurrying as he snapped the necks of two of them with his hands.

Theren, morphing into bear form, tore into a Hell Hound, clawing and biting viciously at the Hell Hound which responded in kind.  The smell of burning fur filled the air. I kept worrying about Barristen, but the Hell Hounds were more pressing.

One Hell Hound scotched a paladin warrior in evil flames, leaving him screaming, which did not help my calm. Another beast broke off with Theren and jumped him as well, savaging him into unconsciousness.

Barristen was what really worried me.  He swung his staff in front of him, pointing it at Arius.  A brilliant beam of azure energy hit our comrade and he dropped, paralyzed. The evil undead anti-paladin reached down to his backpack and grabbed the sword of Cyrilla Drex.  I swear I saw him grin evilly as he hefted the heavy blade.

The sword!  I cringed.  In his hands those imprisoned paladins faced a fate worse than death.  Before I could fully comprehend the events, Althalus knocked one of the Hell Hounds back with a blast of eldritch power, allowing the paladins to pounce strike him.  Theren’s clawing attack tore off a piece of hide from one Hell Hound, sending it flying into our campsite.

Dimitrious tore into that creature, his fists thrashing the beast until it collapsed, its chest shattered.  The blue robed monk grabbed the fire gland of the beast and ripped it from its chest and tossed the black-bloody organ to the ground as the creature dropped.

I spun on Barristen, just in time to see him turn into a cloud of greenish smoke and disappeared into the night…taking the sword with him.  I spun on one of the Hell Hounds and fired another arrow, hitting it true.  We circled the remaining Hell Hounds and in a flurry of sword blows and magic blasts, we slashed at them.  I proudly delivered the killing blow on the last of the creatures, earning honor and respect of my comrades.

Suddenly things went very quiet, except for my ragged breathing.  We had won the fight, but in losing that sword, we may have lost on a larger scale. As Arius regained his control and rose we all looked at each other in a mix of victory and concern.

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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#DandD

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From My BattleTech Archives – The Planning Documents For Twilight of the Clans (Part II)

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If you haven’t read my first blog post Part I, on this subject, check it out.

In this final part, we see a massive space battle over Huntress and the arrival of Paul Moon’s Smoke Jaguar relief force, though at this stage of development, no one knew it would be Paul Moon.  As you can see, we didn’t map out the details for the fighting for Huntress, only that it was savage and brutal.  I never agreed with the concept that we would kill every warrior, that seemed unrealistic, and ultimately we did not.

On page 8 you can see my original question mark around Katherine seizing control of the Federated Commonwealth via effective public relations.  Talk about fake news!  Again, BattleTech was ahead of the curve by decades.  I always thought that whole explanation needed a lot more meat behind it.  I find it hard to believe that popularity polls would force a ruler to turn over power.  Then again, when you look at the years when this was written, the power of polls was just starting to emerge.

One thing we never fully covered was who killed Morgan.  Of course, as you saw in Part I, it was supposed to have been Focht that was assassinated. We never really bonded with Morgan as a character enough to care that he had died, at least that is my opinion.  It still remains a mystery as to who killed the Davion Lion.

In the list of units you will see Team Banzai…which was a treat.  I don’t recall us actually using them though.  It was around then that we stopped referecing them in material.

There were a lot of plotlines left open, including Thomas Marik’s fate/identity.  Boy did that get some legs and run over the years!

For me, this was great to dig out and post.  One, it shows you the behind the scenes structuring we went through.  We have been living with the results of this document and the novels that came out of it for decades.  Each author had discretion to interpret the document.  We didn’t have a clean canvas, but it was not a paint-by-numbers print either.

Two, we have been going through a similar exercise for the last year and a half to plan/plot/machinate the next new era of BattleTech.  For old farts like me, it is a real treat to still be doing this after all of this time.  With the Twilight of the Clans we set in motion a series of events that will start to come to closure in the coming few months.  Talk about a long journey!  If I am fortunate, in another 10 years, I will be posting the documents of what we have just completed planning.  Who knows?

In the meantime – here’s a glimpse into the history of BattleTech!

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Bad Reviews I’ve Had on Amazon and My Less-Than-Subtle Rebuttals

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I never smile that much.

Amazon.com is fantastic.  It has changed the way we buy almost everything – especially books.  What sucks about it is the review capability.  Basically anyone who purchases your book, can post a review of it.  At first that seems benign, but in reality, it gives every troll on the internet the capability to voice their opinion – no matter how crazy.  Worse yet, it is nearly impossible to get reviews removed from a book…trust me, I’ve tried.  Reddit is even worse…it is the freshman dormitory for internet trolldom.

While merely my opinion, I strongly believe that the internet turns normal idiots into connected idiots who proffer their pointless opinions to the world with the same credibility as geniuses.  Feel free to use this quote on Twitter.  I think it would make a swell t-shirt.

Not every negative comment is the result of a troll.  Some people have issues with my writing style or structure of the book. Unfortunately, just because you don’t like the style, doesn’t mean that others won’t love it.

Amazon does let writers respond to comments, but I have found this only feeds the narcissistic needs of the trolls that post the negative comments.  I don’t have the time or inclination to get into a pissing match with some stranger.  At the risk of sounding egotistical (which I am); it is beneath my dignity and a waste of my time.

Bear in mind I write in a number of genres, business management, military history, science fiction, and of course, true crime.

Writer

I understand (now) that being a successful writer means you are a public figure of sorts.  That means you are open to critique, good and bad.  I had no idea when I began this journey back at Central Michigan University in 1980 that I would find myself being reviewed by total strangers.  I wonder if it would have changed some of my decisions?

Naa…

I get far more positive reviews over bad ones, but still, I read them all. Every time I tell myself it is the last.  Here’s some of the more insipid comments I’ve seen and my rebuttal to them:

“This book could have used an editor.”  “This book is poorly edited…”  I’ve seen this one with a variety of books from different publishers.  To be upfront, I am not perfect (my wife will love this.)  Let me say this, I have and utilize editors.  They often have master’s degrees in English.  They edit the books carefully, meticulously, and with precision.  The real problem is people who think they know the English language better than those that edit books for a living.  Trust me, if my editors sucked, they would be out of a job.  Most, however, are very talented.  Often time’s my books are read 3-5 times, by different people/editors, checking and rechecking.  It is a labor-intensive process done by skilled professionals.  I don’t always agree with my editors and I love to torment them; but they are thorough and do a good job.  Just because you don’t agree with my/their decisions, does not make them or me wrong.  The English language is not a law etched in stone, it is not formulaic in nature.  It is a guide that sometimes is stretched to its limits by creative people.  Just because your second grade teacher told you something, doesn’t make you an expert.  Sidebar:  I deliberately violated several rules of English in this rebuttal, just to give you self-appointed editors cerebral aneurisms.

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“This book is repetitive in parts.”  The insinuation is that my restating of something is a mistake.  It is not.  I repeat some elements solely to make a point.  Where not appropriate, the editor will point it out to me; see above douchebag.  On my new books, we will be introducing something in the introduction, then explaining it in great nauseating detail in its own chapter later in the book.  That’s not repetitive, it is deliberate and planned.  Also, other writers do this all of the time – Ann Rule did in several of her works.  Oh, I get it, if Ann did it, it’s okay…

“This book is almost too perfect…”  I actually saw this on a three-star review recently.  Three stars?  What a pompous asshat.  In other words, I wrote a great book, so they had to rake it over the coals.

“There’s nothing new in this book that I haven’t seen before.”  Just to be clear, the individuals that post this stuff are either lying or wrong.  Every non-fiction book I have ever written has introduced new material that has never been made public before.  I pride myself on that as does my daughter.  Anyone writing this is really trying to say, “Look at me, I know more than the person that spent over a year researching this.”

 “The author(s) overlook obvious suspects.”  Let’s be clear, there are people out there with agendas of their own.  I know of one woman that has posted two reviews of my book under alias’s she has created.  Her purpose is nefarious – she has someone she wants to link to some murders to draw attention to her own suspect/research in a non-related crime.  It is bat-shit crazy, but there are people out there that are so focused on their own twisted agendas that they load up reviews and post things on various blogs and web sites to further their plans.  Sad, yet sick.

“The author doesn’t know the BattleTech universe well.” “This story is a retcon of established BattleTech history…” These came up years ago and made me laugh pretty hard. It still does from time-to-time.  It’s the damned Clan Wolverine haters.  Like a dog with a bone they will not let it go.

I wrote a lot of the early BattleTech history.  Here’s my bibliography:  Bibliography  Also, anything I have ever written had to be approved by the powers-that-be to become canon in the universe.  So, to be concise, if I wrote it and it was published, it IS canon, dillweed.  I make stuff up, but I always get my work approved by seasoned veterans of the intellectual property.  I won’t go into the whole Wolverine-thing in detail, but since I created that Clan and wrote the only bio information on Nicholas Kerensky, I feel pretty safe in what I did with them.  I have been writing BattleTech since 1986.  Don’t tell me that I don’t know the universe well. I am fu*king proud of my body of work.

 “Reads Like a High School Term Paper.”  This review was on a book that was a New York Times Bestseller my daughter and I wrote.  I do understand that the presentation of facts can be burdensome.  When you are writing a true crime about a cold case, you don’t want to get too flowery in the text or present a great deal of speculation.  Nonfiction books tend to be a presentation of facts.  I’m probably more offended with the “high school” part more than the actual review.  Seriously?  I have a master’s degree and have completed about 1/3 of a doctorate program.  Bite me.

 “This was a good story but no closure.” Many of the cases I write about are cold cases.  Some authors do this and claim they have “solved” the cases.  I tend to lean away from those books.  If you solved the case, then where is the prosecution or the announcement from authorities that they consider the case closed?  With cold cases, I maintain that the writers need to present the facts and let the readers arrive at their own conclusions.  People need to form their own opinions – not have the author craft the facts around their pet-theory.  Almost always, I make sure in the introduction that we tell readers that the case is unresolved.  Let me be clear, if you are reading a book about a cold case I have written, you will not get that closure at the end…BECAUSE IT IS A COLD CASE.

“True crime books are supposed to end in a trial.”  Most of my books in this genre are on cold cases.  I appreciate the vote of confidence from the reviewer…that somehow we might solve the crime and inflict overdue justice.  This is the real-world.  I am a writer.  Our books generate tips for the authorities, but we do not solve the case on our own.

“His fiction does not reflect gameplay.”  Okay, this is a BattleTech one.  My response is, “good, because I was writing fiction, not documenting a game of BattleTech.”  I follow the rules, but in the fictionalizing of a battle, things happen that rules do not exist for.  If I merely played out a battle and wrote about it, it would be dull and boring.  I strive to adhere to the rules, but at the same time, I feel empowered to push the limits with battles.

Personal attacks.  These come in a number of nasty comments, so let me focus on one in particular.  I have been accused of be a Confederate sympathizer in one review.  WTF?  Not true.  First, I am a historian. Second, I have incorporated the Civil War into many of my military sci-fi novels just for parallels.  I respect Southern military leader’s prowess without lamenting about the Confederacy’s fate.  Third, I am against tearing down historic statues and renaming things out of idiotic fits of political correctness or someone having hurt feelings.  I have voiced my opinion on that because I believe it is wrong to destroy or obscure history.  I also believe that you do not have a right to not be offended in this country.  In fact, one things Americans excel at is offending people. Grow a pair and stop whining and labeling.

I am not a Confederate or Lost Cause sympathizer.  In my entire writing career I wrote three whole pages about the Lost Cause and then only in non-fiction, in the story of Bert Hall in my biography, The Bad Boy.  In other words, no big deal.  None of this makes me a Confederate sympathizer.  I empower none of you to slap a label on me without my consent.  Calling me a Confederate Sympathizer; that simply makes me want to be one.  People that run around labeling people to attempt to damage their reputation are low forms of life.  You can take your social justice-self-anointed sense of empowerment and shove it high-and-hard.

Ahh…that felt great.  If I have offended anyone who gave me negative feedback; good.