BattleTech Nose Art Project

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I retired a week ago and decided to tackle an arts and crafts project for the game room in our new house we are having built.  There will be a BattleTech theme, because, my wife is awesome.

I have always been intrigued with WWI and WWII aircraft art, or nose art.  The WWII bomber images were often of buxom women and they had a cool vibe to them.  I began to contemplate that we would have the same things in BattleTech as well.  It made sense.  You probably won’t see them at miniature scale, but it would be hard to believe that we wouldn’t have them.  So I decided to create my own and do it for a character from my work – Colonel Rhonda Snord.

I wanted a statement piece (that statement being, “I’m a geek!”) so I opted for three foot by five foot.  I got a ¼ inch sanded piece of plywood for the backing and cut the “ribs” so that there was some curve.  The cutting wasn’t tricky, but I wanted the same angle which took some hand-plaining to get it right.

I wanted a little pattern in the cross-members, so I went with some creative spacing.  These two had to be planed for the eventual curve of the metal.

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The ribs

The metal was from Home Depot, you get it in three-foot-square pieces, so I had trimmed some for experimentation purposes with the paint.

I used a nail gun to nail the ribs and supports to the plywood, along with some glue.  This gave me the frame for the metal.  The key is to make a diagram with accurate measurements of where the ribs are so that when you “rivet” them you know where to drive the brad/rivet.

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That’s right, Endo Steel is really just plywood from Home Depot

 

I laid the metal out and realized (duh) that the curve of the ribs meant my metal wouldn’t cover all of the ribs.  No problem, I decided to leave the exposed part at the top, as you can see.

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Nice eh?

To rivet these, you use an awl and tap a small hole.  I did mine at about one and one-half inches apart.  Using some needle nose plyers, I used some large aluminum thumbtacks and pounded them in.  I learned that at some the ends of the curve the thumbtacks weren’t long enough and popped up, so I sunk in a few screws mixed in with the tacks and glued them in just to be sure.  Next time I am getting longer brads so they will hold better.

Imperfections are okay, remember, this is outer skin for ferro-fibrous armor we are talking about.  Some imperfections are to be expected.  I think the few I have give the piece character.  I liked the aluminum skin so much I was tempted to leave it as-is and put the art on it. But we don’t see too many bare metal ‘Mechs out there, so I went to paint.

It took exactly one can of spay paint to cover this.  For the colors, I referred to my own book, Call of Duty, which described Rhonda Snord’s ‘Mech as a dull green with the Buffalo Nickel, Elvis’s TCB lightning bolt.  Her callsign was Jailhouse Rocker – but I took the liberty of trimming that down.  The nickel, well, it just looked like crap no matter what I did. I assumed this was so big on the ‘Mech that it might not apply with what I was doing. I was going to do the TCB (Taking Care of Business) lightning bolt, but decided against that.  Let’s just assume that was on the other side of her cockpit.  I only bring it up here because I know some fan boy will be convulsing that was not 100% accurate.  Well, bear in mind, ‘Mechs get painted and repainted a LOT.  Deal with it junior.

I was going to hand stencil the letters but my tests on the scrap metal left me worried that, given my lack of artistic ability, I would screw it up.  So I ordered the stencil work, and her artwork logo (Jailhouse Rock) from https://doityourselflettering.com.  The cost was around $50 but was worth it compared to the price of me messing up such a large project.

 

For Rhonda, I went to cover of the scenario set and scanned her.  Three fans jumped in and helped me crop her out perfectly.  I then went to Fat Head’s web site and ordered up Rhonda.  https://www.fathead.com/custom does custom vinyl’s – just upload and rock. The cost was $35.  Strangely enough they sent me two of them.

Total cost of the project, including purchasing of metal cutters, and awl, etc., was around $200.00 total.  I’m not a carpenter or very skilled, but the time involved was around 15 hours or so – with the majority of that being putting the rivets in.

Alright, truth be told, I used my time machine, went to the future, found this replacement cockpit side for her Highlander in a junk pile, grabbed it, and came back.  All of us BattleTech authors have a time machine because all of this stuff is REAL.

You may not like it.  You may think the proportions are off and stuff, but I love it and can’t want for us to get the house built so I can hang it in the game room.

I have a three foot piece of plywood left and am contemplating doing a Black Window one too.

Tips for Writers

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There is no secret sauce that will make you a successful writer.  The definitions of success as an author vary from person-to-person.  I am asked often, “What tips do you have for someone starting out?”  My snarky response is, “Seriously consider a different hobby or profession.” Writing is not easy.  It is not for the faint at heart or the thin-skinned.  It is a profession where you essentially carry on conversations with people that don’t exist, or wonder if that dude you just passed is a serial killer. It is a festering storm inside your head that when it comes out, is a jumble of emotions, words, blood and tears.  It often is a hot-mess that only you, as the author, understand.  Yet it gives you warmth and comfort.

I’ve heard it said everyone has a novel in them.  That isn’t the same as, “They should write that novel.”

No one helped me be an author, so I have no problems answering direct questions from would-be authors.  No, I won’t read your stuff, don’t bother to ask.  It hit me though, there are some pretty basic tips that could help fiction and non-fiction authors.  So here’s my list of unsolicited advice…

Write every day.  Keep a journal; write a blog; pen a column for the local newspaper – just write something! In fact, the more varied your writing, the better.  I have done science fiction, true crime, military history, business leadership, computer books, a wide range of genres.  I have written for newsletters, trade journals, magazines; you name it.  Even this blog is a writing exercise for me, forcing me to compile posts weekly.

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Writing requires discipline. It is easy to come up with excuses to not write. You need to have the discipline to apply yourself to get the next paragraph done. I have always been surprised talking to new writers who will carve out time to watch a TV show every week but refused to do the same with time dedicated to writing. Schedule yourself…make it happen.

Set your ego aside.  I am shocked that some authors ask for feedback then say, “I’m not changing it.”  Look Hemmingway, you’re not that good.  Editors, publishers, (even agents) usually have some good insights as to why you should make changes.  Listen carefully and don’t dig your heels in on the premise you are some sort of artist.  The only exception I allow myself to this is my sense of pride about the entire body of my work.

Have a place where you write.  You need a place where you can do your work – preferably different than where you do other work.  For me, I move my chair three feet to a different desk to do my writing.

Write stuff you would like to read.  You need to be a fan of your own stuff.  There are scenes I write in fiction that I actually get excited reading.  In non-fiction, I make sure I capture the right tone and feel that I like reading.

Everyone thinks they are an English major.  Be prepared for people to tell you that you don’t follow some bizarre rule their 3rd grade teacher told them about the English language.  They will comment that you are not using appropriate grammar, your use of English is poor, your editors all sucked, etc.  Some of my editors have master’s degrees in English, but some moron on the internet knows more than they do…or so they will insinuate.  Look, part of being a writer is to push the limits of our language to create illusions and characters that don’t exist.  Don’t let these idiots wear you down.

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You need thick skin.  The internet sucks and so do people.  There are people that feel compelled to give you negative feedback.  This is not about you, but about their own insecurities.  If you want to write, there are always going to be those that try and tear you down.  On top of that is our society thinks that every opinion needs to be posted and is somehow valid.  Ignore these negative people.  Remember this, they will never write something as good as what you did.

Plot is important – not as important as characters.  When I started doing novels, I put most of my effort on the plot.  As I have matured, I have come to learn that what is remembered is not the plot points, but the characters you write about. People want to identify characters, not storyline. Create real and compelling characters, and the plot will really pop.

In non-fiction stick to the facts and let others arrive at their own conclusions.It is tempting to say, “Here’s what I think,” in writing non-fiction.  Assume your reader is smart and they will come to their own opinions and perspectives.  Your role becomes presenting those facts in an engaging manner.

Rewriting is part of writing.  Every good author has to rewrite.  Some comes from the publisher, some from the editor, some from your own gut instinct that there is a better way.  Resisting this is the path to arrogance.  Some chapters I will rewrite three times before anyone even sees them.  I have had editors that ask for additional scenes, changes, tweaks.  You do them because ultimately it makes you a better writer.  Listen to them and learn.

In fiction – use all of your characters senses in a scene.  My most seasoned BattleTech editor told me once that I was describing what people saw – but not using all of the senses.  What did the characters smell?  What did the air feel like?  I found that advice useful and have leveraged it where appropriate ever since.  It made me a better writer.

Internet facts are not facts.  Oddly enough this applies to fiction and non-fiction. Go to source material, not what you read on some web site.  It takes more time, but it is worth it in the long run.

Understand the industry. Traditional bookstores are dying.  The age of agents and big publishing houses is waning.  I had one would-be author tell me that he had to go with a major publisher rather than KDP because, “You’re only a real author if your book is in a bookstore.”  Sorry kid, it’s not the 1980’s.  With print on demand (POD) and Kindle Direct Publishing, anyone with talent can publish their book.  Easily 50-65% of book sales are digital.  Bookstores can stock your POD book. Get to know the business.

Critically read other authors. One of those uh-duh tips – I get it.  It isn’t enough to read other authors, you have to stop and ask yourself, “What is it about this part of the book I really like?”  Pull apart one of your favorite books to see why you loved it and you will learn a great deal about what you should be incorporating into your own books.

Promoting your work is part of writing.  Make yourself available for podcasts, interviews, etc. I don’t enjoy this aspect of the work personally, but it is part of being an author.  We all have spent that humiliating time sitting at a lonely table at a Borders books as people walk by.  (Yes, I am dating myself there.)

Talk to other authors.  Don’t ask them read your stuff…God I hate that.  Network with other writers so that you can get advice about the industry, tips, stuff like that.

Anyone charging you money to help you get published is ripping you off. I have never seen this work out for the author.

You have to start somewhere.  Too many authors presume you should start at the top.  True story.  I had someone reach out to me wanting to write a BattleTech novel about two months ago.  He’d never had anything published professionally, had no background in writing in the universe, but wanted one of the prime assignments you can get – a novel.  Some authors bust their ass for years to get a shot at a novel, but you want one handed to you because, and I quote from this individual, “I have an idea no one has ever seen for a book.”  I suggested that he reach out and see if he can get a gig doing some fiction for sourcebooks or tech readouts, to prove himself.  “That sounds like it will take a long time.  I don’t want to do that – can you just send me the editor’s email?”  The reality is you can’t just show up the Olympics without qualifying, and expect to run in an event.  It is lazy and arrogant of anyone to think they can just jump in with their first work as a book.  Oh it does happen now and then, but these are flukes or genius authors.  In the real world, you need to develop your skills, learned to work with editors, earn your stripes…you have to put in the work.

George R. R. Martin and the rest of the books for Game of Thrones – My Perspective

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His success eclipses himself.  

You see it on social all of the time now, “When will he be done with the next book for Game of Thrones?”  It is overdue on a cosmic scale from a writer’s perspective…years overdue.  I don’t miss my book deadlines as an author, so the concept of being years late staggers me.

People want the books because they are different than the series, in some less-than-subtle ways, and they have invested long hours in reading the series up to this point.  More importantly, they have watched the stunning HBO series which has gone far past Mr. Martin’s storyline in print thus far.

I’m not anxious about the next book being published.  Why?  Because George R. R. Martin has done something that I have not seen with almost any other writer – he has made his written books obsolete.  His creation has eclipsed anything he might ever write again.  The popularity of the HBO series is so big, so vast, so visually compelling, that whatever he writes it will be compared to the series, which is nearly impossible to top. Whatever he produces as an author will be held up against the TV series based on his books!  The irony here is incredible.  George R. R. Martin has actually created a situation where writing the books is not necessary.

It is hard to comprehend of an instance where an author’s success is so great because of his works, that he cannot surpass it with the written word.  Perhaps Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  As good as the book is, when the title is mentioned, we all see Gregory Peck in our mind’s eye.  When the sequel to the book two years ago, it was ridiculed and mocked. Her characters and story had eclipsed her own vision.  People were saying that she, as the author, had not been true to the characters that she had created! The readers (and viewers) had seized her work and held onto it so dearly that no matter what was published thereafter was destined to be scorned.

Similarly, Mr. Martin doesn’t have to write the rest of the series because he will be remembered for the HBO series far beyond any words he might write.  He is facing a problem that every writer dreams of, stunning success to the point where his written worlds are obsoleted by another medium – in this case, television.  In fact, producing the books is bound to draw comparisons and raise scorn with fans, because that’s what people do on the internet, they get pissed.  Having seen the series, the haters will whine that the coming novels don’t live up to what they have seen on HBO.  If the books were released now, wrapping up the series, he would draw ire for their tardiness on top of being late, everyone will expect something miraculous.  Writing the rest of the books will only serve to fragment his fan base. I have never quite seen anything like it.

The winning move for Mr. Martin is to not play the game.  As a great fan of his work, I honestly don’t know if I would encourage him to publish any more in this series. His body of work, which encompasses the TV series, is stellar and little more can be done that would improve upon what we have all experienced.

Non-Spoiler Review of Captain Marvel

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“I feel the need…the need for nostalgia” 

I have to admit, I was never a big Captain Marvel fan from the comics.  I found this movie to be okay, not great, but it didn’t suck like so many have said.

As far as origin stories, this didn’t follow the traditional format of telling the story.  Instead much of the movie is the hero learning her true origin and origin story – which is fine. For this kind of format to work, you really have to care about the character to begin with.  I never really bonded with Carol Danvers on screen, so I found myself saying, “let’s get to it.” With a slow-reveal origin, you really don’t get what the plot is until you are well into the film.

There are some nice plot twists in all of this that I didn’t see coming.  I appreciate that in a film like this. It wasn’t a linear plot, but one that was well crafted – if not a bit drawn out.

I wish these films wouldn’t push their PC agenda on me.  Let her be a hero that happens to be female, don’t make it out that she’s different because of that.  I didn’t like that in Wonder Woman either.  Just tell the story.  Trust me, I know she’s female.  Releasing it on International Women’s Day just was over the top too.  Look, I’m a fan, just give me a good script and casting.

Things I liked was seeing a younger Nick Fury and Agent Colson in the field.  This was not the embittered Nick Fury of Winter Soldier.  He’s fun, joking, kind of cool.  It was a bit strange to see the 1990’s in the light of nostalgia. God we had ugly cars back then.  Seeing Ronan the Accuser and some other characters we experience later in the Marvel cinema universe is neat too.

There are two post-credit scenes, so stay in your seat. The first one has a direct tie to Avengers Infinity War Endgame – which was awesome!

Overall this was not the best outing in the MCU but it wasn’t as horrific as some people have insinuated.  I liked it and got my money’s worth – which is what you want with a movie.  It adds to the Marvel universe and sets the stage for stuff coming in Endgame.  I give it a 3.7 stars out of five.

 

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

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

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.