Hello all, just wanted to give an update on how the book is coming, share a little about my writing methods, tell you about a new book idea, and as promised give you another sample chapter from “Flags and Honor.”
Status of “Flags and Honor”
It is coming along well. My best estimate to full completion is 22 to 44 days. I’m trying to get better at not being overzealous with my estimates, but you’ll forgive me if it ends up taking just a little longer.
My Writing Method
My method of writing novels has grown and developed over the years. I read my first “How to write a Novel” book when I was in the eighth grade. That summer I started writing the story that turned into the Starstorm Novels. I started “By Force of Arms” in my early twenties. The prologue was originally a short story that I wrote for a presentation I was giving to my local Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp. About the time I decided to make it the beginning of a full novel I read another book about novel writing called the Novel Writer’s Bootcamp by Todd Stone. It was pretty good, though I can’t say I follow his method very closely. He was heavy on planning out the entire book in great detail before you write it. Three or four years ago I started following Brandon Sanderson’s writing classes on Youtube and he really broke down the craft of novel writing in a way that let me understand my style.
1st. I’m very much a “Discovery Writer” or what Brandon Sanderson and George RR Martin would call “a gardener.” For my alternate history novels I wrote a detailed “alternate history” timeline that started at Jackson’s surviving Chancellorsville and that went to the present day. That timeline is in constant flux in my mind but more or less I know how World War I in my world progresses and how it ends. But the stories I write that are set in that world, I honestly have very little idea as to what’s going to happen. When starting a new novel I develop the basic character concepts (writing their info on note cards) and then put the characters at particular conflict points in the alternate history world, start writing and then I see what happens. My chapters are mostly episodic. I do develop what I call “story seeds” for each POV character’s different chapters (which I also put on note cards) but that is usually the extent of my story prep. The only situation in which I spend time “outlining the story” is if I’ve written myself into some kind of corner or if I need to figure out a satisfactory ending soon. I will note though that while I don’t do much prep work on the story I do lots of research on the relevant history, technology, weaponry, culture etc of the era in which I’m writing.
2nd. I’ve gotten to the point that I write my first draft by hand. I find it stimulates my creativity better. It forces me to take it slow and really think out each word. It makes the writing more concise. It allows me to be more versatile. I have to take my wife and kids to the doctors a lot. I spend a lot of time sitting in a car in the parking lots. Hard to write on a laptop in the car. The glare of the sun makes it hard to see. For shorter stops there’s not much point in firing up the computer. By the time you get your writing pulled up its time to go. My wife wanted to stop for coffee the other morning so while she ran in to get it I got opened up my writing pad. I wrote over 100 words before she got back with the drinks. Finally, and most importantly, writing in longhand keeps away the distractions and temptations that comes with writing on my laptop: News Websites, Youtube, playing Civilization 5 etc. I only have a limited amount of free time to write during the week. I usually start working on my book around 4 in the afternoon these days. Writing by hand helps make sure I spend my allotted writing time actually writing. Some practical points. Don’t use a spiral notebook, or loose leaf paper. I did that in my early days and it was a mess. Go to Office Depot, Office Max or even Walmart and get a good portfolio / legal pad holder. Mine has pen holders, slots for note cards pen refills, and a small built in folder for carrying previous chapters for reference (not the whole manuscript thus far, just the relevant chapters to the POV character I’m working on.) The portfolio stands up nicely so that when I’m ready I can sit down with my computer and rewrite it, making corrections, revisions, and additions. I like to write with a pen. I use a Dr. Grip refillable Pilot pen. I’m left handed so the wrong kind of pen (more precisely ink) will smear when I write.
3. I’m basically a two draft writer. After I write the rough draft by hand as stated previously I rewrite it on the computer and turn the rough draft into the finished product.
4. I write all the scenes of a given character at once. This is something I’ve started more recently and I find it helps me develop the characters better.
5. When I finish a scene I read it through three times, once focusing on the character, once focusing on the setting, and once for good measure. All three times looking for typos. Finally I give the scene to my good friend Paul who gives it a read through and tries to catch any errors I missed.
6. I have in the past sent chapters to other friends and family for feedback, but I’m sad to say I don’t have any real writing colleagues other than my wife but she’s into a totally different genre. By tradition I mail my father the first hundred pages when I write a book.
7. Finally, when I’m finished I print myself a copy and read it for enjoyment, (and sigh, to try to find any typos I missed). Then comes the publication process, but that’s for another blog post.
NEW BOOK IDEA
All I’ll say is that it involves an ancient Egyptian artifact, time travel, and the Napoleonic Wars. Provisional title: FOR THE EMPEROR
FINALLY AS PROMISED HERE IS ANOTHER SAMPLE CHAPTER OF FLAGS AND HONOR. THE CHARACTER IS PATRICK RAMSEY, THE SON OF BLAKE RAMSEY FROM PREVIOUS BOOKS.
Fifty-six miles off the coast of Norfolk Virginia, a lone US armored cruiser made its way south. As it had twice before in the previous century, the United States Navy was deploying the bulk of its fleet along the coastline of the Confederacy in an effort to blockade it from the rest of the world. From Virginia to the Florida Keys across the gulf to New Orleans and then across the Texas coast to the Rio Grande, US warships were taking up positions off of every Confederate port. The US fleet was vast. It was in fact the largest it had ever been. But blockading thousands of miles of coast line would stretch even the largest navy thin. The Confederates didn’t have a navy anywhere near as large as their northern foe, but however small it was, it was infinitely larger and better equipped than it had been in the 1860s during the War of Confederate Independence and the War of 1869. This time the Confederates had the means to punish the ships stationed off of their ports. This time the blockade would be far more costly.
Captain Patrick Ramsey stared at the unsuspecting US cruiser through the periscope of the CSS Alexander. The double bar insignia on his filthy gray submariner’s uniform was that of a Lieutenant, but when you commanded a boat of your own you were called Captain regardless. The Confederate submarine was at a depth of forty feet. Ramsey’s XO, Lieutenant Andre Marks was in the cramped conning tower with him.
“What ya got, Skipper?”
“Yankee cruiser, looks like. Bearing 321 and moving south. She looks to be at full steam, I’d say she’s moving at about 18 knots.” He backed away so Marks could have a look at their quarry.
“It’s an older ship,” said Marks. Ramsey nodded and started to work out the attack solution in his head. Mathematics was, if anything, an even more crucial skill for a submarine commander than for a surface Skipper. He had to compute what course to set and at what speed in order to make certain that he lined up his boat and fired at just the right time. He had to take into account not only his own vessel’s course and speed, but also that of the enemy ship. He called down the hatch to the control room.
“Come left to course 340, full power to the motors.” Full power would drain the batteries more quickly, but it couldn’t be helped. They had to get into position in a hurry and surfacing was out of the question. On the surface it was a clear day and the sea was calm, so much so that Ramsey was worried enemy sailors might spot the small wake of his submarine’s periscope. If they did, the first indication he and his crew might get would be eight inch shells crashing down on their position. The Alexander was forty feet beneath the surface of the water, but if an enemy shell landed right on top of them, it might well send them to the bottom. No shells were forthcoming. The Yankee cruiser continued on a straight southerly course at full steam as though it had not a care in the world. Marks returned the periscope to Ramsey who made a full 360-degree scan of the horizon around them. He spotted no other ships but he did spot a smoke plume further to the north east. For the moment, he had no way of knowing what type of ship it was but a predatory grin spread across his face nonetheless.
“Looks like there’s another ship in the neighborhood. If we play this right, we may get two kills today instead of one. Load tubes one and two!”
Down in the forward torpedo room, sailors rushed with chains and pulleys to man handle two torpedoes into their tubes. The men were glad to be rid of them. While they earnestly hoped the two “fish” would blow the ship full of Yankees straight to the devil, they had a much more practical reason: they’d get a little more room to sleep. Submarines were designed with space for people being the last thing in priority. Two lucky sailors would now get to sleep in proper bunks as opposed to sleeping literally on top of a blanket draped torpedo.
“The fish are loaded, Skipper!”
“Flood the tubes.” The CPO in the forward torpedo room turned two valves and the tubes flooded with sea water.
“Tubes flooded, sir!”
“Open the outer door on tube one only.”
Marks looked confusedly at his commander but dutifully relayed the command. A moment later he passed along the response from the torpedo-men.
“Outer door open on tube one, we’re ready to shoot.”
“Stand by!” said Ramsey as he peered intently through the periscope. He licked his lips. He felt like a wolf about to lunge mercilessly on its prey. But like a wolf, he had to wait until the opportune moment. “Shoot tube one!”
There was a loud swoosh as the torpedo erupted out of the Alexander along with a burst of compressed air. Through the periscope, Ramsey watched it speed away from the Alexander leaving a long bubbly trail in its wake. He’d fired it in the path of the enemy ship as opposed to directly at it. You had to do that if you wanted to hit a moving target at anything more than close range. By his calculations, if the cruiser maintained its course the torpedo would hit it directly amidships. Fresh smoke from the cruiser’s smoke stack said that her lookouts had indeed spotted the incoming torpedo. The cruiser was already at full steam. In spite of this, the Yankee Captain ordered speed. You risked blowing the boilers and your ship to Kingdom come when you pushed them past the design specifications but at the moment the Yankee Captain had nothing to lose. The Union vessel also began to turn away frantically from the torpedo’s path. It was all too little too late. Ramsey had aimed his fish well. The torpedo slammed into the cruiser, just aft of its mid-point, and exploded beneath the waterline. Ramsey saw the plume of the explosion through the periscope and the sound of the explosion reverberated throughout the submarine. The crew of the Alexander let out a torrent of Rebel Yells that would have given the Confederate Army a run for its money. Ramsey moved aside so that Marks could have a look at their first real kill.
“Yeah, she’s dead in the water alright, but there was no secondary explosion. We didn’t hit her powder magazine or her coal bunker. She is sinking though. Hard to tell if its beyond repair. How come you only hit her with one fish?”
“Because I wanted to make sure she had time to send a distress signal. A ship that size has to have a wireless. Check bearing 325 and see if that smoke plume has gotten any closer.”
Marks turned the periscope counter clockwise a few degrees and stopped.
“Oh yeah. Something’s headed this way fast.”
“Let’s finish the first bastard off and get set up to take on the second.”
Ramsey resumed his post at the periscope.
“Helm, come left two degrees!” A moment later the now stationary and heavily listing cruiser came into his torpedo sights. “Open door, two!” Forty seconds later there was another loud swoosh of water and compressed air as the second torpedo began it lethal track towards the now helpless cruiser. If the Yankee sailors saw it coming, they could do nothing but watch in terror. Their ship was dead in the water. A few of them did see it coming. Through the periscope Ramsey watched as several of them leapt into the sea in a panic, trying desperately to swim away from the now certainly doomed armored cruiser. As before the sound of the explosion reverberated through the water and throughout the sub. This time it was followed almost immediately by a second much larger explosion. The crew not only heard it they felt it. The shock wave shook the whole boat. Ramsey swore profanely and uttered a blasphemy.
“We got the powder magazine that time! She blew apart like a time bomb!” A few moments later Marks got a look for himself. He was just in time to see the cruiser’s ruined and smoking hulk slip into the sea.
Ramsey knew that for the moment they had not time to rest upon their laurels.
“Come left to course 325, and reload tubes one and two, we’ve still got work to do!”
A call suddenly came up through the hatch.
“Hey Skipper, batteries are down to 35 percent!” o
“Understood. Maintain course, depth, and speed.”
The plume of smoke eventually metamorphosed into the front silhouette of a ship. Ramsey had the range to fire but he wanted to make certain it was a military target that was coming in response to the cruiser’s distress call and not a civilian ship or neutral ship. Between all the nations fighting for either the Grand Alliance or Continental Entente, there were only a relative few still neutral. The Confederate States didn’t need Ramsey and his crew inadvertently bringing another nation into the fold against them. The CSS Alexander’s standing orders were to sink all enemy warships on sight and without warning. Ramsey was also under orders to stop and search any freighters flying an enemy flag—a task he was not looking forward to. If such a freighter was carrying war materiel he could then sink it. But passenger liners, hospital ships, fishing boats and other civilian or noncombatant ships were off limits—even if they were coming to the aid of a sinking warship.
Ramsey motioned for Marks to look through the periscope.
“What do you think, Andre, what is it another cruiser?”
Marks took a moment to study approaching vessel. He and Patrick had each spent hours studying the silhouettes of known enemy ships, but they were far easier to identify from the side than they were from the front or rear.
“I’m not sure, Skipper. It looks too small to be a cruiser but it’s coming this way far too slow to be a destroyer. It’s got a single deck gun and its flying Old Stripey so whatever it is… it’s fair game.”
A short while later the Alexander let loose two torpedoes. The Union ship saw them coming before they’d reached the half way mark of their journey. As the cruiser had before her she increased her speed and turned to her starboard giving Ramsey his first view of her side. He grunted satisfactorily. He finally recognized the enemy ship.
“She’s a frigate.” The Yankee ship continued its turn. She may not have been as fast as a destroyer but she was faster than the cruiser had been. “It’s gonna be close!” declared Ramsey. There was a sudden explosion as the first torpedo slammed into the stern of the frigate. It didn’t take long for Ramsey to realize that the second torpedo missed.
“Should we reload the tubes?”
Ramsey shook his head.
“She’s sinking by the stern. It’ll probably take a while, but I don’t want to waste another fish if I can help it.” He then hollered down to the control room. “All stop!” He then turned back to his XO. “Maintain position and depth. Keep an eye on the frigate. Once she’s under we’ll move off. I want to wait as long as possible and get as far away as possible before we surface. Keep an eye on the horizon too. I don’t want any other ships getting the drop on us.”
Ramsey then climbed down from the extremely cramped conning tower into the slightly less crowded control room and made his way to the six by three food cubby hole that served as a “cabin” for he and his XO. He pulled aside the curtain that served to separate it from the rest of the small narrow corridor that connected the control room with the forward torpedo room. He retrieved the log book from the small shelf under his bunk and then turned and sat on the small table on the opposite side of the corridor. The small table was just large enough for he and Marks to sit and dine together though it made for an extremely crowded meal if they did so. Ramsey opened up the log book and proudly entered the Alexander’s first kills in his log. He noted the date and relevant times, as well as the type of ships sunk and their estimated tonnage. His hand froze as he came to the last column that demanded an entry. ESTIMATED LOSS OF LIFE. Only then did it fully hit him that in all probability he’d just sent over nine hundred sailors to their watery graves. It didn’t bother him as much as he’d expected it to. The enemy had started the war. Those dead seamen had been trying to strangle the life out of Ramsey’s nation. They yet had a long war in front of them. With any luck, those eight-hundred Yankees would be just the start.
Ramsey finished his entries and slammed the logbook closed. As he turned to put it back in its place the Alexander’s cook came through the hatchway on his way to the forward torpedo. The Alexander’s lone negro gave Ramsey a salute and a white toothy smile. He may have just been a cook. But he was proud to be a part of the crew.
“Tonight we celebrate. I want you fix the best supper you can and break out that extra bottle of medicinal rum we brought aboard. Each man gets a shot.”
The black man’s smile grew broader and brighter.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Hours of playing the Nintendo Game “Silent Service” when I was a kid actually paid off!