“A writer writes”

IMG_1174During my career I was fortunate to work in a spectrum of publishing-related fields. These ranged from clerking in a bookstore, to being a buyer for a wholesale distributor to bookstores, to being a marketer and project manager for a couple of East Coast publishers. In light of my extensive experience I believed myself well prepared to set foot upon the riskiest territory in publishing: becoming an author.

[Cue the scary movie organ music.]

This blog’s title is a timeworn publishing mantra, one meant to help neophytes keep a stiff upper lip in the face of the inevitable rejection and disappointment they will experience on the road to seeing their work in print. And, if they’re lucky, fame and fortune follow . . .

Another mantra counsels, “Write what you know about.” Suits me. For years the core of my pleasure reading has consisted of books on cultural and military history, in the genres of fiction and non-fiction. I believe this background prepped me to pen my novels “The Tower at Petite Vigne” (2010) and “Gettysburg 1913” (2016). These works drew on my deep knowledge of events of World War II and the American Civil War, respectively.

IMG_1175 At this point neither novel has caught the attention of a literary agent, so all I can do is feel good about my projects. Will either of these books ever grace a bookstore shelf, or be on the amazon website? I wish I could say.

In the meantime, I am banging away at my third novel, whose plot might turn out to be unique enough to set the publishing world on fire. Stay tuned!


Returning to Jackson

19881549EFor the first time in three summers I attended the Jackson (Michigan) Civil War Muster last weekend. The intent of this posting is to convey how I perceive re-enacting in general and this event in particular have changed, and ways – in my experience – they’ve remained the same.

What’s different? Anyone familiar with Civil War re-enacting in the last decade will attest that the hobby is in a lull. Many that took up the hobby in the 1980s “aged out” of it at the end of the Civil War Sesquicentennial in 2015. The number of younger folks coming into re-enacting has dwindled. Starting out in the hobby is expensive: a brand-new reproduction rifle musket can retail for $1,200. Nowadays many demands are made on young peoples’ time, to say nothing of their penchant for passing the hours in front of a computer screen. Finally, the rise of new dimensions of re-enacting, particularly the World War II-era, has diverted people from channeling their energies into Civil War re-enacting.

The bottom line is, around the country dozens of small re-enactments, and not a few larger ones, have disappeared forever. Any number of re-enacting clubs have disbanded, while the membership of surviving ones has shrunk. It is now common for a handful of soldiers belonging to several different clubs to be “amalgamated” at events. At first glance it might appear that Civil War re-enacting itself is passing into history!

There’s no denying these realities. Despite them, I believe what I saw at Jackson this year means my hobby will hang on, albeit in a more concise form than before. Numbers were down, but the Jackson Muster still drew enough soldiers, cavalrymen and artillerists for battles and exhibitions of camp life. As ever it featured “historical presenters” whose first-person talks by figures like Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln drew crowds of visitors seeking to be better informed about issues of Civil War times. During battles the hillside viewing stand was less heavily populated than before, but there were still hundreds of spectators.

21032835_10155957168899271_6000434175741254021_nA unique and enjoyable experience for me was helping a friend fulfill her longstanding dreams of taking part in the muster as both a soldier and as a lady. She did a good job of picking up basic infantry maneuvers during morning battalion drill, and was a stalwart in the ranks in the course of the afternoon’s battle. (Even though it was a Union defeat.) In the evening she learned several period dances, taking part in them with grace and aplomb.

The opportunity to do things like these, and to educate others about this important period in American history, are the reasons why, after 25 years, I remain committed to Civil War re-enacting.

Re-modeling – Part 1

IMG_1159I frittered away an appreciable chunk of my earnings from cutting grass or bagging groceries during my teenage years on plastic scale models. Military aircraft, naval vessels and tanks were my subjects of choice. An aspect of this hobby I particularly enjoyed – even though I was anything but adept at it – was customizing a standard kit to represent a different model of the vehicle in question from what came in the box.

The passing years saw a shift in my interests; decades went by before I even thought about assembling anything else. The 1/72nd scale diorama pictured above was the only project I tackled in recent history. Its subject is an Italian motor pool in North Africa during the Second World War. There’s a broken-down Italian armored car and a captured British truck. The Italian colors are being painted on the latter’s tarp, in hopes that Axis fighters won’t strafe its new operators. The caption “Lo desiderate quando?” is the traditional mechanic’s lament: “You want it when?”

For reasons I cannot specify I recently decided to dip my toes (fingers?) back into the world of modeling. Right away I found that so much had changed! Now there were kits of far rarer vehicles than those I built in my salad days. Not only that, there’s an aftermarket of kits one can use to “hyperdetail” standard kits. (I won’t get into how much more expensive everything involved in modeling is nowadays.)

IMG_1171As the basis for another diorama I decided to invest in a 1/35th scale Volkswagen Typ 83 “Kastenwagen” van used by the German Reichpost during World War II to transport letters and packages. The diorama will depict a squad of American G.I.s rifling the contents of a derelict Kastenwagen in a surrendered German village. I’m going to call it “Special Delivery.”

Next I had to purchase a kit of G.I.s.

IMG_1158Putting everything together requires a selection of paints, glue and new blades for my trusty X-Acto knife.

IMG_1160I don’t have a timetable for this project. All I can say is, I intend to work on it in a leisurely manner. By this means I will enjoy the process – hopefully not making too many mistakes along the way.

Regardless whether or not you are a modeler I invite you to follow along as I embark on this adventure!

The Great Eclipse

IMG_1173As it happens, my town was located several hundred miles north of the swath that the Great Eclipse of 2017 cut across the United States. This meant that, while the sky turned gunmetal, the temperature didn’t drop and clouds obscured any part of the event that might have been visible from my home.

All was not lost, however. NASA live-broadcast the eclipse as it made its way across the country and I was prepared to participate in it vicariously. I purchased a “Total Eclipse of the Sun” Forever stamp from the United States Postal Service. This is the first USPS offering to feature thermochromic ink. Normally the stamp’s face is dominated by a black disc, which is how the moon appeared today when it blocked the sun. That’s what you see above.

Pressing one’s thumb on the image for a few moments heats it to the point that the cratered face of the moon appears.

IMG_1172Before long the ink cools and the black disc reappears. I liked the concept, and hope the USPS fields many stamps in the future that make use of thermochronic ink!