Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My writing year: a look back and a look forward

It’s 2014, and like everyone else I’m taking stock of the past year and looking forward to the new one.

This past year has been one of ups and downs in my writing career. I won a travel award for my Iraq reportage, I got into a ghost story anthology, and saw sales of my Civil War novel go up thanks to a free story I posted. It looks like readers like to sample your wares before making a purchase!

The high point was National Novel Writing Month. I’d never done one before. Working furiously through November, I wrote a 71,000 word post-apocalyptic tale called Radio Hope. It’s coming out in February. The turnaround was so quick thanks to my being able to devote my entire energy to the project, plus the helpful aid of my many beta readers. You guys rock!

The big downside to this year was the death of Gadling. It used to be the number one travel blog on the web. I’d worked for it for more than four years, writing more than a thousand posts and doing many fun series to places such as Iraq and Somaliland. Sadly, a reshuffle in the parent corporation led to all the writers being laid off. Now Gadling is a shadow of its former self. Where once a dozen experienced writers reported in from all corners of the globe, now an in-house hack produces one or two rehash posts a week.

It’s sad to see something you love die. On the other hand, it can lead to new things. Gadling took up a huge amount of my time, time I am now devoting to more magazine work and lots more fiction. The year 2014 is going to be my fiction year. Not only do I have Radio Hope coming out, but I’m well into the sequel and plan to write a third in the series before 2015 rolls around. I’m also going to start an action series set in World War One called Trench Raiders. More projects are simmering in my brain pan as well, such as my Tangier novel, so stay tuned!

For my writer friends out there, how did your year go? What will you do different in 2014?

Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Radio Hope cover: version 2.0

Happy Boxing Day from a rainy and windy Tangier! I sweltered the in the summer and I'm getting drenched and windblown in the winter. I prefer sweltering.
My brother-in law has tweaked the cover for Radio Hope, the post-apocalyptic novel I'll be publishing in February. He's added the series name, adjusted the kerning in my name, and added a bit of toxic color. You can see the earlier version here. Below is the 68 pixel thumbnail that will appear on Amazon, B&N, etc.

What do you think? There's still time to tweak it!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Off on another writing retreat in Tangier

I'm headed back to Tangier today for two weeks of writing and avoiding holiday craziness. I'll be back in time for Los Reyes, the gift-giving day here in Spain, also known as Epiphany. No father can avoid that! In the meantime I'm getting back to my Tangier novel. It's contemporary fiction set in the city.

The last time I was in Morocco I wrote 26,000 words. I've been looking over what I've written and see that I have a lot of work ahead of me. While I have a theme and a general mood, plus lots of local color, the nature of my protagonist and the full plot haven't gelled in my mind. That will come in time. The American Legation has been kind enough to let me set up in their library, where I'll be distracted by their excellent collection of books on Morocco.

I probably won't be blogging much for the next two weeks. The blogosphere tends to get pretty quiet at this time of year anyway!

Photo of the Tangier medina courtesy Julian Henderson. I don't bring a camera along on these trips.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Military History Photo Friday: A German Halberd Pistol

On my recent trip to Vienna I got to see some great museums. One of my favorites was the collection of Hapsburg arms and armor at the Neue Berg. I'm working on an article about this place, which has one of the greatest collections of medieval arms and armor anywhere.

Here's one interesting item: a combination halberd and double-barreled rifle made in Germany c.1580. You can see it at the top of a case of other early firearms.
Here's a closeup. As you can see it has two wheellocks, firing mechanisms that are wound up and then released by the pull of a trigger. Given the ornamentation on the halberd, I'm thinking this was intended more for show as a curio than as an actual weapon. A lot of these combination weapons have survived from the Middle Ages and Renaissance but I've never read an account of one actually being used. They all tend to be similarly ornamental, which may explain why so many have survived.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Got my author's copies of Spirits of St. Louis!

A nice little package from Rocking Horse Publishing arrived here in Spain, containing my author's copies of Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories.

It includes my story "After the Raid", an offshoot of my Civil War horror novel A Fine Likeness. For those who have read the novel, it follows the story of Helena, the daughter of the German photographer who gets killed by the bushwhacker band, and how she takes a terrible revenge. Of course a terrible revenge comes at a terrible price. . .

The story also stands on its own in case you haven't read the book (ahem).

There are lots of good stories in here. I especially liked "Ghost in Celestial Blue" by Donna Volkenannt, which is set in Bissell Mansion in St. Louis. Since I know you read this blog, Donna, could you tell me if there's really a ghost there? I suppose I could Google it, but where's the fun in that?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cover ideas for Radio Hope, what do you think?

My talented brother-in-law, who designed the cover for A Fine Likeness, has done a new cover for me for Radio Hope. It's a work-in-progress. This one is the one he sent.

Here's how it would look at the standard 68 pixel-wide Amazon thumbnail size. This is a post-apocalyptic novel and I want the cover to communicate toxicity and decay. I'm probably going to ask him to move the entire image up a bit so that there will be more room under my name for the words "A Toxic World Novel" or "Toxic World Book One".

If you click on the Radio Hope link above you can get a free download of the first 51,000 words. I'd love to get some feedback and anyone who does gets a free electronic copy when it comes out in February. I'll be taking this preview down in a week so grab it now!

And below the cut are some alternative colors my wife and I came up with. Which do you like best? Any other suggestions? I'm all ears!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: The tomb of the Emperor Maximilian

On last week's trip to Vienna I visited several sites of historical interest. One of them was the Imperial Crypt of the Hapsburg dynasty, including this grave for the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. He was the younger brother of Franz Joseph, the Hapsburg who would later be ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and draw his country into World War One.

As a younger brother, it seemed unlikely that Maximilian would ever sit on the throne, so when France extended its influence into Mexico in the 1860s and was looking for a European monarch, Maximilian was the man for the job. He took over as Emperor of Mexico in 1864. The United States didn't recognize him as the rightful ruler of Mexico, but was too busy with its own Civil War to do anything about it.

Maximilian was a liberal ruler, granting extra rights to the peasants and taking steps towards land reform, but that couldn't stop the revolutionaries who were fighting to make Mexico into something closer to a democracy. Once the Civil War was over in 1865, the U.S. government started arming the revolutionaries and Maximilian's position became precarious.

He got a bit of help from former Confederates who fled to Mexico after the war. This included many Missouri figures such as Confederate Generals Sterling Price and J.O. Shelby. They couldn't tip the scales, however, and when France pulled out its army in 1866 Maximilian's days were numbered. He was defeated and executed in 1867. He now lies back home in Vienna. Note that someone put a little Mexican sombrero on his tomb. He still has his admirers in Mexico.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

It's official, Internet people are stupid

Ah, the Internet!
Remember that post I did about the Waffen-SS calendar a couple of days back? I shared that on a military history group on Linkedin and some Finnish NeoNazi totally freaked out on me, screaming all sorts of crap not worth repeating. Called me a Bolshevik too. Hee hee.
Then a bunch of other people piled on him, including one guy who threatened to kill him. Twice. Threatened him twice, I mean. He didn't threaten to kill him, raise him from the dead, and then kill him again.
The sad thing is, I kinda figured something like this would happen. I think I'm on the Internet too much.

Should I get on Google Plus?

Can anyone give me a good reason to get on Google Plus?

More and more of my blogger buddies are getting on it, which makes it so I can't comment on their blogs. Other than that, is there any reason I as an author should join, or is it just another social media timesuck?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Indie Life: Ten things I learned from National Novel Writing Month

Like many fellow indie writers, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I managed to finish an entire post-apocalyptic novel of 71,000 words in the month of November.

It's called Radio Hope and you can download the first 51,000 words for free from Smashwords. I'd love to get some feedback and as a thank you I'll send a free electronic copy of the final book to you once it's released in February.

OK, enough self-promotion. What did writing a novel in a single month teach me? Here are ten things I learned.

1. If you are mostly unemployed (I recently lost my travel blogging job when Gadling laid off all their regulars) your word count goes way up.

2. Keeping your word count up helps with your self-esteem when you're mostly unemployed.

3. Keeping your word count up after the challenge is over maintains your self-esteem. I'm working on the sequel right now.

4. You'll help your confidence if you get a jump on the game by writing a lot on the first day. November 1 was my most productive day, with 5,300 words.

5. Write every day, even if it's just 500 words (my worst day) because that forward momentum keeps you from getting stuck.

6. It's good to find a group to help you. I was down in Madrid on November 1 and got to hang out with other members of my old writers group. We took over the back room of a cafe and wrote like mad!

7. If you give the project sufficient focus, you will not have a drop in quality as you increase quantity.

8. You will, however, make more typos. A lot more. Really embarrassing ones.

9. The online community at the NaNo website is super supportive, helpful, and friendly, and disappears after November 30.

10. It's really, really fun!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Someone seriously printed a "Men of the Waffen SS" calendar?

I spotted one of these in a military history bookshop in Vienna.

Each month profiles a different "man", listing his military record and biographical details. The photos range from formal military images to snapshots of them playing with their children. There were no photos of them slaughtering non-Aryan civilians or packing people off to concentration camps.

Much as I love military history, this just is not O.K.