Thursday, February 4, 2016

Author Sean McLachlan Interviewed Me for Black Gate Magazine

This week, Sean McLachlan interviewed me for Black Gate Magazine, a website filled with interesting articles about books, history, fantasy worlds, and many other topics which might visit folks who visit me here. You can find the interview by following this link.

Sean is a highly talented author, having written for Osprey Publishing for many years. I used his book on Civil War Guerrilla tactics while writing Renegade's Revenge, and he's helped me immensely over the years by beta-reading a number of the Commando novels.

 You should take a moment to also stop by Sean's blog, Midlist Writer, and also drop by his Amazon Author Page. I've really enjoyed everything he's written, from his TRENCH RAIDERS series of World War One adventure novels, to his TOXIC WORLD series of post-apocalyptic fiction, and if you like historical supernatural horror, check out his HOUSE DIVIDED series of Civil War Horror novels. All of it is top-notch fiction.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Available Now: COMMANDO Operation Archery

December, 1941. Corporal Thomas Lynch and the rest of 3 Commando board a pair of troop ships and set out on the largest Commando raid yet. Their mission: assault the Norwegian island of Vaagso, neutralize the German defenders, and destroy anything supporting the Axis war machine.

Lynch and the other Commandos storm the island and quickly find themselves engaged in brutal house-to-house fighting. Casualties begin to mount, and the fighting spirit of Britain’s finest is severely tested as the ferocious German defense pushes them to the breaking point.

COMMANDO: Operation Archery is the fifth in a series of military action - adventure novels written in the spirit of classic war movies and wartime adventure pulp fiction.

Although it has taken longer than I expected, the fifth book in the COMMANDO series is now live on Amazon in eBook format. I will be working on the print copy over the next few weeks, and it should be available sometime in February. Over the last year or so I've received a lot of very complimentary queries asking when this book will be released, and it's really great knowing I've got a strong fanbase eager for the next volume in this series.

I'll be starting on the draft of the sixth book, Operation Elysium, in the next couple of days. It'll be set in the spring of 1942, pitting Lynch and the lads of 3 Commando against some of the deadliest enemies they've ever faced...

Monday, January 4, 2016

My 2015 Writing in Review

For the past several years now, I've been writing a year-end post about how my various books have performed, and although I haven't published anything in 2015 (more on that later), I wanted to give a rundown of the year's sales, as much for my own analysis as anything else. As always with such things, I provide these numbers not to boast, or to whine, but merely to inform. Some folks out there are doing much worse than I am, while others are doing much better. This is just the way it is, so take the following as provided for information purposes only.

In 2015, I sold roughly 5600 books, about 90% of those in ebook form. This is down about 2,000 sales from last year. A portion of that loss is, without a doubt, due to the new Kindle Unlimited payment method of calculating royalties based on pages read, not on 10%+ "borrows" as before, and in the past, I have been factoring any "borrow" as a sale to keep the bookkeeping simple. Since July of this year, when KU 2.0 went into effect, I've had about 170,000 pages read, which if divided by an average of 200 pages (the shortest of my Commando books, just for the sake of rough calculation), gives me another 835 sales, bringing me to around 6400 books sold. Of course, not everyone who started one of my books finished it, and it is impossible now to track such things.

In terms of what percentage of my sales went to each book, the total is overwhelmingly my Commando series. While last year I sold some 700+ copies of my western, Renegade's Revenge, This year I sold less than a hundred copies, with some modest few hundred pages borrowed. I was actually rather amazed at how RR sold very strongly for months, and then sales dried up almost overnight. While there were months where I'd sell over a hundred copies, now I am shocked if the title sells more than 4-6 copies in a month. Since RR was about 9% of my sales last year, losing it as a sales stream had a significant impact on my numbers this year as compared to last.

As for all my other titles, the numbers are minimal, at best. Killer Instincts sold about 300 copies and had a couple thousand KU pages read, but the bulk of that was due to a very successful promotion in March. San Francisco Slaughter didn't hit a hundred sales, and all of my short stories totaled together don't even break 100 sales for the year. That means the Commando series accounted for more than 90% of all my books sold in 2015.

The good news is, in terms of royalties, I ended the year only about $1,000 under what I made in 2014. Again, I think some of this discrepancy is due to difficulties in calculating sales vs. royalties because of KU 2.0, combined with much softer sales of my shorter works like RR, which paid out less than the longer works. In addition, more of the sales in 2014 were from countdown deals and other discounted sales, while most of the 2015 sales - especially the Commando titles - were at full price, making my average royalty per sale much higher overall.

And now we come to the fact that in 2015, I didn't publish anything. The year in general was frustrating for me, both in terms of my day job (I am firmly burned out there) and in terms of getting past my writer's block and completing Operation Archery, the fifth Commando novel. Archery deals with the Vaagso Raid of December 1941, and there is a lot of very detailed information out there about the events of that raid. I found myself frustrated at many points, often trying to figure out how to weave my fictional characters into the historical timeline in a way that gave them something to do, while not stealing the thunder from historical characters. It was a really good learning experience for me, because it taught me that, while I enjoy writing historical fiction, I am not great at writing about specific historical events. Thankfully, at the end of the year I was able to press on and finish the manuscript, and Archery is now in the editing stage, with a hopeful release in the next week or so for the ebook version.

So, what does 2016 look like? At this point, I dare not speculate, because I had extraordinarily high hopes for 2015, none of which came to fruition. Archery will be published this month, and I am already working on Operation Elysium, the sixth book in the Commando series. Beyond that, I really don't want to make any promises, although I have some ideas for what I want to accomplish. As with 2014, the vast bulk of my success as an author last year was tied to the Commando books, so that is where I need to focus my energy, but as we also saw, that comes with the risk of hitting a wall, and not being able or willing to step around it and carry on with something else. At what point does exploiting success at the expense of diversification mean you burn out on what you love? Let's hope we don't find out any time soon.

As always, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Available Now: RANGER Operation Axehammer by Dan Eldredge

Click the Cover to View on Amazon!
Fellow author Dan Eldredge has just gone live with a WW2 action-adventure novel written as a companion series to my COMMANDO stories, but featuring US Army Rangers. If you're interested in "Men's Adventure" styled WW2 fiction, take a look.

Eager to take the fight to the Germans, hundreds of young American soldiers volunteer to become Rangers, an elite unit modeled after the famed British Commandos. Chuck Hawkins and Alan Patrick are two such men, ready to accept the challenge and show the world that Americans are ready to fight.

After surviving months of hellish training, Hawkins and Patrick are selected to join a Ranger squad on a covert mission in occupied France. Under orders to avoid contact with the Germans, the plan goes awry when bullets start flying minutes after their landing. Hawkins, Patrick, and the rest of the Rangers are determined to complete their mission, all the while pursued by a ruthless SS officer and his fanatical troops.

RANGER: Operation Axehammer is a military action - adventure novel written in the spirit of classic war movies and wartime pulp adventure fiction.

This edition also includes the World War II short story: Our Turn to Shoot:

In early 1942, while the Imperial Japanese Navy rampaged in the western Pacific and the East Indies, the US Navy was desperately attempting to recover from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. A raid by US Navy aircraft carriers on the Japanese-held Marshall Islands was a small but important step in showing the world that America was still in the fight.

Ensign Jim Novak is a dive bomber pilot on board USS Enterprise, eager for a chance to take the fight to the enemy. This will be his first mission to strike a blow against the Japanese, but it could also be his last...

Our Turn to Shoot is a short story of approximately 6,300 words.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: TIGER TRACKS and THE LAST PANTHER by Wolfgang Faust

A very common phenomenon in the vague, sweeping genre of "war memoirs" is the false memoir, especially the false World War Two memoir, purported to be written by (most often, I've found) German soldiers and either lost or "published now for the first time" decades after the war. WW2 fiction and/or greatly embellished memoirs of wartime sold rather well among certain demographics, and even today - as I myself can attest - new WW2 fiction is popular among readers. So it is natural that, even now, false or at least dubious memoirs of the war are being "re-published" as ebooks. The "StuG Command" book I reviewed about a year ago was a perfect example of this, a story I am entirely certain is a complete fabrication (and not really that great a book, either).

I found TIGER TRACKS and THE LAST PANTHER a couple of months ago, and bought both for my Kindle. I recently read the two of them back to back - they're both fairly short reads, probably around 25-30,000 words apiece - and I have to say, they were pretty enjoyable. I don't believe for a second that Wolfgang Faust is a real person, or that the name is even a pseudonym of a real person, but I have to admit that the story reads well, albeit rather over-the-top in terms of the lurid violence and misery. The two stories cover different periods of time during Faust's career; TIGER TRACKS takes place in 1943, while THE LAST PANTHER takes place in April of 1945, right at the very end of the war.

Of the two, TIGER TRACKS (available here on Amazon) is probably the weaker story. Faust's unit of twenty Tiger heavy tanks is assigned to take some hill from the Soviets. The fight is bloody and several Tigers are immediately taken out of the fight, but in the end, the Germans defeat the Soviets and take the enemy position. However, the reinforcements that were originally promised never arrive, and they are forced to retreat, after capturing a Soviet female radio operator. The Tiger force is constantly harassed by Soviet attacks, encountering enemy armor, infantry, air attack, artillery, and even a particularly terrifying ambush by a flamethrower team. Whoever Wolfgang Faust really is, the writer is quite good at depicting the absolute horror of mechanized warfare. In particular, Faust is good at showing how the Tiger might be a very tough tank, but it is far from indestructible. Tigers are destroyed by hits from enemy anti-tank guns and other tanks, cracked open by air attacks, set ablaze by flamethrowers or Molotov cocktails - the list goes on and on. He also points out that a tank is not designed to drive everywhere under its own power - it requires tank carriers or rail transports, and must receive constant maintenance. Faust, as the Tiger's driver, is in charge of the mechanical care of the tank, and he is constantly worrying about the bogie wheels, the track links, the transmission and all other aspects of the fighting vehicle, because he knows that no matter how strong their armor, or powerful their gun, all it takes is one broken track link pin to immobilize the panzer and doom them.

On the other hand, the story kind of rambles. After their mission, Faust's tank commander (who is now in charge of what's left of the force) decides they need to bring the Soviet radio operator back for interrogation. So they set off for the rear lines, and the story just becomes a series of harrowing vignettes, until they reach their destination. There's no real drama, other than the need to get back to the rear echelon area, and even when that happens, the ending is a bit flat. I'm willing to forgive that, though, because the action throughout the story is still, in my opinion, rather top notch. As fun as the PANZER PLATOON series is (and I'll write more reviews of it later on), the combat scenes in these two books are far superior.

THE LAST PANTHER (available here on Amazon) is the better story of the two, mostly because it has a clear end-goal, and works to ratchet up the tension in getting you there, and the end of the story carries a lot more weight and pathos. In addition, the story revolves around an actual historical event, the "Halbe Kessel" or Battle of Halbe, a week-long retreat by German forces attempting to flee West and surrender to the Americans, rather than be captured (and probably killed or sent to a gulag) by the Soviets. Faust is, by 1945, a Panther panzer commander, and is tank is one of the few remaining in good condition within the group of German soldiers and civilians fleeing the oncoming Soviet army. They know they have to cross the Elbe river, where on the other side the US Army is waiting, but the Soviets are not only to the East, but essentially all around them, slowly closing in and crushing them.

THE LAST PANTHER is definitely more intense than Faust's first story. The inclusion of German civilians, who all know their fate in the hands of the Soviets pretty much involves rape, murder, or (likely) both, definitely makes for much stronger tension over the course of the novel. Women and children die in great numbers as the Soviets attack their column over and over again. The Germans, especially the panzer forces, do what they can to protect the civilians, but they can only do so much, especially as their vehicles keep breaking down, getting stuck, or destroyed by the enemy. Faust is constantly terrified that his Panther's engine will die, because he knows the engine is only good for about 800 kilometers, and at the start of the novel, they're already pushing 900. Fuel is also a big concern, and they're constantly on the lookout for more gasoline, usually taken from broken-down vehicles.

But the story also involves a lot more in-fighting and social tension, between the regular Wehrmacht troops, the Waffen-SS forces, and the civilians. Some of the SS are fanatics, to the point of killing Germans who do not stand and fight, while others are cowards who shed their uniforms and try to hide as civilians because they know the Soviets will give SS men no mercy. The worst-fated of all are the Soviets who are prisoners of the Germans and serve as laborers, because they know their own countrymen will kill them - and probably their families back home - if they're ever captured, but they're the Germans' lowest priority in terms of ensuring those in the Kessel escape the encirclement. Historically, only about 30,000 people - a mere fifth of those attempting the breakout - successfully escaped, so you can imagine the scale of slaughter that takes place in this book. There's on scene in particular, as the column tries to punch through a German village as they're being savaged by a Soviet bombardment, which is particularly awful, but by no means is it the only scene of massed slaughter.

Like TIGER TRACKS, this second book features some really solid, tensely-written combat scenes, and Faust is very good at portraying the various fighting vehicles in something approximating their historical strengths. The Panther was an excellent tank, with a main gun capable of defeating any tank in the world at that time, and very thick, sloped frontal armor that was probably the equivalent, if not superior to, the Tiger's frontal protection. However, the Panther was a smaller, lighter, faster tank, making it more maneuverable and not quite so mechanically fragile (although like all the late-war Panzers, it did break down in great numbers). There are also some good scenes involving King Tigers, Hetzer tank destroyers, and other German vehicles which added to the flavor of the combats.

All in all, these two books are relatively inexpensive ebook reads, fairly short by novel standards but fast-moving and filled with action. They both get relatively good reviews on Amazon (although a fair number of low reviews, mostly complaining about them being "false memoirs"), and they both seem to be selling quite well. If you're a fan of WW2 action-adventure fiction, I highly recommend reading both of them - I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Movie Review: BLACK MASS (2015)

I was able to attend an advance screening of the film BLACK MASS this past Thursday, followed by a question and answer period with Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, the two reporters who wrote the book the movie is based on, and who broke the original story behind the FBI's illegal ties with organized crime in Boston.

Long story short, BLACK MASS follows the twenty-year collusion between James "Whitey" Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly, Bulger and Connolly knew each other growing up in South Boston, and when they find each other on opposite sides of the law, Connolly enlists Bulger's assistance in getting information that'd be used in taking down the Mafia in Boston, and in return Connolly would work to prevent legal obstruction or investigation into Bulger's criminal enterprises.

As can be expected, nothing good comes from any of this.

As a film, BLACK MASS does an effective job of telling the basic bones of this story. Bulger and Connolly make this "devil's deal" and both profit from it, but eventually it becomes too well-known, and it falls apart. As with any historical drama like this, a lot of things get altered, cut, or combined in order to fit a dramatic two-hour cinematic narrative. This got discussed to some degree during the Q&A, where Lehr pointed out that Connolly's supervisor, played by Kevin Bacon in the film, is an amalgam of many supervisors over that twenty-year timeframe, but since constantly changing the characters would be confusing, a decision was made. There are a number of other places where this takes place, of course, and that's of course what happens with any movie of this type, and some of the changes are going to be more contentious than others.

When experiencing the film, the atmosphere throughout is creepy, dark, and highly disturbing. I don't feel it has that same sort of typical gangster movie "rise and fall" story that you see in GOODFELLAS or CASINO, where the crooks make it big, spend spend spend, get sloppy and squabble among each other, and finally cause their own downfall. You see Bulger buy one pair of "nice" shoes and give the shoemaker a generous wad of cash, and that's about it. They all still dress the same, drive the same boring cars, live in the same rather dumpy places, and in general, do not flaunt their wealth or status with parties, drugs, or girls (there is only one "party" scene, and that is a prelude to a murder). In fact, the only character that really conforms to this classic model is Connolly, who begins to "dress fancy" in tailored suits, wears a nice gold watch, and starts acting cocky and sloppy as he becomes more and more entangled with Bulger and his criminal enterprises.

Speaking of Bulger, he comes off more as some kind of slasher movie villain, rather than your average movie gangster. He is utterly cold, diabolical, and ruthless. While he cares for his mother, his brother Billy, and his son, he is more than capable of killing anyone else without any remorse and with only the slightest provocation. He is in no way a flashy, glorified "anti-hero" in any sense, because he displays almost zero human traits and very little of any qualities which one might want to emulate or aspire towards. There is also little indication of *why* Bulger does what he does - he just does it and keeps doing it. There is no goal or endgame, no troubled origin story driving his actions. He's a shark swimming through schools of fish, devouring and moving on without any qualms.

Bulger's portrayal, as well as the lack of any humor or levity whatsoever, works to make this movie emotionally draining. No one cracks a joke, there are no Joe Pesci moments, and the bleak, grimy backdrop of Boston's rather unflattering neighborhoods during some particularly bleak and grimy-looking periods of this city's history make it all the worse. Seriously, Boston isn't exactly a glamorous city, and this is before any of the work done in the last 20 years to make it look nicer and more visually appealing. Even City Hall and the other government buildings downtown add to this, with their miserably institutional appearances. I've been in City Hall several times over the years - it is an *ugly* building - a perfect backdrop for the ugly deals made within its walls during the film.

After the movie, there were more interesting points brought up during the Q&A. For example, when the Boston Globe story was being researched by Lehr and O'Neill, the focus wasn't on Bulger - it was on the corruption within the FBI, particularly as it tied into how the Bureau handled its Confidential Informants. Bulger just happened to be the biggest and boldest example of that corruption, and Connolly the Bureau's most flagrant bad boy. The film doesn't really touch on this at all, and the investigation of the problem seems almost entirely limited to the Bulger-Connolly situation. I don't know if this was done to help limit the scope of the film to something more tightly-focused, or if the filmmakers didn't want to paint the FBI with such a broad brush. Also, the authors, Lehr in particular (he handled most of the Q&A questions, since they were being asked by Boston University students and faculty and Lehr is a BU professor), were greatly concerned/worried that this story *would* go the "Goodfellas" route, and give it an air of glamour and anti-hero-ness, which they both wanted to avoid. But Lehr said after seeing a cut of the film back in May, he was happy to say the "darkness" of the subject matter was left intact.

Overall, I think this movie does a good job of portraying organized crime in the ugly, violent, horrible light it deserves. This isn't a stereotypical crime movie filled with flashy suits, fancy cars, piles of drugs, and lots of loose women. And, almost without exception, the violence isn't "action", but just sudden moments of brutality that make you glance away, feeling unclean for having witnessed the act. Frankly, I don't think it was a "bad" movie, but I am in no rush at all to see it again, if ever.