Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: The Sten Machine Carbine

The most amusing thing about writing military and violent fiction is, to be honest, the Amazon referrals you start to get when you're buying books for research purposes. I've been buying a bunch of materials about World War Two and the British Commandos, as well s various aspects of the war. I came across this little pamphlet on the Sten, and picked it up on a lark. As soon as I clicked to buy it, Amazon started recommending all sorts of do-it-yourself gun manufacturing guides, as well as old standbys like The Anarchist's Cookbook and other anti-establishment texts.

The Sten "machine carbine" as it was called, although we would call it a submachine gun, is an extremely simple weapon. There's only forty some-odd parts, and all of them could be manufactured with the equipment found in any semi-professional metal-working shop. If over a million Stens could be manufactured in a couple of years in cottage smithies all over England, making one using the machines found in even a modest shop today would be trivial. Because of this, blueprints and design specifications for the weapon are commonly found among militant "off-the-grid"-ers and the like.

Interestingly enough, because of this, when I was writing Killer Instincts, originally William was going to train and use a black-market Sten, manufactured by some anonymous underground gunsmithing shop and sold to Richard and other clients, who were looking for untraceable automatic weapons. There were a couple of pages where Richard talks to William about illegal arms manufacturing, and the world of "gun runners" who traffic in untraceable weapons. At the time, I thought it would be an interesting way to start introducing William to the "shadow world" that Richard lived in. However, I decided that while this was interesting, I'd rather use a weapon more iconic for the action-adventure genre, which is why I switched to using an Uzi. There's still some of the black market aspect of the story when they talk about the weapon suppressors, but it's not quite as extensive.

Anyhow, back to the Sten Machine Carbine. This handy little pamphlet is a reproduction of a vintage British military manual on the weapon, and shows each of the weapon's parts in fair detail, as well as explaining precisely how to field strip and even totally disassemble the Sten into each of its constituent parts. It is one thing to be able to guess at the process, and another to know exactly how it is done. For example, the tubular stock of the Sten can be removed so the weapon can be stowed in a satchel or other small area, but I was never sure exactly how it was done, or if it was a quick process or if it required a tool. Thanks to this booklet, I know just how it would be done.

The booklet also goes into details such as "official" positions and stances to use when firing the weapon, as well as immediate action drills for clearing jams and so forth. Even if some of the stances or techniques are "dated", it is great information to know as it is how your characters have been trained, and how they would act in certain situations.

While most of the information here might be available in some form or another scattered across the internet, I think for a few bucks it is worth picking up if you have a serious interest in the mechanical workings of this famous weapon.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Movie Review: The Desert Rats (1953)

Last night while browsing Nexflix for something to watch, I discovered that I'd tucked this old WW2 flick in my instant movie queue. About an hour and a half long, The Desert Rats tells the story of an Australian battalion under an English commander (played by Richard Burton) during the Siege of Tobruk.

Overall the film was pretty entertaining. There's an odd side plot involving Burton's character running into his old schoolmaster, who's now a drunk and a private in the Australian army. I agree with several reviewers of the film that this subplot is rather awkward and should have been re-written or cut out, but aside from this one quibble, the film is quite enjoyable. James Mason plays Rommel as if he's born to the role (and he was Rommel in The Desert Fox, the movie that preceded this one), and Burton is also quite good, as are the rogues gallery of Australian "desert rats" in the movie.

There are a number of action sequences, some of which were entirely shot for the film and some made up of new footage spliced together with war documentary footage, a common practice in these old war films. The middle third of the film is especially good, detailing all the night raids and missions carried out by the Rats against the Germans - blowing up supply dumps, knifing sentries, and causing general havoc within the German lines. I think the film also does a good job of showing the incredibly harsh conditions of the Tobruk defenders, men who're literally living in holes cut out of the hard desert earth for months on end.

If you get a chance, find this movie and check it out. If you're a classic war film buff, I don't think you'll be disappointed. Here's the trailer for the film:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: Lightning War (The Furies #2) by John Steiner

The second of Steiner's Furies stories is just as good as the first, perhaps even better. While the first half of V for Vixens kept the reader guessing as to just what exactly was going on, Lightning War starts off strong with a bit of a "gotcha", and ends with an excellent action sequence.

In this second volume, The Furies take on a new member and at the same time, are assigned the task of eliminating a cell of German agents, all female, operating as intelligence gatherers in England. The first half of this story spends a good amount of time further developing the relationships between the Furies themselves (and that entails all sorts of relationships...), and I think Steiner does an excellent job of painting the women in vivid, but believable colors.

The second half of the story is the raid on the German cell. Talk about bloody, brutal, and cold - we can see these ladies are more than capable of dishing out violence in all forms, without pity or remorse. Steiner can certainly find his way around a gunfight, and I'm looking forward to more "Furious" action in the other books.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead is Free for the Kindle Today

Just a heads-up that my WW2 action-adventure novel COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead is free for the Kindle today via Amazon. I had some (relatively) decent sales last month, and this month is looking pretty solid as well. For comparison, I sold twice as many copies of COA in August as Killer Instincts managed in its first three months. The book is actually doing better in the UK than in the US, which I guess isn't all that surprising as it is about British Commandos, and from what I have seen digging around Amazon there is quite the market in the last couple of years in WW2-era war and adventure fiction. Hey, if there's a market trend out there, I'm happy to hop along for the ride.

So, if you were curious about the book but didn't want to invest the requisite cabbage, today's your chance to pick up the ebook for free.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Movie Review: Code of Silence (1985)

I wouldn't say I am a huge Chuck Norris fan, but there are a number of his movies I really enjoy, Delta Force, Missing in Action, Lone Wolf McQuade, and Invasion U.S.A. among them. However, there are a number of other Norris movies, what I consider "second shelf", which are still extremely watchable, and Code of Silence is one of them.

I'm always amused by what movie poster, if any, is used to represent an actor on their IMDb page; Jean Claude Van Damme uses a photo from Hard Target, and Chuck Norris' photo is from the poster for Code of Silence. I've no idea if the actors themselves picked those photos or if some fan just thought it was the best look, but Norris holding a heavily choked 12-gauge shotgun one-handed by its pistol grip is a pretty badass look if you ask me.

Plotwise, the movie isn't terribly complicated. Norris plays Eddie Cusack, a Chicago police sergeant on the tactical team who is going after your typical crime family. Turns out, however, that Cusack and company aren't the only ones; another criminal gang is gunning for them as well. To make matters worse, one of Cusack's subordinates is under suspicion of shooting an innocent teenage boy and planting a pistol on the kid. Cusack is a real straight man, almost a pariah already in his department for walking the straight and narrow too easily. When he speaks out against his fellow officer, the rest of the department shuns him, which isn't good when you're caught up in the middle of a gang war.

Overall, this is a pretty gritty, "realistic" movie. There's plenty of gunplay and martial arts action, car chases and explosions, but I don't consider this movie anywhere near as over-the-top as other Norris movies such as Invasion U.S.A.. Although the movie was made in 1985, it lacks the, for lack of a better term, "brightness" of a movie like Commando. Instead, CoS is a dark, gloomy movie, filled with overcast skies, dingy locations, lots of grimy brick and steel, and a cast of characters that definitely fall outside the usual range of pretty Hollywood faces. The movie looks and feels to me like it should be a decade older than it is, but I don't really consider that a bad thing. The one really oddball factor in this movie is the introduction of a "police robot", a remote-controlled / semi-autonomous wheeled combat system kitted with a frightening array of missiles and heavy machine guns. While this thing is over-armed even for a combat robot in Iraq in 2012, it is utterly ridiculous for Chicago in 1985. Oh, and it might as well have had "Chekhov's Gun" painted across its hull...just saying...

So if you've never caught Code of Silence, give it a try. I found it on my On Demand lineup, but your mileage may vary, of course. You could probably pick it up at Amazon for a song, and if you're a Norris fan, I think it's worth having.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: V for Vixens by John Steiner

World War Two adventure fiction can be broken down, if at all, into two categories. The first is the "War Story", in which soldiers of some stripe or another go on missions and set about to shoot or blow up someone or something. Although these can of course be very well-crafted stories, filled with engaging characters and carefully constructed plots, they tend to be much more straightforward. I think Len Levinson's two WW2 series, The Sergeant and The Rat Bastards, fall into this category, as does my own WW2 Commando novel, Operation Arrowhead.

Then, you have the "Spy Story". I think this is actually the more popular of the two, especially since WW2 spy fiction evolves time-wise very easily into Cold War spy fiction and so on. The plots for these sorts of stories can be fairly straightforward, but they do tend towards the more complex, with double and triple agents, mysterious alliances and agendas, double-crosses and feints and counter-feints. This tends to also be the category that has a lot more sex (although to read The Sergeant, one would argue otherwise...) and definitely features more female characters.

With that last point in mind, taking a look at the first of John Steiner's The Furies series of WW2 spy stories, we come across what may be the first series of WW2 spy thrillers where the main protagonists are all women. In fact, they are a special, off-the-record-books section of female assassins and counter-agents who are ready to kill or be killed for Mother England.

I don't want to give away any of the major plot points, but suffice to say, Steiner has done an excellent job, both in crafting a very gritty, razor-sharp tale of ruthless violence and dedication, and in setting us up for further adventures later in the series. There are many instances in WW2 fiction, be it print or film, where the good guys get seduced and betrayed by some alluring Nazi femme fatale, and it's good to see Steiner work things so that the tables will now be turned on the bad guys. There is one scene, near the end of V for Vixens, that is such a shockingly titillating moment that I very nearly dropped my Kindle into my lap in order to clap out loud in congratulations to Steiner for pulling off something so perfect.

To conclude, if you have a hankering for some steamy, violent WW2 spy fiction, give John Steiner's books a try - I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Short Story Review: The Killing Question by Mark Allen

As human beings, we sometimes - probably at least once in our lives - ask ourselves, in all seriousness, if we have what it takes to kill someone in cold blood. I'm not talking about killing a completely innocent person, but rather someone who we feel deserves it (whatever our definition of that might be), a killing in revenge or retribution or "moral outrage", rather than undisputed self-defense or just random mayhem.

Maybe the question comes in the form of the old "if you could travel back in time would you kill Hitler" mind-game, or maybe you see something horrible on the news and ask yourself if you'd pull the trigger on some serial rapist or mass murderer. If you're a bloody-minded person maybe you think about this more often than you'd like to admit. If you're a writer, especially a crime fiction author, you know you think about this a little too often...but hey, it's all in the name of crafting a good story, right?

This is the sort of question writer Mark Allen tackles in his short story, "The Killing Question". Private detective Jack Reece is offered one million dollars to track down the man who raped and brutalized a five year-old girl...and another four million dollars to kill the man once Reece finds him. At first Reece rejects the offer out of hand, but once he takes the million dollars to track down this loathsome scumbag, his mind begins to ponder if he has what it takes to pull the trigger and earn that extra money.

Although the story is relatively short, Allen writes a visceral, brutal tale about the seediest of underbellies, about the lowest scum of the earth and whether an honorable person could ever bring themselves to ending the lives of such terrible people. Allen's story is graphic and definitely not for the faint of heart or the queasy of stomach, but then again, that's probably how it should be. If vigilante violence were easy or pretty, the world would be an even bloodier place than it already is.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hatchet Force Journal Ebook is FREE this Friday

I know it's a late announcement, but today (Friday) Hatchet Force Journal #1 is free for the Kindle on Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle, you can still get it and read it online through Amazon's Cloud Reader or any mobile device's Kindle app.

This promotion week has been really impressive. I've had well over a thousand downloads of my various titles, and that's a thousand potential new readers and customers. I'm really impressed with how quickly and easily people who I'm sure have never even heard of me can find my works and pick them up.

Sometime in the next week or two I will have a promotion day for COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead. When I do, I'll be sure to announce it ahead of time.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows is Free for Kindle Today

My Promotion Week continues today, with my Sword & Sorcery pastiche, NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows. Allow me to quote this review of the short story from the Amazon website:
One more sip of Michael Moorcock's too-absinthe-for-its-own-good Elric threatens to make you ill? Mix one part Marvel's old B&W Savage Sword of Conan with one part trash-talking Schwarzenegger action flick, add a splash of Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydian and two splashes Sergio Aragones' Groo, shake violently to the consistency of frothy blood, and the resulting refreshing cocktail is Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows.
 The UK promotion figures for Killer Instincts were a little late, but they came in this morning. I had 219 free downloads, as well as 3 in Germany and 1 in Italy. Downloads from the US were 558 in total. 781 total free downloads in two days is pretty awesome, if you ask me, and I've already had purchases going out the door since the promotion ended, hopefully as a result of the increased visibility.

I also released Rivalry - A Ghost Story as a free promotion yesterday. Between the US and other countries, I had over 200 downloads in 24 hours. We'll see how Nanok does today, and tomorrow I'll be putting Hatchet Force Journal #1 out for free. So far, I've had over a thousand downloads of various titles this week; that's several times more than my total sales over the last 15 months. Being able to get copies of my work into the hands of hundreds more readers is an incredible thing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


As of right now, I've had 530 downloads of Killer Instincts from the Amazon Kindle Store. The book is ranked #2 in Free Men's Adventure and #455 Free in Kindle Store overall, which I think is a pretty good accomplishment for a relatively unknown author.

I've decided to extend the free promotion a second day, and see where it takes me. I'm hoping downloads will continue to stay strong (at one point midday yesterday we were getting upwards of 40 downloads an hour), but even if they slow down, I anticipate another couple hundred before midnight.

Originally, I had thought to take Killer Instincts out of the KDP Select program. I wanted to be able to sell the book on Smashwords and through other ebook vendors, but right now, I'm having second thoughts. The ability to do promotions like this one, even if it is just five days a year, shows that I can put hundreds of copies of my books in the hands of readers. I've re-enrolled in KDP for the next 90 days. I think when my next COMMANDO title comes out - hopefully around Christmas time - I'll launch another promotion day.

You might argue that these free promotion days mean I lose the ability to sell the book to those readers, but frankly, sales of KI were mostly dried up in August, and I would rather have people reading the book - even if it was for free - than the book remaining unknown. As those downloaders become readers, some may become reviewers (hopefully positive reviewers...), and some may also go out and buy my other works, loan the book to others, become readers of this blog, and so on. I didn't really know what to expect when I started the promotion, but I certainly wasn't expecting more than five hundred downloads in 24 hours. That ego boost alone was worth the promotion day.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Free Promotion for KILLER INSTINCTS

My vigilante revenge novel KILLER INSTINCTS is free for the Kindle today on Amazon. I set the promotion up last night and I was going to post the announcement this morning, not realizing how fast some people would pick up on it and start downloading. By 7:30 this morning I'd already had a dozen downloads, and I've had more than 70 so far - and it's not even 11 AM!  I'm currently at #13 for Kindle Men's Adventure. Hopefully we can climb into the single digits by the end of the day.

UPDATE: It's 12:00 PM, and I've hit 132 downloads so far today. I can't believe how well this promotion is working out. At this rate, I may extend the promotion deal into tomorrow.

UPDATE #2: It's 4:30, and there have been 300 downloads. The book is currently #2 in Men's Adventure Free fiction and #736 in all Kindle Free books. Talk about awesome!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Book Review of Wolf Creek: Bloody Trail

Collaborative works are difficult to pull off correctly, even between two people who possess similar sensibilities and trust each other's work and methods. Sometimes a "collaboration" may be one writer and one "idea person" or two writers with one of them being the dominant voice. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but either way, it is a complex dance.

With the Wolf Creek collaborative concept, we have a whole stable of writers, each with their own characters, writing successive chapters in a sizable novel. The potential for this idea to fail was probably considerable. One or more participants might not have lived up to the standards of the other writers, or possessed such a strong written "voice" that it immediately took you out of the story.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case with Wolf Creek: Bloody Trail. Each writer was able to craft their own portion of the story and develop their own characters, but each portion of the story fit together seamlessly with the rest, creating a story that is greater than the sum of its already high-quality parts. I think the idea to have each author write a couple of chapters and then let the next writer have a crack at the tale helps cut down on the confusion of voice and style, as the voice of the story might evolve, but it is not shifting back and forth between several writers constantly.

All in all, I have to say this was a great read, highly enjoyable, and I hope to pick up the next volumes in the series as soon as they are available.