Good Health and Good Luck

Time for a midweek update on the health situations in my family, and fortunately it’s a good one. My dad had his biopsy done and while technically the cancer is incurable, it’s highly manageable. He won’t need chemotherapy, he doesn’t have to make any big adjustments to his life, he just needs to take a prescriptive chemo-drug every day and get checked up three times a year.

It was a very encouraging update. The doctor (my parents both said that she was phenomenal) told my dad in blunt terms that he can still ski, dance at weddings, work, and just carry on like nothing has changed.

As for me, I went to an orthopedic clinic and a doctor saw me about the lump on my left shoulder. It didn’t concern him very much, since it’s soft, malleable, and not painful. He said it’s probably just a lipoma, which is a benign, fatty tumor. He recommended an MRI to be sure, but he sounded sure enough to me so I declined.

Then I got home and told my wife what the doctor said and what I did, and now I have an MRI appointment after a quick call to the office.

Happy wife, happy life, right?

On the writing side of things, I just passed 63,000 words for Creed: Mandate of Heaven this morning, and I also suddenly found the story take an unexpected turn! Funny how sometimes your villain can make an offer to your heroes which suddenly sounds reasonable…

But I won’t give anything away!

Hope you all are doing well today on this Hump Day! Thank you again for reading this blog and supporting my work!

Who is the Greatest of all Time? King James vs His Royal Airness

I don’t usually post on Sunday and almost never do I talk about sports, especially a sports argument that’s been beaten to death over the last 20 years. That argument is: who is the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James?

(Let me first say that I think the late Kobe Bryant is a more worthy entry to compare to MJ, but the popular debate is between MJ and LeBron, so that’s what I’m going with.)

This was brought on by an article I read regarding Tom Brady’s recent and unprecedented seventh Super Bowl win. You can read it here, but the gist of it is that since Tom Brady is considered the Greatest of all Time (GOAT) in his sport despite losing three Super Bowls, LeBron should be considered the GOAT in his sport despite losing six championships.

While I agree Tom Brady is the GOAT, the major flaw in this article is its assumption that what makes Jordan the GOAT is his perfect NBA Finals record. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely impressive. Six Finals appearances, six Finals championships, and six Finals MVP awards. That’s the stuff of legends.

But it’s not the sole difference between him and LeBron. The simple fact is that Jordan played better in every way.

Scoring – Jordan won his first scoring title (being the league’s leading scorer for the season) in 1987. He then won every scoring title until his retirement for a total of 10. How many scoring titles does LeBron hold? One.

Defense – Jordan wasn’t just a prolific scorer, he was one of the best defenders in the NBA. He made the All-Defense First Team nine times in fourteen seasons. LeBron just five in eighteen seasons. Jordan also led the league in steals three times, something James has never done.

Intangibles – This is where it gets a bit subjective, but bear with me. Jordan was one of those rare players that possessed an air of inevitability. When he got the ball, you just know he’s going to score. If he gets his team to the playoffs, he’ll win the championship. It’s inevitable. Of course it’s not actually inevitable, but that’s just how it feels. And you don’t get feeling with LeBron. Despite his excellent abilities and many championships, he is mortal and everyone knows it.

And then there’s what is called the killer instinct. The ability to take over a game and will your team to victory. Jordan had it, we all remember his flu game in the 1997 NBA Finals. Whether he was legitimately sick or hungover (as some claim), the fact is he dropped thirty-eight points on the Utah Jazz while barely able to keep the contents of his stomach in his stomach.

Then you have LeBron and his infamous 2011 NBA Finals performance. He and the Heat lost to the Mavericks in 6 games in which LeBron was almost a non-factor. He averaged just 17 points per game, and in Game 4 scored only eight points. If you do a little digging, you can also find several images of James putting in almost no effort on defense, standing with his hands on his hips while the other team takes it to the hoop. Even some of his teammates have accused him of quitting on them.

James has had some incredible Finals performances just like Jordan, but Jordan never quit on his team. That’s a stain that’s hard to look past.

So it’s not just Jordan’s perfect Finals record that makes him the GOAT as the article claims, he is simply and demonstrably the better player. And if I had to point to one thing about his career to prove that point, I wouldn’t even talk about the championships. Instead, I’d point to the 1988 NBA Season in which Jordan won the MVP Award, the Scoring Title, the Steals Title, the Slam Dunk Contest, the All-Star Game MVP, and the Defensive Player of the Year Award (an award James has never won). No one else has ever collected all those awards in a single year. Ever.

Oh, and one last point. Brady has won seven of his ten Super Bowl appearances. James’ championship record is nearly the inverse (4-6 for James, 7-3 for Brady). Comparing the two is nonsensical.

Book Review: “His Name Was Zach” by Peter Martuneac

Check out this wonderful and insightful review for His Name Was Zach from Berthold Gambrel! 😃

This is a post-apocalyptic zombie book. I should state up front: I’ve never really cared for the whole zombie genre. I saw Night of the Living Dead …

Book Review: “His Name Was Zach” by Peter Martuneac

Weekend Update: Writing Words and a Bumpy Ride

Hello again, everyone! Time for another weekend update.

My writing is going well, I hit a real groove this week and rocketed past 60,000 words for Creed: Mandate of Heaven. I originally thought the first draft would clock in at around 70,000 words but it’s looking now like it’ll finish closer to 80,000.

And unlike many authors, I don’t edit with a chainsaw. I know many writers who seem to take pride in axing an entire chapter, thousands of words all at once. That’s not my style. I don’t kill my darlings, I guide and refine them (I suddenly feel the urge to do a blog post about this…)

So the word count is unlikely to change much. Hell, the final word count for Her Name Was Abby increased after editing, by close to 15,000 words I think.

I’ve been saying I’ll try to query this work to agents and publishers, but honestly…I don’t know if I want to wait that long! I really want the sense of accomplishment that comes with getting past the gatekeepers, but I also really really want to just get this one out in the world for readers to enjoy!

And in personal news, I seem to have a strange bump on my arm, up near my shoulder.

I don’t know how I didn’t notice it until just this week. It looks obvious in the picture but honestly most of the time it seemed to blend into my shoulder.

But it doesn’t hurt or restrict me in anyway, so I think it’s just a cyst or something. I have a doctors appointment on Tuesday, and hopefully they’ll clear it up for me.

That’s all for this week’s update! As always, thank you so much for reading my blog! If you’d like to support my work further, please take a look at my books here! None are more expensive than $3 to download, and most people seem to enjoy them 🙂

Book Review: Redway Acres, Emmalee

This was my first foray into this genre (romantic-erotic), one that I’m not really a fan of, but it went surprisingly well! I understand this is the sixth book in the series but apparently a prequel to the others, so I feel like it was the right choice to start with.

The characters were all showstoppers. I was impressed that the author could create so many distinct, distinguishable characters and make them all full of life and authenticity. If I had to pick favorites, I really liked Nathaniel Ackley, Helena, and Worthington. Hats off to the author for this incredible achievement.

However the abundance of characters created a double-edged sword. While the first slate of major characters strained my ability to keep track of them, I was able to do so relatively well. Then all these characters began to marry, have children, die, re-marry, have more children, have illegitimate children, and then grandchildren, and honestly in the last 25% of the book I got quite lost in regards to some characters. It got to the point where it felt like I should have been keeping family trees outlined somewhere!

And that passage of time also threw me for a loop. I was expecting a smaller scope when I started this book, but before I knew it we were three or four generations deep and 40 years past the starting date. I guess I just wasn’t prepared for that long of a timeline, so that’s on me.

As for the plot itself, it was excellent. I was shocked with how quickly it sucked me in and how often I was left saying “Seriously, just 5 more minutes of reading. I mean it this time.” Now the story did eventually begin to fizzle for me, as we had yet another innocent virgin become pregnant the first time she has sex or yet another sudden death that conveniently opens the door for childhood sweethearts to wed (but oh no, one of them has already married elsewhere unbeknownst to us!). But as I said in the beginning, this is decidedly not my preferred genre, and I reckon fans of the genre would continue to love the twists and turns of this tale long past the point I grew tired of them.

I’m giving this 5 stars because, while the excitement and intrigue eventually faded for me, it held my attention far longer than I expected and introduced me to a marvelous cast of characters. Fans of the genre will eat this up and probably rush to get the other books in the series, and I recommend they do so! If you’re not a fan of the genre, you may or may not enjoy this one. It’s romantic-erotic so the sex is very graphic, more so than I’d prefer.

Sneak Peek at “Creed: Mandate of Heaven”

It’s been a while since I’ve offered a glimpse at my latest work-in-progress, so I thought I’d share a snippet in today’s blog post! Conner Creed, the titular character, and his companions have just landed in China and are spending a last night of serenity at their hotel before slapping giant targets on their backs. Because once the chase for the Heirloom Seal of the Realm begins in earnest, they’ll be deep behind enemy lines with no back-up.

So here you go! Let me know what you think in the comments 😀

The bar, like the rest of the hotel, impressed Conner with its affluent decor. He ordered a bourbon neat from the bartender then took a seat in the corner where he could have his back to a wall and watch the lobby. A few other people sat at tables with drinks in their hands, but the bar was otherwise empty.

Lindsey had not sent a text message back, so the seconds ticked by in excruciating slowness for Conner as he wondered whether he was wasting his time.

Won’t be a total loss if she doesn’t show, he mused as he sipped his drink. The bourbon in his glass was excellent.

But Lindsey did show up a couple of minutes later, wearing a little black dress that came nowhere near her knees, expensive heels, and a string of pearls around her neck. She smiled at Conner and he couldn’t help the slight tinge of red that appeared on his face.

Lindsey sat down at the bar and ordered a glass of wine from the bartender. Conner sighed, realizing she was going to make him come to her if he wanted to talk. He picked up his drink and moved over to the bar.

“This seat taken?” he asked.

“Not yet, handsome,” Lindsey replied with a sultry smile.

Conner rolled his eyes but sat down next to Lindsey. “So this is an outfit you bring on undercover missions?”

“Part of being undercover is fitting in with your environment, looking like you belong where you are,” Lindsey explained. “Look at what the other people in here are wearing. Suits and dresses. I look like I belong here. You’re the one sticking out in your jeans and T-shirt.”

“Hey, these are my nice jeans,” Conner protested.

Lindsey chuckled. “If you say so. But people would remember the obvious American with something to hide after one look at you.”

“Well what about you? Think they’re not gonna remember the gorgeous woman in that little dress?”

“They’ll remember this dress and the pair of breasts inside it, which is about all one can expect from men.”

Conner shook his head and took a drink of bourbon. “Fair point, I guess.”

“So I’m guessing you didn’t invite me down here for a friendly drink,” Lindsey said as she raised her glass to her lips.

“I need you to level with me because I don’t trust Magnussen to have been completely honest.”

“What makes you think you can trust me to be honest?” Lindsey said with a playful grin.

“Don’t do that,” Conner retorted. “What’s really going on with this? Is America seriously expending time and money trying to find an ancient artifact because it might be magical?”

“I’m sorry, Conner. But that’s exactly what’s going on. The fact is that, as small a chance there is that the Seal exists and has some kind of power, that’s how little the lives of pawns are to Magnussen. And as for money…”

“Yeah, yeah, the guy has unlimited funding,” Conner interrupted.

Lindsey nodded. “So to him, he’d only be out some pocket change if this is a bust.”

“But we know nothing about it! All we know is that China is maybe looking for it!”

“There’s a few more details to it than that,” Lindsey said. “The Chinese aren’t stupid, they aren’t any more superstitious than we are. But they discovered a trove of ancient imperial documents that emphatically describe what the Seal could do and the power it could confer.”

“Like what?”

“Allegedly, if you take the Seal to the tomb of the first Emperor and recite a magical incantation, the bearer of the Seal will become a god and conquer the world.”

Conner stared at Lindsey in stunned silence for several seconds. “Seriously? I’m sorry, it’s just a little infuriating that Magnussen has me out here going up against the Chinese government in their own country based on a Sunday School story.”

“Better than rotting away in Leavenworth, don’t you think?”

Weekend Update: So Many Words

Time for a little update on my latest projects! I’m nearing the 60,000 word mark for my work-in-progress, Creed: Mandate of Heaven. That’s about half as long as His Name Was Zach is and barely more than a third of the final word count for Her Name Was Abby 😮

But those were epics, and the Creed books are looking to be much shorter, most likely no longer than 75,000-80,000 words each.

Unfortunately my computer decided to take an hour and a half this morning to update, so I wasn’t able to get any additional writing done. But I’m really excited about where this story is going and it’s rapidly approaching the climactic showdown! I can’t wait to see what happens!

Maybe I’ll even share a sneak-peek here…

Anyway, that’s my writing update. Regarding my personal life, if you remember last week, my dad came down with Covid-19 and appears to have cancer in his kidney and lung. My mom also tested positive for Covid last Sunday. But both appear to be asymptomatic and are actually cleared to return to work this week, so that’s good.

And today my dad goes in for a biopsy to get a better look at his cancer situation, hopefully the doctors won’t find any surprises there. I’ll keep you all informed as soon as I am.

As always, thank you all for taking just a couple minutes of your day to read my blog! It means the world to me and I couldn’t do this without you.

Author Interview – Peter Martuneac

The incredibly talented author and blogger Stephen Black did an interview with me about my books! Go check it out, and give his Kirkwood books a look while you’re there, they’re really excellent 😃

This week I am joined by Peter Martuneac, whose ‘My Name Is Zach’ series has kept me on tenterhooks for many a reading session. It tells the story of…

Author Interview – Peter Martuneac

How to Write a Good Fight Scene

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly good at writing one kind of scene versus another, but throughout my His Name Was Zach series, one thing I’ve been told consistently by readers and reviewers is that they really enjoyed the fight scenes.

So I guess I’m pretty good at writing fight scenes. With that in mind, today I’ll be sharing some advice since I know some writers struggle in this area. Specifically, I’ll be talking about hand-to-hand type fight scenes (combat scenes involving guns or soldiers is something else entirely, maybe for a future blog post)

#1 – Keep the sentences and paragraphs short. This is probably the most important point. It’s a fight. Things are happening quickly, fists are flying, bones are breaking. Shorty, choppy sentences give this impression wonderfully. Long, flowery sentences are nice when there’s not much action happening, but in a fight they slow the pacing. It doesn’t feel like a fight. Watch:

“Bob threw a left then a right. Bill stepped back, dodging both. Bob kept coming, striking and backing Bill into a corner. Sensing victory he unleashed a flurry of punches. But Bill knew what he was doing. He caught Bob’s arm, stepped into him, and drove his knee into Bob’s groin.”

“Bob threw a fast jab with his left hand, followed by a powerful right hook as he closed the distance with Bill, who kept stepping back in an attempt to dodge the blows. But Bob continued moving towards Bill as he threw more jabs, hooks, and even a roundhouse kick, trying to knock Bill’s lights out, and eventually he backed Bill into a corner. This was the moment Bob had been waiting for, the chance to trap Bill and prevent him from escaping….”

You get the idea. Now which of the above paragraphs carries sense of quick action? I couldn’t even finish writing the second paragraph, it was taking so long!

Also, unless the fight is pivotal to the plot, keep it short. A few paragraphs, a page maybe should be the longest a fight scene should last if it’s not vital to the plot, if you even include it at all.

#2 – Remember the environment. Unless you’re writing a Rocky Balboa fanfic, your characters are probably not fighting in a boxing ring. They’re in a bar, on a street corner, a school cafeteria. So use the environment! By this I mean have the characters trip over something, grab a weapon of opportunity, slam their opponent into a mail box or through a window.

It’s very easy to write a fight scene like they’re in an empty, white expanse, but that makes for dull reading. Use the environment. Make the environment effect the fight!

#3 – Get the details just right. And I don’t mean by that to have precise details of every punch. I mean you have to give just enough details to paint a picture while allowing some vagueness to keep the pacing going.

Hearkening back to the first point, it’s a fight. It’s chaotic and messy, so trying to give exacting details over every step and every strike slows the whole thing down. But you can’t just write “they slapped each other silly” either, because then the reader doesn’t have a proper sense of what’s going on.

When I write fight scenes, I do what I call pulsing the details. I’ll start with a good amount of detail about the opening strikes of a fight, then fall down to some generic descriptions like “a flurry of strikes”. Then the pulse of the fight will spike again as I describe the character grabbing a chair and smacking their opponent with it, then fall back to generic descriptions. Another pulse up as I describe how the character fell into the other’s guard and was now trapped in an arm bar.

Note that this is for a longer, plot-pivotal fight. As I said earlier, if it’s not a major fight that helps character development or is the climax of tensions between to main characters, you probably don’t need to worry about pulsing the details because the fight should be short.

#4 – Experience. As with any other part of writing, having experienced something goes a long way in writing about it well. You don’t have to have experienced a fight or combat to write about it, but it helps. And if you haven’t, ask people who have. I’ve helped both friends and total strangers write about military life because they asked.

So how does that tie into a fight scene specifically? If you’ve been in a fight or taking martial arts training you know that you have more body parts than your fists. You can kick, you can strike with your knees and elbows. There are hammerfists and headbutts. There’s grappling on the ground, where there’s guards, half-mounts, and arm bars. Use these! Don’t just have your characters move in a circle throwing an endless series of punches. Get creative!

#5 – Dialogue and emotions. Again, this advice is for longer fights that are important plot points, but dont’ forget about emotions! Your characters will be angry, scared, confident, distracted, etc. Take a moment here and there to reflect that in the fight. Show Bob grin as he lands several strikes in a row. Show Bill’s eyes widen as he realizes he can’t win.

And then there’s dialogue. This depends a lot on each individual fight scene, but don’t forget about it entirely. If the characters know and hate each other, there’ll probably be some trash talking. If it’s a group fight, two friends will probably be shouting warnings to each others.

Don’t abandon dialogue but also keep it clipped. Just like your sentences should be short, so should anything the characters say. I’ve read fight scenes where characters are practically orating a campaign speech and it felt completely wrong. This is another spot where experience helps, a person who’s been in a fight knows there isn’t a whole lot of talking.

So there you have it! What do you think of the advice? Anything you would add or detract? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

This is one of the best military books out there.

On October 3-4, 1993, a handful of Rangers and SFOD-D (Delta Force) operators were stranded in a city that was almost entirely hostile and armed, and they had to fight their way out. While technically a victory for American forces (16 men were killed, while the enemy lost over 500 soldiers and exhausted almost their entire supply of weapons and ammunition), Americans were stunned by the downing of two helicopters and the loss of some of their most elite soldiers. Another case of the news media turning a military victory into a political defeat.

Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, snipers with SFOD-D, were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for their actions on this battle. They requested to be dropped into the city, just the two of them, to defend one of the downed helicopters until reinforcements could arrive and save the one surviving pilot. Those reinforcements never arrived, and the two snipers were eventually overran. I firmly believe that they knew they were going to die, that reinforcements would not arrive in time, but by God they would not allow a comrade to die alone. Nobler men may never be found.

A pulse-pounding thriller, this book also teaches several lessons for military officers and civilians alike. First, simpler is usually better. The US forces had incredible, modern surveillance of the entire city, but the information was routed through so many people before it reached the men on the ground that it was no longer useful. In fact, it was often harmful as the rescue conveys kept getting lost and turned around in the city.

Second, never say “that’ll never happen to me”. Many Rangers left behind critical gear like night-vision goggles and even their steel armor plates because they didn’t expect to need them, and these choices proved fatal in some cases. You’re human just like everyone else. The worst can absolutely happen to you.

So hope for the best, but expect and plan for the worst.

The movie is also excellent. Its gritty, realistic, and gives a phenomenal ‘grunt’s eye view’ of modern combat. Well written, well acted, and well done, it’s hard to think of a better book adaptation than Ridley Scott’s vision.

Bottom line: add this book and the movie to your library.

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