Oddly Useful Books

There are a few books I keep turning to that I never thought I’d use more than once or twice. One is a technical guide, while the other is a book I bought for a history of the US South (or was it US religion? 19th century US?) class and thought I was done with. Wrong-o!

Osprey Publishing specializes in military books. The ones that show up in the local book stores are about soldiers in WWII, mostly German. Since the only German history books are also about WWII or the NAZIs in general, it makes sense. But Osprey covers a lot broader range of topics and time periods.


The one on my desk, that I end up looking at more often than planned, is Medieval Russian Fortresses, AD 862-1480. I don’t remember where I learned about it . . . oh, yes, now I do. It was in the “read more” box at the end of an article in Medieval Warfare magazine. That periodical is bad for my budget in so many ways, but back to the main topic. For some reason, it sounded useful, and I found a used copy for a buck plus shipping. One of the best dollars I’ve spent.

The fortifications in Blackbird came from the book. Other things came from that slim little book with beautiful illustrations and descriptions. I was trying to remember the lay-out of one of the cities in medieval Russia for another project, flipped some pages, and there’s a detailed color painting of a different city but that incorporated similar defenses. Some of those frontier forts, by the way, would be perfect for fantasy novel settings: wooden castles built into isolated crags.

I realize that most people don’t enjoy spending hours pouring over books of historic fortifications. Nor do most people drive along looking at the terrain and imagining how they would defend this or attack that bit over there, with what kind of troopers, or how would you do X if all you had were light cavalry . . . And in the age of satellite guided munitions and Abrams tanks, some kinds of fortifications are at best pointless and at worst death traps for the defenders. A network of tunnels and caves? There’s a MOAB or JDAM for that.

The other book is about as different as it can be. It is Nathan O. Hatch’s Democritization of American Christianity. Sounds duller than that butter knife you use to undo standard screws, doesn’t it? My friend, you have not met the sheer craziness that was religion in the US between 1776 and 1850. What Hatch describes is how the average believer took control of their religion, nudging (or booting) bishops and seminary trained ministers out of the way and establishing a hundred and one at least different churches, denominations, and ways of worshipping G-d. And Americans did it with gusto, inventing the revival service, awaiting the Second Coming, dragging the church onto the frontier, spreading the Good News around the world, establishing charitable groups that took care of the sick and needy, plotting how to free the slaves and banish demon rum (or improve people by serving them whole grains. Graham cracker, anyone?) Church music changed, how people worshipped changed, who led the congregations changed, and left Europeans scratching their heads and wondering what in G-d’s name happened to G-d’s church?

It is not a light read. Hatch assumes you know some basics about Christianity and US history. But it is fascinating, and turns on end some of the common attacks against Christians in the 19th century. And the characters he turns up, from Lorenzo Dow to Joseph Smith to women preachers and exhorters to the men who compiled the Sacred Harp hymnal are intriguing. Hatch writes very well.

I made notes in the book when I read it in college and then thought I’d never use it again. No. I keep turning back to it for US history, for church history, for music history, for the history of reform, for church vs. state arguments . . . it is probably the best one volume overall history I’ve found of about Protestant religion in the US in the US between the Revolution and Civil War.

You Call that Hot? Now This is Hot

(With apologies to Crocodile Dundee)

I got a Thai curry the other night and was sorely disappointed. It tasted fine and was well cooked, but it was not hot. The spices seemed mild and pleasant, but did not even warm the tongue. I am not certain why it was marked as spicy. Thai spicy is what I turn to when I can’t get my sinuses cleared, or when I’m feeling in the need of food that takes my mind off of everything but “ow, ow, ow that’s good!”

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When the Muse Attacks . . .

No, not a story, yet. Probably I’ll run Version 1 on Tuesday and Version 2 on Wednesday.

I’m trying to work on the Colplatschki novel. And I need a dragon story-and-a-half for a story pack I’m (or perhaps was) planning on for late April. But no, no the Muse hits me with three stories this week, now four.

Two (and a bit) are from Rada’s younger days.

One is an alien’s take on a Rada story, both of which came from the title and sound of a piece of New Age music I heard on my free-for-eight-more-days satellite radio as I was driving to work on Friday. Or, I should say, the Rada story came, and the kick to use a different PoV hit as I was writing yesterday.

The other Rada story started as a horror idea, but it would have been grim-dark and downer. I can’t do that, so the Muse jammed the solution at me during the concert last night.

And if she wasn’t busy enough, during the closing number last night, she poked me hard. Sgt. Alexi Zolnerovich, currently assigned to the ROTC at the Colorado State School of Mines, is trying to figure out why some of his ROTC cadets are being accused of stealing fruit from a cherry orchard during a night exercise. And Babushka is complaining about some oligarch who is building an ugly house that the locals call the castle and wants to buy her out. Of course she’s not going to. And Ivan the Purrable has his phone privileges back . . .

And WordPress won’t let me use those words to describe my Muse that I really want to use, because this is not an adults-only blog.

I can’t win.


Folk Tales and Long Tails: When Legends Linger

” . . . and have them watch these two videos from the Tales of Washington Irving. They tie in with Transcendentalism.” Eh, actually I think Mrs P. was trying to show the students just how lucky they are to have escaped the Age of Bad Animation. The Disney musical version of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow was state-of-the-art CG compared to these. The Rankin and Bass Lord of the Rings was ground-breaking art compared to these. Yes, they were that bad. But the stories still work, and provided me with a little mental meandering fodder. Far more than the rest of the The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Esq., “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” tap much older folk-tale traditions. If you read the original, Irving mentions that people thought that thunder without obvious storm clouds might be the ghosts of Henrik Hudson, the Dutch explorer, and his crew playing bowls (nine-pins) up in the Catskill Mountains. But the tales of malign ghosts and sleepers go a very long way back in the past. Continue reading

Friendships, Love, and Fiction

What is friendship? I’m tempted to quote the main character in Tuck, Everlasting and say “It just is!” Except it isn’t, not quite, if it ever was. Today we have friending someone on Facebook, unfriending someone, “to friend zone” as a verb, and who-knows-what else in floating around popular culture these days. I’ve raised eyebrows and hackles a few times when people asked “How many friends do you have” and my reply is “oh, four or five, at most.” This is not to say there are not a goodly number of people who I am friendly with. It is to say that my definition of “friend” is very tight. Friends are the people who, if they call at 3:00 AM and say they need help, I’m on the road, no questions asked. Because they’d do the same for me. Continue reading

Cover Design: When good Ideas and Reality Collide

So, how is the cover of the next book coming, and how did it get there? Fine, and after some thought, because Saul and I based our ideas on the original cover for Hubris.


What we wanted to do was keep some elements, but not end up with Cover Part 2: The Sequel. A series look without the hard template of the Elizabeth books, for example, you might say. Continue reading