Saturday, December 14, 2013

How I plotted Operation Devil's Fire and Behind German Lines

As I mentioned at the end of the post for 26 October 13, I'm going to talk about how I plot my novels. 

When I decided to write my first novel, Operation Devil's Fire, I knew I had only a vague understanding of plotting. I bought a copy of Ken Follet's Hornet Flight, read it, then sat down and plotted it using Excel. I entered the name of the point of view (POV) character and a one-sentence description of the chapter. Next, using Excel's formulas, I counted the number of times each character appeared and calculated the percentage of "screen time" they each had. Side note: I have no idea how Mr. Follet writes his books.

For my next step, I bought two books on writing:

and the companion workbook

I read them both cover to cover and still have them in my home library. Mr. Marshall laid out a logical approach to plotting, which I converted to Excel using a pattern of appearances by each of my POV characters. I saved the file as ODF Story Plan.xls and used that same naming convention for my latest book, Behind German Lines BGL Story Plan.xls.

Because my books are thrillers, my chapters tend to get my characters in trouble, then end, switching POV, often to the bad guys whose chapter then ends with a new threat that the reader knows about but the main character doesn't. This doesn't occur all the time, but I use when needed. Remember, the writer wants the reader to worry about the characters and wonder how in the world he or she is going to get out this jam.

Using Marshall's general POV pattern, but modifying it for MY story, I ended up with a spreadsheet whose POV column looked like this. Note that some chapters are listed more than once - this is due to perhaps just moving them from one place to another in the same chapter.

Chapter VP Char
1 Marston
2 Dunn
2 Dunn
3 Miller
4 Dunn
4 Dunn
5 German
5 German
5 German
6 Miller
7 Churchill
7 Dunn
8 Churchill
8 Dunn
8 Churchill
9 Dunn
9 Dunn
9 Dunn
10 Dunn
10 Dunn
10 Madeline
10 Dunn
10 Madeline
10 Dunn
10 German
11 Dunn
11 German
11 Cross
12 Pamela
12 Donovan
12 FDR
13 Dunn
13 Cross
13 German
14 Marston
15 Dunn
15 Cross
15 Dunn
16 Dunn
17 German
18 Marston
19 Dunn
20 Miller
20 Miller
21 Dunn
22 Miller
23 Dunn
24 German
25 German
26 Lawson
27 FDR
28 German
28 German
29 German
30 Dunn
31 German
32 Marston
33 Dunn
33 Miller
34 Saunders
35 German
36 Dunn
37 Miller
38 German
38 Dunn
38 German
39 Dunn
40 Miller
41 Dunn
42 Miller
43 German
44 Churchill
45 Dunn
46 Churchill
46 German
46 Churchill
47 Dunn
48 Miller
48 Miller
49 Claire
50 Pamela
51 Dunn
52 FDR
53 Dunn
53 German
54 Dunn
55 Madeline
55 German
56 Dunn
57 German
57 Dunn
57 Dunn
57 Dunn
57 Dunn
58 Dunn
59 Dunn
60 German
61 Dunn
62 Churchill
63 Dunn
64 Dunn

Here's how each character's appearances add up as a percent of the total chapters.

POV  %
Dunn 42%
German 22%
Miller 11%
Churchill 7%
Marston 4%
FDR 3%
Madeline 3%
Pamela 2%
Cross 2%
Donovan 1%
Saunders 1%
Lawson 1%
Claire 1%
Total 100%

My main characters in bold, take up 82% of the total, with the minor characters taking the rest. 

In the new novel there are only 5 POVs. Each story has different needs.

The key advice I can give you is: if you decide to plot your book in a similar fashion, always remember that the story is the boss. Don't always put a POV chapter in a certain place just because the spreadsheet pattern says to; you have to adjust all the time so the story stays tight, tense, and true.

Help your readers come to love your characters, care about whether they survive, and cheer for them when they do. 

Thanks for stopping by today.

Starting today, I'm going to post the name of the book I'm currently reading, with the Amazon link if there is one.

On page 257 of 583.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pearl Harbor - Sunday, December 7, 1941

At 7:48 AM Hawaiian time, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States Navy docked in Pearl Harbor.

Please take a moment to remember those who died.

Here are some good links:

President Roosevelt's speech - youtube

A worthwhile movie. Some criticize it for the love story, but it's a good depiction of the events leading up to and then the attack itself.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Research for WWII novels

In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about how irritating it is when someone says they want to be a writer and when he asks what they read, they reply something like, "Oh, I don't have time to read!"

Really? You want to write, but you can't be bothered with reading? Wait, you want to be a physics teacher, but you don't want to study physics?

Therefore, the same is true with writing novels about a historic period. I wanted to write WWII novels, so I read more and more about WWII to increase my store of knowledge picked up over my lifetime. The reading of WWII non fiction books and researching on the web was crucial to a having a deeper understanding of what happened. I think of myself as a student of WWII.

In a previous post, I listed some of the WWII non-fiction books I've read

Weaving a story around real events requires paying attention to the little details like dates and locations, as well as troop disposition, for both sides. Finding accurate military maps just comes down to Google searches. The best site I've found so far is, perhaps naturally, West Point.

I write my stories around actual events, but typically haven't thrown the characters into an event. For example, in the first book, Operation Devil's Fire, the timeline is from 25 May 1944 to 19 June 1944. This time frame includes D-Day, which I'm sure you know was 6 June. However, my characters are not involved in the invasion itself. They have other missions and I wasn't about to try to squeeze in D-Day as part of the story--it's been done many times--because it was NOT directly part of the story.

I am a novelist, not a historian, so I sometimes have to take some liberties, but when I do, it's always for the sake of the story. However, whenever possible, I do stick to the known facts.

In addition to all of these important things, the weaponry has to be accurate. For example, I'm not about to give my main character, Sgt. Dunn, an M-16! Any student of WWII history or reader of military fiction / non-fiction would immediately think I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Here are some of the weapons and equipment I had to research to make sure I knew what I was talking about. I invite you to read about them yourself, just copy paste into Google.

  • 1911 Colt .45
  • Luger
  • Thompson .45 submachinegun
  • STEN submachinegun and sound suppressor
  • M1 Garand 
  • 1903 Springfield with Unertl sight (also needed muzzle velocity to calculate time to target).
  • MP40 submachinegun
  • MG42 machine gun
  • Panzerfaust
  • Explosives
  • Grenades, U.S. pineapple, German potato masher
  • parachutes - static line, also very low altitude drops
  • The Horten 18
  • P-51 Mustang
  • ME109
  • B-17
  • C-47 Goony Bird 
  • Heinkel 177 Greif
  • Tiger Tank
  • T-34
  • Sherman tank
  • German armor attack formations
Writer's tip

When I'm writing and discover I need information on something, instead of stopping the writing and hitting Google, I type in an asterisk and short description of what I need: "*nameofweapon." The purpose here is to prevent myself of falling into surfing mode because one thing leads to another and you can suddenly lose a half hour of writing time. Do your research between writing times, not during. Then go back into the document and search for the *.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, November 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy - 11/22/63

Fifty years ago today, at about 1:00 PM CST, President Kennedy died. Please consider taking a moment of silence today.

I was in the 6th grade and we all had just came back from the cafeteria, except for one girl, Alicia (I can still remember her name and appearance) who had gone home for lunch. She ran into the room and told us what had happened. After school, I turned on the TV and watched and watched.

If you want to watch that same coverage you can, starting today at 12:38 PM CST:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Writing (with) Discipline

Talent. Discipline. Which of these is more important to a writer?

I once read a great quote about this topic. Regrettably, I can't find it again, and I don't want to incorrectly attribute it, so as a compromise, I'll paraphrase it: There are plenty of very talented writers with little discipline who aren't published because they have drawers full of partial manuscripts, while there are lots of "less" talented writers who have discipline and are published.

If you have the ability to string words together to form good sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, then chapters, and you can construct a story that grabs a reader's attention, getting their buy in, then you can probably say you have some talent in writing. But are you writing enough to make progress toward a completed manuscript?

When I first started writing Operation Devil's Fire (ODF)  in January of 2004, I was an undisciplined writer. There were times I would go days and weeks without writing a single word. A year and three months later (15 months), I was just a little over a third the way done. 

Then, I started writing a new novel, a modern day thriller. I applied a new energy and discipline to the writing of that book, which I finished in just 10 months. Not bad for guy with a full time day job.

Fast forward and return to writing ODF on 1 June 2006. By 7 October 2006, only four months later, the first draft was completed (128 days). What was different? How could I write the remaining 2/3 of the book in 25% of the time? Wait for it. Yes, discipline.

Writing the modern day thriller, which was never published and just sits on my computer, taught me how to apply discipline.

But then the question arises, what the heck do you mean by that? I mean writing when you don't feel like it. Writing every day, or at least on a schedule. I use a daily word count goal of 700 words (about two book pages), with the latitude of just making sure I hit 4,200 for the week (six days). Sometimes it's already 9:00 PM and I haven't started for the day. I don't want to write. I'd rather watch some more TV. But at 9:05 PM I start to write and the next thing I know it's 10:15 and I've written my 700 words.

I use Excel to track my word count and my progress toward the final goal of about 100,000 words

You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you apply discipline and set goals.

Best of luck.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New book update - thank you to my readers! FIRST READERS discussion.

Thank you to my readers!

Behind German Lines made it into the top 100 in the Military category last Sunday, 11/3. Last night it broke into the top 50! Today it's sitting at #37. My first book, Operation Devil's Fire broke back into the top 100 this week due to the renewed exposure and the discovery by readers that there are now two Sgt. Dunn novels.

Writer's Advice

As I've written in earlier posts, some of my readers sent me emails about Operation Devil's Fire and I discovered that folks from all over the world were reading my book. If you receive emails, answer them promptly and be sure to personalize your response. Take the time to engage the person who took the time to write you about your book.


I always capitalize these two words because that's how important they are to me. There's a lot of writer's advice on the internet, and when it comes to finding people to read your work and give feedback, most advice says you can't trust your family and friends because they'll sugar coat anything they say.

Well, I'm here to tell you, those advice givers don't know my FIRST READERS! They are all excellent editors and telling me something doesn't work or is just plain wrong is no problem for them. Each of them looks for different things: some are grammarians and others are fact checkers, others tell me how different chapters make them feel. One prints the manuscript, writes all over it, then scans it into a pdf file and ships it back to me! 

Only a few of my FIRST READERS know each other, I am the only commonality between most of them. They reside all over the world: Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Cairo, Egypt.

If you're fortunate, you'll find FIRST READERS as awesome as mine.

Thanks for spending time with me today.

Tomorrow: Writing with discipline.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Creating a WWII novel

Writers have a daunting task ahead of them when you think about it. First, there's the IDEA. The "what-if" this happened? Think about some books you've read or movies you've seen. What if an impenetrable dome settled onto a small town? The Dome, by Stephen King. What if a computer became self-aware and decided to kill humans? The Terminator movies. What if the Nazis were about to finish their atomic bomb AND had a jet bomber capable of transatlantic flight? Operation Devil's Fire, my first book.

Next, we pick the setting, the time and the place. Then we populate that framework with characters. We decide what viewpoint(s) to use to tell our story. Some stories require multiple viewpoints and others follow one character around and only see the story as it unfolds for him or her.

For my Sgt. Dunn books, the setting, time and place are determined somewhat by what actually happened during World War II. I create challenging events for my characters to overcome either by extrapolating from historic fact or from my imagination.

I use multiple viewpoints, and the third person omniscient, which means I and the reader can be anywhere and see anything including things the characters don't see. For example. I can have Dunn and his men preparing to attack a German outpost. By using the omniscient viewpoint, I can show the reader that there's a Tiger tank around the bend in the road, but Dunn and his squad don't know this. This creates tension, or suspense, for the reader, another word is worry. I want to make my reader worry that something bad could happen!

By using more than one viewpoint, I and the reader can follow the bad guys, see what the hell they're up to, and this creates the thriller aspect. Again we know something the good guys might not know yet. Then, if the good guys uncover the evil plot, I add the ticking bomb part by giving the good guys a deadline to meet or else.

I published the second Sgt. Dunn novel ten days ago. Two days ago, I wrote the first paragraph of the third novel. I'm a believer in writing a first sentence that conveys the essence of what follows. So far, I'm two for two, meaning that the first sentence for each of the books remained unchanged for the entire duration of the writing of the book. Here they are:

Neil Marston feared for his nation’s survival. (Operation Devil's Fire)
Tank battles are mankind’s reply to God’s thunder and lightning. (Behind German Lines)

I learned this from the author Dick Francis who wrote outstanding first sentences. 

As for the plot of the third book, I have the beginning in my head, perhaps as far as the middle, but not the end yet. My next step is to begin writing the bullet point chapter descriptions and create some of the new characters to populate the setting, time and place.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Veterans Day is in 
8 days. 

"Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why write about WWII? - Part 2

Happy Friday! Well, soon anyway.

You know how, when you're with a really good friend and the conversation comes to a stop for a little while? But it's a comfortable silence, as opposed to the awkward kind? I like to think that my not posting for a few days is like that. It turns out that the silence was comfortable for me, and I felt no need to fill it (you know the type, right? can't stand two seconds of quiet?). No offense intended if you're that type . . .

The first World War II book I ever read was Up Periscope by Robb White. It was first published in 1956 and was later made into a movie starring James Garner. Raise your hand if you know who Garner is. :)  It was a Scholastic Reader book I bought with my allowance in the fifth grade (about 1962). No snickering, please. A couple of years ago, I was able to find a copy on Amazon and I reread it. It was quite fun. 

A couple of months before my first short story sale I knew, instinctively, that I would write about WWII. This was in the fall of 2003. I'd been mulling over ideas and settled on a character who would be in the army. My original plan was to then follow his life throughout the war, then on to the postwar years. Now, ten years and two books later (why it took so long is for another time) I'm sticking to that basic idea. The question arose as to who this guy would be, and I chose to make him a sergeant and a member of the new U.S. Army Rangers. 

Once I had that information, the rest came down to building his background, and then creating the story line, also known as the plot. When I'm working on a book, I use Excel to build the plot as opposed to a narrative outline. This works for me. 

Some writers swear they don't plot, and I'll take them at their word, but for me, I have to know where the book is going. This doesn't mean I don't change the plot because I always do; that's the creative part of writing, but without the plot in Excel, I can't keep track of who's where and when, etc.

Advice to writers:

Plot may be a four letter word, but it's acceptable in the writing world.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Journey to publishing successful! Links to Kindle and the paperback on Amazon. Why write about WWII? Part 1

A happy day for me! The new Sgt. Dunn novel Behind German Lines is now available on Amazon:

My hat's off to Amazon: the Kindle version was available within 5 hours of my clicking the publish button and the paperback was ready long before the expected 5 to 7 days.

Now that the book is published, I will be working on the third Sgt. Dunn novel, unnamed yet, but my posts will be more along the lines of what's below. I also plan to provide "advice" for writers based on my work habits and what works for me, as well as tips about self-publishing and any other things might be interesting.

If you have specific questions about anything, from my books to World War II to writing, please leave me a comment. I promise to reply as soon as possible. 

Why write about WWII? Part 1

I grew up in the 50s and 60s, a child of postwar United States. At a young age, I was enthralled by the many WWII movies that seemed to run on TV every weekend (although they really must not have - there were only 4 stations in Kansas City, and one was PBS). When I got into the 8th grade, I'd started reading first-hand accounts by fighter pilots. I even gave a book report on a book about several pilots and their amazing performances. I was the only one to do a report on non-fiction. Not a lot of applause there. :)

I built many model planes including the Avenger torpedo bomber, the Hellcat, the P-38 Lightning, and my favorite, and still my favorite, the P-51 Mustang. It's no coincidence that one of the central characters in both books is a P-51 Mustang pilot, an Ace (5 kills), of course (Captain Norman Miller).

In Kansas City, there is a World War I (not WWII) memorial across the way from the Union Station, Liberty Memorial. I visited it several times as a youth and was fascinated by the items there, the torpedo, the rifles, all of the accouterments of war, as were my friends.

In high school, I joined Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and the organization and structure of the army suited me at that time. This was during the Vietnam War, however, and sometimes when we were outside performing close order drill (marching) with firing pin-less Garand M1s, we would be called baby-killers by groups of people driving by. We weren't too naive to understand the implications. 

Fast forward to 2001 and the Band of Brothers. Here was a thoughtful, and pretty accurate depiction of what happened in Europe during WWII. I watched every episode, then bought the dvd box set. I watch it annually. 

In 2000, the year before, I had started writing with a new intensity and with a goal, shorts stories, though, a novel wasn't even on my mind. I gave myself five years to get published. If I didn't, then I would consider giving it up. Thankfully, I didn't have to face that fork in the road, for in November 2003, I sold "He Wasn't Always Old" to GRIT magazine, which had a circulation of 100,000. When I got the acceptance letter and check, I felt validated and was overcome with emotions. Someone thought my work was "good enough!"

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

See you next time. I may not post on Sunday, the 27th. I "plan" to take a day off. Well, we'll see if that really happens. Why? Because I just love writing. It's that simple.

Upcoming post idea: how do I actually plot my books?
And why?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Journey to publishing update #15 - The new Sgt. Dunn novel, Behind German Lines, was just published!

Hello everyone!

I clicked the publish button on Kindle and for the paperback!

The second Sgt. Dunn novel, Behind German Lines, Kindle version should be available within 12 hours from 8:30 pm CDT, so I hope to see it on Amazon Saturday morning. Amazon sites outside the U.S. could take 48 to 72 hours.

The paperback will be available in 5-7 calendar days.

While I don’t have the link to the new book yet, you can search for “Ronn Munsterman” and find it. Once I get the link (tomorrow) I'll post it here.

Thanks for following me the past few weeks.

Future posts will focus on World War II, writing, and other odds and ends. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

See you tomorrow!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Journey to publishing update #14

Clicking the publish button tomorrow nightI'll post here right after that.

The Kindle version should be available sometime Saturday the 26th (usually between 12 and 24 hours after publishing). I'll have the link to the new book after it shows up on Amazon.

Sunday, the 27th, will be my first day "off" from writing since the All-Star game last July. Really. And what fun I've had.

In case you're curious, yes, I have already started thinking about the next Sgt. Dunn book, which will the third. I know it will start the day after Behind German Lines ends and have a few ideas on what Dunn and his men, as well as Saunders and his bunch will be doing.

Thanks for checking in.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Journey to publishing update #13


Files uploaded to Createspace and submitted for review. This step takes them about 24 hours. After that, I can review online a proof copy of the book. Created the book on my Kindle Bookshelf, which is where I upload the cover and the book. If the proof looks a-ok then I plan on publishing Saturday morning, 10/26. Wish me luck! 

Since I write about WWII, it stands to reason that I would actually read about it, too. Here are some of the books I have read and use as reference. The links go to the Amazon page.

To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace This is written by Col. Bud Anderson, a Triple Ace P-51 Mustang pilot. He read my manuscript for Operation Devil's Fire and wrote a nice endorsement which appears on the back cover of the paperback.

See you tomorrow,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Journey to publishing update #12

There's light at the end of the tunnel! 

After working through a few issues with photoshop (probably user-induced), I managed to complete the back cover file and then uploaded it to Createspace. It looks the way I want it to, which is a big relief.

Finished the book description and the about the author and entered that in Createspace - this shows up on the book's Amazon page.

Spent quite some time finishing the details of the book layout page by page. Things like setting margins chapter by chapter to justified. Can't justify the whole book at once because of the chapter numbers and I include a location, and date and time which all need to be left justified. 

Had a little disappointment - when a chapter breaks in time or place, it's customary to insert a few lines and a graphic of some sort - sometimes just asterisks. I had created a great looking staff sergeant (4 stripes) jpeg and inserted three of those for breaks and it printed great from Word. When I converted the file to pdf, which Createspace requires, the images became just slightly fuzzy. Enough to be unacceptable. Ended up using a Word wingding instead, which I really like, too. It's similar to the star found on much of the U.S. equipment:


So all in all a good day's (and night's) work.

Tomorrow night, I'm going to write a post about some of the books I use for my research and reference. Where possible, I'll include their Amazon links.

Thanks for sharing your time with me today!

See you tomorrow.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Journey to publishing update #11

The file for the paperback is almost done. It turned out to be 342 pages plus all the front stuff, title, copyright, etc. and at the end the author's notes and about the author. This file, when completely done and reviewed, will be converted to a .pdf file, then uploaded to Createspace. 

The back cover, which has the book description needs to be finished.

I need to create the files that are used for the "Look Inside" feature.

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Journey to publishing update #10

After completing the proofread this morning, I finalized the book description (blurb), acknowledgements, and author's notes and added them to the Word document. Created the title pages, the copyright page, the dedication page, and the table of contents for Kindle links. Formatting for Kindle appears to be done, however I will need to review it again tomorrow.

The next steps for Kindle are to create the book on my bookshelf and upload the file and the cover file.

For the paperback edition, I use Amazon's Createspace. The file formatting for that is considerably different, since it's a physical book. I'll take the "master" file and change it to a 6x9 inch paper size, which will increase the number of pages from 224 to around 330 or so, plus the pages I mentioned above.

My goal is to publish next weekend. We'll see how the week goes!

See you tomorrow.