Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bleeding Kansas and the Border War

While researching for one of my Historical novels, I encountered a lot of interesting history on the Bleeding Kansas era, which occurred in the years leading up to the Civil War. I'd like to share some of it with you now. This is part one of a three-part series.  It is my hope you find something interesting to take away from it.

The Missouri Compromise of 1861 held the nation together by maintaining a fragile balance of slave states and free states. When settlers began moving into the Kansas and Nebraska territories, it threatened another imbalance between slave and free states. The proposed solution was the Kansas-Nebraska act, in which each territory would vote on whether to be slave or free. Politicians presumed that Kansas would vote to become a slave state and Nebraska a free state, thus continuing to maintain the balance.

Settlers from Missouri moved to Kansas, establishing many towns including Leavenworth, Lecompton and Atchison as slave state communities. Settlers from free states, many with the assistance of the abolitionist New England Emigrant Aid Company, established other towns such as Lawrence, Topeka, Osawatomie and Manhattan as free state communities. In 1855, Kansas held its first election for the Territorial Legislature. Thousands of "Border Ruffians" rode into the state, mainly from Missouri, and used fraud and intimidation to influence the election. Almost all the pro slavery candidates won, but the number of votes cast in the election was twice the number of eligible voters.  The pro-slavery legislature became known as the 'bogus legislature' by free-state Kansans and relocated Lecompton.

Free-state Kansans formed their own legislature in Topeka and drafted the Topeka Constitution in 1855, which established Kansas as a free state. In July of 1856, pro-slavery president Franklin Pierce declared the Topeka legislature in insurrection and sent 500 federal troops to Topeka to forcibly disperse the free-state legislature.

Throughout the first half of 1856, hundreds of pro-slavery men had been entering Kansas, and many more free-state men arrived to oppose them. By the spring of 1856, rampant open violence had broken out.  Numerous massacres occurred. Raiders from Missouri burned the Free State Hotel and two newspaper offices in Lawrence and the entire town of Osawatomie. John Brown, the same man who would later seize the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, led the free-state cause and retaliated with equal brutality. Finally, the new territorial governor, John W Geary, persuaded both sides to come to an uneasy peace.

In 1857, pro-slavery Kansans drafted the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. It was condemned by the largely anti-slavery US congress, but was supported by President James Buchanan. Congress declared this constitution invalid. Another election was held, which was widely boycotted by pro-slavery Kansans.  The elected delegates drafted the anti-slavery Leavenworth  Constitution. In 1859, the Kansas legislature re-affirmed Kansas's status as a free state by adopting the Wyandotte Constitution.

Sporadic violence continued until the outbreak of the Civil War. In the end, demographics determined that Kansas would be a free state.  By the eve of the Civil War, there were simply more free-state citizens in Kansas than slave-state citizens. The pro-slavery US senate managed to keep Kansas from being admitted to the Union as a state until January of 1861. By this time the Civil War was only three months away.

The total number of deaths is estimated at from 56 to roughly a hundred plus that number. The end of the Border War is generally considered to be 1861, with the start of the Civil War. It didn't end, though, it simply merged into the greater conflict of the Civil War. The real violence along the border was just beginning.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Please help me welcome my friend Annamaria Bazzi's new novel The Incantation Paradox

Greetings, all. For those of you who do not know her, I'd like to introduce my friend Annamaria Bazzi.  I met her on Critique Circle and have known her for years. She has a number of self-published works and is about to add her novel The Incantation Paradox to her collection. I find her marketing efforts to be every bit as interesting as her writing. If you are a self-published author or thinking of becoming one,  you may want to check out her social media links and see how she does it.
And now, on with the novel:
Many critics say that everything has already been written. Can the human imagination be that small? Anyway, with this in mind, I decided to take an old theme and make it my own, adding a twist of deception, murder and intrigue into the mix. This is not Freaky Friday because evil lurks at every corner waiting to satisfy the inner selfishness of one of the characters.


Can magic be blamed for everything that happens?


From the point of view of the main character, Dolores, I never knew what Eric was thinking and why he did the things he did. I knew he was a bad person, I just didn’t understand how evil he was until I decided to rewrite the novel in third person to get inside his head.


I was shocked to find so much evil in one human being, but I must be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed writing his character. The third person also gave me the opportunity to bring forth Jason’s goodwill and feelings toward Dolores. To make the bit of romance between them work, I had to use some special event that happens only when they step into the veil of magic.


Yes, it is an overly done theme, but my version is very different and if you enjoy murder, deception and intrigue with a twist of magic, this urban fantasy might be for you.


I had a lot of fun writing the novel, and now I hope you will enjoy reading it.



Book Blurb:


A car accident cuts Dolores Reynard’s life short, leaving her with a long list of unfulfilled dreams. When she awakens in a strange bed, inside a much younger body, and living with a new family—she can’t worry she might be going insane. How can she be a teenager again?


Jason Richmond understands the danger awaiting his new houseguest. Wanting to ease her concerns, he works to earn Dolores’ trust. But attraction flares in the most unexpected way, and he finds himself caught between setting the situation right and following his heart.


An enduring evil threatens not only the blossoming love but their lives as well. As Dolores and Jason struggle to unravel the truth behind her resurrection, they find themselves tangled in a web of murder, intrigue and magic. Only together can they hope to overcome the incantation paradox holding them captive.


Book Links:





Author Bio:


Although born in the United States, Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country. Upon returning to the states, she promised herself she would speak without an accent. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish.

Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.

You can visit Annamaria at:



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Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Border Reivers - British history you may not be aware of

The territory along the English-Scottish border is rugged and ill-suited for farming. Many of its residents supplemented their meager income by conducting raids across the border to steal livestock and other goods. These men were known as the Border Reivers.

They would typically conduct their raids between the months of November and February, when nights were long, yet the livestock still strong from summer grazing. The reivers were expert horsemen and proficient with the lance, sword, longbow, and crossbow.  Most wore armor composed of small metal plates sewn into cloth, known as jack. They also wore metal helmets.

The borders of both nations were divided into three marches. Each had a march warden, who was charged with keeping order in his territory. Once a month they would hold a truce day, in which the march warden would meet with his counterpart to redress wrongs. Merchants and entertainers would show up. There would also be heavy drinking and inevitable ruckuses.

A man who had been "spoiled" by a reiver had six days to legally mount a counter raid.  This was known as the hot trod. The party would identify itself with a piece of burning peat stuck to the end of a spear. Every neighboring man between sixteen and sixty was obligated to join. The hot trod also had the right to assistance from the first village they came to.  Anyone who refused to help could be prosecuted as if he were a reiver himself.

The border people usually took their livestock inside the villages at night. Men who were wealthy enough built strong stone houses known as bastles. They drove their livestock into the first floor, while living on the second floor. Local officials also built a system of towers, surrounded by stone walls. Each one had a brazier filled with roots and peat, which the garrison would use to light signal fires when they spotted reivers.

Sometime around 1650, authorities managed to bring order to the border. Also, local people became tired of the reivers, and they became outcasts even among their own people.  Over time the reivers faded and are now just a colorful piece of British history.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I can't believe I wrote that

Recently, I read through my first published short story. I couldn't believe the number of small mistakes such as filter words and word echoes in that story. Looking at it now, I think it's lucky someone decided to publish it. Last night I was making some more touches to my recently-finished novel. Once again, I spotted several word choices that I know now not to do.

At one point, I thought there would be a time when my writing would become fully developed.  It seems no matter how much effort I put into a piece, however, I could always write it better if I came back to it later. Now, I'm thinking that moment I 'arrive' as a writer will never come, and that's actually a good thing.

Would you really want to reach a point where your writing, or any other endeavor for that matter, stops improving?  Athletes don't stop training the moment they win the gold medal. Most business men do not stop earning money after they reach their first million.

One advantage of writing is your words are permanent. You can see exactly what you wrote a year ago, twenty years ago, or even in your first story.  It gives you a great yardstick for measuring your progress year to year.  Hopefully, that progress will never stop.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The most important battle on American soil you probably never heard of.

A hastily-raised militia of some 10,000 men marches from northern West Virginia to southern West Virginia with the objective of seizing the coal mines there. A defending force of some 3,000 men is cobbled together and takes a defensive position on a mountain in front of the objective. For several days, the attacking force tries to find a way around the defenders and sustains 50-100 men killed. The defenders lose some 30 men. The commander of the attacking force calls off the attack.  The militia disperses and the men go back to their homes.

Sounds like a Civil War battle, right? Let me provide some additional details. The defenders set up machine guns to cover their defensive position and use aircraft to monitor the attackers. They even drop a few bombs on the attacking force as it approaches.

So now you're thinking there were no aircraft or machine guns during the Civil War. You're right. This battle occurred in 1921.  Hey, wait, you say.  There were no wars on American territory in 1921.  You're right again. There was no declared war. This event is known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.

It started during the movement to unionize the coal mines of West Virginia. The mines in the northern counties of West Virginia were unionized. The miners here were better paid and had better working conditions than the ones in the non-union mines of the southern part of the state. The mine operators in the southern counties were determined to keep their mines non-union.

The events leading up to this battle included several instances of deadly violence between mining company "detectives", essentially hired thugs, and law enforcement officials of county governments sympathetic to the union. The last straw may have been when "detectives" murdered two unarmed union-supporting law officers while they were headed to a legal proceeding.

Miners assembled, gathering their guns, and marched south. The mine operators put together a force of lawmen and company detectives, determined to stop the miners. They set up positions on Blair Mountain.

The miners were never able to get past Blair Mountain. The President decided things had gotten out of hand and sent in the army to restore order. It appeared the mine operators had won the battle.

They may have lost the war, however. The battle brought national attention to the plight of the coal miners in non-unionized areas. Public opinion, which tended to be against unions, began to change. Eleven years later, the election of FDR gave unions allies in the Federal government. Conditions for miners and workers in general improved.

What does this have to do with writing? Probably nothing, but I think it's an important event in American history that few people know about.

Monday, April 28, 2014

I question questionable writing practices

A lot of us who write, including myself, would like to earn extra money writing for others in legitimate activities such as editing, proofreading, writing projects and similar things. Just for grins, I took a look on Craig's List to find out what writing services others were offering. What I saw turned my stomach.

In addition to the legitimate activities, I also saw some very questionable services offered such as:

·         "do online coursework (perfect for online college students who also have to work and do not have time for their studies)."

·          "Our expert and experienced writers will provide you with custom-made research papers and case studies. The content is creative and original and can pass all plagiarism tests easily."

·         "Now you can enjoy all the parties and mingle with your friends and we will write all your papers."

These are only examples. The questionable ads exceeded the more legitimate-sounding ones by a ratio of several times to one.

I'd like to think the writing field is composed of well-educated people who follow a strict ethical code. Everyone knows that is not always true. Personally, I don't see how some of these professional "writers" manage to sleep at night.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What my wife has taught me about self publishing.

Consumer of Self Publlishing

My wife recently downloaded a number of Romance novels to her kindle. So, how did she decide which ones do download?

She chooses free novels. Because of the number of writers who are trying to promote their works, there is no shortage of free works to download.  My wife knows full well that if she wants to continue in the series, she will have to pay for the next volumes, but doesn't care. Since the first volume is free, there's nothing to lose. If it's no good, she simply switches to another free novel.

I have heard an interesting comment from her considering self-published works she's read. She has said she found a series she likes, if she can ignore the errors. Many authors can't or won't put out the money for editors. However, when the author publishes without an editor, it's very noticeable in the final product.

So, what are the lessons of her experiences?  First, since writers are so anxious to get their works to the forefront, they are willing to offer a part of their portfolio for free. It may be heart wrenching to work for a year on a novel just to give it away for free, but that may be the price of getting people to sample your works. More important, you need to find a way to get your novel noticed. Since the first things a prospective reader will see of your novel are the cover picture and the blurb, they have to be eye-catching. Your novel could be another Twilight or Harry Potter, but if you don't have the attractive cover or blurb, no one will want to read it. Finally, in order to stand out (or at least keep in line with professionally-published novels), it should be well edited. If not, it needs to be awfully good or the reader will have a tendency to quit for another of the legions of novels out there in self-published land.

My wife is only one of millions of Romance readers, but I don't think her consumption habits are different from most readers.  There's no easy route to success in publishing. Then again, if there were, everybody would be a novelist.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Secrets of the Vikings

I have always been fascinated by Vikings. As I was doing research for a possible historical novel about Vikings, I came up with some interesting facts which I'd like to share.

When the Vikings, or Norsemen, began raiding Britain around the beginning of the ninth century, the Gaels and Anglo-Saxons believed it was impossible to sail across the North Sea. They reasoned the Vikings had to have made a pact with the Devil in order to do it. If you know the secrets of how the Vikings traversed the waterways of the North Atlantic, you will realize that one does not need a pact with the Devil. Sailing the North Atlantic, even in small, open boats, is not as difficult as it seems.

Even though the North Sea has a reputation for storms, some months are calmer than others. The Vikings chose the best time of the year to sail, which is mid to late summer in that area of the world. The looting of Lindisfarne, which is thought of as the beginning of the Viking era, occurred on July 8. When a Norse fleet and army sacked the Gaelic fortress of Alt Clut, they did not return immediately because it was winter by the time fort fell. They camped at Alt Clut and sailed back home when the weather improved.

The Vikings did not sail directly from Norway to Britain or Iceland. The Shetland Islands were only two days sail from Norway with good winds, and the Orkney Islands only a couple days from there. From the Orkney Islands it's possible to see the coast of Scotland.  Also, the Faroe Islands are perhaps three days sail from the Shetland Islands, and a roughly equal distance from Iceland. From Iceland, it's a short trip to Greenland, then to Baffin Island, and then to Newfoundland, which they called Vinland. By hopping from one island to another, they could assure they were never far from land at any one time.

They could also predict the weather by observing cloud formations. They knew when a storm is approaching certain cloud types precede it, often by several days. If they saw storm clouds approaching, they could stay put on the coast until it passed.

Finally, they never sailed alone. Every instance of a Viking voyage I am able to find involves groups of ships.  The smallest number I can find sailing at once is three. If one ship got into trouble, the others could assist it.

This does not diminish the bravery of the Vikings. It takes a lot of courage to set out on the sea in a wooden boat perhaps fifty feet long, with no radio, no compass, and no global positioning system.  While it was still a daunting task to sail the North Sea in a small, open boat, it's not as unsurmountable once you know how.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

GMC for Self-taught Writers


Believe it or not, I've been writing seriously for five years now, but it has only been in the last couple weeks that I have learned about GMC. What really surprised me, however, was the number of people in the writing circles I frequent who had no idea either. This included many published writers.

GMC stands for Goals, Motivation, and Conflict, which must be in every story for it to succeed. The concept is actually very simple. The Goals are what the character wants, Motivation is why he or she wants it, and Conflict is what happens to interfere with him or her reaching the goal.

I think the reason many writers do not know what GMC is can be explained by using an analogy of auto mechanics. Many people learned to work on cars by attending formal vocational training and many learned by tinkering with cars in their parents' garages. Some started in their parents' garages and then took some formal classes to expand their talent.

Ideally, every writer has a Bachelor of Arts in English or Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts on top of that.  Someone with that education would certainly have learned about GMC very early in his or her studies.  Those of us who do not have English degrees have likely not had formal training in GMC.  We learned writing on our own, making mistakes and coming back smarter.

Most of us who are not specifically trained in creative writing come up with GMC for our main characters anyway, not being aware of what we are doing. So, if everyone eventually comes up with GMC for their characters, why talk about it at all? The reason is it's easy to get off track if we are not consciously following the GMC for our character. Using another analogy, while the captain of a ship may know the exact route to his destination and sailed the course for years, he still must monitor his course or he will tend to drift off it. Likewise, even the most knowledgeable writer must be aware of the Goals, Motivation, and Conflict of his or her character or he or she runs the risk of the character going off course and becoming less realistic and relatable. This is an area where seasoned and educated writers are in the same peril as newbie and self-taught writers.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Pleasing Everyone

There's a story that has stuck in my mind ever since I first read it in sixth grade, probably because the wisdom in it is so valuable.

A man and a boy are leading a donkey to market. They pass a group of people who say, "Look at that foolish man and boy.  Someone should be riding that donkey."  The man sets the boy onto the donkey.

They pass another group of people who say, "Look at that selfish boy, riding that donkey while his father walks."  The father lifts the boy from the donkey and climbs onto it himself.

They pass yet another group of people who say, "Look at that selfish father, riding on that donkey while his son has to walk."

At this point, the father decides the heck with them.  He climbs off the donkey and they walk the rest of the way to market.

Similar things can be said for pieces we write. I wrote a chapter and submitted it to an anonymous critique queue. I got one two word comment, "Nailed it."  I got another saying, "I have to stop here. This piece just isn't well enough written." Just reading the responses, you would wonder if everyone was looking at the same piece. Truth is, they were but the readers were different.

We'd all love to write a manuscript so perfect that every editor who reads it accepts it for publication and every reader who sees it gets riveted to the story until the end. It's not going to happen because everyone's likes are different. The same factor that makes one person love a manuscript could make another hate it. One person could pick up a story and say, "Great action, Awesome!" while another can pick up the same story and say, "Please, not another shoot-'em-up story."

I'd love to see an experiment run someday where Stephen King writes a story and puts it up for critique by people who have no idea he wrote it.  Most people will know right away it's written by a seasoned writer, if they don't recognize his style outright. Still, many I'm sure will reject it and stop reading. The reasonable objective is to write a story that anyone can enjoy, knowing not everyone will.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

No Latitude for Getting it Wrong

Recently, I was in an exchange with a girl in London. In my novel, I mentioned it getting dark around 9:00 PM in mid June. She commented that it does not get dark in mid June until 10:00PM. So, who was right?  If you have a knowledge of physical geography, you know we both were.

The discrepancy comes from the fact the difference in the lengths of days by season is greater in the high latitudes (areas closer to the poles) than the low latitudes (areas closer to the equator).

The novel I was writing takes place in the Ozarks, approximate latitude 37 degrees north, while London is at latitude  52 degrees north. If you know the latitude of a location, it's easy to calculate sunrise and sunset for that location by using an online generator such as the one here: . Sunset at 52 degrees north (London, UK) occurs at 8:24 on June 21.  At latitude 37 degrees north (Springfield, MO) the sun sets at 7:23 on this date.

I have compiled a small table mentioning selected cities, their latitudes, and the time of sunrise and sunset on June 21 and December 21. No adjustment for how far east or west of their time zone has been made.


City                        Lat.         June 21                                 Dec. 21

                                                Rise          Set                        Rise          Set

London UK        52            3:40 am   8:24 pm             7:25 am   4:31 pm

New York NY      41           4:28 am   7:36 pm             6:50 am   5:06 pm

Springifeld MO  37           4:41 am   7:23 pm             6:40 am    5:16 pm

New Orleans LA 30          4:59 am   7:04 pm             6:25 am    5:32 pm


As you can see from the table, the sun rises an hour earlier in London than it does in Springfield and sets an hour later. In winter it's nearly reversed, with sunrise forty-five minutes later in London and setting forty-five minutes later.  Furthermore, the length of days varies more for high-latitude locations than low-latitude locations.

It does not get instantly dark the moment the sun sets. There is a period of twilight. As a general rule there is enough twilight to read a book a half hour before sunrise or after sunset, there's enough twilight to make out basic land features a full hour before sunrise or after sunset.  Twilight lasts longer the closer to the poles you get. Of course, this assumes a clear sky.  Depending on cloud cover, the twilight could be nonexistent.

While studying to make your novel as authentic as possible, don't forget about the effects of latitude on your setting. Now that you know the secret, you have the knowledge to make your novel that much more realistic.