Archive for February, 2014

Writers who are serious about their craft pour a lot of themselves into their writing. I’m a writer myself, so I know how this feels. But having written, the author wants the world to see it. And this urgency creates expectations.


A milestone gives a sense of accomplishment, but it also creates the expectation of more to come on a regular schedule. This is the idea of a deadline.

But consider how long it took you to write your book, story, article, poem, or whatnot. If you write for a newspaper or similar, you follow a formula and crank out the product. That’s hard.


If your work is creative, you have more time.


Unless you’re on a deadline, that is–from your publisher, for example, and may we all suffer that fate.

But this article is about editors. Remember this guy?


Our work combines the creative and the mechanical. Planting commas where they belong and pulling out the strays is something that a machine should be able to do, but efforts to date at getting word processors to check grammar and spelling in a reliable way leave much to be desired. And so we editors plow through manuscripts, seeding and weeding.


That much can be done on a steady pace, determined by how many errors the writer made and how much stamina the editor has.

But there’s more to it. The creative part of writing can’t be done mechanically. And that means that it’s hard to predict how long editing for the flow of the narrative or the motivations of the characters or so forth and such like will take.

This reminds me of the old line about how the work can be done in a good, quick, or cheap manner–pick any two. That’s the fact of life. So you can have your book edited by tomorrow, but it’ll cost you, or the work won’t be worth much. Or you can let your editor do a good job in the time it takes. But whatever choice you make, keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.


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The popular image of guns of the Old West has it that everyone went about with a Winchester 1873 lever-action rifle and a Colt Single Action Army as a sidearm. But the reality is more complicated. A whole lot of the activity happened before 1873, and there were many other guns doing work west of the Mississippi.

One of them was the Sharps rifle:


The Sharps was designed by a fellow named Christian Sharps–you’re surprised, right? The patent came in 1848, and the rifle in 1851. That’s the same year that the Colt Navy was sold for the first time, by the way, making that a good year.

From the first, it was a large-bore, precision rifle, aimed at hitting targets at long range, whether we’re talking enemy soldiers or large animals. The Sharps was a single-shot, originally in .44 caliber, though .52 became the standard. It was used as a sniper rifle with a Malcolm scope by the sharpshooters under Hiram Berdan’s command,


though the rifles were used on both sides, especially in the shorter carbine version favored by cavalry troopers, including my western character, Henry Dowland.


Unlike most infantry rifles, the Sharps was a breech-loader.


The trigger guard acted as a lever that dropped the breech block, opening the rear of the barrel.


A paper or linen cartridge was then inserted. A Maynard tape primer was installed on many of these, working something like a modern cap gun.


Closing the action cut the rear end of the cartridge to expose the powder inside. These rifles were often converted after the Civil War to .50-70 or .50-90 metallic cartridges–that means .50 caliber and seventy or ninety grains of black powder shoving along a bullet of some 400 or 500 grains at around 1,400 feet per second, an ounce of lead chugging along at a good rate.


As such, they were the classic buffalo gun. The accuracy potential of the rifle was enhanced with tang sights,


and a set trigger on some models. Squeezing the rear trigger set the front trigger to a lightweight pull, necessitating less effort and thus less disturbance of the aim in firing.

These features show up in various films, notably Quigley Down Under and the 2010 version of True Grit. Billy Dixon, a scout for the U. S. Army, used one in real life to shoot an Indian who was part of the siege at the Adobe Walls outpost in northern Texas. The range was 1,578 yards. Dixon said it was a lucky shot, but the besiegers figured that they didn’t have a chance and gave up.

Until the advent of smokeless powder, the Sharps was one of the most powerful firearms going. And the good news is that companies are making reproductions today.

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The news today (2 February 2014) announced the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He was a remarkable actor, able to play roles with great depth, but also able to find the quirky recesses of a personality. I first became aware of him in Scent of a Woman. His list of films is not nearly long enough, but he is unforgettable as Truman Capote, and he found the intensity of Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson’s War. He also could shone in quieter roles, such as a classical violinist in A Late Quartet, alongside Christopher Walken and Capote costar Catherine Keener.

But there is one role that will always be one of my all-time favorites:

The Count

The film fits into my political philosophy, and Hoffman is a master of social revolution.

Mr. Hoffman, you didn’t have to do this to upstage the Superbowl. I’d have watched you bringing to life any role of your choice instead. But you will be remembered.

Crossposted at Oghma Creative Media.

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People love giving advice.


I’ve even been known to offer some myself, considering that this and my other weblog give suggestions about a world of subjects. But as Gildor Inglorion told Frodo,

Seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.

My advice is often general in nature, since I don’t know your circumstances. And that’s the problem with much advice. We’ve all known someone or many someones who swoop in to provide the solution to a given situation. Except they don’t know all of what’s going on, what our desires and motivations are, and too many times don’t even know what they’re talking about. Such people consider that acquaintance is a license to meddle.

And so it is that I offer this piece of advice. It may or may not apply to you, though I would like it if you think carefully about that. Here it is:

Be as frugal about giving advice to those you know as you are about taking it.


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