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.


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.

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.

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.


My last posting of images of a specific firearm gave the Colt Single Action Army. But while that revolver is the one that comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of the Old West and handguns, there’s an earlier Colt that was the handy pistol to have around from 1851 and many decades after that: the Colt Navy.


Unlike the SAA, this one was designed by Samuel Colt himself. Colt’s first pistol, the Paterson, had been overly complicated and fragile, and his first company went out of business. His next models, the Walker and the Dragoon, were massive pieces better suited for saddle guns. He also came out with pocket revolvers starting in 1847, but those were small-caliber backup guns.

By contrast, the Navy–so-called because the Battle of Campeche, a victory of ships from Texas and the Yucatan against the Mexican navy–weighed in at 2.6 pounds and measuring thirteen inches in length. It shot a .36 caliber ball at something like a thousand feet per second and a 140 grain conical bullet at a somewhat slower speed, putting it in the same class as today’s .380 or .38 Special, the latter being the gun that was the sidearm of police officers for a long time.


It was a cap and ball revolver with an octagonal barrel. The rear sight was a notch cut into the forward part of the hammer that could be used only when the hammer was cocked. But owners found that the Navy pointed well, feeling like an extension of the arm. Loading it required pulling the hammer to half-cock, then pouring powder down the front of the chambers, ramming a bullet home on top of the powder with the loading lever beneath the barrel, and putting a percussion cap on the cones at the rear of the cylinder. After the Civil War, the arrival of self-contained metallic cartridges made the older system obsolete, and many bought conversion cylinders for their pistols. Clint Eastwood demonstrates this in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,


though since the movie takes place during the Civil War, that’s an anachronism.

Many of the Confederate generals, as well as lots of soldiers of all ranks, including especially the cavalry, carried Navys as their sidearm. Captain Quantrill


and his raiders liked their handiness and multiple shots before reloading. The practice was to carry two on their belts and two in saddle holsters. That latter habit is shown in the “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” scene in True Grit, Rooster Cogburn having been a member (albeit fictional) of Quantrill’s company. Ned Kelly,


the Australian outlaw, and Richard Francis Burton,


English author and adventurer, both carried them.

But the iconic owner of Colt Navys was James Butler Hickok, better known as Wild Bill:


He wore them in cavalry style with the butts forward–note the ivory grips here. From what I’ve read, it appears that he didn’t use a cross-draw technique, though, but would twist his hands inward to grip the pistols and then twist back out and pull upward. My own practice of this method leads me to believe that it facilitated cocking the hammers rapidly. Alas, he probably used a Colt Army revolver in his duel with Dave Tutt in Springfield, Missouri, but the Navys are what are identified with him.

Two more points before we leave this. My western hero, Henry Dowland (actually, I suspect his name is John Henry Dowland, but he won’t admit to that) carries two of his own that he’s named Alpha and Omega.

The Willing Spirit Cover

A friend of mine told me that he’d read about someone in the Old West naming his guns that way, and I liked the idea, since Dowland quotes from Scripture like any good devil is able to do. By the way, Viggo Mortensen, if you’re reading this, I’ve always pictured you for the part.

The other thing to note is that the Navy figures into one of the racist efforts at gun control in the Reconstruction era south. Tennessee passed a law in 1879, referred to as the Army and Navy Law, banning the sale of any pistol other than the Colt Army or Navy. The purpose for this was to keep freed blacks from buying handguns, since those two handguns each cost more than poor people earned in a month. In this regard, nothing much changes.

The Colt Navy is a beautiful pistol from an era when elegance counted for a lot, but it was also a working tool. And the good news is that they are being made even today by several companies–but not Colt.


This is one of the definitive firearms of the Old West, the Colt Single Action Army revolver, first on the market in 1873. John Wayne carried a version with him in many of his movies:


and General Patton had his with ivory grips when he wanted to be on display:


(But Patton only ever carried one SAA. His other revolver was a Smith & Wesson .357 Registered Magnum.)

The mystique suits the gun. It was a single-action revolver, weighing 2.3 pounds, more or less, depending on the barrel length, and came originally in a 7.5 inch barrel. The artillery model was better at 5.5 inches:


since it cleared leather quicker. But this absurd model:


didn’t exist until long after the days of the Old West were long gone.

They had six chambers in the cylinder, loaded by putting the hammer on half-cock, opening the loading gate on the right-hand side:Clairgate

inserting one round, skipping a chamber, then inserting four more rounds, and finishing by closing the loading gate and pulling back the hammer to full cock, then dropping it onto the empty chamber at the top. This was because the SAA had the firing pin on the hammer with no means of keeping it off the live cartridge. Legend has it that pistoleroes stuffed funeral money into the empty chamber.

The Army used it with the .45 Colt round:


a 250 grain bullet atop 40 grains of black powder for a typical velocity of 900 feet per second, plus or minus again depending on barrel length. Another popular caliber was the .44-40 Winchester that could be used in the Winchester 1873 lever-action rifle. This simplified logistics in the wilderness if a person only had to carry one type of ammunition for two guns. Later came .32-20, .22 Long Rifle, and eventually just about every handgun caliber.

They were carried in holsters from the Civil War:


and in military flap holsters:


but those slowed down the draw, and people carrying these brutes learned to bend the flap backward and cut a hole in it to form an open-top model:


that is the image that most often comes to mind.

And lest you think that this is a gun of the Old West only, have a look at Ruger’s Super Blackhawk:


Oh, and Colt is making the Single Action Army as well. So are many other manufacturers. When something works this well, it’s bound to last.

In days gone by–in other words, about a decade ago–an author could expect to have a given book run for a few years, if that long, and then disappear. The only exceptions were books that the publisher decided to make into bestsellers. Soon enough, though, the only place to find many books were used bookstores.

But now that these are widely available:


no, wait, I meant these:


and the like–yes, now that so many are carrying around devices that can store books by the thousands or even more, if they’re willing to have their books stored by someone else–someone who is making lists of everything you buy and read–where was I going with this?

Ah, the point I’m making is that now that books are widely available in digital form, there’s no reason for anything to go out of “print.” Books can be stored in hard drives for transfer at any time, and with print-on-demand becoming respectable, even paper copies can be cranked out whenever anybody wants one.


But with every new thing comes a new set of problems. In those days of auld lang syne, authors like Dan Brown and E. L. James mercifully disappeared after a momentary flash in the pan. But now, literary zombies can continue sucking the brains of their readers forever. Or am I talking about vampires? At any rate, mindless soul-sucking creatures that don’t die in the light, but glow a faint hue of sparkly and whose dialogue wouldn’t challenge the abilities of the New York telephone directory to thrill will be with us until we’re all living in Panem and don’t have time to read anyway. This means that every time readers go looking for a book, there will be many more than there were the last time.

So what’s an author to do? Leading a revolution to ban all books but the ones I write is one option. But that’s not likely to go over too well, especially since we authors are a cantankerous lot, and readers have the annoying habit of wanting a diversity of styles, genre, and subject matter.

Given the changes in technology and the field of publishing, I’ve reached the following conclusions:

1. Publishers must change or die.


Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, as the writing on the wall declared. Publishers have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. They don’t promote books, except those by authors who are already famous. They are stuck in a world in which a book had to be handed from one person to the next, instead of being copied in an instant. Their business models treat books like boxes of cereal, when in fact books are today more like Internet memes.

2. Authors must produce quality work.


Yes, I know that lots of bad books get cranked out, many of them given away. But I hope that the reading public will come to its senses and realize that spending a little money for something that’s been well written and then edited is worth the expense.

3. Books must be promoted in new ways.


You can’t rely on putting ads in magazines and on librarians recommending your book. Eyeballs are on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs (such as this one with its many viewers like you), and other places that Charles Dickens never imagined when he sold novels in serial form. No one’s waiting at the docks for the next chapter to arrive from England.

But there is good news. The cost of all this digital publishing and marketing is low. Time and talent are the keys these days. So what’s the secret?

One thing is to exploit the fact that searching for what you want is as easy as putting something on-line. That is, searching is easy if the thing you want is tagged with enough terms that make finding it possible. If I want a book about the Sahara desert, yours just so happens to be about that, you’d better indicate that your book covers sand, the desert, the Sahara, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Mogambo, a guy named Dirk Pitt, and some rivers that have been dry a long time. No matter how tangential, tag it. Even throw in Dirk Benedict if you figure it will help.


Another thing is to get yourself on popular websites that allow comments with linking to more of you and make a name for yourself. I’ve found The Huffington Post to be a good place to practice this, especially since I can work in the occasional link to my blogs in what I say there.

Oh, but you want more, don’t you? Recall how I said it was cheap? That doesn’t mean free. I also said it takes time and talent, and that is for sale. My company, Oghma Creative Media, has a plan for you, a plan designed to make promotion successful and a whole lot easier.

Or you can just buy my books. That’s cheaper.

Crossposted on Greg Camp’s Weblog and Oghma Creative Media.

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