The Battle of Shiloh 1862

Having completed the work on Headshots—all but the re-formatting for Smashwords and uploading it there—I have turned my attention back to Documenting America, Civil War Edition. Last weekend I wrote one chapter in manuscript, and typed it. I also went searching for source documents for some non-battle chapters, and had some success. I’d already identified what documents I wanted to use, so it was just a question of whether I could find these on-line, in a copy-able form, to avoid re-typing. I found three of four of them for upcoming chapters, and copied them into my Word document for the book. I still have editing to do on them, but at least they are there. That’s a big part of the work.

Yesterday I began careful reading of the reports I downloaded on the Battle of Shiloh. From a couple of websites I found a good number of reports from generals in the field, from both the North and South. These ranged from initial battle orders to snap reports to detailed reports to transmittals. I didn’t find any orders during the heat of the battle, but possibly back then they didn’t write such orders, rather sending them via orderlies and assistants. A couple of weeks ago I aggregated these reports into a single Word document and formatted it for convenient reading. Yesterday I printed it, and last night I began detailed reading of it. As I was gathering the reports, I mainly skimmed them for general understanding of the content.

I find these reports quite interesting. I’ve talked with military men, at the junior officer level, about what modern military orders and battle reports look like, and I think they are nothing like what was done in the Civil War era. The orders issued by General Johnston of the Confederates said very little about the military objectives of the campaign. I realize I likely don’t have every document, every order he issued. But if, as I think, I have the main one, he’s not very clear about what he wants to do. Drive the invaders out of his country. Turn the enemy’s flank. Corps such and so under General So and So to form a battle line here. But no where does it say, “Our objective is to take [this land] [this town]” or “Our objective is to stop the enemy’s advance south of Shiloh meeting house, and drive him back to the Savannah-Bethel Springs line,” etc.

Snap reports, on both sides, tended to convey little information to remote superiors, and even to misstate things. Both sides claimed they were fighting a foe of superior numbers, whereas history teaches us the two sides were about equal in soldiers and armaments. The North had a slight superiority in that they had ironclad gunboats on the river, close enough to fire on the Southern armies. But except for that, from what I’ve been able to gather, it was a pretty even fight.

The battle results seem to be much the same as the one I looked at for a previous chapter, the first Battle of Bull Run, but with the sides reversed. The South were the aggressors, advancing on Northern positions, with a (seemingly) vague idea to turn the flank of the enemy and thus prevent his retreat. Initially the South had success, capturing Northern artillery, gaining ground, and, at the end of first day, able to report success. After that the North had reinforcements come in, which encouraged their troops and demoralized the South, and they pushed the South back. At the end of the second day the South was defeated and in retreat. It was just like that at Bull Run, but with North and South reversed, and with that battle happening on a single day.

A big difference between the two battles was that at Bull Run, the North retreated in panic and disarray, whereas at Shiloh the Southern retreat was orderly and disciplined. The fighting had been going on eight additional months by this time, and both armies were learning how to fight like soldiers. Their generals, also, were learning how to lead like generals. At Shiloh, the big “star,” if I may call him that, was William Tecumseh Sherman, who had the main success for the North on day two, and was recommended for a promotion as a result.

I’m about 1/3 of the way through these reports. I hope to finish them tonight, or perhaps tomorrow. The following day I’ll edit them, and the day after will write the chapter. Certain parts of the chapter are already coming to mind. Some of it might be similar to parts of this blog. I can for sure see that the battle chapters are going to take longer to research/edit/write than will the other chapters. Shiloh is chapter 11, I think. The book will have 31 chapters if my current plans hold. Since I have much research done for later chapters, I’d say I’m 1/3 or more done with the book. That’s a good feeling.

HEADSHOTS Available for Pre-Order

Headshots 2014-07-09 Cover 01Yesterday was my scheduled day to post to this blog. I didn’t do it, however, as I spent my pre-work hour at the office on putting some finishing touches on Headshots. That meant putting back in some new chapter divisions, working on the copyright page, and something else I can’t remember right now. That took up the time I would otherwise have spent writing a post. I still intended to write one, either on the noon hour or at home after work.

Alas, the noon hour went by on something else, and when I got home I discovered I had failed to e-mail myself the Headshots file I’d worked on at the office. So I had to do all that work over again, an hour more or less. My goal was to upload it to Amazon last night, and take advantage of their new pre-order feature on Kindle Direct Publishing, with an issue date of August 28. So I did the work over again, tweaked the copyright page a little more, built a table of contents, and added the “About the Author” and “Works by the Author” sections. This took another hour, more or less.

When that was done I went to KDP and began the uploading process. This is not difficult, but it is somewhat tedious. You have to pick your book’s genre (you’re allowed to list it in two) and add description for the book. I find both of those fairly difficult to do. As for genres, I put it in:

> Fiction > Sports

> Fiction > Thrillers > Crime

I suppose those work. As for description, I used this as the tag line: A young pitcher must make a comeback while protecting his family from Mafia hit men. That seemed a good one-line description. I was supposed to add something more, much more, but moved on for the moment to other parts of the uploading process. The cover gave me some trouble, as I had never adjusted the size to the dimensions Kindle and Smashwords wants. It took me a while to get the right file loaded and to make the adjustment, but it was done. With the book file uploaded, I checked it on the Kindle previewer. It seems the chapter titles aren’t displaying correctly on the Kindle. They are correct in the Word file. I decided that was something I could fix between now and the 28th, so didn’t worry about it.

I went to the second page of the uploading form and worked on pricing, royalty rate, rights, etc. I had it all done. As I’d been at it for two and a half hours and was tired of it all, I clicked on “Publish”.  I got the notice that it would be about twelve hours before it showed up at Amazon as available to pre-order. All was well. Then I remembered I’d never gone back and finished the book description. All that was there was the one-liner.

So today, sometime, I’ll need to finish the book description and re-publish. Hopefully that won’t take too long. Here’s the link to the book in its pre-order state:

My next step is to see if I want to make another change suggested by all my beta readers. They all said too many characters were introduced in the first three chapters, making it overwhelming. In response to that I had already written out one character, a police detective. Well, I didn’t actually write him out; I just deleted his name from the text. I had already decided I could delete the names of two key associates of the New York Mafia Don. They had no real role in the first chapter—they were just there, and I had referred to them by name. I could introduce them in the chapters where they first appeared with substantive contributions to the story.

I went upstairs and began marking up a copy of the book. I re-read the first three chapters. As I said , taking out the associates names were fairly easy. I decided the only other names I could remove from those three chapters were of the three Cubs’ players who had had slumps during the playoffs in the first book, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. They are key characters in Headshots, but I decided they really didn’t need to be introduced by name in the first three chapters. So I took an hour to go through those chapters, see what would need to be changed or moved to make it a good change, and marked-up the manuscript accordingly. That took me all the way till bed time.

My mind was very tired by then, but I was satisfied. I knew I could delete six character names from the first three chapters, which should improve the reading experience. The book publishing was in progress. Yes, I still had more to do, but that was okay. For now all was good. And there’s lots of time between now and August 28th to make other corrections. And I still have the Smashwords edition to prepare, but won’t have that up until the publication date.

Headshots is my 17th item published, all at Amazon, and all but one at Smashwords. Hopefully this will spur sales.


Back on “Headshots”

Night before last I went back to working on my novel Headshots. Back around July 20 I sent it out to five beta readers and have been anxiously waitingHeadshots 2014-07-09 Cover 01 for their reviews.

I received the first one back from my cousin Sue. She is also a writer. She gave me a detailed review via a Word document, with color coding for suggested changes. I scanned it to see the nature of the comments, and saved it to my computer in The Dungeon.

The second review to come back was from my Internet writing friend, Veronica. This was a partial review, sent as a PDF document. She pointed out a number of things that need fixing, as well as a few things that were good. I read her comments, and saved it. Today my inbox had another doc from her, with the next section she’s completed.

The third review I received was from high school/college friend Gary. He’s not a writer, but is well versed in literary issues based on interest and experience. He sent me a Word document with his comments—not the text marked-up, but his comments alone. He noted typos by page (all three noted typos, actually), noted some areas where more description would do some good, and pointed out a few things that seemed incongruous to him, things that stretched believability too much.

Wednesday night I started the process using Gary’s review. I went through and fixed the typos he’d caught. I then read through his critique in considerable detail, trying to see what things I needed to tackle. Alas, I wasted some time, listened to some music, and didn’t have much time to write. Last night was different. Yes, I wasted some time and listened to some doo-wop, but I also knuckled down and tackled Gary’s substantive comments. I “yellowed them out” on the screen as I did them. Some, I felt, were things I couldn’t do, as they would change something too much. These I “greened-out”. By the end of an hour I didn’t have all his comments answered, but most of them. I still have a few descriptions to add—or not, as I look at them.

Tonight I hope to finish with Gary’s, and move on to one of the others, probably Sue’s.  By the end of my writing time on Sunday I hopefully will have all three completed, and maybe a book ready to go! Hoping to have it published before baseball season is over.

Three Main Writing Paths

That’s  what I’m following right now: three main writing paths.

First is the technical paper I wrote about in my last post here. Last Thursday-Friday I made good progress on it, though I didn’t finish it. I hope to get it in today. I worked on the paper over this past weekend, adding a good amount of text to what I already had. Yesterday I found the couple of missing data points, added them to the mix, and recalculated my results. I’m pleased with the way it turned out. Hopefully IECA will give me grace, and not kick me off the conference schedule.

The second path is my next non-fiction book, Documenting America – Civil War Edition. Last weekend I completed three chapters. Two of these I had started late last week, but they were in an unfinished state as I approached the weekend. I was able to finish those two, start a third, and finish it. I now have nine chapters complete (subject to editing, of course).  That’s between 1/3 and 1/4 of the book. My next step in it is research into the Battle of Battle of Shiloh, which takes me up to April 1862. The three chapters after that already have research started, though not far along. I hope to complete three chapters a week for this, which will see it done in seven to eight weeks, and thus published before the year is out.

However, I may slow down on that briefly, as I pick up Headshots again. I have received feedback on the full book from two beta readers, and on part of the book from another. This is plenty to allow me to look closely at those comments and see what edits are needed. One I already know, expressed by all three, is that the reader gets hit with too many characters in the first 14 pages or so. Somehow I need to either add other scenes without characters, which delay character introduction, or in some other way reduce/delay names. It will be a challenge.

One beta reader said a couple of things were incongruous. Too many murders, and them being unsolved makes the police/FBI look incompetent; and not enough media attention to a couple of items. Adding scenes of media attention won’t be too difficult. I’m not sure what to do about the murders. I don’t mean to make the police look incompetent. It’s just that the Mafia is good at hiding their tracks. Still, I can have some shooters picked up and be kept in lock-up. That I can do.

So, this week will be a mix of 1) completing my paper, 2) trying to continue with progress on DA-CWE, and 3) making major progress on Headshots edits, which I hope will be final edits. Then, since one beta reader said there were numerous typos, despite my two rounds of editing that included proofreading, I obviously have to do another.

Fun times ahead.

Different Writing: A Professional Paper

I continue with my creative writing endeavors. Last night I made good progress on Documenting America: Civil War Edition. I typed some writing from manuscript, and added to it on the computer to complete a chapter. Then I continued research into the next chapter to be written. Today I completed reading the source document, and read some background material. Tomorrow I’ll excerpt the material and write the chapter. Good stuff, good progress.

But my main writing work yesterday and today was working on my technical paper for the EC15 conference. The paper was due today to the International Erosion Control Association. I still haven’t finished and submitted it. The presentation will be in Portland, OR next February. Long lead time, I know.

The idea for this paper came to me over a year ago, and gelled into an outline at the EC14 conference in Nashville last February. The concept was: gather data from the bid forms from a number of projects about how erosion control work is bid out. Analyze the data, as well as qualitative information from the projects, to see if one method of contracting seems to be better. My hopes, and soft expectation, was that unit price contracting, as opposed to lump sum contracting, would be better for erosion and sediment control work. Hence the name of my paper: “Unit Price Contracting for Erosion and Sediment Control Work: Does it Improve Our Practice?”

I gathered the data (i.e. the bid forms) from ten projects several months ago, and talked with our employee who handled the field work on several of those projects. I’m a big fan of unit price contracting because it is a risk-sharing approach to construction contracting. Explaining what I mean with that would be way too long for a blog post. I teach a 90 minute class on that topic. I felt that going with this risk-sharing approach for erosion and sediment control work would result in better prices, better implementation  of devices and practices, better maintenance of these devices, and less pollution to the environment. It was the ultimate win-win situation to me.

But that’s my intuitive analysis, based on my own biases and qualitative analysis. What would the data say? As I said above, I gathered the data some time ago, and had aggregated it into one spreadsheet. I created my outline about a month ago, and wrote a tentative introductory sentence. There the paper stood until yesterday just afternoon.

At that time I started with the real writing. I had much more introduction to write, then get into an explanation of what I mean by “improved practice.” I also had a little more outline to think over, and dusting off and re-looking at the data. I did all this, and by the end of the day I had a little over 900 words. I anticipate the paper will run somewhere around 3,000 words, so this seemed like reasonable progress. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to finish the paper today, but I might get close.

The morning was full of meetings, site visits, and a little personal stuff. I got back to the paper around 1:30 p.m., ready to write the part about the hard data I collected and draw some conclusions out of it. I started writing, but when I got to the part where I should show what the data said, I realized I had never gone the next step and done a few calculations to see what the data actually said. Did it support my hope and anticipation that unit price contracting would result in less expensive erosion control measures that were equally effective as were those of a project that’s where the erosion control work is bid as a lump sum?

So I stopped writing and went back to the data. I quickly saw that I had too much data. I wasn’t going to be able to present all the data I had intended; it would overwhelm the paper. Including it in an appendix was a possibility, but for the moment I had to concentrate on what was in the paper.

I dug into it, and after an hour figured out what I had to do. I ran the calculations needed, from the data already in the spreadsheet, then ranked the projects according to which had the least expensive erosion control, then penciled in the type of bidding used (unit price, lump sum, mixed). To my great pleasure the five lowest cost projects (on a unit basis) for erosion control work were the five that were bid as unit prices! The most expensive three were the ones that trended most to lump sum, using fewer unit prices. My hope and expectation had been realized. On two projects I didn’t have enough data to do the full calculations and rank by unit cost.

I e-mailed the IECA education coordinator, telling her I wouldn’t have the paper in until Tuesday and hoped that would still be alright. I believe it will be. I printed the paper and have it here. I’ll work on it some, or maybe a lot, this weekend. Hopefully by Monday it will be written. All I’ll have to do is see if I can find the rest of the data for those two projects, and interview the field man to get his further opinion on the non-qualitative criteria.

I wish I had it done by the deadline, but I feel good about it. The end is in sight, and it will be a good paper.

Inspired as I Write

This past week and weekend, July 21-27, I made some good progress on my current work-in-progress, Documenting America: Civil War Edition. I completed four chapters (out of a probable 30-32), and did the source document editing for Chapters 5 and 6.

That source document is Lincoln’s address to Congress, which he called into a special session to begin on July 4, 1861, to deal with the Southern rebellion. Lincoln faced a tough situation, the toughest, I believe, of any president. At the time of his inauguration, six states had seceded. One more would join them in the next month, and four more after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Lincoln faced what no other president before or after faced: the dissolution of the Union.

I’m not sure we can fully appreciate the predicament, in our 21st Century comfort, safety, and security. Possibly we are less safe and secure than we were thirty years ago, but we are certainly more comfortable. For three or four decades before the Civil War, threats of secession had been made, not always over the slavery question. The prevailing opinion of many was that any state could leave the Union at any time and become independent.

Lincoln rightly realized the danger in this. What’s to keep one state from extorting the others, saying “Do this for us, or we will secede?” Or for the other states to do an involuntary secession of one? “We don’t like how you run your state. You are no longer part of the Union.” He said that the South “sugar-coated” the rebellion, and that for thirty years the leaders had been drugging their people with thoughts of secession. So when the time came to do it, everyone in the South thought, “Well, of course we can pull out of the Union when we want to. We’ve been talking about it for thirty years, haven’t we?”

Lincoln said, in his inaugural address, that his policy was one of discussion, waiting, and ballots. He wanted to resolve the conflict without resulting to war. But he also wanted to hold the four Federal forts on the coast that had not yet been seized by rebellious forces. Three of these were in Florida, and one—Fort Sumter—was in South Carolina. Unfortunately, the South wanted this last vestige of the USA out of the CSA, so they bombarded Fort Sumter rather than allow it to be resupplied.

The immediate result of this bombardment was for four more states to secede, for Lincoln to call for an expanded military and to allow generals to suspend habeas corpus, and to prepare for war to put down the rebellion.

I found much to inspire me in Lincoln’s speech to Congress on that 85th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the next couple of articles I’ll focus on a couple of phrases and the issue contained in them, and how they inspire me today.

Smashwords Downloads

I’m trying to figure out what’s going on at Smashwords. This is the site where I publish my books to for distribution on to Barne & Noble, Kobo, Apple, etc. I have 15 of my 16 books there. Smashwords doesn’t allow publishing of public domain books, so I can’t put my Thomas Carlyle book there. If I want it for Nook, etc. I’ll have to go to the individual site.

One of the things Smashwords does that Amazon doesn’t do is track the number of times your book is sampled at the Smashwords sale site. Samples aren’t sales, of course, but samples are evidence of interest. I would hope that more sample downloads would eventually result in more sales.

I began tracking my sample downloads in April. Monday morning, around 7:30 a.m. my time, I record, in a spreadsheet, how many times each book has been sampled. I have the spreadsheet calculate the change from the week before, and track this change as well as the total downloads. On April 2 (a Wednesday; then I standardized on Mondays), my books had been sampled 722 times. Since then, here are the samples week by week.

  • April 2 – 722
  • April 7 – 726, so 4 downloads
  • April 14 – 738, so 12 downloads
  • April 21 – 741, so 3 downloads
  • April 28 – 745, so 4 downloads
  • May 5 – 761, so 16 downloads
  • May 12 – 783, so 22 downloads
  • May 19 – 786, so 3 downloads
  • May 26 – 787, so 1 download
  • June 2 – 792, so 5 downloads
  • June 9 – 804, so 12 downloads (new short story added)
  • June 16 – 819, so 15 downloads
  • June 23 – 842, so 23 downloads
  • June 30 – 878, so 36 downloads (new short story added)
  • July 6 – 896, so 18 downloads
  • July 13 – 906, so 10 downloads
  • July 20 – 927, so 21 downloads

As you can see, the trend is generally upwards, helped out quite a lot when I published those two new short stories in June. Now, if I add this week, as of today, which is almost three days short of a full week, I have:

  • July 25 – 977, so 50 downloads

Wow! That’s a big increase from my previous high week, long before the week is over, and with no new book to stimulate downloads. If downloads continue proportionately for the rest of the seven days, I should have 60 or more by Monday morning.

What can I attribute this increase to? Could it possibly be a summer thing? People are looking for a summer read, and so are downloading more samples, trying to figure out what to buy? Is it a volume thing? I’m up to 15 items available on Smashwords. People who see my page think “Oh, this is a serious author; let me sample some of his stuff.” Is it just the law of averages? Some weeks you’re over average, some below, some right on average, and occasionally way over average?

Obviously I don’t know. I may never know. So far this hasn’t translated to higher sales on Smashwords or any of the places it distributes to. I think, however, that more downloads has to be good news. That means more interest, more exposure. Someday the sales will come.

I Hate G.I.M.P.

I think I’ve written this before. I hate G.I.M.P. (which I’ll type as GIMP to speed things up). This is a graphical design program, a poor man’s Photoshop.  I’m using it to make book covers. I do that because the copy of Photoshop Elements (i.e. Photoshop lite) on our laptop looks very hard to use.

TCEEA print cover 01But GIMP is probably just as hard. The first cover I made with it was for Thomas Carlyle’s Edinburgh Encyclopedia Articles. See that yellow background? I have no idea how I did that. I couldn’t figure out how to add color to the canvas. At least I did figure out what the canvas was and how to create it at the size I needed. That was kind of easy. But when it came time to select the simple color that the canvas should be, I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen.

I tried a bunch of things, and eventually that color appeared on the canvas. I have no clue what set of keystrokes I used to achieve that. When I wanted to do the same thing with the cover for In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, the same thing happened, more or less. Though maybe this time it wasn’t quite so random. I thought I figured out the right place to do the color add thing. I must have been in the right place, because the color added, but, again, don’t ask me what keystrokes I used.

Of course, since I couldn’t figure out how to resize the cover photo and change the aspect ratio, without cropping, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do anyhow.

I suppose I need to take a couple of weeks and just learn the program. Trial and error, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Problem is, I don’t have a couple of weeks of spare time to devote to that.

Progress on “The Gutter Chronicles, Volume 2″

I began writing The Gutter Chronicles as a lark, to add a little humor to a stressful workplace. They were a series of “episodes” in the life of Norman D. Gutter, a newly graduated engineer who goes to work for a company named I.C.E. Engineering. Many odd and funny things happen to him.

At first I shared these episodes, one by one, with a few people at the office who I knew would distribute them around. This was in 1998 to 2002. But other things soon crowded out my Gutter time, and I let this lag. Sometime, maybe around 2008, I decided pick up the series again and finish a volume from this. I did so, and in October 2012 published it as an e-book: The Gutter Chronicles, the Continuing Saga of Norman D. Gutter, Engineer, Volume 1. Finally just last month I put it out as a print book as well.

Now, I’m engaged in writing the second volume. The first comprised 15 chapters and covered Norman’s first year with I.C.E. The second volume picks up where the first one leaves off. Several events in Volume 1 will come back in Volume 2 as things left hanging that Norman will have to deal with. Volume 1 included some trite characters, really caricatures of engineers and bosses and draftsmen and public officials. Volume 2 we’ll see more of that, again in 15 chapters with those same characters returning and new characters introduced. Ira Cheatum and Monte Grubber are two of the new, along with a landscape architect I haven’t named yet.

The flirtatious Malinda Mayes will be back, sending out her GUS Alerts, trying to get Norman off alone somewhere. Ned Justice will be wearing his jogging suits, the top unzipped, revealing a sweat soaked t-shirt. Uriah Serpe will charge off after his whims like a wild bull. And Norman will have a couple of love interests to consider.

At present I’ve completed three chapters, and the fourth is well along. The book is mostly planned out. Chapter subjects and names have been identified. I’m not working very quickly on it. One or two days a week I add a few hundred words. I have just over 9,000 words at present. The last volume came in at 33,000 words, clearly novella length. I’m running ahead on word count as of the end of chapter 3.

My main problem is trying to make this humorous again. I tend to drift off into serious presentation of engineering issues. The only feedback I’ve received from anyone in the office who bought the first book is from a woman who has been here almost as long as I have. She laughed uproariously at the first half, but thought the second half not as good. I suppose the second half isn’t as funny.

So I’ll have to watch myself, and make sure I keep things funny. Not sure how much humorous material I have, but I’ll keep looking and keep trying.

Author | Engineer