18 February, 2019

Dixie's Land Chapter Seven


“I told you this was a bad idea,” McGee said to Grant the next morning. The Irishman waited, with ill-disguised impatience, while the turnkey played with the lock of Grant’s cell. Beside him, Sherman smiled grimly. Grant could only guess at what was going through his friend’s mind.

“I wouldn’t call it a complete disaster,” Grant said.

“Why, because you weren’t shot?” Sherman snapped. “Good God, Grant, what sort of foot-pad did you think you were?” He turned on the guard. “Dammit, man, are you palsied? Get that cell open!”

“Ease up on him, Sherman,” Grant said. “The poor man’s just trying to do his job.”

“And what made you think that this stunt of yours was your job?” Sherman scratched furiously at his beard. “I should have been the one to do this.”

“For God’s sake, gentlemen, hold your tongues.” D’Arcy McGee looked around him, as though he expected to find others listening besides the obviously interested turnkey. “Let this wait until we’re in Captain Gale’s office.”

17 February, 2019

Tangled Weave Cover

The preliminary cover design for my next novel, A Tangled Weave, is in my hot little hands. Or Downloads folder. Whatever.

The cover is the work of Jeff Minkevics, an artist who regularly works with my publisher, Five Rivers. And I would be shamefully remiss if I didn't thank Lorina, who runs the outfit, for the extent to which she provides for consultation and cooperation between me and the cover artists I've been fortunate enough to work with.

It's amusing, though, that there had to be almost no back-and-forth between me and Jeff on this cover. It turned out his initial concept was almost exactly what I would have used had I the talent and skill to do this sort of thing. And there is a lot I like about this cover:

There are no human figures. I have come to really dislike the sort of Photoshopped-clip art sort of people I see on small-press book covers these days. And anyway, I don't want to suggest to anyone what my characters look like. That's what imagination is for.

The typeface matches that used on A Poisoned Prayer. This creates, I believe, a subconscious link between the two books—which are linked, though A Tangled Weave is not, properly speaking, a sequel (readers of the first novel may be cheered to know that Lise and Rafael return, though in supporting roles).

The flintlock pistol provides another link, echoing Rafael's case of rapiers from the Poisoned Prayer cover. I like to think the weapon suggests adventure.

The elephants are the MacGuffin. You'll have to read the novel to learn the what and the why. Coming to a bookshelf (very) near you this August.
Dino Pebbles

Overall Rating: 91
We think we’ve found the perfect breakfast insanity. And gentle readers know what to give the Institute for Christmas.

As usual, image is from the collection of
the Sucrophile Institute
What they eat for breakfast on “Miami Vice.” A pastel riot of marshmallows overwhelms what looks for all the world like a sugar-silly version of (I kid you not) Kellogg’s Special K. The marshmallows are supposed to represent surfboards, suns, dinosaurs and, we think, pineapples (the box says “Dino Goes Hawaiian!” Scary thought, that)

Texture and Taste, Dry
The only thing that keeps this from getting a perfect 100 score. The marshmallows have the tooth-rotting intensity of all cereal marshmallows, but the cereal itself―what there is of it, anyway―lacks character dry. It’s sweet enough, all right (the ingredients list reads: “Rice, Sugar, Marshmallows”), but eating this cereal dry is like chewing on air, once you get past the marshmallows. On the bright side, you won’t want to eat this stuff dry anyway. It’s too good with milk to be thrown away on snacking.

Texture and Taste, With Milk
Adding milk liberates Dino Pebbles. A heady perfume is released when the milk hits, and the sweetness is now enough to induce diabetes in bystanders, a sort of insulinated contact high. We’ve never before come across a cereal sweet enough that it tasted as if we’d already added extra sugar to it. The perfume is sort of flowery, and there’s a strong hint of roses in the fruitiness of the flavour. Best of all, there’s no bitter aftertaste, a failing common to cereals at the sweeter end of the spectrum. This stuff is sweet all the way down.

For the time being, at least, we’ve found our home. This is it: the best sweetened breakfast cereal in the world. Kids, don’t tell your parents how great this is. Tell them it’s made with spinach or kale or something; tell them anything you have to to get them to buy it for you. How can we doubt the US is still a great power, when possesses the industrial might to produced a processed food product this magnificent? Do you think the Japanese or Chinese have anything to match this?

[October 1992]

The Stories We Tell About Ourselves...

... Aren't always true.

So I've been learning, in the aftermath of my previous post about the Royal Artillery cap badge supposedly worn during the Great War by my paternal grandfather. It turns out that pretty much every claim in that post was wrong.

Now, I did express some concerns, in that post, about how my grandfather could have come to wear a Royal Artillery cap badge. I just didn't express a sufficient number of them. And even the facts in that post that were correct were incorrectly described. So here's a summary of what I've learned over the past four weeks or so:
Not my grandfather's cap badge, it
turns out (photo Do-Ming Lum)
The cap badge could never have been my grandfather's. Sidney Skeet enlisted as a private and was a private when the war ended. The cap badge illustrated was an officer's cap badge, an assessment confirmed by multiple authorities.

There was no such thing as "powder blasting." The apparent discoloration of the badge is actually caused by a commercial process, called bronzing. According to the historical researchers at the Royal Artillery Museum (to whom many thanks for responding to my queries), "As a result of experience in the Boer War, [Royal Artillery] Officer’s No. 2 Field Dress cap-badges were bronzed.  This was a commercial manufacturing process.  (Boer sharpshooters had been a problem in regards to un-bronzed cap badges)." In other words, bronzing made it harder for the enemy to pick out officers for, shall we say, special treatment.
Example of the cap badge my
grandfather actually wore.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The badge is not necessarily that of the Royal Horse Artillery. As the quote in the previous paragraph implies, the badge belongs to the Royal Artillery. The same cap badge was worn by members of the Royal Field Artillery (by far the most numerous arm of the RA Regiment), the Royal Horse Artillery, and the Royal Garrison Artillery.

I had my grandfather's service history backward. This was just simple ignorance on my part. I misread the medal card, which turns out to show that my grandfather enlisted in the Army Service Corps (in 1914) and (at some unknown point) transferred to the Dorset Regiment. He was with the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Dorsets in Mesopotamia from the time of their arrival at Basra (February 1916) until the end of the war.

So how did I get so much wrong? The short answer is, don't believe everything you read. The badges and medals I received at Christmas 2018 were framed, and on the back of each frame was a description of the contents. Some investigation on my part shows the descriptions to have been written by a friend of my grandfather who was sometimes prone to tale-telling. I've investigated some of this gentleman's claims about his own military record and found them to be hilariously exaggerated, so I have no trouble believing the man provided my grandfather with a military history that was much more exciting than accurate. The man in question is long dead, so I'm not going to identify him publicly.

It gets more interesting. One of the medals I was given is the 1914-15 Star. This medal was awarded to every British (or Empire) serviceman who served in an overseas theatre of war before the end of 1915.* The problem is, my grandfather's medal card has no mention of him being eligible for this medal. So why does he have it? There's an obvious answer to this question, which I will try to go into at a later time.

My thanks to the experts at the Royal Artillery Museum and the Great War Forum for their (sometimes puzzled) assistance in my ongoing researches.

*This is a simplification of the actual criteria, but sufficient for current purposes.

15 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 6.2

Previous    First

(Concluding chapter 6)

Even in the dusty lilac of twilight, Stewart had no difficulty leading “Colonel Hopkins” to the Currie factory north and west of the city—the same factory he’d toured this morning. He mouthed a silent, ironic thanks to Captain Menard, who had essentially done his research for him.

The colonel had gotten them out of the hotel without attracting any attention. I could learn from watching this man, Stewart said to himself. Hopkins also seemed to know exactly where they were riding. "Have you seen this place yourself, sir?" Stewart asked. "Or have you already read my note about my visit to the factory this morning?"

"That note was addressed to General Magruder," Hopkins said. "How could I possibly have seen it?" Stewart looked at him, wondering if the remark had been meant to be funny. It was hard to tell, because the man’s face was so rigidly set.

13 February, 2019

Dixie's Land Chapter Six

Previous    First


Stewart looked over his shoulder, then forward again at Captain Menard. Their shadow had disappeared, just as he'd disappeared every other time Stewart and Patton had met their Canadian escort.

There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary about the shadow’s performance today, but after yesterday’s incidents this unsubtle tailing had taken on a dark quality that made Stewart angry.

He should have been happier—today’s negotiating session had been canceled. No doubt the Canadian authorities had plenty to occupy themselves, assuming they were investigating the incidents.

"I hope you don't mind crossing the river," Menard called over his shoulder, pulling Stewart back to the present. "I've been asked to escort you gentlemen to a demonstration of a horse-artillery training exercise. We thought you might find that a bit more enjoyable than yet another tour of an armory."

"If it means a chance to gallop, I'm all for it!" Patton shouted. "I can't imagine what made your superiors think we'd be interested in looking at gun-making machinery."

10 February, 2019

Imbalanced Breakfast

 Alas, no Sucrophile this week, munchsters. Oh, the column's written and the illo is more or less ready. But your humble scribe has been hors de cereal the last few days, having had an unfortunate encounter with the influenza virus.

Sucrophile will return at a date and time to be determined.

08 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 5.4

Previous    First

[Concluding chapter 5]

Stewart stood in the hall long after the commissioners and the general had retired to their rooms. The flickering light of his candle cast weirdly mobile shadows on the walls, shadows that seemed to symbolize the forces gathering against the commission.

That the Federals were behind these attacks seemed beyond doubt. Much as he disliked and distrusted the English, Stewart could think of no reason why they might want to drive the Confederates away. Over the past few days he’d come to realize that the English and Canadians had much to gain from a treaty of recognition with the Confederacy. The industries of Louisiana and Missouri, for example, would find ready markets in the Confederacy for weapons and uniforms.