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The Warrior-Poet’s Workday

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This is for my peeps over at The Smarter Artist.

There are three gorillas that writers wrestle with all the time–procrastination, word counts, and getting fat.  We spend so much time getting everything just right, then ruminating on what we need to write for that day.  We answer emails, we watch videos, we while away our time dreaming about what it’s going to be like when our book gets done.  We stare at the screen when we finally do get ready, telling ourselves that things are just going to come out when they’re good and ready.  Our asses get wider from the constant pressure we put on them.

Also the snacks.

Listen, I’ve been there.  I’m there every day.  I’m the type of person that beats myself up on a constant basis about how much I didn’t get done on any particular day.  For a long time I trusted to the old way–forcing myself to sit in that chair until the damned chapter was done, dammit!  That’s the way my grandfather would have done it–doggedly, until he defeated the book, or it defeated him.  My only system was “GO,” and it had one speed setting that could be described on the whole as “You Could be Trying Harder.”

My system sucked.

A few years ago, something happened to me that forced me to reevaluate my life.  I’m a veteran of both wars, and America-Fuck Yeah 004spent quite a lot of time in combat.  Almost enough time, when taken consecutively, to have a bachelor’s degree in the subject.  Before you go thinking that I got blown up by an IED or something–no.  I made it through my deployments without a physical injury, but was in a minor helicopter accident my last year in the Army that screwed up my back.  The whole thing happened on a training mission–imagine that.  By the beginning of 2014, I was quickly losing the ability to walk like a normal person.  The nature of the VA being what it is, I spent half of that year lying on my back, hating everything about my life, waiting for surgery.  I was on so many pills that I had to take pills to counteract the pills.  Needless to say, life tasted like ten flavors of shit.  Add what people used to call “the soldier’s heart” to the mix, and my entire world looked like ashes.

hospitalThis was my Crucible.  It forced me to confront things.  I’m sure you can imagine.

This is not to toot my own horn, or to elicit sympathy–far from it.  I told you guys all that so you would know where I’m coming from, why I’m deciding to couch things in this language, and what my thought processes are.  I told you this so you would get a better sense of who I was, and who I am.  Every hero needs an Odyssey, right?

Toot toot.

I did finally have surgery, and began a long road to getting things back on track.  Anyone who has ever had back surgery understands the tenuous nature of your body afterwards, and just how much it changes your life.  Suddenly you have to be careful of the things you do, how you sit, where you sit, and for how long.  I remember one instance of having fallen asleep on my brother’s couch, and having to drive myself to the emergency room the next morning, barely able to push the pedals.  I was once a warrior, now laid low by furniture.

Working out is tough.  Nobody wants to do it when it’s an obligation–let’s just be honest.  It’s boring, it’s harder than you’d like, and it takes serious discipline that not everyone has.  For me, pain was a serious concern.  During the first year after my surgery, I was at about 25% operating capacity.  A tough-looking guy–but weak as a babe.  I figured out one enduring truth during this entire period.

People give up when we allow ourselves the pathway to defeat.  We’re pleasure-seeking creatures, and especially creative types.  Especially authors, because most of us are not only creative, but more than mildly obsessive.  Flights of fancy is what we do, and we’re crazy enough about it all to write it down.

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I realized that the only way to succeed was not to beat myself up, to force myself into the chair, or out of the chair.  It was to arrange my life in such a way that I had no other option than to do what I needed to do.  Instead of beating yourself up so hard, trying to mold your character, lamenting the entire time that you wish you could just change, just be better…I’ve been there.  That is not the way.  The way is to change your environment, change the way you structure your day.

You have to Pavlov yourself.  The following is the way I’ve starting organizing my day, based on principles I used in the last year to lose 50 lbs, and rebuild my body into something normal.  This isn’t an all-encompassing system, or anything.  I’m not some motivational speaker promising you the best results EVER with this TRIED AND TRUE method–no.  These are just things I do that help me, and maybe they’ll help you, too.  There’s a bit of a philosophy behind it, but you can adopt some, or all, or none of these things.  Some of you won’t need them at all.  I just thought some of you might benefit from the ideas, and on the off-chance that I can offer a hand…well, I’ll offer it.

First–The Work Day.

1Get up early and take a cold shower in the morning.  I know it sounds crazy, but if ancient warriors could bathe in cold water, then so can you.  If you can’t start cold, then start hot and finish cold.  When I started, I washed hot and rinsed cold.  The end-game, though, is to get to an all-cold shower.  Believe me–it wakes you up and brings your mind into a sharpness of focus that you do not have if you take a nice, relaxing shower in the morning.

2Get a productivity clock.  I use my cell-phone and an app called ClearFocus.  It goes in 25 minute increments of working with 5 minute breaks.  Every fourth break is 15 minutes long.  During the work period, you put down words, you revise, you edit, you do what you have to do.  No snacking, no distractions.  During the break periods, dedicate yourself equally to getting up and walking away.  You can hover if you have something that absolutely needs to be put down, but if not, get up and walk away.

3During your break periods, do one of the following:  Push-ups, Crunches, Pull-ups, Squats, or a short Yoga routine.  If you can only bang out one push-up, then bang out that one push-up.  Every wall begins with a single brick, so start laying those fucking bricks.  The best thing to do is rotate these exercises so that you do an equal number of all of them in sets that you can handle.  My routine is thus:  75 push-ups one break, 50 crunches the next, 15 pull-ups next, 50 squats, or a short Yoga routine.  Interchange these however you want, and don’t take my numbers for your own goals.  Do as many as you can before reaching muscle failure and focus on the number you’ll do per set and not the total number.  By the end of your day, you might be surprised to have found that you did 200 push-ups, or 60 pull-ups.  Just worry about the sets, though.  Substitute whatever exercise you want, but do something.

4Have a daily word count goal, and meet that motherfucker.  The way I do it is to set a target in Scrivener.  Mine is at least 5k/day of new words, or at least one full chapter of revisions.  Until you meet your daily goal, you’re not done.  If you meet it in two hours, then good.

5If you just have to get up and leave the book alone, go for a long walk.  That’s the rule.  If you take a break longer than the allotted time on your productivity app, then you have to go for a walk for at least 30 minutes.  Also, the time starts back where you left it.  But hey–you’re the boss, boss.

The whole point of this to hack yourself, and I’ll explain the way it has worked for me.  First of all, the cold shower puts you in a state of mind conducive to energized thinking.  You’ll be surprised how, over time, your body feels so different after your shower.  You’ll feel like a marine on an Athenian warship.  Hell, you may even start taking cold showers in the evening when you’re feeling lethargic.  I do, sometimes.  I might be a freak, though.

Secondly, the productivity clock will slowly train your mind to write better, write faster, and write when you command it to do so.  Waiting on inspiration is bullshit–hack inspiration.  When you give your mind hurdles to master, it reacts by adapting.  We’re animals, all of us, and we’re meant to evolve.  Just as genetic populations mold to their environs, we can mold our minds to harness our creativity.  Over time, since I’ve begun using this method, my word count has steadily risen from approx. 800/hr to now around 1400/hr.  It’s not Johnny-paced, but hey–it works for me.  And it’s still going up.

The exercises during your breaks not only train your body, but they wake you up.  If you need energy, the thing to do is not to sleep, or to rest, or to watch that last episode of Game of Thrones again–it’s to do something active.  Besides, even if you bang out 100 push-ups during your break, you’re still left with 3.5-4 minutes of fuck-off time.  As you spend longer doing this routine, your break times will seem like they last forever.  I’ve found myself champing at the bit to sit back down and get started–which is one of the reasons you have to dedicate yourself to getting up.  That reset helps to keep the mind fresh and excited.

Set your word counts as a division of how quickly you want to publish.  I’m a sword-and-sorcery guy, so I’m trying to settle into a three month publishing cycle.  My books are around 130-150k words each, and as long as I schedule things correctly, the 5k/day pace allows me to get things done without worrying about it.  You may have noticed that as your word count per hour speeds up, your work day either gets shorter, or you can elect to get more accomplished.  The whole point of doing things this way is that the ONLY number you need to stress over is your daily word count.  No more stressing as you let days slip by, and you can see the day on the horizon when you’ve got to write 20k words just to make your deadline.  Trust in the productivity clock, Pavlov yourself, and only worry about your 5k.  You will be flabbergasted at the end of the week by how much progress you’ve made overall, and without even noticing.  And you’ll slowly get faster.

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THE RULES

These are things you’ll repeat to yourself when you’re being lazy.  You know what I mean.

1–Don’t be a poon.  Jocko Willinck, a former Army Green Beret and successful podcaster, once said a very direct, and very meaningful quote.  “You know that thing you don’t want to do?  Shut up and do it.”

2–Wars are won a battle at a time.  Pay no attention to the entirety of how many words you need to write before your publish date, only worry about your daily counts.  Small victories amount to a successful campaign.

3–Movement clears the mind.  When you’re stuck, when you’re frustrated, the best thing to do is go for that long walk, or do a 30-minute Yoga session.  The Spartans knew this, Yogis knew this.  We have forgotten.  Remember.

4–Take time to pay the Muses.  I’m non-religious, but I do something I call “Yoga for Dionysus”.  Mostly it’s because I’m a nerd, but part of hacking my mind is adding in a bit of reverence for the process.  I sacrifice something on the altar of the universe in thanks for my inspiration.  I know it’s anthropomorphism.  I know it’s dumb.  You don’t have to do it, but it helps me to remain grounded.  And hey–Yoga’s good for you.  This can be anything, though.  Dedicate your run to the gods, read a book and absorb some culture, go to church if you’re religious, whatever.  Spend some time cleaning your apartment once a week, just do something.

TAKE THINGS FURTHER

If you want to go even deeper, integrate a fast into your daily life.  This is all completely optional, but this part is especially optional.  I know not everyone is a freak like me.  One thing that I do is only allow myself to eat during certain hours of the day.  There are many mental and physical benefits to fasting, you can read all about them on the interwebs.  There are many ways to do it, though, and most revolve around having a window within which you allow yourself to eat.  Outside that window, it’s all water for you, bub.  Try the following:

16 hour fast/8 hour eating window

18/ 6

20/ 4

You can also mix in 24 hour-long fasts, but its all up to you.  Believe me, though–integrate the 20/4 eating habit with the workday outlined above, and you’ll start to lose weight without having to slice out a huge chunk of gym time every day.  Fasting works much like everything outlined above–the more you do it, the better at it you become.  Plus, eight hours of your fast will be sleepy-time, anyway (depending on your own habits).

Maybe some of this crazy stuff will help someone, and maybe I just spent forever typing this for no reason.  This is my sacrifice on the alter of The Smarter Artist, though.  This group, and the SPP guys, have helped one salty war vet get his shit together, so a man wishes to give something back.  Maybe it’s a metric ton of crazy, but maybe it will help someone.  It has certainly helped me.

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Much love and respect to you all.

The Battle of Alesia

In honor of Veteran’s Day I thought I would write a blog to you guys about one of the craziest military engagements of ancient history.  Throughout human existence there have been these great moments when the courses of entire civilizations have been decided upon the courage of fighting men, the guile of generals, and the edges of swords.  One such battle was the siege of Alesia, a fortified town in the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul, where Gaius Julius Caesar finally closed in on the Gallic general Vercingetorix.

For years before this battle took place, Roman legions under Julius Caesar had been ravaging the Gallic countryside, bringing the region firmly under the control of Rome.  At this time, the Roman economy had morphed into this beast that was almost entirely dependent upon foreign conquest and the subjugation of native peoples.  Romans had settled in the region, and Caesar had been squeezing the Gauls for tribute for around six years.  The Gauls, having been crushed by the Romans, were simmering at the Roman boot upon their throats.

After a tribe called the Carnutes, who had been previously pacified by the Romans, rose up and slaughtered all the Roman settlers in the town of Cenabum, Caesar mustered his legions and marched over the winter-locked alps into the province of Transalpine Gaul to put down the rebellion.  He was unaware that the major Gallic tribes had previously met and elected someone to take the fight to the Romans, to drive them from the lands of Gallia.  That man was the chieftain of the Arverni tribe, and his name was Vercingetorix.

Vercingetorix defeated the Romans in the field at Gergovia, and fought a decent field campaign against Caesar.  The Gallic cavalry was much stronger than the Roman cavalry, and Vercingetorix was famous for using his mounted soldiers to devastating effect.  After a few engagements between the two forces, Vercingetorix withdrew his army to the fortified town of Alesia.  Caesar followed him, and trapped his forces within the city walls.

Where Ceasar Crushed Vercingetorix

Alesia was a relatively small settlement by our standards.  It was built upon a solitary hill between two rivers, and overlooked a small valley that surrounded it.  There was high ground beyond the valley, but Alesia would have had a decent view of the surrounding countryside.  It was surrounded by a low wall that ran for around 5 miles, and probably had a fortified gate of some sort.  It wasn’t a very large settlement, but by Gallic standards of the time, it was a well fortified position.  Vercingetorix had some 80,000 men inside, along with thousands of civilians.

Caesar surrounded Alesia with somewhere around 50,000 legionnaires and Germanic auxiliary forces.  Imagine what a man like Julius Caesar would have thought when he looked up at the town of Alesia.  By this time, Caesar was already a seasoned military man and commander.  He was a strange figure in history, and there are famous (and infamous) stories about him in the Roman records.  Caesar was a popularis–which would have been roughly the equivalent of a democrat in Roman politics, with a definite violent twist–and he was loved by the Roman lower classes.  He was known to buck convention, and, in the words of Dan Carlin, was something of a “punk rock like figure of the ancient world”.  He was said to have moved twice as fast and decisively as other men.

Caesar was also fiercely loved by the men under his command.  He regularly ate, camped, and fought with them, and earned their respect through his deeds.  Caesar’s men supposedly loved him so much that, when they messed up in battle, they begged for him to punish them so that they could once again be in his good graces.  Caesar heaped rewards and praise upon his soldiers, and they were fiercely loyal to him–something that would bode ill for the Republic in the future.  Any one of them would have died for him without a second thought.

Caesar was also known to be a military genius, and that will become apparent during the Battle of Alesia.

Caesar knows that Vercingetorix has the advantage.  The Gallic cavalry had devastated Caesar’s own mounted units, and from the high ground in Alesia he can send his horsemen out to raid the Romans virtually at will.  Caesar has to neutralize the advantage that Vercingetorix has taken, but how to do it?  He sets his men to digging.

One thing that the Roman legions could do better than any other ancient army was build.  Every single night a Roman legion would fortify their camp.  They built walls in record speed, they brought tools and technology with them, coupled that with a fiercely industrious nature, and used it all to great advantage.  Caesar has his men dig a wide trench all the way around the city–a distance of around ten miles.  After this wide trench is dug, he has them dig another trench and fill it from the water of the nearby river, creating an effective moat.  After another trench goes in, he fills all of this with stakes, caltrops, and other nasty defensive surprises the Romans were famous for.  He turns the ground around Alesia into a killing field.

Then he sets the legionnaires to building a wall around the city, turning a defensible position into a prison–a tactic called circumvallation.

Vercingetorix isn’t stupid, and he can see all of this happening from the city walls.  He sends his best troops–that Gallic cavalry we spoke about–to raid the Romans building the wall, but the legion regularly pushes him back into the city.  Roman legions were also good at defense, and Vercingetorix was unable to break through the Roman lines.  Day by day, his sorties failed again and again.  Finally, Vercingetorix makes what many people believe to be the mistake that sealed his fate–he sent his cavalry out into the countryside to rally the tribes for help.  The move cripples his ability to harass the Romans building the wall.

Caesar, ever the clever opportunist, uses the escape of the Gallic cavalry to his advantage.  He orders his quartermasters to procure a supply of food from the surrounding countryside for thirty days, and sets his men to building even more fortifications.  With the ability to build with impunity, the legions get right to work.

They build a second wall around the first, and this one is around twenty miles in length–a line of contravallation.  It goes up without incident, and in record time.  Caesar makes his camp between the two walls and, anticipating the appearance of a Gallic relief force, prepares to be besieged while besieging Vercingetorix.  Wild, huh?  The walls that Caesar’s legion built had only one weak spot–the western side, where the walls met the river.

After about seven weeks of being besieged, the people of Alesia began to starve.  There is a small supply of beef and corn inside the walls, but Vercingetorix has seized control of the food for his men, and the civilians are running out of sustenance.  What happens next is a strange thing, to be sure.  Either Vercingetorix, or the tribal elders inside the town, decide to send out their women and children–some three thousand people–to the Romans.  Doubtless these people thought that the Romans would hopefully let them through to safety, or even take them as slaves.  Either way, from their point of view, they might avoid starvation, and the possible slaughter coming their way.

Caesar, though, turns the civilians back toward the city.  He denies them any sustenance or mercy.  This might have been a cruel thing to do, but from a tactical standpoint, it’s quite devious.  Caesar’s armies aren’t doing much better than the citizens of Alesia, as Vercingetorix had enacted his famous “Scorched Earth” policy and convinced the Gauls to burn their own crops before the Romans, and allow them no succor from Gallia’s fruits.  The legions are struggling to forage food from the countryside, and they’re in hostile territory far from their home.  Caesar knows he cannot feed these refugees, and doing so would place his own supplies in jeopardy–which might have been Vercingetorix’s strategy from the start.

What he does next speaks to that intention, because Vercingetorix turns the civilians away from Alesia, too.  He keeps the gates tightly shut.  There are different estimates of the number of women and children that were left to starve in the killing fields between the city and the Roman fortifications.  I know that this was a darker time, and these people were used to killing, but it’s hard for me to believe that the soldiers on both sides–not to mention the husbands and fathers of those left to die–could listen to the cries of the helpless without feeling some kind of sympathy for them.  I couldn’t even imagine the sight.

Vercingetorix eventually breaks, and allows the women and children back into the city.  Caesar wins the battle of wills.  Alesia is starving, Vercingetorix’s men are getting desperate, and he knows he’s on his last leg.  Caesar now has the upper hand.  It was in that desperate hour, however, that Vercingetorix gets the reinforcements he was hoping for.

His cavalry has returned, having rallied the surrounding Gallic tribes, riding at the head of a force 60,000 strong.  They are commanded by a man named Commius.  They occupied some high ground outside of the outer walls of Caesar’s defenses, screaming and beating their shields at the enemy below.  Caesar had anticipated them, though, and was prepared.

Commius immediately sends in his cavalry, covered by archers from the high ground, at the small groups of Roman infantry that were outside the walls.  They begin killing everything in their path, and Caesar sends his own cavalry out into the hills to counter the Gallic forces.  A battle ensues where the Gauls slowly retreat, drawing Caesar’s cavalry into the range of their archers, where they begin to get cut down in a storm of arrows.  Caesar orders in reinforcements, and they somehow manage to fight their way to a nearby hill.  The Romans swing around and charge down at the flanks of Commius’s cavalry.  The Gauls are routed, which leaves the archers to the mercy of the Roman cavalry.  They are easily cut down before the Romans, and Commius is forced to pull his army back, losing a tithe of his mounted soldiers and almost every archer under his command.

The victory emboldens Caesar’s men, and makes Vercingetorix even more desperate.  Caesar, outnumbered over two to one, has managed to fight off a larger force while keeping Vercingetorix easily besieged within the walls of Alesia.  Vercingetorix must have known that the help he was holding out for may not be his salvation, and it must have been crushing.  The Romans were notorious for the things they did to the people that crossed them, and it was doubtlessly on Vercingetorix’s mind.

That night, Commius and Vercingetorix launch a coordinated attack under the cover of darkness.

The Romans had withdrawn within their defenses by this point, and Caesar had stationed his men along the wall in various strategic positions.  Suddenly the Gauls come screaming out of the night from both directions, trying to fight their way through Caesar’s defenses and create a breach.  Caesar reinforces his men on the outer wall, but the defenses and traps he’d left on the inner wall are wreaking havoc on Vercingetorix’s forces.

The Gauls had to run through a field sprinkled with Roman style caltrops–called Goads–before passing through yet another field that Caesar’s men had dug with row upon row of buried, hidden traps with sharpened stakes.  If one made it through this field, they then had to cross the moat, which also had traps inside of it.  After that they had to battle through two separate trenches that were five feet deep and filled with a forest of sharpened stakes.  Only then could they attack the wall.  The entire time the Gauls would have been pelted with Roman arrows, javelins from ballistae, and stones from slingers.  The grounds around Alesia would have been choked with the dead.

Vercinetorix’s assault from the inside was suffering the entire weight of Caesar’s preparations.

The outside assault under Commius is going better.  The Gauls, by sheer weight of numbers, are putting a lot of pressure on the Romans.  The fight for the walls goes back and forth, and the Romans nearly break more than once, but the quick actions of a young commander by the name of Mark Antony saves the fight.  The Gauls are repelled from the walls and sent back into the night without the will to continue.  It was that night that won Antony the respect of Caesar, and Antony became his right-hand man after the Battle of Alesia.

The Gauls are pushed back from the Roman defenses a second time, and Vercingetorix retreats into the walls of the city.  This was a crushing defeat for the Gauls.  Vercingetorix, after having watched Caesar repel yet another attack by a larger force, must have been feeling the weight of destiny on his shoulders by now.  The Roman general has managed to spend his forces at just the right times in order to win through by the skin of his teeth, and the people of Alesia are starving.  Things aren’t looking good for the people of Gallia.  They know they have to do something soon, or their cause will be lost.

It is about this time that Commius finds the weak spot in Caesar’s wall–the one on the western side near the river that we talked about earlier.  He sends in his men under the cover of night, and hides them near the river.  The next day he springs his trap on the unsuspecting legionnaires, and a fierce battle ensues for control of the wall.  Both sides are tired from the battle of the night before, but the Romans are still outnumbered more than two to one, and have to fight more often.  They’re beginning to flag, and start to get pushed back into the space between the two walls–back into their camps.

Vercingetorix sees this from the walls of Alesia, and orders his men to attack.  At the same time, a third force under one of Vercingetorix’s cousins attacks the outer wall, and the Romans are beset on all sides.  To the west, Commius has fought his way into the camp and is pressing the legion hard.  On the eastern side the defenders are facing another army of Gallic tribesman on the outer wall, and Vercingetorix is pressing hard from the inside.  Romans are being slaughtered everywhere, and for a time it seems that Caesar will die under the walls of Alesia along with all of his men.

Caesar is standing atop a tower he’d made his men build into the defenses, watching everything happen.  He can see that his lines on the western side–where the Gauls are streaming into the camp–are starting to break.  If those legionnaires give way, the Romans will be routed and slaughtered to a man.  It’s now that he does one of those things that he’s famous for, at least in his early history.  He straps on his famous red cloak, rallies four cohorts of reinforcements, and leads them right into the teeth of the enemy, where the fighting is most desperate.

This is where you have to remember what I told you earlier about the regard Caesar’s men had for their general.  Caesar was like a combination of Patton, Kennedy, and Russel Brand to these guys.  They loved him.  They trusted him completely, and each one was ready to lay down their lives if he thought it was necessary.  He had won their respect over years of campaigning beside them, and had taken good care of them along the way.  Imagine if you saw your idol hoist a sword, yell “follow me, boys!”, and rush right into the worst of the fighting.

When the legionnaires saw their leader charge down upon the enemy, a fire must have lit along the battlefield.  Each man who was throwing javelins, or pelting the Gauls from a distance, was said to have dropped his missiles, drawn his gladius, and followed Caesar right into the fray.  Right when their lines were about to break, the men at the front saw Caesar come rushing down into their midst at the head of hundreds of reinforcements.  Suddenly their salvation had appeared, and they rallied to meet their fates.

Commius had committed his forces to a narrow strip of land where Caesar had been unable to build up the walls enough to keep them out.  He had somewhere around 40,000 men behind him, but as the numbers on the battlefield grew, the flaw in his tactics became apparent.  The Gallic infantry basically just rushed down on their enemies with swords aloft, the way you could imagine any barbarian horde might do.  The tight space they were rushing through started to choke their advance as more and more bodies filled the gap.  This was exactly the kind of fight in which the legions excelled.

Caesar pushed his advantage and tore into the Gallic lines, pushing their advance back to the weak point in his defenses.  The Romans fought for their very lives, and with the advantage of numbers neutralized, began to slaughter the Gauls right and left.  As the Gauls saw their countrymen being sliced down in droves, their attack broke, and they began to run away in fear.  The Romans pushed their advantage and routed the Gauls, pursuing them all the way back to their camp.  In one decisive move, Caesar took a full third of the Gallic army, and Commius’s forces melted away into the forests.

Meanwhile, the forces attacking the outer defenses were unable to gain a foothold.  The legions under Antony and Caesar’s other commanders continuously pushed them back.  Vercingetorix fared no better against the circumvallation lines than he had before, and was forced to retreat back inside the city walls.  Once the Gauls had learned of the destruction of their camp and the rout of Commius, the tribes retreated into the night.  By the next morning, the battlefield outside of Alesia was deserted, save for the dead.

Vercingetorix was alone.

Imagine the way he must have felt looking out over the destruction of the countryside, and the Romans camped outside of the walls.  He must have known that Caesar was now free to attack the city at will, or starve them out in short order.  The people were already dying, both of starvation and the continuous fighting.  He knew that if the Romans were forced to breach the walls, the city’s innocents would probably be raped, killed, or sold off into slavery.  I think the next decision he made was a noble one.  He put on his armor, opened the city gates, and rode out to meet Caesar alone .

The romantic version of the story has Vercingetorix being brought before Caesar, drawing his blade, and dropping it silently at his feet.  Caesar takes Vercingetorix into custody, but in a surprising move, spares a large number of people inside the city.  This was out of character for him at the time, especially on the heels of such a tough battle.  Perhaps it was a political move designed to quell the ill feelings toward the Romans at the time–after all, the local tribes had been killing Romans for awhile at this point.  Perhaps it was the beginning of Caesar’s tradition of clemency for his enemies, or perhaps Vercingetorix begged for him to spare the city.  I have a feeling that the ones left alive and free were probably from tribes that Caesar wanted as allies in the region.

Whichever thing it was that spared the people of Alesia, the same couldn’t be said for Vercingetorix.  He was kept imprisoned for five years as the political turmoil in Rome upended Caesar’s life.  During that time Caesar fought more wars against his own people, and maneuvered his way into being declared dictator in Rome.  It was after his defeat of the Senate that Caesar organized his own Triumph–a huge party and parade that was considered one of the highest honors a Roman man could be granted–where Vercingetorix was paraded out for the plebians to see.

There, after being paraded before the assembled people of Rome, Vercingetorix was strangled to death in a Roman dungeon.  Gallia was subdued, and eventually became a Roman province.  It would be around three hundred years before another uprising.   Later in the Roman history, there would be campaigns to extend citizenship to the Gauls, who had become close to Romans themselves.

It started bloody, though, as do a lot of things in history.

I hope you guys enjoyed that little story.  There are a lot of details I glossed over about the battle, and historians always disagree on a lot of details.  Feel free to google it and read up on it yourself.  It’s wild to think that this stuff happened, even in some way close to the story we accept today.  I’ll update you guys soon on Child of the Flames, and don’t forget to JOIN THE CONCLAVE, like, subscribe, and all of that nonsense.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

What the Hell is Beneath the Burning Sky?

Beneath the Burning Sky

Now available on Kindle for FREE until 6 July

So, this morning I had what you might call a moment of intense panic.

I always do, before publishing or running a promotion.  I spend days poring over everything, trying to fix all the problems, streamlining things, and generally pulling my beard out.  I can be very intense when it comes to my writing, and I tend to get wrapped up in things.  The last four or five chapters of my book usually go in a couple of weeks–and my readers know that means hundreds of pages.

I’m the kind of writer that can’t really produce much on a subject or story that doesn’t mean something to me.  So whenever I start a promotion and I start to see downloads happening, I have this moment where my brain does a little back-flip and I think “Ye Gods, someone is actually going to read this thing.”  I doubt my every decision that led to me putting it out there.

What is Beneath the Burning Sky and The Sageward Exordium?  Well, you might call it Military Fantasy.  Or, you might call it Science Fantasy…or maybe Military Science Fantasy.  It’s not quite Steampunk and it’s not Contemporary.  To tell the truth, I have a hard time putting it into a category that can describe it in essence.

Bear with me while I attempt to describe the setting.  Imagine the world of The Seven Signs around 600 years into its future–a time perhaps comparable to WWI.  Things have evolved considerably, including magic and those who use it.  Magic has weaved itself into technology, and vice-versa, and this strange marriage has created a truly unique setting to tell a good story.

There’s also a huge conflict going on between two opposing factions on the continent of Alderak.  War has been raging for an entire generation, and as we all know, war is a huge driver of innovation.  Something of an arms race has ensued, and both sides are scrambling for advantage.

Beneath the Burning Sky is the story of one soldier and her experiences during a pivotal battle of the conflict.  It’s the first installment in a prologue of stories that will lead up to the release of a new series.  The Sageward Exordium is the prologue, and is itself a series of short stories.

You’re writing a series of prologues?  Yes, as crazy as that sounds.  When I came up with the ideas for the upcoming series, the first thing I did was sit down and start fleshing the idea out.  Once I got to the point where I needed to put something on paper, I realized that the prologue to the actual book would be huge, considering the backstory that needs to be told.  In short, it would be as large as an every day novel on its own, so that’s why I decided to put the prologue out as a serial.  The Sageward Exordium is the prologue–it’s just in serial format.

So you’ve described the setting, but what is The Sageward Exordium truly about?  Well, the Exordium itself is just the bedrock for a larger plot arc.  But taken with the series it precedes, I would say that what the story is really about is war itself and the larger effects it has on those who wage it.  Each installment in the serial will tell the story of one of the main characters and what happened to them on the same day, during the same fight.

I wanted to tell a good war story, and I wanted to do it in an exciting way.  But, as a veteran myself, I know the real-world effects that war has on people.  I’ve seen some of that in real life, and so I wanted to tell a deeper story than one of blood and glory.  It will certainly have plenty of that, but there will also be larger implications at hand, and deeper emotional ramifications for the characters in the story.

How many installments are there in The Sageward Exordium?  Right now there are five planned installments, but I reserve the right to add another as they come to me.  I’ve written a number of very interesting characters, but the project is still in the infancy stages at this point.  I plan on putting a new one out every four to six months during the times when I just can’t stand to write another chapter of The Seven SIgns (haha).  The Exordium has to be planned to coincide with the larger series it will precede, so it can be slow-going at times.  It’s a story that speaks to me on a very deep level, though, so I have a feeling that it will be huge.

The Seven Signs is pretty big.  Will the new series be that large, as well?  In a word–bigger.  The rough plot line I’m working with now puts me right at about five books, though those books won’t be quite as large as your basic Seven Signs book–which come in at about 340,000 words.  These will be around 150,000-200,000 apiece.  Which is still huge, I know.  The Seven Signs is Epic Fantasy, which is supposed to be huge.  The new series, though, may be chopped down a bit.  It all depends on what happens during the developmental edits, too.  So stay tuned!

I hope that answers a few questions about Beneath the Burning Sky.  As always, don’t forget to like me on Facebook, check out my website to join The Conclave–my mailing list–and follow me on Twitter.  Much love to all of you, and I’ll talk to you soon.

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My Scariest Night in Iraq

Me during my military service, around 2008.

Me during my military service, around 2008.

Today I thought I’d share a war story with you.

One of the things every soldier dreads hearing are two words that will kill whatever you had planned for the evening–duty roster.  Yes, even on deployment, the military has duty rosters.  They’re one of those things that everyone hates, but without which the military couldn’t function to march down the street.  Everyone comes up on the roster, no one escapes.  This is a story about one of the nights my number came up.

Picture Iraq just after the initial invasion, when the Army had just started to dig in and take up residence.  There was just enough internet for you to wait in line all day to gain access to it, just to have it take forever to load your email.  There were no “wet” toilets–meaning anything with plumbing.  There were wet showers, and there was a brand new DFAC–dining facility for my civilian friends–but we lived in community tents.  It was high summer when this happened, so needless to say it was blazing hot in the daylight, but a pleasant swelter during the night.  Iraq was a place in which you truly felt you had no escape from the elements.

I had been assigned the night shift for motor pool guard, which is where the Army keeps all of the tactical vehicles.  That’s right–I had to guard the trucks.  The guard station consisted of a metal folding chair, a makeshift fighting position which was basically a run-down piece of concrete just sitting in the sand, and a portable toilet.  You had to show up in what was lovingly referred to as “full battle rattle”, which meant armored vest, helmet, and load bearing equipment.  There you sat, alone through the night with nothing else to keep you company.  Falling asleep was the greatest sin on guard duty, so each soldier was expected to do whatever was necessary to stay alert and awake.

Me being me, I decided to take a book along and a headlamp with a red light filter, so I could read a little while I sat there.  A few weeks before guard duty I had been part of a detail that cleaned out a tent which had been run by the MWR (morale, welfare, and recreation) and it had been full of donated books.  They were being shipped off to other bases, so I nabbed a few while I was there.  Incidentally it’s where I found my first copy of Game of Thrones, but that’s another story.  I grabbed whatever was on top of the pile when I left my tent, and discovered when I got there that I had grabbed the infamous Skeleton Crew by Stephen King.

Now, the desert is damnably dark on most nights.  You can see the stars and the moon, but the landscape is washed out in black like some insidious movie trick.  I made my rounds every hour and kept an eye out for trouble, but while I sat there waiting until it was time to bust open the MRE I had grabbed for midnight chow, I dove into that book.

I’m a fast reader, and before long I was halfway through it, huddled in that fighting position with a red headlamp and my full battle gear on, sweating in the desert heat.  King has way of drawing you into a story that makes you feel like the monsters are huddled nearby waiting for you to notice them.  The night was mostly silent, save for when helicopters came in and out of the base, which wasn’t frequent at night during that stage of the war.

There was more than one occasion that I was deep into one of the stories when I’d hear some out of place noise that would cause me to click off my headlamp and freeze, knowing full well that if someone was out there they may have already seen my headlamp.  What a feeling, let me tell you.  If you’ve never frozen in terror because of some perceived or imagined threat, then I guess it might be hard to imagine.  All at once I was afraid that fighters might be creeping up on my position (I don’t know why they’d want to attack the motor pool, but fear isn’t rational) but also a little nervous that a toy monkey might be nearby banging his cymbals together to herald my untimely death.

Of course, nothing happened and the night went by uneventfully.  Uneventfully, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it was smooth.  By the time the sun began to peek over the horizon I was relieved to see it.  There were no fighters, no toy monkeys, no mist creeping up on my position.  Even in more tense situations, I never felt that creeping fear the way I did that night.

So thanks, Stephen King.  I’ve heard that the measure of a song is how much emotion it pulls out of you.  If the measure of a story is the same, then hats off to you, sir.

Full disclosure:  The picture is from a later deployment.  This story took place a few years before the picture was taken.