It’s Been Over a Year? (also known as Tosh’s Book Cover Gallery)

If the title of this page is black, and/or you see the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured-image header.

I received a comment recently noting that nothing had been added to this website in over a year and asking where I was. I hate to admit it, but I had no idea it had been that long. Reasons abound, all of which can be summarized with the simple fact that there’s never enough time in the day to focus my intention on everything I’ve committed to doing. This post, therefore, will serve to illustrate only one of the reasons why these pages have been sitting idle for so long.

As always, I can’t resist the compelling urge to begin with backstory, which in this particular case rewinds to the spring of 2011 and my decision to abandon all attempts to get an agent and legacy-publish my debut novel Pilot Error. Being frugal by nature, and with more time on my hands than spare cash, I decided not to pay someone to perform all the tasks necessary to indie-publish my books.

For the next six months, I immersed myself in the maze of details about book production, and through a lot more error than trial I created the covers and formatted the interiors for eBook and print editions of the novel. Following that, I did the same for two short non-fiction books, both intended to be the initial entries in a series.

But in a moment that can be described by the proverbial “Something happened on the way to . . .,” I discovered an intense interest in the concept described by Dean Wesley Smith in offering advice to indie authors, that you have to Think Like a Publisher. And while I intended to do it all, learning about marketing and promotion remains an elusive goal as I’ve become more involved in book production. Along with the second novel in the Pilot Error series, I’ve designed the covers and formatted the interiors for five novels and currently have four others in various stages of production.

Cover design sits at the top of the production task list primarily because it’s the single most important factor in a three-step sequence leading to a reader buying a book. As the saying goes, you can’t tell a book by its cover, but you will have a hard time attracting potential buyers if you don’t have a good one.

As author/blogger Barry Eisler describes in his two-part posting on book packaging, title and cover design have to work together to grab a shopper’s attention. He uses an example from his own stable of books by pointing out how poorly his US publisher (at the time) accomplished that with his debut novel compared to the Japanese edition. The comparison is stunning.

In a brick-and-mortar or online bookstore, covers are like billboards. They have to create a “call to action” moment in the viewer, which in this case means, Read the back cover copy/description. If those relatively few words do their job, reading the first page or two of the novel has the opportunity to seal the deal with a sale.

I make no claim to being a professionally trained graphic designer, and I’m more than positive that anyone who is can find fault with the covers I’ve done. But with all due respect, to do its only job, a cover doesn’t have to impress someone with detailed knowledge of the principles of graphic design.

Would I be proud to receive kudos from a professional? Of course. But in the final analysis, it matters not so long as my covers don’t stand in the way of a potential book buyer reaching out with the thought, “What’s this book about?”

But you can judge for yourself as to the effectiveness of my amateur efforts by taking a look at the following examples:

My First Cover

My Second Cover

My Third Cover

My Fourth Cover

The first version of the girl from Long Guyland by Lara Reznik

The second version of the girl from Long Guyland

The M&M Boys by Lara Reznik

Hijacked Hitman by Ron Robertson

Note: The original cover for the eBook edition of Don’t Tell Me was designed by a friend of the author’s daughter. I had to make some changes to it and incorporate the new version into a wraparound cover for the paperback edition. Both front and back covers are shown below.

Don’t Tell Me by Ray Fuentez

Lip Hooked by Chris Gardner (RIP)

Note: The original cover for the eBook edition of Raptor was designed by Carol Terry. The author provided me with a JPG version, which I used to rebuild the front cover in Photoshop and design the wraparound cover for the paperback edition. Both front and back covers are shown below.

Raptor by B.A. Bostick

Compromise with Sin by Leanna Englert

Special Note: I’d love to claim cover-design credit for Leanna’s novel, but the kudos go to Kristin Bryant of 99designs. My contribution involved resizing the original paperback cover to accommodate the spine width required by the final page count, adding the jacket blurb on the back cover (with a really nice drop cap embellishment), including an excerpt from a Readers’ Choice Five-Star review, and inserting an author photo. Both front and back covers are shown below.

Standby for publication of the following novels with my cover and interior designs:

  • Bagels and Salsa by Lara Reznik
  • Geronimo’s Bones by Darrell Bryant
  • A Promise of Water by Sharon Scarborough

None of the above excuses my prolonged absence from this website. It only provides one of the reasons, and thanks to a comment by a visitor named Mamie, I hope to redirect my attention to an effort too long ignored.


Posted in Designing | 4 Comments

America’s Most Honored WWII Flight

If the title of this post is black or it displays the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured-image header.

My friend and fellow pilot “Mugs” Morgan frequently forwards emails that address topics of interest to our mutual pasts as military aviators and combat veterans. This one is worth passing on in the form of a post in the “Visitor Stories” Logbook, which I’ve modified from its original purpose to include stories written by others who have never visited my website and never will. I especially like doing this to honor those of the greatest generation who stood up to be counted as warriors in the battle against the abomination of the Axis Powers. This one more than qualifies.


Doesn’t look like much, does it? But, depending upon your definition, this photograph, a team effort by 9 men, is the most honored picture in U. S. History. If you want to find out about it, read on. It’s an interesting tale about how people sometimes rise beyond all expectations. It takes place in the early days of World War II, in the South Pacific, and if you’re a World War II history buff, you may already know about it. [I am, and I didn’t.]


First, let’s get this out of the way. Jay Zeamer wasn’t a photographer by trade. He was mostly a wanna-be pilot. He looked good on paper, having graduated with a degree in civil engineering from MIT, joining the Army Air Corps, and receiving his wings in March, 1941. He was a B-26 bomber co-pilot when World War II started.

His classmates all rapidly became lead pilots and squadron leaders, but not Jay. He couldn’t pass the pilot check tests despite trying numerous times. He was a good pilot, but just couldn’t seem to land the B-26. Landing, from what I’ve read, was considered one of the more important qualifications for a pilot. Stuck as a co-pilot while his classmates and then those from the classes behind him were promoted, he got bored and lost all motivation.

Things came to a head when co-pilot Zeamer fell asleep while his plane was in flight. Not just in flight, but in flight through heavy anti-aircraft fire during a bombing run. He only woke when the pilot beat him on the chest because he needed help.

His squadron commander had him transferred to a B-17 squadron in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea where he was allowed to fly as a fill-in navigator and occasionally as a co-pilot. He was well liked and popular — on the ground. But no one wanted to fly with him.

Zeamer finally managed to get into the pilot’s seat by volunteering for a photo reconnaissance mission when the scheduled pilot became ill. The mission, an extremely dangerous one over the Japanese stronghold at Rabual, won Zeamer a Silver Star – despite the fact that he still hadn’t qualified to pilot a B-17.


Zeamer become the Operations Officer (a ground position) at the 43rd Air Group. Despite his lack of qualification, he still managed to fly as a B-17 fill-in pilot fairly often. He had discovered and found that he loved to fly B-17s on photo reconnaissance missions, and he wanted to do it full-time. There were only three things standing in his way: he didn’t have a crew, he didn’t have an airplane, and oh, yeah, he still wasn’t a qualified pilot.

He solved the first problem by gravitating to every misfit and ne’er-do-well in the 43rd Air Group. As another pilot, Walt Krell, recalled, “He recruited a crew of renegades and screw offs. They were the worst — men nobody else wanted. But they gravitated toward one another and made a hell of a team.”

The plane came later. An old, beat-up B-17, serial number 41-2666, that had seen better days was flown into their field to be scavenged for spare parts. Captain Zeamer had other ideas. He and his crew decided to rebuild the plane in their spare time since they weren’t going to get to fly any other way. Exactly how they managed to accomplish their task is the subject of some debate. Remember, there were so few spare parts available that their ‘plane’ was actually brought in originally to be a parts donor.

But rebuild it they did. Once it was in flying shape the base commander congratulated them and said he’d find a new crew to fly it. Not surprisingly, Zeamer and his crew took exception to this idea, and according to Walt Krell the crew slept in their airplane, having loudly announced that the 50 caliber machine guns were kept loaded in case anyone came around to ‘borrow’ it. There was a severe shortage of planes, so the base commander ignored the mutiny and let the crew fly – but generally expected them to take on missions that no one else wanted.

The misfit crew thrived on it. They hung around the base operations center, volunteering for every mission no one else wanted. That earned them the nickname The Eager Beavers, and their patched up B-17 was called Old 666.

Most HonoredFlight2Once they started flying their plane on difficult photo reconnaissance missions, they made some modifications. Even among the men of a combat air station, the Eager Beavers became known as gun nuts. They replaced all of the light 30 caliber machine guns in the plane with heavier 50 caliber weapons. Then the 50 caliber machine guns were replaced with double 50 caliber guns. Zeamer had another pair of machine guns mounted to the front of the plane so he could remotely fire them like a fighter pilot. And the crew kept extra machine guns stored in the plane, just in case one of their other guns jammed or malfunctioned.

As odd as all this sounds, the South Pacific theatre in the early days of World War II was a chaotic area scattered over thousands of miles with very little equipment. Having a plane with an apparently nutty crew who volunteered for every awful mission not surprisingly made the commanding officers look the other way.


In June, 1943, the U. S. had secured Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon Islands. They knew the Japanese had a huge base at Rabual, but were certain there were other airfields being built in the Northern Solomon Islands. They asked for a volunteer crew to take photographs of Bougainville Island to plan for an eventual invasion, and of Buka airfield on the north side of the island to assess for increased activity there. It was considered a near-suicide mission — flying hundreds of miles over enemy airspace in a single, slow bomber. Not to mention photo reconnaissance meant staying in level flight and taking no evasive action even if they were attacked.

MostHonoredFlight3Credit: World Factbook

The only crew that volunteered, of course, was Jay Zeamer and the Eager Beavers. One of the crew, bombardier Joseph Sarnovski, had absolutely no reason to volunteer. He’d already been in combat for 18 months and was scheduled to go home in 3 days. Being a photo mission, there was no need for a bombardier. But if his friends were going, he wanted to go, and one of the bombardier’s battle stations was to man the forward machine guns. They might need him, so he went.

They suspected the airstrip at Buka had been expanded and reinforced, but weren’t sure until they got close. As soon as the airfield came in sight, they saw numerous fighters taking off and heading their way. The logical thing to do would have been to turn right and head for home. They would be able to tell the intelligence officers about the increased number of planes at Buka even if they didn’t get photos.

But Zeamer and photographer William Kendrick knew that photos would be invaluable for subsequent planes attacking the base, and for Marines who were planning to invade the island later. Zeamer held the plane level (tilting the wings even one degree at that altitude could put the photograph half a mile off target) and Kendrick took his photos, which gave plenty of time for over 20 enemy fighters to get up to the altitude Old 666 was flying at.

The fighter group, commanded by Chief Petty Officer Yoshio Ooki, was experienced and professional. They carefully set up their attack, forming a semi-circle all around the B-17 and then attacking from all directions at once. Ooki didn’t know about the extra weapons the Eager Beavers had mounted to their plane, but it wouldn’t matter if he had; there was no way for a single B-17 to survive those odds.

During the first fighter pass the plane was hit by hundreds of machine gun bullets and cannon shells. Five crewman of the B-17 were wounded and the plane badly damaged. All of the wounded men stayed at their stations and were still firing when the fighters came in for a second pass, which caused just as much damage as the first pass. Hydraulic cables were cut, holes the size of footballs appeared in the wings, and the front plexiglass canopy of the plane was shattered.

Zeamer was wounded during the second fighter pass, but kept the plane flying level and took no evasive action until Kendrick called over the intercom that the photography was completed. Only then did he begin to move the plane from side-to-side allowing his gunners better shots, just as the fighters came in for a third wave of attacks. The third pass blew out the oxygen system of the plane, which was flying at 28,000 feet. Despite the obvious structural damage Zeamer put the plane in an emergency dive to get down to a level where there was enough oxygen for the men to survive.

During the dive, a 20mm cannon shell exploded in the navigator’s compartment. Sarnoski, who was already wounded, was blown out of his compartment and beneath the cockpit. Another crewman reached him and saw there was a huge wound in his side. Despite his obviously mortal wound, Sarnoski said, “Don’t worry about me, I’m all right” and crawled back to his gun which was now exposed to 300 mile an hour winds since the plexiglass front of the plane was now gone. He shot down one more fighter before he died a minute or two later.

The battle continued for over 40 minutes. The Eager Beavers shot down several fighters and heavily damaged several others. The B-17 was so heavily damaged, however, that they didn’t expect to make the several hundred miles long flight back home. Sarnoski had already died from his wounds. Zeamer had continued piloting the plane despite multiple wounds. Five other men were seriously wounded.

Flight Officer Ooki’s squadron returned to Buka out of ammunition and fuel. They understandably reported the B-17 was destroyed and about to crash in the ocean when they last saw it.

The B-17 didn’t quite crash, though. Zeamer had lost consciousness from loss of blood, but regained it when he was removed from the pilot seat and lay on the floor of the plane. The copilot, Lt. Britton, was the most qualified to care for the wounded and was needed in the back of the plane. One of the gunners, Sergeant Able, had liked to sit in the cockpit behind the pilots and watch them fly. That made him the most qualified of the crewman, so he flew the plane with Zeamer advising him from the floor while Britton cared for the wounded.

The plane made it back to base. (Britton did return to the cockpit for the landing.) After the landing, the medical triage team had Zeamer removed from the plane last, because they considered his wounds mortal. Amazingly, the one thing on the plane not damaged were the cameras and the photos in them were considered invaluable in planning the invasion of Bougainville.


All of the wounded men recovered, although it was a close thing for Captain Zeamer. In fact, a death notification was sent to his parents somewhat prematurely. He spent the next year in hospitals recovering from his wounds, but lived a long and happy life, passing away at age 88.

Both Zeamer and Sarnovski were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the mission, the only time in World War II that two men from one plane ever received America’s highest medal for valor in combat. The other members of the crew were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor as an award for bravery.

So, somewhat surprisingly, the most decorated combat flight in U. S. history didn’t take place in a major battle. It was a photo reconnaissance: The flight of ‘Old 666’ in June of 1943.

“Competition is a by-product of productive work, not its goal. A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” — Ayn Rand

“There are men running the government who shouldn’t be playing with matches.” — Will Rogers

“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” — unknown

Posted in Visitor Stories | 2 Comments

The Novel Lip Hooked — Endgame

If the title of this post is black or you are viewing the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured-image header and continue reading.

This post is the first in a series devoted to documenting my personal experience with a project begun in August, 2014 and nearing the endgame in mid-October, 2015.

I’ve elected to introduce the series with what might be described as the Epilogue for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that to tell the whole story now would require more time than I have at the moment, and even if I did, it might be too soon in terms of obtaining some distance and perspective on the months of effort required to reach this point.

On November 6, 2015, which would be Chris Gardner’s 70th birthday had he not lost a long and courageous battle with cancer in the early morning hours of April 24, 2015, a book launch event is scheduled in Florida for his novel Lip Hooked.

I am truly honored to have participated in the extraordinary efforts of a number of people to place a copy of Chris’s novel in his hands the week before he passed, and soon to finally publish it as an eBook and paperback.

If you’d like to get a preview of this remarkable action/adventure debut novel, stop by Booth #506 at the Texas Book Festival, where my friend, fellow writer, and small publisher Lara Reznik will be more than happy to take your pre-order.


For this introduction I offer the following screenshots of the 3-D presentation of the Lip Hooked paperback cover:

LipHooked-Front LipHooked-Front-Spine LipHooked-Rear-SpineLipHooked-Rear

Posted in Single Ship | 2 Comments

Pilot Error in Fact and Fiction — The Presentation in Brief

If the title of this post is black, or you are viewing the fighter pilot header, click on the title to view the featured image header and continue reading.

Slide04As documented in previous posts in the Pilot Error “logbook,” I’ve given the presentation titled, “Pilot Error in Fact and Fiction” to a variety of groups since the first invitation to be a guest speaker for the UT LAMP (Leaning Activities for Mature People) Lecture and Seminar Program as a part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the Thompson Conference Center on the UT-Austin campus.

Other speaking venues have included:

  • Lakeway, TX Men’s Breakfast Club
  • Sun City, TX Aviation Group
  • Querencia at Barton Creek–Austin Retirement Center Lecture Series
  • San Antonio, TX General Aviation Pilots Association
  • Fredericksburg, TX Ex-Military Flyers Club
  • Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 187, Georgetown, TX
  • Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1268, Sonoma, CA
  • AeroClub of Buffalo, NY


Although air travel is by far the safest mode of transportation over long distances, pilot error is the most common cause or contributing factor in air crashes. Tosh covers in detail the critical links in the chain of events relating to four high-profile aviation accidents that define the all-too-common role of human performance in determining the final outcomes. His presentation will focus primarily on the facts of pilot error and finish with a short description of how he has used his personal experience and interest in writing to author a series of mystery novels in which pilot error serves as a smokescreen for airborne murder.


Lt. Col. McIntosh entered the United States Air Force in 1964 and served on active duty as a pilot for twenty years, five months, four days, twelve hours, and thirty-seven seconds, but who’s counting? He never had a desk job that didn’t include active flying, all of which after pilot training was in fighters, and of that, the majority in the F-4 Phantom, including two combat tours in a hot war and the rest in constant readiness if a cold war decided to heat up.

Tosh retired from active duty in 1985 not yet ready to turn in his g-suit. Every day since he has missed the unique combination of service to country and the bond of commitment to a team effort in which each fighter pilot must constantly perform to the best of his ability with no exceptions. Fail your wingman or leader and an already dangerous profession turns deadly.

After a series of false-start second careers in Austin, Texas as a flight instructor, landscaper, and financial planner, he flew airliners for ten years before monumental boredom finally drove him away and he began flying corporate jets. His professional flying landed for the last time in 2007.

Tosh is also a writer. Although he’s been putting pen to paper for much less time than he’s been a flyer, these two dominating interests in his life dovetail seamlessly into a synergistic union. His goal is to share with readers his deeply ingrained love of aviation.

Tosh published his debut novel Pilot Error in September, 2011, and the second-in-series novel Red Line in July, 2014. He’s currently writing the third novel in the series, titled Test Flight.

In non-fiction, Book One of Words on my Wings, Tales From the Cockpit, and Book One of Wings on my Words, Tales From the Writer’s Desk, cover his fledgling experiences as a pilot and writer. Subsequent books in each series will continue his ongoing journeys in aviation and wordsmithing.


With the exception of a short detour in the Air Defense Command flying the F-102 Delta Dart and the F-101 Voodoo, Tosh was privileged to call the F-4 Phantom II cockpit his office for most of his Air Force career, which included:

  • two combat tours in Vietnam
  • fourteen years as an F-4 instructor pilot
  • two assignments to USAF F-4 Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada, where he specialized in terminal-guided weapons like the Maverick missile and the Pave Spike Laser Target Designator System
  • a tour as the operations officer of the 414th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis
  • serving as the lead instructor in the team from the Weapons School that introduced the Pave Spike system to the PACAF theater to prepare F-4 squadrons for combat readiness in the delivery of laser-guided bombs
  • a tour at Kadena AB, Okinawa, as Chief of the 18th TFW Weapons and Tactics Office, where he was responsible for the design, implementation, and conduct of the academic and flying training to bring that unit up to operational-ready status in the Pave Spike system
  • a temporary duty assignment from Kadena to Kunsan AB, Korea as the leader of a team conducting Pave Spike instructor training
  • a final assignment as the active duty advisor to the 924th Tactical Fighter Group and the 704th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, flying the F-4 Phantom

After leaving the Air Force, he flew DC-9s for ten years with an airline, and spent another decade flying corporate and private business jets.

Tosh’s professional flying career ended in February, 2007 when his employer sold a really nice Citation III business jet and put him on the street with a “Will Fly For Food” sign at a time when flying jobs were few and far between.

He currently enjoys sport aviation in experimental amateur-built aircraft.


Posted in Pilot Error | 2 Comments

Gorilla in the Room (or, The Pilot Error Series Character Arc)

If the title of this post is black, and/or you see the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured image for this post.

silverback_gorilla_for_postimage credit:

In case you were wondering, this is a post about writing. To discover the significance of the image, please read on.

John Truby’s Anatomy of Story stresses the importance of defining the hero in terms of a process that begins at the end of a story with what he calls the “self-revelation,” in which the hero “. . . strips away the facade he has lived behind and sees himself honestly for the first time. It is what he learns, what he gains, what allows him to live a better life in the future.” That lesson is the lighthouse in the fog toward which every decision in structuring the novel must be directed.

In a stand-alone novel that is not part of a series, this revelation has no life beyond the last page. The character arc is completely contained within one story.

But in a series involving the same hero, the author can’t very well recycle the same revelation without regressing the character to a previous state at the start of each novel and show another set of circumstances in which the hero learns the same life lesson again.

This limitation as reflected in a hero who doesn’t change from one novel to the next is one of the primary reasons many readers don’t care for genre fiction like mysteries and thrillers. And at the opposite end of the scale, it’s exactly the reason fans of genre fiction love it. They want to see the same hero doing his thing in different circumstances, facing new challenges, but always with the heroic nature they’ve grown to appreciate. It’s the stability of predictive behavior that keeps them coming back.

Early in the process of conceptualizing this series, I decided to create a hero who didn’t fit the mold typical of genre mystery/thrillers. As outlining the third novel in the series gets underway, however, I’m uncertain as to the viability of that approach, and the purpose of this document is to brainstorm the possibility of creating a continuing character arc that meets my original objective for the hero, and to answer the question of whether I think this objective is sustainable or needs to be abandoned prior to beginning the third novel or later in the series.

For Pilot Error, I created the character of Nick Phillips in the Truby tradition after the fact. I had spent days outlining the story based on what I considered to be a strong knowledge base regarding the structure of modern fiction, and wrote the first draft in about a month. During the revision process, I attended a Truby workshop that I’ve since recognized as crucial to creating a story I think works on many more levels than it would have without the application of Truby’s methods.

To accomplish this, I backfilled Truby’s method with the novel I’d already written. The process identified no less than 10 specific flaws I subsequently addressed in later drafts. Here’s a narrative summary of what the core seven steps Truby recommends meant to the characterization of Nick Phillips.

Nick’s pilot-father died in a plane crash determined to be the result of pilot error when Nick was about seven years old. Initially, he refused to accept that his hero made the mistake that killed him. But as time passed, Nick began to question his reluctance, and this internal conflict became manifested in a dichotomy:

I don’t believe Dad committed pilot error, but the legacy of abandonment I grew up with based on that official conclusion is so bitter that I’m going to dedicate my professional life as an aviation accident investigator to two objectives: 1) Resist the tendency of the NTSB to blame the pilot, especially when he’s dead, and 2) Dedicate my efforts to enhancing flight safety as best I can and prevent any pilot-father from leaving his son alone in this world without a dad.

As the novel opens, Nick is still haunted by this “ghost from his past,” and it’s a weakness that makes his life less than it can be as reflected in two needs.

His psychological need is defined as something that hurts only himself, he’s aware of it, and for whatever reason or reasons he refuses to deal with it: To get over the death of his father by accepting what he can’t prove isn’t true and forgiving his hero for making a mistake in the airplane.

His moral need does hurt others, but Nick isn’t aware of it: He thinks that as a husband and father first and an accident investigator second, he gives his family the best part of himself. But the reality is just the opposite, and his family has had to accept that his professional dedication takes precedence over them.

Into this status quo (ordinary world) at the beginning of the novel arrives an inciting event that triggers in Nick a legendary tenacity for uncovering the truth behind air crashes. And it’s this reputation for digging deep that motivates his boss to remove Nick from a team that will investigate the death of a controversial political figure who has publicly stated he will not go down alone, a less-than-veiled threat directed at the occupant of the Oval Office.

The story puts Nick in direct conflict with a number of opponents, the most dangerous of which is a stone-cold special ops assassin. I’d planned a series, so Nick wins the physical battle at the end, but the underlying, core lesson he learns is far more important from the perspective of his character in the series.

His career in the NTSB is over. Initially, before the Truby workshop, I wrote the ending to show Nick arriving home with a new goal at the forefront, that of trying his best to make up for lost time with his family. Maybe it should have been obvious, but I failed to recognize that this ending falls short as being an effective self-revelation, because the absence of choice doesn’t teach Nick anything.

So I revised it to show Nick being offered the opportunity to continue with the NTSB. His initial reaction is unqualified acceptance of his old position and the potential for advancement to the top slot in the Aviation Division, immediately followed by the critical self-revelation that combines both his psychological and moral needs at the beginning of the novel.

Newfound dedication to family comes first, and Nick has finally forgiven his father with the commitment to reconnect with his own son as best he can.

Red Line begins about a year later in story time, and what seems like an eternity in real time. The reason? I had the Truby model firmly in hand when I outlined the structure, and in retrospect the effort gave me a false starting position epitomized by, “The second novel should be easier.”

Without trying to detail all the reasons, I’ll concentrate on a core issue born within the initial seed of an idea that spawned the series: Can I develop a character who starts out as an official aviation accident investigator, but as a result of events in the first novel ends up as a private crash investigator who solves a series of cases involving airborne murder?

Essential factoid: NTSB employees are prohibited from investigating criminal wrongdoing. If they find anything to suggest sabotage, they must inform the FBI, who assumes lead status and the NTSB works for them.

This real-world limitation played a key role in Pilot Error. Nick’s dedication to uncovering the truth, suspicion that a cover-up was in the works, and belief that the FBI could be recruited into toeing the party line as directed from the Oval Office, compelled him to adopt a rogue, private agenda in which he initiated a criminal investigation under the guise of doing his official job as an NTSB employee.

Truby’s method emphasizes the crucial role of what he calls “immoral acts” committed by villains and heroes during the course of a story. Nick is responsible for more than a few in Pilot Error, but I think readers generally forgive him because his objective is justice for those whose lives were taken as a result of unbridled power and the corruption that always follows in its wake.

At the beginning of Red Line, Nick has no intention of investigating anything. My initial task was to accomplish the Truby analysis of the story, which I did with less than adequate thought because I suffered under the illusion of knowing how to do it well enough to avoid the pitfalls of not doing it at all. Again, those issues aren’t the specific topic of this analysis, but after solving them and finishing the novel, I’m once again faced with the task of transitioning to the next story, and I can’t afford the time to stumble around in the dark.

That means dealing with a sticky issue that relates directly to character arc and how to incorporate what might be termed character-arc throughput.

As the third novel Test Flight begins, Nick has conducted two aviation-crash murder investigations within the past two years. The first was official-cum-unofficial (rogue and illegal), the second totally unofficial, but with some stretching of legal boundaries as is typical of private investigators in fiction (and in reality as well?).

The core dilemma going forward for Nick (and his alter-ego creator) began in the latter half of Pilot Error and continued throughout Red Line. In the absence of evidence that provides the NTSB with justification to call in the FBI, once the on-scene investigation is closed, it can never be reopened to prove criminal wrongdoing. The most significant obstacle, with no way to overcome it, is the total breakdown of the chain of evidence once the NTSB releases control of the wreckage to the insurance company or the registered owner of the aircraft.

Enter the 500-pound gorilla in the room: Nick proves to himself that sabotage led to a fatal airplane crash, and yet he can’t seek legal redress for the victims. Is he going to walk away from that? I don’t know about your version of Nick Phillips, but mine won’t accept a figurative, much less literal, thumbing of a killer’s nose in his face.

Enter the 1000-pound gorilla in the room: Nick takes the law into his own hands. Will readers accept that?

One solution might be available in the world of the Pilot Error series, and it begins with the classic question at the heart of all fiction: What if Nick Phillips becomes a Special Investigator, whose official badge-and-gun charter is to provide liaison between the NTSB and the FBI?

Or is that too easy?

And so, as I begin structuring the third novel in the series, there sits a virtual adult male Silverback Mountain Gorilla smack dab in the middle of my desk, holding a sign that says:

Where will Nick’s character arc take him next?

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

Ah, yes. Another birthday . . .

If you see the fighter-pilot header and/or the title of this post is black, click on the title to view the featured image for this post.

I can’t remember the last time I got excited about a birthday. Probably sometime during my pre-teen years. Don’t know why, except to guess that maybe I didn’t have enough of them behind me to think much about how many I had remaining. But now, with the sunset of life visible on the horizon, that’s changed to the point of my preferring that birthdays pass by unnoticed.

Which is not to say I don’t appreciate the greetings received yesterday, August 24, 2014, in acknowledgment of my reaching the age of 72. Or the fact that the Novel In Progress Group of Austin surprised me at our Sunday meeting with cake and a more than passable rendition of “Happy Birthday to You.”

One member of the group brought a gift. Chad Wall handed me a bottle of wine in one of those special bags, but the card wasn’t made out. I asked him about it, and his reply was something to the effect of, “I wanted you to be able to give it to someone else if it’s not a wine you like.” Hardly a chance of that, however. He picked it because the protagonist in the Pilot Error series likes Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough area of New Zealand. I mean, how else would Nick Phillips acquire a taste for any particular wine except through me?

Then last evening, my wife Ann and I had dinner with two of our favorite people, Dr. Sue Ellen Young and her husband, Dr. Guy Knolle. They gifted me with a bottle of Pinot Noir to go with Ann’s gift of another New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I made out like a bandit in the wine department. Ann also bought me a new Sonicare toothbrush. You probably can’t even begin to imagine the looks I got from nearby diners when I unwrapped it at the table.

“Yew! I hope he doesn’t use it after dinner.”

Sue designed a custom birthday card that I have to share. I’ve inserted images below of the front, inside top and bottom, and the back. You can click on any image for a larger view and return to this page with your browser’s back button.

72BdayFront 72BdayInsideUpper 72BdayInsideLower 72BdayBack


Posted in Single Ship | 2 Comments

Watch Out, Random House

If the title of this post is black and/or you see the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured image header and continue reading.

Among the indie writers I know, it’s generally accepted that having an imprint offers advantages. Defining those advantages, however, is a little more problematic.

The most obvious question is whether an imprint endows a book with any degree of legitimacy. And while that issue can easily rush into the oft-discussed differences between indie and legacy (or traditional) publishing, in spite of this post’s title, my intention is to compare the different approaches of three indie writers.

One of them has formed Enchanted Indie Press, and she is running it like a business, strangely enough, offering a multitude of services and helping clients publish books. What a unique concept.

EIP_Logo_806x582 copy_edited-1Then there’s another writer who appears to take the concept a little less seriously, but I’ll let you be the judge of Wunderfool Press. It doesn’t have a website, per se, but the fool responsible for it lives here.

WFPressLogo v5.fs copy_edited-1And then there’s me, or I, neither of which sound right. From the first day of blogging in preparation for publishing Pilot Error, I have combined the two heart-and-soul elements (other than love of family) that define me. So when coming up with an imprint, the following was very likely preordained:



Posted in Blogbook | Leave a comment

Red Line is Live

If the title of this post is black and/or you see the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured image header and continue reading.

In September, 2011, I had just published Pilot Error and wanted to get started on the next book in the series. Fresh from all of the previous effort, both in writing Pilot Error and learning everything necessary to produce the book, I approached the task with a level of confidence that in retrospect should have forewarned me of the surprises lying in ambush.

I’m a writer-group writer. Over the years of struggling to create a story that works, the benefits of being critiqued during the process have proven to be essential, especially in relation to a small group of four writers that meets weekly in my living room on Tuesday afternoons. I had barely begun the first draft of Red Line when I began receiving comments about one of the characters that caused me to re-evaluate her role in the story.

Leaving the details for another post, suffice it to say that the two female characters swapped roles in terms of who was the antagonist to Nick Phillips’ protagonist. As soon as that began to happen, I had a choice to make.

Should I go back to the beginning of the novel and revise the manuscript to incorporate the new characterization, or note the changes I’ll need to make in the second draft and keep writing? Over the years, I’ve learned that the first option can easily create what’s known as the “circular revision syndrome.” My efforts get stalled in the early portion of the novel and progress is painfully slow to non-existent. So I chose to finish the first draft before addressing the changes I knew would be required.

My confidence when writing the second draft also turned out to be misplaced. I thought I was completely redefining the character roles, when in reality they were a combination of the old and the new. Writers talk about the character arc, or how a character changes through the course of the novel, but the reshaping has to be organic to the story and not due to what we refer to as “editing artifacts.” Remnants of the old character were not allowing the new one to be fully realized.

The third draft was better, but still didn’t do justice to the new characterization. I simply didn’t recognize all the places in the story that reflected the old and needed to be updated. But to the everlasting credit of my fellow writers who stuck with me through this ordeal, we got ‘er dun.

One of the major changes in indie publishing a paperback with CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand (POD) service, is a feature called the Digital Proofer.

When I published Pilot Error in late 2011, the procedure was:

  • Upload the cover and interior files and submit for review
  • When notified that the review had been completed, order a proof copy
  • Wait 1-2 weeks for it to arrive
  • Proofread it carefully and make any necessary changes
  • Upload the revised interior and/or cover and repeat the process

But the Digital Proofer now provides authors with the opportunity to shorten the process considerably. Once notified that the review process is complete, during which CreateSpace quality controls the cover and interior files according to a set of pre-publication criteria, authors can use this online tool to proof the PDF file that will be used to print the book, and view a 3-D image of the wraparound cover. This is a marvelous feature.

An eBook cover is like looking at the front cover of a print book, and they are relatively simple as compared to one with a spine and back cover. Of particular importance is the junction of the spine with the front and back, because depending on cover design, you want to avoid “hard” lines there, especially with POD books.

The reason for this is the possibility that during the printing process, a 1/8″ shift in cover positioning can occur. A hard demarcation line exactly on the junctions between the spine  and the front and back covers is effectively hidden. But shifting it to either side can be unsightly, and authors need to pay attention to how it appears on the final product. Prior to the Digital Proofer, the only way to check that was to get a proof copy in your hand.

I’ve inserted five screenshots of the 3-D proofing tool provided by Amazon to illustrate how effective it is for checking the final appearance of the cover. On my first review of the Red Line cover, I found the text on the spine shifted slightly toward the back and was able to adjust it in Photoshop. If you look closely, you can see it in the image of the spine. It’s not much, but with the Digital Proofer, I easily eliminated it before printing any copies.






Posted in Red Line | Leave a comment

Whassup with Red Line?

If the title of this post is black and/or you see the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured image header and continue reading.

Yesterday I received a comment from Cody McCloud on the post “Red Line – The Backstory” asking when the novel would be published.

One year after my predicted publication date, it’s hard to believe how the demands of real life outside the fictional world can interfere with the best of intentions. And although it may seem ridiculous to anyone who hasn’t tried writing a novel, characters and their stories do have minds of their own.

Since writing the previous post, I’ve completed two drafts of Red Line and am currently working on the third, and hopefully, the last. The experience has been a strange combination of headlong advancement and sudden screeching halts when the plot line and/or character development arrive at a crossroads.

The first draft included numerous decision points, that once made in combination defined the objectives for the second draft. Upon completion, I thought the story worked well until I submitted it to a small critique group of dedicated writers that meets at my home on a regular basis. Their overall assessment convinced me that I hadn’t yet achieved the true potential for Red Line, and recordings of six meetings provided a road map for the next revision.

I may have learned my lesson about predicting a publication date, and to avoid making that mistake again, suffice it to say that I hope you won’t lose patience with me as I strive to complete a story that does justice to my vision for the series and offers an entertaining read.

A special thank you to Cody McCloud, whose comment has served as a reminder that the story awaits . . .

Posted in Red Line | Leave a comment

The Hero Room

If the title of this post is black and/or you see the fighter-pilot header, click on the title to view the featured-image header and continue reading.

Other professions may dispute the claim that fighter pilots coined the term “Hero Room,” but they’d be wasting their time.

The standard scenario is that a married fighter pilot (or more specifically, a married ex-fighter pilot) wants to put all of his memorabilia in the living room. To show it off. To hear the oohs and ahs from adoring fans. To bask in that glory forever.

But his wife won’t have it, so he has to make do with a room out of sight of anyone but family. There he displays his squadron plaques and coffee cups, certificates, awards and decorations, favorite photos of those personal heydays, and in my case, a Christmas gift from a fellow ex-fighter pilot and his wife.

It sits on the wall behind my writing desk, so I don’t often notice it. But this morning I did, and on a whim I decided to snap a picture of it for the website in recognition of the description Aviator and Writer.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Posted in Single Ship | Leave a comment