Compression

I’ve been working on a history of the steam tugs Baltimore for several years now. It’s been rough sledding in many ways. I’m still working at it, but presently I’ve taken the book manuscript apart, and I’m trying to compress the book into an article to submit to a historical journal. Whether that will work remains to be seen. Compression is a good way to discover one’s problems in a work, however. I’ve come to recognize the book manuscript should be reorganized. If that improves the end result, then it is worthwhile.

Steam Tug Baltimore

I’m sorry to say that I feel pressed to get the article, and book published because the steam tug Baltimore is in such sorry shape that her days are numbered. She will never sail or steam again; she lacks Coast Guard certification, and isn’t likely to receive that again. The Baltimore could perhaps be lifted out of the water and moved to land, if she had the right kind of experts to do that for her, but even that seems to be beyond the Baltimore Museum of Industry to organize and carry out. The museum has good volunteers, but it takes money for materials, and to hire experts to get things done. The volunteers can’t do it all out of their own pockets.

I’d like to at least publish my history of the Baltimore, and her predecessor before she finally sinks into the mud at her dock.

 

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Looking for a Publisher for the History of the Steam Tugboat Baltimore

My co-author, Bob Pratt, and I were working with Paula Esley, the Publisher/Editor of a small history publishing company called History4All Publishing, in Fairfax, VA.  The project is an ambitious history of the steam tugboats named Baltimore.

 

Steam Tug Baltimore

The tugs were formerly owned by the city of Baltimore to oversee Baltimore Harbor. The first Baltimore was built in 1857 by Murray & Hazlehurst, at their Vulcan Works in Baltimore Harbor. The second of the steam tugs named Baltimore was built in 1906 at Skinner Shipbuilding on the south side of the harbor, not far from where the first boat was built. Today, the 1906 Baltimore is owned by the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and is a National Historic Landmark.

Baltimore and Constellation 031215

However, Ms. Esley has recently withdrawn from the project, after failing to publish the book in a timely manner.  I extend my apologies to all who believed, as I did, that the book would be published in time for the Baltimore Book Fair in mid-September 2017. We are all very disappointed.

Bob and I are currently looking for a new publisher for the project. All serious enquiries will be considered.  – David W. Wooddell

15 cent Tugboat coil single stamp

This US postage stamp drawn by Richard Schlecht was based on the Baltimore.

 

Trying to be Transparent

Those of my friends who have been reading the latest draft of my science fiction novel, The Invisibles, will know why this image is special. Hopefully, many others will know the enjoyment of reading my book sometime this year.

I’m just trying to be transparent.

Photo credit: J.M. Guayasamin et al., ZooKeys (2017) https://zookeys.pensoft.net/articles.php?id=12108

 

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Like Experiencing the War First-Hand

I’m posting another review of my history of a civil war regiment, Hoffman’s Army: The Thirty-First Virginia Infantry, CSA. This one from Henry Eason, journalist, novelist, and historian.

“Hoffman’s Army…like experiencing the war first-hand”

Henry M Eason Jr

A topic as enormous as the American War Between the States (or the Civil War, if your insist) is too great to fully absorb if you read, as I have, a number of the multi-volume sets that purport to explain the whole scope of the conflict. They are bewildering in their comprehensiveness. Perhaps one of the best ways to really understand the war is to have actually lived through it as a participant. As impossible as that sounds, it is almost possible to do in Wooddell’s extraordinary book Hoffman’s Army. Sometimes, you have to put the book down for a while, because it is so real, so genuine that you are anguished by what is happening right in front of you, as though you were marching along, engaged in battle, knowing the madness. Not since Bell Wiley’s Johnny Red and Billy Yank have I been so taken by a book about the war.

I also have the benefit of knowing the author and of having walked the ground of one battlefield with him on his family’s own property in West Virginia. He is a diligent and creative researcher able to make truth come alive. Hoffman’s Army should be required reading for history students and for anyone who really wants to know what it was like to be in the war that should never have been waged–had wiser heads prevailed to surmount the economic and slavery issues that existed among the contending parties.


Henry Eason was a colleague back in the 80’s, and a heck of a journalist. Before I met him, Henry was an investigative reporter on the staff of the Atlanta Constitution Journal. Later, he was a business editor and journalist for Nation’s Business magazine in Washington, DC (where I was photo editor for a couple of years.)

Here’s a link to Henry’s Into the Pacific Fog, a novel of suspense set in San Francisco during WWII. It’s a fun, and lively read, and very well researched.

Hey, Wait a Darn Minute!

alien forbiddenplanet saucer(A Still From The Forbidden Planet, 1956, from The Paris Review, Sept 13, 2016)

Hey, Wait a Darn Minute! You there, in the government. You’re screwing up the plot of my latest science fiction novel, the one I’m in process writing. What the hell do you think you are doing? You’re the Trump government. You guys can’t…

Back up. Breath, David, and seek your center. 

 Meditate. And try telling the story from the beginning.

 

There I was, well into writing my science fiction novel about alien first contact. I was turning it into an interstellar love story that didn’t involve an Independence Day type of war scenario.

arc028-ufo-hudson-j-sexy-saucer-people-those-960c3971500-pixels.jpg

My imaginative aliens are good aliens (for the most part), if a bit greedy, but some of them are good scientists.

The text was into the second round of beta reading, which is something you have to go through if you are writing a novel these days. You call on those friends with a sense of humor, and enough time to plow through your half-baked writing in an attempt to help you turn it into good writing. They must be people who care about good story telling, and want to help wanna-be writers by combing your novel text for mistakes, illogical assertions, and stoopid stuff.

But back to my science fiction novel text. Part of the plot centers on our Federal government not being prepared to deal with alien first contact. And imagining what would happen in the Trump administration if a friendly group of aliens arrived, and wanted to do business deals.

Of course, no one would be dumb enough to tell the President. Because he’d just want to deport them. Because the out-of-this-world aliens would not have any money to stay in Trump hotels, so what use would they be?

Then Bam! I see a headline in USA Today that says the White House is looking for an interplanetary protection officer.

NASA is hiring a Planetary Protection Officer

The pay is pretty good, over $100.000, if you need a job and qualify. You must have the ability to negotiate favorable trade relations with the critters from another planet. You must have a top, double-sekrit security classification, and know a lot about space. It must be someone who knows the hazards and bio-risks of sucking up to Congress, the White House, and the generals at the Pentagon. It must be someone not afraid, who will protect the country from alien cooties. Because, someone in government seems pretty sure the aliens will have alien cooties. And that just ruins the plot of my novel. (Not really, but hang in there with me, will you?)

Ellis Island arrivals irish-immigrants-ellis-island

I can envision an alien Ellis Island situation, with the arriving aliens brought into holding pens to fill out visa and immigration forms and answer questions. If you’ve ever entered the US accompanied by someone with a foreign passport, you’ll understand how it can go.

Ellis Island screening 72abfd18e6c4fd1c4d32de9505eb8d0f

“Sir, please state your name, and home address.”

“Zryxigantsa. Home world D95724.”

“Right. I don’t find that world on my National Geographic map. Must be fake. We’ll call you Pedro. You have no visa, and have attempted to enter the country illegally. Therefore, you have no rights, and will be interned interminably in Guantanamo.”

Gitmo prisoners(This photo is allegedly in the public domain, according to Wikimedia)

But the prison in Cuba will fill up quickly, so some will be put in those private, for profit, prisons down in Texas and other parts of the south. The ones where the human aliens are being warehoused so the private prisons can gouge the federal government for inflated prison prices. Then we’ll have a comingling problem of mixing human aliens with non-human aliens. Inevitably, some Congress critter from ‘Bama is sure to want an alien bathroom bill, to make sure those with or without human parts are not using the same place to…

It’s all in a day’s work for a speculative novelist, however. A word changed here, and a changed sentence there, and I’ll add that planetary protection officer to my book. Sure I will. And it will make the novel all that much better.

I just have to ask – who is going to say “no” to the Trumpster when he wants to grab one of the alien women by the crotch? Because, sure as donuts in the morning, the government is not going to grant out-of-this-world aliens any kind of rights under the Constitution. He’ll want to do the nasty with them. You just wait.

That job of interplanetary sheriff is going to take some big cajones.

 

(Is there an emoji for satire? Where’s my tongue in cheek typeface?)

  • David W. Wooddell

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Discovering New Folk Tales and New Writers

I don’t think any writer of any worth can do good work without reading. Books give us inspiration. More than that, they give us language, and at the heart of writing is the play of language, the joy of language, and of the language of stories.

Carefully choosing whom to read for content, style, or for effect is important. For instance, I enjoy reading adventure stories with mysteries in them, especially when I’m working on writing fiction. But I try to find tales that go beyond simple pot boilers or who done its. I read such well known authors as Jacquelyn Carey, Lois McMaster Bujold, Alan Furst, Jim Butcher, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Alan Furst, Guy Gavriel Kay Oliver Pötzsch, Jack McDevitt, Alastair Reynolds, James S. A. Corey.

I read those authors because they give more than just a potboiler of a story. Their characters live with me long after I’ve read the book. They make me think.

Recently I read a lovely book by A. M. Rycroft, The Joy Thief. I’ll confess that I’m one of this author’s beta readers, contributing bits of critique, suggesting ways to strengthen a bit of narrative here and there before the book is published. It’s a volunteer thing I do for a few writers. I don’t have time to beta read for just anyone, but I’m glad to do so for Rycroft. She’s a writer with a future. Her stories not only entertain me, but bring me into the minds of her characters. She also uses folk tales within her writing, especially in The Joy Thief in a way that makes me think she is inventing new folk tales.

If you enjoy sword and sorcery, fantasy with heroes of both gender, without a lot of sex, or four letter words, I highly recommend her work. Mycroft’s characters make you want to care about them, especially Aeryn and Theo in Into the Darkness, and in The Joy Thief .

 

Archival Fun

Steam Tug Baltimore
The wheel of the Steam Tugboat Baltimore, a National Historic Landmark

Progress continues here at the word farm as I write the profiles to be included in a the “Steam Tug Baltimore” book (not the exact title). Historic research can be a lot of fun, as well as a lot of intense work in archives and libraries, not to mention hours and hours in front of one’s computer.

Recently I had the pleasure of finding some very good material at the Maryland Historical Society library about two of the gentlemen engineers of Baltimore, James Murray and Henry R. Hazlehurst. They were partners in the firm Murray & Hazlehurst that built the steam tug “Baltimore” for the city of Baltimore in 1857. 

You never know what you might find while poking around in history. Henry R. Hazlehurst was a descendent of an important American family from Philadelphia and New Jersey. His ancestors backed and signed currency that supported the Continental Army during the American revolution. And they also paid for some of the first vessels for the Continental Navy, small as it was back then. How cool is that?

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Currency signed by Hazlehurst to support the Continental Army
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Robert Hazlehurst by Peale

Doing this type of archival research is slow, however, and may account for the slowness of my writing. I’ve put myself under pressure to finish the profiles, and all of the other editorial parts of the book in time for History4All Publishing to publish it this summer. It’s been a project I’ve been working on for the past five years. I want to exhibit and sell copies of the book at the Baltimore Book Festival in Sept 23, 2017. I’ll also be selling copies of my history of the 31st Virginia, “Hoffman’s Army.”

Life is what you make it. Make it a good one!