The Ins and Outs of Editing

A Nest of Hornets is with my editor, Ashlee Enz! Her efforts are critical to the novel’s success, but they are only one layer of editing. I have found the editing process to be a multi-phased operation.

When I write a first draft it tends to be in fits and starts. Occasionally I will get a good couple of uninterrupted hours to write, and when I do I try not to get hung up. If something isn’t quite right, I often just move on, planning to fix it “in editing.” Oftentimes I find myself tapping out a scene or patch of dialogue using the “notes” function on my phone, and then I email it to myself. Either way, this can result in the ROUGH DRAFT being VERY rough, so my first phase of editing is to go back through my manuscript on my computer to correct glaring typos and smooth out the flow.

Now I have DRAFT 1. It is still a little rough around the edges but a least is fairly coherent. I then try to take a break for a week or two. After the break, coming back fresh, the next step is to print out the manuscript and read it, pen in hand. I find reading a paper copy to be a very different experience from reading on a computer monitor; I tend to find more missing words and typos, but I also get a better feel for the narrative flow. I use pen and ink to mark issues and jot down corrections. If I am uncertain about something, I will often read it aloud; verbalizing reveals flaws that would otherwise remain hidden. This is also the stage at which scenes tend to get added or deleted, and paragraphs shuffled around. Once I am through with the printed work, I do the tedious work of going page by page in hard and soft copies, transferring edits from page to digits. I hate this part, but it is critical to success. By the time this is done, we are ready for the editor.

DRAFT 2 goes away to the editor. For a short time I clear my mind of the current book while the editor does her magic. When I get the edited copy back it is full of proposed revisions, which I go through one-by-one. With Times That Try Men’s Souls I think I accepted about 99.5% of Ashlee’s recommended changes: a good editor is priceless!

Now I have DRAFT 3. But we’re not done! There are three critical steps left, not necessarily done in this order:

  • Expert consultation. My son is in the target age group. I prefer him to read a draft to make sure I am on track. I the case of A Nest of Hornets there is also a bit of swordplay, and my son is a talented fencer, so I counted on him to make sure I got the technical and tactical bits right.
  • More expert consultation. My wife has been incredibly supportive of my writing, and I value her feedback. Her approval is critical.
  • One last read. I look through the manuscript one more time before identifying a FINAL DRAFT. This is the version that goes to Createspace or the publisher.

Once the publishing process begins, we can talk marketing. On the other hand, that next book in the series is so shiny…

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Update: A Nest of Hornets

A Nest of Hornets is moving right along!

The third novel in the Gideon Hawke series is set in New Jersey in the winter of 1777. The action includes several skirmishes from the “Forage War,” during which the Continental Army and militia forces harassed, and in some cases outright defeated, British efforts to collect food and forage from the New Jersey countryside.

This novel is a bit different from the two prior books (This Glorious Cause and Times That Try Men’s Souls) in a few ways:

  • It is more relational. We spend more time with Gideon and Ruth. The reader will find more about their characters, and the ways in which they complement each other.
  • It is a little darker. Times That Try Men’s Souls covered some bleak times in both the Revolution and in Gideon’s state of mind, but A Nest of Hornets explores themes of temptation, division, and betrayal.
  • It is historically less precise. Not that I didn’t try! Many of the actions described in Spanktown Marker smthe book are “historical footnotes;” for example, there are no historical parks dedicated to the actions at Quibbletown or Spanktown (good luck even finding those place names on a modern map). There was a bit more estimation, guesswork, and artistic license involved in developing those chapters.
  • You don’t know how it ends. Cause and Times were centered on well-known historical events. The main plot line of A Nest of Hornets is less clear cut, and the climax may come as a bit of a surprise.

Hopefully by now you are looking forward to reading it. The good news: that time is drawing nearer! I am done editing the First Draft; The Second Draft goes to the editor this week!

Then, as I wait patiently, I can focus on the yet to be named Gideon Hawke #4. I can’t tell you much about it, except to say that in a few weeks I hope to visit the Saratoga National Historical Park.

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Quill and Ink: Post Traumatic Stress in the American Revolution

This is a topic that is very important to me, but which can be very difficult to discuss.

As a career soldier I served on six operational deployments, including two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Each of those experiences left me forever changed; in some ways for the better, and in some ways, well, not. When I set out to write historical fiction set in the American Revolution I am not sure I realized how cathartic it would be for me. One thing is certain: after I dragged my protagonist, Gideon Hawke, through the wringer a few times I started to think, “This sixteen year-old is going to have a hard time dealing with all this.” Perhaps unconsciously this helped me to highlight the effects war has on its victims and participants.

For the record: the 1770s were a very different time, and the American Revolution was a very different war from what we experience today. There were a few factors which may have contributed to lessening the effects of what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) on Eighteenth Century soldiers. First of all, society was different. There was more of a sense of community; people were more likely to pass their time in each other’s company than alone. Without television, radio, the internet, or mobile devices, people were less likely to seek “alone time.” As Sebastian Junger points out in his recent book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, the isolation of late-Twentieth and early-Twenty-First Century life has contributed significantly to the impact of PTS in our society.

Secondly, death and injury were far more common. In modern America a person can easily go through life happily munching away on poultry, pork, and beef without ever seeing an animal slaughtered. Likewise, except in certain areas it is an anomaly to see a dead human body. Again, Colonial/Revolutionary America was different. Infant mortality was much higher, life was shorter, and more people lived off the fruits of their labors. Certainly the industrialized meat packing industry was non-existent, so people were more accustomed to seeing blood spilled. People in general were less sensitive to some forms of potential trauma.

Furthermore, many American Revolutionary War soldiers served short enlistments, meaning that they would be exposed to military life for only a short time and then return home. They might serve in the war again, or they might not. Some served long stints, but most did not; we now know all too well about the compounding effects of multiple, extended, repeated exposures to trauma. Many of my friends have, like me, served long stints in dangerous conditions, over and over again. Some Revolutionary War soldiers, like Gideon Hawke, did serve for extended periods, and paid the price.

TombRegardless of how different society may have been in the 1770s to 1780s, people were still people, and war was still war. The human body reacted to danger and near-death in essentially the same way. So, when people in the 1770s and 1780s were exposed to trauma, many exhibited symptoms of would today be labeled PTS: insomnia, nightmares, nervousness, hypersensitivity, gastrointestinal issues, substance abuse, hearing voices, suicide, and so on. There were other manifestations which are less common today. For example, soldiers who had killed enemy combatants in hand-to-hand combat sometimes reported seeing the “ghosts” of their vanquished foes. But many of the symptoms would be very familiar to a modern combat veteran. Whatever the symptoms, science had not yet come to terms with PTS, and had not made the link between, for example, a soldier’s honorable service and behavior that could be viewed as bizarre if not frightening. The closest contemporary science may have come was applying the term “nostalgia” to this condition; it implied a link to homesickness, and did nothing to help those suffering from PTS.

In the Gideon Hawke Series I have endeavored to show the effects of PTS in my characters. While he is often euphoric during combat, afterwards Gideon suffers from insomnia and nightmares; he is sometimes physically ill after an engagement; he is occasionally unable to control his emotions; he has contemplated suicide. His friend, Andrew Johnston, also suffers from insomnia, but in addition he sees the ghost of an Indian youth he stabbed to death many years prior. In my work in progress, her work in a military hospital is beginning to take a toll on Gideon’s love, Ruth Munroe. The war will continue to take a toll.

Believe it or not, it is hard for me to see these characters suffer from their invisible wounds (they do live in my head, after all). But in spite of any sympathetic reservations I might have, I feel obligated to see to it that they suffer, if only to honor the invisible wounds suffered by so many of my brothers and sisters in arms. Myself included.

To experience the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress through the eyes of Gideon Hawke, I suggest reading Times That Try Men’s Souls.

To learn more about the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress in modern combat veterans, or to get help for yourself or someone you love, I strongly recommend the non-profit organization Invisible Wound.

Quill and Ink: The Origins of Gideon Hawke

When I resolved to write a historical fiction novel set in the American Revolution, my first task was coming up with a protagonist. That was quite a challenge!

I did quite a bit of reading about the Revolution, and one of the things that struck me was the youth of many of the participants. It was not at all uncommon for boys as young as fourteen to be in the ranks. I wanted my novel to appeal to the young adult crowd, so what better way to do so than to make the protagonist a young man? So, I settled upon a character that was on the cusp of turning 16 when the first shots were fired on Lexington Common.

That led me to more research. I was fortunate to find that the Lexington Historical Society had compiled a great deal of material on life in Lexington, Massachusetts in the 1770s; much of it is available online. Diving in headfirst, I developed a decent feel for life and love prior to the Revolution. This helped color in a lot of the details about school, romance, work, and daily life.

Then came the subject of war. I had been in combat, and had seen the aftermath of battle, so I certainly did not want to glorify war. It is a mean, dirty business that takes a physical, psychological, and spiritual toll on the participants, and I wanted to convey that. Interestingly, in the age of black powder warfare it was possible for a musket-armed soldier to empty his cartridge box in the direction of the enemy without ever having the feeling he had killed anyone. Muskets were so inaccurate, and musket volleys produced such dense smoke, that most of the time soldiers fighting in line of battle might be firing blindly in the general direction of the enemy! I wanted my character to be absolutely certain he had taken a life; that is why I happened upon the idea of the long rifle.

In the 18th Century rifles were fairly rare on the battlefield. They took a long time to load and typically did not take bayonets, making rifle-armed formations impractical for conventional operations. They were excellent hunting weapons, however: the spiral grooves (rifling) in their barrels imparted a spin to their projectiles, making them lethally accurate at 200-300 yards or more. Because of this they were used heavily on the American frontier, and once the Revolution started specialist rifle units were quickly formed to scout and harass the British. The point is that a rifleman could easily select a target, take aim, fire, and be certain that his shot had found its mark. I wanted my character to have that certainty, because it allows me to explore what that knowledge does to people.

There was a catch of course: rifles were very uncommon in Massachusetts in the 1770s. In fact, I could find no evidence of the use of rifles at Lexington/Concord or Bunker Hill. I decided to press on, highlighting the rifle as an exception to the norm (hooray for artistic license!). But to do so, I had to create a backstory that explained how a 15-year old boy in Lexington in 1775 could be a proficient rifleman and woodsman. That led me into more research: this time into the French and Indian (Seven Years) War and other Colonial “Indian” wars. I decided that my character’s father would be a deceased veteran of the French and Indian War; leaving home (Lexington) for adventure on the Pennsylvania frontier, he acquired a rifle and became a backwoodsman. That connection enabled me to link his character not only to Pennsylvania, but also to George Washington. Now I was off and running!

But…what to name him? Biblical names were common in the 1700s; I wanted a warrior’s first name, so I settled on Gideon. As for the last name, well, it had to sound kind of cool, be not too outlandish, and not be already used. I assembled several combinations, and did a lot of Googling (it’s amazing how many literary characters are named Gideon) until I settled on Gideon Hawke. I think it has a certain ring to it!

And so:

Gideon Hawke was born in Pennsylvania on April 20th, 1759, his mother dying in childbirth. His father, Aaron, was born in Massachusetts but ran away at a young age to find adventure on the frontier. He became a rifleman and fought in the French and Indian war; he fought valiantly alongside George Washington in the Braddock Expedition and was later badly wounded at Fort Carillon. After Gideon’s birth, Aaron realized he could not care for him alone for long, so he took his son back to Lexington, Massachusetts to be near family. Before he died, Aaron did his best to train young Gideon in the ways of the frontier: to hunt, to shoot, to be independent, and to lead. After Aaron’s death in 1774 Gideon felt increasingly alone. In April of 1775 Gideon was struggling with decisions about life and love until one fateful morning: his friend told him the militia was forming on the Common because the British were en route through Lexington to Concord. Gideon went out to watch the excitement, and then the shooting started. Gideon was assaulted by British troops, his friend was killed, and a war had started. Taking up his father’s rifle, he resolved to make the British pay dearly.

With a plausible backstory and connection to George Washington, I was able to set the stage to transfer Gideon into Thompson’s Rifle Battalion, aka the First Continental Regiment. This was the first unit formed by the Continental Congress, and Washington relied heavily on it, especially through early 1777, and it fought in most of the major battles of the war. Through the end of Times That Try Men’s Souls Gideon has served in the First Continental through some of the toughest fighting of the Revolution. He has been promoted, endured great hardship, and has seen many of his friends and colleagues fall in battle. And his story continues. He and the lads will be back in action in A Nest of Hornets, due out in January 2017.

I hope if nothing else Gideon Hawke does honor to those brave men and women, the “Winter Soldiers,” who stayed with the colors in the dark day of 1776-1777, and kept their Glorious Cause alive.

Quill and Ink: Writing the world

As I prepared to commit the act of madness that is called “writing fiction” I poked around to see what others were saying about it. I found that in a lot of genres there was much discussion about something called “creating your world.” It was generally agreed that this was important, and that the author had to walk a fine line in the early chapters of her/his book: the reader had to understand what the world was like, but not be bored by the details. I thought, “That sounds hard. I’m glad I don’t have to do that in Historical fiction.” I was wrong. I have learned that a historical fiction story DOES exist in its own world. There are, however, significant differences between the historical fiction world and the world of other genres.

First and foremost, historical fiction is supposed to be tied into “stuff that happened.” Whether set in Ancient Egypt, Tudor England, the American Colonies, The Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, Nazi-occupied Europe, or what have you, there is a historical foundation on which the author builds the “world.” This is harder than it sounds, because history is often a moving target, even though not everyone sees it that way.

Take the Battle of Gettysburg, for example. There is a very solid historical record of the events of that battle; on top of that foundation are layers of storytelling, which sometimes sharpens, and sometimes obscures, the actual events. Many of the critical events in the battle were fairly well known before Michael Shaara released his novel, The Killer Angels. [lest anyone think I am a Shaara critic, I love that book—it has inspired my own writing] Michael Shaara had to make decisions about what to include, and what to leave out or gloss over. The incidents he highlighted he did so dramatically: “Chamberlain’s Charge” and “Pickett’s Charge” for example. When the movie Gettysburg was made, based on Shaara’s book, those incidents lent themselves wonderfully to Hollywood dramatization. As a result, in the common consciousness, our perception of these incidents is colored by several layers of storytelling. A visit to the Gettysburg National Military Park, however, with a knowledgeable guide, might reveal that, well, those things probably didn’t really happen quite that way. Chamberlain’s Charge may not have looked quite so dramatic. Pickett’s Division was probably masked from Union fire until the last 100 yards; that’s how they got as far as they did.

Here’s the real problem: right now someone is taking violent exception to one or both of those last two sentences. History buffs tend to be passionate about their history, and oftentimes once they settle on an interpretation of events, they will defend their position against overwhelming odds…and against overwhelming facts and logic. [Incidentally, I am guilty of this as well] The historical fiction author can expect that any interpretation of events is going to upset at least someone.

Which brings us more to the point: in general, no one can know all of the events and relationships that affected a particular historical incident. The Duke of Wellington famously dismissed efforts to write a history of Waterloo as an impossible task. Even if a person was physically THERE, he/she could have only one, very limited perspective. And when one is talking about events that happened 100, 200, or 2000 years ago, there is an excellent chance that neither the author nor the reader was there.

The bottom line is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to perfectly replicate history. But that’s OK: I would argue that all history is, in fact, the interpretation of past events through the lens of the present. In order for an author to make the past understandable for a contemporary reader, the reader must bridge the gap between past and present; and the author must interpret those events. For me it often involves looking at conflicting sources, or piecing together a picture from incomplete sources, and asking myself, “What really happened? or “Could it really have happened that way?” A good example of this: my portrayal of the Battle of Princeton. Having had a chance to visit the site and walk the field, none of my sources made complete sense. I had to build my own version of the climax of the battle, based on my own knowledge and observations. Did I get it 100% right? Probably not. But I suspect I came pretty close, probably a lot closer than others, and I am happy with the result. Most importantly, I think I conveyed the ideas that Washington made an audacious move, that it was a near run thing, and that it was ultimately a dramatic victory.

That covers major plot points; but what about the overall look and feel of the world? I think most readers picking up a historical fiction book will appreciate that things will be different, so we authors have that going for us. In fact, I think they key is to highlight the critical similarities and differences between THAT world and THIS one. How do people communicate? What do they eat? How does it taste and smell? How do they dress? How do people stay warm/cool? How do they stay clean? Do they even bother? As the reader picks up these tidbits, he or she will subconsciously fit these into his or her existing mental picture of the time period. When done well, the reader consciously or subconsciously finds herself transported to a different time and place. And that is definitely worth the ride!

Times That Try Men’s Souls is available on Amazon at or the iTunes Store at

Spring arrives with inspiration in tow

It’s time to mow the lawn again. Some would consider that a bad thing, but I find it enjoyable. For one thing, I plug in my earbuds and enjoy some tunes, but more importantly, I get some of my best story ideas while walking back and forth across the yard.

This past week while about halfway through my front yard I had a flash of inspiration for Chapter 7 of A Nest of Hornets; an excellent plot point to bring a few threads together and perhaps build some suspense. Excellent!

Fortunately I am generally able to remember these ideas I generate while mowing. I dread the day, though, when I get multiple ideas. Maybe I should start mowing with my writer’s notebook in my pocket!

A new battlefield

Yesterday I finished Chapter 4 of A Nest of Hornets. In past novels I have placed my main character, Gideon Hawke, on many different battlefields. This time Gideon’s battlefield is very different: it is a dining room table in an elegant mansion, and he’s not sure who the enemy is…he’s not even sure there is a battle at first! Usually Gideon fights under the watchful eye of his friend, Andrew Johnston, but in this battle his only ally is his love, Ruth Munroe. Fortunately she is better prepared for this fight than Gideon!

While A Nest of Hornets remains deeply rooted in the history of the American Revolution, the plot gives me much more room to explore characters and dive into the divisive political tensions  that made the American War of Independence a civil war as well as a political revolution. I am enjoying it immensely!

Gideon’s Dilemma

I have been writing about Gideon Hawke for some years now. When I last wrote I left him hanging–huddled against a river bank in December, 1776, fending off the Hessians so Washington’s Army could continue its retreat to the Delaware.

Aside from the fact that people are trying to shoot him, Gideon has a problem; he is deathly afraid of losing anyone else close to him. His desire to protect those he loves is in direct conflict with the need to fight a war. To win in combat, one must often dare greatly, and daring can come at a heavy price. That is a lot of weight to rest on the shoulders of a seventeen-year-old!

I have felt this kind of conflict myself, both as a soldier and as a husband and father; frankly I have felt it most pointedly as a Dad. I can not protect my kids from everything, but I have to let them try to fly. It’s terrifying! But as heartbreaking as it is to see them fail, more often than not they SOAR, and that’s a glorious sight!

I sure hope Gideon learns that lesson!

Author Interview with Isabell Lawless

Isabell Lawless: in her own words, “She owns CornerliveMusic Production Company, holds a Masters Degree in Ethnology, and enjoys life being a vodka drinking, meatball eating Swede living in the US.” 

Author Isabell Lawless

Author Isabell Lawless

You are a Swede living in the United States; what is your backstory?

I grew up in Sweden and at age twenty-one I left a dysfunctional relationship behind me, which also happened to become the inspiration to my first novel ‘Beast of Venery’, I met my future husband on an online dating site. As most Swede’s live or study abroad for some time in their life I sold my belongings, took a five weeks vacation to the US and fell in love. Not only with my husband-to-be, but the country itself.

I saw in one of your recent Facebook posts that you had a character in your head, and you felt compelled to write a paragraph about him, perhaps as part of a future novel. Please describe how your characters drive your novels.

So far each and every character in my books show up in my dreams: walking out from behind a building, showcasing their physical features by staring at me, sometimes telling me a few words, and then leave. If the dream happens to wake me up I scurry to the living room writing down the persona or any of their spoken words before heading back to bed. At times a person’s action compels me to investigate who he/she is and what their backstory might be. As throwing a bloody axe down in a field of grass before running away, throwing an object of importance toward me, or simple tell me what’s on their mind.

I rarely see people in my waken state and draw inspiration from them, more so potential characters hide behind a curtain of sleepiness and in my dream state of mind before entering.

You described ‘Beast of Venery’ as semiautobiographical; how close is it to real life?

There are two major violent scenes in this novel that are fictional, the sinister antagonist’s personality, spinning twists and turns with mind games, is my way of writing him out of my life. The book was partly written as therapy and partly a way of spreading a voice to those who has yet to leave that type of quiet tyranny behind.

What inspired your Gass County Novel Series?

For quite some time these four different male characters lived in my head, their lives interlace with one another, and from my love of reading books taking place in small towns, I decided to let them live in the same rural city but gave the four of them their own novel. They seemed alright with that idea.

How would you describe your writing process?

A main plot is always in place when I start writing a new book. I have certain major events that I know will take place before hand, but after that I let my pen to the work to see where it might guide me.

Do you have a favorite beverage to drink while writing?

In the morning coffee is my dearest friend, but when the day has been long and the mind is in need of relaxation a glass of wine doesn’t hurt my creativity, if any it makes the writing darker, more violent, and sometimes very erotic.

If you could share a meal and conversation with the fictional character of your choice, which character would you choose, where would you dine, and why?

I’m a romance/erotica/suspense reader at heart and fell head over heels in love with author Candis Terry’s character Reno Wilder, the sulky, hard working, but oh so hot cowboy in her novel, Anything but Sweet (Sweet Series – Wilder Brothers). Not only does his persona resemble my husband’s but what woman could decline a cold glass of wine in the backyard then being pushed up against the side of a dirty truck next to a barn at sunset just to devour one another? I know I wouldn’t.

Thanks for having me!


Beast of Venery:


Burned Gasoline:


Once Upon A Killing: ambulance back




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For the past several days I have been traveling with my family.  I got about half a chapter written on our flight out of KC.  I used the methodology from “2k to 10k,” which I reviewed recently, first outlining the chapter, then writing with focus and vigor!

I have not gotten much written during the trip, but I have gotten a lot of inspiration.  I have a new character I am going to try out, one who will help explore the complexities of the American Revolution.  More importantly, a great Independence Day Weekend, spent with my family, reminded my why I love this country, and why I love writing.

I’m really looking forward to the flight back, because I am going to get some serious writing done!