The Veil War

"and then I was like, 'Holy crap, goblins!'"

Month: December, 2011

Drone Wars

As the Veil War moves on, things like this will become increasingly important. Drones are one of John Robb’s major interests, and he’s one of the best sources for good thinking about their future.

How does the addition of drones change the nature of combat/conflict?  Why?  The tech is moving too fast.  Here are some of the characteristics we’ll see in the near future:

  • Swarms.  The cost and size of drones will shrink.  Nearly everyone will have access to drone tech (autopilots already cost less than $30).  Further, the software to enable drones to employ swarm behavior will improve.  So, don’t think in terms of a single drone. Think in terms of a single person controlling hundreds and thousands.
  • Intelligence.  Drones will be smarter than they are today.  The average commercial chip passed the level of insect intelligence a little less than a decade ago (which “magically” resulted in an explosion of drone/bot tech).  Chips will cross rat intelligence in 2018 or so.  Think in terms of each drone being smart enough to follow tactical instructions.
  • Dynamism.  The combination of massive swarms with individual elements being highly intelligent puts combat on an entirely new level.  It requires a warrior that can provide tactical guidance and situational awareness in real time at a level that is beyond current training paradigms.

As will become clear when the bonus story goes out later today (remember to sign up for email updates or befriend the Facebook page so you get it) the invasion hits the United States fully as hard as it does Iraq.

How will the United States fight back when large chunks of its territory and population are no longer under its control? When the Federal government is disemboweled and almost non-existent? When most of its traditional manufacturing heartland is under the yoke of alien domination?

The need will be to create cost-effective weapons systems that can be manufactured in a distributed manner. No F-22s, no B1 bombers – those simply won’t be feasible in the new environment. The core of a drone is essentially an RC plane with a camera and some computer guts. People have already built homemade cruise missiles for $5000. The capabilities of future drones will increase dramatically just as the cost of goes down – just as has happened in the computer world, and for the same reasons.

For a great read, and a fictional depiction of how these technologies might be employed, read Daniel Suarez’ Daemon and Freedom™. Both are fantastic books and well worth your time for more reasons than just the treatment of drone warfare.

Freedom™ also discusses in detail another obsession of Robb’s – resilient communities. These ideas will have an important place in the future of the Veil War – not so much immediately, because the primary focus of our characters right now is surviving the next minute or hour.

If you were a refugee in Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, or California fleeing what Capt. Lewis is fleeing but without heavy weaponry, what could you do to survive?

For my new followers


Since Twitter only allows 140 characters to express the deep longing in my soul, the… Wait, I don’t really have a deep longing in my soul. But 140 characters is still not enough to describe the indescribable awesomeness… Wait, it is describable!

The Veil war is a serial novel, and I’d like you to read it. Why?

It’s the Great American Goblin Invasion Novel. Think, “Lord of the Rings meets Tom Clancy.”

The Veil War

The Veil is a door between worlds, long closed. One day, it opens. Through the door come creatures half-forgotten, creatures of legend and myth. We feared them once – for a reason.  They want blood, dominion, and power. And they have the power to take it.

One company of Marines is trapped in Iraq, pursued and hunted by the invaders. This is their story.

Okay. You’re right. We’re fucked.”

Captain Lewis spat on the dusty floor. He looked up from the map, and out the window. Outside, the company was looking to the North, at a cloud of dust. The dust cloud got closer every time he looked. Off to the right, around the corner, was another dust cloud. He couldn’t see it, but one of the last predator drones still up had tracked it for the last couple hours. It got closer, too.

Sgt. Pethoukis looked up from his tablet. “Captain, lost the predator feed.” His lean face had a grimmer than average cast. “I saw fire right before it cut out.”

“Dragon?” the captain asked.

“Most like.”


A hundred miles south of Ramadi, he thought. Three times we’ve tried to turn east, and each time we’ve been blocked.

Start reading right here. New chapters post every Thursday. You can get a little more information on how things work around here by reading this.

While you’re here, you can look at a wide array of interesting blog posts. And read the comments left by our widely-read and intelligent commentariat. Another nice feature is that every Tuesday, we have the Really Big Idea. This is where an Indie author explains to you what ideas they wrestled with while they were writing their book. Modeled after the Big Idea series at John Scalzi’s Whatever – well, frankly, stolen from John Scalzi because Indie authors don’t meet his persnickety requirements – this is truly one of the best ways short of reading the book to decide whether you’d like it. (If you are a Indie speculative fiction author yourself, and would like to participate, feel free to contact me.)

So, there it is. Read the story. Consider yourself encouraged to comment, email and communicate with me and your fellow readers. Also consider yourself strongly encouraged to share the Veil War with your friends, acquaintances, enemies and total strangers. Veil War social media info can be found here, or you can click on the pretty, pretty share buttons right below this post.

And again and always, welcome.

Stephen Gustav

This would not be very threatening

Ran across this when I was looking for a dragon image for the A10 v. Dragon post.  I think the A10 would stand a decent chance against this dragon.

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a lot of dragon images out there in the intertubes. Liked this one:

I’ve always liked the oriental dragon look.

I find it interesting that many creatures in the traditional magical bestiary are six-limbed – typically four legs and two wings, even though every large creature that we find in real life is quadrupedal.

Voting is now closed

And it’s A10 v. Dragon, by a nose. Expect your story in a couple days or so.

Remember, there is still time – up to the point where I mail it, in fact – to either befriend the Veil War Facebook page or become an email subscriber to the Veil War.

Last chance to change the future

Voting will soon close… Right now, A10 v. Dragon is in the lead by one vote. If you want to weigh in on the decision, now would be the time to do so – or else it’s this:


Choose your own adventure!

Remember that everyone who either befriends the Veil War Facebook page or subscribes by clicking the “Follow the Veil War” link at the bottom of the page will get a free bonus story. You have up until the moment I send it to register and since I don’t know when I’ll send it, it would behoove you to sign up instantly. And I would just like to go on record as being a firm supporter and admirer of the word “behoove.”

I have to admit that just now I am a little frustrated with the whole bonus story endeavor. Because I came up with a really awesome story last Thursday – an actual Christmas story that was just peachy in every way. The Christmas element was not gratuitous: it advanced the story in a significant and (I think) clever way. It would have had atmosphere, cool special effects, and a nice dollop of gosh-wow coolness.

There were only two problems: 1) there was no way on God’s Green Earth that I could ever write it before Christmas given all the travel and family visitation going on and 2) it is set too far in the future of the story, and would give away too much info. So I reluctantly set aside that idea and came up with a few more. Last night, I arrived, weary, back at my fortress in the wilds of Virginia and today I will write the story. But I can’t start just yet.

Since I am equally fond of all of these ideas; and since I will write them all eventually at some point – you can pick your bonus story! You decide! You! Vote for your favorite with the poll thingy below:

I’ll close the voting sometime this afternoon when I’m ready to start writing.

The Really Big Idea: George O’Har

George O’Har has a special place in my heart, because he is the first actual, published author to talk to me and say anything besides, “You’re in my way.” In this week’s Big Idea post, George explains that The Thousand Hour Club is more than a road novel. An attempt to respiritualize the American experience is a bold endeavor, but one that has noble antecedents. Tolkien consciously envisioned the Lord of the Rings as a new myth for the West, a founding myth to recenter and correct modern life. A road novel might not aim for the same place in the pantheon but where are today’s lives of the saints? Perhaps a road novel is a good way to sustain – or having lost, recover – the faith in founding myths.

A Big Idea Disguised As a Small Idea, Or Isn’t It Pretty To Think So?

I first started writing The Thousand Hour Club over a decade ago. The plan for the novel was to base it on my own life experiences, a plan that involved using carefully selected moments of my life as a civilian and then move on to what happened, again using carefully selected moments, when I joined the Air Force. I did not think life in the military would be the focus of what I wrote, but that’s how it turned out. The story never did have much of a plot. Essentially, I was telling a tale about a basically good young man growing up in what I believed then and believe now is the best country in the world: America. My thinking was that if I told the story well-enough, and used humor and a strong central character as ‘literary devices,’ much like Twain and Joyce used similar motifs, readers would come along. Editors and agents in New York, of course, never much went for my approach. But why they didn’t is a topic for another time.

Over the years, I rewrote the manuscript, start to finish, seven or eight times. I did the usual things writers do. Then one day, at lunch with a Jesuit friend of mine, we got to talking about how America was losing contact with its “unifying symbols,” and that a nation separated from the clarifying power of what had made it great in the first place might well be doomed. In the middle of this conversation—I remember it to this day—I was struck by the idea that that was exactly what I was attempting to do in The Thousand Hour Club: reconnect America, through the peregrinations of its ironic and likeable 1st-person narrator, to its symbolic bases. In short, I was building a bridge to the past. Important to note here is that the narrator is not aware of this; he feels himself changing, being worked on, but he never articulates it.

What do I mean? The novel starts out in Fort Lee, NJ; it ends at the Acropolis. The town of Fort Lee is named after a Revolutionary War Fort. The Acropolis was in addition to being a sacred place also a fort, a military installation. My narrator ends up in Greece. In thinking about symbols, this becomes important since the idea of Greece exerted enormous influence on the Founding Fathers. You can see it in their writing and thinking, and in the buildings they designed. Now, I wasn’t quite using symbols the way Melville and Hawthorne did, but I was using them. This doesn’t happen much in contemporary writing for the simple reason that most American contemporary writers have completely forgotten about the symbols that used to mean so much to us. Like everyone else, writers assume what we have will always be there. They have forgotten the idea that what we have needs to be fertilized and maintained.

Here’s another example. Socrates is practically a character in the book. The Socratic notion of the primacy of the unseen wends it ways through the novel, through moments as mundane as heartbreak, or as serious as a death in the family. The very last scene in the novel has the narrator leaning against a tree in the Agora. He hears two Greek boys running. One of them hollers to the other, “Socrates! Socrates!” I won’t beat this into the ground, but this is a lovely solution to a problem: how can I get readers to believe Socrates is as vitally alive and important today as he was in 5th century Athens? By having the narrator hear his name now in the exact same place his name was spoken centuries ago when he was teaching.

I was strongly influenced by Twain and Kerouac, so it will come as no surprise that The Thousand Hour Club is a road book. On the Road can be seen in a variety of ways, but I tend to see the novel as Kerouac’s attempt, through Sal and Dean, to respiritualize America. Kerouac uses Buddhism. So do I, as well as Christianity and Islam. Kerouac, and not just in On the Road, uses elevation as a symbol for awareness (like Mann). The notion of moving characters up and down—on mountains, in aircraft, crossing bridges—is how this idea shows up in The Thousand Hour Club, which is very much and deliberately a spiritual novel.

Now, many folks who read the book will glide right past this idea of reconnecting to America’s symbolic past. Readers would not be likely to overlook the spiritual angle, since nature and the idea of sacred places and spirituality per se (the presence of three major religions) run through the novel like a river. Anyway, I just started out telling a story. What I ended up with, I hope, is something better and more enduring. How this happened is almost entirely by accident. I didn’t deliberately set out to do any such thing. I wanted to make readers laugh and feel good.

Yet when I looked back at my work in progress after lunch with my Jesuit friend I realized the ingredients were all there. I just hadn’t seen them. All it took to emphasize them was a bit of tweaking. So when people say they think Herman Melville set out in Moby Dick to write a symbolic tale of a ship that stands for America, and a whale that probably represents nothingness, I wonder. What are the odds that he simply wanted to tell a story based, to some extent, on his own life and travels? And that later on, when he was reviewing the situation, he understood that he had accomplished something bigger. Hey; I’m just guessing. But I’m looking at Melville as a writer. I’m not a critic trying to demonstrate my importance.

And finally, a basic problem any writer has in putting together a book is how to make it deeper (if deepening is your aim). What experience has taught me is that this deepening process is only available to the writer through rewriting and revising. It is not something that can be jammed into a novel. You can’t say, I’m going to write a novel about Truth, Justice, Racism, or Love. If you’ve told an accurate story, gotten the details right, you may when you’re panning for these deeper things (Truth, Love et. al.) actually find them. The deeper stuff rises to the surface. It comes up naturally. It is an effect, a result. It is almost never an input.

Buy the Thousand Hour Club: Amazon

Follow the author on Twitter.

Merry Christmas

This would have been a merry Christmas for me regardless, as I am with my family; there has been good food and gifts already, and yet more to come.
But this Christmas has been a little more merry and joyful thanks to all of you. Your comments and emails, your support and the simple fact that you’ve been reading is a great and wonderful gift.
So thanks to all, and I wish you a joyous and merry Christmas. And I hope no goblins interrupt your celebrations.

Part Eight, the Ocho

It’s Veil War Thursday. And that means that today you get another chapter. Your teaser:

“What are they doing firing a half mile out?”

Lewis dropped the glasses. He watched the gray cloud of arrows climb skyward. It looks like they’ve got the distance…. And there goes another volley.

Evans was incredulous. “How the hell could anyone draw a bow that could shoot an arrow that goddamn far?”

Five flights of arrows were in the air when the first round hit. Those five hundred arrows hit the goblins like the wrath of god. “Holy mother of fuck!” Evans shouted.

“I don’t believe it. Every single one of those arrows hit.” Pethoukis said softly, stunned.

FYI: there will be no chapter next Thursday as I will be conducting a Christmas safari through the untamed wilds of northern and central Ohio before heading back to Virginia. Next year, we will resume our normal weekly schedule.

In recompense for not giving you your accustomed Veil War carnage, I will send a special bonus story to everyone who has signed up as an email follower or befriended the Veil War’s Facebook page. You may justly consider this as both a reward for being an early adopter, and an encouragement to become an early adopter.

The Really Big Idea

I’ve long been an admirer and follower of the Big Idea series at John Scalzi’s Whatever. I have bought more books based on a reading of a Big Idea post than from any other source. The only thing that even comes close is Cory Doctorow’s reviews at Boing Boing.

Hearing straight from the author why they wrote their book, and what issues they wrestled and pinned to the ground to get it done is a far better introduction than, well, just about anything short of actually reading the book. What it comes down to is that getting an insight into the mind of the author is far better than getting a look inside the mind of the marketing drone writing the back cover blurb.

The only downside to the Big Idea is that the Scalzi, in his wisdom, has limited participation: “The feature is open to all authors regardless of genre, fiction and non-fiction alike. …so long as their works are distributed to major bookstores on a returnable basis and are available on the following three American online book stores: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s.”

Well, that sucks.

I see what he’s doing, and why – and were I in his place I could imagine having similar restrictions. It’s a good filter.

Since I’ve become an independent author – all of a month and a half, now – I’ve been amazed at the help and advice I’ve gotten in the really short amount of time that I’ve been out here. Even among the independent publishing crowd, my method is a little outre – I’m serializing The Great American Goblin Invasion Novel, for free. A friend characterized my business plan in a way that you might find familiar:

  1. Get readers
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

Given that the Veil War has only been up for a few weeks, it is perhaps too early to judge the soundness of my plan. However, the fact that I do not, at this time, have a salable product – even an electronic one – has made me doubly ineligible for Scalzi’s estimable series. And, experiencing first hand the frustration of not meeting Scalzi’s qualifications for inclusion in his Big Idea series, it occurred to me that if I can’t do his Big Idea, maybe I can roll my own.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then this is some pretty awesome flattery. Here, then, is a nearly exact duplicate of John Scalzi’s Big Idea, with the sole difference being that the authors we are focusing on are the independent authors – ones who are not producing physical books being placed in the few remaining bookstores. Smaller presses, pure kindle sales, smashwords – the fringe of the publishing world.

It is my feeling that that the publishing industry is in the throes of great changes. Five years ago, a budding author’s course was obvious – get a finished manuscript into the hands of an agent and get a book printed and distributed. Five years from now, the new author’s couse will be equally obvious – and completely different. What that will end up being is being decided and created right now.

So here’s a big idea for the future – and we start with Ian Thomas Healy.

I’ve read a couple of Ian’s books with The Milkman being my favorite, a ripping funny yarn with swords, UFOs and flatulence.  I think Just Cause is moving up the list.


How my Really Big Idea became a Smaller, Successful Idea

Just Cause has been the backbone of my creative expression for the past eight years, and has consistently been the one thing I return to when I feel the call for the comfort of familiarity instead of the exploration of the unknown. It started out as a Really Big Idea. I wanted to take the joyous feeling of reading a superhero comic book and stretch it out into novel length fiction. There was always going to be a full series of books, but Just Cause was going to be the really epic beginning. The original novel covered some sixty years of history, with historical chapters alternating with the Mustang Sally story set in the present day. Each “flashback” chapter included key plot points that tied into the modern era. When it was all done, I had a burgeoning incomprehensible mess that I didn’t yet have the skills to repair.

After some lengthy discussions with a skilled beta reader, it became apparent that I’d overwritten the darn thing. It needed to go on a serious starvation diet, and so I broke out the metaphorical scissors and went to work. I cut every last one of the historical chapters, setting them aside with a promise to myself that they would in turn become seeds for future projects. When I was finished, my manuscript was some forty thousand words shorter. Think about that, writers. That’s half a book, and I just axed it.

If you need to go get a stiff drink, I’ll wait.

What I was left with was an anorexic tale that only barely scratched the surface of who Mustang Sally really was. It needed a sandwich and milkshake, and so I started writing more. Twenty thousand new words fleshed out the manuscript into a tight, fast-paced story that earned accolades from my beta readers. That manuscript, originally called Just Cause, was renamed Mustang Sally, and made the rounds of agents before once again earning a solid batch of rejections. I’d since continued writing, both in the JCU and outside of it, and by that time I had completed four more books in the series (with tantalizing titles The Archmage, Jackrabbit, Deep Six, and Blackout). I was a better writer, no question about it. Deep Six was a Top 100 Semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. I went back through Mustang Sally with a red pen once more, this time with intent to make it the first novel-length ebook I released, and early in 2011, I did just that.

Mustang Sally had only been on the market for a couple of months when New Babel Books reached out to me, asking if I would consider making a deal with them for the series. Contracts zipped back and forth between us, and in May of 2011, I took Mustang Sally off sale. Six months later, the book has a swanky new cover that I really like, a sharp design inside, is available for sale from the publisher ( as well as on other online retailers, with the strangely familiar title of Just Cause

Funny how things work out that way.

So why write about superheroes at all? What about them appeals to me? Maybe it’s the bright colors of their costumes that make me go all “Oooh! Shiny!” Or maybe it’s the simplification of morals—the perpetual good-guys-versus-the-bad-guys stories that have their foundations in the earliest storytelling done around campfires at the dawn of civilization. Or maybe I just love a good yarn about people with special abilities that make them different—not necessarily better, mind you—than the average schmoe with a mortgage and a job and the requisite 2.1 children. And since there’s been kind of a dearth of those sorts of books, I thought perhaps I’d like to be the one to write them. I’ve loved superheroes as long as I can remember, and the more I write and improve my writing skills, the more I want to apply myself to telling those kinds of stories. I write the stories that I would want to read. And in the end, what could any writer possibly do better for his or her readers?


Just Cause: Published by New Babel BooksAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

The Really Big Idea will be a weekly feature – every Tuesday, we’ll have a new author telling you about their book, so click on the RSS button, sign up for email updates – we’ll have lots of great stuff and great authors for you. And I would be foolish not to encourage you to look around while you’re here, and check out The Veil War free of charge.