Thursday, May 21, 2020


My present workhorse cap adorned with the Sullivan coat of arms purchased for me by my daughter while in Ireland.
Once again here we are in reply to questions on my previous posts…primarily the question about hats.
I tend to like old-fashioned things. I have developed a fondness to certain mostly obsolete tools. Most just struck me as classier than their contemporary counterparts, and I enjoy the sensibility or atmosphere they create. In using them however, I came to realize many are frequently better than the more generally accepted modern versions.  I’ve always wondered about this. Why the change? 
Price I have concluded to be the primary reason. Fountain pens for example have never been cheap, but a Bic Cristal, that ubiquitous clear plastic ball point, was introduced at $.19 cents a pen—and it hasn’t raised its price much at all since. Most things changed with the advent of mainstream plastic. Some because plastic was clearly the better choice, as in  medical tools, but others I suspect—like the fountain pen—proliferated based on cost, ease of manufacturing, and the commercial benefits of a product that is used only a few times then thrown away prompting the purchase of a new one. 
When disposable paper cups were first introduced as a means of improving sanitary conditions at public water pumps, where previously an attached tin cup was used, people who were in the habit of not throwing anything useful away, kept the paper cups and reused them. The public needed to be taught how not to be so frugal. While the paper cup was created for a sensible cause, not all disposables have been. 
The razor blade is a prime example. Razor companies don’t make much money selling razors, they make money selling blades. Straight razors create an awful return on investment as a one time purchase is all anyone needs for as the blade dulls, it is simply sharpened. The safety razor, the hefty chrome device that often uses a double headed blade that is dropped in, made shaving easier, but did invite the need for replacement blades. Still, replacement blades for an old-fashioned safety razor is minimal compared to the modern-day metal sandwich stack of the plastic disposables. 
Like most young men who began shaving in the seventies, I started with the new,  “cheap” plastic handled multi-bladed razors, but I soon became frustrated with how quickly hair gathered and clogged between the edges of such blades making them useless. The more blades the quicker they clogged. I took to constantly scrubbing the blades with my toothbrush between ever few swipes, which did my toothbrush no good. Much later I tried the safety razor my father once used. I cut myself several times and the result was an awful shave. 
This is why they razor was improved! I concluded. I was wrong.  
Here I learned a valuable lesson: Old things aren’t like new things. They don’t work the same. Most often, they demand more from the user, they require a bit of practice and a modicum of skill. 
Shaving with a straight razor, or even a single bladed safety has a learning curve. For one thing, I discovered that when using a single blade, it is necessary to shave twice. Once, going with the general direction of the hair, and once going across it. This takes more time than a single pass with a double or quadruple blade, and this time saver was clearly one of the selling features for men in a hurry. But it isn’t an improvement—merely a time saver. The shave of a double blade isn’t as good as a double shave with a single, because the blade only cuts one way. And the idea that one blade stretches the hair so the other can cut close is actually a negative made to look like a positive by marketing people, as this effect causes ingrown hairs by cutting below the skin and often razor burns. 
I was drawn to the old-fashioned safety razor out of frustration with the plastic, but I stayed because of the quaint elegance of the antiquated ritual. I purchased fancy shaving cream and brushes, cups, and soaps and took my time learning how to shave correctly. Side effects resulted in never running out of shaving cream or razors again. I have enough blades to last about a hundred years, and shaving soap for another century. The most surprising by-product is that something I hated having to do, I now enjoy. I actually find shaving fun because I like the smell of the British Truffit and Hill Sandalwood scented cream, I enjoy creating the perfect lather, and I am proud of my ability to do a job that takes a bit of skill.  
Because I found so many benefits from using a safety razor I tried a straight. This is a whole level up. Far more challenging, but also more rewarding—and more versatile. Getting those hairs under the nose is near impossible with a bulk safety or disposable razor, but a strait blade can get anywhere. The first time I shaved entirely with a straight razor with out a nick, I was proud. You just don’t get that with a disposable. 
While I no longer smoke, when I did (back in my twenties) I smoked a pipe and hated cigarettes for many of the same reasons that I now dislike disposable razors. I found them to be crap. The tobacco was dry, and the flavor was always a fine bouquet of charred paper. Pipes, by contrast, were old friends. They went with me on trips and I had my favorites. Tobacco I used were blends that I sampled like wine. By now you can likely guess I didn’t smoke for the nicotine.  In fact, after about ten years, when I detected the first hint of an unreasonable urge to smoke, I realized I was developing an addiction and I promptly quit. I don’t like anything controlling me. It’s sort of a pet peeve, if peeve was analogous to rage.    Still it is the same thing. Pipes I found to be so much better than cigarettes for just as many reasons as razors. 
I still use a computer to write, but I compose ideas in old-fashioned notebooks using the previously discussed fountain pens. There are many practical benefits to fountain pens, (and with the more modern versions, few negatives) but mostly I use them because I enjoy the subtle elegance and old-world, storybook sensibility that accompanies the act of picking from an assortment of artfully designed bottles of ink to load a pen that is a work of art that you might have owned and used for decades, or perhaps was handed down to you from a grandparent. They transcend tools, and aspire to that lofty plateau of old companion the way a legendary singer-songwriter feels about their battered guitar who was always there to console after a heartbreak. 
Books are that way too, and cups, watches, typewriters, some umbrellas and scarfs and…hats. 
The very first thing I purchased with my very first pay check was a hat. It was a Newsboy, the one with the button in the center of the top, not to be confused with the flat top. 
The wool cap was made “popular” in 1571 when Queen Elizabeth, in an effort to help out the wool trade, required all males over the age of six (except for nobility) to wear wool hats. Caps were cheap, so the common man wore a cap. So too did some aristocrats when sporting, as wind had a tendency to topple stovepipes and even occasional flip off the more study derby. 
When Irish immigrants came to America they brought the established habit of wearing wool caps. The most common for them was the single button Newsboy, Cabbie or Paddy Hat, etc. The Flat cap without the button, I personally feel is the more British version of the collapsable brimmed cap, although they are popular in both counties as well as Scotland and Wales. To me the flats are a bit more aristocratic and priggish—but that’s just me and based on the look and mostly the feel of a flat which is stiff, while the button top is more like a rag with a brim, which I find far more versatile and therefore, practical. 
That first hat I bought was a brown corduroy and I wore it often from the age of sixteen and took it on many adventures. Out of an abundance of caution, I even sewed money into the brim when I took my first out of state trip with friends. Then I met and fell in love with a young woman named Robin. We were both poor and I hadn’t much to give her, and so I demonstrated my feelings by gifting to her, what she well knew, was my fondest possession—my cap. 

The original corduroy 

After we married we shared the cap and it wasn’t until I was published through Orbit and went to New York that I felt my first cap was too old. After thirty years it had lost all shape. The lining had shredded. The headband was nearly gone as well and the brim broken in so many places it simply sagged. 
That is when I assumed Manhattan must have a hat store. We spent hours looking for one. I found dozens that sold hats, mostly baseball style with NYC on them, but no pure hat stores. Finally I began asking. No one could help. Then one old man mentioned JJ Hats saying he thought it might be the last in the city. 
We sought it out and I purchased a replacement for the original which lasted me thirty years and which I still have today, but now I leave the old gal on the shelf granting her a much deserved rest. 

Adventuring fedora

Since then I have purchased several. I got a white linen cap for summers, a wool one with fold down ear flaps for deep winter, a black derby for formal occasions, a fedora for adventures, and while I was in Death Valley I bought a cowboy hat for very practical reasons, which I now most often use when riding my lawnmower on hot sunny days. 

The Death Valley hat

Once more I found that the antiquated habits of using hats, scarfs, and umbrellas to be among the forgotten wisdoms of an earlier time. Being from the midwest, no one wore hats or scarfs or carried umbrellas—they were never more than a few feet from the warm shelter of a car. Only when I spent time in a city using mass transit did I discover the wisdom of ancient treasures. 
Hats are one of those—caps in particular. They keep the rain and the heat of the sun off the crown of your head, and the visor aids sight far better than sunglasses which hinder as much as help. The visor also defends against pelting snow and droplets. A cold wind hitting one ear can be defended by pulling down one side, or flaps if you have them. You can use it as a handkerchief to wipe off sweat, or a damp bench for your wife to sit on. When not in use a cap can by stuffed in a pocket, frisbeeied to a friend, or used to protect a drink from insects—or to swat one. I’ve even used my cap as an oven mitt, and a handy bag. 
I suspect that somethings become obsolete because they are replaced by an improvement, but then there are those that people let slip away through false promises or popular fashions. I’m not crazy; like I said I write with a computer, but I always find time to literally put pen to paper because…as with a razor, and a hat, it’s fun, and the ink flowing onto the page becomes more than a metaphor. It is the smell of baking bread that awakens the appetite and heralds the wonders of creation. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Pens and Other Answers

Thought I might as well answer some of the questions from my previous post with a new post because the comment sections tend to get messy with ads. 
First off, it has been mentioned that I am working on a new trilogy I tentatively entitled the Rise and Fall. The three novels are entitled: Nolyn, Farilane, & Esrahaddon, and they encompass the span of time that connects the Legends of the First Empire to…well not Riyria exactly, but to the fall of the Novronian Empire. Um…spoiler alert? Sorry, I guess. And ahh…sure the picture in my previous post has clues to..ahh…who Yolric is. Sure, why not. 
Second, Robin is fine. After recovering she got a test to see if she had Corvid-19 in order to see if she can give blood, or plasma. She has universal blood and usually donates regularly as a result, and now if she had antibodies that can fight the virus she defiantly wanted to give, but it turned out she was negative. Just a really nasty flu, I guess. So while she is healthy she isn't fine. Robin is disappointed that she can’t travel. For years we always wanted to travel, but we were either too busy or poor. This was the big year. We had tickets and reservations to Paris and Hamilton, and we just bought a teardrop camper to spend the summer exploring the west and hopefully visit readers on the way. But…well…you know. So Robin works in her new camper in the driveway on kickstarter fulfillment. She doesn’t say it because so many others have it so much worse, but I’m certain she’s disappointed. We're the lucky ones, but I do feel bad for her. She's never asked for much and was so excited. 
I’m a writer so I’m immune. Not to the virus but the lockdown effects. My heaven is staying home surrounded by fountain pens & Moleskines, old typewriters with fresh ribbons, an Apple running Scrivener, a cup of Pour-Over coffee in an Ember mug, and an new novel to write. Now I have a legitimate excuse to stay home and do what I love. 
This brings me to Three: the pen collection. I’m not an expert on fountain pens, which translates to: I don’t think I have found My Pen, but I’m working on it. I started with a few Watermans. Then my brother bought me a Lamy Studio, which I was impressed by. Lamy tends to be very modern in their design, which turned me off, but wow the pen is wonderful. Two years, never cleaned it, never needed to—crazy. 
A reader named Sylvia who for some reason lavishes Robin and I with wonderful gifts that we love, bought me a Conklin Empire Blue Stardust. Conklin is the pen Mark Twain used and the company he endorsed. The business went out of business in the forties, but the pen is still made. Sylvia also bought me a rare Japanese Oak-aged Glendalough Irish Whiskey, which I am saving for special occasions. 
Now whenever I go to Manhattan, (usually on publishing business) I always buy myself a new hat because New York has a great old fashion hat store called JJ Hat Company—the only pure hat store in the city I think—and also when I start a new novel I get a new notebook and pen. This time as I started “Esrahaddon”, I got two. One for brown ink and one for blue.
I ordered the Lamy 2000 (which has yet to arrive) because I like the Studio so much and—I mean the 2000 is on permanent display in a MoMA. The thing is a classic. But I also got a PILOT Custom 823, Amber Barrel. What I love about the 823 is the ink-fill mechanism. The piston vacuum fills the barrel of the pen is an instant, and the reservoir is massive. It’s great. It is also the first 14K gold, platinum-coated nib I’ve ever used. Very smooth. Rumor has it, this is the pen Neil Gaiman used to sign all those books that caused him to ice his arm. Now I am tempted to try using it to sign the Age of Empyre books when they come in this week. Usually I use a Sharpie Marker, but they run out of ink so quickly I go through boxes of them. 
Now to the fourth and final comment…

That dagger in the photo isn’t just a dagger. It is a Reddit Stabby Award—but I do use it for opening mail and packages. In fact, I used it today to open a new Moleskine where I plan to put notes for another novel I’m thinking about writing. I think I’ll entitle it Drumindor

Esrahaddon Notebook 4th page—no spoilers

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Author's Desk

Just reminded me of one of those wallpapers showing the work space of someone. This was taken last night as I was doing research for Esrahaddon, the novel.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

So far, so good for Age of Empyre's release day

So, today Age of Empyre was released in audio and ebook (the hardcover is still on the press. And even though it has been less than a day, it's pre-orders and early sales have sent the audiobook racing up the charts. The only Sci-Fi & Fantasy audiobooks that are selling better than it are Tolkien's first two books, and they are also part of the 2 for 1 sale. If the sale wasn't ongoing, there's a chance we could have hit #1.  Given that Tolkien inspired me to write, it's pretty surreal to see one of my books side by side with his from a selling perspective.  Here is the full list of bestsellers.

As is usually the case, these big jumps on release day can be quite short-lived. But for now, I can feel a sense of satisfaction on the conclusion of this series, and Robin and I want to thank everyone who pre-ordered or picked up the book when they heard it came out today.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Ordering Age of Empyre

The final book in the Legends of the First Empire is at hand.
  •  Ebooks are already available through our site & live at online stores on May 5th.
  • The audiobooks will download to devices on May 5th.
  • The hardcovers will come off the presses on May 20th (we'll be shipping books ordered from our site on May 21st, but I'm not 100% sure when the online bookstores will have copies in their hands as the books have to first go to Ingram's warehouses, and then ship out to the distribution centers at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the like. I doubt books are being shipped to any brick and mortar stores right now and I'm not sure when they will. 
  • For people looking for mass-market paperbacks, we don't yet have a ship date for them, but they will be produced and will likely start selling around the time that the hardcover sales fall off.
If you've been waiting for the final book, now is the best time to get your copies. This page will provide links to all the various retailer sites.

  Buy Direct  
US ebook 

If you are not in the US, Book Depository (the blue book icon between BAM and IndieBound) offers free shipping worldwide. In addition, here are links to various Amazon sites for various countries.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Age of Empyre #1 Bestseller and Most on the Most Anticipated List

So Audible came out with its Most-Anticipated List for Spring, and I'm thrilled to announce that Age of Empyre was one of the 50 titles they picked.  We are less than 2 weeks from the May 5th release date and pre-orders are strong.  In fact, It's #1 in Sword and Sorcery - and Age of Death is #7

If we get enough pre-orders in, there is a good chance we'll hit the New York Times Bestseller list again (both Age of War and Age of Legend made it).  If you have been waiting for the end of the series, and want to hear Tim Gerard Reynolds knock the narration out of the park, please consider picking up a copy.  As always, Robin and I thank you for your support.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Breaking Chains

Hey all, Robin here. For those that don't know, I'm Michael's wife and I do some of the administrative tasks related to the work. Presently, I'm doing a proofing of the audiobook by reviewing "the dailies" as Tim Gerard Reynolds records each day.  I listen to Tim as I follow along in the book.

Anyway, for those who have read Legends of the First Empire, you know that each chapter starts with an entry from the famed "Book of Brin." I just hit Chapter 9, and it made me reflect on our current situation -- even though Michael wrote this years ago, and it has nothing to do with what is going on these days. We've not said much about Covid-19 -- what more is there to say that hasn't been said? But I thought I would share this with all of you.

Extended trips are the most frightening to begin, sheer cliffs the most difficult to climb, long falls the most painful to endure, but it is invisible chains that are the hardest to break.
— The Book of Brin

A few days ago, our governor extended the Stay-At-Home restrictions in Virginia until June 10th. I can't even begin to imagine what hardships that will cause to people in our state, but I also know that desperate times call for desperate measure.  So, I have faith that we, too, can break the invisible chains that Covid-19 has shackled us to. Stay safe. Stay strong. We'll get through this together.