So Where The Heck Has Vetter Been?

Those who read my books and blog posts have probably realized by now that I don’t email or post very often, a personal flaw I am trying to correct. I have several good reasons, though, which I offer here before begging your forgiveness.

I work four concurrent full-time jobs as a caregiver (three eight-hour shifts daily, plus the full weekend gig), so writing and publishing is only a part-time job shoehorned into my work hours. And in addition to writing, I must format, proof and publish what I write, create the cover art, write the marketing copy, and do the marketing myself. I must read and research real history in order to write good historical fiction. And since my writing often depends on solving actual historical mysteries so as to write about them, I have yet more research to do in history, archaeology, and genealogy.

I spend a lot of time on the computer. Blogging requires even more. So I write only when I have something I think you really want to read, like now.

Forgive me.

In doing all this, sometimes strange forces suck me down rabbit holes into interesting tangents. And sometimes these produce revelations and discoveries that benefit us all.

It was you, My Readers, who inspired the most recent such adventure, which began with Maps. More than one of you has wished for—or taken me to the woodshed 🙂 —for not including maps in my novels; and rightly so. I always wanted to include maps, but had no good way to produce them—at least, not decent-looking ones. Late last year, I figured out how to clean up some basic maps and build a set for The Siege Master’s Song. But I really wasn’t happy with that process. So at the start of April, I set out to find a better way.

Without being too tedious here, I had to find a way to draw accurate maps with the right details —towns, rivers, routes—relevant to the story, at a suitable scale, and without extraneous stuff that just cluttered the image. I tried finding maps I could use, but copyright restrictions, scale issues, or lack of the right details made them all unsuitable. trying to scrub and reuse maps others had drawn made them ugly. Hand-drawing them was even uglier. I thought I was beaten.

And then came a breakthrough. It was while using Google Earth to research cemeteries (yes, I do some strange stuff!) that I realized I could use it to identify the region I wanted, put pushpins on the relevant features, create a screen capture, outline the map I wanted in PowerPoint, and add the features and captions I needed.

The results are accurate, clean and entirely my work, so copyright issues are not a problem. Here is an example. I hope you like it.

With more than twenty maps to produce for a second edition of Call To Crusade, the process ate much of April. I had planned to republish the book in that month, but fate intervened.

You see, after a year of stalled progress in my Brent Cemetery research [please see for more background], the tumblers of time suddenly unlocked and gave me a host of new clues to locate two of America’s Founding Mothers—Sarah Brent Mason, wife of George Mason, the father of the U.S. Bill of Rights; and her ancestor, “Gentleman” Margaret Brent, the Savior of Maryland, and revered as the first woman voter and first female attorney in American history. With that new information, it became more likely they are buried in this forgotten little cemetery, and that I may have just found their unmarked graves.

It’s not often you get to solve a true mystery. It’s even rarer to find missing persons lost for two and three centuries. But I have a cemetery with perhaps fifty unidentified burials of note, and I intend to name all I can. It has taken me twenty years so far. But I’m putting names to graves at last. I am patient, but also persistent. And as new data appears, I press on to solve that mystery.

but enough! Back to the maps. For when the new cemetery clues dwindled again for the time being, that’s what I did—I went back to my maps. But only to veer into another interesting tangent: engravings.

A little backstory first: I was asked recently if I was writing to achieve fame, and whether I sought it. I replied that I did not, for fame does not play well with caregiving, and that takes precedence over all for now. Instead I said, “What I seek is literary renown.”

You see, books have always been important to me, and the ones I most admired as a young reader were the great literary classics of the 19th century: Terrific stories in handsome bindings, and illustrated by the most accomplished engravers there will ever be. Books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Treasure Island. And Tom Sawyer. And I have realized that books like these are what I want to produce—books to stand the test of time. Books that will still be read and admired a century, or three—at any rate, long—after I am dead.

So while I was searching for maps, I looked as well for images of the siege engines I write about. Most of them are misnamed today. Everything is called a “catapult.” Few readers actually know what an onager or ballista or helepolis really looks like. And pictures are a great help there.

Now not only did I find good pictures of them I could use, but in researching who produced them, I found other images, engravings created by the same men for the great literary works I had so admired.

Most of the great engravers—Gustave Doré, Alphonse de Neuville and others—lived and died in the 19th century, more than a century-and-a-half ago. And it was my good fortune to realize that their wonderful artworks are is not only relevant to my fiction, but are also now in the public domain. That means that I am free to reuse their images to illustrate my fiction, making my stories more intriguing, and at the same time giving their art new life doing just what they were first created to do.

Here is an example: Accolade, by Alphonse de Neuville. Terrific, isn’t it? You’ve probably never seen it. And unless you are an art history student, you’d be unlikely to encounter it anywhere today. But now it will grace my pages, and bring my stories to illustrated life.

To date, I have found more than 150 engravings like this, and now have enough illustrations of this quality to incorporate in all five planned volumes of The Siege Master series. Moreover, I have realized I can create my own as well, by finding suitable photos I can license and then re-rendering them with software that produces similar black-and-white “engravings”.

The process of doing all this consumed May. But now I am glad I did not rush out Call To Crusade with just its new maps. For now I have illustrations to add as well—perhaps thirty or more, to each of the five planned Siege Master volumes. And I have taken a huge step forward — backward in literary classics terms! 🙂 — to produce the books I have dreamt of publishing.

The lesson here? Not all progress is straightforward. Sometimes the tangent is the true path.

Or, as Yogi Berra put it, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” 🙂