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 Larry Laswell's Blog 
Thursday, March 19 2015

How fast can those big guns shoot?

So far, I have discussed the most important aspects of naval artillery, but there is one more topic to cover: a naval gun’s rate of fire and what difference rate of fire makes.

It takes about a minute to reload the big battleship’s sixteen-inch guns, so they can fire once per minute. On the other end of the spectrum, the destroyer’s five-inch guns can fire one round about every four seconds, or fifteen rounds per minute. Rate of fire can affect the outcome of battles, as I demonstrate in my next novel Vows to the Fallen.

A battleship attempting to bracket an enemy ship at ten nautical miles has to wait thirty seconds for their shells to fall, but that is not a problem since they can only fire once per minute. However, a destroyer firing at a target five miles away has to wait twenty seconds before their shots fall. In that time, they could have fired five more times. So what’s a captain to do? Keep firing even though he might not have the correct range, or wait until his shots fall so he can get the right range and not waste ammunition?

With the smaller five-inch guns, it makes sense to ladder the shots so the ship can keep firing. However, the US Navy ships had the benefit of radar and at the shorter ranges of the five-inch guns bracketing or laddering wasn’t necessary. The Japanese didn’t use radar, and this put them at a distinct disadvantage. Readers will be able to see this play out in Vows to the Fallen in the Battles of Kogeri and Ubella Atoll especially when the Japanese Cruiser captain tries to conserve ammunition. It turned out to be a mistake since his eight inch guns could have fired four salvo's per minute!

Posted by: Larry Laswell AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 16 2015

Susan Young for Marshell Publishing

In the history of film, there have been many successful book-to-film adaptations (think The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter). So this got me thinking about how well Larry Laswell’s book The Marathon Watch would translate into a film. In this interview, Larry and I talk about what makes a successful book-to-film adaptation, and particularly what he thinks about the idea of his books portrayed on the big screen.

Q. Larry, you've mentioned that some of your fans thought that The Marathon Watch would make a great movie. Why do you think they said that?

 Larry: Their comments surprised me at first, and they described the story as very visually compelling. I had thought of The Marathon Watch as a story about men struggling through difficult times; an inward story, not an external visual story. After some thought, I realized the first third of The Marathon Watch sets the scene, but after that, the story becomes very kinetic, and I have to admit, I wrote those sections as if I was watching a movie. This is another example of readers finding far more in my novel than I purposely intended. That taught me that a novel is finished only after someone reads it and makes it their own.

Q. Did making your books into a movie ever cross your mind as you were writing them?

Larry: Never. My only focus was to tell a good story about the people and the navy. Again, my intended purpose was to tell a story about a ship and crew trying to uphold the navy ethos of duty, honor, and tradition in very difficult circumstances. I think I succeeded, since some of my best reviews came from women — very unusual for a military book.

Q. What military movies do you believe have inspired your writing?

Larry: To me, most military movies aren’t inspirational. They tend to be about historical or fictional events and are plot-driven. Few, if any, do a good job of showing the tribulations, grace and courage of our fighting men and women. Saving Private Ryan is an exception to that rule. I see Saving Private Ryan as the story of an officer struggling against post-traumatic stress and finding a way to do his duty and look out for his men. That is the type of story I enjoy; it makes you think, and it moves your heart. I hope my readers agree that The Marathon Watch and my next novel, Vows to the Fallen, fall into that mold. I will feel honored if they do.

Q. If The Marathon Watch were made into a movie, who would you see directing it, and playing the main characters?

 Larry: There are a lot of great directors and actors out there so I wouldn’t want to get too specific about names, and risk excluding other capable professionals. Let’s approach it this way: I would like to see a director who has made compelling emotional movies about people. After all, that is what my novels are about.

I am not an expert on acting, but in some movies I see an actor playing a part. In others, with great actors, the actors become the character and I only see the character. I would like to see actors of that caliber. Admiral Durham and Captain O’Toole would require strong heroic actors whose mere presence on the screen would grab your attention and shout courage, duty, honor, and tradition.

Durham and O’Toole are the defenders of tradition. Perhaps someone like Gregory Peck could play Durham.

Meyers, the Farnley’s executive officer, grapples with tradition when he discovers he is on the horns of a dilemma, since duty and honor are in conflict. He is a man destined for greatness, and would need an actor who could convey his internal struggle and courage; perhaps someone in the mold of Tom Hanks.  Ross, the engine room chief, would be the most difficult to cast. That character would have to be as tough as a Marine Corps drill instructor, and at the same time tell the audience his tender heart still carries very deep, old scars. Admiral Eichhoff, the antagonist, is a cruel, conniving, yet smooth-talking slug. I can’t think of anyone to play him.

Q. How would you convince a Hollywood director that your book was worth making into a movie?

Larry: Well, I couldn’t sell a Band-Aid at a train wreck! I’m just not a salesman. If the book doesn’t sell itself, there wouldn’t be much I could to help it along.

Q. What would you change about the story line in order to adapt it into a film?

Larry: Later this year, I will release the second edition of The Marathon Watch. In the first third of the book, I will add new material and sharpen the focus on the characters’ internal conflicts. Beyond that, I would hope a director would stick with the story line. However, since Hollywood is Hollywood, they will want to add a love interest, and perhaps some sex, which is entirely missing in The Marathon Watch. There is hope though, since neither of those elements was in Saving Private Ryan.  It ultimately would come down to how much I want The Marathon Watch up on the big screen.

Q. Of the books you know that have done well as adaptations, what do you think made them so successful at the box office?

Larry: I have heard actors say the magic is in the writing, and that no amount of great acting can save a weak script. I have to agree. A recent movie adaptation is from the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book was moving and the characters compelling. The producers resisted the urge to “improve” the novel with changes and additions. The movie faithfully followed the book, and is a moving and compelling movie.

Now that I think about it, this relates to your earlier question about changes in the storyline to adapt it to film.  Let me change my answer to that question, and say that I would hope The Marathon Watch and my characters are compelling enough, Hollywood wouldn’t want to change a thing.

Posted by: Susan Young AT 05:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, March 12 2015

The most important aspect of naval artillery

To obtain a targeting solution on an enemy ship there are three variables: target speed, target course, and range to the target. It takes about three minutes to obtain a reasonably accurate calculation of a target’s course and speed mathematically. Sometimes ships used quicker methods (eyeballing the course and estimating speed based on the bow wake of the target) in an emergency, but that sort of accuracy depends on the skill and experience of the targeting crews.

Before radar, obtaining the range to a target was the most difficult of the variables. In this regard, the US Navy had a distinct advantage over the Japanese because the first mention of the Japanese using radar on ships wasn’t until 1944. Still, there are numerous variables relating to the atmospherics that could affect range accuracy, especially at long range. Naval gunners assumed a few salvos would be required to obtain the correct effective range to the target.

Gunners used one of two methods to obtain the proper effective range: laddering and bracketing. Gun crews used laddering at longer ranges. When using laddering, ships would deliberately fire their first salvo short of the target and then increase the range until the shots fell on the far side of the target. Once the shots fell long, gunners could make a final attempt to obtain the correct effective range.

Using the bracketing technique, ships would observe the hits from their first salvo. If the shot landed long, the ship would try to make the next salvo short and vice versa. With one shot long and one shot short, spotters would estimate the distance between the shell impact points and interpolate to obtain the range to target.

One interesting aspect of bracketing is the target ship can almost estimate where the next shot will fall. Readers will see O’Toole using this in Vows to the Fallen. During World War II, US ship captains got into the habit of changing course so their range from the enemy would be the range of the last shot fall. When the enemy adjusted their range and fired again, their shells would fall at the range the US ship was before it had changed course. The common thing to do was to steer for the last shell impact point. As you can guess, this could result in a guessing game between ships.

Posted by: Larry Laswell AT 08:36 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 09 2015

By Susan Young for Marshell Publishing

If you have read any of Larry’s blog posts, you’ve probably noticed that he enjoys sharing stories of his experiences and adventures in the U.S. Navy. It’s easy to see how these experiences have shaped his viewpoint and perspective as an historical and military fiction author. So I was curious what made Larry decide to record his stories and share them with his fans.  Here is what he had to say:

Q: What made you decide to share your own sea stories as part of your author website?

Larry: There is a simple multi-part answer to that. First, my eight years in the navy were truly an adventure. Over the years I shared my sea stories in their verbal tradition with my family and friends. They all said, I should write them down, but for years I resisted. One day my wife challenged me to write down a list of all of my stories, and being a well-trained husband, I complied.  I had over 80 sea stories, and I keep thinking of more. Since I see myself as a writer, I decided to write them down – duh!

There is an element of humor or irony in most of the stories, but some are serious such as the post I have scheduled for April 6th that relates my experience as regular visitor to Haight-Asbury in San Francisco at the height of the Hippie movement. The humor comes into play because I have always had a warped view of the world and can always find humor in anything. For example, one upcoming sea story tells of my adventures the day I blew up a torpedo launcher. I thought it was hilarious (have you ever seen four burly sailors chase a five-hundred pound torpedo that is rolling back and forth on a rolling deck). Unfortunately, my captain saw no humor in the situation at all.

Whether the story is funny or serious, I caution my readers be wary of the veracity of my sea stories since the older I get the better I was. But then again, every sailor knows a sea story is absolute gospel and should never be questioned.

Q. What kind of stories can readers expect in future sea stories?

Larry: To say my collection of sea stories is eclectic would be an understatement. Some relate to the interesting people I met, like the little old Greek woman who was the wife of the British Ambassador to France during the De Gaulle years. She called him “Charles.” Some stories are about my experiences and adventures ashore and afloat, like how I used to camp out under the bushes in Golden Gate Park at night to save money. Some, I think, are absolutely hilarious, like the time a high powered radar lit-up every fluorescent light bulb in the business district of a major city at about midnight. Some are wistful like my post on Haight-Asbury, and others are serious as I consider the danger our sailors face and the sacrifices they make.

Q: Why do you think it's important for military men to share their own sea stories?

Larry: I have another multi-part answer for that question. Service members who have read my sea stories tell me. “Yeah, I’ve been there and done that at a different time, and under different circumstances.”  In that vein, it is a validation of their service and a pleasant trip down memory lane.

Those who have not served in the military love the military nuances of the stories, and it informs them of nature of the work our military personnel do and the challenges they face.  From the feedback I’ve received, everyone enjoys some aspect of the stories, be it information, humor, or my merrily-warped view of military life.

Q: How do you plan on sharing any submissions?

Larry: I will post any well written sea story submitted to me provided the story isn’t of the “R” or “X” rated flavor. Trust me there are lots of those, but there are far greater stories of the “G” flavor.

Q. Are you offering any incentives for sharing sea stories?

Larry: I will select one sea story each month to receive an autographed copy of The Marathon Watch.

Share your Sea Stories with Larry:

We’d love to hear from other veterans about their life at sea or life after the Navy. If you’re willing to share your own Sea Story, please use our online submission form, or email larry@larrylaswell.com. You just might see your Sea Story in a future blog post on Larry’s website.

Posted by: Susan Young AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, March 07 2015

The boys are in the trenches, they’ve got a lot to say
About the troubles and the sorrows that come the soldier’s way,
But we destroyer sailors would like their company
On a hell of a trip, on a lousy ship when we put out to sea.

Chorus:
You roll, you creak, you pound, you pitch
You greasy grimy son-of-a-bitch
Oh boy, it’s a hell of a life on a destroyer.

The damn tin can destroyer was never meant for sea.
You couldn’t keep her steady in a lousy cup of tea.
We carry guns, torpedoes and ash cans in a bunch,
But the only time we hit our mark, is when we shoot our lunch.

We’ve heard of muddy dugouts and foxholes filled with slime,
Of cooty hunts and marches that fill a soldiers time,
But set beside destroyer life it all seems dull and pale
For when the chronometer hops, and the barometer drops, we line up on the rail.

When we’re back in dry dock, we’ll stagger like we’re drunk,
We’ll wonder how we stood it, and why she never sunk.
We’ll set our course in civilian clothes, but just before we switch
With our sea bag on our shoulder, we’ll sign up for one more hitch.

If you want to hear what this ditty sounds like click here.

Do you have a sea ditty you'd like to share? If you’re willing to share your own sea ditty, please use our online submission form, or email larry@larrylaswell.com. You just might see your sea ditty in a future blog post on Larry’s website.

Posted by: Larry Laswell AT 08:03 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, March 05 2015

How long does the enemy ship have to get out of the way?

Hollywood movies sometimes portray incoming projectiles by the sound they make as they scream overhead, but I have yet to see a movie that exposes the problems created by projectile flight times. For example, if a five-inch gun fires at a target ship at 10,000 yards (five nautical miles) away, and the target ship is traveling at thirty knots, the target ship would move more than the length of three football fields before the shell hits because the flight time of the shell would be twenty-two seconds. In Vows to the Fallen, readers will see how flight times can affect a battle.

The navy considered the destroyer’s five-inch guns as dual-purpose weapons usable against surface and air targets. Standard procedure was for destroyers to open fire on incoming aircraft at 9,000 yards.  Even assuming flight times are linear with range, which they aren’t, the shell wouldn’t hit the aircraft for thirteen seconds at a range of about 6,000 yards.

Flight times get larger the greater the range and the larger the shell. Here are some example flight times for five, eight, and sixteen-inch projectiles.

Projectile Flight Time in Seconds

Range Nautical Miles

5-inch

8-inch

16-inch

2.5

8

6

5

22

13

13

7.5

43

25

8.5

69

10

38

29.6

12.5

56

14.5

79

15

50

18

66

20

80

 

Projectile flight times are important because the time a projectile is in flight is also the time the target ship has to evade. In a previous post on accuracy, I discussed how the probability of hitting the target depended on the target’s being cooperative and not changing course or speed while the projectile was in flight.

In the next post, I will cover targeting techniques and pull all of the artillery blogs together with a final post on rate of fire.

Posted by: Larry Laswell AT 08:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, March 03 2015

Susan Young for Marshell Publishing

I’ve been speaking a lot lately with Larry Laswell about his experiences in writing The Marathon Watch, as well as some of the feedback he’s received from readers as well as literary critics. Here I’ve gathered some of his thoughts and perspective as he reflects on the criticisms he’s received thus far, and how he’s taken that information to heart.

First, how do you view reader reviews?

The reviews have been very gratifying and all positive. In the US my average review is 4.6 our of 5 stars, and in the UK my average review is 4.3 stars. I am thankful to anyone who provides feedback on my work. I appreciate they read the book and took the time to let me, and other readers, know what they thought. I don’t take criticism of my work as a bad thing. Instead, I view it as a learning opportunity to improve my craft. So far, all of the criticism I have received has been on point and I have learned from it although I may not agree with it because of the goals I set for my novel.

Reader Comment  #1: The Marathon Watch begins with heavy narrative.

Larry’s Response: There are several reasons Larry claims that he starts the book with a lot of narrative, rather than dialogue. The first reason is the huge backstory he needs to convey to readers. “Most readers are not acclimated to military thinking and culture,” Larry says. “In order to convey (the backstory) to them through dialogue would have doubled the size of book, unless I did it in narrative (form).”

Reader Comment #2: The Marathon Watch breaks standard literature rules.

Larry’s Response: Larry admits that he knew the literary critics would get on his case for breaking many of the rules of standard literature, which are set by publishing houses. The publishing houses are not concerned with great literature; only minimizing their risk by using proven formulas. However, he believes he broke the rules for a purpose – to have a positive effect. “If you write those rules down, and then take work of Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Michener – not any of them will pass the test on those rules,” said Larry. “To a certain extent, I hope I’m in that class.”  Larry also mentioned that some of the most critical reviews he has received have been from other authors because he broke the rules. Larry responded that he knows that there are many cookie-cutter book formulas out there. He offers those critics a spirited response:  “Would you rather write a cookie-cutter novel that followed all the rules or write a great one readers will enjoy?” he said. “To hell with the formula!”  My goal is to write great books, and my readers deserve more than a cookie-cutter formula book anyone could crank out in three months.

Reader Comment #3: The Marathon Watch is too long.

Larry’s Response: In this case, Larry started to believe some of the criticisms, and has responded accordingly.  In fact, the original first draft of The Marathon Watch was 30 percent larger than the current book, but Larry cut the word count by 30,000 words – nearly one fourth of the book. The wisdom behind that decision was that in print format, for size and shelf considerations for retail stores, a shorter book made more sense, even though the larger size typically sells better in the electronic (eBook) world.  Because of that decision, Larry said, his beta readers were angry with him because they said his first draft was a work of pure literature, and what he wound up with was all of the prose – beautiful descriptions, the history and the mythology on the cutting room floor. Larry holds on to the possibility that someday he’ll release the “author’s cut” of The Marathon Watch for those who would like to read the longer version. He is also considering re-releasing The Marathon Watch this year with a revised front end to address the narrative criticism.

Posted by: Susan Young AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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