Iran claims to have captured US ScanEagle surveillance drone

ScanEagleLaunchIn December, Iran claimed to have captured a U.S. ScanEagle surveillance drone that was violating Iranian airspace. The ScanEagle, designed to be flown from a ship, is a small drone, 4.5 feet long with a wingspan of 10.2 feet with an empty weight of under 30 pounds.

The most notable use of the drone was in in 2011 in the MV Maersk Alabama piracy incident in the Indian Ocean. The New York Times report that US Officials have downplayed the drone’s technology, stating it has less computing power than a smartphone and camera technology that could be purchased at Radio Shack. If that’s true, one might ask why the ScanEagle system costs $3.2 million.

Photograph of Sentinel Drone that Iran has claimed to have captured

Photograph of Sentinel Drone that Iran has claimed to have captured

The ScanEagle is one of several drones that Iran has claimed to have captured, the most notable was the RQ-170 Sentinel Drone in December 2011. The New York Times reported that the Sentinel Drone was lost over Afghanistan, however, officials stated they would have expected to see much more damage if the drone had been brought down. Unless, of course, Iran seized control of the drone and landed it without damage. The other possibility raised in the report is that the drone glided to the ground after control was interrupted.

How Drones Work

How Drones Work

Is Iran is telling the truth? Can control of a drone be hacked? The BBC reported in “Researchers use spoofing to ‘hack’ into a flying drone” that it can be done. If that’s possible, is it also possible that the weapons systems be controlled?

In 2011 the LA Times and others reported that combat drones had been infected by a virus. All of this makes one wonder how secure the systems that control drone are. And these are government drones. What are the unintended consequences and unforeseen risks when drones are more widely used? I foresee a time when they are as commonplace as security cameras and traffic cameras.

Update – Virginia set to ban drones for two years

In an update to yesterday’s blog post, Stacy Parker has reported today in the Virginian-Pilot (“Hobbyists finding there’s not place like drone”) that Virginia’s two-year moratorium on the use of drones by police and government agencies will not apply to civilians. Looks like I can buy and use the Parrot AR Drone at Brookstone without breaking the law after all.

Virginia grounds drones for two years

X-47BaboveXC59VFC3BPCG My new novel, Return to Valor, will be published later this year. The military techno-thriller features an experimental Navy drone. In anticipation of the release of this novel, I am writing a series of blog posts related to drones. This is the first of the series.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Last month, Charlottesville, Virginia, became the first city in the nation to pass legislation imposing a two-year ban on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. Now, the Virginian-PIlot has reported that the state legislature has passed a bill that poses a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by police or government agencies in Virginia. The bill is awaiting approval by Governor Bob McDonnell. Like their colleagues in Charlottesville, the state legislators are concerned that the use of drones could infringe on citizens’ right to privacy. I have been unable to find the precise wording of the legislation, but should Gov. McDonnell sign it, I wonder what the implications are for private use of drones or use by the military in Hampton Roads or use by the CIA at Langley and the trainees at Camp Peary, a short drone flight from Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary. After all, the CIA isn’t the military, it is a government agency. And what distinction can be made between the local police using a drone to search for suspects and missing persons and the police using a helicopter to do the same thing? Does the fact one is piloted and the other is not make any difference to the possible infringement on our right to privacy? How about television traffic helicopters?

Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia and, like most small university towns, is a liberal environment in which to live and work. The Virginia metropolitan area of Hampton Roads, where I live, is home to: the world’s largest naval base, the east coast-based Navy SEALs, the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Naval Air Station Oceana – the Navy’s East Coast Master Jet Base, Joint-Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, the CIA’s Camp Peary, the Fifth Coast Guard District, and SEAL Team Six. By anyone’s measure, it is a conservative, testosterone-charged place to live and work. In Hampton Roads, the thought of banning police use of small, unarmed surveillance drones seems—well, odd. If it is a right to privacy issue, aren’t there right to privacy laws on the books that cover violations by the police or anyone else? Do we need really need a special one for drones?

UN-Drones-In their rush to pass something, I hope that the legislators took time to define what is meant by drone. When one reads a news headline about drones, images of the large Predator or Reaper drone, equipped with a powerful, high-definition cameras, and armed with Hellfire missiles comes to mind. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t want those flying over our house any more than would the law-abiding citizens of Pakistan or wherever else the the military and CIA are using them.

But the Parrott AR Drone, available in most shopping malls at Bookstone, with its built-in HD camera is a drone both in name and function. Therefore, for now, I must defer any further thoughts of buying one—seriously, I want one—because being a resident of Virginia, I just might be breaking the law even though the moratorium does not appear to cover use of drones by private citizens. By the way, my wife is pleased with this news. She didn’t see any reason to spend $300 on a drone that has a 12-minute battery life.


The Agent Query Process – Does anyone really enjoy it?

XC59VFC3BPCG I am currently immersed in the agent query process for my second manuscript. A quick internet search will yield hundreds, if not thousands, of web sites offering advice on how to write query letters. Attend any writers conference and I’ll guarantee that you will find one or two sessions on the agent query process or guidance on how to write query letters that agents will actually read. I know. I’ve attended them. The best, by the way, is taught by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. Guide to Literary AgentsHis Guide to Literary Agents Blog is also very helpful in finding agents to query. In addition, there are webinars and books on the subject. Go to these resources to learn how to write an effective query letter. My intention is to tell you what the query process is like if you’ve not experienced it and tell you my experience in the past and at present.

In my previous life in pharmaceutical R&D, I once asked a sales executive what they look for when hiring a pharmaceutical sales representative. His answer: ability to take rejection. In that regard writers are a bit like pharmaceutical sales representatives. They have to deal with rejection and not take it personally. Rare is the writer who sends out a few query letters, lands an agent, and gets published. The stories of best selling authors, e.g. J.K. Rowling, receiving multiple rejections before getting published are legend. That makes us fell a little better, doesn’t it? In theory, yes. But getting the e-mails stating that your manuscript has been rejected—they never use that term, by the way—still stings, especially when some of the e-mails are poorly written. Get over it. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Query CartoonHow many query letters should you send? How long is a piece of string? The answer is the same. It depends. I have sent thirty-two agent query letters for my current manuscript Why thirty-two? James Patterson was rejected by thirty-one agents before his manuscript was accepted, so I decided thirty-two was enough. Honestly, I felt the number was sufficient to test the waters and determine the level of interest.

Sending queries and receiving replies is much easier than in the past. Almost all agents either prefer receiving e-mail submissions or will allow them. In searching for agents, I ran across only a couple of agencies that would not accept e-mail queries. I crossed them off my list. It’s the 21st century for goodness sake.

The results thus far? I’ve been pleased with the response. Several agents have requested the full manuscript, some of whom I’m still awaiting a final response. Although I’ve received some rejections, a few agents have written personal replies providing encouragement and support. At least they seemed personal.

Query Letter CartoonI was intrigued by a couple of agents who said their plates were full, and they didn’t have time to give my manuscript the full attention it deserved. Nice. I’m sure it was a form reply, but it made me wonder. If that’s true, why doesn’t the agency simply hire more agents? I won’t argue the fact that agents serve an important gatekeeper role. But perhaps, with the rapid change taking place in the publishing industry, it is time the traditional agent role and query process were redesigned.

I’ll keep you informed as to my progress and outcome. But number one on my list of my 2013 personal objectives is to publish my manuscript. I’ll give the process another month or two. By then, if I haven’t landed an agent or publisher, I’ll consider self-publishing and feel, not just good, but great about it. Today, self-publishing is not only a viable alternative to traditional publishing, for some it can be the preferred path to publication. In the meantime, while I proceed with the agent query process, I given up golf. One frustrating activity at a time is enough.

Five Reasons to Attend a Writers Conference

Have you wondered whether attending a writers conference is worth the cost. The price can range from $200-$300 for a small local conference to $1200 for Thrillerfest in New York. And that’s just the registration fee. Including travel, hotel, and incidentals, the total could exceed $2000.

South Carolina Writers WorkshopI attended my first writers conference in October 2008, the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference in Myrtle Beach. At the time the plot of Libido’s Twist was forming in my head and the words were appearing on the screen of my MacBook Pro. My creative writing education, however, was limited to reading a few books. At the conference I attended every session I could squeeze in. I was amazed at how much I learned. But there were also these slush fests, ten or thirty page agent critiques, and pitch sessions. All of it was foreign to me; and to be honest, I did not know enough to fully comprehend what any of them were. In contrast, this year I participated in the thriller slush fest, had a thirty page critique of my manuscript, pitched to a pitch coach, pitched to three agents, and had a query letter critique.

Hampton Road WritersI have now attended four SC Writers Workshop Conferences and one Hampton Roads Writers Conference. So, are writing conference worth the cost? What can I expect if I go?

1. A chance to meet and talk to fellow writers: I know this is a generalization, but I believe most writers would score on the “I” side of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. We are, by nature, introverts, quite happy to write in isolation. “I” time energizes us. On the other hand, we dread book signings, interviews, and self-promotion. When you attend a writers conference, you have the opportunity to meet and talk to people for all walks of life who, like you, also love to write. The vast majority of the attendees are not earning a living with their writing, although most all would love to do so. Learn from the experiences and mistakes of others.

2. Attend multiple sessions on the craft of writing, publishing and promotion: Writing conferences provide an incredible learning opportunity: You will be amazed by how much you learn attending the sessions taught by the conference faculty of authors, agents, and editors, covering a wide range of topics.

3. Meet and interact with agents, editors, authors, and publishers: Writing conferences provide an unique opportunity to meet and interact with these individuals during their presentations and at social events during the conference. But remember, it’s bad form to pitch your manuscript to an unsuspecting agent in the elevator—unless they ask—or leave your manuscript leaning against their hotel room door. That comes across as creepy.

4. Meet and hear from successful authors: The keynote speakers, depending on the conference, can be NYT bestselling authors. For example, I’ve heard and met Michael Connelly and Steve Berry. And at the 2011 SC conference, Andrew Gross, a bestselling author who co-wrote several books with James Patterson before going it alone, was behind me in line for a drink at the reception before the night before the start of the conference. My wife and I struck up a conversation and ended up talking to him for about fifteen minutes before others came up to meet him. And, even if you don’t meet the keynote speaker, other successful authors teach sessions during the conference.

5. Receive direct and immediate feedback: Be it a slush fest, critique, or pitch, the opportunity for feedback on your manuscript and writing is alone worth the price of the conference. Everyone I have interacted with has been helpful and constructive in their comments. Remember, they are they to help you and to discover new talent and clients.

ThrillerFest VIIIHave I convinced you to attend a conference in 2013? I will once again be attending the Hampton Roads Writers Conference and the SC Writers Workshop Conference. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’m also tempted to attend ThrillerFest VIII. I hear it’s well worth the cost for a thriller author, especially one hoping to find an agent.