Writing about those who stand in defense of their country is a challenge. If you’re close to your subject, if you’ve lived it, then you may have trouble stepping back to gain perspective. If you have never served, then you have to gain currency with terminology, basic tactical concepts, and may never capture the gut feelings of combat or even being a member of the service.
History can lend a hand. There is much source material. Possibly more has been written about war than any other human activity. I would guess from the books I’ve read that the leaders in war were favored first, and only during the last two hundred years have the front line soldiers’ stories gained prominence.
Soldiers serving under the command of General George S. Patton, nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts,” used to quip, “our blood, his guts”. Combat requires both, and a successful commander must also have the brains to see the battle in the context of history, to build a bold plan, and know when to hold to it or abandon it in the fog of war.
If you write about war, you will have to possess all three of these qualities.
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons User:Onomatomedia
This last January I had the privilege of attending the San Diego Writers Conference, held at the newly upgraded Doubletree Hotel in Mission Valley. The venue was beautiful, the machine of the Writers Conference hummed along flawlessly, and the very best parts were the people.
The camaraderie of writers is a delight to experience. The professionals stoop to help the newcomers, the assured comfort the nervous (ye who are about to find out what an agent thought of your novel, we salute your courage), we cheerfully and thoughtfully dissect each other’s work, and then we retire to dinner or the bar to sip and sup and talk about the trials and comforts of the trade. Ideas and sometimes deals are worked out over a cocktail napkin. Friendships are made and sometimes even romances.
Writing is devilish hard work, as those who have iron enough to confront the virtual blank paper of a word processor know. It’s never assured, and lonely when you create, and sometimes hollow in the achievement of work that sometimes goes unread after all the sweat and tears put in. But there is the phone, or chat, and the solitude is broken. And perhaps once or twice a year you can make a pilgrimage to meet with your profession: agents, editors, a multitude of other writers, and then follows the triumphs, small and great o learning more about your trade, your fellows, and yourself.
So it was a chill wind in my heart when I read that the 2013 San Diego Writers Conference was cancelled.
The founder and coordinator, Diane Dunaway Kramer, had been injured in an auto accident, and had been unable to help put together this year’s event. I pray for her recovery.
I will miss the camaraderie this year. I hope the event will be back in 2014.
And I will attend another event, in Colorado Springs, in May: The Sangria Summit Military Writer’s Workshop.
For more information: SangriaSummit.Com
Life in the military has been characterized as long periods of waiting patiently, punctuated by moments of heart-pounding action. A writer’s lot is not near as hazardous, but does involve working steadily, training yourself to know your genre and your craft, and then that moment of decisive action when you present a manuscript or a pitch for a book to an editor or agent.
It all comes down to that opportunity, maybe the only one you will get for your work to succeed.
Are you ready? Have you prepared, drilled, practiced? Has someone competent in the field checked your work? Are you using the right tools, tactics, strategies?
Will you pass inspection, will you reach your objective?
The similarities between your craft and the soldier’s duty are rhetorical, perhaps, and a soldier has the protection of the nation as their goal, but the need to to hone your skills, to stand up and be your best is there for the author as well.
There’s a place for you to show your work, to get it critiqued, to have the flaws laid out, sessions where you learn from the best.
If you want to write in the military genre, fiction or fact, Sangria Summit was designed for you.
Come September, we’ll be assembling in Denver—experts, authors, and those who want to excel in their field.
Come join us.
–William V. Burns
Have you ever served in the military and want to wrap your experiences in the covers of a book?
Perhaps you just want to build a world with heroes and battles within? Do you know how to write about the fog of war, the smoke and blood of conflict, or use the terminology and styles of writing about armed conflict?
There’s a place and time you can develop these skills, rub shoulders with people who know war and writing about war, and can show you what they know.
Save the dates: September 12th through the 14th, 2012.
Denver, Colorado, at the Marriott Denver City Center.
It’s the premiere of a new conference of military writers, and workshops where you can learn how to join their ranks.
Register today, reserve a room, get your gear on and roll out in September with the rest of us.
I’ll be there, and hope to shake your hand.
–William V. Burns
Just one month ago I attended the 2012 San Diego Writers Conference.
My objectives were to polish the pitch for my novel, and to learn what I had to do to get it published.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you what I learned:
- How to create a great query letter
- Build a synopsis of your novel
- Jumping over the Slush Pile
- Experience a Writers Convention
- e-Books: The New Market
Am I giving away what I spent a thousand dollars to learn?
But revisiting what I found out at the conference will reinforce it in my mind. It’s worth it.
–William V. Burns
Arthur Conan Doyle -- A Study In Scarlet
What makes a work of fiction echo down the ages, relevant to all who read it?
How can you craft a story, or a book, or a script that will resonate cleanly to readers who come to your work after you have left the stage?
A few thoughts…
Consider the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
What is the difference between the first Sherlock Holmes novel—A Study in Scarlet and Doyle’s 1891 novel, The Doings Of Raffles Haw?
One sits in the golden path of the world’s great mystery novels, and the other… well, I’m reasonably certain you’ve never heard of it.
In Scarlet, Sir Arthur begins by detailing the life of John H. Watson, M.D., veteran of the second Afghan War, recuperating in London. An interesting character, sympathetically described, who meets his roommate-to-be, a man who greets him and immediately says, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”
What has begun as the reminiscences of an Army surgeon twists into a mystery… Holmes meets Watson and the game, as they say, is afoot.
The Doings Of Raffles Haw begins as a mundane tale of fiscal and family woe, and in a chapter or two slowly changes to a fantasy about unlimited wealth and its uses. The characters are utterly forgettable.
Points: Sharp, interesting characters, doing interesting things. Amaze your reader.
Both are set in approximately the same period. Both have plots with secrets revealed, and human failings set in a Victorian prism.
Both in their own way are fantasies.
One tale illuminates its period, and the other is just a shadow of its time.
–William V. Burns
Project Gutenberg links to both novels:
A Study in Scarlet
The Doings Of Raffles Haw
It was another pointless day at my community college. The usual agitators in my English 204 class had started a discussion which ranged far off its original course, and finally degenerated into an argument about that old cliche: If you knew a nuclear weapon was about to explode in a city in a few hours, and you had the perpetrator in custody, would it be ethical to torture him until he gave up and disclosed the bomb’s location?
Jenny, an earnest Marxist with deep blue eyes and an equally deep bosom, passionately laid out her reasoning for appealing to the terrorist’s human side, and stated that the end “…never justified the means, if the means were really mean.”
Paul, our designated conservative, opined that “…in the event that the torture was successful, and the city was saved, the President would surely pardon the torturer. In any case, what right does scum like that have to due process?”
Our instructor, a bored remnant of the Seventies, a blasé man in a tweed jacket, interjected a homily about the ineffectiveness of torture, but lost the thread somewhere in a dazed rant about the political system.
I was hoping Jenny would bounce up again – but then another student spoke up. None of us knew him by name. He was one of those colorless, middle-aged students who came in, took their notes quietly, and left, just collecting their credits for whatever reason. His voice was flat and unemotional.
“You’re all missing the point. There’s nothing philosophical about torture. It’s an act you perform because at the time you feel you have to. You don’t think about the morality of it. It’s beyond that. You have another human being before you, and you need the information. You have to be right. You just do it.”
The plain man rubbed his forehead. We were silent.
“He’s there, and he doesn’t want to tell you what you need to know. You’re there, and you have no choice. You just do it. In his agony, you know he’ll tell you anything he can think of—lies, fantasies, half-truths. So you have to take it to the end. You have to get to that point where he knows he’s going to die, where he’s bleeding from everywhere, and he knows the pain won’t stop, won’t stop until that last labored breath. He’s soiled himself several times. There’s bile on the floor. He’s drowning in his own sweat, and it smells of fear. The stench of him fills the room. You keep pressing him, until in that final haze of pain, just before he dies, you’re sure.”
There was no sound in that room except our breathing. The plain, middle-aged man placed his palms gently on the desk in front of him, and looked around at us.
“Don’t we all just do what we have to?”
He put his little notepad under his arm and left the classroom, just as the bell rang. We never saw him again.
–William V. Burns
National Novel Writing Month (hereafter NaNoWriMo) is a yearly contest to write an entire novel in just 30 days – November – from scratch – you start writing on November 1st, and stop no later than midnight November 30th.
Yes, it’s insane. But it’s a way to stop procrastinating, and actually sit down and write that book you’ve had in your head all this time.
The idea of NaNoWriMo was conceived by Chris Baty, and his site is here: NaNoWriMo.Org
That’s the official site…
Here at Often Inspired, we like to gather a few people during November for NaNoWriMo and have a party, where we share our work on the forum, pass out prizes, gripe, praise each others work, rally at the end, and produce some novels.
This will be our fifth year!
Join us on the forum and toil along with us, or just… watch us sweat.
Here are the instructions…
“It’s because of the paradox,” I explained.
I fidgeted a bit in the hard metal chair. Government-issue furniture didn’t seem comfortable no matter what country supplied them, or what century. Of course my comfort wasn’t important at all to the middle-aged German police officer listening to me and writing in his small brown notebook. Everything in the room was brown, even the police officer’s suit and hat.
“We found you can’t go back into the past and change it in any important way, such as saving a political figure from being assassinated. We tried that with Archduke Franz Ferdinand and immediately the agent who garroted Princip, the assassin, found himself back at the venture capsule staring at a PATH FAILED mission indicator and only remembering the attempt hazily. He recorded what happened and then returned to base.”
The police officer raised one eyebrow and smiled grimly. “I am no fan of the Nazis, Herr Brummler, but such an astounding story doesn’t persuade me to release you. You are accused of killing Adolf Hitler, a notorious political agitator and admirer of Mussolini, at the house of Herr Hanfstaengl. Do you know we were but a few minutes from arresting that swine when you shot him? You killed him for no good reason. I would like your statement to answer this question. Why?”
I looked around me for a moment to get my bearings. I knew I didn’t have much time left. The clock on the light brown wall of the interview room showed 11:29. But if I persuaded…
“Of course what I’m saying sounds like gibberish. I’m nervous. I need to get back to my small vehicle. You can escort me there. Aren’t you interested how I got here? Where I came from? I promise I only want to open its door, and press one button. One small button. That will signal the computer that I succeeded. Is that so much to ask?”
Officer Ratzinger seemed even more amused. “I’m usually out in the countryside, helping our rural citizens solve mysteries such as missing cattle and non-payment of grain loans. I’m filling in for Officer Meyer, so please excuse my lack of sophistication. I do not believe a word you have said so far.” He leaned back in his own unyielding chair and chuckled. “Tell me who helped you find Herr Hitler. He was on the run from the entire Bavarian State Police after his little rebellion failed. We were set to toss him in prison and let him rot there harmlessly.”
“I’m not making myself clear. So you can’t change the past. But you can change the future. You can go forward, alter events, and there is no paradox.. Do you understand me at all?”
Ratzinger nodded. “I have read a few pieces of speculative fiction, Wells, Verne, and the like. I can see that. Go on, tell me how ‘they’ overcame this problem.”
I wiped my brow and looked at the clock. 11:35. So close, so close. I needed to get the idea into this rural cop’s head. “So they sent the equipment and our team all the way back to 1900, and we were not told what we were supposed to do or why. We were told to perform an unknown mission once a month—simply grab a mission kit, enter a venture capsule, and close the door. It would go somewhere, and to some… date. Because we would be traveling into our future, and knew not what we were supposed to do, we would leave the capsule, close the door, and then try to figure out what change they wanted us to make. Once I knew the date was 11 November 1923, and everyone on the street was talking about Hitler and the NSDAP, I knew. I knew I had to kill him. I did kill him! I prevented the worst war and massacre of the 20th Century. But it will be for nothing unless you take me to my—”
The policeman raised a hand to stop me, smiled, and uncuffed me from the table. My heart raced. He was going to take me there! Then he spoke softly to me while holding my wrists in his firm muscular grip. Ratzinger snapped the cuffs shut on me. “I have enough now. Don’t worry, Herr Brummler. We don’t execute the mentally deranged. You will be treated for your illness and perhaps, in a decade or so, you may be allowed to rejoin us.”
The time was 11:40. My twelve allotted hours were dwindling. Only twenty minutes left. I tried to break away but Ratzinger only smiled broadly. “Don’t make me crack your skull against the table. Behave yourself.” He pushed me into the small cell in the back of the room, and locked the door. He stood outside the grille and looked at me. “I am sorry for you. I think you mean well, but you are totally mad.”
I looked despairingly up at the clock. 11:46. Still time… the venture capsule was only a few blocks away…
Ratzinger disappeared, the cell grille faded, the furniture dimmed, and I found myself standing in the brown room, completely alone, just four walls, a ceiling light, and the clock, the clock must have been slow. My time was up. The brown room faded… and I was sitting in the venture capsule. The numbers glared red: 00:00 and the mission indicator changed to PATH FAILED. I had automatically been returned to 1900.
–William V. Burns