If you’re interested in my publications, please visit my publication list on my website. I’ve identified stories that about Women at War and Women Veterans. Enjoy!
Thanks to the Northwest Guardian for saying I could post this photo of Tommy Hearns, and to Bob Elliot for taking it. I’m the one standing in the left corner, my back to the camera.
The photo was published in the Northwest Guardian on September 27, 1990.
We would deploy at the end of October. I don’t think anyone was nervous at this point — we’d gotten beyond that. There was a point of acceptance and anxiety that seeped in. We could see in the news that things were happened, and we couldn’t pretend like the deployment was going to get canceled.
We didn’t have anything to do at all, so our company commander tried to give us as much time off as possible. He’d have us come in for formation, then go home, but the battalion nixed that very fast. He ended up giving us half days off instead.
We also got a visit from boxing champion Tommy Hearns, who stopped by our company as part of a publicity visit for the war. In writing this, I also discovered that he came over to Saudi Arabia to visit the soldiers as well, so that was pretty cool. I grew up in Hollywood and lived and breathed all that star stuff, and unfortunately, the celebrity default tends to be anti-war. Meaning, they get out and pontificate about no more war and pretend like there aren’t real people overseas. Soldiers are really isolated during war, so it’s special when a celebrity like Tommy Hearns or Bob Hope visit because it connects us back to the real world.
Tommy Hearns was from Detroit, so he was going to visit with two soldiers from Detroit. But first, we were going to have a photo opp for the press, which included a demonstration of a first aid task. I ended up being the “victim.” My squad leader grabbed a ketchup packet from the mess hall to simulate blood.
The task was how to apply a field bandage, which is the first bandage you put on a wound to stop the bleeding in the battlefield. We all would carry a small one as part of our every day equipment. A much larger version is visible in many episodes of the TV series M*A*S*H. The field bandage is thick, layered cotton with attached straps to tie around an arm or a leg.
My squad leader squirted the ketchup on my bare arm and I stood still while Tommy Hearns applied the field bandage. As part of the visit, he’d been given one of the Desert camouflage shirts and a Boonie hat.
After he finishing with the field dressing, he went inside the barracks to see the rooms of the Detroit soldiers and visit with them. Of course, I’m not sure what he thought of the barracks!
This is a follow-up post to the one I did on members not joining the VFW and the American Legion. I’ve been checking out the comments on the article (perhaps unwise). One of the things that struck me was the sneering attitude of some of the posters that it was the vet’s fault for not trying harder or not trying to fix the organization from within. One attacked a woman because she tried to fix it it from within, couldn’t, and walked away.
They made it sounds like it was a simple fix when it really wasn’t.
I was part of a regional writing organization for about 10 years. Washington DC is not known for its creative side, so the organization had a non-fiction focus. I joined it knowing that and went to the first writer’s conference. The conference had an awesome Agent Fiction Roundtable where everyone asked questions. People attending asked for more fiction topics, me included.
It seemed reasonable, since the organization always struggled to recruit members and adding fiction was a way to get more writers. So, for the next one, the conference committee complied.
One small problem: The non-fiction writers came up with the workshop topics, and they picked low-hanging fruit. You know the kind of topics — if you ran a quick search on the internet, you could find out all you needed in about five minutes. The topic choices kind of said that they didn’t think fiction writers ever made any money and why bother spending time on them.
I volunteered that year for the Agent Pitch Session and ran the room for the entire day. I used my military experience, and the agents thought it was best run one they’d attended (so much so that when I returned years after, they knew who I was). I volunteered because it would make the agents less scary and intimidating to me and I could practice informal pitches with them without any pressure. Everyone always asks “What are you writing?” and when they did that, I wasn’t thinking about selling it.
The committee got good comments from the agents on the pitch sessions — I made them really look good.
I suggested several times that they should schedule the conference further out. They were waiting until about 2-3 months out and then deciding on a date and throwing it together. That killed any long term promotional efforts like being in the three writing magazines, and it also killed scheduling for any big name writers they might get. They did want new members, didn’t they?
Eventually they asked me for some fiction topics for the conference workshops. Ah ha! I created a list of 50 or so items they could choose from, which included topics about social media and promotion, plus ones about writing, all hot topics at the time. Some of them involved getting a police officer or a librarian to do a session, and, of course, they would also do some promotion for their appearance.
The committee went with more of the low-hanging fruit topics. Even the situation with the agents was worse; we seemed to only be getting fiction agents purely by accident, and a lot of the fiction writers who wanted to do pitch sessions were frustrated by this.
At some point during this, the organization went into bankruptcy. They tried creating a new LLC and starting a conference. That committee wanted me on the committee. I turned it down because I knew they weren’t going to use anything I came up with.
The LLC also folded up. Another group from the organization formed a new LLC and they got a new conference up. I ran the pitch session, but things had changed for me. I was planning to go indie, so meeting agents didn’t do much for me. Not that it would have helped. I could have counted the fiction agents there on one hand and had way too many fingers left over.
When the organization came back the following year to ask me to do the pitch sessions, I turned it down. It was going to consume an entire day of my time, time I could spend on my writing instead, and there was no longer any benefit to me.
Saying one should change the organization from within is far different from actually being able to, especially if they don’t want to change. Sometimes the best choice is to walk away.
At Capclave, Bud Sparhawk said that he’d been asked “Where do you get ideas?” on a past panel. He jokingly said that he paid a guy $5 a week and was sent a postcard with an idea on it. Three writers came up afterward to ask him for the idea guy address!
From the outside, ideas look like this really hard thing. When I was working on my first novel, I was desperate. The novel was not working (I was hitting the 1/3 point and didn’t understand why I couldn’t get past it), and yet I couldn’t abandon the story because I didn’t have any other ideas.
At the time, I believed that an idea had to turn into a whole story, so I was looking for something that suggested an entire story — and nothing lived up to it. As a result, ideas always seemed to be a struggle for me. Yet, I’d always said that an idea was a starting point for a story, or just a seed. Sometimes I don’t even listen to myself!
Pretty much, I had to stop trying so hard to come up with great ideas and just come up with ideas. If I’m starting out with a theme, like for an anthology call, I first think of all the things that everyone else will come up with for the theme. We’ll make one up: Toys. That’ll probably get a lot of Christmas stories, toys coming to life, toys being magical, evil killer toys. Anything that might be one of those I toss aside because what I write will be just like what everyone else is doing. Then I start thinking about what I can do with what’s left.
Getting there is different for each story. I’ve started with a theme and a character and NO idea until I started writing, and another I’m working on now that’s come from doing Google fu on the theme subject. I just have to think “What can I do with this?” Some ideas don’t go anywhere or need more seasoning.
A few of where the ideas came from:
Fantasy Short Story: This one’s in submission now. I had gone to a 911 ceremony at work, and there were these two candles sitting out on a table on the stage. I imagined the candles burning in a window, a signal to troops that it was time to attack. The story that I wrote ended up with no candles and no signal of troops.
Science Fiction Novel: I took a workshop on Think Like a Science Fiction Writer (worth it if you want to write science fiction and think you don’t have the science background). During the workshop, it hit me that I’ve always liked undersea. When I was in grade school, Sea Hunt was airing on TV, and I watched the adventures of Mike Nelson every day and drew pictures of scuba divers. Then it was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Primus and the new version of Sea Hunt with Ron Ely. I also lived in California and enjoyed oceanography in college. Why not an undersea station? Research will be next to continue developing this one.
Mystery Novel/Romance Novel: These ideas both came off a curtain. The curtain was in an auditorium, dark blue with gold stars. I went up to touch it, and it was soft, but not naturally soft. I thought about it for a while: Twilight. Then: What’s the emotion associated with twlight? I was surprised when it turned into two different ideas, based on what the genre was. The part about connecting the object to an emotion that it reminded me of was so powerful, I will have to try that one again.
I think it’s hard because the prospect of writing a story or novel can seem so daunting. It always seems like there’s a magic in it, and the magic seems like it comes from the just the right idea or just the perfect idea. That kind of leaves the writer out of the equation, and the writer is that magic.
The Washington Times published an article today on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans staying away from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion. These are both organizations that have been around for a long time, and have turned up in newspapers, but times have changed, and the organizations haven’t.
One woman soldier went to one and got the following:
Kate Hoit served eight years in the Army Reserves, including a tour in Iraq, but when she tried to join her local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, someone asked whether she needed an application for military spouses instead.
I dropped in at a local VFW a few months after Desert Storm. I remember it was a older white one story building with cannons outside the entrance. Inside was a dimly lit room with a bar. World War II veterans were seated at it, all men in their 60s.
The VFW vets didn’t ask me if I was a spouse, but they also didn’t really know what to do with me either. They were hurting for membership and new people; apparently none of the Vietnam veterans were signing up because of all the bad feelings from that war. But I had the sense that if I signed up, they would try to get me to volunteer to do paperwork or typing because I was female and that I would always been second class to the men.
First impressions do make a difference. It was the only time I’ve ever looked into a veteran’s organization, and it doesn’t look like much has changed in 25 years.
You know how a room is noisy and then suddenly it gets really quiet, like all the noise dropped away all at once? It was like that once we packed up all of our equipment and then sent it off to Saudi Arabia. Suddenly that chaos of trying to make all the deployment parts fit together was done and we had nothing left to do except stare at each other and think about about what was coming.
The company commander tried to give us all days off — we’d come in and report for duty, and then he’d release us. He thought everyone should have as much time with the families as possible before they marched off to war. But the battalion nixed that, so we got half-days instead. Still had to come in, do absolutely nothing, and then go home.
Deployment Hair for Women
My hair is really thick and heavy. It always made it a challenge to put my hair above the collar, which was a requirement for the military uniform. I’d buy the standard barettes from the post exchange, use them once in my hair, and they’d break under the weight. It was always a balancing act trying to get my hair to stay up, and I usually ending up fixing it during the date when gravity finally won.
Since I wasn’t sure what the hair situation would be like once I got over there, I decided I would get it cut. I went to one of those chain hair cut places and instructed them to “Cut the curl out.” That made for a very short hair cut.
When I came back for formation the next day, one of the male officers was very impressed at my “High Speed Saudi Haircut.” High Speed is Army jargon for “cool.”
Still No Date for Deployment
On a Desert Storm message board I’m on, one of the veterans said that his commanding officer came out to formation and announced the deployment date to the soldiers. We had packed up all our trucks, all our supplies, all our personal gear, and we still didn’t know exactly when we would be deploying.
We just knew we were.
I remember calling my grandmother from the payphone on the second floor (no cell phones in those days) and telling her, “We’re going. We’re going.”
At the time, she seemed more of a safe haven person to talk to than my parents did.
Nothing I did seemed to make any difference.
Land ho! I just blew past my book’s halfway point. Now I’m on the side where the story has the potential to suddenly start moving very fast (writing-wise). Sometimes that gets it’s own momentum. With luck, three more weeks, maybe less.
I’m constantly moving around in the story, making changes. Everyone tends to say, “Don’t edit/revise as you write,” but really, it’s the most natural thing for me to do because it’s part of the creation process. It’s part of how I discover the story as I write, since I don’t know where everything is going.
And yeah, I did follow the “Don’t edit/revise as you write” for a while because it’s one of those pieces of advice that makes sense, which is what made it bad — the common sense feeling of it is why I did it. It’s actually unnatural for me to write straight through to the end of the story, because I end up with a messed up book.
Now I do have some ground rules for the changes:
- No happy to glad. I’m not tweaking words to make them perfect. I used to work with a writer who worried about whether women readers would read the book or put it down because of a particular word choice. I don’t worry about that kind of stuff.
- No moving around if I’m stuck. One of the things that became an issue was if I got stuck, I’d go back and make tweeks instead of trying to fix the problem. The tweeks were often happy to glad, rather than useful, so if I get stuck, I have to focus on moving forward.
- Changing anything has to have really legitimate reasons. It can’t be because I’m stuck, or a vague “something is wrong.” Left brain is always going to scream, “Ack! Ack! The story is broken! Fix! Fix!” even when it really isn’t.
More typical of what I move back to is taking care of a section that needed more research, or that I’d discovered some research that shows me a better way of what I was trying to do. Nearly most of this involves setting, because that’s a huge chunk of the character’s perception of the world around him.
It’s kind of like I’m just making sure all the parts are connected together.
And I also check for typos. I always find those. :(
All of this sound simple, but in some respects it is, and in other respects it isn’t. It’s just what my process is. The first rule is really to always trust the process, and that often gets forgotten with other rules.