The Legacy of War

I think the first time I saw a woman prisoner of war was in a movie about the Bataan Death March and the women nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese called Women of Valor. That aired three years before I enlisted.

Also the year Jessica Lynch was born, probably one of the most famous women prisoners of war (please no commentary on the political side). It’s now been twelve years since she was rescued. She has an interview on CNN, one of those “Where are they now?”

The most amazing thing was that people keep expecting her to have gotten over it now, like it wasn’t a big deal when it happened. It shows the divide where people who have never experienced war really don’t get how profound it is, and how life changing it is.

After she was rescued, one of the networks rushed out a telefilm called “Saving Jessica Lynch.” I watched it and probably shouldn’t have. It was an awful film. Poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted.

But there was one scene in it that stopped me cold. This supply company was on a convoy going across the desert. The convoy commander was lost, so in typical Army mentality, he was still thinking “Accomplish the mission.” He kept the convoy going in the same direction and drove right into the ambush.

I had to turn off the movie and walk away from it. I was very close to having a meltdown, because the realization hit me that it could have easily happened in my company. It’s such an Army thing to do.

The movie aired in 2003. Desert Storm ended in 1991. That’s twelve years.

War’s not something you really get over; it’s something that’s always with you.

Veteran Wins Espy Award

Danielle Green, a woman Iraq War veteran, received an Espy Award (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award.  She played for Notre Dame, then enlisted in the military, was wounded, and then got a Masters Degree.

The Army was always trying to get the soldiers to get better educated.  They wanted the soldiers to go to college classes.  Fort Lewis even offered an education program where if you re-enlisted, you could go to school full time for a year on the Army’s dime.  But there was a time limit on it–the soldier had to do it the first year after the re-enlistment.

That resulted, curiously, in the only time I’ve ever seen a soldier claim the Army broke their contract–and won the battle.  The soldier had re-enlisted for the college, and then his platoon sergeant kept putting him on missions so he couldn’t go to school during that first year.  The soldier complained, and at the end of the year, asked to be discharged because the Army had broken the contract–and they did!

For me, I didn’t use any of the Army’s college offerings.  I’d gone to college before I enlisted, but I had trouble making up my mind about what I wanted to do.  I wanted to write full time, even then, but I was told by a lot of people that writers never make any money.  So I wandered from major to major–accounting, broadcasting, journalism, theater–trying to figure out what I wanted.

All Fort Lewis offered was college for people who hadn’t taken it before.  I could have done more wandering, so I didn’t take any more.  The only thing I regret is signing up for the GI bill anyway.  It’s hard because you have to make the decision right away, and it may be the wrong decision. Part of the GI Bill is paid from your paycheck, and part of it is by the Army–but it also expires.  So I got it and never used it.

Even today, I wouldn’t go back to college.  Not the right thing for me.

Oldest US Veteran

SHE is 110 years old.

Emma Didlake signed up for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II.

The Army History site has some of the background of the WAAC up.  It’s interesting that the Congressmen fussed over women enlisting because:

“Who will then do the cooking, the washing, the mending, the humble homey tasks to which every woman has devoted herself; who will nurture the children?”

A lot of the male soldiers didn’t like it because it represented change.  Women were in places they hadn’t been before, and it changed some of the gender roles by its existence.  The WAACs paved the road for people like me to enlist decades later.

Why outliners can’t tell pantsers how to write

I’ve gotten a lot pickier in buying writing craft books in the last two years. Now, when I buy one, I look through the table of contents, and even some of the pages. If the writer promises he or she will teach techniques for both outlining and pantsing (writing without an outline), it’s an automatic rejection.

I found that a lot of them don’t have any clue as to how pantsers write.

This post was inspired by a different topic entirely, omniscient viewpoint. Several weeks back, a writer posted a blog on omni, and it was clear that she didn’t understand the viewpoint—but spent time explaining how to do it, incorrectly.

There are a lot of posts like that. The writer sees omni, tries to understand by framing it from their knowledge of third person. Third person is from the character’s viewpoint, so therefore, omni head hops, or is multiple viewpoints.

But omni is ONE viewpoint, that of all seeing narrator. Think storyteller or film director, who is controlling what the reader knows and doesn’t know.

That’s the same problem with pantsing a book.

Outlining starts out with figuring out the parts of the book—the major events in the story, how it ends, who did it, and whatever. Some are incredibly in-depth, while others are much less so, but they do contain some element of defining the road map for the story.

Pantsing is the discovery of what happens in the book as we write. Some writers may figure out what the ending is or do a character background, or anything in between. Some, like me, may not know what’s going to happen in the next scene until they get there.

That’s a pretty big difference!

Outliners look at how we write from the perspective of outlining, scratch their heads, and then apply what they know to it. Like omniscient viewpoint, they draw the wrong conclusion because of how they’re framing their approach to understanding pantsing and conclude that techniques like plot points and three act structure would really make sense for us to use.

I had to start thinking a lot about that because I went through a lot of those writing workshops that were going for $20-$30. If I started asking questions framed from the pantser perspective, the instructor didn’t know what to do with it. She’d start tap dancing—talk around it with lots of words, trying to sound authoritative, and never actually answer the question.

Yet, when I’ve run into pantsers who knew what they were doing, the answers were pretty straightforward—and better still, didn’t leave me scratching me head, wondering how I was going to apply it.

The problem is that pantser writer has to be on guard for this kind of stuff because everyone assumes you’re outlining when you’re not.  In looking at all that I’ve seen over the years, I’m amazed at how little is out there for the way we write.

Coming in August, just in time for Nano:

Cover for Panters Guide to Writing You are Not Broken



Being a Woman and Being in the Military

Last week, Susan Ahn Cuddy passed away.  She was the first American woman of Asian heritage to enlist in the military. It was posted on one of the women veterans’ Facebook pages, so I thought it would share it out here.

This is what she ended up doing:

“She instructed pilots in air combat tactics before becoming a gunnery officer, and subsequently a lieutenant. Eventually she became the naval liaison from Naval Intelligence to the Library of Congress.”

Being a woman in the military can be hard enough; at that time, it had to be really difficult for her, since it was in 1942.  My grandfather was a minister in San Francisco following World War II, and had a church, so he hired the Japanese.  No one else would give them work, and he and the family got a lot of hate.  The Japanese community recognized him posthumously a few years ago.

So I’m sure she got bad reactions from the men for being a Korean and for being a woman.

One of the things I noticed (in hindsight) was that I could tell if the men had been socialized with women.  There were men who probably had sisters and the example of treating them as people.  Then there were men who thought that the only purpose for women was to date and have children.

All the women could do was put up with the bad attitudes, or as we said in the transportation corps, “Suck it up and drive on.”

Little known fact: My great-great grandfather was James Edward Adams, one of the first missionaries to go to Korea.  He wrote the book on missionaries, which is still available more than a century later.

What makes you stop reading an author?

We used to have a B. Dalton’s in a local mall—now a Starbucks. At least a couple of times a month I was in that store, checking the speculative fiction and mystery area for book series by my favorite authors. Was there anything new?

It was like finding buried treasure when I discovered a new book was out!

Then I would race back and read it in one sitting, and then reread it because it was so good.

But over time, I’d discover that maybe about book 7 or so, something changed. With some books, they felt worn out and tired, like the author was bored with the series. I’d usually buy another book, but here was where I would stop buying hardbacks. At $27.00 a pop, that’s pretty expensive if the book isn’t a satisfying read. After paperbacks went to $7, they started getting too expensive, too.

In the mystery genre also, I started seeing some of the long term series mix first and third. The stories had started out in first, and I liked the voice, so third seemed disruptive. It felt like the author thought they had chosen the wrong POV for the series originally and had now painted themselves into a corner. I think I would have been less bothered by that if it had been in book one, not suddenly introduced 10 books in.

Then there were the books where the author made a very sudden change: A character getting married for no other reason than simply to do it; a character finding lost family after making such a big deal throughout the series that she didn’t have any; and a character who crossed a major line that was completely out of character.

And in some books, it was apparent the author stopped learning, or figured they knew everything about writing. It’s fun as a reading watching an author get better, and especially finding new things to like an enjoy, and disappointing when the author stagnates.

Somewhere in all that, I stopped buying those books because the buried treasure turned into a box of rocks.

I used to give the books a benefit of a doubt, and pick them up at the library. I just had two of those I got, and sad to say, the series is no longer the same.

What makes you stop reading an author?

The Soldier Conversation is Missing the Women

There was a photo that went viral over the last few days, identified as disabled women soldiers. It turned out to be models. There was some angry “How dare this happen?” on the veteran Facebook pages.

I think the reason people got excited over it is that there is so little of anything about women veterans. The press makes women out to be victims because that sells stories, and then focuses on the men for everything else.  The official military sites don’t post many photos of women. I just went on the Army website, searched through eight pages of photos (20 each page), and there were only four of women soldiers.

It’s particularly bad because they have more pictures of Afghan women, celebrities, and even children. Yet, they default straight back to the male soldiers.

So I’m sharing one of the four pictures from the Army site.
Two women soldiers practicing hand to hand as man watches.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Wright, center, unarmed self-defense instructor, explains an unarmed self-defense technique to 1st Lt. Sovannchampa Touch, left, and 1st Lt. Erin Kan, members of the 724th Military Police Battalion. Unarmed Self Defense is required training for units preparing to conduct Detainee Operations in support of Overseas Contingency Operations. Division West, First United States Army has the responsibility for training all deploying National Guard and Reserve Units conducting Detainee Operations. U.S. Army Photo by CPT John Brimley.

My comments:  When I was in, we didn’t do anything like the this.  The closest was in basic training.  We used pugo sticks, which look like giant cotton swabs.  As a joke, the drill sergeants paired the two least likely to be soldiers (me and another woman).  We put on helmets and hit each other with pugo sticks.  Times have changed!