Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fare Thee Well Baghdad

I began this journey over a year ago and very soon it will be coming to a close. It won't be too long before I'm back in the states living a very different life, one with more freedoms and more responsibilities. I find that changes of this kind deserve a moment of reflection.
So how did I come to this point? Well it has never been my intention to make this forum an outlet about my military service, but this particular entry may require a smidgen of that detail. As I've mentioned in my post About Me, I had a moment in my life when I wanted to push myself and I decided that service in the army National Guard was the way to do it. In my contract there is a clause that if I am in college I won't be deployed overseas but when this deployment to Iraq came along I waived my right to stay behind and volunteered to go. There were a few reasons I made that decision: I didn't join to watch others go in my place, I have had experiences in life that I hoped by going others might avoid, and I wanted some adventure.
The original mission that I volunteered for was being a gunner on a convoy security operation. I would be out there every day on the dangerous roads having great adventures that would give me so much to write about later in life. Well as so many things change in the army my mission was changed as well and I was stationed as security at one of the entrances to the United Nations in the international zone (the green zone).
As you might have guessed my adventure level dropped considerably, certainly there were a few times my heart raced but it lasted for only a moment, like if lightning was striking close by.
I was a little disheartened over the switch, but if you don't know by now I make my own life so it didn't bother me long and as in the immortal words of Jagger and Richards "You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes well you just might find you get what you need."
Working the gate for the United Nations opened up an entire new world for me; allowing me to meet great new friends and share in their stories of life. It also meant that when my shift was over I had enough time to create this website and write my first novel Loves Deception.
So I have to be honest with you and I can't speak for the rest of Iraq, but Baghdad is a city that I would enjoy returning to one day (when it is more peaceful). There is so much history in this city and a lot of wonderful places to see and it's exotic in a way that I have not experienced before in my American travels. I know that I have not fully explored here and leaving now seems premature.
So it is with a heavy heart that I say farewell to the good friends I have made at the IOM and the UN and also to the city that has given me shelter for this past year. I sincerely hope that our paths will cross again.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Know What You Write

I was reading another blog where a guest writer was discussing that familiar phrase: write what you know. This writer was discussing, in under 100 words, why you should ignore the phrase and write about what you love, because if you only wrote about what you knew you’d never open yourself up to anything else. 
I have to agree with writing about what you love but I also believe that you should write what you know. This is my reasoning: if you love something you will learn about it, if you learn enough about it you will be able to write about it in a believable way.

Maybe I’m unique in my thought, but I believe that my real life experiences make me a better author. It’s not that I have experienced everything in life; I hope that I don’t, but especially dealing with human emotions there is a lot of spill over from one experience to another. Being able to call upon that real body of knowledge gives me more confidence that my reader will hear the ring of truth in my words. 
For me it all goes back to my civil war novella 100 Days Until Tomorrow. I was just writing a story without knowing anything. I was creating the characters, the battles and emotions (the emotions were the worst). I had no idea what I was doing and it showed. It was that novella and encouragement from a friend that started me on my journey of life. I began to engage others in a way I hadn’t before. I stopped opening my mouth so much and watched more, trying to take in what people did and said and the motivation behind it. 

I also recognized that if I was to be taken seriously I needed to do some decent research before I started writing. My new novel Loves Deception is set in Idaho, Utah, Seattle, and California because I know these places. I am working on the plots for two new novels one set in Iraq and the other Butte Montana. I know Iraq more than I ever wanted too but I have only passed through Butte a few times, so before I get really started writing that novel I plan on spending more time there so I can write about it in a convincing way. Both of those stories also will require more research. 
You don’t have to write everything to be by the book facts but it needs to be believable enough that the reader will surrender their belief or even better that they will walk away believing your story.

So what do you do when you want to write a story and you really know nothing about? Research! Learn all about it. If you can’t go to the place talk to someone who has. If you can't find a person to talk with start reading about it. Avoid taking the easy way out and going to Wikipedia, instead try the library. If you’re researching a specific time period or event check to see if there is a museum dedicated to it (you’d be hitting a gold mine talking with the curators of such an establishment). 
The great thing about whatever subject you are writing on, there will always be an expert. Seek experts out, not only will they be a wealth of information on that particular subject they may also have experiences that you can draw from for the story you are currently working on or a future story. 

I love writing because it is a never ending pursuit of knowledge. You have to continually be filling up your mind with new things, ideas, feelings and places. 

Write what you know about. If you don’t know about anything then learn more. The greatest thing about writing is that it only requires your own mind (and at least a writing utensil and a piece of paper).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Great Attraction of Strength or Creating the Strong Heroine

When it comes to movies I see the majority that come out during the year but I am a very selective television watcher. There is just way too much produced to keep up with all of it. Of course the other reason that I don't frequent the TV airwaves all that often is the amount of really bad TV (mainly the endless supply of reality shows). However there is the occasional show that catches my interest: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Shield, and Burn Notice are a few. Today I watched the first episode of Castle, a crime show where an author and a detective work to solve the murder. If you are already a fan of Castle you now can know for a fact about my lapses in TV viewing as the show originally aired in '09. I'm excited to watch more of this show for three basic reasons: first Nathan Fillion is an enjoyable actor (and it's nice to see he's found something that has lasted for more than a season), second the story is anchored by a murder mystery author (which is pretty obvious reason for me) and third the female lead, played by Stana Katic, has these great strengths which I find irresistible. 

I'm not sure when the exact moment that I decided I was uninterested in the damsel in distress, in both the fictional world and my own life, but it was early on. Take the fictional character Sarah Connor from the original Terminator movies. If you recall in the first Terminator Sarah spends the majority of the time running around scarred for her life and screaming a lot, if you don't recall the first Terminator it's probably because you were too young to see it or maybe you weren't even born yet (either of which is regrettable because you're really missing out on a lot; maybe you can work on that). This first version of Sarah Connor holds none of my interest. Now in the second Terminator Sarah is bold, strong, capable, and, to me, infinitely more attractive because of it. Physically she is the same, she was attractive to begin with, but just like thousands of women like her there was nothing that made her uniquely stand out until she allowed her strengths to manifest.

So I don't know how it is for anyone else but for me when I was watching this first episode of Castle and Stana is throwing on her bulletproof vest and running, gun drawn, after the bad guy, I went proverbially weak in the knees. For me there is nothing more attractive than a woman with the confidence of her own strength. I'm drawn to these types of characters so they often find their way into my writing. So what are some of the characteristics to creating the strong heroine?
  • Personal Values
  • High Intelligence
  • Keeps Commitments
  • Courage
Let's take a closer look at each of the points:

Personal Values. A strong heroine is committed to herself. She has values that she will not compromise for anyone. Her values are not secrets hidden from all but her close friends; on the contrary she is proud of who she is and what she believes in. These values may or may not be in line with what is popular in society, but they are hers and she will never be afraid to stand up for what she believes to be right. 

High Intelligence. A strong heroine has to be highly intelligent and not just book smart but street smart with a lot of that uncommon element in society: common sense. Does she have all the answers to life? No, but her wits allow her to navigate any situation with the confidence that she will be able to find the answer. Although she can navigate any situation her high intelligence really shines in her chosen field of expertise. Whether she is a detective, freedom fighter, social worker, doctor, lawyer, human rights advocate, scientist or stay at home mom she is the beginning and end on the subject, and it shows.

Keeps Commitments. If a strong heroine has made a choice to begin a task she will stay with it until it is completed, even under the most stressful conditions. This is where the strong heroine will walk the razors edge between keeping her personal values and staying till the end of her commitments. If a commitment might compromise her values she will not abandon them but will find the best way to keep the commitment and stay true to herself.

Courage. It's not that she doesn't feel fear, she does, but she presses through the fear and the hopelessness. Even under the worst circumstances she will be standing tall, confident in whom she is. Some may consider her a loner because of her courage, but it is not a deliberate intention to keep people at a distance; the strong heroine wants to have close friendships and love; it is simple a balancing act.

This should give you a really good starting point for incorporating a strong heroine into your own stories, or work to develop your established heroine a little more.



Monday, August 8, 2011

Back At It

I'm still alive and kicking over here in the desert. Right now it's so hot that my sweat is sweating. Honestly I went out and started a fire the other day just to cool down a little.
It has been too long and although I'm still not able to get videos uploaded I wanted to get back to blogging here. These past few weeks have been very eventful, I've been getting some feedback on my first manuscript which means that I'm getting another step closer to releasing Loves Deception.

Overall the feedback has been very positive which is great for me because I won't have as much to rewrite. Of course it's not perfect and there are some changes that must be made. I think the most interesting thing that I'm seeing in the feedback is that as the author I sometimes forget that the reader doesn't know all the background of the characters that I know. It's just like in life, you're explaining something and it makes perfect sense to you because you have all the background information but to the person you are explaining it to might be a bit lost and may even have to make large jumps over the holes in the information you are giving (or not giving).
So in writing, or in day to day conversation, it's really the same: be detail oriented. So how can you be more detail oriented in writing? Start with the scene set up:
  • Where are your characters?
  • What are they wearing?
  • What time of day is it and how is the weather?
These seem so simple but can be easily overlooked as a writer because they are seen in our minds eye as we are writing and therefore are sometimes left out. As you are placing these set up details look for natural areas to place them. If you simply use the first page jotting down every detail you can have the opposite effect of helping your reader see what you see and instead they can become bombarded and actually tune out the details.
Next look at your character and plot details:
  • Are your character's emotions showing?
  • Is the plot moving forward?
Good detail will help to set up future chapters or can simply move the plot forward. If the detail you have in your chapters does neither it may be unnecessary or need additional detail added in.
I love watching movies but many times they cannot show you the deep emotion in a scene the same way that you can when you read it. Now with character emotions you can go one of two ways: tell what the character is feeling or show what they are feeling. Here are some examples:
Mabel's eyes lit up as she saw Henry enter the packed room.
As Mabel saw Henry enter the packed room she could feel the happiness wash over her.

Of course sometimes it might be better to have a combination of the two styles: 
Henry pulled the cell phone from his pocket; it was Jasper calling him. Henry's countenance dropped as it always did when Jasper called.

In this way you can show his emotion but tell that it happens often, the only way to show that it always happens would be to put several scenes in the story where it continued to happen and there may not always be room for that.
Try using both out to see which you like better.

Come back often as I will be revealing the last two characters in Loves Deception and keeping you posted on my writing and sharing tips to improve your writing.