Archive | October, 2017

Remembering the Soldiers

31 Oct

It was during a trip to the dump (city landfill) with my dad that I learned a lesson about war I’ve never forgotten.

My dad served in World War 2. He was part of the Italian Campaign, the liberation of Sicily and Rome, and I have no doubt he saw some serious action during that time.  Like any kid of ten I was curious about war, and like any kid I had this romanticized version of it, the good guys overpowering the bad guys, a sanitized version based on the games we kids played in the neighborhood, bang-bang, you’re dead, raise the flag and whooping and hollering in victory . . . then go home for lunch and play some baseball.

So on this trip to the dump I asked my dad what it was like, being a soldier, killing the enemy, that sort of thing.

He stopped what he was doing, which was unloading the trailer and tossing our junk into the big pile, and he stared off into the distance, most likely seeing the bunkers, smelling the smoke, and hearing the sounds of agony.  He shook his head, clearing it of those memories, and he told me war was not something you spoke about, that there is no glory in taking a life, not for freedom and not for any other political or philosophical reason.

“It’s something we had to do, son,” he told me.  “But I didn’t know anyone who took pride in it.”

My dad and his parents

Since then I’ve heard similar statements from Vietnam vets and more recently from Desert Storm survivors.

What does this all have to do with writing?

We writers chronicle the human experience, or so it seems to me.  I will be forever grateful that I did not have to experience war firsthand, but I do need to understand it as best I can.  My characters need to reflect the words of my father and other veterans in order to be believable.

And so I observe . . . and I remember what I’ve observed, and heard . . . and eventually those memories become part of a story.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Advertisements

The Consequences of Hastiness

24 Oct

“There are consequences to being hasty, Bill.”

Words spoken by my Uncle Jim when I was, gosh, maybe eight years old.

My Uncle Jim was a dredger by trade and a carpenter in his spare time.  Carpentry was his love; dredging put food on the table.  He would be gone to Alaska for three or four months each year, helping to dredge out harbors for the towns up there, and then he would return to Tacoma and build things in his garage.

Sometimes I’d go in the garage and watch him.

I loved the smell of newly-cut wood.  Loved watching him work with the grain, and listening to him talk to me about lumber being a living thing, and watching him take pieces of wood and create something beautiful from them.

One day I asked him if I could build a toy boat and he said his garage was my garage, as long as I remembered to put all the tools away where they belonged . . . very important to him, returning those tools.

Well I was in a hurry to slap that boat together, so I did the job as quickly as possible, finished it, put the tools away, rode my bike down to the waterfront, and set it in the water for its maiden voyage.

I think it might have sailed ten feet before a wave capsized it and it sunk.

Back to my Uncle Jim I went, totally pissed and swearing to never again try my hand at carpentry.

“There are consequences to being hasty, Bill,” he said.  “The key to a sea-worthy boat is not in what you see but rather in what you don’t see.”  He then went on to explain ballast and how it works, how a ship’s hull is not solid wood but rather it is the air inside the hull which actually keeps a ship upright and functioning properly.

“You would have known these things, Bill, if you had taken the time to ask.  Don’t be in such a hurry to learn.  Take your time and learn properly.  There’s joy in the process if you are willing.”

 

I was thinking about that time last week when someone asked me what was the secret to success in writing?  My answer to that person is the same as my uncle’s answer many years ago.  Don’t be hasty!  Take the time to learn the craft of writing.  Learn how good writing works.  You can’t fake it.  You can’t pretend.  Good writing is good writing is good writing, and fakers, and those in love with shortcuts, need not apply.

Bill

My new book is out, “Shadows Fall On Rosarito“….check it out!

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The World Is My Stage

17 Oct

As a kid I was an observer.  I was shy, so in group situations you could usually find me off in a corner, eating whatever was available, watching the festivities.

Even back then I was adding to my compilation of observations, to be used later when I began writing.  Of course I didn’t know it way back then; it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part; but today I can sure see how it all unfolded.

When my family would head off on a car trip/vacation, I would sit in the backseat, not reading a book but studying the passing landscapes, storing it all in my brain for future use.

I was reminded of that this past weekend when my wife and I went on a mini-vacation to see friends in Southern Oregon.  It was about an eight-hour trip one-way, and most of the way Bev spent that time listening to music and playing with the puppy, while I observed everything we passed along the way.

I think writers are just wired differently.  I was consciously thinking of certain sites and tucking them safely away until I need them in a new novel.  That’s basically what I do every single day I’m out and about running errands . . . I’m observing!  I even caught myself mentally writing some scenes for my latest novel while driving.  I saw this great old mansion in Ashland, Oregon, and that mansion deserves a spot in the next novel.

I love everything about the writing process.

One of the people we visited on the trip asked me to explain how I write a particular scene.  What process do I use as a scene unfolds, and I found it difficult to answer that question because it just happens, but it can only happen because of all the observations made over the span of my life.

Does that make sense?

If you’re a writer you are nodding your head right now.

We’re just wired a little bit differently.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Fiction or Not Fiction?

10 Oct

I was thinking some more about Vietnam this morning.

Four U.S. Presidents intentionally lied to the American public and to Congress, about the degree of military involvement in that war.  We, the voting public, were basically fed a pile of crap for sixteen years.

Unbelievable!  And probably more unbelievable is that we eagerly ate that pile of crap.

A couple months ago I read a book by Robert McNamara about his involvement and memories of the Vietnam War.  As you may recall, McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under two of those four Presidents. I came away from the reading of that book feeling like it was terribly self-serving, that he had somehow washed himself clean of any wrongdoing during that entire fiasco.  And I read a similar book by Henry Kissinger once, and it was amazing how lily-white he managed to paint himself.

Now those two books were labeled non-fiction, but in truth, parts of them were either a) fiction or b) bald-faced lies.

And that got me to thinking about many of the non-fiction books we read.  They are all written according to the truth as the author sees the truth, but is that actually the truth?

Just something to think about!

Which brings me to my genre of choice . . . fiction!

I love being a fiction writer.  I make a deal with my readers: I’m going to completely fabricate a story, alter reality, lie my ass off, but I promise to entertain the reader while I’m doing all that . . . and that is perfectly all right and expected.  I am expected to alter the truth with my writing, and people pay me to do so, and how great is that?

The point is this:  writers of fiction are entertainers and blowers of smoke.  It is our job to release the reader from the ugliness and vileness of reality; it is our job to give them a respite from the pressures of their lives; it is our job to suspend the known world and create an unknown world.

If we do our jobs well, readers will come away from the experience feeling satiated and fulfilled.

If we do not do our jobs well, readers will come away from the experience feeling like they voted for Richard Nixon.

Just something to think about!

Have a great day of creating!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Your Story, Your History

3 Oct

Vietnam!

It’s just one word, but if I say it out loud I instantly see flashbacks from fifty years ago; I am transported back instantly; I am raw.

I watched the Vietnam series by Ken Burns these last two weeks, and once again I was blown away by the storytelling ability of Burns.  The man is a master at his craft.

That’s what that series was, you know.  It was a story, told by a storyteller, and within his story were the stories of those who were touched personally by that war.

In a very real sense we were all touched by that war . . . and still are!

The Civil War and Vietnam . . . they haunt us still today. We still, as a nation, have not recovered from the effects of those two conflicts.  It appears we won’t recover in my lifetime, and I find that to be sad.

If you saw the series then you saw the haunted looks on the faces of those who were involved in Vietnam.  You heard the pain in their voices.  Their words, and I’m sure their memories, were visceral.

I could not hate a soldier in 1967 and I can’t hate one today, no matter my viewpoint on war.  They have seen things no sane, compassionate, empathetic human being should ever see, and because of that they deserve, at the very least, understanding.

Taking a life should be costly.  It should have a profound effect on those who survive. It is horrible, and it is a shame our leaders cannot experience the anguish when a steel-jacketed round, from their weapon, tears out the wiring of an enemy soldier.  Perhaps some of them would not be in such a hurry to declare war on North Korea, or Iran, or a handful of other nations who dare to disagree with our economic policies and philosophical beliefs.

My father was not the same after World War 2, or so I’m told.  My uncle suffered from “shell-shock,” PTSD as we know it today, and drank his way through the next twenty years of his life.  A cousin of mine never recovered after being sent home from a prison camp in Hanoi in 1970, and eventually he hung himself on a cold February evening in 1980.

We are writers, but we are also storytellers, and to a larger degree we are the chroniclers of history.

Tell your history!  Will it please everyone? Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Be a storyteller!  Will your stories please everyone?  Probably not but again, that’s not the point.

Make your readers feel it.

That is the point!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”