Nancy Drew’s Influence on my Action-Adventure Life


A woman sleuth puffs a cigarette as she takes notes on a pocket-sized notebook and a woman walks past in background.I have a guest post over at Sherry Issac’s blog on the influence of Nancy Drew on me when I was growing up.  Here’s a taste of it:

In Tamora Pierce’s book Squire, Kel is the first girl to become a knight in the realm.  When she jousts, the other girls — future knights — come to hungrily watch, wanting to be like her.  That was me when I was growing up.  I was magnetized when saw Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, in a command position.  Women had been allowed to enter West Point in 1976 and receive the same elite training that men did.

As reader,  I wanted to see girls have adventures and get action … Read more

Cover for A Princes, A Boatman, and A Lizard, showing a silhouette of a princess holding a lizard in the palm of her hand.Linda Adams – Solider, Storyteller

My short story “Six Bullets” is now available from Starcatcher Publishing in the the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard.  The story is about a princess who enlists in the military and then must battle her way up a river with only six bullets.

Guest Post: Liv Rancourt on Five Tips For Writing Fight Scenes


Cover for The Santa Drag showing a front view of Santa Claus against a pale pink and white background.Today, Liv Rancourt is going to be guest blogging on Soldier, Storyteller.  Liv was in the same blogging class, We Are Not Alone, that was I in, and she has a  great book called The Santa Drag out just in time for Christmas.  An excerpt is at the end of this post.  Liv was also kind enough to help me with research on Washington State for a short story I’m working on for a Green Man anthology.  Onto the action stuff!

Thanks, Linda, for the chance to write a guest post for you blog. I took a look through some of your older posts and saw you like things in fives, and since I’m working on choreographing the final showdown for my current WIP, I thought I’d see if I could come up with five ideas on how to write fight scenes for your readers.

  1. Describe the setting before the fight, so you don’t need to waste time during the heat of battle. Poorly timed details can kill your momentum and bog down the scene. One blogger suggested having the characters visit the setting a chapter before the actual fight, to get some of the scene building out of the way. While that may not always be possible, taking a couple lines in the middle of things to describe the antique Wedgwood vase that your hero just smashed over the villains head is going to kill your tempo. You can work details in as you go, but be cognizant of how it effects your pacing.
  2. Fights don’t last long, and a real bar brawl quickly becomes a bear-hugging wrestling match. Which is another way of saying you should have a good understanding of how fights work  – regardless of the style of fighting or weapons involved – so  that the action you present is realistic and believable. One of the things I love about Laurell K Hamilton’s writiing is how knowledgeable she is about the guns her character Anita Blake plays with. Laurell really knows her stuff, and  her commitment to getting the details right helps the rest of the story work.
  3. Make sure YOU have a clear idea of who’s doing what where, because if you can’t picture it, the reader won’t be able to either. All of my five points are interrelated, but this one is key. Whether you need to borrow your kids little plastic toys to stand in for your characters or draw diagrams to help clarify things, you need to know exactly who’s doing what where. The action has to make sense in terms of the setting details, meaning doors and windows can’t come and go, and if you’re writing fantasy or paranormal, you have to be consistent with the worldbuilding you’ve already done. The more truth you can put on the page, the better the scene will work.
  4. Writing fight scenes are a little like writing sex scenes in that it’s easy to drop into a ‘he did this then she did that – put tab A into slot B’ pattern, which is a recipe for BORING. This is where your creativity and knowledge of the style of fighting (see #2) can come into play. My first draft blocks out the scene in all its clunky, awkward glory. Then I go back through, making certain that each action is physically possible, given the laws of the world I’ve created (see #3). The next trip through is to massage the language, getting rid of any clichés or phrases like the dreaded “he turned and looked”.  I strive for language that is fresh, lively, and supportive of the tension I’m trying to build, so the reader will keep turning the pages.
  5. Conflict is great and all, but make sure that your character’s motivations are clearly tied to the action you’re describing. Action is good, and a fight scene is a great way of moving your plot forward and peeling back layers of your character. It’s more effective if it means something, though, and the more challenges you can throw at your character, the more satisfying the ending will be. Make the conflict cost them something and make it hurt so that the payoff at the end is greater. The build-up, or process that brought your character to the brink of an awful situation, is as important as the fight itself.  Keeping your character’s goals and motivations in mind as you develop the conflict will help make sure EVERY scene moves the story forward.

So there you have five points for building fight scenes. I hope you find them helpful. I also hope you’ll check out my newest release, The Santa Drag. There are absolutely no fight scenes in this one, just a clever holiday story with a warm and fuzzy ending.

Things aren’t always what they seem,

and this shopping mall Santa has secrets only her true love can reveal.

Peace,

Liv

Liv Rancourt writes paranormal and romance, often at the same time. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. She likes to create stories that have happy endings, and finds it is a good way to balance her other job in the neonatal intensive care unit. Liv can be found on-line at her website & blog (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).

Santa Drag exerpt

On a particularly busy Saturday, I was tired and thinking more about a double shot of espresso than I was about the pile of kids who wanted to sit in my lap. The weak winter sun was making its circle over the atrium where the Christmas Village was set up, and my roommate Shauna was buzzing by every so often to giggle at me from the sidelines. She was trying to get all of her Christmas shopping done in one day, which was a good trick for someone with as many fertile brothers and sisters as she had.

“Come sit on Santa’s lap.” Maya, the photographer and kid-wrangler, invited the next kid in line approach my golden throne. Well, it was fake gold, but the kids didn’t know that.

“No,” said a little girl with a stubborn crease between her brows. She was dressed in Seattle’s version of Christmas formal, a stiff, red velvet dress, likely made from organic fabric dyed with beets and rose hips. On her feet were two-toned leather MaryJanes that probably cost sixty-five dollars. At least the green corkscrew ribbons tied around her blond pigtails looked like they belonged on a child. I made myself as approachable as possible, getting down to her level and producing a big smile.

“Come on, Thula,” her mother said, tapping one French manicured nail on her cell phone. “Go sit up there with Santa so we can take your picture.” She sounded as if this was just one more thing to knock off the list.

“It’s okay, sweetie.” Maya put on her encouraging smile. Maya was a tiny thing, barely bigger than most of the kids we saw, with long dark hair, a tiny gold hoop pierced through one nostril, and bugged-out eyes that looked like they’d been molded out of chocolate. She was non-threatening as an adult could possibly be. The kid stared at her and bit down on her bottom lip. At least she wasn’t crying. Yet.

“You want to come tell Santa what to bring you for Christmas?” I kept my voice pitched down somewhere under my sternum. It helped that I had one of those raspy lady voices that earned me a permanent spot in the tenor section whenever I sang in choir.

“No.”

Sometimes less is more when you’re dealing with preschoolers. We went back and forth for several minutes until  the kid went from biting her bottom lip to letting it pooch out and tremble. Never a good sign. Finally, after a ton of coaxing, she was more-or-less close to me,  squatting down on the other side of one of the big pretend presents that ringed my throne. That was good enough for her mom, and Maya snapped a picture.

When she was done, the little girl glared at me from behind the big, glossy red ribbon that topped the present. “Bring me a baby brother,” she bellowed and took off running..

Mom’s glare was meaner than the kid’s had been. Hey, it’s not like I made any promises.

The kid ran full tilt past the pseudo-Tyrolean houses that made the Village, and out through the crowds of shoppers. She stopped in the middle of an open space and cut loose, her sobs echoing around the smoky glass dome that covered us. We could hear her carrying on until she and her mom got swallowed up by the Ross store at the end of the north hallway. The whole place fell into a bit of a hush when she was gone, as  everyone exhaled in relief. This close to Christmas, none of us needed a crying child to ratchet up the stress level.

A young mother was next in line. She came into the Christmas Village and positioned a slightly damp baby on my lap, moving as if something hurt. The baby was so young that Mom still looked a little pregnant under her loose denim-blue shirt. Or maybe she was already pregnant with number two. I’m not so good with the principles of baby production. Well, I understand the basic concepts, but haven’t had that many opportunities to put them into practice.

The brief quiet was interrupted by a yodeling squeal that I recognized. I stared into the crowd until I caught Maya looking at me funny. I stuck on a smile as close to my normal, jolly-Santa shtick as I could get, and she settled back down behind her camera. The reason for my roommate Shauna’s squeal had me completely rattled. In the two or three beats I’d looked out from behind my wire-rimmed glasses as Mack-the-girl, I’d seen Shauna giving someone a big hug. A really handsome someone. Joe McBride. Joseph Timothy McBride. The actor. The real-life, got a soap opera gig and several commercials and you saw him in Scream 2 actor. The only guy I ever really loved

Ooh, now she’s got a problem! Will Mack turn all Creepy-Kringle? Will Joe recognize her? What’s a Santa to do?  😉

The Santa Drag is available from Still Moments Publishing, Smashwords, and Amazon.

Thanksgiving During War


We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  ~Thornton Wilder

A pilgrim woman holds a pumpkin, with a turkey in the foreground.  A banner says, "Thanksgiving Joys."I always think it’s strange to have a sit down Thanksgiving indoors.  When I was growing up in Southern California, our neighbor had a potluck outside — yes, outside!  We’d haul out the lawn chairs or sit on the asphalt as Candy, their black dog, wandered around, collar jingling.

But when I was in Desert Storm, Thanksgiving was another thing entirely.  We’d been over there maybe a month and were still at the exposition center in Dhahran.  We called the building “the white house,” because it was white, because it was air conditioned, and because the officers took it over.  We stayed in tents on the sand and ate meals in a gigantic tent.  Meals were catered, and repeated themselves about every three days.  Usually chicken, salad, and fingers of cake.  The food was pretty good, but tiresome because it was always the same.  No fresh fruit because of the heat — everything went bad too fast.

But because we were in Dhahran, we had the opportunity to see President Bush when he came to visit the troops.   Each platoon picked a person to go, and I got picked.  We had to stand in a long line that ran next to a runway.  Air Force One sat on the runway, sharply outlined against the blue sky.   It was hard to believe I would be so close to the President of the United States!  Granted, President Bush was too far away from me to see much more than an ant-sized version — there were a lot of soldiers out there!

Afterwards, we were treated to a huge Thanksgiving feast — really, all you could eat.  They’d done a lot of work getting all the food out to us and serving it to us.  A table in the center of the tent had Thanksgiving decorations, and scattered at the base were Mars Bars.  I hadn’t seen candy bars in a month, which doesn’t seem long now.  But then, time was longer because each day was the same.  It felt like ages.  So I was pocketing as many as I could manage for later.  Then, at last, the meal was over, and we all had to return to reality.

 

Linda Adams – Solider, Storyteller

Cover for A Princes, A Boatman, and A Lizard, showing a silhouette of a princess holding a lizard in the palm of her hand.Yay!  My short story “Six Bullets” is now available from Starcatcher Publishing in the the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard.

What it’s like on a military post?


My next stop on my military tour of duty is at what life is like for a soldier living on a military post.  It is always referred to as a post, by the way — not a fort or a base.  It’s actually a little difficult to get around, especially if you don’t have a car.  Before I got one, I was hitching rides with the supply sergeant, who also lived in the barracks, taking a cab, or walking.

It was particularly tough on the weekends if wanted to use the mess hall.  Because attendance was always lower on the weekend, they would alternate mess halls, and sometimes they weren’t that easy to get to!  It was worse after we got to North Fort because they often didn’t bother to tell us which ones were even open.  One year, over a holiday, they reused the same prepared food four days in a row.  It was really obvious because the chicken got drier and drier with each serving!

For the single soldiers, they just had a community center, several libraries, gyms, and the Class 6 (place to buy booze).  The libraries got their hours cut any time the budget needed reduction — it always felt like no one cared about the single soldiers because we were always the first ones affected.  I remember my first exposure to banned books was at the main library.  They had a spiral bound book on the counter listing all the banned books for the year so we could pick one.

I thought the rec center was relatively nice — especially compared to some of the other places available to us.  Though when I used it in my story “A Soldier’s Magic,” my critique group commented that it sounded more like a hospital.  Of course, they didn’t see what the hospital looked like …

The original hospital, which was there when I first came, consisted of the old World War II temporary buildings.  All one story, and connected together with hallways.  Sort of like those futuristic space pods you see in some science fiction shows.  It was a maze trying to figure out where everything was because it was all separate buildings, and yet, it wasn’t.  Eventually, the post had to build a new hospital facility because they couldn’t make the old one meet code any more.

Other facilities included the PX (Post exchange), the commissary, and clothing sales.  The PX is like a department store.  The commissary is the grocery store.  Clothing sales is where we bought uniforms.  I don’t know if this is still true, but even though that was a new facility (it opened the same year I arrived) it was not made for women.  You could not try on the class A uniform and make sure it fit properly before you bought it.   Everything was done like the men’s section at the department store.  Uniforms were folded up and stacked; class A’s were hung on a rack like suits.  Shoes were the only thing I could try on.

I found this video, which was shot in 2009 — 14 years after I left North Fort.  It still looks the same as when I was there (though I’ve been told they’ve opened newer, more modern barracks since then).

What do you think about military life from what you’re seeing here?

Veteran’s Day: A Thousand Voices, and One Connection


After I got home from Desert Storm, I visited the Vietnam war memorial in Olympia, Washington.  I’d gone there before the war, but I felt the need to revisit it.  The picture below is from Flickr and taken by George Berend.

Olympia: Washington State Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Capitol Campus

Screen readers:  The memorial is a green granite wall with etched columns with lists of names in white.  A walkway leads into the memorial from the right, ending in a circular area in front of the wall that is shaded by trees.  The trees frame the memorial, but we can see a blue house on the right and city buildings on the left.  The visual impression I get from these outside elements is that the placement of the memorial feels like an intrusion on the rest of the world.

Usually when I went to the memorial in the past, there was always a veteran from Vietnam present.  This time I was alone when I followed the wall, looking at the names.  It was like there was thousand voices whispering at me that I was part of this.

Then a name caught my eye: Beverly.  A woman?

Instantly, that one name connected to me across time.

Women vets were not largely recognized at the time.  There would be a huge controversy surrounding a memorial for the women that was eventually built next to the The Wall.  The male veterans protested, saying the women didn’t need a memorial because they hadn’t done anything.  Hundreds of thousands of women volunteered — some were directly in combat and some were killed.  The memorial still was built, and it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  For perspective, I came back from Desert Storm 22 years ago.

Vietnam Women's Memorial
Screen readers: Taken against the oranges of November, the sculpture shows a nurse sitting on a pile of sandbags, a dying soldier in her arms.  A second nurse looking into the sky as if to protest to God.

Visiting a memorial after you’ve been at war is a haunting experience.  I wrote my experiences for the anthology Voice of a Soldier.

The GI Party — No, it’s not what you just thought


I bet you had an immediate image of a soldiers out there partying things up.  The term G.I. party comes from World War II.  Then it was an intensive cleanup of the barracks on Friday evening (!) for an inspection on Saturday morning.  Ours was done during the week, and we didn’t have a choice in participating.

What would happen is the first sergeant, who was the senior enlisted in the company, would do random inspections of the barracks.  If he was unhappy with a section, then the platoon sergeant would be notified, and next thing the soldiers knew, it was time for a G.I. Party.  With the female section, it was a little different because there were only about seven of us.  No platoon sergeant was in charge of our area because we were a mix of platoons.

But we heard about it at final formation when the first sergeant declared our area “Fubar,” which means (fowled) up beyond all recognition.  No one told us what was wrong, so launched into massive cleanup for several hours.  We didn’t do it with toothbrushes or anything weird like that — it was all floor stripper, wax, bleach, pine oil, green scrubbing pads, mops, and brooms.  We had to do both our rooms and the common areas, which were the hallways and the latrine.

The G.I. Party included bleaching the bathroom floor because that kept the grout from discoloring.  I also liked bleach because you knew when you walked in the door that it had been cleaned, and with luck, maybe an inspection for the area was bypassed.  Sinks, toilets, and showers were cleaned.

For the hallway, we stripped the wax off the floor, cleaned it, and then waxed it again.  After that, we buffed the floor with our buffer (which we sometimes had to hide, since the males stole it on occasion).  The buffer isn’t like the ones you see in the office — those are easy to handle.  With the ones the army had, it was like a bucking bronco.  Very hard to control.  Sometimes it seemed like it had a mind of its own and would smash from wall to wall.

The floors in the rooms were also stripped, cleaned, waxed, and buffed.  We wiped off the top of the wall lockers, window sills, and anything else we could find.  The barracks gleamed.  There’s really nothing like a freshly polished floor.

Next day: Fubar again.  Another G.I. Party.  What else can we clean?  It seemed to be something in the common area, but what?  We renew our efforts and make everything shinier and cleaner.

Next day: Fubar again.  Another G.I. Party.  Now we’re begging our sergeants to tell us what he’s finding so we can get it taken care of and no one will tell us.  No one wants to be responsible for the female area..

Next day: Fubar again, and now the first sergeant is threatening to put all our belongings out in the parking lot.  I’m envisioning my TV set sitting out, either waiting for a Washington state rainstorm or a thief to steal it.

One of the women drags in her squad leader, and he reluctantly tells us the problem.

Paint.

On the hallway light fixtures.

You have to be kidding.  It had been there years.

We got an exacto knife and scraped it off.  First sergeant was happy.

 

Basic Training on Military Culture for Writers


Lesson one is posted on Forward Motion!  Drop on it and ask questions.  If you’ve never been to the site before, you’ll need to register, but beyond that, it is free.  Here’s the first lesson’s agenda:

Lesson 1: Overview of the Military. This topic will include research tips and common myths about military. We’ll also be digging into rank! I promise not to get too jargony. Much.

Life as a Single Soldier


Since I’m going to be teaching a class on Forward Motion called “Basic Training on Military Culture” starting November 5 (tomorrow!), I thought it would be appropriate to have a military theme for this month.  So drag off the combat boots and join us for a spell to learn about the military.

If a soldier comes into the military single/unmarried, the army puts them into the barracks.  They don’t have a choice about it and will stay into the barracks until they get married.  While I’ve never lived in a college dorm, I believe the best description of barracks life is probably close to dorm life.  You have a bunch of teenagers living together, though also with a mix of older soldiers.  All enlisted — the officers were never in the barracks.

What did the rooms look like?

The rooms came in two sizes.  One was like a large bedroom, and that was for two soldiers.  A larger room was for three soldiers.  We each got a wall locker, a small 3-drawer chest (the size of a nightstand), and a twin bed — really a bunk bed.   The bed had two drawers underneath for additional storage.  We also had a refrigerator and a desk.  Yeah, it wasn’t much space.

Particularly from the old-timer soldiers, there was an attitude that the single soldiers didn’t need much of anything.   I particularly saw this during the numerous moves we had to do.  Everyone kept thinking that all we had was a duffel bag, so we were often told to move in one day and expected to be military perfect instantly.  I had books.  I had a computer.  It was never simple.  I often had to throw everything in a box to make the move happen and could never unpack.  The worst move was when we were told to move across post in the middle of a hurricane!

Extra furniture beyond what the army provided also drove the old timers crazy.  We had a soldier senior enough to have a room by herself, and she had a sofa in it.  One of the sergeants wanted her to get rid of it — believe it or not — because other soldiers couldn’t have a sofa.  Her response was that it wasn’t her fault if they couldn’t afford one.

What were the facilities like?

We had one washing machine and one dryer.  If you didn’t stick around in the room and guard your laundry, someone would come in, take your clothes out of the dryer, and put theirs in.

For bathrooms, I was in two different barracks.  The first had shower stalls with tile, which seemed like a luxury compared to the World War II barracks we later stayed in.  We were lucky we had toilet stalls.  The showers were in bays of three, with the kind of tile that’s never going to look clean no matter how much you bleach it.  I didn’t take a bath for six years, except for occasional visits to hotels when I was on leave.

Below is a photo of the type of World War II building I stayed in from TPB, Esq.  Inside the buildings were signs that warned, “Maximum weight per square foot is 100 pounds.”  Think about that for a while.

Ft. Lewis No. 8

Screen reader: Photo shows an old World War 2-story building.  The buildings were intended to be temporary and they look temporary.  The walls are wood siding painted white.  Three sixteen pane windows are on the top floor and one on the bottom floor, along with two four pane windows.  The photographer identifies this building as condemned, so the paint is flaking off.

What were the rules of living in the barracks?

There were also rules associated with barracks life.  When I left Fort Lewis, they were working on changing some of them, because there were clearly rules that were just plain dumb:

  1. No hard liquor, but you could have a 6-pack of beer.  I didn’t get this one because you can get drunk off both.
  2. You couldn’t have anything out on the desk.  At all.  So if you had a magazine that you were reading, you had to put it in a drawer.  You couldn’t leave on the desk, no matter how neat it was.  I couldn’t even save soda cans to recycle because that was leaving trash out!
  3. Door checks.  At night, the staff duty officer would come through the female barracks and try the doors to see if they were locked.  Imagine lying in bed asleep and being awakened by someone unknown turning your doorknob.  Then, maybe I’ve been writing fiction, too long!

The worst thing about barracks life was really the music.  There were always several people who had to play their music at full volume, as if they were daring someone to complain about their music.  Sometimes two would get into music dueling wars and turn the volume up to try drown each other out.

November: Military Theme


Since I’m doing”Basic Training on Military Culture” over at Forward Motion’s Back to School for Busy Writers starting November 5, I thought I’d do a military theme for the month for anyone interested in more information.

A female enlisted soldier salutes a general during award ceremony
Photo courtesy of http://www.army.mil

This is a quick look at the theme’s topics:

  • Life as a Single Soldier
  • The G.I. Party – No, this isn’t something fun!
  • What’s it like on a military post?
  • Veteran’s Day – A veteran visiting a war memorial
  • An Officer, An Actor, a Gentlemen – On my meeting William Windom, guest star from Star Trek and World War II veteran (he died earlier this year)
  • Thanksgiving During War
  • For the writers, a list of ways to get military wrong in fiction

Plus —

I will be guest posting on Sherry Isaac’s “Nancy’s November Nine” series on Nancy Drew and doing two posts on Unleaded Fuel for Writers.

Plus Liv Rancourt will be dropping in for a guest post over here at Soldier, Storyteller.  Might also have one more.

Meanwhile, I’ll taking the theme direction for December.  Since I don’t want to do any of the standard themes like Home for the Holidays, I’m going to do “silver.”