What does a character look like?


Whenever I’m reading a book, it’s hard for me to put a face to the character if the writer doesn’t describe anything.  I know there’s a crowd that says to leave it off, leave it up to the reader’s imagination or imagine herself.

I don’t imagine myself in the character’s place.  If I don’t get a description of the character, it’s a missing piece of the characterization for me.

Not only that, it gives control of an aspect of the story up to the reader.

Even non-fiction tales about people describe the people as part taking the reader back into that world of the past.

If someone walks up to you, don’t you look at them?  See what they look like?  Maybe notice that the clothes don’t fit or that they lost weight?  Don’t you form an opinion about that person?

The problem is how description of characters is taught.  As an exercise, separate of a character’s point of view and separate of the story.  It’s like a mug shot:

He had brown hair and his eyes were blue.  He had to be over six foot tall.  He wore a black suit.

Yawn.

Better:

He was a big guy.  Made me feet short, and I wasn’t short.  Hair shaved to hide he was going bald.  He wore a black suit, but had gotten it off the rack without looking in the mirror.  Shoulders pulled wrong, button strained.  The pants hem pooled around his ankles.

Some of the particularly memorable writers I’ve read have been that because they described both the setting and the characters.

And just for fun, here’s a picture of what Ian Fleming thought James bond looked like.

Devil Winds


Cover for Devil Lands showing a desert planet
Devil Winds $2.99

Abandoned by war, abandoned by death. Neyan is a soldier hanging on with only the goal of completing her mission: kill the enemy.

Now the enemy are mounting an attack on the kingdom, and she is the only one who stands between them and her people. Then she meets the enemy and she isn’t so sure of her mission any more.

Available from your favorite book sellers:

Woman WWII Prisoner of War


Every time I hear about themed months or “firsts” (first woman this or that), it’s sad to see.  The first is that it seems to be the only way women get visibility for accomplishments and that we really should be beyond firsts … and still aren’t.

When I first got to Washington DC, everyone was still squabbling over the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.  The men were actually saying that the women didn’t do anything … why should they be honored?

This woman was a secretary to a military officer during World War II in the Philippines.  The Japanese attacked and captured her.  But she was smart and thought about what she could do to help herself:

After American and Filipino forces surrendered in May 1942, Finch hid her American background and instead passed herself off as a Filipino citizen to avoid being placed in prison camps with other American civilians.

Then she helped out both the resistance and the POWs:

Landing a secretarial job with a Japanese-controlled fuel distribution company, she managed to direct supplies to the Filipino resistance movement as well as food and medicine to POWs, including the Army officer who was her former boss in the intelligence office.

Unfortunately, she got caught, and the Japanese tortured her.  But she never broke.  Then she was released by American forces.

When she moved to the U.S., then she enlisted in the Coast Guard!

Twilight Zone Origins in War


Being a Science Fiction fan, I grew up on reruns of Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Twilight Zone, just to name a few.  Probably the most memorable Twilight Zone episode is the one with William Shatner and the monster on the wing.  I couldn’t help it; I put a nod to that in my last novel.

But one of things I really like is the behind the scenes of how shows were made.  The stories behind the creations.

Twilight Zone originated from Rod Serling’s war experiences and his way of dealing with it in the story:

While taking a picture with a friend during a lull at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific, an Air Force plane dropped a box of extra ammunition that landed on Serling’s friend and flattened him fatally. This event would give him inspiration in many of his scripts and stories.

I remember when I came back from Desert Storm.  It was such a big experience that really, I couldn’t put words to it.  I felt like I needed to bleed off some of the poison of it but my stories turned very dark.  The weird part was that I couldn’t see how dark they were … took someone else to point it out to me.

Though I still couldn’t see it.

About the same time, I did a review of Phil Clay’s Redeployment, a collection of short stories.  I’d committed to the review, opened up the first page, read the first line, and wasn’t sure I could do it.  I didn’t want to go back and say I couldn’t do it, so I skipped to the next story, which was less dark and read it in pieces.  I doubt if many people read the entire book because it was so dark.

But I could see the undercurrent of this anger running through the book–I doubt if the writer knows he has it, but he will eventually.  It was in mine, and I had to back away from it if I wanted to sell anything.

So I had to consciously shift away from dark stories, and even ideas that looked like they were going to veer dark.  I don’t have to think so much about it now, though every now and then it catches me off guard.

And I still write about my time in the military, but it’s very different.

World War I and Desert Storm


Over the weekend, I made my first real outing (other than grocery stores) to a lecture at the library on World War I.   It’s the 100th anniversary of WWI, the 75 anniversary of WWII, and the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm.

It was an interesting lecture, and I was also surprised at some of the similarities to Desert Storm.

But let’s start with a couple of the really cool facts of WWI:

  1. Prior to WWI, the U.S.’s army was comprised of local regiments.  Like what we had for the Civil War.  After WWI, it became a national army.
  2. We were an agrarian society before WWI started; we change to industrial afterward.

So some big society changes.

The war had been going on for some time when the U.S. entered it.  Because we did not have a national army, the government had to pull one together and fast.  The government started the Selective Service to draft soldiers.  It took about a year and half.  I’m pretty sure they were probably putting the soldiers on ships and sending them over that way (should have asked that!).

In Desert Storm, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which put them at the borders where they could invade Saudi Arabia.  The U.S. had to mobilize its military and fast.  Technology helped us be much faster than WWI.  The Army was sending over the elite forces days after the invasion, and it took until about December for enough people to be over there.

WWI was right around the time women were outspoken about suffrage.  They were viewed as radical.  But then the war started, and the women pitched in.  They were in some military roles and helped on the home front.  After the war, they became more accepted because they participated.

Desert Storm was, at the time, the largest deployment of women to war.  I remember it being new and strange … newspapers reported breathlessly on women who were leaving their children behind  … the sergeants didn’t quite know what to do with us, so they treated us like men.  The Army didn’t have any policies in place for dealing with any problems with women.  That one, of course, has been evolving over the last 25 years.  Women now can serve on submarines.

Like I mentioned above, we were farmers before WWI and after, we were industrial.  People who saw WWI grew up with horse and buggies and at the time they died, they saw jets.

Desert Storm also saw a big change there, too.  We were industrial, but knowledge work also came in to play a very large role.  We went from expensive computers that only a few could afford to people holding a palm-sized one in their hands–and that everyone has.

WWI marketed the war heavily and controlled what information got back to the United States.

So did Desert Storm, in spite of the 24 hour news cycle.  That one has done us as a society a disservice.  I just saw an article the other day about how the government censored out the violent aspects of the war.  The result is just like Star Trek brought up in A Taste of Armageddon.  Everyone expects war to be as neat and as non-violent as possible.  If one civilian is killed, the media parades it as a military failure.  War is messy.  Moreover, it needs to be messy.

It’s why wars need to end.

Finally, both wars are largely being forgotten.  We had some big WWI events just recently, and they barely got reported, and in some newspapers, not at all.  For Desert Storm, some of the veterans have actually heard people say, “That doesn’t count as a war.”

And each was followed by another war that eclipsed it … WWII for WWI and the Iraq War for Desert Storm.

World War II Women in Color


Check out these rare photos of World War II that were originally taken in color.  Color film existed at least since 1939 with The Wizard of Oz, but was still pretty rare because the technology was too new.

But the most striking thing in the photos is that a lot of them feature women.  Women did a lot of jobs during the war, including aircraft spotters, preparing parachutes, and creating munitions.

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Foot update:  I’m out of the boot and wearing structured shoes (hiking boots).  But I can only walk short distances.  It’s so pretty and nice outside and the flowers are blooming and I still can’t have a walk to enjoy them!

Soon …

Desert Storm Reunion Cruise: Cozumel


Next stop on the cruise was a place I always wanted to visit: ruins!

When we docked, I was first greeted by this sight.  On the right is my cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas.  On my left was Navigator of the Seas.  That’s the ship I took on my first cruise, so this was pretty weird.

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Then it was off to the Mayan ruins.  It was very hot out (Mexico in winter is still hot!), and a long walk to get out to the ruins.

My first reaction was, “That’s it?”  I guess I expected ruins to be more exotic, though they are what they are … parts of buildings that are crumbling.

It also didn’t help that we didn’t have a good tour guide.  He gave us all headsets to listen in to him, but he spoke almost in a monotone and very softly.  He also didn’t seem excited about he was talking about … seems like that would be a requirement for a tour guide.

Mayan Ruins against a deep blue sky and dry grass

And the obligatory beach shot.  This was overlooked by the ruins.  We could go down if we wanted to, but the stairs were very steep, so I opted for photos.

A beautiful Mexican beach

Then it was back at the end of the day for the next trip along the coast of Mexico for more ruins.

The Military Jeep


Jeeps were on their way out when I first enlisted in the military.  My motor transport operator school had us learn how to drive military trucks on one.  It was the only time I saw one; after that, it was replaced by the CUCV (pronounced CUC-V), which is like an SUV.  That was replaced by the Hummer.

So “Jeep in a Crate” caught my eye.  It was actually a scam–get people to buy the government auction lists, but there are some pictures of jeeps being packed for shipping overseas during World War II.  I wonder if the original shape was designed exactly so they could be packed into a crate and then loaded in a shipping container.

And if you want entertainment, check out the story that follows the jeep article for Nazis and flying saucers.

 

Desert Storm Reunion Cruise – Cayman Islands


I remember the Cayman Islands from when I was growing because they always had these beautiful cat stamps.  It was our first stop on the cruise so I went to Hell,  checked out turtles, and played with stingrays–all in one day!

This is Hell, which a very small town, mainly so the tourists can send postcards back saying, “I’ve been to Hell and back.”  But it’s also known for the strange limestone rock formations behind me.

Looks kind of like a lunar landscape.

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Then it was off to see the turtle farm.  It’s hard to see in the picture without anything to compare it to, but these are huge turtles.  They are easily 3-4 feet long.  The farm raises them for the meat.

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Then we hopped aboard a boat that took us out to a shallow area in the ocean where the stingrays were.  We climbed off the boat–the water was colder than it looked.  The wind was blowing good, and the currently was strong enough that I was working on keeping my balance.

The man in the photo is one of the guides, who held the stingrays while pictures were taken of us.  The stingrays were probably about two feet long and very soft to the touch.  The only thing hazardous about them was the tail, which would only be a problem if we jumped up and down and landed on it.  So I was doing foot shuffles and managed to trip over the anchor line at least once!

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Foot update:  At my last visit, the doctor said that, at 6 weeks, I was at where most people are for 8 weeks.  He has me using hiking boots around the house and the regular boot if I go out.

First time I was on hiking boots, it was a weird sensation.  It was like the floor was on uneven on one side.  That disappeared after the first day, but boy, the next few days were a big energy suck.

Next visit, I should be out of the boot entirely.