Dick Van Dyke Christmas Song

Dick Van Dyke has wonderful charm in this fun video.  I remember watching him in reruns of the Dick Van Dyke Show.  It’s hard to believe he is 92.

Silent Night by Chewbacca

This is pretty cute.  Just make sure you stay until the end for an appearance of Santa Claus, Star Wars-style.

The Soldier’s Christmas Poem

I’ve always found there’s something magical about Christmas.  It’s a time where hope comes out and reminds us that things can be better if we make the effort.  This is The Soldier’s Christmas Poem about Santa visiting the house of a soldier.


As I write this, we’re in single digits outside.  That’s early for Washington DC.  We usually hit that in January or February.  Snow–evil word that it is–is possible tonight and Saturday.  Brr!


Star Trek Christmas Song

A hilarious rendition of “Make It Snow,” Captain Picard style–not that I’m wishing for that evil four letter word.

The Mad Rush of the Holidays

I ended up dropping off the face of the earth for my novel project for about a week.  With the holiday ramping up, work got really crazy because everyone was trying to get everything done before they went off on leave.  Of course, the culture now seems to be everyone waiting until the last minute, then screaming, “Help!  It’s an emergency!” By then it is, but it’s pretty bad to have to prioritize the emergencies to which is more urgent.

So when I got home, brain wasn’t functioning much (remember Buffy: “Tree pretty.  Fire bad.”). Yeah, it took me a few days to recover, and I’m going to take advantage of the four day holiday.

Word count total: 3600

Total words: 14300


My family has some origins in Thanksgiving, including one that I found out this week.  My great-great…grandfather John Adams (no relation to the president) was on the second ship that arrived at the Plymouth site.  It was funny reading a book that described the men there as “lusty young men.”

One does not think of their grandfather as a “lusty young” man!

He married my grandmother there, then died during an illness that swept through the colony.

The thing I found out this week is that Mayflower was owned by the Vassall family, who is also related to us.  William Vassall came over to the colony on one of the later ships, though he later had a spat over religion and left for Barbados.  His daughter married John’s son, James.

And, while I think the news sat on this story for timing, archaeologists think they discovered the site where the Pilgrims lived.

Military Stuff

The Army is the only service without a museum.  But they’re building one in Virginia.  The ELC (they don’t define it, at least not that I could find) looks interesting: It’ll be virtual training exercises so anyone can get the soldier’s experience.  That’ll be pretty fun.  When I was at Fort Lewis, one of the coolest training exercises was a computer simulation of calling down artillery fire.  We map it out and see the results on the screen.  Since that was a good 25 years ago, these are sure to be much better than that.

Veteran’s Day

I went to IHOP for Veteran’s Day—they were offering red, white, and blue pancakes to the vets. I wore my Desert Storm because well, I could. The reason I picked the IHOP is because I go there are the time, and the staff all knows me. I thought they’d have a blast, and they did –a lot of the specials offered that day are not really about someone getting something for free, but simply giving.

That was one of the wonderful thing during Desert Storm when we receive Any Soldier mail. People who didn’t know us took the time to send us mail. Every little bit counts.

Desert Storm: Christmas in Saudi Arabia

Christmas was only 34 days since Thanksgiving, but the changes were like night and day. It was like the war was reaching ahead of itself to us, in anticipation of what might happen. Thanksgiving was definitely not a normal day, right from President Bush’s visit to the big meal, and even the decorations.

At this point during Desert Shield, I’d received very little mail from home. In fact, I’d primarily received bills. My mother, who wrote her parents every day, wasn’t writing anything at all. That was one of the hardest things about being deployed so far away and in an environment where communication was a challenge. The world continued to happen, while I was stuck in a time bubble, and I didn’t know what was going on.

Christmas started out really like the day before and also like the day after. The world was brown and olive drab. No decorations, no Christmas tree. We had our first formation. Then one of our 40 foot trucks pulled up with a box trailer. It was filled with packages sent from the United States to “Any Soldier.”

Package after package was brought to us, so many it was overwhelming. Most of it was toiletry kind of stuff, and hard candy. Basic supplies had been hard to get initially, so everyone was still sending more to us. We received so much candy that we were sick of it and lobbing bags of it into trucks as they stopped at fuel point. The nicest thing I got was addressed to “Any soldier who was a cat lover.” Someone sent pictures of their cats.

It was nice to see that so many people did care, and it did usher in a feeling of Christmas spirit that sometimes gets lost during the holidays with all the commercialism.

But only a few hours later, we were back to work, readying for the war coming in 24 days.

Desert Storm: Thanksgiving in the Persian Gulf

When I was growing up in Southern California, Thanksgiving was usually a potluck dinner at our neighbors house. He’d set up a table outside in his driveway, and everyone would show up. Yeah, it was outside. November in Los Angeles was still pretty warm out, though we would have said it was starting to get cold. While I was at Fort Lewis, the Mess Hall would have a big Thanksgiving meal. The officers and the platoon sergeants would put on their dress blues and serve the lower enlisted food. It was also usually the best meal of the year in the Mess Hall. Thanksgiving food is like putting on your best clothes.

Thanksgiving in Saudi Arabia was the same way. The holiday was on November 22, 1990, which put it just about month or so since we’d arrived. I look at it now and think that it wasn’t that long, and yet, at the time, it felt like many months had already passed us by. Maybe that was the effect of how our days were structured. Every day, we woke up, had formation, and went to work, and when we were done working, we tried to keep from being bored. There were no weekends, and if we hadn’t been keeping track of the days, the holiday could have easily passed us by.

My squad leader came by and told us that President Bush was visiting. He could send one person, and I was the one he picked. It was exciting, and not entirely because the President of the United States was coming. I’d also be getting out of the tiny world of our camp, which had become very claustrophobic. It was also difficult for me at times because I was an introvert and introverts need to be alone to recharge, and in that small world, I was never alone.

We were bussed out to the same airport that our plane landed in. It had been turned into a stage for a giant audience. Sometimes when I show up at places and all the women are wearing the same color, someone will say, “We all got the memo.” For this, we were all told to be in the same uniform, the desert camoflauge, so it was a sea of brown.

A long line filed into the audience area of thousands of soldiers. Just packed. I remember seeing a soldier’s chemical kit scattered on the ground and trampled under his feet and thinking that he was going to be in a lot of trouble. We passed a roped off area of Air Force One and black vehicles.

I don’t remember anything about the President’s speech. Evidently, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me then, either:

“Yesterday, I went up and saw the President at the Royal Saudi Air Force Base (I was the short one in the back). He gave a ten minute speech.” — My recorded notes on the visit of the President, November 23, 1990.

After that, I came back, and we were all treated to Thanksgiving food that had come in with the President. It was all the traditional food: Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes. We could eat all we wanted. The Army had even decorated the tent. I remember there was a huge table decoration in the middle of the room, set up on a table. I don’t remember what the decoration was, but I do remember the Mars bars scattered all over the base of it. I stuffed my shirt pockets full of candy bars because it would be a long time before I would see any more.

Up until I’d deployed, I kept saying to myself that he would resolve this, and now we were here and and nothing had been resolved. And the reality was that once I went back, still nothing would be resolved, and the next day would start, the same as the day before Thanksgiving. War would still wait for us.

Sometimes Good Things Are Not Easy

I’m going to take a leap of faith and publish three indie books next year.  One will be Sisters-At-Arms: The Story of a Woman Soldier in Desert Storm (which will be the Desert Storm blog posts you’ve been reading).  The second is Red God, a contemporary fantasy set in an alternate world of Hawaii.  I’m finishing that one up now.  The third is a mystery called Murder on the Morro Strand, set in Morro Bay, California, where my family went to twice a year when I was growing up.  Morro Strand is a beach there.

I hope to have a total of ten books in the year, which is a really scary goal for me.

I always wanted to write novels, ever since I started writing when I was eight.  Everyone around me thought this was a too big and scary goal and pushed me to short story writing.  When I became an adult, I tried tackling that novel and ended up really stuck at the one-third point of the book.  It was “Now what?” and I didn’t know what to do.  I ended up figuring that I’d revise the beginning, since a lot of advice suggested if you got stuck, the problem was the beginning.

I thought the problem was that I couldn’t get subplots into the story because it seemed like at the point something else should be coming into the story.  I felt like I had a novel’s worth of material, and yet, I couldn’t get past 100 pages before it ran out of steam, so I always felt like I was running too short.  I ended up revising that beginning and revising it and revising it, trying to figure out to get the subplots into the story.  I revised it so much that I was sick of the story.  Yet, I didn’t want to give it up because it was my only idea for a novel!

Enter cowriting.  I hooked up with a cowriter, who said he was great at doing subplots.  I decided to set aside the first novel.  We wrote a thriller, and then after about 80 rejections, redrafted it as a new book.  We were making submission rounds when we broke up.

That was when I realized I was back at square one.  I hadn’t solved the problem of subplots or running too short.  I looked everywhere for any piece of advice, finding mere scraps.  Most writers tend to write way over, so there was plenty of advice on cutting and editing.  Not so much on too short.  I literally wrote Book #4 with my eyeballs on the word count, watching as the words slowly eeked their way up.  I still ran too short, and I couldn’t explain why.

I battled for every word to get it to pop over agent minimums, using every workaround I could find.  Then I went to a writer’s conference and met an agent, apparently impressing her enough that she remembered me.  She gave me personal comments — just a short paragraph, really, and the moment I read them, I knew the problems she mentioned were caused by those workarounds.  I’d messed up my book trying to fix it.

It was a real low point for me.  It was near Thanksgiving like it is now.  It seemed like the only books I could do at the publisher’s lengths were ones with the cowriter.  I wondered if I should stop trying for novels and just go back to short stories.  But I wasn’t quite willing to give up on that yet.

So I was looking around the internet for subplots and ran across Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel. So I signed up.  Holly’s method for revision is more based on outliner methods, than for people who write into the dark (we don’t outline), or pantsers.

I remember going through one of the early lessons and one of the things that she practiced was not revising until she had identified all the problems.  That become a frustrating experience for me because I saw so much of the junk I’d added for word count that now stood out for me.  I stuck to the lesson because I wanted to learn where the problem was, but what I really wanted to do was slash out all that stuff so I could see the story.  There was so much of it that it made it hard to do some of the lessons.  I was pulling at my hair.  It was really bad, and such a slow process.  I wanted to charge ahead and fix it.

The problem was that I still didn’t know what I was doing to mess up the stories.  As far as I could tell, I didn’t have themes, subplots, or a character arc.  Somehow those had never ended up in it.  About halfway through the lessons, the problem seemed to reveal itself to me:  I was starting too late into the story.  So late that the natural development of the story was thrown off.

Why did I start so late?  I thought it was because I have trouble seeing how to start a project until I’ve worked my way into it.  The actual cause was several pieces of writing advice that I’d seen over and over again:

  • Everyone starts with backstory.  Cut off the first fifty pages.  Start as close to the action as possible.
  • Start with the action.

Those two pieces of advice pushed me into starting in the middle.  It took a lot longer to figure out it wasn’t the only advice causing problems.

I emerged from the class ready to tackle the book again, though the revision techniques weren’t for me.  The book still ran short.  I still had a problem that I couldn’t identify.  So I wandered from cheapie writing class to cheapie writing class.  Two instructors flaked on it, and I derailed my novel trying to insert a theme because I wasn’t able to identify one for my book.  It wasn’t until I took an Odyssey class with Barbara Ashford, who isn’t an outliner that I could see a difference in the advice.

Nearly all of the writing advice assumes you’re outlining.  A lot of it is a particular writer’s process, not an actual technique, but it’s often presented as a technique.  Still, it would take some online classes with Dean Wesley Smith before I started to realize the impact of that.  DWS prefers not to outline (the phrase “writing into the dark” is from him).  The problem was not subplots or missing themes or character arcs.  It wasn’t a problem with me starting in the middle.  It was how-to advice.

Most of it assumes that the writer is a beginner.  It also assumes that the writer is doing it wrong or will screw it up.  And it assumes the writer is outlining.  I’ve been writing for decades, so I’m not a beginner, and I find vaguely insulting that the default is that it’s going to be messed up (this is particularly true for anyone who talks about pantsers).

As a result, I walked away from two writing boards that I’d been a member of for years and dropped several writing blogs.  I knew some of the stuff was garbage, but it’s super easy to try something suggested because it seems reasonable.  That’s how I got sucked into the outlining related advice.  It all sounded reasonable.  I had to remind myself in the beginning that I knew what I was doing, because it was that pervasive.

And I look back on it, and most writers wouldn’t have survived what I put into it.  They would have given up.  Too many people think writing is easy, and they look for shortcuts where there isn’t any.  It’s a lot of investment in time and learning, and you never stop learning.

I started Red God in July of this year.  It is 5000-6000 words from being done.  I’m kind of shocked as I write that.  It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a book, and it’s really good.  I don’t care how long it is any more.  It’s the story that counts.

From The Daily Post Writing prompt: “Good things come to those who wait.” Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?

Turtles in Pollen (Photo)

Turtles sun themselves on a pond

Today is World Turtle Day, so I’d thought I’d share a photo of some local turtles.  This was taken at the Mason District Park in Annandale, where they have a man-made pond with lily pads, turtles, and even a bullfrog, which I’ve seen, but I’ve sure heard.

I admit it — I’m fascinated by turtles.  They’re one of the few critters that I can watch for a while and just take in the peacefulness of the place around me.   They don’t seem at all bothered by the humans gawping at them, like the two kids who wandered up and squealed at them while I was taking this.

The green dust floating on the surface of the pond is pollen.  It’s not all that bad; last week the turtles were covered with it, too!