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If you set your mind to something the possibilities are endless

Woman watching sunsetRecently, I’ve been reading a lot of author bios on their impressive writing experience.  They detail how they were writing from the moment they could hold a pen in their hands.  I sometimes wonder if that somehow makes me less because I can’t claim the same.  Oh sure, as a child I jotted down the occasional short story for fun.  As a teenager I wrote tons of poetry.  Then came adulthood and responsibility.

I joined the military at seventeen years old, and let me tell you that profession leaves little time to write unless you get one of those rare assignment that requires little of you.  None of my duties were ever easy.  There were a lot of long hours that drained me physically and psychologically.  The little time I had left was spent reading everything I could get my hands on.  Heck, I was trying to read romance novels during my off time in Iraq (which was usually ten hours a day) as nearby explosions rocked my sleeping quarters.  Talk about a distraction.

Needless to say, putting time into writing a novel or much of any kind of story wasn’t there.  When the urge to write did strike, I grabbed my journal and recorded my current thoughts and experiences.  At least that way I could look back on those crazy times and see what on earth was going on in my head.

For the first decade of of my adult life, I was living it in ways most people can’t imagine.  If there was an exciting opportunity the military had available, I usually grabbed it.  One example would be Airborne school.  Many people don’t understand what could have possibly inspired me to want to jump out of planes, but they couldn’t understand the idea of what a rush it offered.  Not to mention the challenge.  Among the very small number of women who are in good enough physical shape to even be eligible for the school, less than half actually graduate.

It is far more brutal and demanding on a female’s body than a male’s.  Let’s put it like this.  When a soldier has to do a full combat jump, they will have to strap at least one hundred pounds of gear (maybe more) to themselves.  Not just that, they have to wear it for hours before they even leap out of the plane (let me tell you I was usually glad to leap out at that point just to get a brief break from the weight).  After a paratrooper lands, they have to trek through a rutted out drop zone (sometimes up to half a mile) to dump their gear at the nearest turn in point.  How many women do you know who can do that?

In order to be sure, they test you in every way possible before getting to that scenario.  When I went through the school in 1999, we were not authorized to walk AT ALL during the duty day.  Even after you ate, they made you run back to the company area.  Once you arrived there, you had to do ten pull up and push ups before entering further (that part was required even during your off time). They pushed your body hard by forcing you to jump off all kinds of random objects during training so that you were also very bruised and sore.  I came back from that school with about as tight and toned a body as it was possible to get.  We must have done thousands of push-ups during our few weeks there, but that’s not all.

There is a final five-mile run just before jump week that you must pass.  For the experienced runner, that distance might not seem too bad, but it’s tricky.  Your body is already broken down and sore.  One top of this, they have to make the pace meet a nine minute mile average.  That is relatively slow, but the instructors want people to fall out so they do all they can to make that happen.  Keep in mind if you get more than an arms length distance from the guy in front of you in that run, you fail the whole school.  They use this to their advantage by speeding the whole formation up to what is pretty much an all out sprint for a quarter of a mile.

It is painful for most women because this is often done after you’re well into the run and already growing tired.  A surprising number of trainees won’t be able to keep up and they’ll fallback.  More instructors wait behind the formation to grab them immediately and pull them off the track.  Only once they think they’ve gotten enough of failures do they slow down again.  They have to end each mile at the nine minute mark, so you do get a breather for a bit.  Then the next mile starts and they speed it up again.  It’s painful and very effective at testing your endurance.  I know many women who failed.  Only sheer willpower got me through.  No one was going to stop me from the opportunity to jump from a plane, despite the fact I was never a great runner.  The trick is to want it bad enough to endure the difficulties.

Now back to the subject of writing.  Maybe I got a late start by not getting into it seriously until a few years ago, but I’ve done everything I possibly could to study the craft, practice at it, and learn the industry.  I wrote my first novel knowing I’d never try to publish it because that was my practice round.  It was meant to get me into the swing of things.  After that I started several more before ditching them part-way through because they weren’t working and I’m not one to waste my time on a lost cause.  Now I’ve got the novel I believe in.  I’ve worked as hard as possible to get it polished and I’m proud of it.

Every experience my characters have are drawn (in some form) to what I’ve gone through.  In the more than a decade I served in the military, I saw and dealt with a lot.  I know what it’s like to have my life in imminent danger.  To wonder when I lay my head down to sleep if I’ll wake up or die from a random rocket sailing into my bunk.  The feeling of being shot at isn’t foreign to me.  Looking ruthless killers in the eye and knowing they’ll take my life if given half the chance is not unfamiliar.  I’ve seen and done a lot.  Now it’s a matter of using all those things and putting them into a fiction story that can come alive for readers.  Capturing the emotions of danger and death all around, losing people you care about because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the enemy got them.  Maybe worse because now they’re missing an arm or leg, or their face is disfigured and surgery can only fix so much when your entire bottom jaw was blown off.  Those are the things I’ve seen and hope that it comes across in my writing so anyone who picks up my book(s) will feel those emotions and believe they are real.

Maybe I don’t have the experience of writing fiction since age five, but I do have a lot to offer now that I’m in the game.  Just as that five mile run could have been the end of my Airborne aspirations, so too could doubt in myself now.  I’m not going to let it get to me.  I have faith in myself that I’ll reach that finish line, just as I have many times before.  The sun set on one career, but it can still rise on another.

Writing Dark Scenes

Dark forestOne of the hardest parts of writing Darkness Haunts has been the dark and emotional scenes.  I had no idea how much it would take out of me when I first plotted the story out.

In this first book of the Sensor Series, there are are several scenes that have required me to dig deep within myself so I could put to words what I saw in my head.  Not only that, but I wanted to make sure the reader would be able to feel as if they were experiencing the moment with my character. It has required me to revise and edit these parts over and over until just the right words were put together for maximum impact.  Even now, I’m looking over the scenes again for what must be the dozenth time and tweaking them some more.  Every time I go through , I find ways to make them even more vivid and powerful.

Poor Melena really gets put through the ringer in this novel.  You’d think I enjoyed torturing her, but there really were some things she had to go through in order to grow and become what she needed to be for future novels in the series.  She doesn’t start off weak, don’t get me wrong, but in the beginning she isn’t fully prepared for dealing with the supernatural world.  She has some knowledge and experience, but not enough to fully navigate it once she is in deep.   Her resistance to letting anyone help her causes her to get into some very difficult situations.  She’ll get out of them, but not without painful consequences.

It is in those consequences that I have had to write the most difficult parts.  As the author, I have to fully imagine what it would be like for a person to go through such gut-wrenching events.  They aren’t exactly situations I’ve been through myself.  At least, not on the level she faces them.  Some are emotional, but others are physical.  She has to fight not only for her survival, but also for a friend she is trying to save.  It means putting herself in the line of danger and learning who she can trust.  For her, none of this is easy.

You may be wondering what these things are I speak of, but of course I can’t really say (no matter how much I want to) because it would spoil the book for you.  Just suffice it to say that this novel is no fairy-tale.  It’ll have a satisfying ending, but not before you get taken on a rough ride.

The Inspiration Behind Darkness Haunts

Light bulb on blue backgroundFor a long time I was nothing more than an avid reader, particularly of romance.  It began with historical and time-travel novels, and later branched out to paranormal and fantasy.  I rarely read contemporary, mostly because I didn’t want my escape to be too much like reality.

It wasn’t until about two years ago that I stumbled on Urban Fantasy (UF) and really found the genre that gave me everything I wanted.  It was the modern world transformed and I loved it!  Plus it almost always featured a tough heroine trying to survive in situations that no normal woman (or man) should be subjected to.  After reading through the first book I found, I continued to look for more.  The best kind were the ones in first person that followed a particular heroine as she grew as a person over the course of the series.  Of course, paranormal elements and romance were always involved.

One thing began to bug me, though.  I kept seeing these kick-ass heroines who had little background in fighting or strategy (with a couple of exceptions).  It wasn’t to say there was anything wrong with using waitresses, students, etc.  I just couldn’t understand why none of them had a military background and I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t become a master at fighting in a few weeks or even months.  Having served in the Army myself, I wanted a character I could relate to.  Someone who represented (in a fun way) all the female heroines who have served in the Armed Forces.

This led me to a campaign of complaining to anyone who would listen (including authors) that military women had been forgotten.  Finding male heroes in the Army, Navy, etc is very easy to do, but forget females in the Urban Fantasy or paranormal genre (you might get one in contemporary but that’s not my thing).  The response I got from a lot of people was if I wanted a book like that so bad, then perhaps I should be the one to write it.

They had a point!

Up until then, I had written one novel (a modern fantasy romance), but it was more for fun and practice.  That one will never see the light of day because I made a ton of rookie mistakes that would require an overhaul I’m not willing to do.  The heroine wasn’t military, but she was a character in my head that was begging to come out.  It was a 70k novel written in about a month.  I did do some revising in the following months, but I still knew it wasn’t something that would be worth trying to publish.  Sometimes, what you write really is just for you.  I enjoyed the story and it did teach me some things about plotting and story development.

The difference with this idea of a military heroine is that I wanted it to be something others could read.  I started two different UF novels, each getting to about the 30-40k range before giving them up.  They weren’t working.  So I stopped for awhile and decided to wait until true inspiration struck.

One day it did.

I finally thought of an idea that had a solid plot and main character that could be made into a full length novel.  In July of 2011 I began writing it.  There were still a lot of rookie mistakes in the beginning, but by this time I knew other writers who were willing to look at early chapters and point out things I needed to do to make my story better.  Months of trial and error, further writing and revisions before even finishing it, and I finally had the full novel done by January (2012).

Of course, it wasn’t really “done”.  Good writers will tell you a novel needs to be polished until it shines.  That means finding good critique partners to catch the holes that are inevitably there and any other problems.  I have one that has read the entire novel and been a big help.  A couple others are running through it now.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it will need further tweaking, but it’s already shaping up to be a great first novel in a series I will be proud to share.