Sunday, March 7, 2010

Writing/Blogging Motivation

It's interesting how writing a blog works. Since my blog doesn't have a specific subject that repeats itself through each post I'm free to follow whatever interests me at the moment. Once a blog entry is posted I have a feeling of relief that I haven't let WILLIE BOY fade away from lack of attention. I suppose all of us bloggers think that some day we will run out of things to say and considering the number of people that are following my blog there aren't many people who will care. Granted maybe nobody is paying attention to my musings so it must be a conscience issue that keeps me keying away, like forgetting about a friend or missing an appointment or not living up to something I said I would do. For me that blog posting relief thing starts to fade after about a week and then I know that I've got to start thinking about something else to say.

Before I started WILLIE BOY I made a list of subjects that interested me and for which I felt I had something constructive, humorous or enlightening to say. I limited my list to one 8-1/2 X 11 sheet of paper with the subjects listed down the left side of the page and on the right side I wrote notes on each subject but limiting myself to one line. Eventually I completed a whole page of approximately forty possibilities. I felt that having one page to refer to would be the most efficient way of organizing my possible posts. I wanted to be able to have one sheet with all of the options right in front of me; not pages of subjects, notes and thoughts. If you keep it simple you'll have fewer reasons for not starting this thing. Occasionally I would think of something new and I would either "white out" a topic that didn't interest me anymore and write in a new one or I would squeeze the new subject in between a couple of lines where there was a little bit of space.

The only time I had ever written under any kind self-imposed deadline was when I wrote my one and only novel DEVON LOCH. Writing a blog is similar to writing a novel in that I find myself thinking and daydreaming at various times during the day about what I am going to write next. There I was taking a shower or mowing the yard and suddenly a new character or event or line of dialogue would pop up. Another way I came up with inspiration for my book was during a run. Sometimes a new idea would just occur for no reason and I would hold onto it tight as I neared home. Other times as I ran I would probe at a character or plot point that wasn't making sense when suddenly a solution would ignite into my brain. Dead ends into which I had found myself trapped suddenly opened, characters that were acting inconsistently made sense or plot holes where I found myself staring down a long dark tunnel opened to the light.

During those evening runs I would worry that I wouldn't remember what I had worked out and would forget what I had come up with. But somehow the idea would come back to me the next time I sat down to write as if there was some kind of organizing system in my brain that filed the idea away then released it the next time my mind searched for it. It beat running with a pencil and paper or a tape recorder.

I'm always intrigued when I read about authors (Stephen King being one of them) who sit down and start writing, not knowing where the muse is going to take them. They probably had a glimmer of an idea before they started but they didn't know where they are going or how they were going to get there. I need to put the idea down on paper and then write down other stuff that I know is going to happen or list characters that are going to play their part. When I get that overall plan written down, somewhat like an outline, then I can get started. This is somewhat of a linear plan, as in traveling from point A to point B but with an option to veer off to point A-1 and A-2 and then back to point B. Not a short-cut but a long-cut, like a journey you have planned where you decide on the spur of the moment to detour over to Highway 101 on the Oregon coast instead of heading up boring old I-5.

That's where writing becomes so fascinating as your main plan takes a completely different direction or a new character suddenly arrives that you hadn't even thought of originally. I guess we shouldn't be so surprised about the spontaneous direction our writing can take us as those ideas come from our own brains. We may be making things up but those glimpses that occur are a product of our own imagination which is a product of everything we have accomplished, failed at, read, seen, experienced, people we have known and met and everything else that has happened in our lives. The amazing thing is that somehow all of that information has been secreted away in your brain but can be accessed as your fingers manipulate a pen or type on a keyboard. Also there must be other secret doors behind which are ideas that come from unknown places that are unexplainable and just plain minor miraculous because obviously the first book written about traveling in a rocket ship to the moon was not written by someone who was relating first-hand experiences. Somehow those chemicals and neurons and synapses in your brain trigger ideas that no author has ever had before and that unique occurrence may be taken for granted by career authors but not by me.

I'm sure most people who write started out as a child listening to a parent or as a kid cuddled up on a comfortable sofa or as a teenager perusing titles in a library. Traveling in your mind to far away galaxies, storm driven seas, exotic foreign countries, terrifying dark forests or imaginary kingdoms made you want to create your own adventures and at some point you had the courage to try. Those books you read years ago sparked something in your imagination and one day you followed through.

It's funny, for all my years of reading there are a small collection of books for which I have never forgotten, even though I last read them over forty years ago. None of the books were particularly noteworthy, none of them were written by authors who have endured in fame, none of them are still in print (but are available on Amazon) but all of them sent a young boy to places he had never been and on adventures that had him holding his breath and stimulating his imagination. I read a lot of books as a kid but for some reason these three have been seared into my mind and I can tell you briefly about them as if I read them yesterday.

The first book titled: GLADIATOR by Philip Wylie I am going to save for a special post but one of the  memorable books I have not forgotten is THE TERRIBLE GAME BY Dan Tyler Moore (no relation to Mary Tyler Moore). Jonathan Burr is the college-age son of an American super spy who has been assigned a mission in a small European country. The father's job is to parachute into the land-locked mountainous region to play a game that all captives of that country are required to complete. The game involves running, riding, wrestling and sword fighting to the death. If the participant survives the competition, without being killed, he will be granted any wish that the country is able to provide. In the United States' case their wish will be to establish a land-based rocket system which will give them a strategic advantage over the U.S.S.R. which borders this small country. The dilemma is that the father is seriously hurt on the eve of his mission and the son, who has been training with his father and knows the intricacies of the Terrible Game, is enlisted by the secret agency to take his father's place. Naturally the athletically gifted and fearless Jonathan accepts the assignment. However one thing his superiors fail to tell him is that the game has never been won by an outsider for hundreds of years. I remember a great villain whose name was Tunch Belak an ominous adversary for young Jonathan. Thrilling adventures for teenage Will!

The last book I have never forgotten was titled THE SECOND SON by Charles Sailor which has one of the most thrilling openings to a book I have ever read. Joe Turner is an average good guy who works in New York city as a welder who connects steel girders at the top of high-rise buildings. After he and his best friend ride the elevator to the top of their latest project they begin their work-day hundreds of feet above the city's streets. During a maneuver to connect a beam Joe's friend loses his balance and is forced to grab onto the steel girder to save himself. The beam is hanging over the site attached to one steel cable. As the beam circles in the air and starts to tip down the man begins to lose his grip. Just before his friend drops Joe leaps onto the beam, leveling the steel girder and allowing his petrified friend to swing back to the main structure. As his horrified co-workers watch, Joe coolly attempts to balance the beam and swing it back to the main frame. Instead he loses his grip and falls to the sidewalk landing in a deadly heap. As the police try to keep the area secure the crowd watches in awe as Joe Turner begins to move and rises unsteadily to his feet, unhurt. Joe's adventures continue as his invulnerability becomes known to the world and he aligns himself with an anti-nuclear weapons group. A hydrogen bomb is detonated and the extent of Joe's powers are revealed. Very dramatic and exciting stuff as I read the book more than once!

I'll never know if either or all of these books encouraged me to want to write but I think the inspiring and exciting ideas at least gave me the idea of giving it a try. For that I am grateful to the authors who wrote those books. Maybe there aren't a lot of people who remember my three favorites but those authors are lucky to have at least a few of us. The point being that anyone can write but whether anyone else is going to read whatever you write is another story that involves talent, intestinal fortitude, belief in yourself and luck. That's why blogging is so great. All you need is access to a computer and something you want to communicate. A blog is personal, it's for the writer and if someone else happens to be interested that's fine but it shouldn't be what is driving you; you're mainly doing it for yourself to prove that you can do it.

Jeez I don't need the pressure of thinking that there might be people out there hanging on my every word and relying on my musings for their entertainment.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Last Stand of Fox Company

I always have a book going. Whether it's during my lunch hour, in bed before going to sleep or laying in the sun on a warm summer day I am reading something. When Caitlin was old enough to sit up and page through a brightly colored book featuring running and jumping animals I began reading to her every night. Then when Charlotte appeared I had one daughter on either side of me as we read about George and Martha, The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon. This tradition was started by my mother and the nightly sound of her voice taking us to fantastic places instilled a love of books in my brother Terry and I. It wasn't until later that I found there might be consequences related to reading.

I remember vividly my seventh grade Language Arts teacher criticizing me in front of the whole class after I had just completed giving an oral book report involving the Hardy Boys. She informed me that this sort of book wasn't acceptable reading because it wasn't in the school library. I had a healthy respect for all teachers for their knowledge and authority so I just stood there in front of my classmates as some of them snickered and rolled their eyes. I remember that the assignment didn't specifically require us to report on a book in the school library and even as a twelve year old I knew that that woman was absolutely wrong! As if the book my mother had bought me for my birthday was somehow unacceptable reading material. That the story about two brothers who solved crimes wasn't proper for a young boy to read because this teacher or someone in a higher authority had deemed it so. I didn't let it get me down because I secretly knew I had another thirty or so adventures with Frank and Joe Hardy left to read.

I took the failing book report home to my mother who after reading it gave me a long thoughtful look and said, "This is a good report, it sounds like an exciting book. Keep reading the Hardy Boys but look at the books in the library too, I'm sure you will find something you'll like." She was right as I found authors such as Howard Pease, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Welles who introduced me to high seas adventure, deductive reasoning and science fiction.

Years later my mother quit her job as the publications director at the Rainier Brewery and went back to school to be a teacher. I remember her telling me once that as a high school English teacher she found that there were students who just didn't like to read, whether it was because they couldn't sit still long enough, were bored or had never learned to read. Eventually she realized that if she encouraged them to read about a subject that interested them then at least they would be reading something. Maybe those students weren't following her required reading list but she was glad that they were reading about drag racing, Hollywood celebrities or the Fantastic Four. "You've got to start somewhere," she said.

Over the years my reading interests ranged and changed to Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Dick Francis, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Douglas Preston, Lincoln and Lee Child, Harold Coyle, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. I can't say that my choice of authors or subjects became any more sophisticated; just consistent. Hey, I get into LITERARY type stuff now and then; stories with big words, high-minded ideas and complicated characters who have to make "gut-wrenching" decisions but I guess all that thinking just wears me out. Having to constantly refer to the dictionary, screw up my forehead in confusion, then nod my head in understanding is very time-consuming. Obviously I like Science Fiction, Suspense, Detective, Military, Horror and Techno fiction but I always have a non-fiction book going too. At the moment I'm reading a book about the United States Secret Service titled: IN THE PRESIDENT'S SECRET SERVICE which reveals insider information re the government agency tasked with protecting the lives of the President, Vice President, their immediate relatives and other high mucky-mucks. I might report on it later.

A non-fiction book I just finished titled: THE LAST STAND OF FOX COMPANY covers the heroic actions of two Marine Corps infantry units that supported the withdrawal of 10,000 Marines who were nearly trapped at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War while surrounded by over 100,000 Chinese soldiers. During late November of 1950 one unit, Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion 7th Regiment, held the summit of a small hill seven miles to the south of the Chosin for four days and five nights as they protected the exit point for the withdrawal. Another unit, remnants of the 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment comprised of 350 Marines, headed south from the "frozen" Chosin to reinforce Fox Company whose beleaguered 246 man company was under attack from over 10,000 Chinese soldiers and fighting to keep the choke point open at Toktong Pass.

In twenty-five degree below zero weather and with three quarters of the Marines killed, wounded or captured the three platoons of Fox Company dug and hacked into the frozen ground for cover. Commanded by Captain William Barber, who hauled himself around the hill on a wounded leg to organize and rally his troops, the men of Fox Company packed their wounds with icy snow, ate frozen food that couldn't be thawed and huddled with their comrades to keep them warm.

As their frozen automatic and semi-automatic weapons jammed the Marines were forced to fire with single shots but used their superior tactics, leadership, and camaraderie to hold off the Chinese. Thought of by the enemy as weak and inferior the Marines on Fox Hill knew that the Chinese soldiers, many of them teenagers, were forced to fight in Korea while the Marines who had enlisted were obviously there because they wanted to be. Utilizing fatalistic humor the Marines did their duty as they protected and supported their comrades and, with unwavering confidence in their officers, fought through the terrifying nights as they made their stand thousands of miles from home.

Seven miles to the north, near the Chosin Reservoir, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis led a cobbled together group of three hundred and fifty Marines in support of their comrades on Fox Hill. Traveling light and under the cover of darkness the remaining men of Abel, Baker and Charlie companies of the 1stBatallion 7th Marine Regiment aimed to slip through the Chinese lines with a surprise move to the northeast then a circle move to the south. Traversing deep gullies, slogging up steep hills and skirting precarious ridge lines, the sleep-deprived Marines fought their way toward Fox Company with the wind chill dropping the temperature to thirty degrees below zero.

Using first person accounts, maps, photographs and after-action reports the authors, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, recount an historic action that produced three Medal of Honor recipients and culminated in a memorable reunion of those heroic Marines at the opening of the National Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps in November 2006.

This book is perfect for people who want to know about a nearly forgotten War that isn't taught in school history books anymore. It's also for Marines who remember what it was like to fight far from home, who have a hard part inside them that is still a Marine and who haven't forgotten the horror of battle and have the pride of knowing what it takes to be a survivor.