Tag Archives: writing prompt

Picking at a Scab

I apologize in advance for the rambling that is about to begin…or the soap box I’m hopping up on…maybe both.

The book review I’m working on this week for IndieReader, is written by a Vietnam Veteran about the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on our soldiers who served as “boots on the ground” in Southern Vietnam. The book, Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War was written by Vietnam Veteran Patrick Hogan. In it, he goes into great detail about the chemicals used in Vietnam. Agent Orange is but a slice in the dangerous chemical pie.  He shares studies about the dangers of the various chemicals, as well as the battles he and other Vietnam Veterans have waged against the Department of Veterans Affairs over the years regarding illnesses attributable to the chemical warfare they were exposed to during their service. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I’m close enough to the end that I’m angry.

My dad passed away in 2009 from a heart attack connected to his adult onset, Type II Diabetes. His diabetes can be connected to his time spent serving his country in the Vietnam War. Not only did he have diabetes, he also suffered from high blood pressure, he was irritable and angry, and spent most days in his recliner napping his life away. (Unnatural drowsiness and psychiatric changes are also effects of Agent Orange.) And the best (or worst) part?

He was only in country twice for short periods of time.

Dad was an Air Force mechanic stationed at bases outside of Vietnam…most notably Taiwan. Mr. Hogan was stationed in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. My dad was there for a couple of weeks, from January 29 to February 15, 1969. He also had boots on the ground on September 19, 1969 to repair a plane in Da Nang.

In all, Dad was “in country” less than a month and came out the back-end with the maladies above.

I can’t even imagine the situation for those Veterans who spent their entire service in the jungles of South Vietnam. Well, yes, I can imagine ~ Mr. Hogan lists his illnesses and disorders in the book and breaks them out by ones the DVA has accepted as being caused by his time in the service, ones the DVA doesn’t accept, and those he hasn’t even submitted to them yet.  In all, he has twenty-two health issues that can be tied to his time in the service and his exposure to the chemicals and conditions in Vietnam.

Until the 1990s, the government refused to acknowledge that Veteran health problems were related to the chemical warfare in Vietnam at all! Millions of gallons of Agent Orange, Agent White and other herbicides and insecticides were used. The service personnel on the ground were spraying DEET right on their skin to ward off insects.

It sickens me that all of these kids ~ because most of them were kids, drafted into military service ~ who trusted their government would protect them and stand behind them, came back to the U.S. and were treated like second class citizens. They took the brunt of the public’s scorn about the war ~ and the government allowed them to be the scapegoats. They were denied the protection they deserved from the government, and the care/support they should have been entitled to when they returned home. The government turned a blind eye, knowing full well the dangers of the chemicals before they sprayed one square mile of Vietnamese jungle. The soldiers were led to believe that the chemicals were safe for humans. They trusted their government wouldn’t let them down…wouldn’t throw them to the wolves.

It makes my heart break for my dad and all the other Vietnam Veterans who, having made it home after their tour of duty, have died from or are currently suffering from, illnesses and conditions that most likely developed while they were serving their country. Eighteen and nineteen year old kids who sealed their fates the second they stepped of the plane in South Vietnam.

My dad might still be alive today if he hadn’t served in Vietnam. Other descendants of Vietnam Veterans might still have their loved one. Not just from the U.S., but also Australia, the Philippines, Thailand and others. And what about the South Vietnamese themselves? Our service members, contaminated as they were when they left, still got to leave.

I knew of Agent Orange in the most basic sense, having learned about the war in school. It wasn’t until shortly after Dad died that it really began to sink in.  We went to order a gravestone from the V.A. office and mom just started talking to the woman and mentioned Dad having been in Vietnam a couple of times to fix planes. The woman stopped what she was doing and asked, “He was in country?” My brother and I glanced at each other, wondering what this was about.  My mom kept sharing the story.  The woman asked Mom if she had documentation proving that Dad had been in country.  Mom thought she had his orders somewhere at home, but she absolutely had letters Dad wrote about those experiences.  The woman told her to bring in whatever she could find.

My dad had just died and I was looking for something to do. I needed some way to focus my grief outside of myself. I’m a writer. I did a little research.

And then I got pissed off.

I learned some of what Mr. Hogan writes about, but on a more introductory level. I didn’t dig too deep into the chemical compounds. I didn’t know Agent White was a thing. I didn’t look for information about conditions in South Vietnam. All the further I got was an introduction to Agent Orange. That was enough information to send me through the roof. But, what do you do with this information after the fact? What could I do now? I wasn’t a Veteran, so I had no real life experience to tie this information to. I’m not a scientist and much of the chemical compound information Mr. Hogan talks about goes right over my head. My dad was already gone and I couldn’t talk to him about his experiences (not that he was likely to talk about the war anyway).

The anger did get me through the funeral, so it was helpful in that way. I knew I wanted to write about this and I spent some time writing memories of my dad. I wrote a couple of small things about Agent Orange, but mostly just as information to share with my mom and brother. Time kept marching on and life kept happening and I eventually started the writing project that spawned this blog.

But now I feel like I need to revisit this place in history. I need to revisit Dad’s death and his time spent in Vietnam. Maybe I just needed to wait a bit, for the raw emotions to scab over and begin to heal.

Maybe I needed someone or something to give me a little nudge.

So, Faith is going to the back burner right now. (Sorry, girl, but I’ve got this thing I have to get off my chest first.)

I’m not sure what it’s going to turn into. Maybe it will simply be a family history story that my niece can keep to remember her bumpa’s military service as she begins her own (she has begun her service in the Air National Guard). But maybe my dad’s story will turn into something bigger. Maybe it will become a book that will go out there into the world. Maybe it can become part of a larger cautionary tale about the evils of war.

All I know right now is that I have to write it.

dad

 

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Finished Book Continues Editing Process ~ New Book…Well…

I have a second beta reader who will be giving the book a read through.  Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well.

The new book I’m struggling with just a little bit.  I can’t come up with what I think is a believable plot.  You know…as believable as a witch/paranormal story line can be. I’ve done a little bit of free writing, but I think it might require more. What I’ve written so far sounds like a pre-teen book.  Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not really where I want to go with the story.

Which is an interesting statement to make when I don’t have a clue what the plot line is or where I do want the story to go.

At first I thought I wanted to have my character be a journalism student who, for her investigative reporting class, decides she wants to dig around in the Salem Witch Trials and try to prove the women innocent.  But then it occurred to me, after reading another book about the trials, that perhaps there isn’t enough information out there to really confirm or deny anything with any amount of confidence ~ particularly for me, a writer who hasn’t really studied the trials and who doesn’t want to spend another year doing research this time around.  Plus, what would the conflict be?  Would the spirits of the accused be causing some kind of trouble? Would a living breathing person be trying to help or hinder her? Would all of that be interesting to read? It just seemed that I didn’t have the knowledge to breathe life into the story in that format.

So, now, I’m leaning more towards having the trials themselves be less of the focus of the book.  It would lean towards magical realism (as defined by Wikipedia: a story where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment). You know…witch…paranormal…all of that. Or maybe this would still be just standard fiction? Maybe chick lit? Any of those would give me more flexibility to run with the details.

I haven’t a clue right now, what those details might be.  But I’ll get there…the story just needs to roll around in my mind for a while…I need to toss ideas out in my free write, no matter how silly they seem.  Eventually, something will stick.  My character (whose name will be Faith) will eventually begin to take shape in my mind. She will come to me when she is ready and she will have a story to tell.

 

 

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Editing is Hard

I am finally digging into the edits for my book. I’ve started checking dates, correcting punctuation, and changing some vocabulary that perhaps my character wouldn’t use.

And now I’m on a page where the pivotal arc in my novel occurs. This is where one of my characters (not my main character) has a life changing experience.  Something that is going to affect him the rest of the way through the book – it’s the beginning of the end, so to speak (since we’re talking about the character who walks away and comes back later only to die of diphtheria. My friend/editor said the experience that begins this descent could be fleshed out a little more. She’s right.

So, now I have to figure out how to do that.

How do YOU do it?

Free-writing has worked for me in the past. If I start with the idea I need to elaborate on and just write without thinking too much about what I’m putting on paper, I can often come up with at least a nugget of an idea that I can then develop further.  But I feel there is only so much free-writing I can do when I’m trying to fit something into a historical period.  Like, I can’t just decide I’m adding aliens to the book and I have to be careful about references to “nowadays” things.  I know…free-writing is supposed to be just that and even if I DO write about aliens or iPads, they may just push my brain in an unexpected direction.

Actually, just writing that paragraph about how I can’t write about aliens has given me a couple of ideas!

So, I’m off to free-write through the aliens and twenty-first century technology to figure out what I need to add to this part of my story to help it ring true for readers.

Wish me luck!

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First Draft is Done!

I never thought I would be writing this post, but I think I’m finally done with the first draft of my book!

And even better, I think a book two might be possible to continue my character’s story!

I just wrote myself to a point that I feel is a good stopping point.  I’ve been wondering lately, as I’m over 43,000 words, when I should stop.  How do you know when the story is told?  When the book is complete? I didn’t want this to become a Stephen King, 1,000 page book that takes the reader months to finish. But I also don’t want to cut my character’s story short. I don’t want to leave readers (or myself, for that matter) hanging and wondering what comes next. I wondered if I would just know when I get to the end in a similar way to how I knew where the story was going next.  Every time I wasn’t sure where to go from where I was, I would sit down to write and my character would tell me and I would take down her dictation in my head.

Just now I wrote:

They said nothing and I turned to leave.  I turned around once as I opened the door, “This is why we lose to the white devil. One thing they do better than us is stand together to fight a common enemy. They have taught us to run and hide, they divide and conquer. And it will always be this way if we cannot find a way to come together as a people. Win together or lose together, but at least we would have tried. Good luck to you, my friends.”

I shut the door behind myself and walked out of their lives.

This seems like the perfect place to stop.  It can absolutely be an ending in and of itself, but it can also be a pause on a story that can be continued in another book.

It feels surreal to have finished. I’m sitting in a hotel room (at a work event) writing during my downtime and to come to the end of the story without any fanfare feels…strange. I’m not at home to run upstairs and jump around in front of my husband, yelling, “I’m done! I’m done!”

My brain whispered, “This is the end.” There are no fireworks celebrating my achievement. No balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling as if I had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right. No knock on the door with a huge check from Publisher’s Clearing House, no cheering from the home team as I score the winning goal.

Finishing a work you have labored over for several years is absolutely an internal celebration.  I knew this would be true…after all…my book is the center of my universe, and no one else’s. But it still takes a little of the wind out of your sails that you’ve completed this huge feat and no one really notices.  For everyone else, life just goes on.

I know the work has only just begun as I start the editing and publishing process, but it still feels a little bit like I’ve lost my best friend.

This might be why we keep writing.

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Compliments Will Get You Everywhere

I had two compliments last week in my day job that have spurred me on to really focus on my writing.

I do a bit of writing for my employer…newsletters and blog posts.  The thing is ~ it’s a boating organization, of which I know little.  So, I’ve been plugging along, learning as I go and enjoying the ability to live vicariously through these boaters.

boats

Well, two different people were so impressed with things I had written that one complimented me directly and the other one complimented me to my boss (which is probably even BETTER).  Haha!

One of the ladies was surprised to learn that I’m not really a boater because the information I wrote for a route segment on the website sounded so authentic she  thought it was written by someone who had been out on the water. That made my day.  That means two things:  First, that I’m starting to understand things like shoaling and tides and what type of boat a Catamaran is. Second, not only am I beginning to put it all together, but I’m doing it in such a way, that I sound experienced and knowledgeable!

The second woman, has been boating for a long time. We wanted to highlight her in a blog post and she sent me pages of typed notes that she had been assembling of her travels with the hope of turning it into a book. Right now, it’s more like journal entries, but she’s got some great information there with some beautiful experiences that she does a great job of expressing.  She warned me that what she sent me was pretty long and she wasn’t sure if there was anything there I could use or not, but I was free to do as I may.

So I did.

And after the post was written, she told my boss that I did a great job of taking her pages of notes and turning them into a story.

Now, when she’s ready to turn her experiences into a book, I hope she keeps me in mind.

In any event, I’m feeling pretty good about my writing chops these days, so I really needed to put my butt back in my writing chair.

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I’ve tried this before and been unsuccessful, but I created a little schedule for myself. I have so many things I want to work on, that I can never seem to decide what to work on first.  So, I’m going to work on different projects on different days of the week, with the weekends being free days.

I have a craft day, writing day, genealogy day…you get the idea.  That way, I’m getting my hands on everything that makes me happy at some time during the course of a week. We’ll see if I can make it stick this time.

If you haven’t already figured it out, today is writing day.  So, from here, I’m going right to my novel and I’m going to write until I start to fall asleep at the keyboard.

So, till about 8:30.  haha!

 

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Local Writer in the Newspaper

So, in the paper today, I stumble upon a small article in the Life section about a local author.

The author is a 5th grade student, who not only wrote a book, but she self-published it as well. It’s available on Amazon.

Part of me wants to burn what I’ve written so far and curl up in a corner and cry.  The other part of me is like, dammit, if a 10-year-old can do it, I can damn well do it.

As the two sides battle for dominance, I’ll be clipping coupons and going grocery shopping. For ice cream, cookies, and donuts.

You know…for the time in the corner feeling sorry for myself OR as fuel for the mad crazy writing session that may happen later today.

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If Genealogy was an Olympic event, I might be on the podium.

I’ve got to say, I was disappointed by the Olympics coverage by my local TV channel. I only watch figure skating during the winter Olympics.  I don’t have any interest in skiing, snow boarding, the luge or even speed skating.  Figure skating is all I want to see. Prime time coverage in my neck of the woods was largely everything BUT figure skating. I had to go to another channel, covering the Olympics 24/7 to catch it.

But that was enough to fill my entire evening for…what, two weeks?…a week and a half?  In fact, I still have the final skating exhibition to watch – I think I’ll hit my DVR next.

So, of course, no writing happened during this time. The U.S. didn’t fare well, and I got into the competition between the two Russian skaters, Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova. I was as outraged as everyone else when Zagitova all but stole (in my opinion) the gold from Medvedeva.

And, I say I have no interest in skiing, but I did watch Lindsey Vonn. I caught a little bit of snow boarding and saw Shaun White win gold again.

As you know, I came back from my Mom’s house with all those boxes of family history.  I still haven’t gone through the photos, but the documents I found, were amazing.  And most of them provided fewer answers than they caused more questions. I was as dedicated to going through these documents as if I was training for an Olympic competition.  That’s all I did for several weeks.  I would call my Mom every time I found something interesting and it got to the point where she stopped saying “Hello?”  And started answering the phone with, “What did you find now?”

Like, why would your great grandparents, who spent their whole lives in Wisconsin (as far as we knew) get married by a Justice of the Peace in Illinois? And why would your great grandma have joined a church in Chicago 4 years before the wedding?

This same great grandma kept a receipt from a drugstore for Diphtheria anti-toxin in 1931. Had she been sick? Had my grandfather been sick? I found it in her Bible and it seemed like a strange thing to keep all those years. And why was the mother on my great grandfather’s birth certificate crossed out and replaced with a different woman’s name? Was it just a clerical error or something else?

And this is just TWO people from a family tree that includes one known Civil War soldier and one Revolutionary War soldier (not the same side of the family, but you know what I mean). What other things will I find? It’s so exciting to think about!

My 2 times great grandma kept the baptism record for her baby boy who died at 6 months old in 1898. I know because I have the document hanging on the wall in my office. She was born in Germany and most of the documents I have for her are in German (the one for her son included). She came to this country with her parents when she was 8 years old. I’m so interested to learn more about her.

I love reading my grandma’s diary from 1947.  Each day, I’m reading that same day and thinking about what was going on in her life all those years ago. On the 4th of March, 1947, she and Grandpa had gone to see Easy Come, Easy Go and then went for a drive. I wish we had found more diaries.  I don’t know if this is the only one there was or if perhaps others of them just hadn’t survived.

So, I have started trying to do some research.  I started with my great-grandparents, figuring those records would be more current and perhaps easier to find.  So far, nothing about this whole Illinois phase. I wish I had unlimited resources and could do a So Who Do You Think You Are approach to learning my family history.  Traveling around…making appointments with historians and genealogists who do all the searching for you and hand you the documents when you arrive. How awesome would that be? Ah, if only money grew on trees!

Basically, I was so deep in the Olympics and the family records that I blinked and February was over.

 

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