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Monday, May 2, 2011

Placing our characters in the real world

For Christmas 1967, my parents and I went down to see my oldest brother and his wife in Florida. 
Yeah, that's a picture of my butt.  I was thrilled I could walk the dog in shorts, but I was easily amused at that age.  Joe graduated from the Naval Academy earlier that year and was serving as a trainer for the pilots going over to Viet Nam.  I was pretty young at the time, but I remember being kind of freaked out that he said he felt he should be over there, should be with his classmates, instead of being safe at home. 

He never got that opportunity.  He and his student were killed in January of 1969 and he's buried in Arlington, right down from The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

As I was writing the first book in what will eventually be a series, I think I channeled Joe in designing my primary hero.  Scanning the boxes of pictures onto various disks and flash drives, I found almost a dozen of him with various ladies.  Mom and Dad bought him his own tuxedo in 1963, because he'd been invited to like six different proms in the area.  Mom said about her oldest, beloved son, "I don't think Joe was a very nice young man."  She never told me what she meant by that.  I just got an email from a family friend who mentioned Joe begged her to send letters to him at the Academy, because they were competing who would get the longest, the most, etc.  All these things I've blended into my stories.  You can say it sounds weird, but it is like I'm hearing Joe feeding me lines of dialog, trying to win over his heroine.  Of course, the letters became emails and he redeems himself in the end, though we all love the bad boy. 

Will, my hero, is a medically retired Marine sharpshooter, who was injured in Afghanistan.  We meet three others from his unit in this book and upcoming ones.  I've done a great deal of research on veterans, current military officers and their family members.  Through it all (I started writing again in August of 2006), I heard Joe egging me on, giving me some of his best pick up lines and bringing people to me who wanted to talk about their experiences. 

So, when President Obama announced the Navy Seal team had captured and killed Osama bin Laden, I literally felt it through his eyes and the eyes of my characters.  Will knew something was up from a vague comment he'd gotten from a buddy, but felt he was the one who should have been there pulling the trigger.  Harry (who's a petite redhead and fiercer than any of the guys) felt a flash of resentment at all those brothers and sisters they'd lost and @#$% they'd had to endure while bin Laden was enjoying a cool beverage by the pool.  Tristan remembered sitting with his parents, watching the news stories on 9/11 and sheds a tear his dad died a couple of months before and his mama's in an Alzheimer's unit.  Dessie smashes an entire set of glasses into a fireplace, welcoming the blood as a piece of shrapnel cut her leg. 

Will I put this into what will become chronologically the third novel in my series?  Maybe not, as I've always been told it's wrong to time stamp, unless it's a historical.  But, I know it's there.  I know we'll have to deal with our mentally and physically injured veterans and the social and financial problems left behind with their military families.  And if I can give a voice to them and to Joe, I'll have done my job. 

While I've shared some of my characters' blood lust the past twenty-four hours (as Lizzy says to Will, "The only thing you should have felt when you killed an insurgent was your rifle's recoil."), I'd like to share two things I found on Facebook today. 

·         "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."--Martin Luther King, Jr.
·       Now I lay me down to sleep, one less terrorist this world does keep. With all my heart I give my thanks, to those in uniform regardless of ranks. You serve our country and serve it well, with humble hearts your stories tell. So as I rest my weary eyes, while freedom rings our flag still flies. You give your all, do what you must...with God we live and God we trust
Thank you for listening and joining me in thinking about these things.  God bless. 


  1. Beautiful post, Julee. I always wanted to know more about your brother but when I was a kid I didn't know how to ask. I think it's great the way you are weaving your memories and your impressions into your writing. Thanks for sharing the quote, too. Like many, I am relieved that Bin Laden is gone, but fearful of retaliation. Writing is a great way to work through some of that, isn't it?

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Pam and for sharing. I'm proud of Joe's service and sad that he didn't get to see me or his daughter who was born nine months to the day of his death grow up. I'm also sad that so many other families have felt the same. Here's hoping we can share some love and happiness with the world through our writing.